Hornbill Unleashed

September 27, 2010

Getting Along in Malaysia

By Bunga Pakma

The path of my thoughts is leading me to higher regions. I only hope the trail doesn’t at last toss me off a cliff.

Along with hunger, sex, pain, death and the eternal struggle for a living, the uncertainty of whether human beings get along together or don’t get along together is a basic fact of our troubled existence. All these decades I have been watching how races, religions and classes have fought one another throughout the world and in our own country. It seemed to be a good time to step back and ponder the nature of intolerance and tolerance.

Malaysian public life is a spectacle of squabbling as unending and invasive as the roar of Malaysian traffic. We ignore the constant noise as best we can, but today I woke up to just how loud and irritating it is. I have come, metaphorically, out to the quiet back of the garden to think.

No particular event prompted me to contemplate these heavy subjects. A discovery had formed itself in my head: tolerance, by its nature, is manifold and diverse; its opposite, intolerance, is one, simple and absolute. I wondered whether my mind was telling me a truth, and to find that out I had to think.

“Toleration” derives from the Latin verb tolero. “Put up under” is as good a translation as any. By definition, to tolerate something is to put up with something you don’t like. For example, we tolerate the pain of an aching back well enough to go to work.

If we look honestly into ourselves, we have to admit that we are all readily capable of hating other people. To have to push through a crowd of strangers at the LCC terminal doesn’t improve our opinion of the human race, and at times the people we love most will get on our nerves. People cause each other pain, even without intending to. Exactly why is one of the tragic mysteries of life.

The wise person, then, recognizes this as the unavoidable human condition and puts up with that condition, and with other people. The key to tolerance is the realization that you are just as irritating to others as they are to you. Each person has a limit of how much, and what, she or he can tolerate, and each person practises a different strategy of tolerance.

I had some ideas of my own on what these strategies and conceptions of tolerance are. Unwilling to rely on myself alone, I compared my thoughts with those of the German philosopher Rainer Forst, who has contributed the article “Toleration” to the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.1 Forster talks about toleration mainly with reference to societies and states. His observations can be explained and applied also at a person-to-person level.

Toleration can be permitted or granted. In a family, the parents may say “go out and play and make noise, but don’t bother us while we’re talking.” Here, the parents have the authority, and they make the rules. On a grand scale, in many states a minority has been permitted to practice its religion as long as its members keep it strictly private and don’t engage in politics or public life. Under mild rule the minority may willingly agree. Harsher governments ensure the submission of the minority by force.

“Live and let live” might be the best label for a second kind of toleration. I put up with the noises of renovation next door—including the ear-piercing shrieks of a saw cutting through tiles—because I know he has no choice but to fix his house. Few people share my taste in music, but nobody has ever picked a fight because they can hear it from my window. We have a right to our tastes. Most people practice this garden-variety, common-sense tolerance, as natural to human beings as being irritating is. How far the moral control of this kind of tolerance extends, I think can be judged by the way people drive. Most people try to be careful of others’ lives, but we’ve all seen a few that don’t.

“Live and let live” is based on a shared sense of limited humanity. Powerful people and groups tolerate one another because they must. The Soviet Union and the US tolerated each other because a lack of respect on either side would have had unspeakably appalling consequences. Two-party politics, at its best, works this way, the Government and the Opposition keeping each other in line. At the lowly level of academia, learned scholars “agree to disagree.”

Forst admits one more type of tolerance, a tolerance based on admiration, esteem together with the recognition of irreconcilable differences. For example, I admire and esteem the Penan, the Orang Asli and other forest-peoples. I can by no means ever more than touch the surface of their world, much less enter it fully. Yet I so fully accept the value of their ways of life that I would think this planet a sad and empty place if they were wiped out. This mode of toleration is so mature that perhaps it is no longer toleration at all. It requires understanding, and the people who are “being tolerated” don’t even know it.

Most Malaysians as human beings simply and unconsciously live and let live. The Malay proverb lain padang, lain belalang embodies the ethic.

When we turn to the present régime, what is its view of toleration? The ruling clique in Malaysia is schizoid. To this date, nobody knows what “1Malaysia” means. Does it mean that choice of religion and who one sleeps with are a person’s own business and not the State’s? Does it mean that Ketuanan Melayu will “permit” the “other races” to live next to it? On what terms? We see that UMNO is split down the middle (for all I know, in fragments), and its likely factions are considering anything and everything.

Ideally, what I believe Malaysians would like to see is a nation in which, as in the US, “live and let live” is nurtured as a fundamental principle of our relations with one another. From the beginning, US law protected individual freedom. The US constitution implies throughout that the law must not infringe upon a person’s private life. What does not hurt another is his own business. Several states have decriminalized cannabis and allowed gay marriage. There’s no reason to outlaw these things; they are none of the public’s business.

Look at the history of religious tolerance and intolerance and you will find that “toleration by permission” only worked when 1) a clear majority of the population belonged to one faith, and 2) that faith was controlled by the ruling authority, which punished dissidence and enforced doctrinal and ritual conformity among the faithful, in order to present a “united front” against the minority. The textbook example is Western Europe. Once religion was ousted from power—it took a few hundred years—the “consensus” maintained by force fell to pieces. It was safe for everyone to think as they wished, and everybody did think as they wished.

If elements in UMNO hope to establish a “toleration by permission” régime in Malaysia, they forget that they cannot forge a majority which simply does not exist.

This change happened from the ground up. Toleration can never be enforced. It happens. It can happen here.

Getting Along in Malaysia

Bunga Pakma

The path of my thoughts is leading me to higher regions. I only hope the trail doesn’t at last toss me off a cliff.

Along with hunger, sex, pain, death and the eternal struggle for a living, the uncertainty of whether human beings get along together or don’t get along together is a basic fact of our troubled existence. All these decades I have been watching how races, religions and classes have fought one another throughout the world and in our own country. It seemed to be a good time to step back and ponder the nature of intolerance and tolerance.

Malaysian public life is a spectacle of squabbling as unending and invasive as the roar of Malaysian traffic. We ignore the constant noise as best we can, but today I woke up to just how loud and irritating it is. I have come, metaphorically, out to the quiet back of the garden to think.

No particular event prompted me to contemplate these heavy subjects. A discovery had formed itself in my head: tolerance, by its nature, is manifold and diverse; its opposite, intolerance, is one, simple and absolute. I wondered whether my mind was telling me a truth, and to find that out I had to think.

“Toleration” derives from the Latin verb tolero. “Put up under” is as good a translation as any. By definition, to tolerate something is to put up with something you don’t like. For example, we tolerate the pain of an aching back well enough to go to work.

If we look honestly into ourselves, we have to admit that we are all readily capable of hating other people. To have to push through a crowd of strangers at the LCC terminal doesn’t improve our opinion of the human race, and at times the people we love most will get on our nerves. People cause each other pain, even without intending to. Exactly why is one of the tragic mysteries of life.

The wise person, then, recognizes this as the unavoidable human condition and puts up with that condition, and with other people. The key to tolerance is the realization that you are just as irritating to others as they are to you. Each person has a limit of how much, and what, she or he can tolerate, and each person practises a different strategy of tolerance.

I had some ideas of my own on what these strategies and conceptions of tolerance are. Unwilling to rely on myself alone, I compared my thoughts with those of the German philosopher Rainer Forst, who has contributed the article “Toleration” to the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.1 Forster talks about toleration mainly with reference to societies and states. His observations can be explained and applied also at a person-to-person level.

Toleration can be permitted or granted. In a family, the parents may say “go out and play and make noise, but don’t bother us while we’re talking.” Here, the parents have the authority, and they make the rules. On a grand scale, in many states a minority has been permitted to practice its religion as long as its members keep it strictly private and don’t engage in politics or public life. Under mild rule the minority may willingly agree. Harsher governments ensure the submission of the minority by force.

“Live and let live” might be the best label for a second kind of toleration. I put up with the noises of renovation next door—including the ear-piercing shrieks of a saw cutting through tiles—because I know he has no choice but to fix his house. Few people share my taste in music, but nobody has ever picked a fight because they can hear it from my window. We have a right to our tastes. Most people practice this garden-variety, common-sense tolerance, as natural to human beings as being irritating is. How far the moral control of this kind of tolerance extends, I think can be judged by the way people drive. Most people try to be careful of others’ lives, but we’ve all seen a few that don’t.

“Live and let live” is based on a shared sense of limited humanity. Powerful people and groups tolerate one another because they must. The Soviet Union and the US tolerated each other because a lack of respect on either side would have had unspeakably appalling consequences. Two-party politics, at its best, works this way, the Government and the Opposition keeping each other in line. At the lowly level of academia, learned scholars “agree to disagree.”

Forst admits one more type of tolerance, a tolerance based on admiration, esteem together with the recognition of irreconcilable differences. For example, I admire and esteem the Penan, the Orang Asli and other forest-peoples. I can by no means ever more than touch the surface of their world, much less enter it fully. Yet I so fully accept the value of their ways of life that I would think this planet a sad and empty place if they were wiped out. This mode of toleration is so mature that perhaps it is no longer toleration at all. It requires understanding, and the people who are “being tolerated” don’t even know it.

Most Malaysians as human beings simply and unconsciously live and let live. The Malay proverb lain padang, lain belalangembodies the ethic.

When we turn to the present régime, what is its view of toleration? The ruling clique in Malaysia is schizoid. To this date, nobody knows what “1Malaysia” means. Does it mean that choice of religion and who one sleeps with are a person’s own business and not the State’s? Does it mean that Ketuhanan Melayu will “permit” “other races” to live next to it? On what terms? We see that UMNO is split down the middle (for all I know, in fragments), and it’s likely factions are considering anything and everything.

Ideally, what I believe Malaysians would like to see is a nation in which, as in the US, “live and let live” is nurtured as a fundamental principle of our relations with one another. From the beginning, US law protected individual freedom. The US constitution implies throughout that the law must not infringe upon a person’s private life. What does not hurt another is his own business. Several states have decriminalized cannabis and allowed gay marriage. There’s no reason to outlaw these things; they are none of the public’s business.

Look at the history of religious tolerance and intolerance and you will find that “toleration by permission” only worked when 1) a clear majority of the population belonged to one faith, and 2) that faith was controlled by the ruling authority, which punished dissidence and enforced doctrinal and ritual conformity among the faithful, in order to present a “united front” against the minority. The textbook example is Western Europe. Once religion was ousted from power—it took a few hundred years—the “consensus” maintained by force fell to pieces. It was safe for everyone to think as they wished, and everybody did think as they wished.

If elements in UMNO hope to establish a “toleration by permission” régime in Malaysia, they forget that they cannot forge a majority which simply does not exist.

This change happened from the ground up. Toleration can never be enforced. It happens. It can happen here.

Getting Along in Malaysia

Bunga Pakma

The path of my thoughts is leading me to higher regions. I only hope the trail doesn’t at last toss me off a cliff.

Along with hunger, sex, pain, death and the eternal struggle for a living, the uncertainty of whether human beings get along together or don’t get along together is a basic fact of our troubled existence. All these decades I have been watching how races, religions and classes have fought one another throughout the world and in our own country. It seemed to be a good time to step back and ponder the nature of intolerance and tolerance.

Malaysian public life is a spectacle of squabbling as unending and invasive as the roar of Malaysian traffic. We ignore the constant noise as best we can, but today I woke up to just how loud and irritating it is. I have come, metaphorically, out to the quiet back of the garden to think.

No particular event prompted me to contemplate these heavy subjects. A discovery had formed itself in my head: tolerance, by its nature, is manifold and diverse; its opposite, intolerance, is one, simple and absolute. I wondered whether my mind was telling me a truth, and to find that out I had to think.

“Toleration” derives from the Latin verb tolero. “Put up under” is as good a translation as any. By definition, to tolerate something is to put up with something you don’t like. For example, we tolerate the pain of an aching back well enough to go to work.

If we look honestly into ourselves, we have to admit that we are all readily capable of hating other people. To have to push through a crowd of strangers at the LCC terminal doesn’t improve our opinion of the human race, and at times the people we love most will get on our nerves. People cause each other pain, even without intending to. Exactly why is one of the tragic mysteries of life.

The wise person, then, recognizes this as the unavoidable human condition and puts up with that condition, and with other people. The key to tolerance is the realization that you are just as irritating to others as they are to you. Each person has a limit of how much, and what, she or he can tolerate, and each person practises a different strategy of tolerance.

I had some ideas of my own on what these strategies and conceptions of tolerance are. Unwilling to rely on myself alone, I compared my thoughts with those of the German philosopher Rainer Forst, who has contributed the article “Toleration” to the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.1 Forster talks about toleration mainly with reference to societies and states. His observations can be explained and applied also at a person-to-person level.

Toleration can be permitted or granted. In a family, the parents may say “go out and play and make noise, but don’t bother us while we’re talking.” Here, the parents have the authority, and they make the rules. On a grand scale, in many states a minority has been permitted to practice its religion as long as its members keep it strictly private and don’t engage in politics or public life. Under mild rule the minority may willingly agree. Harsher governments ensure the submission of the minority by force.

“Live and let live” might be the best label for a second kind of toleration. I put up with the noises of renovation next door—including the ear-piercing shrieks of a saw cutting through tiles—because I know he has no choice but to fix his house. Few people share my taste in music, but nobody has ever picked a fight because they can hear it from my window. We have a right to our tastes. Most people practice this garden-variety, common-sense tolerance, as natural to human beings as being irritating is. How far the moral control of this kind of tolerance extends, I think can be judged by the way people drive. Most people try to be careful of others’ lives, but we’ve all seen a few that don’t.

“Live and let live” is based on a shared sense of limited humanity. Powerful people and groups tolerate one another because they must. The Soviet Union and the US tolerated each other because a lack of respect on either side would have had unspeakably appalling consequences. Two-party politics, at its best, works this way, the Government and the Opposition keeping each other in line. At the lowly level of academia, learned scholars “agree to disagree.”

Forst admits one more type of tolerance, a tolerance based on admiration, esteem together with the recognition of irreconcilable differences. For example, I admire and esteem the Penan, the Orang Asli and other forest-peoples. I can by no means ever more than touch the surface of their world, much less enter it fully. Yet I so fully accept the value of their ways of life that I would think this planet a sad and empty place if they were wiped out. This mode of toleration is so mature that perhaps it is no longer toleration at all. It requires understanding, and the people who are “being tolerated” don’t even know it.

Most Malaysians as human beings simply and unconsciously live and let live. The Malay proverb lain padang, lain belalangembodies the ethic.

When we turn to the present régime, what is its view of toleration? The ruling clique in Malaysia is schizoid. To this date, nobody knows what “1Malaysia” means. Does it mean that choice of religion and who one sleeps with are a person’s own business and not the State’s? Does it mean that Ketuhanan Melayu will “permit” “other races” to live next to it? On what terms? We see that UMNO is split down the middle (for all I know, in fragments), and it’s likely factions are considering anything and everything.

Ideally, what I believe Malaysians would like to see is a nation in which, as in the US, “live and let live” is nurtured as a fundamental principle of our relations with one another. From the beginning, US law protected individual freedom. The US constitution implies throughout that the law must not infringe upon a person’s private life. What does not hurt another is his own business. Several states have decriminalized cannabis and allowed gay marriage. There’s no reason to outlaw these things; they are none of the public’s business.

Look at the history of religious tolerance and intolerance and you will find that “toleration by permission” only worked when 1) a clear majority of the population belonged to one faith, and 2) that faith was controlled by the ruling authority, which punished dissidence and enforced doctrinal and ritual conformity among the faithful, in order to present a “united front” against the minority. The textbook example is Western Europe. Once religion was ousted from power—it took a few hundred years—the “consensus” maintained by force fell to pieces. It was safe for everyone to think as they wished, and everybody did think as they wished.

If elements in UMNO hope to establish a “toleration by permission” régime in Malaysia, they forget that they cannot forge a majority which simply does not exist.

This change happened from the ground up. Toleration can never be enforced. It happens. It can happen here.

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12 Comments »

  1. BTN deputy director Hamim Husin told a Puteri Umno closed-door function today that Malay rights is a mandate to rule the country and in his derogatory remark aimed at the Chinese and Indian,“The ‘si mata sepet’ that has never gone to a mosque or surau only has one vote. The ‘si botol’ that only knows how to go up to Batu Caves up and down only has one vote,” said Hamim.

    Is this the 1Malaysia that MIC,PPP, Gerakan, MCA and SUPP want the non Malays to believe and support? Being a lain2 race and irrelevant in the book of UMNO, the rest of the bumis in Sarawak and Sabah are only been spared the constant disparaging insults.

    Comment by Lee Hui — September 27, 2010 @ 9:13 PM | Reply

    • The derogatory remarks such has been uttered by This Hamim,is totally uncalled for,uncouth and
      un becoming of his position as a director.Is this is, one of the product of our Malaysian education system?If it is ,then how could you proposed to defend a mind to that of an imbecile?
      Think of all the good deeds and efforts that our multi-racials,multi religious and multi culturals society has contributed ,to make what Malaysia is today.If a person had made nine mistakes,and performed one good deed,then you should forgive all the nine and glorify that one good deed as a sign of maturity,and as a mark of a human being who has been endowed with the capacity to think and to reason.
      There has never been any basis for people to hate another human being,who had been created equal.If they persist to perpetuate this slants and preached that they are superior and chosen race,then this country will be torn apart and no one will gain from this malevolent acts
      Quote”Racial prejudice,nationalism,religious bigotry are the world devouring fire,which no man can quench,except that men turn toward God.”unquote

      Comment by papayuk — September 27, 2010 @ 10:30 PM | Reply

    • “…Puteri Umno closed-door function today”

      Closed door, huh? You got the rest of the story? Please share with us! 😉

      Comment by Wayang Street — September 27, 2010 @ 11:21 PM | Reply

  2. This is brilliant and heartfelt writing -thank you Bunga Pakma. Malaysia has been damaged, perhaps irreversibly, by the hatred fostered by Umno and its lackeys in Sarawak’s BN. Intolerance is the currency they trade in, in exchange for the economic opportunities to enrich themselves. After all, they can always send their children abroad once intolerance reaches the point of no return. Perhaps it already has?

    Comment by analist — September 27, 2010 @ 7:04 PM | Reply

  3. Its a fallacy ,to believe that one is born into a religion.Religion is a an inner acceptance of a spiritual being superior or greater than our selved.A being who is omnipotent, omnipresent,and omniscience and encompassed all things known and unknown.He possesses knowledge, which is innate,from whose source are derived all created things.Religion is a product of a revealed knowledge from His Manifestations who appeared to mankinds and to guide him to an ever advancing
    civilization.What knowledge man has acquired,is only a river of truth,and an ocean of truth are yet to be revealed.For far too long man had always fought and killed each other in the name of religion.No religions is inferior or superior to another.The only difference is the time of their appearance,the age in which it appeared and the condition to which it was revealed.
    God never had any prejudice to anyone of His Messengers,They are all equal,for They all sit on the same Throne of Prophethoods,singing the same song and praising the same God.

    Comment by Papayuk — September 27, 2010 @ 4:06 PM | Reply

  4. The dream to see the Bangsa Malaysia (Nationhood) will always be a dream as long as UMNO/BN is the government. All parties in BN are racist-centric and they all play politic of racial cards. Not until Pakatan Rakyat a better alternatives in PKR, DAP, PAS where they struggles are justice for all by all, race-blindness, PKR a truely multiracial party, PAS readiness to open party membership to the Chinese and Indian, DAP is openly addmission to the genuine Islamic rules and governance as manifestated by the PR Governments in Penang, Selangor, Kedah n Kelantan.

    Comment by Gilagila — September 27, 2010 @ 10:35 AM | Reply

  5. Malaysians from all races and who posses different religions have no problem living as one race called MALAYSIAN. It is the politicians in UMNO controlled BN that divide and rule us and later want us to believe that unity can only be achieved under BN. For example the Malays who are born Muslim and they are already united in the same faith and culture and why are UMNO warlords still want the Malays to believe that they have never been so disunited just because many Malays do not believe and trust in UMNO any more?

    Comment by Mata Kuching — September 27, 2010 @ 10:30 AM | Reply

  6. ” . . . a nation in which, as in the US, “live and let live” . . .”

    US has engaged in unilateral wars since Japan WW2, Cuba-Russia Cold War, Vietnam 1980s, Iraq 1990s and now looks like it supports Zionists through Israel and is on the cusp of going to war with Iran. Are you sure US practices lain belalang???

    If we have :

    1) Freedom from Apartheid/Fascism
    2) Freedom from Religious-Persecution/Religious-Supremacy.
    3) Equality for all ethnicities and faiths in all aspects of policy, Law and Constitution.

    ;and equitable wealth distribution, the issue of tolerance will be moot because everyone would have equal access and equal rights and thus nothing to fight for, except the prosperity of the nation and eventually the world.

    “It was safe for everyone to think as they wished, and everybody did think as they wished.”

    Bunga Pakma has a sense of the positive aspect of ‘kampung mentality’ (Malay or Orang Asli) down to a tee. ‘Kampung mentality’ is nothing about Islamic supremacists but organic living paradigms which should be adopted to semi-high density by-laws to allow breathing space against such things like the case on the site below.

    ;and to ALLOW things as discussed on the site below as well :

    http://jeremiahfoo.com/?p=5887&cpage=1#comment-100231

    Comment by AgreeToDisagree — September 27, 2010 @ 9:54 AM | Reply

  7. “Toleration can never be enforced. It happens.” Try turning the word “Toleration” into sharing. Things will fall in place when you share. This world is not enough for any man’s greed but for every man’s needs. Govts. must NEVER be corrupt for any system to work. Our God given conscience tells us what is corruption.

    Comment by joehancl — September 27, 2010 @ 7:10 AM | Reply

  8. We have less freedom than we would like to think.

    Everything is thought out and done for us. We can’t write books that’s different, draw funny pictures thats not sanctioned, claim our money but get screwed by banks when developers did not complete our houses and ran away. We are screwed.

    The only fun in town is Jom Heboh! We’ve lost that carefree fun and spontaneity!

    Is it any wonder, Malaysians are not creative? The only creative people are the ones Rais Yatim hawks around.

    We need to do something cultural that’s spontaneous – something like the Thai “water war” every year! Watch an open wayang or bangsawan or go ronggeng without permits, or have a rock festival without all landing in jail.

    Perhaps then, we would be proud of our ethnic culture yet not become bloody bigots!

    You bet then we could get along much better.

    Comment by Wayang Street — September 27, 2010 @ 1:24 AM | Reply

    • About a zillion years ago, gawai’s “just happened” in one longhouse or another. Then, with the best of intentions, capital-G Gawai was made an Official Holiday, and by now all the fun is bleed out of it.

      Comment by 'Nother Fellow — September 27, 2010 @ 8:42 AM | Reply

      • Yeah, we needn’t have gone this way. With the KUKUKRASI and the sham urbanity life is stuffed out of people.

        If that’s the way they did Gawai last time, it was even more fun when Idilfitri was announced and we had not caught our chickens when it was already dark! 🙂

        Comment by Wayang Street — September 27, 2010 @ 10:21 AM | Reply


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