Bad spirit of Merdeka?
I was given the honour of reviewing and promoting the book 'The Spirit of Merdeka: A collection of essays' by young PKR leaders edited by Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad and Tricia Yeoh and published by Pusat Sepakat in 2013.
The slender volume of writings by eight political activists, some turned parliamentarians, and a researcher-director contains reflections of what have been attempted to be achieved by Parti Keadilan Rakyat since its formulation and since the milestone of the Pematang Pauh Declaration, and what the future lies in terms of the slogan of ‘new politics’ we heard circa the 13th general election (GE13); a slogan used by both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat to explain the “commanding heights” (borrowing from Lenin) of their promises for a better Malaysia.
I was not only honoured but also thrilled because young leaders are writing and that their ideas will hopefully become narratives of accountability of what they had promised. If there is a thesis statement for this column, it would be one best asked by the editors Nik Nazmi and Tricia Yeoh:
“ … what does the party have to offer beyond Anwar (Ibrahim)? Are there really new leaders being built up within the party? Would it be a party truly embracing a new political culture or stuck with more of the same politics of the past?” (pp. 102).
These I believe is a question of education for critical consciousness I have been addressing too in my writings of late, particularly in The Allah Controversy and Dark Spring, both published in 2013.
‘Exorcising bad spirit of Merdeka?’
Malaysians are being haunted by it, aren’t they? We seem to be haunted by the ghosts of independence that never gave them a true spirit of Merdeka. We are in such an economic mess today, nobody seems to know where we are heading, amidst those fancy words on progress and developmentalism we hear often, understandably nauseatingly.
Nobody seems to know, because seemingly a secret government is running down the country. Election promises are broken as in the case of price hikes pushed through with desperation arrogantly, the education system is under attack for its mediocrity, environmental devastation continue to progress rampantly, the rate of capital flight and the siphoning of the nation’s wealth is at a horrifying level.
But the biggest question is: how could just the few in power up there be allowed to create such a tremendous economic suffering to the many they are trampling, just to make the few live in hideous luxury and unlimited privileges, consume conspicuously and be in the process, allowed to humiliate the powerless, at their whims and fancy?
How could we build a country based on the idea of constant critical examination of what we shall become as “homo economicus” (economic beings) and as actors in the play of conscientisation or as aware, in-this-world makers of our own history, and masters of our own destiny and always engaging in acts of cultural action for freedom, borrowing the idea of phenomenologists such as Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merle-Ponty, and educators grounded in Critical Theory such as Paulo Freire and Che Guevara.
These questions are posed in the collection of essays that range from the idea of the hope to praxis (translation of theory to practice), borrowing the Aristotelian notion of translatability of concept to practice of daily lives.
Amongst the pledges made in Pakatan Rakyat's 1998 Permatang Pauh Declaration I feel worth highlighting in this brief review is the one that promises :
“ ... [a] reform movement to reinforce a dynamic cultural identity, where faith in our noble cultural traditions intact, but there is open-ness in all that is good in all traditions.” (pp. NA)
What does this mean, more than just a causal and run-down definition of what ‘culture’ means?
‘Balik Kampong’ philosophy
Some time ago I wrote these sentences to argue about economic deconstructionism and de-evolution; a statement I feel can augment the idea of ‘culture’ above and the philosophical underpinnings of the writings of the young leaders of Pakatan Rakyat. I quote verbatim the philosophy of ‘kampongism’:
“ ... I suggest ... those who reside in the wind and in the Malaysian towers of Babel, embrace a more pastoral and liberating philosophy of struggle.
“I call it ‘kampong-ism’ or ‘mental re-villagisation’.
“Kampong-ism brings the human mind away from complex theories, complex systems, competitive and cutthroat economic philosophies, and combative male-female relationships.
“Kampong-ism is driven by the philosophy of Eastern existentialism, sound metaphysical construct, harmonious conception of kinship, a good balance of patriarchy and matriarchy, and an economic production system based on the good old farming system that is not ‘bio- technologically’ driven. It is not a philosophy that kow-tows to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
“Kampong-ism is not race-based, ethnicity-based, gender-based, greed-based, sexual-preference- based or ideology-based philosophy of human liberation and organization. It has the potential of reorganising societies based on the themes Rousseau, Reason, and Revolution in Human Consciousness...”
Those were my ideas on developmentalism I thought worth exploring in a world wherein human beings are still buried under the rubble of econometrics, statistics, and data that most often deceive.
The idea of pastoralism and going back to Nature in Malaysian way forward is best summarised by Lee Chean Chung in his chapter on environmentalism or the green movement ala Pakatan Rakya when he said, “... [t]herefore it is appropriate to consider the Gerakan Hijau as a new approach to develop a political culture based on issues rather than groups. the concept of citizenships rather than interests of particular groups.” (p. 80)
Indeed, an entirely new framework of development need to be enculturalised as an enrichment exercise to Pakatan Rakyat’s 1998 Permatang Pauh Declaration. In essence the young leaders and writers of The Spirit of Merdeka have done well in sharing that view and a vision of what it means to be truly Merdeka.
DR AZLY RAHMAN, born in Singapore and grew up in Johor Baru, holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in four areas: Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies and Communication. He has taught more than 40 courses in six different departments and has written more than 350 analyses on Malaysia. His teaching experience in Malaysia and the United States spans over a wide range of subjects, from elementary to graduate education. He has edited and authored four books; Multiethnic Malaysia: Past, Present, Future (2009), Thesis on Cyberjaya: Hegemony and Utopianism in a Southeast Asian State (2012), The Allah Controversy and Other Essays on Malaysian Hypermodernity (2013), and the latest Dark Spring: Ideological Roots of Malaysia's GE-13 (2013). He currently resides in the United States. Twitter,