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Articles, Commentaries, Penang Monthly [formerly Penang Economic Monthly]

“Heal Malaysia” – A Slogan for the Elections

By OOI KEE BENG [Editorial for PENANG MONTHLY, May 2012]

We can read books on Malaysia’s history by scholars of various persuasions all we want. In the end, the solution to the ills suffered by the country over the last half century will have to come from discussions about principles, not about contested facts.

We can blame the British for the mess they left behind, and for the even bigger mess they engineered as their retreat strategy, aimed at protecting their post-colonial interests. We can blame colonialism for forcing the Southeast Asian region – and the entire world in fact – into the legacy of the nation state and the ethno-nationalism and inter-communal tensions that always accompany it. We can also blame the dynamics of global capitalism for moving populations around just to suit the production lines of new industries. And we can blame them for destroying the fabric of so many cultures and civilizations.

We Asians can of course also blame ourselves for not seeing it coming; for being self-satisfied; for putting too much weight on social propriety and not enough on intellectual stimulation; for being excessively prone to collecting and practising superstitions; for being male-dominated; for failing to develop scientific methods of knowledge generation; for being given to traditionalism; and for being subservient to power and for being accepting of hierarchies.

I can go on, except that this blame game will not take us any place worth going to. No doubt, it bestows on us the addictive but sweet soreness of being among History’s fatalities, but that’s as far as it goes. We remain victims nevertheless, and we continue to revel in the impotent outrage of the passive victim.

This outrage, like most traumas of youth, is essentially aimed inwardly at our own body. Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamed may be best remembered for trying to aim our bile outwards, but even then he was inexcusably indiscriminate and opportunistic when doing that. That is perhaps the prerogative of youth—to blame everyone but oneself.

As we mature, as individuals and as a nation, we should realise that the best revenge is to live well. By living well, we terminate the impact others have had on us; and by living well, we heal ourselves from within.

Turning what seems a losing hand into a strong one is the only way to go, to my mind. We are divided by race and religion, a division that was perpetuated by the politics of our youth.

As we mature, we should realise—and this is in itself the surest sign of our maturity—that our heart-rending divisions of race and religion are badly exaggerated to serve a few. It is only by realising that our victimhood continues only because we allow it to, can we someday laugh at the foolishness of youth and move towards closing our wounds.

As a country, Malaysia was an untidy patchwork; and thus as a people, Malaysians began life divided. To move beyond that, an inclusive mindset must be nurtured to the point where differences are fêted and divisions despised. Only Malaysians can heal Malaysia.

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About Ooi Kee Beng

Dr OOI KEE BENG is the Executive Director of Penang Institute (George Town, Penang, Malaysia). He was born and raised in Penang, and was the Deputy Director of ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute (formerly the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, ISEAS). He is the founder-editor of the Penang Monthly (published by Penang Institute), ISEAS Perspective (published by ISEAS) and ISSUES (published by Penang Institute). He is also editor of Trends in Southeast Asia, and a columnist for The Edge, Malaysia.

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