Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Young Malaysians should be at the forefront of change

by Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad

Half a century ago, when there was talk of independence from some quarters, they invited only ridicule and laughter. Soon, however, even the sources of ridicule spoke of independence and, not long after, monopolised the idea as if they alone fought for the freedom of this blessed land.

That is the fate of many visionaries. But in each and every generation, there will always be visionaries and idealists, who may seem out of sync with society, but whose ideas and actions later shape society.

Malaysia now needs more visionaries. We are now forced to subscribe to a single monolithic ideal, and those who have different ideas are pushed to the periphery. There may be nothing wrong in that single ideal, but then there is nothing wrong in other ideals as well. If we truly have developed significantly from our humble beginnings, then we should also have the self-confidence of allowing conflicting ideals to compete on a level playing field. We should not allow ourselves to be blackmailed by propaganda, fear and terror that nip creative visions in its bud. Inquisitive and questioning minds are a sign of intelligence, not impertinence. There is nothing wrong in trying to do the right thing. Questioning for the sake of questioning alone is futile, but questioning for the sake of truth is not.

Our social contract: major achievement

Our diversity should not be an excuse. It should be a source of strength, pride and ability. Our differences should be seen as a catalyst of creative solutions and practical compromises that do not betray our ideals. Different opinions should be respected and intellectually debated. That is the true meaning of unity – it does not mean being blind to injustices or silent to oppression. Unity alone is not a positive value; unity can only be a strength if it is founded on justice, mutual respect and principles. Our social contract was a major achievement in our struggle for independence, yet it is not etched in stone. Should Malaysians think that there is a need for revisionism, then we should be honest with ourselves.

There must always be a yearning that “things can get better”, an eternal faith in the fact that Malaysia and Malaysians are capable of so much more. The choice either to bear the historical baggage or to seek a better future lies in our hands. Of course, there is nothing wrong in being proud with our history; however, neither is it wrong to be confident, optimistic and idealistic about our future. It is easy to be complacent by comparing ourselves to the worst; it is harder to be humble and honest by comparing ourselves to the best.

The youth bear the heaviest responsibility to allow for the maturity of more visionaries and idealists as on our shoulders rest the future of Malaysia. It is easy to blame the youth, and it is easy to blame society for the lack of creative and principled leadership among our youth. Both however have to take the blame and to play their role to allow room for young courageous leaders to be produced. More faith and confidence must be given to the youth to find their own way and learn from their own mistakes. Their opinions should be listened to as well.

Vacuum in intellectual thinking

Openness per se should not be feared. Our youths should be taught to be individually and spiritually responsible. In this globalised world, censorship is no longer a useful tool. Individual responsibility, coupled with the ability to distinguish between good and bad, is the best way for us to face today’s harsh reality. At the same time, there is nothing wrong in being morally upright and ethically principled, and we should strive to encourage our youths to be so. We should not forego our values and identity, simply in the name of freedom.

We can achieve this via an enrichment of knowledge, both spiritual and secular. While knowledge that has economic value is important, we should not be blinded by practical considerations alone. Knowledge is beyond regurgitating information; it is about thinking and creative minds, each individually able to be original thinkers. In our country today, there exists a big vacuum of intellectual thinking.

I have often been chastised for being, in the words of one, “a blue-eyed idealist”. Of course as years goes by, some of my opinions and views have evolved, and some have changed. There are things, which I have written and said in the past, which are an object of amusement to me now. Emotion has to a certain extent given way to pragmatism. That is a natural process.

Yet I myself made that journey of self-discovery, and others too should be given the freedom to do so. My principles and ideals have remained the same – to seek the truth no matter how unpopular it is; to achieve justice in the face of great oppression; to be ethically and spiritually accountable in a more challenging environment; to promote common sense where irrationality prevails; and to defend freedom in the adversity of subtle totalitarianism.

My journey is still far ahead, God willing. I pray that my generation will have the self-confidence to be open and receptive to change, and to lead the nation to a more glorious and prosperous future. God will not change any community, until that community seeks to change itself. We have to be the seekers of change. My ideals may be lofty, yet if we do not try to achieve it, how can we be sure that it is doomed to fail?

Why not?

In these days where alternative opinion and dissenting thoughts look bleak and unpopular, I choose to be an optimist. When people ask me “Why so?” I retort back to them, “Why not?”

Yes, we have to work hard to fulfil that optimism and vision. Still, I have absolute faith that young Malaysians can take that torch and enlighten the dark days of our country. In the near future when the opportunity beckons, due to a convergence of social, political and economic factors, we should be at the forefront of change. Never again, as we did so many times in the past, should we let it pass us by. Noble intentions alone do not suffice; we need resolute leadership and strong commitment. We need to be confident of our individual opinions, yet humble enough to listen to others.

The challenges are great, but we can make it happen. That is our imperative. That is the prerequisite of change.

Nik Nazmi, 22, adalah penulis bebas dan mula menulis sejak berumur 19 tahun. Laman web beliau adalah www.niknazmi.com. Artikel ini juga telah disiarkan di majalah Aliran isu 2004:7

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