(Pic by Elvinstar / Dreamstime) HERE we are, just past the cusp of 2010, when parts of the world that observe 1 Jan list New Year hopes both fanciful and pragmatic. It’s always a useful exercise to do both, and to think about just why it is that one writes off a wish as “unrealistic”. Is it because it is truly unrealistic? Or is one simply resigned to defeat from the get-go? Is it easier to give up than to actually work to achieve a dream?
Surveying my own lists for the New Year, hoping for Côte d’Ivoire to win the World Cup is not 100% unrealistic. But it’s dangerously close, given that Group G is as deadly a Group of Death as one can get without dipping the teams into a shark tank.
What I know to be utterly unrealistic is hoping for the new Star Trek movie to be an intelligent film along the lines of “Patrick O’Brian — in space!”, instead of yet another glossy blockbuster fare. And I haven’t yet forgiven director JJ Abrams for gratuitously killing off Amanda Grayson.
Jokes aside, what all of the things on my list have in common is that none of them can be positively affected by my actions. Or, for that matter, by the actions of Malaysians as a whole, unlike the hopes and dreams I think of as entirely achievable. I have three on my list this year:
More accountability and transparency on the part of the federal government and state authorities
The investigation into reports of rape by logging workers against Penan women should not have dragged on for as long as it did. Neither should it end with the police washing their hands of their entire affair, and ministers accusing non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the Penan of being “good storytellers“.
The bridge in Kuala Dipang should not have collapsed, and the parents of the three schoolgirls who died should not still be waiting to see what action the Perak government will take.
In both cases, as with so many others, it is clear to the victims that justice has not been done, and that the perpetrators may never be called to answer for their crimes. Those attempting to access state mechanisms to claim their rights remain frustrated by bureaucratic hurdles, classified information, and an excess of excuses by the authorities.
Malaysia turns 47 this year. Malaysia can and should do better than this.
Illustration of a Penan baby. Malaysia, however, is no longer an infant
More talk about defending and promoting the rights of all human beings, and less about obligations and/or privileges of any particular religious/ethnic group
Sometimes I think our collective empathy has collapsed under the weight of paranoia and fear. Nothing else can explain why we feel entitled to the labour of domestic workers, and why Malaysians froth at the mouth over the temerity of these workers wanting a living wage. Nor can anything else explain why we continue to turn our eyes away from the plight of refugees and asylum seekers. Nothing else explains why so many find it easier to argue about religious tenets than to confront head-on the discrimination and violence we perpetrate as a community against transsexuals.
A few years ago, after a screening of a documentary on the Bakun hydroelectric dam, I was confronted by a member of the audience. She was hostile to the idea that the federal government take at least partial responsibility for what the building of the dam wrought in its wake. She added, however: “It isn’t that I don’t care for the people.” I said, “I have no doubt you care, but what are you doing about it?”
I was incredulous when she replied that, well, she had to take care of the problems here in West Malaysia first. I see the same sentiment repeated in letters to the editor, complaining that NGOs should focus on local workers, and why should foreign workers get better wages when local workers have it bad, too?
For 2010, I wish that every Malaysian who feels this way will get up and champion the cause of local plantation and factory workers, among others. They would help ease the burden of overworked, underpaid NGOs. Better yet, the mass movement they will create would make it far likelier that one day, every worker in Malaysia can claim their right to a living wage and employment benefits.
More commitment to inclusiveness and diversity
There already are analyses on whether the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) common policy framework will offer a real alternative to the current fragmented, suspicious national political discourse. I am optimistic about some of the contents, less sanguine about others, and I still question the depth of the PR’s commitment to pledges made when its component parties signed the People’s Declaration.
Over the past year, we have also been inundated with the 1Malaysia concept and its various permutations. It advocates unity within diversity and exhorts a common history for all Malaysians.
(Source: jpnin.gov.my)But surely after 13 May 1969, secrets buried under oppressive laws, and institutional racism, the starting point must be that we all be ready to speak the truth and listen to truths spoken to us. Reconciliation and unity will not be bought by polyester costumes in cultural celebrations. They can only come when we acknowledge openly that wrongs have been done, and that we do not have to forgive without first insisting that justice be done. The powerful must lay down their patriarchal, racial, class and able-bodied privileges.
Inclusiveness and diversity are not to be realised only by those we elect to govern us. We, too, bear the arms of destruction within us, shaped in turn by our own pain in the face of bigotry. But we also carry the possibility of a freer world. In 2010, I would very much like to see more people act on this possibility — the universe is within us.
Yasmin Masidi works for an international NGO based in Kuala Lumpur.
Read previous Strange Fruit columns