The chaos of common trauma – Mahsa Amiri

Is it chaos or is it the cosmos? Which type of socio-political configuration we are observing in today’s Malaysia with all its enormously exaggerated issues?

Chaos equals to anarchy, the absence of order. Cosmos, instead, being a system with countless number of elements, but with a well-ordered – that is cosmic – disorder, which has a positive connotation in its turn.

Democracy is an example of cosmic system, the ordered disorder, the shuffle, that brings us unpredictable results. These results’ effectiveness consists not only of their unpredictability, but also of the constant rotation.

For instance, free, fair and regular elections is a cosmic type of organisation: even if we were to elect an “Adolf Hitler” one day, we can be sure there are procedures to replace him and his policies.

I suppose this was meant by the fellow of the Kets de Vries Institute, Datuk Dr Vaseehar Hassan at the “Dilemmas of Malay Leadership” seminar conducted on June 17 by Jeffrey Cheah Institute of South-East Asia at the Sunway University.

“Order comes out of disorder”, he said. Yes, out of that cosmic disorder. Such factors as historical context, culture and large group psychology shape the existing Malaysian “disorder”.

Essentially, large group psychology is based on what input the historical context made into the culture and common perceptions of people.

With the reference to the authors, like Munshi Abdullah (1843), Stamford Raffles (1835), Clifford (1896), Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (1970), Syed Hussein Alatas (1977) and Noordin Sopiee (2002); Vaseehar pointed at the depression of Malays as a group as a result of the “chosen trauma” caused by colonial domination, which replaced feudal system after the fall of Malacca to the Portuguese.

Some of the salient features of the character, forged by the sense of “common trauma” and victimisation, he emphasised, are the inability to be assertive, inhibitive emotions such as accepting changes or troubles with a cool heart, action orientation defined as “being” instead of “going” or “moving”, acknowledgement of the supremacy of the ruler, feudalism, dependency syndrome, fatalism and the others in the row.

Prestige and the aspiration to grandeur were also mentioned as critically important, that is why public humiliation of someone becomes the best way to acquire the bitterest enemy in Malaysian society.

It appears, that the listed peculiarities, indeed, conduce another sort of disorder – entanglement into the snarl of lower level concerns, which keep distracting us from something profound – from what is necessary for the leadership at the institutional and policy levels in order for the nation to progress. Thinking big and looking forward is inhibited by some general attitude of submitting to the inevitable.

What is then the dilemma of leadership at the institutional level here?

It is perhaps either to start aspiring for the national advancement by tackling common fears and stereotypes that lead to regress or instead, to keep perpetuating the destructive features by utilizing them for political ends.

And with regard the policy level, Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, the Director of the Islamic Renaissance Front asked on how the Malaysian leadership is going to answer to the other dilemma – the question of the economic philosophy in the conditions of increasing relative poverty and income inequality.

“Although officially the Gini coefficient (the indicator of income inequality) fell from 0.46 to 0.43 (meaning a slight improvement) for the decade 2002-2012”, he noted, “with this indicator Malaysia is still sharing the notorious company of such countries as of Kenya, Congo, Gambia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Mozambique, South Sudan, Jamaica, Uruguay and Venezuela”.

“Is this the kind of company Malaysia wants to be in?”, he asked. Farouk also added that the fact remains that in 2012 the wealth of 40 richest Malaysians was equivalent to 22% of GDP, and the technical improvement of Gini coefficient did not speak in favour of productive public policy in reducing poverty.

“My own assessment is that the Malays must remain poor so that they can become a fixed-deposit to the ruling party”, he stated, thus confirming that within this dilemma the leadership opted in favor of regress rather than an improvement.

So, while 40%, or approximately 2.7 million households are struggling for the monthly income not exceeding RM2,500, the public attention is drawn to resolving the ideologically charged issues, stemming from the role that Islam plays in Malaysian politics. It would be not of concern if what we meant here was bringing the real Islamic values into politics, as the Director of PAS Research Centre, Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad used to suggest.

Unfortunately, the case is rather the opposite, where Islam is being used as a tool to garner more political support.

That the people would be able to forget the difficulty and misery they are in and become disillusioned just by invoking the name of religion. Not the Islamic values that could promote good and sustainable policies for the benefit of the people especially the poor and the marginalized.

Wasn’t Karl Marx right then when he proclaimed: “Religion is the opium of the people”?

“Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”

Propelling the image of Islam to the centerstage of politics does not help in tackling the economic hardship; instead it complicates the matter more. In fact, the very construction of public psyche that indulges regression of the privileged ethnic group will inevitably affect the nation as a whole.

Doesn’t this psyche need a reformation in order to keep Malaysia on a progressive track in a long run? If yes, then which buttons are we to start pressing?

Investment of resources into free and effective education system must definitely be one of them. We should think of the factors in education and social environment that would produce more assertive individuals, harping for the intellectual improvement and the real meaning instead of just symbolic; such as titles, attributes of wealth or power.

A wake up call from the chaos of regressive features to the construction of a strong cosmic society is necessary in order to change both – the deep perception and more day-to-day policies. The culture of a refined self-confident intellectual must be made fashionable. – June 22, 2015.

Related JCI Publications