Contradictheory: The words left unsaid in 2018


  • Living
  • Monday, 07 Jan 2019

The norm for the new year is to look back at the previous 12 months and pick out the stories that have made some sort of impact. But I think for this column I might do something a little different: I’ll write about the articles I didn’t write.

It is not my intention to avoid subjects that are unpopular. After all, the idea of “Contradictheory” is to present theories that seem to contradict your understanding.

But it’s not always easy to put down what I want for various reasons. Sometimes other people tell me I shouldn’t. Sometimes I tell myself I shouldn’t. And sometimes – well, sometimes I don’t even know where to begin.

Probably the big topic that I didn’t write about last year is 1MDB.

It must have been the biggest news story to hit our country that wasn’t reported here. Or, as a colleague put it, it’s a Pulitzer-prize winning story about Malaysia that will be won by somebody who’s not Malaysian.

I thought it was important to try and at least communicate to the public what was in the US Department of Justice’s report. I remember I was pretty upset the first time I read it, and I thought, let me lay the facts before people and see if they feel the same way.

But everything was cloaked in secrecy and hushed whispers. The words were there, but they couldn’t be said.

Of course, by the time the environment had changed so that the story could be written, it seemed like everybody was publishing a book about it. My concern now is that opinion has swung the other way to prejudge guilt, and I think an attitude of fury to see justice done should be tempered by the actual facts.

Another thing I didn’t write much about was Islam. As a Muslim, I think a lot about how religion has been politicised in Malaysia. However, it’s such a sensitive topic that it’s too easy to say the wrong thing.

I did write about the role of Islam as the official religion when the Federal Constitution was drafted, but I was on safer ground there, dealing with history rather than religion. The thing I’m fascinated about is why people of a common religion can be so divided.

I did write on how studies by think tank Pew of Muslims around the world demonstrate the diversity and variety in attitude, and perhaps what is “normal” for Muslims in Malaysia is sometimes the opinion of the minority.

I’ve always been cautious about the attitude of “we are right because they are wrong”, and I believe understanding why we are blind to this will help us realise when we are being manipulated by others.

I do feel stung when rebuked for being a “liberal” (the phrase that comes to mind is “I don’t think that word means what you think it means”), but am somewhat assuaged that when we can have open conversation with others, a liberal and a conservative can find common ground.

My hope is that sometime in the future this shared viewpoint can include a rejection of those who seek to abuse religion instead of serve it.

Finally, one topic I really did want to cover last year but didn’t know enough about was populism. Political observers have noticed that elections around the world have begun to resemble not a demonstration of trust in those that are best to lead us, but rather a mistrust of those already in power. Donald Trump, Brexit in Britain and various elections in Europe have demonstrated this, but I think we the voters are not aware of how it works.

Similarly, the Malaysian elections of 2018 can be seen more as a rejection of the establishment. I find this subject both immensely fascinating and complicated at the same time. After all, I was one of those voters in last year’s elections, and I don’t think at any point did I feel that I was a sheep following the herd, rejecting something that was unpopular for no other reason than that it was, well, unpopular. Perhaps I must accept that I am not really an individual with my own mind, but part of the mass following a trend.

I think this is why you see people so quick to criticise certain new policies of the current government – deep down the mistrust is still there. What perhaps I can say to those currently in power is that anything they do that smacks of the “old way” of doing things is likely to backfire on them. All it takes is one wrong scandal to make voters second-guess their decisions, and we’ve already seen enough in the last seven months to make us think it’s “when”, not “if”.

My advice for voters in future elections is to just repeat my election mantra: Vote for the best candidate, regardless of the party they’re in. After all, these days changing allegiances is just a hop, skip and jump away. But for goodness’ sake, please choose somebody who will be a good leader and example to the rest of us rather than being so keen to kick out those we disagree with.

Of course, this being the beginning of a new year, I suppose I should make a resolution. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s likely I will cover any of these three topics even in 2019. But perhaps I should just hope that I can somehow gather more courage and respect for the other side, and patience to learn to write even more things that are interesting – and that hopefully you disagree with.


In his fortnightly column, Contradictheory, mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi explores the theory that logic is the antithesis of emotion but people need both to make sense of life’s vagaries and contradictions. Write to Dzof at star2@thestar.com.my.


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