Azly Rahman, Dark Spring: Essays on the ideological roots of Malaysia’s GE-13
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Strategic Information and Research and Development Centre (SIRD), forthcoming. Pp. 360.
Reviewed by Murray Hunter
This compilation of Azly Rahman’s articles about Malaysia before and after GE 12 in 2008 expresses what many have in their hearts; a strong sense of emotional distress.
Azly’s articulation and approach to many important contemporary issues facing Malaysia, come from a series of unique perspectives, of which I intellectually admire and would personally find very difficult to articulate, as he has done superbly. Through his perceptions and meta-framing Azly has been able to see straight through the symptoms and “sandiwara” that besets the country and take a brutally honest and sincere look at the root causes of the condition Malaysia is in today. This “immersed” yet still objective approach has been able to tap into some of the colonial pre-Merdeka, post 1969, and post-Mahathir era narratives. He has deciphered their sinister and destructive meanings, that today run counter to the shared aspirations an evolved Malaysian society holds today.
This is why I believe Azly’s volume of essays compiled from 2005 right up to the GE 13 election eve on 3rd May 2013, is an extremely insightful reflection of some of the important events influencing the shape and meaning of Malaysia’s cultural and social evolution to what Azly aptly calls “hypermodernity”.
Through the very title, “Dark Spring”, Azly has accurately described the Malaysian social, economic and political landscape in a way reminiscent of Rachel Carson’s seminal book “Silent Spring” published back in 1962. Carson described a silent American ‘farmscape’, poisoned by US chemical corporations, where as a consequence bio-diversity was lost and birds no longer chirp. The environment was destroyed but US corporations profited greatly out of this loss in biodiversity richness. Similarly, “Dark Spring” represents a poisoned Malaysian society with greed and prejudice that has taken away the very soul and spirit of the land that we all love.
The ideas and thoughts presented by Azly in this collection should be considered by every Malaysian if they love their country and have an empathic connection with the spirit of Malaysian history. This is a cathartic challenge to the realities we have been brought up to believe in, and accept as the truth. The ideas and thoughts embedded within the pages of his book may change one’s sense of understanding about the way things are today, laying down of an cascade of alternative realities, which may emerge as being closer to the truth as history is critically revised and rewritten a generation from now.
This revision will expose the hidden cancers growing within Malaysian society that need to be treated if Malaysian’s evolving aspirations are to be celebrated rather than repressed by the elite forces of vested interests who rule the country they have tried to keep divided for the last 50 years.
Azly begins his book by tearing the carpet from under us with his quote from Voltaire. “There is no history, only fictions of varying degrees of plausibility”. This is his first challenge. To question all the assumptions that we believe to be ‘facts’, especially those unquestioned ones that have underlined our identity. We have been blinded by the political paradigm, created and developed by those who rule, preventing us from seeing new possibilities.
Azly’s continuously examines the gap between what the elite espouse and the realities on the ground as a prime tool in unraveling the truth. Within the paradigm of sculptured history, Azly postulates that the ‘social contract’ accepted by Malaysians has in fact been an instrument of hegemony and control, which has hindered the evolution of our social values and national cohesiveness, at great cost to the maturity of the nation. Within this neo-colonialist frame, Malaysian society has still not achieved true independence, still a captive of the old caste system under the domination of an elite.
Azly postulates that Malaysians have been prisoners of their own constructed hegemonic paradigm, which had great consequences on social and equity policy over the last decades. The economic pie has been seen as something fixed, where effort has been put into how this static pie can be divided within society. The NEP has been the instrument of choice, where the difference between what it espoused and what it achieved has left a large gap. This has been at expense of what could be.
In addition the whole concept of economic development has been within a post-colonial development paradigm, a slave to ‘growth for profit’, ‘development for riches’, and ‘diversification for monopoly’. Development has been a game for the elite, without any questioning of this occidental paradigm.
Azly approaches political analysis through humanism. He considers the spiritual level, where the nature of greed and hate has corrupted the self. Humanism, mercy, and compassion, universal to all religions, are the necessary drivers of society, if our communities are to evolve away from the existing greed and hate paradigm. At this level of consciousness, the universal meanings of Islam can become the basis of a true Malaysian democracy. This requires a weeding out of corruption within Malaysian society.
Azly paints a picture of what post-Mahathir Malaysia is like, with the persecution of academics, and students within the nation’s universities. A withering education system that needs reform to enable enlightened learning. A Political system that is morally bankrupt badly in need of ethics to return to public service. Repression and the use of brute form to dominate society by government has ignored both human rights and the constitution. The gap between rich and poor continues to grow, with the psychology of crony capitalism growing rampant.
Then Azly presents a second challenge. This is a challenge to our collective imagination in asking “what could be?”, through his expression of a “Republic of Virtue”. This is where this book “Dark Spring” is also full of hope and optimism for the future.
Azly has reached out to each and every Malaysian in this book. He wants people to realize that although they are from different histories and heritages, they are in-fact the same in their aspirations, no matter what race, what ethnic group, what location, what level of education, what level of income, and what religion they have embraced.
Malaysians share a collective soul. Azly looks beyond the cultural “barbed wire” of divisiveness to a Malaysia where the paradox of diversity has a true spiritual unity about it. This is one spirit that encapsulates a single Malaysian aspiration about the purpose and ‘dreams’ the country was founded upon during the struggle for ‘Merdeka’ and search to find identity as a nation.
According to Azly, this is a Malaysia beyond the “Syatians” of indulgence, the “Samsara” of attachment, “Maya” the world of illusion, and the greedy traders in the temple of Mosses; to a level where all religion shares a common state of love, compassion, and sense of humanity for the world.
And it’s from this perspective that Azly promotes the optimism of ‘just and equitable society’, rather than the hegemony of “what is”. Azly firmly believes this is the position from where a truly Malaysian way forward can be found, freeing us from the bond of feudal based neo-colonialism that has shackled Malaysians minds for the last 50 years or so.
This is the hope that “Dark Spring” gives us.
Azly is not locked into the conservative ritualistic ways of Islam as practiced today, a “meme of rigidity and bias” that is holding back society. Rather he sees Islam as a living religion which should prescribe the way our society is organized within the context of today. Azly goes beyond the politics of religion to assist the reader “get in touch with” the deeper spiritual side that religion offers, so humankind can be viewed without the need of greed, prejudice, and ignorance.
For Azly sustainability represents so much more than recycling. The concept of sustainability of a deep state of mind based on compassion and love for the earth and humankind who dwell upon it. Sustainability is an awareness and a guide to the future strategies Malaysians must take in stewardship of their own country. Sustainability is about shedding away the shadows of domination by others that leads to exploitation of the environment, people, and culture. It’s about developing knowledge through science, philosophy, and technology to transform the country, and most importantly the lives of its citizens. And this must begin with the transformation of Malaysia’s education system.
Today, Malaysian society has more in common with Stalinism than it has with liberal free market economics. Our development economics are based upon occidental neo-Rostowian ideas of the 1950s without any question or challenge by anybody. We aspire to “Wall St”, “Silicon Valley”, “biotechnology”, and becoming a global market leader without considering our own possibilities, trying to live others dreams.
This is where our view of ‘hypermodernity’ needs to be challenged if elitism is going to be caste away for true spiritual values, equity and multiculturalism. One will find that the parameters Azly prescribes for sustainability are almost the same ones that are needed to free the mind, hence the urgent need to redefine the meaning of the concept of ‘bumiputra’.
Azly, who did his doctoral thesis on the impact of digital communication technologies on “Cybernating nations” like Malaysia looks at the impact the internet will have on politics and elections in Malaysia, proclaiming that this will become a major force promoting ‘creative anarchy’ by the ‘digital proletariat’. This impact is increasing by the day and will be a major factor in the outcomes of future elections.
Azly sees the internet as the new jungle where bloggers are “Guevara-inspired guerilla like cyber-freedom fighters” who can take on the issues of corruption, abuse, and wrong doings, exposing them to the public and bringing them down. The internet will balance the hegemonic broadcast media that has supported the current regime, where this new information flow is something like the fall of the Berlin Wall. This will bring a society where politicians must earn rather than demand respect.
An increasing awareness, more political consciousness among the young, more scrutinization of politicians beliefs and actions, and the abandonment of race based politics for issues based platforms are some of the megatrends that will change Malaysia.
This is Azly’s offering to Malaysia. A mirror to reflect, and a cloth to “dust off” the despair of the last 50 years so a new truth can be known. However Azly’s truth consists of multiple realities that give rich texture of meaning to people, events, and ideas. It is only with this meaningful and complex reflection of the past and present can we see the possibilities of a new future.
Azly Rahman’s “Dark Spring” is a book about evolution. He has strived to take us out of the shadows of Plato’s cave, into the freedom of an emancipated Malaysian society free of hegemony, repression, and suppression. However as Azly has eluded, there is so much to do in Malaysia if the country is going to re-vegetate the barren lands that have been stripped for decades, and regenerate the Malaysian mind to face the emerging national and global challenges ahead.
Malaysia must move from a rent-seeking ‘feudcracy’ benefitting the few, to a modern and progressive society where sustainability and adaptation rather than corruption and the rape of wealth as the premise behind public policy and administration by people who are truly altruistic and patriotic to the land we know as Malaysia.
This Malaysian reckoning is Avant garde, but at the same time it is proudly very traditional, deeply attached to rewritten historical narrative of shared heritage.
This is one of the most insightful contributions to the sociology of Malaysian society and should be read by all who have a stake in the country’s future.