Malaysiana: On Migration, Flight, and Classism

 Tariq pointed me to a couple of Farish Noor articles on, firstly, migration as a form of protest, and secondly, a response to the comments received on the first link.

My response is three-fold.

Firstly, the more I study the concept of nationhood, the histories surrounding so many countries today, the colonialism that continues to thrive within minds and hearts, and the struggles of post-colonialism, the less faith I have in the idea of a solid Malaysian identity. Like other countries, it is a space with man-made borders, with certain cultural identifiers which are shared with other nations in the region, governed by human beings who are prone to fuck-ups.

I still call myself Malaysian, though, because I'm not entirely comfortable with the idea of not belonging to Malaysia. I certainly don't always fit in while in Canada. I love Nova Scotia, and one day, might consider becoming an official Bluenoser, but until I know for sure where my life path takes me, I don't want to plead allegiance to a place that I don't feel is my own.

Malaysia, however, is my own. It is mine by birthright, and it is mine by virtue of my history. It is mine by kinship, mine by the culture that has irrevocably influenced me (we can get to the problems of my influences another time).

But Malaysia, too, is only Malaysia today because of colonialism. Malaysia today is Malaysia not because of history long past, but a history of less than five hundred years which involves a hella lot of meddling from colonial powers. Malaysia today is the remnants of what has been left behind once the British and other Western powers decided they didn't want us anymore, and we are left to pick up the pieces. To be fair, the British tried to leave us a half-decent parliamentary system and democracy, and I guess it's more of a job than the half-assery that's going on with the States and Iraq right now. And like with everything, any system of governance run by human beings is prone to corruption, to prejudice and bias.

We major races never settled our differences before embarking on the nation-building project. The British never let us settle our differences in an effort to keep us under control, and a a result, we have never learned how to do so. And, as humans are prone to do, we segmented into different groups, each one intersecting between class and religion and race, and a certain group is now in power. We have never sat down to hash this out, to accept that yes, this Chinese is different from this Malay, and this is all right. These two South Asians from the Indian subcontinent whose familial origins are of different countries are different from each other, and this is all right.

Instead, we're all set up into a catfight, murring and facing each other off in back lanes by people in power who gave us our food, and we each think the other is encroaching on our territory.

Anyways. That's pretty much how I see Malaysia right now.

Secondly, if a person migrates, it is not always a reflection of the nation's failure.


People move away for many reasons, and it usually boils down to one reason: to seek a better life.

Some of us move away to Western nations because we have, in fact, been brought up to believe that these neo-European places are better than ours. Even if we are discriminated against, at least it's more understandable since we're the new immigrants. We buy into the myth of "hard work will be rewarded".

Some of us move away simply because there are more opportunities. Not necessarily as a matter of politics, that. I, for one, am in Canada because the opportunity to do what I want - write and get published - is infinitely higher here than if I stayed in Malaysia. I resent the idea that it's because I cannot tolerate the politics in Malaysia that I am here. In fact, living in Canada, doing the activism that I do, has led me to a further understanding of the politics in Malaysia, making it certain that if I should choose to move home, I will be able to deal with more equanamity.

And of course, some of us move away because we go where our hearts go. And sometimes, our hearts are not allied to our countries of birth. We must find the places we belong to in order to find peace in our lives. It may not even be the politics that drive people to search - could be just that they can't find what they're looking for in Malaysia. Could be the culture. Could be the social support system. Could be the ideology. Could be love.

Not everyone emigrates as a reflection of the nation's failure. To do so is an erasure of those of us who very much love our country of birth, and have affection for it despite being far away and loving where we are now.

So you bastards who're all "ya lah, of course we would leave, look at the government and the Malay bias and the corruption and bla bla bla" - SHUT THE FUCK UP. A lot of countries have problems with corruption. A lot of countries have trouble with internal racism (among other -isms). Even the UK is having trouble with nationalist extremists. Hell, a lot of countries have CIVIL WARS!

Thirdly, if you can move out of the fucking country, you're already in a fucking good place. Think about the brilliant people who could find more opportunity elsewhere, and can't. Think about the people who could use your privilege to move out to find greener, more accepting pastures. Think about them for a second.

You are in a good place if you've managed to get away from what you consider is such a shithole. All you do when you whine and bitch about the state of affairs back in Malaysia, without even being there, is stir up resentment on the parts of the people who are there, who can't leave, for whatever reason. And we know where stirring up resentment leads to - irrational hatred of the Other, scapegoating, and a lot of bad blood on every side.

The good people who have decided to stay, or are unable to leave, simply do not need your bile, your distaste, your hatred for the Islamists, or the Malay government, or the racism. They live there. They know.

They do not need your pity. They do not hear some more what a "good" or "better" decision it is to leave. The last thing this problem of ours in Malaysia needs is more fuel to the fire.

If you leave, then go! Make your way in your new home. You should be happy. You should be carving out a space for yourselves in your new place. Have fun dealing with the racism there, though, if you pick a white-majority country like England.

I am not saying that there is no place for your anger. There is. I believe in anger. But the sound and fury is futile unless you can channel it positively. What did you hope to see? What do you hope to see? How do you think things could change? You are never expected to answer these questions immediately, but if you want to really engage with the problem, you need to make a good faith effort to engage with these questions. Otherwise, you're spewing resentment all over the place. It's not a bad thing when it's a space designated specifically for venting anger. But make sure it is in the right place.

We're all hurt by what's going on in Malaysia. Those of us who feel driven out. Those of us who feel penned in. Those of us who sit anxiously on the edge, trying to make decisions.

But stop acting like taking flight and leaving is the only answer, because it is not.

To conclude, nationhood is a messy thing to start with. We are no longer living in a world with fluid borders, and we lack ways where we can escape hierarchies we don't like. But that's still no reason to spill resentment all over the place.


  1. But stop acting like taking flight and leaving is the only answer, because it is not.


    And stop talking as if the decision is more noble than those who are staying. It's not. You're not smarter or better than the people who stay for leaving.

    People have valid reasons for staying and going. Let's start with that, okay?


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