IT is always refreshing to hear or read what knowledgeable foreigners have to say about our country. Often it is nothing out of the ordinary, but provides a perhaps useful counter-point to the dreary put-downs many Malaysians deal their own country on a daily basis.
Architect Jean-Michel Gathy’s take on his adopted hometown, Kuala Lumpur, published in the Financial Times’ latest weekend magazine, is one such fine example and acts as balm to at least this soul weary from all the seemingly masochistic nation-battering he finds, particularly on social media.
Please forgive my indulging in some direct quotes from Gathy: “What makes Kuala Lumpur special is its people. They’re a wonderful mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian, all considered equally important, so everyone is kind to each other.
“Because of its variety of religions, Malaysia has earned itself the reputation of having one of the highest numbers of public holidays in the world. And in KL, there’s almost always something fun going on.
“Because Malaysia was a British colony until 1957, the courts of law, the infrastructure, the police and the medical systems are all very balanced, much like you’d find in western Europe. Despite Kuala Lumpur’s lush, tropical feel — we’re basically on the equator — with the jungle that surrounds the city, you will still feel quite at home here as a foreigner.”
All fairly anodyne stuff, to be sure. But, am I alone in sometimes getting the distinct impression that quite many Malaysians have lost all such perspectives of their own country in their eagerness to criticise it, and, most unbecoming of all, join in when some short-term resident foreigners with half-baked local understanding and/or over-inflated sense of their own countries’ self-worth criticise our country?
But, please do not get me wrong. This country is not beyond reproach. We have problems, big and small, but which country does not? Do we have unique problems? You bet we do!
Gathy hinted about that with one of the quotes above. Having a variety of religions and each mightily important to its adherents and, therefore, important to all, may be “fun” in the eyes of foreigners, but can be something of a nightmare to those who have to manage this and ensure all the give and take it entails all the time. And, add to that the popular insecurities as varied as the very people who inhabit our shores.
The insecurities felt by some non-Bumiputeras with the perception that they have not been treated equally; an insecurity which leads some of them to move abroad, in hopes of finding greener pastures — more often than not, returning disappointed or else suffer in silence.
Or, the insecurities felt by some Bumiputeras, also with the perception that they have not been treated equally.
Above all, the insecurities felt by many Bumiputeras still that other fellow Malaysians complain, perhaps a touch too much, when it is the perception of these Bumiputeras that those complaining Malaysians really have the least to complain about their personal situations.
There is also a group of Malaysians with liberal and rather saccharine outward-looking perspectives who adhere stubbornly to the idealistic “norm” that an emphasis on “different” people among us Malaysians is a false construct and perhaps foisted on the nation by self-serving politicians. It is, at any rate, a passing phase before we reach the state of economically equitable advanced democracies found in the West.
This is a stubborn belief because it seems unshaken by the realities of what is unfolding in the most important Western nations today: a return of nativist politics and a distrust of (even hostility towards) immigrants and “foreign-looking” citizens.
There seems a rather mighty backlash from common majority peoples in these advanced democracies against the various breaks or handicaps afforded to minorities, which are increasingly viewed as permanent and unfair to the majority populations.
We have always had a twist of such a contention in our own political discourse, of course. Except that, in our case, minorities do count and matter politically and are, therefore, as Gathy correctly pointed out, regarded as “equally important”.
That, among all the various institutional checks and balances that we have in our political system, is perhaps the best national safeguard for us. And, advanced democracies are “converging” to us, not the other way round.
Now surely, that is some perspective.
John Teo views developments in the nation, the region and the wider world from his vantage point in Kuching, Sarawak.