It is 2014, and we are drowning in a sea of pettiness. You’ve probably heard about stern decrees and sterner defiance in the face of a ruling on non-Muslims using the word “Allah”, and the raid on the Bible Society of Malaysia. Reading about these things is like being locked naked in a room with a mosquito – between the biting or the buzzing, irritation is inevitable.
Quite apart from the overbearing sense of unfairness and frustration, there’s the certainty that it is going to dominate discourse. We’re not going to discuss government policy and the possibility of progress. We’re going to spend time wallowing in the detritus of these squabbles. It is the Malaysian way.
It’s 2014, Jais. Don’t worry, this isn’t about anything as banal as the freedom to practice religion and show respect to other religions. This is about very humbly pointing out that no one is whispering sweet somethings in the collective ear of the nation’s youth. Other religions are not your enemy. Faith is far more likely to be lost to apathy, or entropy, or disgust with this sort of behaviour.
There will always be people (and organisations) who subsist on the thinnest of skins and the most righteous of indignation, but someone else’s decision to worship Thor or Artemis or capitalism or Bast or ennui is not a direct attack on or condemnation of your beliefs. It’s a bit like same-sex marriage, really, but we’ll save that conversation for a more enlightened time.
The truly frustrating aspect of this is that Malaysia has squandered its huge advantage in this department just about as spectacularly as it has its oil reserves. Everyone has been there since before 1957. Everyone’s settled in and is aware of each other, aware of the little things that make us special. So how did we mess this up so much? How do we live together but end up so far apart?
Never mind being truly Asian, there is precious little about this country that is truly even Malaysian. And the truly shameful harassment of Bangladeshi nationals during the most recent election, regardless of how they were manipulated, shows that we have learnt nothing from spending more than half a century in the same house.
One quick point about the separation of state and church or mosque or temple or dark altar: this trend of yelling that anything politically inconvenient is an affront to faith is patently ridiculous. Criticising the government is not criticising a religion. Criticising a religion is not criticising the government. And those that govern, regardless of what they believe, should have more sense than to lash out against faiths that are not their own.
Dearest and most respected elected officials of Malaysia, leading is not ruling. You are working for the betterment of all Malaysians, not just those of a particular height or weight or colour or creed. Here’s a 2014 resolution for you: do your job.
That last bit is particularly important because there is so much to be done. Someone is surely being bribed somewhere. There is definitely a pothole on Old Klang Road that needs to be fixed. Singapore is claiming that it invented curry laksa, chicken rice, male pattern baldness and the automobile. Channel all that energy and all that funding somewhere useful. Yasmin Ahmad made a Google doodle last week, and it’s a reminder of how much we are missing those who are committed to putting something new in the world instead of fighting to take something out.
It is 2014, and I don’t want to be writing this. I want to be writing about how I fell in love with Her or how Kanye nurtures insecurity as fuel for genius or how Mat Som is as achingly brilliant today as it was when it was first published. We could be so much more than what we are. We are already beyond satire; let us also be beyond pettiness. This year, let us spend at least as much effort hunting down crime and corruption as we do sniffing out the tiniest whiff of apostasy. Let us seek fresh pinnacles instead of slinging mud in the gutters.
It’s a new year. Let’s try to make it a good one.