The year of the Malaysian citizen


  • Musings
  • Thursday, 01 Jan 2015

I WAS afraid that this first column of the year would be a depressing and doleful one. 2014 had been remarkable for its sheer awfulness, with not one but three plane accidents in the region, the worst floods in our history and any amount of angst among our people due to the words and actions of various groups. Would 2015 be better or worse?

But for every action, there is a reaction and happily these reactions have also been unexpected and gratifying.

In January, when a church was a possible target of violence, a group of people turned up to give out flowers to churchgoers and did much to ease the tension of that day. That was the birth of a group called Malaysians for Malaysia (M4M) that set out to promote unity and harmony among their fellow citizens.

M4M then went on to organise the Walks in the Park in several cities that gave Malaysians the opportunity to simply gather and do things together.

When MH370 and MH17 happened, M4M was on hand to unite Malaysians with the Walls of Hope that allowed thousands of Malaysians and others to pour out their grief and hopes for the safety of the passengers of the former and prayers for the souls of the passengers of the latter.

M4M is certainly not the only group that sprang up to bring Malaysians together, not just in grief, but also in volunteerism.

When there was a threat to shut down soup kitchens, KLites banded together to keep them going and even started new ventures to support the existing ones.

Various individuals and groups have formed to do all sorts of charity work to help the poor, the marginalised, disabled and even animals. Civil society has stepped up and is going from strength to strength, a healthy sign.

Then when the worst floods ever in our history turned several states into exact replicas of countries far less developed than us, with people stranded and starving, Malaysians truly showed how generous and kind they can be.

Collection centres for relief goods were set up in various neighbourhoods and when the calls for volunteers spread through social media, dozens showed up.

I visited one and was truly moved and heartened by not only the number of people lending their time and energy to the effort to pack and send off the goods but how diverse they were.

They were young, old, male, female and represented every ethnic group including expats. And they worked side by side and took instructions from supervisors cheerily. There are even people who have organised convoys of cars and trucks to try and reach the stranded folks on the east coast with tonnes of food and other essentials.

Nobody told them to do it, nobody ever paid them to do it. They just did it because their fellow citizens were suffering and this was the right thing to do.

You have to wonder where those self-proclaimed champions of race and religion are in these times and what they would say about these multiracial, multireligious efforts to send aid to flood victims.

Indeed one of the happiest things that has happened in 2014 is the emergence of voices calling for more common sense in the way we discuss things in our country. The Group of 25 has been a pleasant surprise and has inspired more people to speak out against extremists and racists.

Young people especially have welcomed this new development, having previously despaired of a positive future in this country.

They have responded by organising petitions and writing articles of support for the G25, most notably by a multiracial group of 33 prominent citizens and a group of young Islamic Studies graduates from Middle Eastern universities.

These developments have really brought hope to many concerned Malaysians.

So perhaps when you look at it from this perspective, things were not so bad after all in 2014, despite the major tragedies.

While we mourn those we lost, and sympathise with those who are suffering in the floods right now, we can also rejoice in the fact that 2014 was really the year that The Malaysian Citizen showed that their natural kindness and generosity enabled them to respond much faster and more efficiently than any politician can.

This is truly community leadership at its best.

For 2015, perhaps we can put our hopes in The Malaysian Citizen and therefore be more optimistic about the coming year.

Their sense of unity that arises out of a sense of fairness is fully developed.

What The Malaysian Citizen has shown is that there is no law needed to foster unity. They will unite naturally against suffering and injustice.

The only proviso is obvious: keep the politicians out of it.

> Marina Mahathir is a human rights activist who works on women, children and HIV/AIDS issues. Her column in this newspaper goes back 25 years and has likewise evolved because, in her own words, “she probably thinks too much for her own good”. Marina continues to speak out and crusade for causes that she passionately believes in. The views expressed here are entirely her own.

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