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Looking back, moving forward


(© 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.


Mohd Asri

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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3 Responses to “Looking back, moving forward”

  1. I can’t believe it. The whole world is going back to the 15th century. It’s pretty sad and it shows a lot in Malaysia. Scientists have proven that the very notion of race is genetically wrong. And instead of letting people follow their own personal quest towards spirituality, [...] details [are imposed] on people. Whereas in the 80s or 70s, people fought for freedom on all levels [...]

  2. Well, I don’t have much to say apart from feeling sad when I see the world going backwards, accepting concepts that science has proven to be false, falsifying history instead of going forward [...] I had come with enthusiasm to Malaysia because I wanted to be part of the country of the man I loved. I have even bought a flat here, but I feel like going away. I know I won’t stay very long.

    I am still trying to adapt, but I got here when there was a thing about yoga and Muslims. Then I met women who wore scarves and went to learn the basics of Islam not by choice, but because they wanted to marry a man they had fallen in love with. Do you think they are Muslims? No. They are pretending and might divorce when passion subsides, go back to Europe or America and become what they were before, or worse, start hating Islam.

    Whereas I have a friend who has become a Muslim through her own studies, not for a guy. I have always been interested in spiritual quest, so I have read quite a lot of books about Islam’s spiritual aspect. I cannot help thinking of the great Sufi master Mansur Al-Hallaj. He was killed by bigots [...] Maurice Béjart converted to Islam. [Rene] Guenon also. Nobody had forced them. It was their way to perfection.

    Whereas I know people in some countries who were Muslims and practised Islam, but when it became compulsory, they converted to another religion. Soon we’ll go back to prehistoric times, it seems. In Africa, there are lots of Muslims, but they see things differently. I really didn’t imagine Malaysia to be like this. There is nothing left of a past civilisation, no epics, no myths, no heroes. And what is very shocking is the lack of trust between citizens [...]

    So I don’t think I’ll stay long. I don’t want my son to believe in things such as race, bumiputera, historical falsification. I don’t want him to be Malaysian, a second-class citizen, with the Ubermenschen Malays. It reminds me too much of a time when my grandparents and my parents were alive and saw the atrocities of Hitler.

  3. It’s just a souvenir because I am checking about the necessary procedure of moving to Thailand. As for my husband who was abroad for a very long time, he doesn’t recognise the [Malaysia] that was his in the 1970s, and is getting more and more depressed and cynical.


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