Saturday, September 20, 2008

Like bulls falling off a cliff

I was driving in my car one day and heard a radio programme whereby listeners called in to request for a song which best described their teachers. While most listeners took that opportunity to pay tributes to their teachers by singing praises, one requested for the song, "Killing Me Softly" by Lauren Hill. The listener explained that while he was in secondary school, he faced a lot of prejudices from this particular teacher whom inspired the song title.

While I listened to this, I find myself wanting to know what sort of prejudices he meant and whether there has been an impact on his adult life as a consequence of those prejudices. I was disappointed when the DJs did not share my curiosity but instead were quick to brush him off.

They said to him something along the line of, “Oh but you know, you were fifteen then and it was an awkward and difficult stage you were going through. I’m sure your teacher had come across that way because she was trying to get the best out of you.”

Well, needless to say, the listener was politely hushed up.

Meantime, I kept driving with this haunting thought in my mind, “What is wrong with our society?!” How on earth did the DJs know whether that guy’s teacher was acting in his best interests? What did they even know about the guy’s teacher? Did they make an attempt to ask him and find out before making the guy felt like as if he was to be blamed from feeling that way? I seriously doubt that the guy had taken great pain to make up a story just to have a song played on the radio.

Then, I start to realize that there is something fundamentally wrong with our society. We have this tendency to stick our necks in the sand when something unpleasant happens. Instead of tackling the matter, we tend to shove it under the carpet. It’s not only women who only listen to what they want to hear. Politicians, teachers, parents, the datuk-datuks, datin-datins et al do too.

I remember as a child, my parents did the same to me. Whenever I complained about my school teacher for being unreasonable and tyrannical, my mother would hush me up, “Don’t speak ill of your teacher!” Rather than taking the time to understand why I had felt that way, it was simply easier to put the onus of responsibility on me. We are taught neither to challenge nor question, even if life seems unfair.

This do-not-question-the-authorities mentality is very much alive here. For instance, Lim Kit Siang, Chairman of DAP, has been labeled anti-royalist by an NGO after he questioned the proposed RM400 millions construction of the new Istana Negara complex. Instead of answering to his question, he was criticized and made to feel guilty.

With all due respect, I acknowledge and accept our constitutional monarchy as part and parcel of what makes Malaysia. Our former and present Kings or Sultans have not ruled with an iron thumb or treated us as subservient slaves. Hence, they have my affection and reverence.

However, the matter at hand should not be misinterpreted as an insult or attack on our monarch. It is simply an issue of democracy, accountability and necessity. Kit Siang, I believe, was simply practicing his right to question the accountability of spending RM400 million on what seems to be a low priority. I am sorry if I have offended or appear to be insulting our royalty. I have absolutely no intention of doing that. Ampun Tuanku, Berjuta-juta ampun.

I’m not defending Kit Siang either because I don’t know him personally at all. I am defending democratic values whereby members of the parliament should be allowed to debate and talk about issues pertaining to our country. If I may add, in essence, our revered Agung is also a subject of our country, as much as we are all subjects of his.

There are several issues here which have nothing to do with our loyalty and affection towards our monarch. I repeat again, it is about democracy, necessity and accountability.

Firstly, the number of taboos that have been imposed on us is wide; bumiputera special privileges, freedom of religion, racial discrimination, sex and anything which will incite dissatisfaction towards the government or racial disharmony. It is tiring just to think about the number of things which we are not allowed to talk about.

However, where does one draw the boundary of being obedient on one hand, and to follow blindly like a pack of buffaloes falling off a cliff to their deaths while being hunted by native Indians, on the other? It seems that we, human beings prefer the easy way out. It is much easier to tell someone to shut up when being challenged than to engage in reasoning.

Look what happened to the Jews during the holocaust under the Nazi regime? Edmund Burke once said, “in order for evil to triumph, it is necessary for good men to do nothing.” I am not saying that upgrading a palace is an evil deed. I’m simply saying that the “gag” culture we have can be dangerous.

Secondly, I can think of many things where the money is needed more and one of them is to increase the salary of our police forces. I’m sure our Agung would appreciate the fact that it is more urgent to deal with police corruption due to low salaries. Hence, the question which we need to ask is, is this complex necessary?

Thirdly, whenever Malaysia is being criticized by human rights groups or the international community for breaching the principle of non-refoulement under refugee law, the government is quick to defend that we are a developing country, meaning, we are not able to defend the political and civil rights of others when our economic and social rights are not up to the international standard. I can appreciate this since charity does start at home.

Well then, how do we justify spending billions of ringgits building the tallest building, international sports complex, etc. while the majority of the Malaysian population are still suffering from poverty and its implications? Are we not accountable towards our own people?

At the end of the day, responsibility and accountability come from both ways. It is not enough for the people to revere and love our Kings, our Kings should also love and care for his subjects. Would a loving King rejoice in the thought of having millions of ringgit spent in his name while many others are left to fend for themselves?

I can’t help but wonder what would be the DJs’ reaction if I called up and requested for The Police’s "Every Breath You Take".

Written on 29 November 2006

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