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The Star - Musings - As reality starts to bite (29 Jul 2018)
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THERE’S a quote I found somewhere that goes “What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it’s supposed to be.” I don’t know who said that but it’s a wise observation on how our expectations often don’t match what actually happens in real life.

So it is with our new Malaysia. We worked hard for this win and we therefore expect everything post-elections to be perfect. And while many things have been great, the reality is that not everything will be. We are setting ourselves up for disappointment and can only hope that they won’t be huge ones.

Here are some of the biggest disappointments so far:

1.The DPM saying that the government is powerless to annul the marriage of an 11-year old girl to a 41-year old man even though it is clearly illegal and despite statements that the age of marriage will be raised to 18.

2.The Youth and Sports Minister not standing up for his staff who had to step down just because some people objected to his sexuality, as if this had anything to do with his competence to do his job. And worse, not making any comments about the injustice of the discrimination his staff faced.

3.The divisive foreign preacher Zakir Naik being allowed to stay even though he has nothing to contribute to the new Malaysia.

What this shows is that one of the last things to change is not governments or even laws but culture, or really what’s in people’s heads. And the trouble with politicians’ heads is that they’re often unwilling to take risks because they often have their eye on the next elections rather than the long term.

Obviously it’s not just people’s culture we have to change but also politicians’. Our new government should be reminded that they have already won the elections and they are actually in power now. I know it’s a feeling that’s hard to get used to for most of them. They probably still get up every morning pinching themselves to make sure they aren’t dreaming.

But the point is, they are now in power and they must realise they can actually do things now. And what we hope most is for them to do things that will be good for us in the long term. So it is an opportunity to do things that may seem unsafe if elections are near but very safe if elections aren’t for another five years.

Of course they shouldn’t do things that are going to cause hardship for everyone. But it is the right time to do things like ban child marriage, raise the age of marriage to 18, lower the voting age to the same and pass laws that does not allow any form of discrimination on anyone based on their sexual orientation.

Before everyone starts jumping up and down calling me an apostate, I just want to ask under what law, secular or religious, are you allowed to beat another human being, sometimes to death, just because they are different from you? I see people who think of themselves as “religious” actually advocating this. It’ll be interesting to see what excuses they will give if that different person happens to be a family member or close friend.

I hear about people saying that they don’t care about people’s lifestyles, don’t believe they should be discriminated against AS LONG AS they don’t start demanding their rights. The thing is, if they demand their right to go to school or university, or hospital or just to work, is that demanding too much?

Isn’t every human being entitled to these basic rights? If they demand that the police do something if they get beaten up, is that asking for too much? In fact most sexual minorities demand very little. Some have been discriminated against for no other reason than that they “walk funny”.

Some have been gainfully employed for some time, causing no trouble to anyone, and then suddenly their employers start insisting they dress differently or get fired. Are we supposed to be proud of this in the new Malaysia where we put otherwise good people out of work just because we’re afraid someone might say something?

Here’s the other bit of culture that hasn’t changed: the Opposition. And by that I mean the people who used to be in charge until they massively screwed up. In a democracy a good Opposition is essential. That means an Opposition that takes an interest in real issues and demands answers from the government when they see something wrong.

A good Opposition isn’t one that spends all its time baiting the Government on unimportant issues to supposedly prove that they have the moral high ground.

We don’t hear a peep from the Opposition on the issue of child marriage or on corruption. But somehow they’re obsessed with sex, especially those of the same-sex kind. As if we’re being overrun by gay people all of a sudden.
This is the same culture that we saw in the previous government. For some reason they have not learnt the lesson that trying to frighten the people with imaginary problems is not going to keep them in power. Voters wanted them to deal with real problems, like the cost of living for example. I suppose they’re just slow learners.

The government too has to learn not to rise to the bait. It doesn’t have to be on the defensive all the time. Besides you can never win a morality war.

The other side always thinks it has a straight route to heaven, despite their multitude of obvious sins, so there is no point in even engaging in this battle. Just do what is right especially for the weakest, poorest and most marginalised and it’ll be fine. The strongest, richest and most mainstream can take care of themselves.

But I do see some progressive thinking already among our new lot. There is a proposal out to increase the age of marriage and lower the voting age. Another is a proposal for the somewhat clunkily-named Racial and Religious Hatred Act.

It all sounds good but there has to be more thinking put in. Raising the age of marriage is a good move but it doesn’t solve the issues that make people give away their daughters in marriage to older men. Hatred is not always expressed towards other races and religions but also to people of the same race and religion but for other reasons. And by the way, you can’t insult religions per se, only people of particular faiths.

For example, when Donald Trump says all Muslims are potential terrorists, he’s insulting a group of people, not a faith. So I wish for two things: for the new Government to have the courage to do what is right, and for the Opposition to finally get down to do some work and perhaps have a fighting chance of proving its worth.

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