A wish list of freedoms

By Marina Mahathir, The Star

We still need the fundamental freedoms that every human being desires, especially freedom of speech and expression. Our foreparents understood 54 years ago that we had a fundamental right to freedom and self-determination.

FIRST of all, let me wish everyone Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri. Also, as the days happen to almost coincide this year, Selamat Hari Merdeka. In many ways, this is very significant.

Raya is the day we free ourselves from a month of abstinence and restraint. Ramadan is a time for reflection on what good we have, or have not, done over the past year. It is a time to ask for forgiveness for our past sins and mistakes, and hurt we may have caused others.

Sadly, this Ramadan has hardly been an exemplary one. With insults galore, shouting and screaming, burning and threats, it has hardly been one of restraint and reflection, at least on the part of public figures. Nor was there any sense of shame at these violations of the good and holy month.

Since Raya coincides with Merdeka this year, I thought I would write a list of freedoms we should give ourselves in these coming months, besides the freedom to now eat.

First, let us have Freedom from Imagined Slights. I am sick and tired of the people who have nothing better to do than scour the media for all sorts of insults, while at the same time feeling entitled to slight others.

Some people’s skin is stretched so thinly over their rounded bulks it’s a wonder it hasn’t ripped. Every little imagined offence calls for protests and demos, almost always outside mosques after Friday prayers. One wonders if God feels slighted at this trespassing on His property, which should be oases of calm and tranquility.

As a corollary to that, let us also have Freedom from One-Sided Prosecutions. For example, some people seem to insist on having the monopoly on being sensitive. Everyone else is assumed to have thick skin, so much so that it is now apparently OK to insult people to their faces.

Thus, action is taken only when they have been offended, but never when they offend others. One has to wonder what is so great about displaying such thin skin? Won’t you wither under the sun?

Let us also demand Freedom from the Forgetful Politician, that is, those who forgot who voted them in. First off are those who insist that we should be grateful that they are there to lead us. Talk about a circular argument!

Then there are those who, although usually insisting that Malaysians are a unique species of people, totally different from everyone else in the world, are then quick to equate those same Malaysians with the worst of foreigners, those who riot, loot and destroy property.

Makes you wonder how that gels with our tourism campaigns. Are we supposed to be nice hospitable people or rioters?

One great freedom that I really wish we would give ourselves is Freedom from Snoopers, especially those intent on sticking their noses into our private lives. If one wants to create a moral society, then let’s widen that definition to include ethics instead of just keeping it totally focused on our sex lives.

A moral society is not just one where everyone behaves well sexually, if such a thing even exists, but also where people feel a strong civic duty to uphold the law, not be corrupt, treat the poorest and most vulnerable well, and protect and preserve the environment.

Instead, we have increasing official “busybodiness” coupled with the encouragement of society to be bu­sybodies. Thus our young feel that they are constantly under suspicion of doing something bad, even when they are not. Does this stop all sorts of social ills? Of course not.

Indeed we should also demand Freedom from the Ostrich, the stick-their-heads-in-the-sand attitude that insists that some things just don’t exist in our country. On the one hand there are people who see a conspiracy under every pebble and on the other there are those who just refuse to connect the dots.

For example, young people don’t have to become pregnant outside marriage if we educate them and provide the services they need to make the best choices. Instead, we refuse to educate them and then blame them for having babies out of wedlock. Some even insist that the solution is to marry them off early.

That’s where we need Freedom from the Short-sighted, those who only think in terms of short-term solutions and not the harm that will come many years down the line.

At heart, however, we still need the fundamental freedoms that every human being desires, especially freedom of speech and expression. Without these, the Snoopers, Ostriches, Short-sighted and all these others will continue to thrive and make our lives miserable.

Our foreparents understood that we had a fundamental right to freedom and self-determination 54 years ago. Let’s not forget that the next time we vote.