By Chandra Muzaffar
The significant increase in Covid 19 infections in our country in the last one week has prompted concerned Malaysians to ask the authorities to re-strategize their approach towards the fight against the spread of the virus. A total lockdown, some feel, where most movements are severely curbed is not the solution. They prefer a targeted lockdown which is focussed upon specific areas or clusters. Since infection numbers are increasing at an alarming rate the blanket approach they are convinced is not working. The proponents of the total approach argue that only such an approach will break the rapid transmission of the virus. Besides, the accelerated transmission is caused by a new variant of the virus which will happen even if a targeted approach is adopted.
On the question of vaccinations there is also diversity of opinions. Since factory workers are among those who have been infected in large numbers, they should have been given the vaccine first according to some critics. The government on the other hand prioritized senior citizens and those with disabilities, apart from front liners such as health workers who were at the head of the queue.
The distribution of aid packages has also sparked some differences. The government initiated a range of aid packages which on the whole appear to have reached their targets. However there are others who feel that the victims of the economic crisis would have been better served if assistance had been consolidated and delivered through a single channel.
These differences have been further complicated by the old and new media. There are media outlets and media commentators and opinion makers who are clearly aligned to certain political actors and entities. The positions they take on different aspects of the Covid 19 crisis and their solutions are more often than not conditioned by their affiliations. These biases are more pronounced today than before partly because political alignments are more rigid in the current political scenario.
This is what one should expect in a robust democracy. However differences of opinion should not lead to extreme positions which are not supported by facts or realities on the ground. An example of this is the reckless description of Malaysia as a failed state in a foreign journal which was quickly echoed by a handful of unthinking Malaysians including some veteran journalists and former politicians. The notion of “a failed state” has become political science jargon largely through its misuse. Right from the outset it was directed at one’s ideological adversary though the term has certain features which are more or less widely accepted. The inability to exercise effective territorial jurisdiction, enforce law and order, and provide for the necessities of life over a long period of time are some of the characteristics of a failed state. By no stretch of the imagination is Malaysia such a state.
Avoiding extreme stances aside, a discourse on Covid 19 and its solutions would also benefit from a willingness to listen and even learn from the views of the other. An inclusive rather than an exclusive attitude which accommodates the other would strengthen the discourse. An adherence to scientific methodology would be of immense help. Respect for empirical evidence would also be an asset.
There is another reason why a rational attitude in formulating solutions to the Covid 19 crisis is imperative. Solutions are being propounded in Malaysia and elsewhere which are actually designed to undermine our societies. A brief look at what transpired in Cuba on 11 July 2021 would be instructive. Taking advantage of the economic difficulties facing the Cuban people, the United States using stooges and proxies in Cuba tried to foment riots which it hoped would create instability leading to the fall of the government. The Cuban government and people thwarted the diabolical move. Let it not be forgotten that Cuba has not only managed the Covid crisis reasonably well; it has also manufactured two vaccines on its own and exported them to some other poor countries in Latin America and Africa.
Of course, the Malaysian situation is different from Cuba though there are some parallels. Our management of the crisis is being constantly criticised by some of the same media outlets from the West. While some of the criticisms are justified there is also a systematic attempt to distort and exaggerate what is happening to give the impression that there is mass disaffection with the government. For instance, I have asked media personnel to give me information on how widespread the“white flag “protest is; its geographical locations ; the socio-economic backgrounds of the families and individuals involved ; their access to,( or lack of access to), state and community aid programmes and so forth and yet they have not been able to respond.
What is obvious is that the loudest condemnations of the state’s handling of the crisis are coming from opposition politicians and their sympathisers and supporters in the media, among NGOs, in cultural and ethnic organisations, within universities and the like. The motives behind these condemnations become suspect when we realise that at the same time the US drive to tighten its grip upon Southeast Asia is getting stronger. This is related to the US’s primary goal in the region at this point in time which is to curb and curtail China’s phenomenal rise. The US elite knows that Southeast Asia which contains two vital waterways — the South China Sea and the Straits of Melaka — is that one crucial neighbourhood that is essential to China’s global ascendancy. Which is why the US is determined to frustrate China’s dominant role in the region. Control over Malaysia in particular which resides at the centre of the region and is contiguous to both waterways is important for a superpower with its hegemonic agenda.
It explains the role that the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) — through its own admission — played in promoting a change of regime in the 2018 General Election in Malaysia. The NED it is worth observing is an important instrument of US hegemonic power whose overt agenda mirrors the covert role of the CIA. It is known to have funded a number of NGOs and media outlets in Malaysia. The positions adopted by these outfits in recent months in the midst of the dual health and economic crises provide some indication of how they are trying to shape the future of Malaysian society.
Eternal vigilance Malaysians should never forget is the price we have to pay to protect our sovereignty and preserve our independence .
Dr Chandra Muzaffar is the president of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).
16 July 2021.