The Malaysian Reserve

Ban the bans

KUALA LUMPUR, 18 Mei -- Pelekat larangan merokok dan amaun denda dilekatkan pada laluan pejalan kaki sempena pelancaran KL Bebas Asap Rokok di Jejantas/Laluan Pejalan Kaki Berbumbung 2017 hari ini. Usaha ini merupakan satu titik permulaan oleh Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL) dalam mempastikan ibu negara bebas asap rokok menjelang 2045. -- fotoBERNAMA (2017) HAK CIPTA TERPELIHARA

A liveable city is one which has as few bans as possible, in people’s minds or on paper


MY AMERICAN friend and neighbour Karl wrote recently: “One of the joys of living in Malaysia is that I am permitted to sip my Starbucks frappuccino through a plastic straw, banned in some countries. It’s a little thing, I know, but little things are important in life.

“As are bigger things, such as knowing that the little things that you appreciate are not crushed under the heels of those who consider themselves your moral superiors and thus the arbiters of every tiny aspect of your existence.”

Karl was responding to the news that Austria’s capital, Vienna, has beaten Melbourne to be ranked the “world’s most liveable city” in a new annual survey released by the London Economist magazine.

Liveable cities, hmm? Naturally, I began to search Malaysian and Russian media for reports on the subject.

Kuala Lumpur (KL) and Moscow, two places where I reside — how liveable are they, according to the survey?

I found precisely nothing in Malaysian media, probably because I’m not good at searching the web.

Though back in 2012, there was some talk about getting KL to top 20 of the list. Moscow, now, was proud to declare its leap from 80th to 68th place in just one year.

How can you call a city liveable when it has snow for five to six months every year? Anyway, the London ratings are based on a complicated system, summing data on personal safety (as in “no crime”), healthcare, culture and environment, education and infrastructure.

And still I think that Karl hit the right nail with his straw remark. For him, and for me, a liveable city is one which has as few bans as possible, in people’s minds or on paper.

And, incidentally, I’d never give high ratings in that regard to Australians (Melbourne) or many others who love their bans with abandon.

Bans are, simply speaking, a civil, or not so civil, war in disguise. Public spaces used to be places of fun and leisure, while now all the entrances to those have been decorated with red circles with a diagonal bar — no dogs, no food, no drinks, no fun.

A British friend has sent me a photo with a collection of such circles at the entrance of some public park. Twenty of them, in five rows of four.

The West is teeming with people aggressively attempting to make other people stop doing what they like and what they think is natural.

So is the East, or some parts of it, especially when the East migrates to the West. They ban smoking and plastic straws, or burkhas and Muslim swimsuits.

The West is wonderful at exporting its bans globally, regardless of the fact that the science behind smoking bans, or bans of palm oil, is debatable at the very best. So is the straw science, if there is any.

There are nations at the crossroads of East and West, that tell us various stories about what to do with the bans.

You’d be surprised to know how many bans are in existence in Thailand, local or imported ones — but then what do you want, that’s a nation that has barely avoided a civil war.

But Malaysia is lucky to (almost) stay away from that madness engulfing the world. If not the law, then the people are always willing to treat you as an alien with some very peculiar habits, and let you be. Being multiracial obviously teaches a nation some degree of toleration. Russians are, in a way, like Thais.

We have some official bans, but we love to ignore them wherever and whenever we can. It makes Moscow liveable, in spite of the weather.

But then, no nation has completely avoided that ban plague. Maybe it’s because technologies of hatred are very simple, anyone can use them. Hatred is often born of fear.

So the public has to be scared, when you bombard their brains with yet another mortal threat to humanity, like plastic litter, or palm oil, or a cigarette, or a burkha. There can be no rational discussion, with demands to prove the reality of a threat, when people are scared out of their minds.

And then you show the enemies to them, and propose bans. You know you incite hatred and division, but then it’s exactly what you wanted from the very start. You wanted submission from other people, you wanted them to hate your bans, but still to obey you.

I don’t know what was wrong about the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation, that reportedly has ceased operations this month.

The foundation could have had any kind of problems, but the idea of such a global movement, headed by Malaysia, seems to be a good thing. It may restart itself from an idea to ban as many bans as possible, on a global scale.

Dmitry Kosyrev is an author of 8 novels and a book of short stories as well as a columnist for 2 Moscow publications. Orientalist by education (Moscow University), he has a special love for Malaysia.