13 November 2006

Wednesday November 8, 2006

Outrageous events


IT’S NOT the first time that I’m feeling that life in this country is surreal but certainly these past few weeks have scored higher than usual on the “is-this-really-my-country” register.

First we get reams of news about people who have quite blatantly abused their power. A humongous house built illegally with heaven knows whose money. Blatant disregard for rules and regulations, not to mention propriety. Very fudged “truths”. I would even venture that disrespecting people’s intelligence should also be considered a crime.

It’s interesting to see how after quite rightly crucifying the guy, the rehabilitation promptly starts. First a large section of what should have been a news page is devoted to how the feng shui of his house was wrong and that’s why he’s in so much trouble. Does this mean that all any crook has to do is make sure his house is properly aligned and he’ll get away with anything? Maybe we should employ a whole bunch of feng shui sleuths to size up big houses immediately.

Then there’s the astounding spectacle of the formerly Gucci be-shaded politician all red-eyed and puffy bemoaning the way life has been so horrible lately when all he’s ever done is help people. (We should perhaps look at what “help” actually means.)

And our ever-curious media swallows it whole, accepts his refusal to answer questions (couldn’t he at least have said it would have been sub judice, assuming he will go to court at some point?) and then talks about his “simple wooden home where he lives with his 11 kids and their spouses and children as well as his aged mother”.

I reckon any tour of squatter settlements around KL will reveal quite a few families in the same boat, none of whom have the means to improve their living conditions by building a palace, legally or illegally.

Then we have the equally sorry spectacle of our over-testosteroned gung-ho religious zealots who tried to “catch” a non-Muslim foreign couple in their 60s for khalwat. And don’t we love the defence given by the Kedah Jabatan Ugama that essentially they were just doing their job?

It strikes a poor simpleton like me that if you bang on people’s doors and they answer in what must have been obviously American-twanged English, it would be fair to conclude that a) they are foreign, and b) they are likely not to be Muslim. Unless this was actually a way of trying to show Mr Bush who’s boss, in Langkawi at least.

By the way, let us not get upset about this episode just because it hurts our tourism industry. Our own people have had to endure this ridiculous policing of our private lives for ages and how many times have such “enforcers” made mistakes such as this with their own community?

Malaysia stands alone with only Saudi Arabia and Iran in this type of state intrusion into people’s lives. Does anyone think that tourists are impressed if we confine this to just our people? Maybe we should start doing khalwat tours and charge tourists to accompany our religious officials on their raids and see if arrivals increase.

Then we poor dumb Malaysians get told that we cannot do anything about politicians on the take because hey, it’s an in-house matter and it doesn’t affect us outsiders at all. Sorry? Politicos have nothing to do with the rest of us? Don’t we “outsiders” vote them in every few years? You mean to say that our anti-corruption agency was set up just to deal with those of us not fool enough to join a political party? That’s a great recruitment ploy, I must say.

When people complain that those of us who provide intelligent criticism of the workings of our country are spoiling the image of Malaysia, it makes me wonder how these guys I just mentioned enhances it.

Apparently being dumb, arrogant, corrupt, bigoted and zealous is better for our image than being smart, upright, fair-minded citizens. Am I missing something here or has the world turned upside down?

Maybe if we don’t travel outside our country and don’t care about the image of our country (although some Ministers keep reminding us we should), it’s okay to gloss over these outrageous events. But if, like me, you travel overseas and meet well-read people, it’s hard to know where to put our faces.

We need someone to restore our moral bearings, someone who just says outright that these things are wrong, no fudging, no excuses. Someone who understands that these events bring shame to our country, not pride. Otherwise an entire continent might not want to be associated with us if this is what “Truly Asia” really means.