Malaysia: Losing glitter by 2017

20 June, 2015
As appeared in


It is best not to host the SEA Games if we embarass ourselves by making a fuss over the outfits athletes wear.

IN 2017 Malaysia hosts the SEA Games. But will we disgrace ourselves?

No, not because we may not top the table of gold medals as Singapore almost did in the excellent games organised by the city-state that ended recently.

Rather it is by the potential controversy – perhaps even disturbance – over the attire athletes wear to compete in the sport they contest.

If this is going to happen, it is best that we do not host the Games. The authorities had better not blandly say this will not happen as they have not come out to say categorically that any contention against what gymnasts wear in their sport is unacceptable. On the contrary, a Minister of the Government has conceded to the recalcitrants by stating that a dress code will be issued on what should be worn.

Rest assured it is not likely that Malaysia will win any gold medals if its team played hockey wearing the flowing jubah, or competed in the swimming pool fully clothed – if they are allowed on the pitch and in the pool.

Malaysia’s most successful body-builder Sazali Samad has won the Mr Universe title 10 times in nothing more than a tanga, revealing his six-pack and muscles without – rightly – a squeak about the barely hidden parts of his anatomy.

Clearly he could not have become Mr Universe dressed in a loose Baju Melayu. But, of course, he is male.

When the athlete is female, it would seem, the only focus is on parts of her anatomy that arouse impure thoughts in the male mind which then has the audacity to pin the blame on the innocent woman. Men cannot control themselves, but get on a hypocritical higher plane to obscure their base instincts.

When the XVI Commonwealth Games were organised in Kuala Lumpur in 1998 – the first in Asia and the last in the last century – we did not have the kind of nonsense and stupidity that followed Farah Ann Abdul Hadi’s superb gold medal performance in gymnastics in Singapore.

We have slipped further backwards since the last century. It is, however, complacent to describe the judgmental and holier-than-thou attitude on Farah Ann’s leotard as just nonsensical and stupid.

That attitude, along with the machinery that has been dangerously allowed to ride roughshod over Malaysian lives, has become pervasive and highly invasive.

How I wish my fellow Muslims will stop playing God. They must understand they should never judge the faith of others, especially of other Muslims, which is Allah’s remit.

These invasive Muslims also advise – indeed ordain – that their co-religionists not mix, even laugh, with others, that they do not venture out or open up to protect the sanctity of their faith.

Not venturing out is a sign of meekness, of not having self-belief. In the outcome you are diminished. The Chinese, for example, will go anywhere, meet anyone, be in any social or cultural circumstance. Yet, when they go home they remain Chinese. I wish that all Malays and Muslims would have the same strength.

Faith is strong when it is deep and internalised, not when it is loudly and aggressively proclaimed, like whistling in the dark, by someone afraid and uncertain.

I do wish our leaders would engage our people in sensible ways, to tell them about the depth yet simplicity of Islam. I fear they have also become afraid.

The current political situation is not likely to give them any courage to check the dangerous extremist and violating phenomenon in the Malaysian body politic, and to lead without short-term calculation for survival.

The zero-sum open political warfare now taking place in our country is causing extensive damage to Malaysia, and so does neglecting to address extremist religious threats which will overturn all the progress this country has made.

More than the personal animosity in this conflict, there is a distrust of normal processes of the political and administrative system. This is a damning indictment of whoever may have caused that system to be so distrusted.

More than that, there is a cry for change outside of that system.

This can take many forms – at worst, violent revolution – but the upshot is that, if there was a replacement of the incumbent Prime Minister, his successor would be equally subject to the same kind of political insurrection. This prospect does not provide for political stability.

Others will follow. He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.

This is not about one-man, one-shot, one-time. It is about political change and political change management.

The spectacle we are witnessing must shame the Malays. It does me. How we run and now threaten to ruin the country. How we pay little attention to detail because we are king of the castle. How we are now about to bring the house down.

If the threats of exposing past and present misdeeds are true, the ske­letons falling out of the cupboard will bury Umno – and the Malays.

While not all will mourn this, let us not forget it is this Malay foundation that gave Malaysia its stability.

What is different from the days of Tun Razak and Tun Dr Ismail is that the honour and justice that characterised the Malay leadership of this country seem to have been lost.

I cannot look into the eyes of a prospective investor at a roadshow and say: You can be assured of Malaysia’s political stability. Not long ago, that was our country’s strongest point above everything else.

When that everything else is also under considerable strain, in a challenging global economy, in the currency and volatile capital flows, there is all the more reason to work together and negotiate our way out of these dangerous straits.

Otherwise we will arrive in 2017 in a worse state than we are in now.

Tan Sri Dr Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB Asean Research Institute.

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