Together we stand, Divided we fall

December 4, 2012

Together we stand, Divided we fall

By Umapagan Ampikaipakan  |

JORGE Luis BorgesJORGE Luis Borges once wrote that there was no end to the illusions of patriotism. In an essay he called Our Poor Individualism, published in 1946, Borges began with the following lesson: “In the first century of our era, Plutarch mocked those who declared that the Athenian moon is better than the Corinthian moon; Milton, in the 17th, observed that God is in the habit of revealing Himself first to His Englishmen; Fichte, at the beginning of the 19th, declared that to have character and to be German are obviously one and the same thing.”

Religion and patriotism are often irreconcilable with freedom. They are both concepts constrained by definition. They require unflinching conviction. They do not allow for any sort of lapse — neither in judgment nor in belief. They function on an assumed superiority, on the fervent faith that their way isn’t just the right way, but also the only way. They are constantly facing down the fear of rising new influences that threaten to undermine their credibility and their role in society.

It is what it is. And to expect anything else would be naive. Doctrine, after all, demands a certain doggedness. It requires inflexibility. It makes no room for compromise. It just would not work if it did. Not practically. Not definitionally.

Now, there is no extricating religion from our politics. The vast majority of us are deeply religious. It is our way of life. It is something so entrenched into our everyday, into our culture, and even into our language. It is so much a part of who we are and how we identify ourselves that any politics would be remiss to not address it. The separation of mosque (of church, of temple) and state is simply not possible. Why? Because it just isn’t what the majority of our citizenry want.

Over the past few weeks, we seem to have experienced a sort of stalemate with regards toNurul Izzah Anwar MP our discourse on religion and its role in our society. From (Parti Keadilan Rakyat Vice-President-right) Nurul Izzah Anwar’s statement on freedom of religion, to those Kelantan bylaws restricting what hairdressers can and cannot do, to the constant evocation of God in our politics, there has been no shortage of fodder for our conversation.

The sad state of our affairs, however, is that we are doing little to engage in this conversation. There has been plenty of chatter and far too much noise. And most of it has been about what can and cannot be said rather than an actual debate about what was said. There have been reprimands and recriminations but little to no communication. The unfortunate consequence of which is that it seems to push us further into our respective racial and religious silos. Malay, Chinese, Indian. Muslim, Christian, Hindu. Rendering us separate. Individual. Disparate rather than distinct. Divergent rather than diverse.

Our individuality has always been a source of strength. Our recent individualism, on the other hand, is cause for concern. You look after your God and I’ll look after mine. Don’t bother yourself with my problems, just worry about your own.

There seems to be a growing isolationism among us. This misplaced belief that we can somehow function as a nation if we just mind our own business and not involve ourselves in that of our neighbours. But that’s just not how society works.

Living together means learning how to live together. Any decent society must generate a feeling of community. Community offsets loneliness. It gives people a vitally necessary sense of belonging. My neighbour’s problems are my own. There is no escaping it. And trying to just risks a communalism that is altogether dangerous.

MalaysiansWe need to talk and we need to talk often. There needs to be a vibrant conversation about our obligations to ourselves and to one another, about the links that we need to create to support each other.

In a fitting analogy, clergyman Henry Ward Beecher drew his divine inspiration from the forest when he said “God designed men to grow as trees grow in open pastures, full-boughed all around; but men in society grow like trees in forests, tall and spindling, the lower ones overshadowed by the higher, with only a little branching, and that at the top. They borrow of each other the power to stand; and if the forest be cleared, and one be left alone, the first wind which comes uproots it”.

5 thoughts on “Together we stand, Divided we fall

  1. Utter rubbish. There are differing degrees of religiosity.
    For some people, religion is more of a philosophical thing, a guide to
    living a moral life. For a minority, it borders on an obsession and even

    In Christianity, we have the mainstream churches and then we have the
    Religious Right types. In the USA, we have the progressive black churches
    (e.g. Martin Luther King) and then we have the white supremacist, racist “Christians”

    In Turkey, many Muslims drink alcohol while remaining religious.
    Saw this with my own eyes in Ankara.

  2. Yup Dr Phua, this is hogwash. The writer brings up quotes that imply that a human is nothing, but a conglomeration of religious doctrines and taught prejudice. A myopic view of Man’s inherent tribalism whether in matters of faith or patriotism. Individuality is apparently subsumed by irrepressible reality of our existence, and we cannot transcend it. Indeed a bleak scenario, which requires ‘communication’ which does nothing to change the convictions of opposing and irreconcilable differences.

    The oft repeated pragmatic verse: ‘See no evil; Hear no evil: Speak no Evil’ may be our favorite way to our conscintious oblivion. Yet, the last most important verse is often conveniently forgotten: ‘Do no Evil’.

    My soul is free, even in chains whether real or imagined; and for that Awareness is needed in a political abyss that we starring at. The power of the individual does not lie in numbers, but in the ‘audacity of hope’ and the conviction of the One. We are are in fact invincible, if we are Enlightened to our Potential:

    CLF, this is equally inspiring…dead poets society.–Din Merican

  3. E. H. Carr di dalam bukunya ‘What is History’ ada mengatakan bahawa masyarakat dan inidividu tak dapat dipisahkan. Keduaduanya merupakan sesuatu yang harus ada dan saling melengkapi bukan saling bertentangan. Perkembangan masyarakat dan perkembangan individu itu bergandingan tangan dan saling mengkondisikan.

    Yes, granted, “united” will make us a fortified Malaysians, but how could we do that when some of us cannot even call this land our home. We make pilgrimage to Mekah, Jerusalem, Varanasi, Ujiyamada or Tai Shan, yet we keep on healing our wounds and not able to find the source.
    The source is our race based politics and economics which became more complex with the politics of religion. We need a new inclusive approach to policy making. National unity, not disunity.

    I suggest you read The New Economic Policy in Malaysia: Affirmative Action, Ethnic Inequities and Social Justice edited by Edmund Terence Gomez(University of Malaya) and Johan Saravanamuttu (Institute of Southeast Asian Studies-ISEAS, Singapore[2012].The introduction in this book by Terence,Johan and Maznah Mohamad gives you an excellent overview of our socio-economic policies since the introduction of the NEP in 1970 and especially policies of the Mahathir Era (1981-2003). BTW, there is no mention of Badawi’s policies in their overview, that makes him irrelevant. Both Islam Hadhari and Corridors have disappeared and RM230 billion of Petronas money used during his time remains unaccounted for.

    I agree with you that Carr is right. Society is people. Unless you are Robinson Crusoe (before the arrival of Friday),individual and society are inseparable.–Din Merican

  4. Thanks Dato’ Din for the recommended reading. I will read it.

    I agree with you your comment. And my take is, I think, there is no real integration policy from the top: From the colonial days, from the day we got our independence, and I would say until today. Crudely speaking, it is divide and rule of “Kau Jaga Bangsa Kau Aku Jaga Bangsa Aku” and perhaps “Hak Bangsa Aku Pun Hak Aku”. No need to elaborate further lah.

    It is interesting that you quote Robinson Crusoe who lived in solitude for 28 years on an island. However, as I see it (after the arrival of Friday), Crusoe never look at Friday as his equal. Crusoe is Friday’s master. Never once did Friday know that he had been inducted into the world order of his master. Friday, is indeed a second class resident who must know his place and be at the disposal and bidding of the master.

    On the contrary, in Hai Ebn Yokdhan, Hai spent 35 years in a desert island before coming into contact with another human being, a person who is indeed nobler than him. Hai learned from this soul and found the meaning in his life and later Hai could relate to others the basis and importance of equality.

  5. Vic is not the first to realize that Hussin (and his alter ego Hasan) is so full of shit. Goolbatok Singh, Dato’s aide, was the first.

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