Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Soccer wrath, street demos and moral indignation

I heard today’s news over the radio. The Kelantan Football Association had been slammed with a fine of $50, 000 over the behaviour of its fans in Kuala Lumpur after the finals between Kelantan and Negri Sembilan, when Kelantan lost 3-1.

So the Kelantanese fans swooped down on the capital, braving the flood water, and outwitting the disruption of public transport, determined to be there in support of their beloved soccer team. Their historic hope of bringing home the cup were soon dashed convincingly by the gallant knights of Negri Sembilan. High hopes quickly turned into extreme frustration, demanding outlet and venting. So they went on a rampage, throwing fireworks and missiles into the field, hitting even officials. The more agitated vented their wrath on the properties of the stadium, setting fire to plastic seats in the stadium.

Now I find that amazing! I kind of admire the intensity, passion, commitment, but how I wish such anger or wrath could be diverted to the betterment of our nation. If only we Malaysians, leaders and citizens, could transform such intensity of passion into a moral indignation against all forms of backwardness, sloppiness, wrong doings, injustice, I am confident Malaysia would be a formidable nation respected by the world.

By this, of course I do not mean it should take the form of our increasingly frequent street protests and demonstrations, despite the laudable messages on the placards and t-shirts, the militant headbands, and the rebel rousing rhetoric of its leaders. For quite beyond these icons and symbols of righteous cause, the soccer wrath and street demonstrations share many traits in common. They are both amenable under circumstances to get out of hand, both ephemeral explosion of frustrations and anger, quickly subsiding after the event, both are more in the nature of mob action, pliable to manipulation, and above all both are not really constructive of the cause they champion, neither improving soccer nor nation-building.

Our leaders should take heart. The Malaysian citizens are not without passion, intensity of purpose and commitment. The challenge for leaders is to transform and sublimate such passion into constructive nation-building. If leaders are creative and genuinely committed to nation-building, they should be able to do so, and in doing so they would have a formidable force in their hand to work with.

I am reminded (faintly though) of a teaching in Chinese philosophy, but universally shared by all great civilizations, particularly in Islamic philosophy.  A nation may find itself in one of  three possible situations in history. First, the people are bad, but the leaders are good. In this case there is hope for the nation, for the good leaders will educate and make the people good. Secondly, a nation may have good people but the leaders are bad. In this case there is still hope for the nation. The good people will throw out the bad leaders and appoint good ones in their place. Thirdly, we have a nation where the people are bad and the leaders are bad too. In this case there is no hope for the nation. In this case the people and the leaders simply deserve each other! I wonder how do we figure in this scheme, first, second or the third?

Of one thing I am certain though. With good leadership and citizens capable of moral indignation against all injustice and wrongdoings, frowning on all forms of backwardness, Malaysia would be a formidable nation. Malaysia would not only be world class, but truly a great nation deserving the respect and admiration of the world!

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