Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Is that all?

A friend asks what could anyone do in light of the current siege on the Federal Constitution. That’s a hard question to answer. Indeed, what can a person do without succumbing to cynicism, or worse, buy a one-way ticket to where the grass is proverbially greener?
So I said,

1.Be informed
2.Inform others
3.Get involved
4.Vote
5.Pray

Is that all, came the reply.

Well, I don’t know.

Will it help?

Some, I’m sure. But being informed and getting involved is a good place to start.

It shouldn’t surprise me anymore but the fact is just too many people I meet haven’t a clue what’s happening. Seriously, and frighteningly so. When told about Raimah Bibi, this friend in her twenties asked, "Who?" A man in his fifties looked askance and asked what Lina Joy had to do with us, since it was an Islamic dispute. A young couple said they had a vague idea, but what’s the story again, they asked? A college grad says that’s why he's getting out of here. So people have not read the Federal Constitution. Then again, nobody’s reading history anyway. I have met a bunch of teens who hardly knew anyhting about Hitler (oh, the man with the moustache) and the holocaust, so there.

My guess is,
a. there isn’t sufficient coverage in the papers or no one’s giving the big picture round-up, exploring or commenting on the seriousness of the issues (because our politicians would have you believe they know what sort of news you need to read)
b. a lot of people aren’t reading newspapers these days, which I suspect is the real reason besides it being compounded by reason of (a)
c. they are logged online, but they’ve got more things on their minds than local politics and socio-economic blather, like...
d. the European Cup.

Sure, our papers are conspiratorial in their silence and I shall not mourn their passing, whatever minister of information Zam may say. It appears rural Malaysia still depends on old media for their news, while urbanites are deserting it in droves for the web. Yet, are there so few who are online or who have assimilated into the IT collective, who feed on alternative news, sniff out angst-ridden prose about social injustice and political intrigue (and find new uses for expletives)? At the latest count, Malaysia has 11 million internet users, which adds up to 38.9% penetration in a population of some 28 million. Is this simply a preternatural disposition of middle-class elite who are uncomfortable in their material comforts?

Obviously this leads to the next question: how to be involved?

Some nervously light candles and join peaceful demonstrations. Others add their names to petitions. The vocal few join NGOs, make noise, write letters, rant in blogs, and/or question their MPs. But a lot more ought to vote. 5 million - the majority being first time voters out of their teens – are by default lying down in the path of a trundling national theocratic ambition.

Then there are those who simply refuse to join the voting constituency for reasons that are better known to themselves. For instance, I know a senior banker who was slightly miffed when I came on too strong about his indifference. “It’s not indifference, just being realistic. Want me to vote opposition-ah? What can they do?”

Candle-lights get snuffed out. Forum permits get withdrawn or are shouted down. Petitions get withdrawn or politely ignored. Kerises are unsheathed. May 13 is invoked. Voters are swayed by bread-and-butter needs than matters closer to the heart and soul (say, aren’t these intertwined?)

We read of massive demonstrations in Turkey to keep the nation secular, and don’t we just wish thousands felt the same way too about our own nation. The Berlin Wall came down. Poland became a liberal republic. Communist USSR is in the rubbish heap of history.

A lot of people must have prayed.

That's another good place to start as well.

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