A better 2009

By Jacqueline Ann Surin in The Nut Graph

OVER the Christmas break, I read Will Bowen's A Complaint Free World. Bowen, a minister based in Kansas City, Missouri has a simple but profound message: If we stop complaining and focus on the positive, we are capable of creating happier lives for ourselves and the people around us.

According to Bowen, whatever we wish for, and conversely complain about, we lend energy to, hence making it more likely to happen. In this vein, then, wish-making is not just wishful thinking.

And since we are at the start of another new year, it's timely for me to articulate my wishes for my ideal Malaysia.

1. That our police won't feel threatened by singing, bicycles, and candles

(© Irum Shahid / sxc.hu)

Over the course of 2008, we saw how citizens who tried to gather to express their views about a gamut of concerns were harassed, blocked, arrested and even roughed up by the police.

On 9 Nov 2008, the Selangor police charged at anti-ISA protestors who were also trying to mark the first anniversary of the mammoth Bersih rally. Very cleverly, I thought, the demonstrators lit candles and sang the national anthem. Probably to demonstrate that they could be critical of the government but were, at the same time, peace-loving, patriotic Malaysians. It's also likely that it was because Malaysian activists have a poor repertoire of songs compared to their Filipino and Indonesian counterparts.

Not so cleverly perhaps, the FRU charged and arrested the demonstrators while the national anthem was being sung.

"Cycling for Change" poster found in Ipoh

Other civil society groups, for instance Jerit, tried to be creative in exercising their democratic right. In their early December 2008 "Cycling for Change" expedition, participants cycled from towns to cities to raise awareness about worker protection, the Internal Security Act (ISA), privatisation, and local council elections.

But their bicycles were confiscated. Even torched by unknown arsonists. Cycling was banned by the police in some instances. Participants were harassed. And elected representatives arrested. Who ever thought that, post-Japanese occupation, bicycles would be deemed a threat?

In mid-September 2008, when citizens gathered to protest the ISA detentions of Raja Petra Kamarudin, Teresa Kok and Tan Hoon Cheng, the police banned the use of candles at these vigils.

I am reminded of the 1982 Steven Spielberg movie Poltergeist where the mother of the child snatched by spirits tells her daughter, "Walk into the light!" Light is the universal symbol of good in all major religions and customs. I wonder what it says about Malaysian police who seem adverse to it.

2. That sexist, racist and bigoted politicians are rapped so that we can have suitable public role models to place our hopes in

Yes, we had our fair share in 2008 despite the numerous civil society memoranda and protests against sexism, racism and bigotry by people in power.

Most notably in 2008, Barisan Nasional MP for Pasir Salak, Datuk Tajuddin Abdul Rahman, uttered some very graphic sexist remarks in Parliament towards a woman MP. Additionally, he resorted to the use of colourful language on some opposition MPs.

Tajuddin has since apologised, twice. Which is a change from the obstinacy of other woefully challenged MPs such as Datuk Ibrahim Ali. The independent Pasir Mas MP declared that "men marry many wives due to the women's strong desire", hence effectively telling Malaysians that men easily succumb to women's wants. It wasn't the first time Ibrahim demonstrated an unbecoming illogic for an MP and it probably won't be the last until some code of ethics is enforced in Parliament.

Ahmad Ismail (source: Oriental Daily), map of
Malaya (public domain. Source: wikipedia.org)

Earlier in 2008, there was, of course, the sensational pendatang remarks by the Bukit Bendera Umno division chief Datuk Ahmad Ismail against non-Malay Malaysian communities. Still, at least his party suspended him for three years.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) has yet to act on its Bandar Baru/Kulim MP Zulkifli Nordin for storming and disrupting a legitimate Bar Council forum on conversions in August, 2008. I look forward to more decisive action in 2009 from the leading opposition party that wants to be in government.

3. That BN leaders start to realise the ISA can very well be used on them if there's a change in government

Imagine how insanely powerful the Pakatan Rakyat would be if, by our wildest imagination, the opposition pact took over the federal government in 2009, and then didn't dismantle the ISA!

Police dispersing participants of anti-ISA vigil in 2008 (pic by Lainie Yeoh)

Since detention without trial has been so successfully used to quell dissent, a BN in the opposition should be fearful for its most outspoken leaders. After all, there really is no guarantee that a Pakatan Rakyat government won't be tempted to retain the structures which ensure them unfettered power, in the same way the BN was.

There's that golden adage: "Do unto others what you want others to do unto you." I wish the BN leadership would embrace that rule, and I wish that they would start imagining what it would be like for them to be in the opposition with the same oppressive laws they now wield so willingly.

4. That the government really means what it says when it talks about the rakyat's interest

When Finance Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced on 19 Dec 2008 that the Sime Darby deal to buy over the National Heart Centre (IJN) had been postponed, he said the postponement was in the rakyat's interest. Never mind that the same argument was also used a day earlier to justify the privatisation of IJN by Sime Darby.

"In the rakyat's interest" is useful rhetoric for any politician or government because it supposedly nullifies any doubt that corporate, private or personal interests are involved.

Curiously, on 18 Dec, Najib, who is also deputy prime minister, announced mandatory pre-marital HIV screening for all Muslims beginning in 2009, but conveniently omitted the fact that mandatory testing is flawed. Apart from the United Nations (UN), leading national advocates such as the Malaysian AIDS Council and Malaysian Family Physicians attest to this fact.

If the rakyat's interest were really involved in this decision, how is it that the findings of the UN and other national-level experts are being ignored? I wish that beginning in 2009, "in the rakyat's interest" will not be so conveniently obfuscated, no less by the prime-minister-in-waiting.

5. That non-Muslims will find the courage to speak out on issues which affect Muslims unjustly

Protesters against tomboy fatwa walking around KL with banner in 2008 (pic by Lainie Yeoh)

If non-Muslims continue to believe that only Muslims should speak up in such instances, let's not be too surprised if flawed mandatory HIV testing will also be imposed on non-Muslims. There are already suggestions by a Muslim group for that to happen.

Already, we've had examples in the past where for instance, non-Muslim female students at the International Islamic University had to wear a scarf to cover their hair. And we've also seen concerted attempts to subject non-Muslims, caught in failed marriages in which their spouses convert to Islam, to syariah law over the past few years.

If non-Muslims don't speak up for Muslims, it's not very different from men who won't speak up against injustices towards women and children because it's not a matter that concerns them. Go figure.

Jacqueline Ann Surin is upbeat about 2009. She knows it can only get better for her especially since she's taking up the 21-day no complaints challenge articulated in A Complaint Free World.