If the principles of jus soli were strictly enforced in the country, I wouldn’t even be registered as a citizen of Malaysia. Thirty-one years ago, my father was working for a multi-national corporation based in the Silicon Valley and he brought his young bride along. I suppose I was conceived during this time. I was born in San Jose, California in the United States. I even have a US birth certificate and a US passport (expired in 1988) to boot. The US recognises dual citizenship so I have no doubt that I am already recognised as a citizen of the US. But because my parents had the foresight to register me at the US Embassy in Washington, DC using Borang W, I became a Malaysian citizen at birth. My father could have made the decision to stay. But he didn’t. He came home to Malaysia with his family in tow.
I grew up in a middle-class family and was for most of my life based in Penang, having been enrolled into a private school (Sekolah Sri Inai). The majority of students were non-Muslim Chinese, I was only one of the very few Muslim students around in the whole school. Regardless, I had a lot of inter-racial contact and I count a lot of non-Muslims and Muslims alike as among my closest friends during this time period. Back when we were children, the issue of race and religion did not count for much, not even during the 1990s.
However, my father decided to enrol me into a government school (to sit for the UPSR examinations) in 1992, where the racial balance was rather skewed and I saw some form of racism first-hand. There was even discrimination against me, even though I am constitutionally-defined as a Malay (although today, I do not see myself as such). Moving on to secondary school, I began to make more friends as I grew accustomed to the culture surrounding me and my family.
I was overwhelmingly pro-Umno throughout my earlier student years and saw everything through their lenses. Then 1998 came, when Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was unjustly sacked and publicly humiliated, under dubious circumstances. This incident forced me to start see things through a wider lens. I learned over the years of the pervasive corruption within Umno, the excesses of their leaders and their unjust treatment of Malaysians — and even the Malays, those whom they claim to be protecting. I started to read up and learn about Islam, eventually embracing my religious roots and realised that the only way to achieve universal peace is through the justice of political Islam.
Fast forward to today, the political climate is far different from what it was during the 1990s. Barisan Nasional/Umno is now widely seen as corrupt and unjust, manipulating race issues for their political gain. The wealth of their leaders is unaccounted for, their continuous disregard for the livelihoods of the rakyat even more evident in the past decade. The economy is being managed badly and social problems such as baby dumping, promiscuous sex among teenagers and crime are on the rise and unlikely to be reduced significantly for as long as the current government remains in power.
With all these known excesses and problems in Malaysia, why am I still here? Why have I remained in Malaysia? I could have just as easily moved to the United States, where I would be welcomed as a citizen and, unlike others who choose to leave, have the right to vote and participate in the political process.
I remained in Malaysia because I believe that to achieve change, the only way to do it is with political change and that must begin with oneself. I translated this into action when I registered as a life member of the Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) in 2007. This belief would not have changed, even if the political tsunami of 2008 did not happen and the tripartite opposition did not make significant gains. Whining and groaning and voting with your feet will not bring about change, it will only bring further apathy to those who stayed behind. The lack of patriotism from those who discarded their vote should not be a reason for anyone to leave the country and never come back.
On a more personal note, I am doing reasonably well with my own SEO and Internet business, and I am consistently obtaining clients from the US and the UK & Europe. Although there may be a higher income if I were to leave the country and start living elsewhere, the cost of living in other countries is relatively higher than what it currently is in Malaysia. Also, I believe that my wife would be able to wear the hijab freely in public, and I will be free to practise Islam openly, without anyone on the street harassing us or calling us “terrorists.” Despite what one may be led to believe, xenophobia and religious bias is not absent in the US, the UK, Europe or anywhere else.
Malaysia is my home, and for better or for worse I will never trade it for another country.