Malaysians are being told to be afraid (© Marcelo Terraza / sxc.hu)
“BE afraid. Be very afraid.” That, in essence, was what the protestors against a Hindu temple relocation in Shah Alam were saying. But they were not just saying it to their Hindu neighbours in Section 23, Shah Alam. They were also saying it to the Pakatan Rakyat Selangor government. In fact, they were saying it to all Malaysians.
How else can we explain their actions? First, on 28 Aug 2009, when they demonstrated with a severed cow head outside the Selangor state secretariat, promising bloodshed if a Hindu temple was relocated to their neighbourhood. And then on 5 Sept 2009, when they acted aggressively and threatened to rape and harm during what was meant to be a state government dialogue with the residents.
What’s worse is that the Barisan Nasional leadership and the administration under Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is doing little to address this threat of violence. Indeed, if Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein‘s actions are anything to go by, it would seem that the Umno vice-president actually supports the threat of violence by disgruntled Malay-Muslim Malaysians in their bid to get their way.
It’s the violence, stupid
Yes, six of the cow-head protestors were charged with sedition on 9 Sept after much public outcry at the state’s double standards when dealing with demonstrators. These six, together with another six men, were also charged with illegal assembly.
The Star quoted the Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan in a report on 8 Sept 2009 as saying the police was serious about taking action against protestors who offended the people of other faiths. But doing so does not address what the real problem is.
What is the real issue at hand? It is this — violence and the threat of violence should not be tolerated. Period. And it is incumbent on the state to ensure that people are protected from violence. That, unfortunately, isn’t what the state is doing.
Hishammuddin’s failing in defending the cow-head protestors in his office, mind you, was showing that he actually has a high tolerance for the threat of violence. Unfortunately, his actions also signal a particular tolerance for uncouth behaviour if it’s by a Muslim-Malay Malaysian group towards non-Muslim, non-Malay Malaysians. We shouldn’t be surprised, of course. He is, after all, the former Umno Youth chief who raised the keris twice at the Umno general assembly in upholding ketuanan Melayu.
My question is, why are the cow-head protestors and the violent residents at the 5 Sept town house meeting not being charged instead with assault under Section 351 of the Penal Code? Why charge them with sedition, which we all know, from numerous past cases, is arbitrary?
And by justifying the charge of sedition with terms like “offending other faiths” and “disrupting harmony” as was underscored by the 8 Sept Star news report, doesn’t that demonstrate that any other act which is remotely seen as “offensive” to another faith would be open to charges of sedition as well?
For example, does this mean then, that if a Muslim-majority neighbourhood deems the sale of pork in a wet market as offensive, pork sellers can be charged with sedition? What about the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims? Can Christians be charged with sedition then for offending the sensibilities of some Muslims, most notably those in government who continue to uphold the ban on the use of the word by Christians?
Right to peaceful assembly, please
Police interfering with anti-ISA vigil, 13 Sept 2008
(pic by Danny Lim)
What else is the state doing by charging cow-head demonstrators with “illegal assembly”? It is signifying that it will not respect the right to assembly and protest. Of course, in this particular instance, it took the police and the Attorney-General’s Chambers a while to be consistent in their actions with regard to different groups of protestors. But the issue isn’t about protestors assembling against the state or any other entity. The issue is this: the state must uphold the right to assemble peacefully. It is when protestors turn violent or threaten violence that the state must act.
But this is definitely not what the BN-administered state is saying. Perchance, it’s because it actually condones violence, especially against minority groups, but this time round could not be seen to be doing so because of the public outrage. And I’ll definitely wager that by charging the protestors with “illegal assembly”, the AG is ensuring that the government’s hands are not tied when it wants to crack down on any future anti-Internal Security Act rallies.
What’s more, instead of immediately showing no tolerance for the violence that was promised and the actions of the home minister in endorsing the protestors, our government is attempting to suppress video reports of both incidents. Why else would the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission be harassing Malaysiakini to remove video reports about these two events from its site, and hence from public knowledge?
We should be afraid. Really. When an elected government shows such tolerance and so little adversity towards violence and the threat of violence, what assurances do citizens have? When the state will not act to punish those who act violently — including against the town hall mob who threatened sexual violence against an elected representative — what does it tell us about the administration we have in place? Worse, when the government of the day tries to censor the media from revealing its own folly, can we trust the people who are in power?
What’s left for us to defend ourselves then? Do we need to be bigger bullies than the cow-head protestors and the mob at the town house meeting to ensure we get our way in our neighbourhood, state or country? Do we need to be in the majority so that we are much larger in numbers and can out-muscle and out-shout our way through, regardless of the legitimate interests of others?
It’s beginning to feel that way all over again. Mind you, it’s not the first time Malaysians have been made to feel threatened by the Muslim-Malay Malaysian majority in this country.
And if the state is not going to do anything about it, do we really still want this government running our country? As peace-loving citizens, what will we do to ensure that violence isn’t the name of the game in Malaysia where the brashest, loudest and most threatening take over our nation?
Jacqueline Ann Surin is heartened by the Muslim Malay Malaysians who visited the Hindu temple in Section 19, Shah Alam with fruits, flowers and offerings of peace, respect and support on 4 Sept 2009. She believes more Malaysians need to engage in such gestures to take back our country from bigots and thugs.
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