by Dr. Helmy Haja Mydin. First published in Malaysiakini 14 July 2015

I read the letter ‘Malaysia is destined for doom’ by ‘British Expat’ with a certain amount of amusement. While there are elements of truth in his letter, his contention that ‘Malaysia is the worst because it is inhabited by bad politicians and even worse people’ strikes me as patently less-than-objective and extremely nihilistic.

Perhaps it would be instructive for me to write in a manner similar to ‘British Immigrant’, sorry ‘British Expat’, and allow readers to place things in context.

I am a Malaysian national and was based in the UK for more than a decade with an internationally-acclaimed healthcare institution. I have travelled the globe and I can boldly say that throughout all the countries I have visited so far, all have chequered pasts and are at various stages of development, both economically and politically.

Being in the know about the latest political situation in the country I am is important as political stability affects the function of the physical body that hosts me.

The situation in the UK was pretty bad when I was there. For example, I witnessed as millions of individuals marched against the war in Iraq, a demonstration of democracy that was duly ignored by the then prime minister, Tony Blair. Many wanted him out but the only alternative at the time was Gordon Brown, who had been around in the corridors of power for just as long.

It wasn’t as if there was a suitable candidate of a different race/ethnicity after the centuries of parliamentary existence.

Alongside going to a war that led to the unnecessary deaths of thousands of soldiers and hundreds of thousands of innocent lives (not to mention the subsequent degradation of one of the world’s oldest civilisations and subsequent rise of Isis), London was the epicentre of the 21st century’s first major financial crisis.

Politicians then made the unpopular decision of spending billions of pounds to bail out cronies and financiers whilst ignoring the many socio-economic plights of a society whose degree of inequality was widening with each passing financial quarter.

Of course, London is the engine of UK’s growth. Some folks are happy to stick their head in the sand even if the rest of UK (say, Yorkshire) is flooded.

Despite the constant flirtation with exiting the European Union (which, gasp, will spell doom for the UK surely?), the capital is happy to reap all the benefits of globalisation up to and including allowing foreigners (Arabs and Russians, with a smattering of other capital-rich folks) to own vast amounts of real estate in London and thus price-out the locals.

That tall building, The Shard? That iconic shopping haven, Harrods? Both are owned by the Qataris. Heck, even the Battersea development project is being handled by a Malaysian consortium. But one must ‘applaud’ the manner in which foreign partners are protected, up to and including halting investigations into bribery for arms sales.

Stoking up irrational fear

I won’t even go into how The Sun or The Daily Mail influence both the political elite and sections of the population on matters such as immigration by ignoring empirical data and stoking up irrational fear.

I won’t even bother going further back into history and write about the pogroms conducted by the British Empire or how the haphazard delineation and broken promises of the past have led to the atrocities and tragedies that we are witnessing in Africa and the Middle East today.

But I love the UK, warts and all – I am a self-confessed anglophile. Some of by dearest and closest friends are there, and I have come to appreciate the history, the culture and the differences that have helped shape me into the person that I am today. And as cliched as it may be, the fish and chips are amazing.

Do I hold the mistakes made by the UK governments against its entire population? Of course not. That would be stupid of me. Political manoeuvrings, gerrymandering – these are usually abstract concepts that play no role in the day to day struggle of things like searching for affordable childcare or worrying about the mortgage.

This letter does not in any way seek to absolve Malaysia and Malaysians of our many faults. Rather, it is an attempt to highlight the self-righteous and hyperbole of ‘British Expat’s letter for what it is.

God knows we have plenty to do, and plenty to learn from our friends in the UK – courtesy on the roads, an appreciation of the importance of protecting areas of historical and environmental interest, a focus on improving the education system to compete globally, providing an arena that provides for greater freedom of expression and for dissent – just to list a few.

As for the ‘British Expat’, I hope he/she realises that many of the issues raised, and those that I haven’t (e.g.investment in public transport) are ubiquitous across different societies and countries.

Please also be aware that your cohort of friends and acquaintances in real life and on social media are not truly representative of any given population and may not represent the true struggles of the many. Hiding behind monikers makes a mockery of the many arguments that you put forth.

I would like to suggest that you spend the tail-end of your contract in constructive discussions that could actually lead to a change, rather than ranting about everything that is wrong. As we Malaysians are fond of saying, don’t just talk kok.

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DR HELMY HAJA MYDIN is an associate of the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas) and an associate professor at the Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya.

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