Word of the day explained, sort of

WHILE all of Malaysia — well maybe not all but at least the ones who diligently take interest in what the prime minister (PM) is up to — comb dictionaries to wrap their needs around the word “Madani”, my kopitiam buddy put all this angst about an obscure Arabic word in perfect perspective. 

“These things come and go, you don’t have to become hot and bothered about it, everyone will just repeat it and it will become an everyday word. 

“Soon everyone will be saying it, and RTM will begin every news bulletin with ‘Salam Malaysia Madani’ like we were born with it and no one will even care what it means,” the resident kopitiam philosopher said. 

I can see his viewpoint. This is exactly the same as teenagers not having to understand how the global fiat monetary system work and yet still being able to overspend their allowances on Seattle coffee and gold coloured shoes on Amazon every month. 

And looking back, we didn’t understand what “Islam Hadhari” or “Towering Malay” (yep, we actually had to write this particularly awkward one in news reports) either, but we rolled with it and survived. 

We also used to have “Malaysia Boleh”, which is actually uplifting, easy to comprehend and get behind enthusiastically. We had to endure seeing “1Malaysia” and its evil spawns KR1M (groceries), BR1M (handout money), Kedai Kain 1Malaysia (for textiles) and even Kedai Ikan 1Malaysia (KIR1M) where the “1” is interchangeable with the letter “I” and even though it breaks every linguistic rule, we all went along with it. 

Then came the less transparent concepts like “Islam Hadhari”, “Keluarga Malaysia” and “Malaysia Prihatin” etc. 

Like a school motto, every new administration must have a new one. And given that we have had three different administrations since 2018, we should just be okay with it. 

It is just a part of recent Malaysiana, a tick-box on every new administration, and should not be taken too seriously. Heck, I have a very vague suspicion that Anwar is trolling us. 

This is based on experience covering his Budget speeches when he was finance minister a long time ago, when you get so many obscure Malay-ish words that reporters gave up trying to explain what they meant and just repeated the words verbatim. 

Even if the slogan is the thin end of a larger, no-nonsense concept to bring the country forward, for the next few months there will be posters to print, new stationary to churn out and seminars to organise to explain this unexplainable word. 

However, be that as it may, I have public relations friends calling me up at all hours demanding a succinct, man-on-the-street, interpretation of the concept. 

“This is important, we must understand what this means so we can tell our clients,” said one. 

I said just repeat the words and everybody will pretend they know what it means. 

But just to humour them I fired up the old PC and Googled. Two hours later I ended up at a page about cats and still no nearer to understanding why an important government concept is as slippery as an eel coated in Vaseline. 

I vaguely remember being referred to an 184-page Pdf file, but developed a mild headache in the first five pages and gave up. 

Our esteemed PM Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim himself had explained the concept when he unleashed it on unsuspecting Malaysians last Thursday, but judging by the confusion it showed, it wasn’t easily graspable. 

He said that “Madani” was part of a strategic framework that was comprehensive and could respond to changes after the pandemic. 

He said Malaysia must be known as a “Madani” nation that is prosperous, fair and rejects any form of cruelty towards any individuals or race. 

“It must be a nation that is known for its renewed spirit,” Anwar said. 

Okay, even Anwar didn’t translate “Madani” but he did spell out all the things that it is, sort of. 

Which brings me back to my friend at the kopitiam who never fails to put things in context. 

“Look, not everything needs to be understood, look at the stars. They don’t care. Look at me, I don’t care either and in some future time, no one will care,” my friend said as he got up and walked into the night. 

“Thank you,” I told his retreating back. “Salam Malaysia Madani, friend.” — pic BERNAMA

  • ZB Othman is the editor at The Malaysian Reserve. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition