As the election draws closer, it appears that we are inching further away from the moderate path in our behaviour and expressions.
IT has been almost three years since I started writing this column, so it saddens me to say that this will be my final piece for the foreseeable future.
I will be taking a break from journalism for a year to pursue my Master’s in the United Kingdom, which is something that I’ve wanted to do for some time.
While The flipside has become a precious avenue to pen my thoughts on the state of affairs in this country, it’s apt that I’m signing off now in favour of expanding my academic knowledge on the issues and ideas that I addressed in this very column.
In less than a month, I’ll be heading off for a daunting yet exciting chapter in my life, having never studied abroad or been away from home for this long.
This impending trip has also left my mind swirling with many thoughts (when not stressing out about preparations for life abroad), especially the current state of the country I’m leaving behind and what it will be like when I return.
But it’s just a year, you say. Well, the truth is that the next 12 months will be anything but ordinary.
The 14th General Election needs to be called on or by Aug 23, 2018, which means that by the time I return, Malaysia will have a fresh set of lawmakers charting the nation’s course for the next five years and even beyond.
Assuming that the election will not be called anytime within the next month, I will be missing out on a crucial period for all Malaysians, not to mention a very busy one for my colleagues.
Not being a journalist anymore means I get to avoid the kind of election small talk with family, friends, and strangers that only those of us from the media can relate to.
Starting next month, I will be spared questions like “Eh, when is the election?” or “So, who’s going to win the election?”
In such situations, my idea of fun is to usually offer varying dates for the first question while the answer to the second is a straight-faced “whoever wins the most seats”.
Jokes aside though, every election has far-reaching implications because when political parties are going all out to emerge victorious, the end sometimes justifies the means.
What I’ve witnessed as a means to that end in the four years since the last general election is this country gradually becoming a growing space for hate speech, bigotry, and violence to breed freely.
This culture has sadly been an underlying part of Malaysia as some painful historical events suggest, but for the longest time they remained lessons for us in the pursuit of peace and harmony.
Today, increased resentment and dissatisfaction due to a combination of social and economic factors have turned many of us into bitter individuals who are quick to be suspicious of our fellow citizens.
And as GE14 draws ever closer, it appears that we are inching further away from the moderate path in our behaviour and expressions, while the elements that seek to divide us grow stronger.
The chaotic scenes of violence at the Nothing to Hide 2.0 forum with former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad last Sunday were just the latest in a series of unfortunate events that occurred because the politics of hate and fear were allowed to rear their ugly heads.
I was at the forum, and was surprised at myself for not being as alarmed as I should have been when the chairs began flying across the hall or when a flare rocketed through the air and landed just a few feet away from me.
Ironically, the brawl erupted as Mahathir was addressing a question on another violent incident in Malaysia’s past – the 1985 Memali clash between policemen and villagers in Kedah that left 14 villagers and four policemen dead.
The question I found myself asking was if I had become more experienced at handling these situations, or if I had become so disillusioned by the political culture here that nothing really shocks me anymore.
Just last week, a Cabinet Minister thought it would make sense to suggest that all atheists be tracked down and identified so that they could be guided back to the right path.
The issue was then amplified by a local mufti who noted that Islam prescribes death for Muslims who become atheists, but added that Syariah courts in Malaysia could not implement such punishments yet.
I’m embarrassed to say that this mufti is from my home state.
At what point did Malaysians, who are known for their peace-loving nature, become so threatened by those who look, think, and act differently from them?
The situation has become so overwhelmingly negative that we actually feel the need to overcompensate when we see good happening around us.
Each time a heartwarming story of Malaysian unity or kindness finds its way to Facebook, my friends would share it widely and often with the caption, “Faith in humanity restored”.
Well, how many more restoration acts will it take to prevent the faith from crumbling completely?
This is why the idea of a post-GE14 Malaysia that is even worse off than it is now frankly scares me.
Meanwhile, racial and religious sentiments might continue being ignited to cement political allegiance.
I will soon be living in a foreign land and doing my best to adapt to unfamiliar surroundings.
Ironically, it’s the place I’ve always referred to as tanah tumpah darahku that is fast becoming unrecognisable.
Akil Yunus signs off for the last time in the hopes, slim as they may be, of coming back to the side of Malaysia he grew up to love, and not the one he’s seen as a newsman for the last five years. He can be reached at email@example.com.