Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Beth Yahp Writes to PM

Malaysian novelist and Off the Edge fiction editor Beth Yahp writes an open letter in support of journalists to the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, on The Other Malaysian website.
I didn’t wear yellow on the march because even though I’m a sympathiser with the struggle for electoral reform, I’m also a witness to both sides of the story. But I wore my yellow ribbon of “press freedom”, proudly, even though I’m not a journalist. I’m still wearing it now, with the poignant realisation that I can only write this letter, without fear or favour, precisely because I’m not a mainstream Malaysian journalist. Of course, whether any of your editors will publish it or not is entirely a different matter.

That little scrap of ribbon, like the seemingly frail ribbon of marchers patiently weaving their way from all over the city to the Yang Di Pertuan Agong’s palace last Saturday, is symbolic of something far larger and far more important than our aching legs or bruises or our shivers caused by sitting uncomplainingly in the rain while the leaders delivered our memorandum to the King.

It symbolizes what you have encouraged us repeatedly to celebrate and embrace: our “Merdeka Spirit” of independence that causes the rakyat to come out, in spite of fear and intimidation, to show their grave concern when the state of things seems very wrong indeed. This is, despite attempts at historical revisionism, a part of our Malaysian culture.
Much needed words, but will they be listened to?


In response to the comments (below) that the letter needs to be in BM as well, Beth says (by e-mail):

hi everyone,

thanks for your comments. points taken, and yes i do agree the letter should be available in BM, and even perhaps written in the national language to start with. however, my Malay is lamentable and it would have ended up quite a different letter entirely - probably unintelligible! i'm sorry, but i can only write in english. i greatly admire writers who can cross language borders by themselves, but as for me i need a guide...

while i do think it's essential to focus on the issues raised, it's true many people are excluded from the debate by language... that's why translators are so important, and invaluable in a multi-lingual country like ours. i feel we should be sharing our skills in tackling issues like this, where it's important to get alternative information and viewpoints out to as many people as possible. everyone contributes what they can - writers write, as they have been doing, bearing witness in an exciting and heartening plethora of voices. others pass the messages on. yet others, translate them, in order to reach a wider audience.

i've put out a call for the letter to be translated - since it's something i can't do myself - and not only into malay, but chinese and tamil as well. hope someone/s can help out with this!

thanks & cheers,


Anonymous said...

Know what, all this talk about the rakyat this and that ...but this rakyat could at least make some effort to write in the national language to the PM. This so the non-English speaking rakyats may understand too.

saras said...

That's right, anonymous - you are on the right track. Don't address the larger issues or the very real anguish and concern in the letter; ignore content - just pick on one small technical issue and whinge away. saras

animah said...

Maybe more of us should be writing open letters to the PM. Hmmm.
But good on Beth.

gnute said...

Let's not dismiss anonymous so quickly. I know this sounds awful, but government servants would rather throw away a letter written in English than read it. Now, I know the PM is in another league - probably, hopefully - but if you want to make the best possible impact, I would say writing in BM is the way to go.

Beth writes beautifully in her letter, though, my comment notwithstanding. Like her, I would find English easier to express myself, and therefore more expedient. But I would also go a step further and think about asking a friend to help me translate it well. That's all.

bibliobibuli said...

there is an obvious reason for writing it in english, the world can read it as well. i'm sure it would be possible to write a malay version too (if it hasn't already been done)

but as saras says focus on the content, guys.

yusseri said...

Err, gnute, I don't think it's true that govt. servants would rather throw away letters written in English. I've done enough correspondences with govt. officials and they were almost entirely in English. They might reply in Bahasa Malaysia/Melayu, but they'll read English no probs.

What would be more accurate is that some of them might throw it out, but there really is no proof either way.

Anonymous said...

Language - a small technical issue?
You should know better.