I am not sure when and how it happened, or even what precisely took place, but suddenly, nothing feels the same, and nothing feels right in Malaysia.
Several years ago, things used to be totally different here. One would land at KLIA (Kuala Lumpur International Airport) – in the past one of the most modern and well-run mid-sized airports in the world, located some 70 kilometers from the city – and feel the omnipresent optimism and pride.
Malaysia was on the rise: a fast train was connecting the airport to the sprawling metropolis. It was passing near the famous Formula-1 circuit, the new capital city of Putrajaya, a modern city designed for science and technological research – Cyberjaya – and finally terminating at the modern KL Sentral train station and public transportation hub.
Futuristic Kuala Lumpur also counted with a super modern and elegant concert hall fully dedicated to classical music. It was right under the Petronas Towers, once the tallest building in the world. Modern monorail and driverless trains were transporting people in style to different corners of the city. Bookstores were well stocked (censorship was present, but everyone knew that Malaysian censors were too lazy to read). Extreme, Indonesian-style, misery hardly existed. Malaysia had ‘made it’ – it had landed itself on the list of the highest development index countries (Human Development Index, HDI, measured by UNDP) – together with countries such as Chile and Argentina, Russia and Qatar, as well as the nations of Europe and North America.
Malaysia was manufacturing its own car brand – Proton – and was teaming up with Japan, hoping to co-produce aircraft.
Nightclubs were packed, political humor thriving, and even religions were not immune to criticism, as long as the punches were being delivered in an ‘appropriate’ and secular environment, behind the curtains of bookstores and private events.
In those days, I loved visiting Malaysia. I loved living there, for weeks and months.
Next door, collapsed Indonesia felt like the de-composing carcass of a huge fish: covered by smog, intolerant, intellectually destroyed, racist and at war with itself and its colonies. I used to escape to Kuala Lumpur for weeks; in order to gain perspective, in order to eat well, to visit theaters, concerts, parks, to interact with my Malaysian friends – writers, filmmakers, and academics.
Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur felt as if they were existing on two different planets. A 1 hour and 40 minutes’ flight, and everything would diametrically change. Suddenly it was possible to walk under the trees and on wide sidewalks, to attend great concerts, to read to excited audience from my books, and above all, to be understood.
And yet, yet even then, there was something rotten in the intellectual fabric of Kuala Lumpur. It was hard to detect, to explain, but it was constantly there, right under the surface.
Now I am looking back, and I am trying to comprehend. It is not easy, but not impossible.
I recall a Malaysian filmmaker who made a 2-minute long film, and attended dozens of international film festivals showing it – all expenses paid. It was just a tiny bark, nothing serious. But he was a Malaysian, and therefore worth being pampered and supported. Because Malaysia had very few filmmakers, and the West wanted to make sure that it owns them. It felt obnoxious, even perverse, as I knew several great, brilliant left-wing filmmakers in Chile, Brazil, France, U.K. who made ground-breaking films, but were not supported by anyone, living near-starvation existence.
I remember how, decisively, all Malaysian ‘intellectuals’ were refusing to criticize, or even to acknowledge, the horrors that were taking place in neighboring Indonesia. Why? Because Indonesia, after 1965, became a true Western neo-colony; plundered, brainwashed and looted by both local treasonous and corrupt ‘elites’ and by multi-national corporations and Western governments. Someone was, of course, paying for this silence.
I recall how Malaysian writers were falling over each other to attend a “Writers’ and Readers’ Festival” in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia – an anti “LEKRA” (pre-1965 coup left-wing writer’s organization to which belonged such great novelists as Pramoedya Ananta Toer) event organized by pro-Western institutions and pseudo-intellectual Goenawan Mohamad. All expenses paid, of course (by whom, we could only guess).
Unlike in many Latin American countries, or in China or Russia, for Malaysian and Indonesian intellectuals, there is nothing like “dirty money”. Money is money – always halal.
Malaysian filmmakers, writers and other intellectuals never criticize the West, but diligently support Western propaganda, when it is targeting Russia, but even such far-away countries such as South Africa.
The United Kingdom has been omnipresent, through family ties, ‘education’, through the British Council which has been spreading funding and ideological dogmas, but also through its main propaganda outlets such as the BBC.
I met a writer who had her entire work sponsored by the Western outlets, and who was flown to places as diverse as the Caribbean Islands and Alaska, as a reward for her writing, which has been glorifying both transgender rights and big business construction of motorways. When I confronted her, she replied, simply and honestly: “I have two children to raise”.
Malaysian art festivals have been clearly propagating the Western line of thinking. By mistake, I was invited to one (in old city of Georgetown). But never again. There are certain unwritten rules, including: no open criticism of Western imperialism, and no direct support for countries like China, Russia, Cuba or Venezuela. Local artists and writers are paid to talk and write about sexual habits, such as homosexuality or trans-gender issues, instead of the horrors taking place next-door, like the genocide in West Papua, where Indonesia has managed to murder around 500,000 people on behalf of Western multi-national companies and governments.
Taboo is also touching what made Malaysia relatively wealthy – thorough plunder of its environment through palm oil plantations and mining, as well as mistreatment of indigenous people on the territory of two of its states located on Borneo Island.
Malaysia changed; became unrecognizable. And it happened unbelievably fast.
Kuala Lumpur (as well as Singapore) have been choking on smog from the burning Indonesian islands of Kalimantan (Indonesian part of Borneo, the third largest island in the world) and Sumatra, but no explosion of outrage has been detectable from the Malaysian “thinkers”.
No outrage over US and EU attacks against Afghanistan, Libya or Syria.
Even Malaysian leaders, at times, were more outspoken than the funding-hungry local intellectuals. Prime Minister of Malaysia, according to Reuters, reacted to assassination of Iranian General Soleimani:
“Muslim countries should unite to protect themselves against external threats, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Tuesday after describing the U.S. killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani as immoral.”
Malaysian ‘educated circles’ have been proving, again and again, that their country is a well-behaved colony. A cowardly, client state.
Suddenly, for people like me, those who were well known but at odds with Western imperialism, it has become near impossible to work (give speeches or to get interviewed) in Malaysia. All the doors have gotten shut. We cannot get any quotes from Malaysian academics, artists or politicians.
Cowardice and self-interest, has become the main driving force. I have never forgotten, how during the conflict between the Philippines and Malaysia, I went to Borneo, and wrote an extremely sarcastic essay about the event. I got powerful quotes from the Filipino people, who even crossed the sea in order to talk to me, on the record. I got a couple of quotes from Malaysians, too. But after my long essay was published, the Malaysians protested: “We did not know you will be so sarcastic in your work”. They were too careful, too disciplined, unwilling to risk anything.
There is no way to get quotes from the Malaysians, about the terror which the West is spreading all over the world, or about the West’s best ally – Wahhabism. Or about the shameless collaboration of the Southeast Asian nations with the West. Not even about that “greatest Malaysian secret”: “Almost all that scientific research, and native production, totally failed: the country basically lives, like Indonesia, although on a much higher level, from the plundering of its natural resources; from irreversibly and brutally ruining of its land by cutting down the native forest and turning both peninsular Malaysia and Borneo into one huge and horrific oil palm plantation, dotted with mining pits. Malaysia also functions as an assembly like, a maquiladora for multi-national companies.”
Those who protest or speak out about what has been done to the native people of Borneo, die. And so, nobody does, anymore.
This is what broke the spine of Malaysia: its unwillingness to risk. Its lack of courage. Its dependence on former and present colonial masters. Its submissiveness. I described this kind of behavior in this part of the world in my political novel Aurora.
The great fiery socialist, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist Indonesian leader, Ahmed Sukarno, knew all this very well. He saw Malaysia as basically a puppet state of the West. He had launched campaign of Konfrontasi against his neighbor and its British handler. And the neighbor – Malaysia – fired back: it later quietly embraced the fascist regime of General Suharto, which overthrew Sukarno and the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), in the bloodiest coup in the history of mankind; a coup which was triggered by the West in 1965.
Since the coup, Malaysia has flatly refused to openly criticize anything about Indonesia: from murdering 2 million people in 1965, to the genocide in East Timor, as well as the on-going genocide in occupied West Papua. And of course, no word about the monstrous destruction of Indonesian nature, as something similar, although not as extreme, has been taking place in Malaysia itself.
Now, Malaysia feels depressed, and looks depressing.
Here, in this essay, on purpose, I do not talk much about the previous political era, and about the return of “Doctor M.” to power. Nor do I write about who used to sponsor Anwar Ibrahim, and who then decided that it is unwise, for now, to sponsor Anwar, shouting that it is time to give “another chance to Doctor M”. Let me just say that almost all these decisions came from abroad.
Let me recall, however, how most of the foreign-sponsored members of the so-called Malaysian opposition were determinedly supporting the totally discredited neo-liberal Anwar Ibrahim, when he was a ‘Washington’s favorite’. And they dropped him precisely when the marching order arrived from far away Europe and the US. Doctor M whom they “fought” so determinedly against, but of course for a fee, suddenly deserved a “second chance”, when they were told that he does, by their “handlers”. It all happened so openly, so shamelessly, and so predictably.
Yes, Malaysia is a sad country. Two of its wide-body passenger jets went down, killing hundreds of people and ruining one of the proudest airlines in Asia, but no one here truly investigates, how and why it occurred. It is not a fully taboo topic, but it is definitely semi-taboo.
Almost no one is investigating the past, either. Things are hushed up, hidden, not unlike in the neighboring Indonesia. Of course, the horrors that have been taking place in Indonesia are incomparably greater in comparison to the ‘mild devilishness’ which happened in Malaysia. But still… It took a Sri Lankan born author, Lloyd Fernando, to describe the religious ‘riots’ in Malaysia; the 1969 killings and wave of torture unleashed against non-Muslims in his powerful novel “Green is The Color”. Locals would never dare.
And who really questions in the open that bizarre, racist arrangement which has been governing Malaysia for so many decades? Here, the slight Muslim majority (bumiputera) has many more rights than the highly productive Chinese group, as well as deeply discriminated against Indians. Bumiputera (children of the land) somehow does not extend to original people living in Borneo.
In Malaysia, there are different laws for Muslims and non-Muslims. Here, a Malay person is “born Muslim”, by definition. He or she cannot change his or her fate. It is a simply grotesque reality.
And try to address it, try to criticize! You would be finished in no time, if you live in Malaysia.
But back to the “sadness of Malaysia”. That’s where I wanted to begin and end this essay.
Things did not go well. Doctor M’s plans never really materialize.
Petronas Towers remained the tallest building only for a few years, and even the fountains in front of them went on an austerity regime and began working only in the evenings.
The concert hall below now feels increasingly small, for such a sprawling city. Now it is also compromising. There are more and more cheap pop shows performed behind its lavish doors; and there are less and less great performances.
The ‘flagship’ KLCC Mall suffers from constantly broken escalators, and its once prestigious art gallery is closed, almost half of the time.
The Formula-1 circuit in Sepang closed down in 2017.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) has become a traveler’s nightmare, with inefficient staff, terrible lines, unnecessary double or even triple security checks, fingerprinting, photographing and other excessive inconveniences to the passengers.
Public transportation has survived only in Kuala Lumpur and its greater area. Elsewhere, there were countless projects, and monstrously costly failed plans to build monorails, trams, and an urban rail: from Malacca, Georgetown, Johor Bahru, to Putrajaya.
Cyberjaya never managed to ‘fly’, or to compete with Singapore. Nothing great came from its research facilities. Only second-rate scientists settled there.
As in the much bigger Indonesia, Malaysia could not give birth to even one single great writer, scientist or thinker.
In smaller towns, the situation is even more pathetic. Kuching was celebrating the fact that the long postponed light rail project will soon start being constructed. But the 2nd era of Dr. M has begun. Countless public works have been stopped. What was already there, like the only existing public railroad in Borneo, which originates in Kota Kinabalu, has been castrated, its service reduced to two runs per day.
Why? So, just as in Indonesia and Thailand, private vehicles could be force-sold to the citizens, so gas could be burned, and corporations could make billions from building new roads, further ruining the natural environment as well as the urban areas.
And those well-funded Malaysian intellectuals? As mentioned earlier in this essay, they began glorifying the highway-builders in their books, even in novels. Coincidence? I will leave it up to you to decide!
Dr. M. torpedoed many grand projects previously signed with China. That was most likely the deal that was made behind the closed doors: the “new” government would enjoy peace with the West. London and Washington will stop trashing the old man and his coalition. Local NGOs and Malaysian artists and ‘intellectuals’ paid by the Western organizations, institutions and governments will scale down or even entirely stop their criticism. In exchange, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will be almost entirely kicked out of Malaysia, or at least, thoroughly castrated.
This is of course an absolutely horrible deal for Malaysia, but it appears that for as long as this government is in place, the trend is here to stay. After all, ‘it is all about China, isn’t it?’ At least for the West and its dependencies.
Everything has somehow failed in Malaysia, but especially those dreams about the building of a great, proud and productive nation.
I filmed in Kota Kinabalu, recently. Two years ago, there was an attempt to build a boardwalk, a public area facing the sea. You know, a small replica of those grand waterfronts that one can see in Latin America, South Africa, Europe, and of course in China, and even in the Gulf. Now, with the new government, even that tiny public space was privatized; rented to some businesswoman from Kuala Lumpur. She fenced it off, put some kitsch figures and a tiny shack with a “horror show” performance, and began charging an entry fee of RM5 (US1.25) per person.
I asked the cashier how she felt about this corporate takeover of a stunning public space?
She did not understand. I asked about savage capitalism in Malaysia; she had no idea what I was talking about.
Later, I asked several of my Malaysian friends about the ruined land, which has been unbearably scarred by the oil palm plantations (almost half of the world’s production), or by mines and other terrible ventures. They refused to comment, at least on the record. Reason: “Too dangerous”. “They all have families”.
I talked to the indigenous people of Borneo, in Sabah and Sarawak. They did talk. About brutality, about being forced to convert, religiously. About people who were killed, who disappeared.
I talked to people in Papua New Guinea and from the Solomon Islands, where the Malaysian logging companies had been committing crimes against humanity, including rapes, torture and sexual abuse of children. I described my finding in my book – Oceania.
But this is just an essay, not an investigative report full of names and numbers, about a country which I used to love, but which has collapsed, sold itself, and reduced itself to a gloomy mediocrity.
Malaysia was set to take off, to fly, to show the way for so many other countries of the world.
But its people, its ‘elites’ and ‘intellectuals’, decided to put their personal interests first. They helped to re-introduce the mentality of a colonized nation.
“Go to hell with your aid!” The Indonesian President Sukarno screamed into the face of the US Ambassador in Jakarta. As a result, Sukarno was overthrown, and 2 million Indonesians were killed – the rest was frightened into insanity, and then brainwashed.
Malaysia never truly rebelled. It never went from one extreme to other, from pride to slavery. Its people never refused the aid (or payment for services provided) from the West. They survived, as a result. But have they ever truly lived?
Malaysia has never really experienced real freedom and exaltation from moving forward, on its own, without looking over its shoulder, and without fear.
[First published by 21 Century Wire]
Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Five of his latest books are “China Belt and Road Initiative: Connecting Countries, Saving Millions of Lives”, “China and Ecological Cavillation” with John B. Cobb, Jr., Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism, a revolutionary novel “Aurora” and a bestselling work of political non-fiction: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire”. View his other books here. Watch Rwanda Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo and his film/dialogue with Noam Chomsky “On Western Terrorism”. Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to work around the world. He can be reached through his website and his Twitter. His Patreon