(© Gaspirtz / Wiki Commons)
IF I could, I would look up what all those astrologers said about 2009 at the beginning of the year to see if what they predicted was correct. If I recall correctly, all their predictions were of gloom and doom. And for once, I think they got it right: 2009 was not great.
But it would be too convenient to blame the fates for all that was bad last year, when actually so much of the bad was caused by humans.
Take the issue of the whipping sentence on Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno for drinking alcohol. The judge who saw fit to give her the maximum sentence of six lashes — perhaps because he saw her, a part-time model and nurse, as no role model — was most likely acting on pure human prejudice.
He didn’t expect, however, that Kartika would do something perfectly human. She refused to have her life put on hold and decided not to appeal the sentence, thus igniting the ensuing public furore against the sentence. Those who claimed to be God’s representatives on earth suddenly found the awkward reality of life hitting them squarely in the face. Where previously it might have been fun to speculate on public hangings, hand-choppings and the like in order to erect the ideal Muslim society, faced with the reality, it wasn’t so pleasant. Why? Because human beings these days talk back.
Similarly, in the case of former Perlis Mufti Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, it was not fate that sent the 25 police officers to surround the house he was at just to arrest him. It was some human being who thought this was an ideal way to show how the state was being protected from “deviant teachings” including “Wahhabism“. Perhaps Asri was mistaken for an alien of sorts. But it was humans who showed up at the East Gombak Syariah Court by the dozens to show their support for Asri when he was charged with preaching without a licence.
Fate certainly had no role in ensuring that the Sultan of Selangor agreed with the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department about the need for licensing preachers. But then again, neither did fate compel the Sultan to talk about the need for Muslims to be tolerant during the Maal Hijrah celebrations. The contradictions were purely human.
Least favourite Martians
And I doubt any soothsayer would blame an incident such as the Shah Alam cow-head protest on the stars aligning wrongly. Only human beings of the worst kind could have thought of using a severed cow’s head to protest against a Hindu temple and then try to explain it away as a symbol of official obstinacy. Nor could Venus and Mars have explained the ruckus during the subsequent residents’ “consultation” with the Selangor government except that it was the Martian males and not Venusian females who acted like thugs.
This brings to mind the police report made by another lot of Martians against Ipoh Barat Member of Parliament M Kulasegaran. Their report said that Malay Malaysians are first-class citizens of Malaysia and non-Malay Malaysians are second-class citizens. Paraphrasing Groucho Marx, that’s not a first-class cabin I want to join, thank you.
So all in all, 2009 was not a fabulous year. Ultimately, we didn’t even need climate change to make us gloomy.
Cause for hope
Visitors and friends visit the Hindu temple in Shah Alam (Pic courtesy of Mas Hamzah)
But in case I come off too pessimistic, there were some bright spots in 2009 if only one cared to look. The fact that people reacted strongly against all the events mentioned above is something to take heart from. Young people in particular responded spontaneously by organising their own demonstrations of solidarity, such as the group of young people who went to the Hindu temple in Section 19, Shah Alam, with gifts of food and goodwill. Or the many hundreds who joined in the Fast for the Nation to celebrate Malaysia Day and to show true solidarity with one another in a way that no government could have orchestrated.
Fate, though, may have played a hand in making one of the chief Selangor-temple-meeting thugs decide to have drinks at the very same coffee shop where several Fast for the Nation organisers and participants had gathered. The thug had no clue who those around him were although he did have an encounter with one brave young woman who challenged him on his behaviour. This courage is what makes me optimistic about our young people.
It was young people who sought to find ways and means to discuss, debate and educate on many issues throughout 2009. They organised talks, movie screenings and exhibitions on topics such as human rights, censorship and homosexuality, and campaigns such as MyConstitution. Sadly, another worthwhile global campaign, the Charter for Compassion, organised by adults in typical officious fashion, has yet to make it beyond its launch ceremony.
And so it is fitting that 2009 ended with Project Hope, an attempt to record voices of hope and optimism for the years ahead, to remind people that in the midst of despair, there can still be light.
Perhaps that light might illuminate the way to more hopeful predictions in 2010.
Marina Mahathir is an activist, writer, and blogger who constantly needs more outlets to vent because there is never a shortage of issues to vent about.
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