MALAYSIA’S Marina Mahathir has a message for international students – keep an open mind, and think about what you’re sowing into. She also has some surprising advice for students wondering if they should go home after graduation.
Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir wears many different hats – a socio-political activist, a dedicated career woman, daughter to Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad, and is known to speak her mind especially on contentious issues.
While in Melbourne earlier this year for the Malaysian Summit of Australia, she was her candid self. Being on a panel allowed her to express her views on Vision 2020, Malaysia’s development thus far, the most recent general election, and the state of the media.
But what strikes you most about her, is the spirit of openness that she embodies.
It was a recurring theme in conversation and during interviews.
When you have this great opportunity to learn about another culture, you have to do it. And then you have to realise that you are a minority in this country that somehow does accommodate you in one way or another. Hopefully that makes you empathetic in Malaysia, towards people in minorities, towards foreigners.
She is open about change and technology. Follow her on Twitter and you’ll find snapshots of her personal life, as well as articles on social issues around the world. At the Malaysian summit, she was live tweeting during several sessions.
“I think (new media) is pretty important… For me, it’s an education channel. My aim in that is to educate my followers and readers,” she said.
“As much as we like to think Malaysia is this unique place, it’s not. And there are people doing things all over the world which defies the way we think of them. I like to put out stories of Jews defending Muslims, as they are fighting for Palestine. It breaks the stereotype… In the rest of the world, this happens. What about us?” she asks.
Her influence over young Malaysians is palpable. At the summit, Malaysian student leaders were thrilled to meet her in person, and there was a queue for photos, which she gladly obliged.
As a role model for young Malaysians, she hopes the new generation will learn to keep an open mind.
A former international student herself, she finds it “quite sad” that Malaysian overseas students tend to stick to themselves.
“When you have this great opportunity to learn about another culture, you have to do it. And then you have to realise that you are a minority in this country that somehow does accommodate you in one way or another. Hopefully that makes you empathetic in Malaysia, towards people in minorities, towards foreigners. Why – if you’ve been treated well overseas, why would you not want to do that for other people at home?”
For students who cannot decide if they should return to Malaysia after their studies, Datin Paduka Mahathir’s advice might surprise some.
“I wouldn’t have any hard and fast rule (that) you have to go home,” she said.
“There is a lot of merit in thinking of yourself as global citizens. It’s not enough to contribute to your country; you have to contribute to the world as well, because we are all inter-linked. What happens in one place affects everyone else,” she added.
Datin Paduka Mahathir also believes overseas Malaysians can still contribute back to the country – and keeping in touch with developments at home is key, made much simpler in the digital era.
What I don’t have time for is people who leave and say, ‘You all change it; then I’ll come back and enjoy the fruits of other people’s labour’. That, I think, is not acceptable.
“If you think of yourself as a Malaysian citizen, then you have to play that role – that is, to contribute back to Malaysia,” she said.
“Physically whether you’re there or not – that’s a different thing, actually,” she said.
“What I don’t have time for is people who leave and say, ‘You all change it; then I’ll come back and enjoy the fruits of other people’s labour’. That, I think, is not acceptable.”
When it comes to Vision 2020, she is equally vocal about the individual’s responsibility to make it happen.
With only six years away from 2020, Datin Paduka Mahathir believes the process is more important than a deadline. She urges Malaysians – both young and old – to really think about what they are sowing into.
“If we all said that we bought into this, then what are we doing to work towards that? Because now unfortunately I can see people who are just talking and going off in some other direction, mostly backwards. What do we want? Do we want Vision 2020? Or are we discarding it? I think we need to raise this question in public debate,” she said.
Citing the example of the Malaysian General Election held in 2013, Datin Paduka Mahathir spoke about Malaysians’ individual decisions to “vote for the opposition or spoil their vote”.
[Correction: The Malaysian General Election was held in 2013, not 2012, as originally published. Datin Paduka Mahathir has also clarified on Twitter that she was “not upset that people voted the way they did”.]
@meldmagazine sm inaccuracies: no GE in 2012, but in 2013. And I was not upset that ppl voted the way they did.Also my name is wrong.
— Marina Mahathir (@netraKL) September 16, 2014
“The thing is, it just shows that really sikit sikit lama lama menjadi bukit (if you accumulate something for long enough, it becomes a mountain),” she said.
“You might think you’re not important; you might think you as an individual cannot change anything, but collective action [could] – it is the combination of individual actions. So if everybody says they can’t do anything, then nothing will happen. If everyone says ‘I’ll do my little bit’, then yes, something will happen,” she said.