ASIA NEWS NETWORK
WE KNOW ASIA BETTER
Work hard if you want change, M'sians told
Publication Date : 23-01-2014
Malaysians have been told to roll up their sleeves and get down to the ground if they want change.
This seemed to be the advice offered by leading figures in the nation's activist community such as Ambiga Sreenevasan, who took the stage at the launch of S. Thayaparan's maiden book, No Country for Righteous Men and Other Essays in a Culture of Offendedness on Tuesday.
"We need to educate the people out there who are being misled,” said Ambiga, in response to questions from the packed floor at the Royal Lake Club, here.
She urged the almost 200-strong crowd to educate Malaysians and show them alternative sources of information.
"We must not underestimate the intelligence of the Malaysian public. Just because they do not have access to information, just because they live in rural areas, it does not mean they cannot think,” said Ambiga.
Another panellist at the launch, Sisters in Islam founder Zainah Anwar has also called on Malaysians to work hard if they want to see change.
"I am interested in looking for solutions, as this has brought the prosperity we have enjoyed. Being negative and attacking have not solved problems and I believe in speaking up and taking a stand. Have the strength to do something with your convictions, no matter how small," said Zainah.
She added that effecting change was not a one-off action, but a series of continuous acts, citing recent issues such as inter-religious conversions in marriages and the recent seizure of Bibles printed in Bahasa Malaysia.
"We should not spew off hatred without basis. What we need is to turn information into knowledge, to distinguish rumours from facts, to help others think through the issues, and prompt them to empathise with others who think differently," said Zainah.
"We are sick of the politics, let's take action. Let's drive the momentum forward and be the change we want to see," she added.
Zainah also called for politicians to develop a culture of bipartisanship, which she hopes will find workable solutions to problems facing Malaysians, such as the conversion to Islam of a spouse in a marriage.
"There are so many heartbreaking issues like conversion which affects a person's well-being, but they are not being solved for politics. (Ruling) Barisan Nasional and (opposition) Pakatan Rakyat have to sit together and deal with these issues, so no one needs to be scared of being accused of anything," said Zainah.
"The government can use the excuse that some people are offended to seize Bibles. This is bad for social cohesion in a multiracial, multiracial society like Malaysia. It demonises the other, and it makes enemies instead of making friends," she said.
Zainah and Ambiga were not alone in their opinions at the book launch, with Universiti Malaya law associate professor Dr Azmi Sharom, who also believes that Malaysians cannot just fix, but improve on the current situation.
"I don't think this country is a basket case. Not yet. We can fix it and what we need to fix it, is an institutional revolution. Our institutions are already there, the issue is making them accountable and getting them to do what they are really meant to do," said Azmi.
He added that the Printing and Presses Act should be abolished to allow for discourse and alternative views.
"We need to open up the democratic space, and it doesn't take a lot to do that, and it doesn't take a lot to clean up our institutions," said Azmi.
He said the current social and political situation was the result of sacrificing fundamental principles for economic progress, leading to the undermining of institutions and the creation of people exempt from the rules or laws of a civilised nation.
"Are we a culture of offendedness? Well, it looks like it. I admit, I like vegetables. How did kangkung become a racist issue? What kind of warped mind does it take to twist a joke? And it seems a minority who have been given carte blanche to speak up on whatever they want. We let it happen, this is our fault," said Azmi.
With all that was said on the stage, one question remains - how was this message received on the ground?
If the words of Jihad for Justice president Thasleem Mohamed Ibrahim are anything to go by, it was actually received quite well, along with Thayaparan's book which was called "very contemporary" by Thasleem.
"With the ideas given by the panel speakers, the next step is to figure out how we can go down and engage with the people and spread this message saying that racial, religious issues are actually non-issues. A class war is not too far away," said Thasleem.
He said change can only come when the "have-nots among the Malays start to realise that the New Economic Policy has been abused, and the rich are becoming richer and the poor are becoming poorer among the Malays."
And Thasleem was not alone with this, with Foreign Policy Study Group executive vice chairman M. Santhananaban saying that the views of the panellists deserve an airing.
"It is not about agreeing or disagreeing, but I was happy to hear those views," said the former Malaysian Ambassador to Korea.
These views, while not new are certainly food for thought - for as Thayaparan himself said in his speech, the whole aim of the book was to put forward one question to Malaysians – “Where do we go from here?”