"Don't speak unless you can improve the silence..." ( New England Proverb)

Dr David KL Quek


Malaysians are generally a discreet and quietly compliant lot. Many are quite content to maintain the status quo, without rocking the proverbial boat of peace, stability and absence of civil disorder, while letting the "authorities" do their own thing.

A sizable number may indeed be part of the "silent majority", although it is debatable, if all are such a homogeneous whole.

We are quite at ease in compartmentalizing our lives such that the governance of our profession, our society or our nation is neatly delegated to those authorities who have been elected by us every now and again. So long as we are left well alone to pursue our own economic and social livelihood, we can live with that. Because of this general apathetic attitude, we have been labelled as apolitical.

Many of us would like to live unobtrusive, encapsulated and secluded lives. Many believe that getting too involved in any public-spirited endeavour particularly controversial ones, is beyond the reach of the common man or woman. They believe that socioeconomic and political matters don't mix, and that the potential repercussions are too heavy a price to pay.

Hence, they prefer the muted response of the so-called "silent majority", as if, the unspoken thoughts of the masses were a show of unanimity to support whichever side, they choose to affiliate with. Surely one can discern the fallacy of such a tautological argument.

That we are a passive and submissive people is therefore an established fact. But like it or not, Malaysians will sooner or later have to break free from this mental block, and nurture their own sociopolitical awareness and development, in keeping with the changing milieu of the times.

We cannot cocooned ourselves by remaining in a pupa phase forever. To be a recognized player in the interconnected yet rapidly changing world and society, we have to show that we are prepared to blossom out into a full-blown butterfly, fully developed in every sense, and not just in bits and pieces, or in fits and stutters.

We have shown that we can achieve many things, through the spirit of Malaysia Boleh or "Can-do-ism". Recent events however, have cast a paralyzing cloud of uncertainty over Malaysia, and some of us have become imbued with the sense of languishing capitulation, negativism and exasperation, even nihilism.

Some would just prefer everyone to withdraw inwards, and let unpleasantries sweep us by. Some yearn for a quick return to the status quo that we have been so inured with, because change can be a very frightening thing. Yet, we know that change seems inevitable, and when nurtured right, always leads to growth not only for society, but for the individual as well.

When the tension of the sociopolitical atmosphere was at its peak some weeks back, many doctors were disturbed and frightened. Why? Because, like it or not we still are part and parcel of this society, and we cannot choose to opt out of it so simplistically.

Some were afraid that we might see the resurgence of social unrest, and were loudly decrying the demonstrations which appear to destabilize our hitherto calm and peaceful existence. Fingers were pointed at various personalities for instigating such an unpleasant state of affairs. Thus they supported whatever measures, the authorities have embarked upon to contain the unwelcomed turbulence.

Fear of the many unknowns keep many troubled people from speaking out. And when they do, many prefer the safer choice of echoing sentiments which they believe would help maintain the status quo and not raise controversies. Burmese dissident and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has this to say: "It is not power that corrupts but fear. The fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it, and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those subject to it."

Some others feel they have a conscientious right to support rational and moral actions to resist gross injustices–notwithstanding that this might run counter to the aspirations of others. Some among the Editorial Board members feel this way, and are in agreement that we should offer an alternative avenue to air legitimate feelings of uneasiness and discontent with the goings-on, since this has been severely curtailed by the mainstream press.

Napoleon Bonaparte had once said: "Ten persons who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent." Perhaps this reflects accurately, our medical profession at this juncture.

The Islamic Medical Association (PPIM) represents a sizable number among our medical profession, and had issued a press statement (including one via e-mail to the MMA News) regarding their misgivings about the handling of the political issue. As it certainly interests the medical profession, we felt that it was a statement worth publishing.

And because, many people know even less about Dr Jose Rizal, the editor (while he was in Manila) sourced a most poignant final poem written in captivity by this very much respected and revered Asian medical doctor and freedom-fighter. Until his final days before the firing squad, Dr Rizal proved that he would not be silenced, and his name has now become the symbol of courage for repressed peoples the world over. The ancient Greek Euripides voiced his concerns thus:"...this is slavery not to speak one's thoughts."

The editor's commentary was a personal but a culled distillation of many discussions and debates with several members of the medical profession–proving that it is impossible to separate sociopolitical issues from the realities of life.

The recent events were too momentous to ignore. Thus, as a civic-conscious person, a doctor and a loyal Malaysian, I felt the need to share and highlight the issues of injustice and sense of outrage felt by many, who believe that a maturing Malaysia can do better than this, in its sociopolitical conduct.

While welcoming this, some among the Board members had reservations about the commentary because they feared the uncertainty of possible reprisals– the ISA was notoriously bandied about, as an object of fear and intimidation. So in order to safeguard and insulate the MMA and its elected guardians, the statement became a personal commentary. Elbert Hubbard had said: "To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing."

Zaid Ibrahim, an UMNO branch leader, was quoted as saying (Asiaweek Nov 20,1998, page 31): "Malaysia has a large segment of young voters with ideals. They talk of justice and expect fairness in the way things are done. They want greater freedom to express themselves. They want the authorities to be more tolerant of opposing views... Also, affluence generates an environment of openness and a propensity to be critical. The middle class want more transparency in the affairs of government, and leaders with the kind of integrity that can withstand scrutiny. Laws and institutions must be seen to protect and defend the people, and must be relevant to the needs of the time. A more accessible and gentler leadership is required for the new millennium. Nation building is more than economics and superstructures."

As loyal patriots and lovers of peace, justice and freedom, we believe that the medical profession has a duty to let their concerns be voiced. We should lead in calling for fairness and justice, in denouncing crowd violence, in cautioning against physical or mental abuses like torture and violence against children, women, war victims, and even prisoners or detainees, in voicing our aspirations for a higher moral ground, for a freer and more transparent society. The medical profession should speak if for nothing else, to at least improve the silence.

We should act as respected catalysts of change by leading the way forwards to a mature and better developed Malaysian millennium, even toward Vision 2020. We believe, that everyone can play a role, in trying to shape our collective future. But we have to start one little bit by one little bit. We can and must believe that we can make a difference, even if it is a small one.

When Mother Teresa was asked why she was doing something so seemingly futile, and whether it would make any difference to the world, she had this to say: "I never look at the masses as my responsibility. I look at the individual. I can love only one person at a time. I can feed only one person at a time. Just one, one, one... so you begin – I begin. I picked up one person – maybe if I didn't pick up that one person I wouldn't have picked up 42,000. The whole work is only a drop in the ocean. But if I didn't put the drop in, the ocean would be one drop less ... Just begin ... one, one, one."

Finally, for the pessimistic detractors who always seem to yield before they begin to try, listen to what the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy had to say:

"Let no one be discouraged by the belief there is nothing one man or woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills–against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence ... few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation ... It is from numberless, diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped.

"Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, these ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

The Editorial Board welcomes any contribution from our members, whether in support or against our policy of positive engagement in trying to stimulate our dormant membership, into thinking for a better Malaysia and our medical profession. Be rest assured that we will always respect your views and rights. Remember it was Voltaire who said: "I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it."

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