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Published: Sunday July 19, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday July 19, 2015 MYT 8:40:53 AM

Defeating the scourge

So there was an unpleasant incident at Low Yat recently. We can talk about it or we can pretend it doesn’t exist. After all, the way things are going, denial has a pretty good shot at becoming our 14th state.

IN the aftermath of the Low Yat incident, a foreign observer riled a few of us with a letter to an online portal in which he criticised Malaysia as the worst place he has lived in over the last 20 years. The country is doomed, declared the British national.

Well before I gave myself wholly to a bout of righteous anger, I had to acknowledge that what the writer was doing wasn’t so different from what I do every fortnight in this column. That is to form an opinion on situations in other countries from surface reports and a few choice quotes on social media, while throwing in some anecdote from the long distant past.

If I’m lucky, I would lived there or at least spent a week or two, but in the case of places like Uruguay and Mozambique, I haven’t even been there. Just trying to relay my observations and relate it to what’s going on here.

I must say though that I was taken aback by this particular critique. How could anyone who is so well travelled think that Malaysia is in such bad shape? And that its people are horrible?

I thought about the eight other countries that I have lived in, and while a solid case could be made for Belgium and Japan being vastly more developed and stable than Malaysia, some of the others have endured countless military coups, Marxist dictatorships and even a civil war. One, the USSR, even disintegrated.

But there is no point in crowing over not being bottom of the class. We do need to do better. And quickly.

When I heard about a clash with possible racial overtones, I must admit to heaving a silent sigh of relief that it didn’t involve my own race. I can tell you that it does make it substantially easier to get up on a soapbox and urge others to get over it, without having the emotional involvement that accompanies a lock-up death or mistreated schoolchildren.

In all seriousness, we have to acknowledge that racism is an existing cancer in our society. Multiply it with religious fanaticism, regionalism and differences of language, class and gender and, boy, do we have a potential powder keg. One that has caught fire from time to time.

It doesn’t help that many of the existing institutional structures in politics and education still function with a short-sighted philo­sophy that encourages division and a form of positive discrimination that can so easily be mutated into something uglier.

Our job as citizens is to take the high road. Fight against our baser instincts and the temptation to blame others for our frustrations.

I know how easy it is for a disgruntled Indian to say “the Malays control this, the Chinese control that, we are being screwed on both sides”.

Or for an East Malaysian to claim that it is KL’s fault that their own leaders can’t improve the standard of living there. We have to stop blaming each other, start taking more responsibility.

Looking at ourselves and accepting that there are pressing weaknesses is essential. This is still our ship, and we should not abandon it, nor let it catch fire.

I recall my father telling me that the critics said Malaysia was finished in the aftermath of the 1969 racial riots. It wasn’t then. It isn’t now.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

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