The recent actions of the Rulers and the strong statement issued by the Conference of Rulers are a beacon of hope, just when things seemed a bit pessimistic.
IT can get pretty daunting being a Malaysian frequent traveller, what with the silly questions we have to deal with from foreigners about our country.
I can’t be the only one getting annoyed or becoming overly sensitive to these inane queries.
And Americans top the list of clueless foreigners, who are generally poor in geography. A large number of them struggle to locate our country on the atlas or globe.
Many can’t seem to wrap their heads around it when I tell them Malaysia is sandwiched between Thailand and Singapore, and I get nothing more than blank looks. It’s the same story in some parts of Europe, too, except for England, Ireland and Scotland.
As loyal Malaysians who love our country dearly, we get hurt when foreigners, especially those who have never set foot on our patch, form bad impressions of our land.
Unfortunately, Malaysia has found itself in bad light lately, with many instances being self-inflicted.
We have even become the butt of jokes in some American talk shows, which have massive following the world over.
Malaysia has become a punch line, and that’s certainly not the handiwork of wit. We can’t just shrug off this source of embarrassment or dismiss it because these nasty remarks will invariably impact us sooner or later.
Malaysia is part of the international community, with boundless resources spent on wooing foreigners and tourists to spend their money here.
Statements by national leaders and government officials that are ill-conceived undo all the hard work and energy contributed by the Government and private sector to project a good image of our glorious nation.
On a recent trip to Britain and France, I engaged in conversation with several top bankers and businessmen.
They wanted to pick my brain about the “investment climate” in Malaysia, so I duly anticipated questions about the impending general election, political scenario, whether the present Government would remain, and even the 1MDB issue which are essential deliberations for anyone hoping to invest in Malaysia.
Instead, I was queried about the controversial ban of a beer festival, gay tourists and the launderette issue. I was flabbergasted.
I was caught unprepared because I had assumed these were domestic concerns, and given that we’re in the run up to the general election, dubbed the silly season by the journalistic fraternity, politicians and public figures are known to stoke the fires of controversy. Perhaps I was naïve.
But information travels swiftly, and unfiltered, and even unexplained, in the age of digital media. No one cares about the follow-up explanations and rectifications. They only remember the initial report, which is often the most damaging.
For a taste of the extent of such negative news, just Google, and count the number of countries that have reported these controversies – and this is just those we can track in the English language media.
The Muslim-only launderette issue made it all the way to France, Hong Kong and Britain, among others.
As the Sultan of Johor, His Majesty Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar rightly put it, Malaysia is not a Taliban country.
But we are in danger of the world thinking we are headed that way if our leaders aren’t prepared to stand up for our moderate image.
It looks like moderate Malaysians have to rely on the royal institution to uphold the principle of moderation.
Perhaps our Rulers do not need to canvass for votes, unlike our politicians, but surely, we must stand up and speak up for what we think is right.
Some misguided groups and individuals are already using bullying and intimidation tactics on those attempting to defend our moderate way of life.
Liberal Muslims are being threatened and dismissed in a derogatory manner, and they are put together with non-Muslims, tagged with the term kafir or infidels. Never mind that the Federal Government has been promoting moderation.
Incredibly, liberals are being lumped into the category of atheists and hedonists, instead of being viewed merely as progressive, as clearly espoused in the Rukunegara, which calls on Malaysians to uphold the liberal approach.
Christians and non-Muslims are being treated by some misguided individuals as if they pose a threat to the country. These self-serving people are also giving a twisted interpretation of Christian evangelism.
Even the royal institution has been criticised, given what has been splashed in social media. At least a couple of individuals, using deeply offensive words, have crossed the line and stepped into the realms of sedition.
It is important that our figureheads are aware of the long-term implications of the democratic institution if theologians, who are not elected, become more authoritative and louder than our national elected leaders.
Malaysia has a solid track record for its parliamentary democratic system, despite its flaws, because it has managed to pull the country together.
The predominantly Malay leadership has also exercised readiness and willingness to uphold the power sharing concept, which we must recognise and appreciate, though sometimes, it gets lost in the heat of the political climate.
The Malaysian royal institution has been a unique one and the respective Rulers, despite being the heads of Islam in their states, have demonstrated exemplary leadership qualities and fairness to Malaysians of all faiths.
We can’t allow the royal institutions to be challenged by anyone in any way. And we won’t allow those who harbour such outrageous agendas to proliferate.
The recent actions of the Rulers, and the strong statement made by the Conference of Rulers, are a beacon of hope, just when things seemed pessimistic.
My message to my foreign listeners remains the same – I believe in Malaysia, and the majority of us remain committed to moderation, regardless of our race or religion.