Protesting for love
FEB 23 — Before coming to Malaysia almost three years ago, I asked my friends at home what they knew about this distant land. Sadly, most referred to the movie Zoolander (2001)
In this goofy male-modelling spoof, the main character Derrick Zoolander is brainwashed to kill the prime minister of Malaysia. I’ll admit, it was probably the only time I had heard of Malaysia as well.
Ironically, this film actually has almost nothing to do with Malaysia, but it is nice to see a country other than Canada taking the brunt of a Hollywood joke. Unsurprisingly, this over-the-top comedy is banned here. Some tell me it is banned, not because of the whole assassination plot, but because the fictitious prime minister in Zoolander is clearly ethnically Chinese. Silly, isn’t it? But seriously, how silly can Malaysia be?
I shouldn’t have to tell people that Malaysia is a fascinating country to be in. To use the words of Derrick Zoolander, civil struggles in the Muslim world are “so hot right now.” Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Iran and Morocco have seen citizens take to the streets.
Since Malaysian is seen as a Muslim country, a European friend sent me a message this week asking if everything was okay in Kuala Lumpur. I looked up from my computer at a woman sipping a Starbucks, and outside a bunch of cabbies are laughing. I assured my friend that all is peaceful here.
Nevertheless, the prime minister gave a cryptic warning to the masses not to try an “Egypt-style power grab in Malaysia”. I don’t think this message was necessary, unless he knows something I don’t. Things are far too comfortable for most to even think about taking to the streets.
Still, there have been recent protests, but not for democracy, freedom or human rights. They were protesting against love.
After this Valentine’s Day I found myself on Facebook posting articles about the protests and arrests happening in Malaysia. I wasn’t posting about some revolutionary civil uprising, I was posting about some ridiculous Anti-Valentine’s Day shenanigans.
Some people were adamant that others can’t have a choice whether to celebrate this highly-secularised, corporate-created “holiday.” The articles weren’t from local papers. These were from international, reputable news sources such as the BBC, CNN, and The Globe and Mail. In New Zealand, an article was titled “Hands off on Valentine’s Day” and in BBC, “raids lead to mass arrest”.
This trite was getting international attention while thousands of courageous civilians risked their lives camped out for weeks to see an oppressive regime brought to its knees in Egypt. Either way, international readers were eating the “Operation Valentine” stuff up. And you know what? In hindsight, so did I.
In the three years I have been here, Malaysia has gained quite the international reputation. I don’t think it is a reputation to be proud of, though I do think it is one to reflect on. I am basing this “international reputation” on the stories that I find people overseas are talking about — the ones that make the international headlines.
This all bothers me (even the good food, as I have developed a gut). In general, I like Malaysia and I wish people abroad could see all the wonderful things going on right now in this country. Malaysians have lots to tell the world.
So I ask readers, is it our “fault” as residents of this land, or does it fit with a more Noam Chomsky-like line of thinking: that the international media is the problem — focusing on the agenda driven stories, avoiding meaningful topics, creating necessary illusions thereby minimising true democracy, and suppressing the masses? Who is to blame for this?
I want to share a story. A while ago, I went to put petrol into my scooter. After paying, I stuffed my pockets with about RM30 in change. I rode off and had this feeling of something falling behind me, not realising that my money had not been put deep in my pockets. When I looked back I couldn’t see anything in the intersection, but I noticed another motorcyclist stopping and reaching down for something.
I continued on my way, thinking whatever they were picking up didn’t have anything to do with me. Later, this motorcyclist pulled up beside me. This man, wearing a dirty gas station shirt, was holding in his hand my RM30. He had chased me down to do what is right. This story didn’t make the New York Times, and maybe it isn’t exactly international news — but isn’t it just as important as a small protest because a pop star is coming to town?
Maybe the international media is to blame? Either way we luckily have tools at our disposal to change this. I know not all of us want to “make news” — and that is fine. But for those who want to, it is time to give a voice to stories that you feel matter.
Look around you for people who are doing good for this country and tell others about it. 1 Malaysia may seem unreal and ambiguous, so instead of worrying about its implications look for real life examples of people who literally surpass any slogan, and are doing REAL things to unite this nation.
How much news space is over a decade of sodomy trials worth? Has anyone heard from Malay people who like to drink? What about families who are teaching sex education and loving their daughters unconditionally — even if an accident happens?
Malaysia may not be gay-friendly, but many Malaysians are open and supportive of the LGBT community, maybe even more so than in my home country. Where are the voices of acceptance and love in the international press? All of these are stories waiting to be told. I can’t guarantee that the international press will want to tell them, but YouTube does.
When will Malaysians start protesting for love?
Who knows, maybe next Valentine’s Day, international attention can be focused on an old Malay couple, who for the last 50 years has been going to that same mamak for a little innocent romance?
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.