Yeah, anyone who bothered to follow the news of Michael Backman’s criticisms towards Malaysia’s wasteful economy would have guessed that this was coming. With Malaysia’s International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz saying and I quote:
“What do we care? Obviously, this person doesn’t know Malaysia. He is an outsider and he can say what he likes. I don’t really care about what others say – as long as it is not a Malaysian saying it.”
You really have to ask the question. How many Malaysians does it take for the Government to actually realize that there are Malaysians saying that?
In the article that Backman wrote, he said he’s received about 600 emails from readers that are mostly Malaysian. I give that it’s a fair bit of response. Then again, with Malaysia’s population being a over 24 million people, 600 people actually bothering to say that they agree with a foreign guy over his criticisms about the Malaysian economy isn’t going to be turning heads, at least not the heads of the people that matter. Now I know my math is pretty horrible, but even I can say that 600 over 24 million is just a pathetic ratio.
With what I understand about Malaysian politics and how the economy is tied to it, the government does what they want to do simply because the people that put them there don’t want to do anything about it. Of course, many people who pretend that they know something about freedom of speech would claim that “the government is oppressing us, that’s why no one speaks out”. Which makes you wonder just how smart the current government really is? Think about it.
Freedom isn’t something that people can just take away from you. The right to practice and stand up for what you believe, while abstract, purely depends on a single person’s conviction to stand for it. So far from what I gather about Malaysians and their grasp of politics is in a nutshell:
- You don’t talk about it. You don’t think about it. You don’t even think about thinking about it.
- You sit around cheap coffee shops and more recently in and around blogs that aren’t read or heard by the majority of the Malaysian population and talk about how bad the government really is.
Now I’m pretty sure that the government isn’t this clueless not to exploit a population like this. History has taught us that no modern government can be in power for this long without the population being really lazy and stupid or the higher ups being really good at what they do. Unless you were living in an era where you were ruled by an absolute monarch, I think you have more freedom than that. Unless you were ruled by an absolute dictator who has death squads come in the middle of the night to kill you, I think you have more freedom than that.
Even with the possibility of the Internal Security Act being misused to detain outspoken figures, it’s unlikely that they can detain everyone who spoke their mind, not unless Malaysia also wants to start loosing its image as a friendly tourist country. Not like that hasn’t happened before to tourists, but that goes to show how bad problems can be if things are left the way they are.
So it always goes back to the problem to begin with – numbers. Too much stubbornness going around. Too much waste to contend with. Not enough people to actually bother with understanding how a system works much less changing a system that could quite likely lead to the bad things happening for all Malaysians in the future. Maybe the solution is education, not about knowing as much as we have crammed in the past, but about understanding why do we have to know the things we know and for what purposes. If enough people understand how a system works, then maybe they make it work for all of us, for the better. But such a solution will take not just money, but time and a whole new generation of educators who understand the value of understanding. Something hard to obtain in this circular spiral of inefficiency we seem to have developed. Even so, such altruistic motives for the country rather than for yourself rarely have their place in the real world. Not that it doesn’t exist, there just isn’t enough of that to actually change our nation.
At the end of it, the question of, at what point will the majority of Malaysians actually say “Wait a minute, something is wrong here and we have to do something about it?” remains uncertain at best. If everyone talks and no one does what they say then you aren’t going to have a change in the system at all. Though the answer to Malaysia’s future will probably depend on how well its citizens are able to make do with what they have rather than aspiring to be more than what they are. Whether that’s a bad thing, it remains to be seen 5-10 years down the road. But I can tell you one thing, that’s not going change how Malaysia works nor will it put Malaysia on the map.
Not by a long shot.