Sim Kwang Yang has raised some very pertinent issues in his essay, "Whom should we trust?" Ultimately, we have to love and trust ourselves before we can love and trust anybody else. Otherwise we will end up behaving like the proverbial lemming, incapable of independent thought and action.
Every day I bump into people who continue to parrot well-worn clichés about Anwar Ibrahim being tainted during his long stint in Umno, his unrelenting political ambition, his connections with the Zionist banking fraternity - and, worst of all, the Islamic zeal that first shot him to prominence as a hot-headed leader of ABIM (the Muslim Missionary Movement). All these negative perceptions of the man are ultimately rooted in deep fear of individuals like Anwar Ibrahim whose lives seem like epics compared to most of us.
Every culture produces its own cult heroes - strangers who appear from out of nowhere, slay an ogre, marry a princess, and end up ruling the kingdom. Most of us are fascinated by heroes. After all, that's where our role models come from. However, in recent times, with the rise of the corporate superpower, heroes have become a manufactured product. The mass media conspires to transform ordinary folks into superstars - and then, almost inevitably, they commit deicide by ripping their icons to shreds through vicious gossip and slander.
Sim rightly advises us to reclaim the authority that resides within each of us, to embody within our own beings the noble qualities of the hero. This is the mark of a mature individual. As more of us become our own heroes, we shall no longer be in awe of other heroes. Instead we will befriend and cooperate with them to manifest our collective dream of the Promised Land.
During Mahathir's 22-year reign as PM, he effectively dismantled all the mechanisms by which citizens of a functional democracy can replace non-performing or misbehaving public servants. Without journalistic freedom, no real information reaches the ground, only corporate propaganda. Without academic, artistic and intellectual freedom there can be no open dialogue on values, perceptions and collective visions. Without a politically neutral civil service and police force, a climate of Orwellian absolutism prevails. And without an impartial and independent judiciary, no justice can exist, nor can serious wrongs be righted.
In effect, Malaysian politics under Mahathir was like a public toilet with no working flush mechanism. There's nothing more unpleasant than walking into the loo only to find Unsinkable Floating Objects in the bowl. With no flush - and no bucket and pail to perform the job manually - we had no choice but resign ourselves to the less-than-delightful odor and the disgusting sight of public servants, fattened on sleazy lucre, who simply refused to resign or retire even when they had long overstayed their welcome.
Rather than succumb to mistrust and fear, we would do much better to regard Anwar Ibrahim as the Master Plumber who will take on the unpleasant but absolutely necessary task of fixing the flush mechanism. Once that is accomplished, nobody will be reluctant to "get their hands dirty" by participating in local politics as every adult citizen should. The public bowels will be regularly moved and Malaysia's infamous stinky loos will become a nightmare of our collective past. In other words, let's get a grip on our conditioned reflexes. BN has ruled us for 56 years by playing on our fears. They fanned the flames of the non-Malays' Islamophobia even as they played up the Malays' anxieties about being overwhelmed by noisy platoons of pig-eating pagans.
In a fear-free atmosphere of open discussion - such as we are experiencing for the first time courtesy of the Internet - clarity, truth and wisdom have a much better chance to prevail over atavistic superstitions and taboos. When the public lavatories are clean and functional, people will be less likely to walk around full of their own crap - and public servants who become bloated with egotism and greed will find themselves unceremoniously flushed away.
[First published 14 April 2008]