Do not confuse loyalty with blind obedience

Recently, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad lashed out at Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s policy on Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M), calling it a form of bribery. Instead of giving monetary handouts, Dr Mahathir suggested that the government increase the people’s income by way of creating opportunities for work or business. In his blog chedet.cc, Dr Mahathir wrote that BR1M also increased the tendency towards personal dependence on the government without any personal effort. That could potentially lead to the weakening of people’s character and at the same time reduce their competitiveness in the marketplace. I couldn’t agree more with Dr Mahathir on this. Dr Mahathir is also right in that government money is derived through taxes on the people and people would not like to see the taxes they pay expended in such a way. Most importantly, neither would people want their hard-earned money expended on winning popularity for anyone, political parties or administrators.

What is even more dangerous than this is the cultivation of a “yes-men” culture. Indirectly, “one-off” contributions like BR1M tell people that we need to obey leaders even when we do not agree with their policies. It is nice when people agree with everything we say, but if everyone thought along the same lines all the time without questioning, then nothing would ever change.

In a recent event featuring a dialogue between the Welfare Association of Wives of Ministers and Deputy Ministers (Bakti) and the National Students and Umno Overseas Club, the prime minister’s wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor warned students not to betray the country, saying that they should give it their undivided loyalty. I recall the video of a parent lecturing Fahmi Zainol, the UM activist, on his recent road tour to the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). Here is part of what he said: “Biasiswa you siapa tanggung… Jabatan Perkhidmatan Awam di bawah siapa? Apa lagi you nak tuntut keadilan…?” What this parent is trying to say is that unquestioned loyalty to the government is synonymous with patriotism. Hence, if we challenge the power of the state, we are considered unpatriotic and ungrateful.

Look at the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund scandal – would you want to give it your unquestioning obedience? How about the public fund wastage as revealed in the Auditor-General’s Report 2013? The really sad part is that the culture of blind obedience has been extended to the stage where some of us think it is not right for us to question government policies simply because we should be grateful.

As Mark Twain, author of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” put it, “Loyalty to country always. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.” Saying no to your government has nothing to do with patriotism. By being blindly obedient, we have basically thrown away our moral basis. It has nothing to do with religion, be it Islam, Buddhism or Hinduism – the point is that blind loyalty as how many leaders want us to be has no legitimate moral values and we should not confuse patriotism with blind obedience.

This article appeared in The Malaysian Insider on 24 November 2014.

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