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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Merdeka in Chains

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Click to view original chain image, hosting by Photobucket(original chain image taken from here)

No one gets to choose where they're born. Walski knows he sure damn well didn't... it wasn't like there was some pre-birth geo-domicile form that he had to fill out. Well, at least that he can remember, anyway.

Nope. Just like when or under what circumstances we were born. It's all part of this organo-cosmic soap opera called Life.

What we do have the power and ability to change, however, is our collective existence within a community of individuals, many times extrapolated, to that notion called Nationhood.

The basis of Nationhood is Citizenship, the right to call oneself a member of a given nation. It's a relatively new concept, looking at mankind's historical timeline, but be that as it may, it's something that we're pretty much stuck with for now.

Consider this: one of the ways a person becomes a citizen of Malaysia is by being born here on Malaysian soil. So, for example, if Hafiz Noor Shams, Ms. Soon Li Tsin and Stephen Francis (Walski's blogger buddies, by the way) were all born in Malaysia, making them all citizens, they should have exactly the same rights and privileges under Malaysian law, right?

Well, the reality is that they don't. Another reality is that when it comes to certain things - like personal beliefs and morality - Hafiz is bound by another set of laws that the other two aren't. And these laws are legal, and can get Hafiz's ass into some real legal troubles, which is not the case with Li Tsin and Stephen. When it comes to other things, though, Hafiz has privileges that the other two don't get - like automatic discounts on housing, regardless of personal means.

But Hafiz, Li Tsin and Stephen are all citizens of Malaysia, supposedly equal under the law. So, what the fuck's wrong with this picture?

Okay guys... his apologies for being Walski's unwilling examples... you may be excused now... and thanks for playing.

Well, according to some people, they aren't all equal citizens of Malaysia. Some people like Penang UMNO leader Ahmad Ismail (via The Star), who allegedly labelled non-Malays as "pendatang" - or immigrants - during the failed BN campaigning in Permatang Pauh. Apparently, UMNO has since apologized - but really... what kind of mindset does this guy have, given away by that fateful Freudian-slip?

Sad thing is that he's not alone. Not by a long-shot.
(the chains that bind us as a nation, and more, in the full post)

And this dichotomy of Malay-Chinese-Indian... oh, and the Dan-Lain-Lain... isn't that a construct that we inherited from our British colonial masters? Wasn't that the result of filtering a myriad of diverse cultures into 3 (plus 1) neat compartments, over the course of 3 census exercises between 1871 to 1931 (see this earlier post about a lecture by Farish A. Noor)? Not something, of course, that's common knowledge.

The question is, if we have achieved independence, why are we still employing this colonial construct?

But wait... there's more. Remember the part about different laws for different people that Walski mentioned earlier? Isn't this a kind of divide-and-rule construct made popular by... yup, you guessed it... our British colonial masters. Same thing goes with the ethno-nationalist politics that is the core of Barisan Nasional even today.

Now, Walski is in no way Brit-bashing here. The very same social constructs that them colonialists employed in the colonized lands have long since been abandoned by mother Britain. Divide-and-rule was effective for the British colonialists then... and it sure seems to be working here still.

What Walski IS bashing here is: why have the negative things about our colonialists been retained, while the solid civil service that they left us (a good thing) is slowly decaying under it's humongous, yet growing weight? Has "Quantity over Quality" become the new mantra of government machinery?

Archaic and inhuman laws that we've retained... ISA, OSA, Sedition Act, Print & Press controls... all colonial legacies. And retained for what? Well, Walski thinks that you know the answer to that as well as Walski.

Notwirthstanding some of the more rotten enactments and legislature, the law system that we've inherited, while not perfect, works. And works well. And now there are those who want to throw away our entire working civil law system for something more "Islamic".

It would seem, therefore, when it comes to things colonial, it's "buang yang jernih, ambil yang keruh" (a Malay proverb, reversed, to mean "throw away the clear (water) and take the murky" - or in other words, rid the good, keep the bad).

The point here is that we keep hearing, on and on and on, about how we've been liberated from the chains of colonialism... and for the most part, history has somehow been re-written to give the impression that the only people responsible for Malaya's liberation were the United Malay Nationalist Organisation. Better known today as UMNO. With token help from MCA and MIC.

A day before August 31st, our Independence Day, an interesting article was posted at the Tukar Tiub blog, by Hishamudin Rais. The truth is that our path towards independence began a long, long time before what we popularly know today, and included such British unfriendly organizations like Kesatuan Melayu Muda (KMM), Persatuan Kebangsaan Melayu Malaya (PKMM), Angakatan Pemuda Insaf (API), Angkatan Wanita Sedar (AWAS), and yes, even Parti Komunis Malaya (PKM). These are the real and forgotten freedom fighters that the British clamped down upon in 1948 thereabouts.

One of the films Walski thinks everyone should watch, to get some idea of what post-WW2 colonial Malaya was like, and the shit that really went down, is "Sepuluh Tahun Sebelum Merdeka" (Ten Years Before Independence), by filmmaker Fahmi Reza. It's a brave documentary that recounts some of the lost history of our nation. Lost, because it's stuff like this that very seldom gets any airtime.

Malaysia is today, without a doubt, a soveriegn nation. But have we really achieved independence, particularly from the historical baggage that haunts us? Baggage whose excess mass is making us create new historical baggage for future generations?

Well, think about it... Have we really achieved independence? Or are we still irrevocably chained to the most unpleasant aspects of our pre-indenpendence past?

It is for this reason that this post comes well after August 31, a day when the nation puts up a show, celebrating for probably a lot of wrong reasons. Yes, it's the day that we gained independence from British rule, granted it is a very important day.

But not a day when we became independent of the colonial and feudal mindsets. Those things, unfortunately, linger on till this day.