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Fighting off despair

Publication Date : 28-08-2014


It is entirely possible that I have been watching, reading and even listening to too much dystopian science-fiction of late. I think too many bleak futuristic moments in Firefly, Doctor Who and the like seem to have gotten to me.

The general sentiment is that even when man achieves the technological ability to travel into space, he will be weighed down by the same conflicts, the same pitfalls.

The hunger for power and the thirst for wealth will still be driving forces for our species, and conflicts will still rage, most likely on even grander scales.

Back to present-day Earth … here we are all in this together, looking around at this world of bloody conflicts such as Gaza, Congo, Sudan and the like. Extremist hate-filled groups like Boko Haram and Islamic State militants are flourishing, drawing in followers with blood and chaos.

And just this past week, Malaysians mourned as some of us were laid to rest, innocent bystanders in a distant civil war in the Ukraine.

A friend of mine was talking about how important it is to know whether it was the Ukrainian rebels or government who were behind the downing of MH17 and that’s when it suddenly hit me.

When innocent people get killed in war, how much does it really matter to the victims and their families who fired the final shot?

Of course in saying this, I recognise that it would provide a degree of comfort to see that killers are brought to justice, but the fact is that a dispute was allowed to grow into a full-fledged military conflict, fuelled by tribal passions and cash and arms. And others paid the price.

Perhaps with the Independence celebration coming up, I shouldn’t be too gloomy. If I were to look at the glass as half full, there are still so many things to delight in.

I certainly can still foresee a bright future for my children in this world, if not in our beloved country. But some of the things I have cared so much about for all these years seems particularly stark right now.

The Selangor chief minister fiasco, for example, highlights the absence of a strong democratic tradition in this country. When all is said and done, all of our post-Independence leaders have come from the same political party, and that would seem to reflect a culture that prizes inclusivity and consensus over an oppositionist approach.

That is all very well and dandy in the short term, but when one side dominates for more than a half century this invariably erodes the institutions that should ensure a balance of power and freedom within society. Instead what we have is a situation where immature politicians can always threaten to defect to the other side if their demands are not met. One in which leaders hold the people hostage.

I have ached for Malaysia to make that transition where each side can respect each other and there can be peaceful handovers of power, but looking at the extraordinarily childish way things have been bungled even for a handover within the same party, one is inclined to despair.

Normally I would spend this time and use this space to get excited about the upcoming elections in Sweden, Brazil or Uruguay. Or look at less publicised but nonetheless interesting electoral exercises carried out this week in the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia or the Carribean island of Sint Maarten. Talk about how every once in a while a nation like the Czech Republic defeats the odds and makes a dramatic transition from dictatorship to a vibrant democracy.

And believe me in two weeks time, I probably will be. But right now I’m just wondering if I’ve gotten it wrong all the while.

Socialism vs capitalism, secular vs religious, first past the post vs proportional representation, presidential republic vs constitutional monarchy: I have strong feelings on all of these issues, and I have expounded on them before.

But right now, I look at all these pictures of war victims and today seems like just one of those dark and gloomy days when I have to tell you, I’m not altogether sure that any of it matters much.

Far too often we take one step forward and another back. Maybe it’s time to look for different solutions to the same problems that have been dogging us all along.

Right now, The Star is encouraging Malaysians to be proud of being open-minded and moderate through a campaign.

I couldn’t agree more because it really does feel like rationality is at premium, and we need to hold firm against society’s many agitators. If too many of us continue to be silent, our voices might one day be drowned out for good.


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