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Time for our leaders to look at the bigger picture!

To remain relevant, our leaders, teachers and students must be allowed the freedom to think and grow

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Some of my friends say that I am a pessimist when it comes to the issues and situations we experience in Malaysia. I disagree!

I am just one of those people who find it difficult to tolerate situations when our ‘systems’ break down or just do not work, for sheer lack of foresight, strategic planning and consistency.

When others look at the light at the end of the tunnel, I have a tendency to look at the train careering down at us; not so much to be hit but to see how we can avoid getting hit!

Of late, the train coming down the track has been carrying a series of controversies and issues ranging from bak kut teh (a meat bone soup), to imaginary Malay junks, to issues over Unesco heritage sites and to more serious matters pertaining to the Federal Constitution.

When the decision over Nik Elin Zurina Nik Abdul Rashid and Tengku Yasmin Natasha Tengku Abdul Rahman’s petition to the Federal Court against Kelantan’s Sharia laws was announced, some politicians hopped like cats on a hot tin roof over this supposed ‘insult’ to God and Islam.

However, what amazed me more was how they had seemingly not understood that the court decision had merely eliminated the redundancies between state and federal laws.

At about the same time as this unnecessary uproar was taking place, many may have missed the arrests of the producers of the film Mentega Terbang for their apparent ‘sin’ of ‘insulting Islam’.

There is always a fine line between what is considered an ‘insult’ and what is considered a ‘divergent idea’ that seeks to inspire creative and lateral thinking. It is an entirely subjective process and depends on how one chooses to read the message.

It was also disappointing that the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS), which ironically, should have stood for the advancement of Islamic ideas and thoughts, had cancelled the launch of the Malay version of Dr Ahmet T Kuru’s book Authoritarianism and Underdevelopment, following reports of ‘pressure from conservatives’.

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Such reactions by the government and our politicians leave us wondering if they will eventually strangle the freedom to consider divergent intellectual inquiries.

Perhaps it is time for us to stop this paternalistic culture and relegate these personal religious decisions to the individual. After all, aren’t there already enough hours for religious studies in the school curriculum to help prepare the individual to make these decisions for themselves in adulthood?

Of late, the police too have been exceptionally busy, probing all kinds of perceived threats – from a foreigner’s online posts to a Bersih rally requesting political reforms.

Our politicians may be unaware that change and intellectual inquiry can only grow from wide diverse experiences and a more open mindset. Things need to be questioned and reflected upon, in order to identify the biases and blind spots.

Often, the right questions can give us new insights to reaffirm our faith, shifting it from a dogma-driven experience to a more meaningful personal one. 

If we are unable to entertain some degree of inquiry and cognitive dissonance, how can we hope to learn and move forward with the times?

So, what is our direction now? Should we get on our horse and buggy and ride back into the dark ages?

The “Madani” (civil and compassionate) approach of the current administration lacks direction. More than ever, it now lacks the optics of consistency. With the Najib Razak’s recent Pardons Board furore, it has broken faith with the people, making a mockery of our concept of fairness and honesty!

It seems to us that in Malaysia, not all men are created equal and that some men are more ‘equal’ than others by virtue of their birth, position, name or wealth.

Malaysia has been bled dry of much of its financial reserves – no thanks to politicians like Najib. Well-placed individuals like Taib Mahmud and Daim Zainuddin amassed enormous wealth.

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‘Vampires’ in our midst, masquerading as benevolent heads of state and captains of industry have bled billions from the nation’s coffers.

Videos of ‘helpful’ cops who allegedly asked for bribes from a couple of international travel vloggers went viral.

So, is it any wonder then that today we lack the funds to expand welfare services for the people or attend to ageing infrastructure?

The painfully sluggish crawls along our 40-year-old Plus highway in the last few weeks alone has demonstrated that we have failed to address its inevitable inadequacies.

The breakdown of the ‘aerotrain’ in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport,  which was once a ‘state of the art’ airport is now an embarrassment. Today, KLIA is ranked the eighth worst airport in Asia.

Unlike Malaysia, our sibling neighbour, Singapore, would never have allowed such ‘breakdowns’ at its airport to mar its image of being a well-oiled machine!

Are these failures caused by a lack of competency in strategic thinking or because of a lack of funds – or both?

Of late, even civil service pensioners who have been receiving medical treatment at IJN, the national heart institute, are being slowly discharged due to a higher patient load and inadequate funding for expansion

With government pension schemes becoming an increasing fiscal burden to the treasury, with our currency sliding against the greenback (and the Singapore dollar) and with our Pisa international school scores plummeting to the bottom of the region, don’t we have enough indicators that we are already floundering?

If our Pisa scores continue to decline and our students remain largely monolingual and do poorly in maths and science, and with the continuing prospect of a greater brain drain, especially to Singapore, can we excel anymore in human resources quality, productivity, creativity and innovation?

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Other countries in the region are already beginning to lead the way, including Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Will we be able to navigate impending global technological and economic challenges in the coming decades, including those posed by artificial intelligence (AI)?

Having to focus on petty controversies again and again does more damage to Malaysia, affecting foreign investments, economic dynamism, the development of new start-ups and opportunities for future employment.

Perhaps it is time for us to think intelligently, rationally and strategically about the bigger picture for Malaysia, beyond our politicians’ petty differences, their egos and their personal quests for power. It is time for everyone to come together to prioritise competency.

To remain relevant, our leaders, teachers and students must be allowed the freedom to think and grow, regardless of the racial rhetoric and the religious bigotry. They should be encouraged to be critical, innovative and strategic.

They should be bold enough to express new ideas that challenge the old even when they are not popular among the conservatives. We need to raise the bar.

We should never teach our young men and women to feel entitled to an easy and safe passage through life. Instead, they need to be prepared to break a sweat and to compete intensely.

If we do not change now, we will be like the dinosaurs. When that happens, not even a fleet of imaginary ‘junks’ can rescue us. We should not allow for ‘stupidity in the face of adversity’, to be our national motto.

Malaysians are a beautiful people. There is nothing like our rich cultural and religious diversity, our capacity for unity, cooperation and collaboration to be found anywhere else in the world. It is our greatest strength, if only it is  allowed to flourish.

It is time we looked at the possibilities of a bigger picture for Malaysia.

Sukeshini Nair
Co-editor, Aliran newsletter
9 March 2024

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
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pat Adam
pat Adam
12 Mar 2024 5.50pm

There are no LEADERS

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