Traffic jam in KL city (Pic courtesy of Merdeka Review)
1 AUG 2009 was a nightmare for Klang Valley residents. Once peaceful streets — what many rightfully expected on a Saturday — were gridlocked in massive jams caused by police roadblocks all over Kuala Lumpur. Many were trapped in the horrendous traffic. Those who did not experience it themselves were spared untold misery.
Who should be responsible for such a massive traffic jam? The KL police chief, Deputy Comm Datuk Mohd Sabtu Osman, blamed it on the organisers of the “illegal” anti-Internal Security Act (ISA) gathering. The protest, the largest since Datuk Seri Najib Razak became prime minister, saw thousands of Malaysians take to the streets to protest against a law that allows for indefinite detention without trial.
There are those who agreed with him, such as this statement on Facebook. A friend who was stuck in a two-hour traffic jam released his anger by blaming the organisers of the 1 Aug gathering. He wrote: “F*** those people who planned all these anti-ISA gatherings! You think the traffic is not bizarre enough? Get a life, losers!!!!”
Upon seeing this message, I wondered if I should sigh over the Barisan Nasional (BN)’s victory, or mourn the failure of the education of democracy in Malaysia.
Christopher Street Day 2006 (Pic by CSD2006 / Wiki commons)
On 27 June 2009, I attended a discussion and meeting in Berlin, Germany. Coincidentally, 27 June was also Christopher Street Day, which featured a procession called the Pride Parade, held to commemorate the fight for the freedom and rights of homosexuals. The procession was also held in many big cities in Europe and America.
In Berlin, the Pride Parade consisted of row upon row of floats and drag queens, with amplified music filling up the streets.
The display that day was new to me. Pride Parade participants walked through Berlin’s main street alongside 50 floats or more. What was more impressive was that the Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, also participated in the parade. Germany’s political parties also decorated their own floats and joined in, enjoying themselves along with the crowd.
The procession attracted around 500,000 participants, and yet, Berlin did not slip into chaos. On the contrary, with the careful planning and supervision of the police force, the parade was exceptionally managed and well ordered. Temporary washrooms were located on the sides of the streets, and there were various food and drink stalls along the way. It was just like a carnival.
In KL, meanwhile…
The reason for the traffic jam (Pic courtesy of Merdeka Review)
Why did our capital city become so chaotic when there were only 10,000 to 20,000 participants walking down the streets on 1 Aug? Did this chaos originate from the people’s procession, or from the abuse of power by the police force?
The freedom to assemble peacefully is a fundamental human right, especially since we are meant to be a democracy. Why is it then that when citizens want to exercise their basic human rights, the police have to “quarantine” the city and launch tear-gas grenades and spray chemically laced water?
Blaming the protest organisers for the chaos on 1 Aug fits into the BN’s script and objectives about silencing dissent. Worse, those who agree with this argument demonstrate that they do not subscribe to gathering peacefully as one of our fundamental human rights. And this is the worst thing about the failure of the education of democracy in Malaysia.
Launching Malaysia 2.0