Of Lynas and Erykah Badu – extended version

I wrote an Op-Ed piece about Lynas and Erykah Badu for Meld that was published today.

For those interested, CLICK HERE. 

But If not, this is the unedited, slightly extended version. Here it is:

linked to Meld


I say this as a patriotic Malaysian, but it seems to me that one thing my country’s really good for is making headlines internationally for its many controversies. The Erykah Badu concert ban has made about 460 news articles and headlines worldwide, while the Lynas waste swap has the country’s citizens crying out in outrage. Much like the Malaysian-Australian refugee swap, Malaysia has once again become the dumping ground for everything Australia doesn’t want to deal with, refugees and unprocessed nuclear waste alike.

Why, just why is my country such a stickler for controversy, and is it really any wonder why the future of this country- the country’s young, feel the want to migrate to “anywhere else but here”?

Just as what noted Malaysian Rapper/Singer/Songwriter Namewee sings in his latest social-political number, “We’re sending so many students to Sydney, Melbourne
We give you so much money and you give us Lynas?!” He then finishes off the lines with an impassioned “F*** Lynas!”

While his gusto and choice words can’t help but make us chuckle, something stirring in those lines awakens our senses to something more telling- just what the heck is happening to this country? And how do we explain the many that are ashamed, and unable to rightfully call it home?

Last Thursday, 89.9 FM (Malaysia’s Business FM) held an interesting discussion that somehow managed to touch on the crux of our problems. Just fresh off the media spectacle that was the ban on Neo-Soul singer Erykah Badu’s concert, BFM gave this prompter question in their segment on ‘Talkback Thursdays”:

“Is Multicultural Malaysia Really In A Position To Capitalize on the Concert Industry?”

Caller after disgruntled caller held the line to rant, and give their opinions on the Erykah Badu issue, quite often forgetting the question altogether. In the public’s eye, the issue ranged from any one out of the four main headers: 1) was about the hypersensitivities of conservative ‘Islamists’, 2) The boo-boo that The Star 2 do-do-ed. 3) The lack of place art had in this society, and the ever popular, 4) “its all just politics.” discussion.

Malaysia’s radio legend, ‘the man with the golden voice’, Patrick Teoh, sounded more and more annoyed with every caller who rambled and went off-tangent, while Caroline Oh and Ezra tried to steer the conversation back on course.

Miss Badu herself, among her many tweets mentioned with unparalleled understanding and grace that, “I Understand. :)” also, “It’s an election year… Keep in mind.”

Subsequent tweets also showed her depth and insight into this improbable situation. Miss Badu seemed pressed to make it a point to educate her supporters that were angry with the Malaysian government, “…The gov. Of Malaysia had to be responsible to its people’s beliefs…even if it were just 1 or 2 complaints. I understand.” She further went on to say that “This photo was chosen &edited by the promoters here in Malaysia. They were very responsible to the people and it’s Muslim beliefs…”

” I love Malaysia and its people. Art is often misunderstood in the realm of religion. My body art has ALL the names of God. Not just 1…” and also, “How useful is religion when love is refused outside of its microcosm.” “It’s bigger than religion. We Are One.”  Reading all that, it was difficult not to fall more in love with this woman.

Many Malaysian personalities spoke up about the ban, as well as showing their support to Miss Badu, among them was Pete Teo, who offered, “Miss Badu. This country is not well. We R sorry. Please don’t look 2 dimly on us.” and Raja Puteri Adilia who said, “Remember when France banned the niqab last year? She performed at the BET awards wearing 1. Just to show support to muslim women worldwide.”

To the country’s many liberals and art/music lovers, the ban was ridiculous, but what I was more surprised was how many thought it wasn’t. What should be a no-brainer response to the situation, took a step back to the immaturity of few who gave largely knee-jerk reactions, taking to Miss Badu’s Facebook wall, spewing hate and death threats. Going back to the radio segment, one caller called in half-ranting, half- scolding the radio presenters saying, “Why don’t you teach the country how it is wrong to tattoo your body?!” among a whole slew of anger towards the radio station for facilitating this largely liberal-slanted discussion. The caller then promptly hung up, while Ezra and Caroline were in the midst of asking him just what he meant.

But you want to know what the worst thing was in this whole debacle? It wasn’t the hate, or the religiosity, or the banning, or the lack of understanding. All these objections, are part of life, and let’s face it, these objections will always come a knockin’. Perhaps what was the most frustrating detail of the story is how we let all this happen. It isn’t just in this one occasion. In the bigger picture, we have so often conceded our wants to the small minority that makes the most noise. Our politics, our past have all resounded with the same tune- Perhaps this is what really marks the Malaysian dilemma after all. Conceding defeat, before even beginning to fight. Conceding defeat to whoever sounds the scariest. Rather than be intolerant to wrong done to us, we have let wrongs be our commonplace and the accepted norm.

So what do we do about this? With all the questions, maybe we could look to the Lynas protests or the Bersih protests before it as an offer of a small glimmer of hope. Maybe this global civil society movement marks a start of how we as Malaysians are starting to change, to make a sound, to stand for something. One could only hope.

So Malaysians abroad and at home, what are you doing to affect change? What do you want your Malaysia look like?”


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