JANUARY — Karl Marx’s Die religion… ist das opium des volkes (Religion is the opiate of the masses) is an oft-repeated axiom.

In Malaysia, politicians are too keen to use it to drum up support or subdue critics.

Yet if you dig down it goes beyond politics and the reality is that it has become part of cultural identity in Malaysia to the point that every prime minister has tried to prove their religious credentials in as ostentatious a manner as possible.

Prayer will not fix our problems but even if that is pointed out, the most troubling, and perhaps slightly terrifying thing is, many Malaysians do not care.

There were even Malaysians who were convinced that the EPF money wasn’t their money but given by the government, and that whatever they took would be replenished by the government as well.

What do we do with generations of Malaysians who believe that aid will fall from the sky and the measure of a person’s worth is whether they will lift their hands to prayer on national TV?

When I was younger I scoffed at the older generation and their “the young people are so different nowadays” lament.

What I do see now that I have reached middle-age is troubling. I can read someone’s writing and know they are Malaysian because of certain Malaysian foibles that have snuck into local usage and yes, even teaching.

I was bored as a child doing all my English drills, exercises in prepositions, numerous comprehension tests and repeating things I was convinced I already knew.

Now I feel lucky I experienced that because having the basics hammered into me in my youth made it easier in my adulthood.

Despite my trying multiple times to learn other languages, I struggle now.

Too many distractions, too little energy and meanwhile my language book collection has become its own mini library of barely touched tomes.

Sure there are complaints that the standard of English has dropped but I would argue that we don’t even teach our national language well either.

Few things are as rotten as the state of Malay-language media.

Our national language mainstream outlets are ripe with propaganda, bigotry and preaching while so-called lifestyle websites are primarily full of viral stories that are rife with defamatory material.

Sure, our English language media won’t win literary awards but at the very least most care about avoiding libel.

(That is except for a few names that happily lift other publications’ material almost wholesale but lawyers exist for a reason.)

I am tired of this pandering in both politics and local media to religious sentiment.

Religion won’t fix how badly our education system has fallen, how our welfare system is held together by band-aids and overworked civil servants and our overcrowded hospitals with a health minister thinking the solution is making health workers work even longer hours than they already are.

I pray. I believe, quite illogically I must admit, in a higher power. However, I do not ask my god to fix my government or to make me rich.

What I pray for is strength. What I ask for is solace and a reminder that I am not alone.

I do admit I have often asked quite loudly that a few political figures be struck down by lightning but they have all now been rendered politically irrelevant so I suppose that is enough compromise.

It should be illegal for politicians to make religious promises the way a certain political party has, convincing people that voting them is like booking a place in paradise.

That kind of talk is not much different from the way extreme groups recruit the easily misled.

Our government needs to finally stop being afraid of empowering its citizens to think for themselves, instead of believing some preacher can absolve them of responsibility in this life for some unguaranteed spot after death.

Our citizens must learn to think or we will forever be at the mercy of the thoughtless. They say god is in the details but it seems to be that it is time that we think of the bigger picture.  MALAY MAIL

Ordinary Malays vs Malay politicians

On the first day of Chinese New Year on Jan 22, I shared this post online under the heading, “The Malays are the nicest people around. A Chinese thinks so.”

I wrote: “On the first day of Chinese New Year today (Jan 22), I did something different this year. I attended a Malay wedding at Pantai Dalam, Kuala Lumpur.

“My friend, Jimmy, and myself were the only two Chinese at the wedding. This was not unexpected as it was CNY. That was also one good reason why I went – to help make the happy event a little merrier and more meaningful for the wedded couple, Taufik and Eva, and their parents. Hopefully.

“The gracious hosts received us warmly. When we congratulated them, they were also quick to wish Jimmy and me ‘Gong Xi Fa Cai’.

“The younger set who greeted us by taking our hand to bless them on the forehead is a Malay tradition which I truly appreciate. To me, that was the warmest form of respect practised by the community which others should acknowledge with gratitude and reciprocate with affection and grace.

“Food was aplenty. The caterer, an elderly, and his helpers were on hand to serve guests their many delicacies which we thoroughly enjoyed. I believe I had two helpings during the two hours spent at the wedding.

“Minister Fahmi Fazdil, the Lembah Pantai MP, was the guest of honour at the function.

“I have a reason for penning this little story. Let me say this as I think it is important and befitting the festive occasion. The Malays in Kuala Lumpur (and I believe, elsewhere too) are very courteous, nice, gracious and respectable folks.

“They warm up quickly (adults and children alike), even to strangers, and are very friendly and hospitable.

“Today is an example where our racial/religious harmony and tolerance are on display. Chinese and Malays, Indians, Dayaks or Kadazandusuns – we can truly be one on the same Malaysian soil.

“The ordinary Malays are wonderful folks. Only the Malay politicians, among them the extremists, bigots and the corrupt are the troublemakers. Their greed for power, fame and fortune is what blinded them. (Many politicians of other races are in the same boat.)

“So, when non-Malays talk about the Malays, remember this. The ordinary Malays are among the nicest people around. Their simplicity in the way they live, their empathy for others and the respect they unhesitatingly show to others stand out in glory for the non-Malays to see and hopefully, emulate.”

(I added this footnote: The writer, a Sarawakian, has lived in Kuala Lumpur “on and off” for more than 30 years. His views/opinions on the Malay community should have a semblance of credibility.)

Politicians are at it again

Many of my non-Malay friends responded to my sharing positively, saying that they agree with my views on the Malays. There was not a single negative reaction to my post.

We are still in the Chinese New Year celebratory mood. Officially, the celebrations will conclude at Chap Goh Meh, on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year.

Over the past week alone, there have been several occasions when so-called Malay political leaders were at it again – creating havoc and animosity among the people.

PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang

On Jan 26, Hulu Langat MP Sany Hamzan sent a memorandum to Selangor ruler Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, urging a probe against PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang for alleged religious extremism.

The memorandum alleged that Hadi used religion for political gain during the 15th general election, and he had spread hateful sentiments against other cultures in Malaysia.

I don’t know what to say about the PAS head honcho anymore. I have said my piece about Hadi in a recent article in this column. That should suffice for now.

I doubt Hadi will ever change. He has not mentioned anything positive about others for as long as I can remember.

Also on Jan 26, Kedah Amanah chief Ismail Salleh slammed state Menteri Besar Muhammad Sanusi Md Nor for claiming that Local Government Development Minister Nga Kor Ming has a hidden agenda to revive the local government elections by emulating Singapore’s Housing and Development Board (HDB) housing plans.

I wish to join Ismail and tick off the Kedah MB for being a rabble-rouser by stoking racial tension. Like his party president, Sanusi has also never said positive things about those of other races and beliefs. He seems to be an exact replica of his party’s boss.

In his latest outburst, Sanusi claimed that certain cities will be dominated by a certain race and the local councillors would come from one single race who would then enact the bylaws.

“Our cities will not be madani cities. Anwar Ibrahim has not realised this yet. It goes against the ‘Malaysia Madani’ goal.

“In the end, DAP will decide who will conquer the cities,” he alleged.

If this is not trying to poison the minds of the people and pitting one race against another, then what is it? Sanusi should be hauled up by the authorities, the soonest as possible.

Unfortunately, the matter did not stop despite Nga’s explanation. The following day, another Malay politician, added fuel to the fire.

Not surprisingly, it came from a known Bersatu rabble-rouser, Tasek Gelugor MP Wan Saiful Wan Jan who warned that the fate of bumiputeras would be at risk if an HDB model is implemented in the country.

A flat in Singapore

Wan Saiful is known as the troubleshooter for Bersatu president Muhyiddin Yassin – a subservient fellow who would be prepared to do anything his boss asks of him.

Wan Saiful has been rewarded with a safe parliamentary seat in the 15th general election and he has more reasons now to bark louder for his master.

These are just some examples of Malay politicians who are giving their community a bad name.

These are the known hypocrites who had declared that they were protecting the rights and interests of the Malays. Instead, they are doing a great disservice to their own kind.

As I was about to conclude this article, I received a message from a friend (coincidentally on this subject) with an anonymous quote which reads:

“Malay politicians do two things best. One, use ‘Malays’ as the reason for their struggle and two, use ‘non-Malays’ as the reason why ‘Malays’ are struggling.

“The thing is that, after more than 60 years, Malay politicians never struggled, while the Malays are still struggling.”

How true is that?

The ordinary Malays would be much better off without such self-serving, hypocritical leaders in their midst.

I, for one, hold the ordinary Malays in high esteem. To the Malay politicians who are racists, bigots and hypocrites, why don’t you just go fly a kite?  MKINI