Friday, 22 February 2008

Nothing New in New Year

Brave New World (The Star)
27 December 2007

It should suggest progress but over time, the magic of the new year has waned."


For a long time now I have disliked the New Year. I enjoy New Year's Day. After all, it’s a public holiday and public holidays are wonderful things.

It’s New Year's Eve that I don’t like. The jollity and counting down the seconds all feel a bit false. “C’mon have a good time, it’s New Year's Eve!” It may be New Year's Eve to you mate, but to me it’s Monday night.

I didn’t always feel this way. Many, many years ago when I was a small boy, New Year Eve was a big deal.

It was the night before a new year. Imagine that, a brand spanking New Year, shiny and fresh, pregnant with promise.

I would stay up till midnight eager to watch the birth of nineteen whatever it was. I don’t know what I was hoping for – something magical, I guess. It was as though the New Year brought us closer to a brighter future, one with flying cars.

But over time, every New Year started to feel just like the old one. The same old problems, and not a personal jet pack to be found. 2008 appears to be no different. Sometimes I think we are stuck in time.

New years suggest progress, but there is scant evidence of this around, at least politically. When the Prime Minister came into power, he promised more openness in government. And this supposed openness has been touted by his people as a sign of a maturing democracy. Indeed there was a brief period when things were looking rather hopeful on that front.

However, his government needs to work harder on this.

You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Greater openness will mean dissent, will mean conflict, and will mean the outpouring of anger. You just have to deal with it. And dealing with it does not mean the use of the ISA.

Neither does there appear to be any intellectual progress. The recent fiasco regarding the use of the word Allah by a Catholic newsletter, culminating in the effective ban on the publication, reflects a thinking that is mind numbingly infantile.

There is the false declaration that Allah is a Muslim word to be used only by Muslims. There was no attempt by the powers that be to answer publicly to the fact that the word is Arabic and means literally The God. “Al” means “the” and “Lah” means “God”.

Furthermore, the Abrahamic religions all have the same root language. This being the case, it is not correct to say that Allah as a word is exclusive to Muslims.

Linguistic quibbles aside, what gets to me is the presumption that Malaysian Muslims will get confused if they were to ever get a hold of this Catholic newsletter and see the word Allah in it.

For one thing, it is not as if this newsletter is on sale openly. It can’t be anyway because there are laws preventing the producers from doing so.

For another thing, I think that a Muslim who may chance upon a copy would probably be able to tell that this is a Christian publication. The references to Jesus being the son of God and that sort of thing would probably give it away.

It’s a new year, but we are still plodding along in the same old way. Living in a stunted democracy where to expect intelligent discourse from those who wield the reins of power seems too much to hope for. Rather like waiting for flying cars and personal jet packs.

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