New Mandala has previously featured the possibility of a new Malaysia, spearheaded by a new generation of Malaysians. That new Malaysia could have a strong Islamic feature or a very progressive stance. In the progressive camp is one Edmund Bon.

Edmund Bon is not yet 40 but he’s already done some amazing things. In 2003, at the age of 29, he was counsel for a group of “alleged militants” arrested under the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA). He is also the former Chairperson of the Bar Council’s National Young Lawyers’ Human Rights and Constitutional Law committees, and has been involved in organising various social movements in the country. He is a co-founder of the Malaysian Centre for Constitutionalism & Human Rights (MCCHR) also known as PusatRakyatLB, and is one of the organisers for the part of newly-established citizen education movement, UndiMsia!

Edmund and his colleagues (almost all of them in their early 20s and 30s) have come-up with very innovative and “cool” ways to educate Malaysians. The target group – Malaysia’s young.

In an original interview with The Sun for a Malaysia Day feature, Edmund Bon answered a few questions on how Malaysians can actually do something about making Malaysia a better place. The full interview (much of it did not make it to press) with Pauline Wong is reproduced here.

What is the responsibility and role of each Malaysian, especially the youth, in upholding the Constitution, and working towards creating a society with integrity.

The Malaysian Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It lays down our rights that also come with responsibilities to respect the law and our institutions such as the Executive, Judiciary and Parliament. Respect and responsibility does not mean blind adherence to anything and everything. It means that we must accept what is “good” and “pure” and reject that which harms our people and our nation. It requires us to question, to ask, as well as to provide constructive solutions and act towards making our country a better place to live in.

There is a co-relation between adherence to the Constitution and the creation of a society with integrity. When the Constitution is followed, rights are protected by the Executive, laws passed in Parliament do not seem arbitrary, and the Judiciary shelters citizens from abuse. When the contrary occurs, there will be no respect for one another, rights of the citizens are diminished, institutions are not respected and society crumbles.

Each and every Malaysian has a compelling if not imperative responsibility to defend the sanctity of the Constitution. The least that every Malaysian, especially youths, can and should do is to be aware of the fundamentals of the Constitution. Ignorance is not an option. It is only when we have this knowledge of the Constitution that we are able to scrutinise and question the powers that be, creating a check and balance to ensure that the Constitution and correspondingly our lives are not abused.

Why is it important for youth to realise that they each have a role to play in creating a Malaysia we can be proud of?

Because we live in Malaysia, and because we love Malaysia. Malaysia has so much potential, and so much unique diversity that if we are able to deal with all the grouses and discontent people speak about, we would be a world-class country.

Much of what is seen today is inherited; but Malaysian youth today are more courageous, more outspoken, fearless, and exposed to many more ideas and ideals than it was back then. We must capitalise on this, and harness our positive energy with our rational minds presenting insurmountable arguments to make our lives better. The youths will steer Malaysia in the coming years. Whether Malaysia stumbles or rumbles, or will stand tall among the great nations lies in the hands of the youth.

Our realisation of our important roles in nation-building is key to change. This realisation has given birth to various initiatives for to quote Ghandi, “we must be the change we wish to see in the world”. Progression in Malaysian civilisation lies with the youth. Hence, the novel youth citizen education model which is being rolled out at present – UndiMsia!

What are the ways we as Malaysians can stop complaining and start doing things to instil in ourselves and each other a sense of nationhood?

Join UndiMsia! for a start as we build our future together.

Expressing our concerns is important. Don’t ever let anyone tell you to shut up or sit down for your views or feelings. Speak out. Don’t preface any statement by apologising first for raising purportedly “sensitive” or “emotional” issues. Only abusers and authoritarians who do not want to hear the truth and how you feel want you to be silent.

But complaining is only a start. One must take it a step further. What do we want for our country in terms of infrastructure, education system, economy, governance, human rights and the like? What do we expect of our elected representatives? How do we make them more accountable and transparent? How do we make them act for the betterment of the country? How do we create a sense of public citizenry and awareness of the issues that concern us and highlight the everyday problems the people face? Do we have the toolkit or skill set to do these things? Are we concerned? Do we care?

Only complaining will take us nowhere. We must act. Our communities must be transformed and become independent, action communities that perhaps one day there are no need or a reduced need to rely on politicians. We need to build a non-partisan, issue-based, youth-driven, community-centred platform to promote greater ownership, participation and seek workable solutions to problems that affect our communities. We need to learn how to ask the right questions and make more informed choices in our daily lives. We need to control more of our well-being rather than having “top-down” policies implemented on us without our consent, tacit or otherwise.

Most of all, we need to claim our civil space for otherwise, ruthless, evil, racist elements will claim that space for us. By that time, forget about what we can do. The time is now. We need to activate all Malaysian youths and drive our agenda for a better Malaysia.

How can we work towards living in harmony?

We as Malaysians are so diverse in many different ways – ethnicity, language, culture, religion. But it is a positive thing. We must celebrate our richness in diversity, work together in the spirit of human-hood towards a common goal for national unity without suppressing our minorities.

For example, poverty transcends racial lines, cultural differences, and religions. We see if for ourselves – homeless Malaysians without shelter sleeping on hard floor pavements with cardboards over their shivering bodies as blankets. Disease does not choose its victims, it is colour-blind. Instead of stereotyping and looking at differences, we should instead look at commonalities. Look at what unites us rather than that which divides.

What are the key values (moral and religious) that are crucial for a society to be one that can live in harmony and be civic-conscious?

Focus on the issues that matter and stop all forms of discrimination – whether institutionalised or otherwise. We need to practice humanity without prejudice. All religions teach us to love our neighbours and to be kind to each other. Human rights speaks about eliminating discrimination on grounds of, among others, gender, race, religion, political ideology and disability. It may be a tough ideal to live up to, but unless we set an example in tearing down the walls of discrimination, we are no better than the barbarians of the age of the uncivilised.

We need to advocate and build a society which abhors injustice and corruption. A society with integrity and good governance will always be a society which is admired, and fairness will always be displayed and manifested in action. The Constitution further incorporates many provisions that ensure the citizens are entitled to be treated justly.

Email [email protected] to join UndiMsia!

Note: LoyarBurok – noun, colloquialism: one who is full of hot air; one who enjoys to talk a lot about things that serve no useful purpose.