Rueban and his wife Lindy
A Malaysian law professor in Canada talks about the promise and the reality of his homeland…and whether he would ever move back.
Name: Dr. Rueban Balasubramaniam
Hometown: Kuala Lumpur
Current City: Ottawa, Canada
Years abroad: 9
What do you do for a living?
I’m a Professor of Legal and Political Philosophy at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.
What do you like about living in Canada?
I like the fact that Canada is a multicultural society that is friendly and welcoming. It’s quite similar to Malaysia, which is probably one major reason I find it quite easy to live here.
What do you not like?
Long, cold winters!
What do you miss about Malaysia?
Nearly everything: family, friends, the liveliness of the city I grew up in, the food, the weather, the jungle, and even the cut and thrust of Malaysian politics where it is apparent that politics matters deeply to every citizen.
What do you not miss?
The way race is still a major factor within the socio-economic-political landscape.
I don’t have a problem with race per se nor do I think it is illegitimate to be interested in protecting one’s racial identity, culture and so on. But I do think that racial politics in Malaysia is dysfunctional and distracts from genuine issues. Race has been politicized in ways that hamper the growth of democracy and ultimately serve the interests of a small group of plutocrats.
I don’t say this to be explicitly anti-government or pro-opposition. I think the problems are systemic and precede how both sides operate now. Even if a government has good intentions to do the right thing, the structural and systemic obstacles run deep and are capable of defeating such intentions.
I wrote a long essay in Bfm radio’s excellent new publication The B-Side in November that lays out the problem and offers a solution in the form of a renewed understanding of the Malaysian social contract. And in the most recent edition of The B-Side, I have a comment about so-called “liberal Islam” in Malaysia.
Would you move back to Malaysia? Why?
Yes, because I feel it is psychologically home. Also my wife Lindy, who is Canadian, absolutely loves Malaysia. She would love to be based there, if she can do appropriate work.
Currently, my wife is on the Board of Trustees for the Canadian Museum of Human Rights and she is also a diversity consultant who advises corporations. We have strong ties with family and friends and we would like to professionally and personally establish and re-establish ourselves in Malaysia, under the right conditions.
A major requirement for me would be if I could make my expertise practically beneficial to the project of democratic change and the advancement of the rule of law in Malaysia. I spent the last decade of my life thinking about this issue. However, I would only move back if it is both personally and professionally rewarding.
Anything else you want to add?
I miss Malaysia a great deal. It’s an amazing country with a lot to offer. However, I’m also glad that I’ve been able to leave it and to develop a more balanced perspective of the precise reasons why I think it’s a country with great potential.
Being away has allowed me to get a fantastic education with some of the smartest people who do work in legal and political philosophy on the planet. Hopefully, I will be able to realize some of this work by spending time in a professional capacity in Malaysia.