Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bersih and the fall of reason — Art Harun

Side Views

The Malaysian Insider

July 06, 2011

JULY 6 — “I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. ‘Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but they whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves their conduct, will pursue their principles unto death.” ~ Thomas Paine

The events unfolding before our eyes in the past few weeks say a lot about us as a collection of individuals; as a society and as a people. What is clear, however, is the sad fact that when we are faced with adversity, we tend to lose our head and retreat into the same old dark and cold cave of emotions, of irrationality and of convenient rhetoric.

Above all, we abandon the very faculty that differentiate us from all other primates, namely, our ability to reason. That is the saddest reflection of us, as a nation.

With all due respect, the government could have handled Bersih’s requests and demands in better ways than imaginable. As a people living in 2011, we expect better. We expect the government to respond and not react. And react rashly and even stupidly at that.

When the momentum of Bersih’s call for a rally gained traction and weight, the usual suspects jumped into action. Apparently, Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, the Bersih chairman, was an enemy of Islam.

The obligatory demonstration (which was granted a police permit in two days after an application was made for one) coupled with the inevitable ultra-nationalistic speeches climaxing into the predictable burning of Ambiga’s pictures took place.

It is ironic that Ibrahim Ali named his movement “Gerak Aman” (“Peace Movement”, in English) while at the same time making a not-so-veiled, but vile, threat that the “Chinese should really stock up food in their house”. He then appointed himself the “war general”. And, so, a Peace Movement has a war general. Certainly a first for Malaysia.

The police force was not to be left behind. Its intelligent unit jumped into action and within minutes it found evidence that the Communists had infiltrated Bersih and were planning the overthrow the government through Bersih. A number of people from Parti Sosialis Malaysia were promptly arrested and red T-shirts were seized.

Not enough with that, it was also found out that Bersih was being funded by some Christian groups. That seemed to gel with the earlier assertion that Ambiga was anti-Islam.

And so Bersih has managed to achieve what no other organisation in the whole world had managed to even dream of: the unison of Christianity with Communism in a post World War era. How’s that for international notoriety?

If we had thought that Malaysia and her authorities have gone ape, we were in for a big surprise in later days.

The members of some silat organisation that announced that they would “wage war” against Bersih. 50,000 of its members were ready to kill off any challenge by Bersih or by the rally participants. As to what the challenge was, nobody gave any clue. Later, the silat organisation seemed to grow in numbers and this time it declared it was ready to “defend the country from Bersih’s action”.

Then the usual intellectual and some “persatuan peniaga runcit” or the other joined in the fray. The planned rally would create traffic congestion and would cause traders to lose a lot of money. Why don’t they do it in Putrajaya? Pity the taxi drivers.

Of course it was lost on them that the bounden duty of the police is the ensure safety and order during the exercise by the people of their Constitutional right. Why don’t the police meet up with Bersih and hatch out a security plan rather than act to prevent the people from doing so?

There was, and still is, a complete lack of understanding as to the rights of the people and the function of the State when such rights are about to be exercised. Thinking that it is the year 2011 and that Malaysia has gained independence for about 54 years, it is distressful to note such complete belligerent attitude against the people by the government.

Worse was to come, however.

Ambiga and the Bersih committee were hauled to the police station. The fact that these people voluntarily went to the police station speak volume of their non-confrontational approach towards the whole thing. They had not committed any crime. Nor were they planning any crime. But went to the police station they did.

The thing that struck me as the most uncouth move of all was the dragging of Pak Samad Said, our national laureate, to the police station for a 90 minute “interview” over a poem he allegedly read at a Bersih launch.

From then on, Bersih, to me, had travelled into a different dimension. It was not about electoral reform anymore. It had become a movement about the people moving against some sort of tyranny.

Soon after came the outlawing of yellow T-shirts bearing the Bersih word. The IGP joined in to say that even shoes, umbrellas and buses depicting the word Bersih are seditious and will be seized. The home minister capped the whole insanity with the declaration that Bersih is illegal.

Arrest and more arrests took place. Malaysia was surely descending into the pits of absolutism.

The home minister never failed to baffle many. That trend continued when he said that books on communism and communist leaders may be given the green light for sale or publication on the condition that they do not promote Bersih.

And so Bersih has now become Malaysia’s post-emergency (oh, sorry, what post-emergency, we are still under states of emergency!), post-war-confrontation-May 13 biggest bogey man. And to think that Bersih is headed by a recipient of the United State’s women courage award!

The most baffling statements in all these Bersih related rhetoric came from none other than the Honourable Prime Minister.

While addressing a crowd of about 20,000 people in Kelantan, the prime minister declared Ambiga as an enemy of Islam. The basis for that declaration was that Ambiga had acted in the Lina Joy’s case, a case involving a Muslim woman who had converted to Christianity and was fighting to get her religion changed on her identity card by the national registration department.

Welcome to 1 Malaysia. In just one single sentence, Mr Prime Minister, I am afraid to say that the concept of 1 Malaysia, which is so enthusiastically promoted by your administration, will remain a concept for quite a while.

In the first place, Ambiga wasn’t even in Lina Joy’s case! Even if she was, that declaration is a display of a complete misunderstanding or non-understanding of the role and functions of lawyers who appear for their clients in the Courts.

Using the prime minister’s arguments, would we call all the Syariah lawyers who defend people who are accused for khalwat or not fasting in the Syariah Courts anti-Islam or even the enemies of Islam?

What do we call lawyers who defend people who are accused of rape in our Courts? Pro-rape? Lawyers who defend people accused of murder are anti-life? How about the Attorney-General who appears in Court to argue that certain people should be detained without trial? Do we call him anti-liberty?

The Honourable Prime Minister gave a speech on moderation in Oxford University on May 17, 2011. Among others, this was what he said:

“Our choice is clear. Come together in action for a future of justice, freedom, hope, compassion and goodwill for our children or it will be replaced by a future of injustice, tyranny, hopelessness, cruelty and hate.

“We must address the underlying causes of global violence. Merely going after specific individuals, dismantling their organisations, disrupting their finances and discrediting their ideologies is far from enough. We must be able to differentiate between the symptoms and the root causes. Only then, can we achieve a lasting solution.”

Why didn’t the government look at the root cause of the grievances in Bersih’s case? Why must the prime minister merely choose to go against his very own words by “going after specific individuals, dismantling their organisations and discrediting their ideologies”?

Why has there been no attempt at all to differentiate between the symptoms and the root causes?

And where is the “action for a future of justice, freedom, hope, compassion and goodwill for our children or it will be replaced by a future of injustice, tyranny, hopelessness, cruelty and hate?”

His Royal Highness the King had granted an audience to Ambiga and His Majesty had asked that Bersih do meet with the government to work out a compromise as of yesterday. That put paid to all the vile accusation and declaration of illegality by the government against Bersih.

The question is why haven’t the government paid some respect to the King’s exhortation? Why hasn’t the Bersih activist been released, some even from detention without trial under the Emergency laws? Why are people wearing the Bersih yellow t-shirts still being arrested (today alone, there are several arrests).

Why did the police surround a talk organised by the lawyers last night in Kota Damansara to educate the public on their rights upon arrests?

Why did the police mount countless roadblocks today which caused traffic congestions resulting in much difficulties to the public? The police and government kept on saying that street rallies cause traffic congestion and untold misery. What about the roadblocks?

The answer given is that the road blocks were aimed to prevent unwanted elements in the capital city.

I just have one tiny question. If Bersih’s aim is to overthrow the government, then they must be quite sophisticated. After all they are aided by Christians who are working hand in hand with the communists.

Now, how do several policemen carrying guns, standing on the road, manning roadblocks and waving the traffic to move along help to trace all these sophisticated elements?

Frankly I think the police would do much and way better if all those policemen were asked to capture the acid splasher who is still on the loose till this very moment. Or why don’t they go and investigate some sex video?

The truth is the government has surely lost the proverbial plot over the Bersih issue. This is, I am afraid to say, and I am saying this with the greatest of respect, a government which surely not at ease even with itself, let alone the people it thinks it is governing!

The prime minister, in his aforesaid Oxford speech quoted Nelson Mandela, who said:

“Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all. Let each know that for each body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfil themselves.”

Yes. The mind and the soul. The government may seize all yellow T-shirts, outlaw Bersih, arrest the body of its supporters, but their mind and soul remain free. The mind cannot be arrested.

To cap it up, the prime minister said:

“But while one man standing in the road is a nuisance, a mere distraction, 10 men standing together are far harder to ignore. And if those 10 become 100, a thousand, a million, a billion even, they become a force so big, so strong and so united in their common cause that those who espouse hatred will face a very simple choice.”

I rest my case. — art-harun.blogspot.com


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