President Barack Obama, the man of hope, admits the hope he is promoting is clouded by the looming political and economic crisis in the US and globally. His inaugural speech is full of cautions. He fully understood what lies ahead of him - emerging new challenges and old ones turning worse.
As the most powerful leader in the world, Obama is fully aware of the limitation of one man. In his speech, he rallied the people with him:
"America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."
At this moment, Malaysia faces the same daunting challenges of an economic meltdown, a difficult race relations and a broken politics. This is the moment we ask for politicians to show us leadership, not just patronage. Show us a solution, not just spewing rhetoric.
We should not merely focus on competitive and electoral politics. What is the point if elections create winners but the people remain losers? Fixation over electoral politics alone create division and conflict. Our politicians should know when the campaign must stop and the work must begin.
Our understanding of race relations, unity and nation building should undergo some serious refining.
Our lack of mutual understanding was exposed in the recent discourse on religion. Muslims in this country should take cognisance of the need to reach out and share their thoughts with others. Years of seeking exclusivity, through some irresponsible religious politicking, has created a gap between muslims and non-muslims in this country. The image of Islam is battered because it was not kept away from politics. It is still not too late to do so.
We remain disintegrated because of our growing misunderstanding and not due to our mutual dislike or hatred. Religious overzealots who hijacked our religion and turning it into a propaganda tool to serve their own interests want to keep the right to interpret scriptures solely in their domain. Religious studies should liberate our mind and soul and not seek to entrap it.
How many who reacted against hudud or Islam truly understand the religion? How many who wanted temples and kuils to be demolished truly understand their significance? How many who wanted to seek exclusivity of their belief truly understand the role played by other beliefs which promoted the same kind of goodness?
The sluggishness of our economy is not solely the doing of global economic crisis. It is partly our of our own doing. It is hard to imagine which government in the world would create so many barriers to promote its own domestic economy. The government insistence of continuing with the blemished and tainted New Economy Policy does not help the situation. It is illogical to hold back someone to allow another to prosper. With an interconnected world, an investment or talent not welcomed in a country will lure with a red carpet by another.
This type of myopic policy must end. On this end, the government must do more to correct Malaysia's perception among ex-Malaysians and those currently living abroad. If not, when the global economic crisis settles, more will make a beeline to seek their fortune elsewhere. Without the right local talents, Malaysia will continue its dependence on cheap and low skilled foreign labour, still compete on cost and depend on its diminishing natural resources.
The blame game on education must stop. Those who claimed that vernacular schools were the main cause of national disunity do not read the right history books. Parents who choose the right school for the children are practical. They seek quality education and a conducive environment. Drastic policy change in the education system was the main contributing factor to the rise of vernacular schools in the country.
Before 1970, English medium schools dominated students' enrolment. Perceived lack of competitive environment, inept teachers and other socio-religious factors, over the years, have pushed parents (even non-Chinese educated ones) to enrol their children in the Chinese vernacular schools.
Education is regulated by the federal government. The inability of this country to create a universal, competent and quality national education system is a failure of the federal government. After 1970, the focus on the education system is on the language of instruction and not the content quality of its curriculum. Today, we are still debating over the use of English to teach both mathematics and science subjects in all primary schools.
Until some senses are knocked into the heads of the policy makers, our economy development will not be sustainable. Our ambition to create a knowledge economy will remain a pipe dream. Malaysia will remain a feudal society where good education opportunities - mainly abroad - are open to only the rich and aristocrats.
Obama's inauguration as the first black US president is inspiring and hopeful. But how can we be inspired by his election? Imagine 60 years ago, his Kenyan dad would not have been served in a regular restaurant. More than 5o years later, Malaysia is still divided by a race barrier erected by our political masters. We are still carrying the burden of our race relations. Race based political parties are still firmly in power.
Ironically, as these politicians mouthed the sugar-coated slogans of Bangsa Malaysia and national unity we are being told to respect and accept the flimsy notion of race superiority. Yet, these politicians were quick to come to the defence of other oppressed minorities elsewhere. Obama's caution is time, he told these leaders to be mindful that they will be judged by their people for what they can build and not destroy.
If there is anything we can take away from the US presidential election is that a society which is quick to embrace its minorities will be bestowed with the talents, cultural richness and diversity which can only make it more successful.
If 60 years ago, the American leaders decided to preserve and protect their status quo they would have missed a chance to elect an inspiring leader such as Barack Hussein Obama. The world will not have the chance to be inspired by his politics of hope.