Apr 2015 - Rehman Rashid - MCG Annual General Meeting

Rehman Rashid speaking at the 2015 MCG Annual General Meeting
The Royal Selangor Club, with its elegant architecture and colonial history, was the perfect venue to host our AGM. And this prestigious annual event was indeed the perfect setting to welcome our speaker: former journalist, award-winning writer and author of A Malaysian Journey, Rehman Rashid.
Rehman’s charismatic presence was immediately evident as he graced the centre stage with the gait of a theatrical performer! With a flamboyant introduction, he tells us a little of his professional career.
Born in Taiping, Parak, in 1955, he studied at the Malay College Kuala Kangsar, before securing a scholarship in 1973 to pursue a BSc at the University of Swansea in Wales. Upon his return to Malaysia, he worked with The Fisheries Research Institute in Penang and later, with the Faculty of Fisheries and Marine Science, at Universiti Putra Malaysia. 
His writing career took off when he joined Malaysia’s leading national newspaper, the New Straits Times, where the aspiring journalist became a leader writer and columnist. After working with the NST for seven years, 
he joined Asiaweek magazine in Hong Kong as a senior writer, followed by a one-year stint in Bermuda as a senior writer for Bermuda Business magazine, before returning to Malaysia to write his book: A Malaysian Journey.
The publication of A Malaysian Journey, in 1993, propelled him into the limelight, not least for its colourful take on Malaysian politics. However, the book is not just another vexing iteration about politics: it is a thought-provoking documentation of events that shaped Malaysia’s historical and social landscape, entwined with Rehman’s fascinating personal journey. It is, quite possibly, the most charming and eloquently written book in its genre; yet its continued popularity, more than two decades later, appears to leave the modest author somewhat bemused!
The cornerstone in A Malaysian Journey is Malaysia’s unique and deep-rooted cultural diversity. A country that boasts a multi-racial society comprising three major ethnic races—Malay, Chinese and Indian, as well as Orang Asli, Iban and Kadazan;  and a multitude of religions—Islam, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and several indigenous faiths.
Malaysia appears to be one huge melting pot, but as Rehman explains, this is an inaccurate perception, because while the county is indeed diverse, its communities coexist in a manner that is fundamentally distinct; sectors of society strive to maintain their own language, religion, culture and history whilst living side by side. Achieving unity is undeniably a momentous challenge in a nation that is, perhaps unavoidably, in danger of becoming further fragmented.  
Rehman reflects upon the relationship between the three major ethnic groups and evaluates the power 
struggle, which is undoubtedly an inevitable consequence of such profound diversity. If polarization is to be avoided and the social divide bridged, then there must be equity in the shape of security and opportunity. If these two elements are amiss, Rehman fears that Malaysians will lose their sense of belonging, and the country may eventually lose its finest talent. He voices his frustration at a system that he believes clearly isn’t working, and expresses his growing concern that his beloved country may one day lose its identity as one nation. 
Although Rehman cites a myriad of reservations about Malaysia’s progression, he is eager to point out that despite the many differences between the ethnic groups, Malaysians are united in their love for their country: “If we have one thing in common, my neighbours and me, we love this place.” And it is certainly worth pondering how people can be so different, yet love the same thing in so many different ways. 
Rehman delivered an animated and compelling lecture, concluding with the metaphor: “let water find its own level.” Let people find their comfort zone. And leading by example, he has found his comfort zone: enjoying a peaceful retirement devouring books; writing poetry; cycling around Malaysia’s lush countryside, and basking in the company of his fellow countrymen. With tender sentiment, he says: “Home is where the heart is.”
Submitted by Christine Kemp
Photos by Suparna Kundu