Sailing the ship according to the wind

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The Hokkien adage ‘kua hong sai chun’ can carry two somewhat opposite meanings – one negative and the other, positive.

THE expression ‘kua hong sai chun’ (Hokkien) can be liberally translated to mean ‘sailing the ship according to the wind’. Interestingly, it can carry two somewhat opposite meanings – one negative and the other, positive.

On the one hand, it is a pejorative and disdaining remark describing a person without firm principle: one who twists and turns according to what is advantageous to himself.

Typically, that would be those party-hoping politicians who abandoned their original stance to adopt another flag on the promise of better personal return.

In the positive sense, this Hokkien adage is a wise reminder that we should be aware of the environment and situation when plotting one’s manoeuvre.

I was an avid scuba-diver and spent a lot of time in the open sea. Prior to our dive into the underwater realm, we would survey and scan the horizon to see if there was a possibility of a coming storm. Once the divers got down there gliding through the beautiful underwater world, they would be oblivious to what the situation on the topside was.

There is a story about a group of divers in Aceh (Indonesia) at the time of the tragic tsunami.

They were out in the open sea. Before their dive, they did a cursory survey of the sea and horizon. Though there were tales of strange birds and animals’ behaviour, but they did not sense anything was amiss and happily went under and spent the hour cavorting among the corals.

They did hear a bit of rumbling noise that passed overhead, but they ignored it and continued their dive. Later, they surfaced to find their boatmen white-faced and stricken with fear. As they approached Aceh, they found the town in ruins, decimated by the tsunami.

I might have been a bit laboured in telling the above tale, but it is a cautioning tale. We indeed have to ‘read the wind’ more carefully. Sixty years ago, we were persuaded (or conned, or bullied, depending on your level of angst) into joining the dream of building a nation of multi-racial, multi-cultural society that could be the exemplar of unity in diversity.

For a while it seemed to be so – then our dream turned belly-up. A succession of racialist, kleptomaniac and generally inept leaders saw to that.

Instead of being touted as ‘one of the tigers of Southeast Asia’, we are now staring at others from the bottom of the barrel. Okay, we might have Myanmar, Laos and maybe Kampuchea, as company at the base.

What is obvious now is that Malaysia is a nation of two distinct halves.

What do I mean? On the one side, we have the peninsula dominated by an overwhelming majority of Malays. The Malaysian Constitution defines a ‘Malay’ as a person who professes the religion of Islam, habitually speaks the Malay language, and conforms to Malay customs.

While in Sarawak, Christianity is the largest religion, representing 50.1 per cent of the total population, according to the 2020 census.

Sarawakians practise a variety of other religions, including Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and ancestor worship, Baha’i faith and also animism. So, the divide is between Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak.

(My apologies to our brothers and sisters in Sabah. Although their situation is similar to Sarawak, I am not competent to comment on it.)

This divide manifests itself in two competing world views: Islam and the rest. I used the term ‘the rest’ pointedly. Enough to say that in Sarawak, we have the institute for Islam, and Unit For Other Religions (Unifor). Yes, Unifor – meaning the rest.

Let me do a flashback to an event over 40 years ago. It was a Malaysian students’ conference.

As it was idealistic students’ wont, the debate was hot on nation-building and form of government: Capitalism vs Socialism, Democracy vs Communism, etc.

One student stood up and said: “All these debates are barking up the wrong tree. The battle is not between these ‘ism’. The battle is between Islam and Materialism.

“All these ‘ism’: capitalism, communism, democracy, socialism are Materialism, a man-made construct. They are bound to fail because man is fallible. Only the governance system handed down by Allah is perfect.”

Since PM Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim came to power, what kind of Islam are we talking about?

Is it one that ‘respects’ other religions and beliefs, or is it one that merely ‘tolerates’ them?

So far, we get hints of what is coming, like we cannot sing songs with ‘religious elements’ in public performances, dress in a certain manner in public places, and serve non-halal food in certain eateries. The list could grow bigger and become more stringent.

I believe that PM Anwar is a man of great intellect and fairness. He has gone through the fire of incarceration and humiliation for two decades.

However, he is human and a politician. Politicians sometimes have to be pragmatic. An astute politician knows where he can derive power.

At the moment there is an emergence of the so-called ‘Green Wave’ coming down from the north. Though initially many disputed such a phenomenon, but successive elections showed landslide victory for the proponents.

I contend that it is real and a force to contend with. This is a potential power base.

PM Anwar believes, as do many of us, that he is the one PM that can save Malaysia. To do so, he must consolidate his power. Hence, the call is always about the ‘Unity Government’.

At the moment Sarawak, with 31 MPs, holds a pivotal position in the Parliament of 222 seats.

In a fractured Parliament, Sarawak is the kingmaker. However, what happens when PM Anwar is able to consolidate his position through the unity of all the parties in Peninsular Malaysia?

Will Sarawak becomes dispensable? I read signs that the ideology of ‘Ketuanan Melayu’ (Malay Supremacy) is alive and ready to be enforced in practice in Peninsular Malaysia.

But I don’t believe Sarawakians aspire for that. So, we need to ‘read the wind’ so that we can sail our ship to our desired future.

Of late we hear the shout of ‘Sarawak for Sarawakians’ getting louder. Some even have taken to listening to the song by Andrea Bocelli ‘Con Te Partiro’ (Time to Say Goodbye).

That is a very bold call, a very drastic call. Someone once said: “Revolution is not a dinner party.”

Just shouting slogans and flying flags are not enough. The call ‘to say goodbye’ to the Federation is like lifting a very heavy big rock.

If we are not careful and not fully capable, we might be like the silly old man who lifted the rock only to drop it on his own feet.