BRAVE NEW WORLD
By AZMI SHAROM
It would be nice to take politicians down a peg or two every now and then to remind them that they are where they are because of us.
LIFE, as M. Nasir once sang, is like a rollercoaster. You have your ups and you have your downs. Sometimes you cry and sometimes you laugh like a loon. Just ask Sheffield United and West Ham United supporters. The past couple of weeks have been a little like that.
Maybank’s instructions that all the law firms working for them must have a bumiputra component in their make-up made me pretty annoyed.
Yes, it is fundamentally unfair to the lawyers who happen to be born non-Malay; yes, it is doubtful that they have the authority to make such a request; but what really irritated me is that this is the very sort of thing that undermines affirmative action.
Affirmative action is meant to give a leg up to those who need it. No one can deny that thirty years ago there were very few Malay lawyers around. The NEP has done a lot to fix that. We can debate the rightness of the NEP some other time.
My point is that there are plenty of Malay lawyers now, and many of them got to where they are because they got government scholarships to go abroad or they were let into local universities under the quota system.
What Maybank tried to do is in fact saying that despite all the help that these men and women obtained, they still need help now. This is exactly the sort of thing that makes people mad. Just how much of a leg up does one need?
You are already qualified lawyers, for goodness’ sake. Act like one. Work hard and go out there and prove that you are just as good as any other lawyer.
It is true that Maybank made a hasty withdrawal from their position because of the public outcry (which goes to show that public outcries do work).
But the damage has been done.
This episode has shown that a major Malaysian institution was set on having a race-based affirmative action policy in a situation where it is totally uncalled for.
This does not bode well for us either in terms of race relations, or for the economic well-being of the country.
When are they ever going to understand that without a merit-based system as a genuine aspiration we will all suffer, because when the best are not doing the best work, we get nothing but mediocrity.
But life is about balance, and before the froth started to drip on my T-shirt something really amusing happened.
Now, a lot has been written about the MPs who think that making jokes about a fellow parliamentarian’s menstrual cycle is the height of Dewan Rakyat wit. Those pieces have been very, very angry. That is perfectly understandable.
I, on the other hand, think that what Bung (oh, how apt a name) did – although not what he said – was great.
All right, before I get furious e-mails from women (and sensitive men in touch with their feminine side), please let me explain myself. I am one of those people who think that politicians are given far too much respect.
After all, they are only where they are because of us. It would be nice therefore to take them down a peg or two every now and then to remind them of this fact.
This would normally be the job of satirists and the like and could take the form of the written word or stand-up comedy or even television puppet shows. Unfortunately, we don’t have very much of that in these parts.
In Shakespearean plays, the fool plays an important role. As he frolics and clowns around, underneath the silliness he is actually the voice of reason.
By virtue of his being seen as merely a joker, he gets away with saying truths that others may not dare to. In this way, the King’s shortcomings are oft exposed and he is shown to be a fool himself.
We don’t have many people who can play the Shakespearean fool in Malaysia, someone who can show up those in power. But with clowns like Bung in our Parliament, we don’t really need to, as they are more than capable of being fools themselves.
And what wonderful comedic support he has, too.
When one of their fellows said a totally despicable thing and then gets off scot-free, many cheered. Oh, how they cheered.
Hurrah, one of us has made a “joke” that we would be ashamed to make in front of our mothers, but never mind, he got let off. Hip, hip, hurrah!
Or what about the woman MP who defended this jester Bung? I simply must remember my best period joke to tell her if we were ever to meet. I am sure she will find it humorous and in the best possible taste.
Indeed, Bung the fool has plenty of supporting players to make that comedy stage we call our Parliament a truly funny place indeed.
How I laughed. And I think I can hear the world laughing along with me.
Dr Azmi Sharom is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya.