A new year isn’t exactly very new, especially when it carries much of the previous year’s baggage.
And 2020 has heavy baggage from which we hope to draw some lessons for our collective benefit as we anxiously navigate 2021.
The tiny coronavirus that emerged in the beginning of 2020, for one thing, brought humans to their knees despite the wherewithal in their possession, such as material wealth, as well as political and military might.
Perhaps humility is necessary in this context, to bring down our collective arrogance a notch or two, particularly in our relationship with and treatment of nature.
We notice the big difference to our physical environment when we were caged in our homes – or, to put it euphemistically, locked down – by the menacing pandemic. The rivers and air were cleaner and animals roamed about freely without fear of being harmed by humans.
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However, it appears that, for some people, the lockdown is only a temporary and annoying break from their destructive behaviour towards nature.
Soon after being released from our home confinement, the bad habits reemerged. For example, certain rivers were polluted by humans, and this eventually brought about massive water cuts in certain parts of the country after water filtering plants were contaminated by the polluting particles.
The so-called new normal that has been thrust on us is that we have to comply with the pandemic’s standard operating procedure, particularly mask wearing, physical distancing and hand washing. This, obviously, should apply to all of us, irrespective of our stations in life, in the foreseeable future and probably beyond.
What has also been laid bare or made more visible by the pandemic are the pockets of poverty that lurk in our society. Those who rely on daily wages or temporary jobs, for instance, struggled to keep food on the table when the movement control order was executed – and this also affected the migrant workers.
Others have joined their ranks after being laid off by businesses that shuttered in an economy battered by the pandemic. According to Malaysia’s Department of Statistics, unemployment rose last October by 1.5% to 748,200 persons compared with the previous month.
The financial sustainability of this group of people collapsed under the weight of mounting debt, mortgages, reduced salaries, underemployment and job insecurity.
This is in addition to the economic woes suffered by families whose breadwinners were infected by Covid. Bereaved families may have to fend for themselves, while the surviving ones may have lost jobs or are paid less while they are being treated.
It is also feared that this pandemic may have caused a wider economic disparity between the rich and the less fortunate, who may need government assistance in various forms.
In other words, economic hardship will be staring at the faces of the needy and desperate for a long time.
Early last year, we also learned that our electoral votes are no longer sacrosanct. The so-called Sheraton Move in late February led to a bloodless coup that toppled the Pakatan Harapan government, which many Malaysians, particularly those who yearned for social reform, chose at the ballot box in the last general election.
This political development also sent a cue to certain states in the federation, particularly Johor, Melaka, Perak, Kedah and Sabah, where power changed hands in similar fashion, much to the chagrin of many voters.
The politics of race and religion remains to be exploited as we enter the new year for as long as political mileage can be accrued from dividing people along these lines. Such divisive politics goes into overdrive, especially when certain ethnic-based parties struggle to stay politically afloat or their political legitimacy is perceived to be under assault.
Relations between the various ethnic and religious groups in this multi-ethnic and multi-religious country are bound to worsen if there is no political will to put a stop to the polarising machinations of certain unscrupulous quarters.
The last chapter of 2020 was filled with a meat syndicate scandal that supposedly implicates certain shady companies that passed off imported meat of dubious origins as halal in alleged collaboration with a number of bribed senior government servants from at least four government agencies.
They made use of fake halal Jakim certification, knowing full well that the Malaysian Islamic Development Department’s certificates and logos have earned the complete trust of Muslim consumers over the years.
This corruption case, which has shocked many, especially those in the Muslim community, indicates that corruption remains a part of our culture. Worse, corruption has reached a level where transgression of religious tenets is no longer considered sacrilegious.
While these are blots in 2020, we can derive strength and hope from the good Samaritans and the frontline personnel, among others, who have put their lives on the line, and sacrificed time, energy and resources to assist fellow Malaysians in need of help, compassion and justice in the wake of the pandemic.
Hopefully, 2021 will be kinder to us all. Happy New Year!