Monday, 25 August 2008
Symbolism And Cult Figures
I have said it once and I will say it again, no one can help or save us but ourselves. We screwed up and now we need to patch ourselves up again.
We need to be constantly reminded of our predicament. We need to constantly remind those around us that we need change.
And what better reminder than something which is painful?
Our national flag is our greatest symbol of sovereignity, and of pride in ourselves as a nation. But it means NOTHING if we are oppressed in our own land. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is symbolism - a meaning beyond itself.
I actually cherish some of the criticism I receive for flying the flag upside down.
There was once, when people practically spat on the ground and growled, "F*ck Malaysia, may she rot in hell." Those moments really troubled me.
It really troubled me, because there were people out there who were not able to see Malaysia for her culture, her diversity, those smiling faces, and for what it's worth, the shiny happy people.
They only saw the nefarious government and its self-serving politicians. But today, I am chided for what people perceive as "abusing Malaysia" by flying its flag upside down. People feel like they belong in Malaysia, and for that, I have tears of pride and joy in my eyes.
In a few more years, I can expect them to understand the whole concept of symbolism.
Rox continues, "We can only help ourselves but the trouble is we want change at all costs. And I can only look on helplessly from my vantage point and see Malaysians who are so desperate that they are willing to throw themselves to sharks in order to escape from pirates."
Ah, but Rox. You and I are able to identify the sharks. The other Malaysians see them as dolphins. You know why? It's the Malaysian love for cult figures.
The problem with us is that we establish a picture of something or someone and get quite upset when our image of them is distorted or our expectations aren't met. Especially, when someone else points out a discrepancy.
It hit me in Blogger Strike 2 in The People's Parliament, when Helen Ang responded to a particularly asinine blog entry made by Marina Mahathir.
Now before I go on, I would like to point out that Marina does, on occasion write some good stuff. Strange Musings, is one of my favourites - articulate and eloquent.
But as a popular figure in Malaysian society, she should expect that her blog entries be commented upon, regardless of whether they are lauded or criticised.
Helen calls her an 'alpha blogger' and yes - in the minds of Malaysians, because she has made strides in improvement when it comes to AIDS, she is above criticism.
Perhaps what disturbs me about Marina, is that she tries to write from an average joe's point of view, though she’s obviously not. She is privileged, and while many say it is unfair to tar her with the same brush as her father, it cannot be disputed that she has had an advantage because of that.
People either fail to see that, or wilfully refuse to.
It cannot be said that Helen minced her words in her response to Marina's post. But I was more astonished at the number of people who were falling over themselves trying to defend Marina Mahathir when she's perfectly capable of doing so on her own (were she inclined to).
The herd instinct was remarkable. It took one person to start, and the rest jumped onto the bandwagon.
But Marina is not the only cult figure we have. We worship practically everyone who has done anything significant - that's how bad our Malaysia Boleh inferiority complex is. How many of us lap up every last word that RPK utters and declare it as the gospel truth?
Raja Petra Kamarudin has a way with words. I found his agony-aunt article, 'Dear Pete' a hoot! An absolute brainwave, and so apt for our current situation. If you haven't come across it, you must read it!
That being said, could you rationally and wholeheartedly believe the Statutory Declarations he comes up with on a regular basis?
I know he has a knack for throwing around money (and that usually makes informants sing like canaries) but really, he lost credibility with me after the first one.
And then, Anwar.
This, is unchartered territory. I've always regarded him as a cross between Najib Tun Razak and Hishammuddin Hussein Onn. If you know the colourful past of these two, you'd know how racist and dangerous a combo-pack can be.
The problem with people is that they worship the ground the man walks on. They believe he can do no wrong. Today, he is hailed as the the Saviour, the Messiah, God's Own Chosen One.
That, is what is wrong.
I have been giving it plenty of thought. I have watched Barisan Nasional employ every single dirty trick in the book to remain in government. Believe me when I say I marvel at how long they have managed to stay in power.
Honestly speaking, there is no best candidate who can lead us today. We have one who very much wants to be PM though, at all costs. The raw ambition is startling, but IT CAN ONLY HARM US IF WE LET IT.
The problem with us Malaysians, is that we tend to elect representatives and then ignore them for the next five years. That is not how democracy works.
Heck, I remind myself everyday that, "Politicians are a lot like diapers. They should be changed frequently, and for the same reasons."
There is no such thing as a perfect leader. No matter who we elect, they are bound to fail us at some point. At this point, I believe even a shark can lead. One did for 22 years.
But if we keep a close eye on our leaders, and stay to the course, I think we might actually work out a symbiotic relationship, where the PM enjoys relative luxury and power, but still serves the people.
If we can see Anwar Ibrahim for what he is, a fallible mortal with weaknesses, who needs as many kudos as brickbats, we may have a chance.
If we stop making a cult figure out of him, he may actually be able to lead.
I am an idealist, but not to the point of waiting for the perfect timing and for the perfect man (or woman) to come along. Perfection does not exist in our world. And perhaps that was what we Malaysians did for over 50 years.
Tomorrow, the people of Permatang Pauh get to decide the fate of an entire nation.
It could be the beginning of a tumultous journey of discovering and growing. It could also be a period of instability. But it is NOT in the hands of Anwar Ibrahim, no matter what anyone says.
It is in OUR hands.