December 11, 2007
Clearing the Clouds in our little Malaysian HeadsTricia Yeoh Malaysia is a messy country. And this messiness clouds our minds even when we attempt to analyse the situation rationally. Week after week, month after month, new issues crop up as quickly as instant noodles, so much so that we lose ourselves in the muddy waters. We forget all too easily a hot topic that ravages our minds only a month or two earlier. Asked to list the issues facing Malaysia today, one could easily string them down. I listed them recently in a simple presentation: NEP, Lina Joy, Police Abuse, Lack of Media Freedom, Demolition of Places of Worship, Questionable Independence of the Judiciary, Migrant Workers’ Discrimination, Falling Foreign Direct Investment, call for Free & Fair Elections, Falling University Rankings, Internal Security Act, Sedition Act, Official Secrets Act, and the list goes on. The audience reading this site is more than familiar with the problems facing our nation, and I do not attempt to educate them any more than their qualifications have already fully provided for.
The key is to consolidate, in our mind’s eye, the picture of what Malaysia is today. With this picture in clear sight, some useful suggestions and proposals for those already very active within civil society organizations seeking for change.
For example, if the great Malaysian story were to be classified in any orderly fashion, one could very well categorise them loosely into these: One, an identity breakdown of race and religion; and Two, power politics. Every problem arising in the nation today can be traced to these roots. Seemingly disconnected issues such as falling FDIs or the decline in university rankings can be directly linked to an identity breakdown of race and/or religion. Within category number two are the issues related to the perpetuating of power, affecting media freedom and the independence of the judiciary, for example. Most importantly, these two factors interplay with the other, making symbiotic use of the other.
|Hindu Temples’ Demolition
|Islamic vs. Secular State
|Independence of Judiciary
Not wanting to over-simplify other contributing factors and their overarching complexities, this is an example of how compartmentalizing issues within categories can help analysis and consolidate flow of information. Handling and managing information is an important skill that civil society organizations must equally learn, if they want their messages to be effectively and efficiently channeled to their target audiences, short of calling it strategic marketing, since after all, the ideas we are selling are really products to be advertised and believed in. In educating the public on issues of socio-political concern, numerous efforts have been popping up of late, in the tide of civil society action. There are countless coalitions on this and that a matter, containing the exact same names and numbers of NGOs with the usual suspects. All these are worthy causes, aimed at achieving the best possible objectives. Those familiar with civil society action would know BERSIH, the coalition for free and fair elections; Article 11, coalition for religious freedom; Joint Action Group (JAG), coalition of women organizations; 50:44 coalition of NGOs with a joint statement on Malaysia’s independence and demands for a better Malaysian future, the Merdeka Statement civil society policy wish-list and recommendations for a more united Malaysia; another Merdeka coalition with another set of demands; and so on. Let a hundred flowers bloom, so the saying goes. All this is well and good, indicative of a healthy and active civil society, one that many have strived towards for years. Nevertheless, in the frenzy to save Malaysia through specific targeted issues, as each group should rightfully be doing through their respective areas of interest and expertise, the truth is that the Malaysian public wants accessible bite-sizes of information palatable for consumption. Some consolidated effort should be taken to address this information-provision gap in cyberspace or otherwise. As each issue emerges daily and weekly, a centralized location in which the mass is able to draw out views and opinions of various individuals or parties on a particular issue would be extremely helpful, as opposed to the current stream of linear information that netizens presently receive daily, just as easily forgotten in that linear, time-sensitive fashion. Coming across this project initiated here called the Malaysian Wikimedia Literacy Project is an interesting find and one such example, which, in a nutshell, attempts to systematically consolidate information already provided for out there in cyberspace. Such a project would successfully enhance both the quality and quantity of information about Malaysia, and more importantly, on specific issues that civil society seeks the public’s attention of. Such tools are necessary in an era where data and facts bombard us daily, with little or no systematic recording.
Issue after controversial issue continues to arise in our country. Categorizing them into neat boxes helps comprehension of current issues for the public. Similarly, to maximize civil society efforts, better consolidation, management and handling of information flows would be certainly welcome. This is a call to seriously consider better management of information, best harnessed by technology in cyberspace. Dedicated to those already working relentlessly in their respective roles of improving the country’s democratic fabric, this writer affirms their efforts, which can only continue to be improved from here and beyond.