Monday, March 24, 2008

Azly Rahman: A Brilliant Young Academic

For the benefit of those who have yet to subscribe to Malaysiakini (where I found this lucid and thoughtful essay by a brilliant young academic named Azly Rahman) I'm reproducing part of his post here. If you're subscribed to Malaysiakini click on the essay heading to read the entire piece...

BRAVE NEW MALAYSIAN IDENTITY EMERGING?
Azly Rahman | Mar 24, 08 3:49pm

"Our government teaches the whole people by its example. If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy." - Louis D. Brandeis (American Supreme Court Justice, 1856-1941).

"I do not wish to remove from my present prison to a prison a little larger. I wish to break all prisons." - Ralph Waldo Emerson, American transcendentalist.

The second wave of Independence, achieved with the storming of the "Bastille that is Putrajaya" in March 2008, in a phenomenon called "implo-volution" in which the old regime was crushed by its own weight of contradiction and one whose ruins were charted some fifty years ago, present an interesting possibility. It is that of the ethnogenesis (emerging new culture) of a new Malaysian identity. Political will is complementing this philosophical vision. The Internet is aiding in speeding up the process.

The wave is forcing the various ethnic groups to think of defining itself as a " new nation" when power-sharing of a truly multicultural nature at the state level is becoming a reality. Not only the different ethnic groups are fairly represented in what I call the "yellow" states of "Perak and Selangor" but religious background of the state leaders are also playing a key role in the evolving nature of the leadership.

The yellow states are forging ahead with care – aware of the sensitivities of the different ethnic and religious groups, focusing on the pragmatics and ethics drawn from each cultural tradition. Thus, we saw Penang CM Lim Guan Eng refusing to use thousands of ringgit of state funds to move to a new office, we saw the Kedah chief minister and we saw the continuation of Kelantan chief minister's commitment to the principles of Islam in governing the state with prudence and tolerance.

What is displayed is Confucianist-Taoist ideas and Islamic brand of ethical leadership – two seemingly radical philosophies that actually complement each other. When it comes to statecraft, both are useful in forming as basis for a philosophy of governance that appeals to the Malays and the Chinese. These ideals are no different that the ones taught in Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and the cultural philosophy of the natives of Sabah and Sarawak and of the Orang Asli.

The "ethics of authenticity" as philosopher Charles Taylor would put it, is universal enough to be a guiding light of this new nation. Ethics by any name is a system of check and balances of the Evil and the Good within. It is the Middle Path of Inner Statecraft.

Istana Zakaria and pondok Nik Aziz

In speaking of the manifestations of the excesses of greed and the imbalance of evil within, two installations of polar opposites are worth quoting as semiotics of conspicuous consumption, in a country such as Malaysia.

Istana Zakaria in Kelang (photo courtesy of Sin Chew Jit Poh)

The old and dying regime, Barisan Nasional too consists of Chinese and Malays. But the evolution of racial-politics necessitated the development of a style of leadership that requires extra-ethical means to be employed in order for power to be sustained via the control of wealth and resources. Not only these are controlled but they are displayed conspicuously and of late, with arrogance. This brought about the shocking defeat of the 50-year-old seemingly indestructible machine. The excess of this image of conspicuous consumption is in the Istana Zakaria.

The alter image to Istana Zakaria would probably be the house that Tuan Guru Nik Aziz inhabits (pictured left). But why do we have these contradictions? How have we come to this historical juncture in which the moral compass of the national leaders are misplaced or even lost and what we are seeing are the consequence of the capitalist system that is rearing its ugly immoral head. We have created monsters out of the freedom we give human beings to profit from the consumerist capitalist system we created out of the fear of socialism and Communism.

Billionaires and multi-millionaires in this nation are creations of a system. They are the products of the evolution of individuals that are installed by the institutions derived from the ideology of uncontrollable free enterprise constantly wanting to be freer and freer. Over a long period of time, the system creates a huge gap between the haves and the have-nots. It creates antagonism – of class and the hypermodern caste system. This is the Reaganomics of poverty - a mass deception of the "magic of the marketplace".

As a nation, what do we want to be known as? How do we re-engineer another evolution? How do we maintain a sense of personal freedom in the process of crafting a synthesis of "national identity and freedom?" Will the Internet be the great deconstructor of such an identity, once we forget it?

[Read the rest at Malaysiakini)

If you enjoyed this post from Azly Rahman, I suggest you also read an excellent essay I found on Azly's blog titled "A Malay View of Ketuanan Melayu."
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