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Over the last few weeks, Malaysia has attracted the kind of international attention that would make most diplomats cringe.

First, there was the rather pesky report by PERC (the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy) that had the audacity to assert that the situation in Malaysia was increasingly worrying what with the theft of jet engines, high-profile corruption cases, ISA detentions and attacks on places of worship.

Worse still, it went on to suggest that Malaysia’s moderate and secular credentials were under threat because a vocal minority was dominating the national agenda.

Outrageous assertions all, but nothing that the local press has not been saying, albeit with the necessary caution and the mandatory obliqueness. PERC must have been reading the local newspapers and talking to locals. Where else would they get such crazy ideas from?

The PERC authors were unsurprisingly and roundly criticised as nothing more than nose-talkers!

Then there are those 50 or so busybody Australian MPs who protested about things they didn’t know anything about. Australian MPs must be the most haughty people in Asia (if they are indeed part of Asia) and they always seem to pick on us.

Their actions generated a heated response from very concerned Malaysians. “Mind your own business-lah,” agitated Malaysians yelled outside the Australian High Commission recently, insisting that outsiders should not interfere in our internal affairs.

Lost in all the commotion out­­side the Australian High Commi­ssion was the fact that there is growing international unease about what is happening in Malaysia.

While all politics may be local, globalisation has now also made all local politics global. What happens locally often has direct and immediate repercussions abroad. Our politicians need to understand this.

Insisting on non-interference in our internal affairs is no defence. After all, when we invite foreigners to invest in our country, trade with us, attend our universities and holiday in Malaysia we cede some of our rights to do as we please. Those who deal with us, and certainly those who invest in Malaysia, have a right to expect that we will at least live up to our own advertisements.

Of course no one likes bad press and it is tempting to see conspiracies, ulterior motives and hidden agendas at work. There may or may not be hidden agendas but what is important is for us to look at our own agenda.

Concern was also expressed by another busybody by the name of John Kerry, a former US presidential candidate and still influential US senator.

For some reason there were no protests outside the US embassy and Kerry was not officially designated a nose-talker.

Instead, a high-level team was dispatched to Washington DC to participate in a seminar on good governance. The underlying assumption is that nose-talkers who know nothing about the real situation in Malaysia can do us a lot of harm if they keep talking through their noses.

After all, businessmen might get influenced and neurotic investors might stampede.

Hence the perceived need for us to attempt to educate these nose-talkers so they will at least talk through a more appropriate orifice. And who better for this job than the esteemed gentlemen who were dispatched to Washington.

In the final analysis, the less than pleasing international image we now have is not really about a few unfortunate incidents here and there but is the result of the cumulative miasma of years of wilful neglect, and the abandonment of honour and decency in favour of expediency and opportunism.

Unfortunately, tweaking the system here and there or dispatching a high-powered team to a staged event in Washington DC is not going to do very much to improve our standing in the world.

We now stand at a critical juncture in our nation’s history. Despite nearly 53 years of independence, we are still arguing about language, circling the wagons on religion and jostling on racial issues.

We are trapped by our past and uncertain of our future. We are caught between principles and personalities. We are lost between hope and despair. We have made huge advances but we are still in the same place. It is as if time has stood still in Malaysia.

Our friends abroad see all this and they are concerned. They understand the promise of Malay­sia even if we have forgotten it. As the old proverb goes, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”

It is time to take a good hard look at what we have become, and why. It’s time we have a national dialogue about the hard and difficult national issues which we have long avoided. And it’s time we confront the ugliness that has posited itself in our national life.

This is the most urgent task facing our political leaders today and surely all Malaysians pray they will rise to the task. In the meantime, let the nose-talkers talk and the busybodies keep busy; we need them to keep reminding us of our unfinished national agenda.

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