Moral Audacity and Associated Risks

August 4, 2015

Malaysia: Moral Audacity and Associated Risks

by Dr. KJ


What did it take for each one of the Group of 25 (G25) members to read, consider, and then agree to sign their famous statement? I ask because while there is obvious moral courage in their actions, especially if one has never tried such steps of moral audacity in challenging existing culture and norms. Taking a different posture about some issue of deep burden, conscience, and concern is always risky business. Is such a risk good and bad risk?

The Edge recently positioned their paper on the same page as did the G25. I hear that the G25 members are now being dropped from board and other such appointments.

I must say that the progressives in PAS also fit into this category. After being life-long members of PAS, these individuals are saying, enough is enough, especially with role-playing in politics, which denies many implicit spiritual principles but rather reduces them to mere legalistic limitations.

To me, all these categories of Malaysians (including corporates) seem to be saying, we want to make a difference because we love Malaysia as much as we love our religion or personal faith. Many have said that they would consider the late Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat as a teacher and role model. Yet others are searching their hearts for real role or leadership models within our current state of national confusion.

Another example – what courage did it take the young Malay lady lawyer to tell her story publicly and candidly on U-tube? All such actions in public space takes much moral courage, but one has to first find the personal compassion and convictions about such public passions. Do we have them?Was she wrong to air her voice of concern in the public space? Was she not expressing her genuine personal concern? If she cannot voice it, what is the alternative model of freedom of expression? Wait five years for the general election (GE)?

Were they all then equally wrong to make their public stands on such issues of national import? There are now, equally, other mainstream speakers and writers who are also speaking up to show their differing views. Nazir Abdul Razak (photo) is one such voice with former minister Rafidah Aziz being another. Zainah Anwar has always done so; without fear or favour, and even The Star has cut her off.

Being different is unique

Humans are not animals but beings, who can think, reason, and articulate ideas. We also have a conscience which keeps most of us honest. Such views and opinions can be same as everyone else’s, or different from the views of one’s community, or family, or even one’s spouse.

Having differing viewpoints is cool and must become so for human beings to develop and grow in character and identity within any culture. Malaysia is no different. Becoming developed by 2020 makes all these maturing processes a requisite.

Can one ever imagine a culture which remains static and never changes? That can only happen if all humans remain pegged into a fixed and unchanging worldview; like that of a pussy cat of old that went to London. Such humanoids are called robots.

But such a condition is almost impossible for real humans because the outside world is changing all the time and the rate of change is getting even faster than most of us can handle. And, that is why also nursery rhymes are truly educational.

Najib-The Philosopher of Corruption

We are all aware of global changes taking place and we know how to respond and with such movements. They define changes in human culture. Any culture is a sociological phenomena and it changes within community. No society I know remains static and unchanging; and, if they do, they fossilise and become extinct, unable to adjust to newer realities. We are not pussy-cats who will only see the mouse-under-the chair. Five layers of human identity and uniqueness

Recently someone said that he is Muslim first, Malay first, and also Malaysian first. Can this statement be honest, authentic, and true at one and the same time? Or, is this really a cop-out of the many tough choices we insist that most Malaysians have to choose from?

If one is a three-headed hydra, then, to me at least, the choice of all three as firsts can be a reality and not necessarily a limitation. But, most humans have limitations. Even a three-headed hydra will only have one heart, I presume.  

Most humans can only manage about five or six concurrent ideas or concepts in the head at any one time. Therefore, to offer three firsts as one’s choice when these are competing realities is fake and can come only from a multiple masked politician.

Therefore, as I have argued elsewhere, all Malaysians have at least five layers of identity which are our realities and which we must acknowledge and admit; whether we like it or not.

First, we are all Malaysians; not any more Malayans, or Sabahans, or Sarawakians, or Royals or Orang Borneo.  Being a Malaysian is a nationality and a symbol of which country we belong to as member of the United Nations.

We cannot say we are Melayu, outside of Malaya or Malaysia. Even in Indonesia, if you are Melayu, then you are only one of the 300 ethnicities of their nation-state. Consequently we all carry the Malaysian passports, and cannot get another unless you are a dual citizen.

Secondly, we all have an ethnicity; even as we are Malaysians. Najib Abdul Razak claims to be a Bugis, and I am a Malayalee. This simply means that if we do active research to pursue our ethnicity and bloodline genealogical, we can identify and locate our origins to one small part of the global geography.

Thirdly, if one searches one’s heart and refines one’s thinking, it is simple enough to locate and define one’s worldview or religious orientation.

To me there are only three basic worldviews; a secular humanist one, an Eastern Sacred one, and an Abrahamic one. All three have different dimensions of some important premises and these can be examined, studied and understood. They are listed in an appendix to my first book, ‘Alamak: All in God’s Name!

Fourthly, we are all of some personality type; whether A-type or B-type, according to one major classification of personality types, and these can be classified using different personality profiles out there in the market. Knowing thyself is also the beginning of life.

Finally, because we are all created human beings, in the Image of our Creator, we also have the element of human choice built in to our human systems. Secular humanists believe we are simply glorified apes; I am not one of them and cannot answer to their claim. The freedom to choose, however, is mine.

Dignity of human life

If we are blessed to be born in Malaysia, and we have chosen to continue to live here, especially because of our parents and their choices, or those of our communities, or even if we choose to give up this country altogether; it is always a human choice and there is dignity and destiny in each of those choices. Only time will tell and retell if those were good and wise choices.

That aside, it is always our moral responsibility as humans who have choices to be held responsible for our choices and remain equally accountable for the choices we do not make.  Those actions or inactions make or break every democracy.

People who have choices, but do not exercise them, are to me, the most irresponsible people in a democracy because they do not exercise the very values they appear to cherish and appreciate, but do little to uphold, other than in corridors and coffee shops. Might as well do them in secret.

Sometimes it is because of poor education and the lack of understanding that we do not make requisite choices but we still face the consequences of such inaction. Regardless, in any functioning democracy, we need both; educated leadership and equally educated followership. May God Bless Malaysia.

KJ JOHN was in public service for 29 years. The views expressed here are his personal views and not those of any institution he is involved with. Write to him at with any feedback or views.

7 thoughts on “Moral Audacity and Associated Risks

  1. “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”
    – Nelson Mandela

    G25, will you take the lead?

  2. Those who walk the corridors of power who have been transformed into immoral barbarians have no interest in this discourse on moraility.

  3. Within UMNO Baru-BN, cash is king.
    Outside of UMNO Baru-BN, the use of (massive amounts of hard earned tax payer) cash to buy political support turns the stomach.

  4. The piece by Marina Mahatir on what it takes to be successful in Malaysia published in the Star rocked me of my chair.It sums up the reality of what’s happening in DUMNOLAND.We do not want to be part of that entourage as she puts it.Let’s be different.

  5. KJ John should just stick to writing about the things he knows – the mechanism of bureaucracy – instead of attempting these deep philosophical pieces, which he is way out of his depth.

    KJ is being stalked on the boards of Malaysiakini by a dingbat Christian bigot who thinks that the theory of evolution is pseudoscience , premarital sex is hell on earth , deviations from the Bible are Devil inspired and the Bible is ueber allen. And this person is an Opposition supporter.

    Maybe in more secular countries Religion is not that big of a problem but in this country at this particular time, it is. You start defining yourself by the God you believe in as articulated by KJ or your ethnicity , you are going down a predictable road, even if your intentions , reasons or motives benign .

    But whatever.


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