Politics of Hope and Fear

Note: The following blog post was drafted about two years ago, but for some reasons it went unpublished until today. I left it as it is, save for a few minor editing (paragraph 8 onwards). Rereading the blog post, it looks like we have progressed very little. Malaysia is still very much divided along political and racial lines. Issues pertaining to race and religion continues to dominate the media headlines as well as online and social media discussions. 

At the time of writing this post I am currently halfway (2013 note: completed) reading Dominique Moisi's excellent piece of work, "The Geopolitics of Emotion: How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation, and Hope are Reshaping the World". Though there are several glaring factual and interpretive mistakes (especially concerning Malaysia and former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's speech) it doesn't affect much of the author's main thesis; particularly on fear, hope and humiliation, and how they influence and shape global politics and globalisation.

Moisi argues about how hope is rapidly changing Asian countries like China and India to build a better future, how fear of 'the Other' is fast creeping into European nations and how humiliation is quickly devolved into a culture of hatred in the Middle East.

While I do acknowledge the importance of logic and reason, we cannot deny that it is the emotional aspect that determines much of what we do in our life. There are more subjectivity in life as opposed to rationality. Whether we like it or not, it is emotion that plays a major part in our life. From deciding the type of clothes to wear, the kind of restaurant for dinner to TV programs, musics, and celebrities we love or hate, they are all mostly guided by our emotion. For instance, how do you rationalise saying that one tv program is better than the other? No doubt you can, but there will be a lot of arguments and reasons to justify why one is better than the other, unlike mathematics and logic where 1 plus 1 is always 2, no matter which part of the planet you are from. 

If rational means adhering to rule of law, there wouldn't be any revolution in the world like what is happening today in the Middle Easy and North Africa. Revolution happens because people are EMOTIONALLY angry and frustrated. So they went to the streets to protest.

Partly influenced by Moisi's refreshing intellectual argument, I attempt to bring about Moisi's framework into my brief analysis on Malaysia's increasingly racialised and religionised politics post-308 (or is it the other way round? The politicisation of race and religion?).

When people vote in an election, I believe that the vast majority would vote AGAINST rather than for (be it the Government or Opposition). It is often said that Opposition never wins, but Government loses election (post-GE13 note: this maxim, I believe, is now not so true). 

In order to understand the problems of race and religion that has cropped up in recent years, it is important for one to look at the issues holistically and identify the aspects of the problems and the views from different perspectives. 

Understanding one another's racial and religious needs and sensitivities is an emotional action. In fact, being sensitive IS a form of emotional expression. In India for instance, respecting the sensitivities of the Hindu majority would mean that the Muslim minority would have to find an alternative to cows during Eid ul-Adha. This has long been the practice or some kind of a "social contract" that binds the the two major faiths in India.

Similarly, in a multiracial Malaysia, it is not unusual to see a large mosque built in a Chinese majority urban neighbourhood or a Hindu or Buddhist temple near a Malay majority areas (notwithstanding certain issues recently). Most Malaysians too, are accustomed to the fact that certain roads will be congested and cars parked "illegally" by the roadside every Friday. Likewise for the Malay Muslims, it is well accepted that the Thaipusam celebration in Batu Caves is part of the unique national culture and heritage. Nobody ever raise the issue of traffic congestion caused by these religious events. This is the Malaysia that I grew up with and believe in.

However, in spite of this, there are a lot of things and issues that are not well within certain segments of our society unlike what most of the local multiracial PSAs aim to portray. This is the problem with Malaysia. We are still troubled and bogged down by FUNDAMENTAL issues, such as education policy, affirmative action, religious issues, national identity, national language and so on. By "fundamental", I mean issues that are supposed to have been dealt with firmly decades ago. 

Look no further, take Singapore as an example. They have developed and progressed beyond the "fundamentals". While we are still debating and arguing about the need for a one school system, vernacular schools, English medium schools, PPSMI and whatnot, such an issue is totally irrelevant in modern Singapore today. No doubt Singapore is not perfect, but this is a comparison between two fundamentals. To move forward, Malaysia cannot afford to constantly being pulled and dragged by chauvinistic elements, religious extremism and other lunatic fringes of the society.

So how do we go from here? How do we solve the complexities? While the idea may sound simplistic, it may not be as simple and easy as it sound. Using Moisi's emotional framework, I propose that a thorough analysis of both the "hopes" and "fears" of the Malays and non-Malays, and Muslims and non-Muslims to be fully analysed and understood. 

A brief observation would suggest that fears seem to dominate the Malay psyche while among the urban Chinese, hope is running at an all-time high. There is a strong sense of hope of winning Putrajaya, especially after the Opposition's big win in the 2008 General Elections. There is a strong sense of hope that change can actually happen through the ballot box especially after witnessing the historic DAP landslide win in Penang in March 2008. Again, this observation may appear simplistic. Of course there are hopes and fears in each and every ethnic communities, but what was highlighted here is just an example to illustrate the issues better.

Whatever the future may be, the fundamental components of the nation must never be compromised; the Federal Constitution, the Rukunegara, the Malay Muslim features and identity and the history of this land.