January 13, 2010
As any honest observer of Malaysia will tell you, the country suffers an extraordinary gap – arguably the largest in Asia – between the appearance of modernity and the substance of it.
The disparity has been manufactured through holiday ads, school curriculum, the nationalistic media, and mega projects. It has helped attract tourists and boost pride at home. It has also fostered a dangerous level of denial and neglect: while race relations have simmered, Malaysia has clung to cosmetic evidence that it is both modern and harmonious.
The spate of church attacks over the last few days were thus to a degree inevitable. But with the face-saving myth now laid bare, Malaysia has a golden chance to trade in its self-defeating approach to development for a more empowering, holistic form.
The United Malays National Organization will continue to invest in appearances to preserve power. After all, it’s much easier than delivering on the substance of modernity. And it has served as a potent, propagandistic distraction from the rot that has occurred under UMNO’s watch – corruption has risen, competency and investment have declined, education has stagnated, ethnic consciousness has sharpened, and humanism and true vision have evaporated.
UMNO worked overtime to inculcate in the masses a sense that the materialistic component of development is development. The cranes and the lush landscaping and the new skyscrapers and boom in tourist arrivals were proof of “progress”; and the prevailing assumption was, we’ve gotten this far without racial incident, there’s no reason to believe we won’t keep “progressing” if we carry on down this path. Arrogance, complacency and denial became defining national traits.
It’s evident now that this dangerous flight of fancy has not only impaired progress, it’s come to threaten the mere maintenance of Malaysia.
Now that the festering rage has boiled over and Malaysia inches precipitously toward chaos and interregnum, the country can no longer afford to pretend to be the shining star and crescent of the Muslim world.
With that knowledge will Malaysians spit shine what’s left of the veneer or humbly fill in the many gaps it’s missed on the road to development up to now?