Water cannon being used during the 1 Aug anti-ISA rally (Pic courtesy of Merdeka Review)
A FRIEND asked on Facebook: “[The Barisan Nasional] (BN) insists [on keeping the Internal Security Act (ISA)]; do you want to keep the BN?”
This question is spot on. It simplifies many issues into a single concern. It almost frames for Malaysians a referendum question — that is, a public vote over a single issue. Do we want to live in a country like this?
Metaphorically, the 1 Aug 2009 pro- and anti-ISA protests were a referendum waiting to be put to the vote. But as it turned out, it isn’t just about the ISA anymore. The BN may have disagreed with the call to repeal the ISA, but did it need to make 589 arrests in one day? Did it need to rough up the elderly, women and children? Did it need to fire tear gas on Masjid Jamek as if it were another Gaza? Did it need to spray water cannons on Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman as if it were Bangkok during the Songkran festival?
We can always agree to disagree on laws and policies, but we cannot agree to disagree on the use of violence.
Water cannon being used during the Songkran festival (Pic by Takeaway; Wiki commons)
Violence is exactly what 1 Aug was about, and it’s what tens of thousands of us who were fired at with water cannons and tear gas in central Kuala Lumpur will remember, whether we were there to demonstrate or to shop.
Like 7 May, the day democracy was brutally raped in Perak and Malaysia, and 16 July, the day Teoh Beng Hock was found dead after 11 hours of interrogation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, 1 Aug has become a day to determine the nature of civility. Never mind that the anti-ISA rally was less organised and successful than the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih)’s rally on 10 Nov 2007.
In every country, people quarrel over politics. In every marriage, partners argue. But in most nations today, political violence, like domestic violence, is no longer tolerated. You quarrel, but you don’t beat people up. It’s called being civilised.
Thus, the referendum on 1 Aug is really about our nationhood. Is Malaysia a civilised or barbaric nation?
It’s not just about whether to keep the BN in power, for in the Pakatan Rakyat, too, are Members of Parliament who have threatened violence to terrorise a civilised forum. It’s about whether the government is given unchecked powers to terrorise the population, whether by torturous interrogation, deaths in custody, extra-judicial killing, selective prosecution, water cannons and tear gas, roadblocks, or the threat of riots.
Public rallies are but a form of political advertisement. Malaysians have read and heard enough about 1Malaysia in the traditional media. Why does Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak still spend our money to popularise his political slogan? Should his advertising agents be beaten up and put behind bars for repeating a message that may be pointless to many?
Apply this logic to the protesters on 1 Aug — why were ordinary Malaysians assaulted and locked up simply because they chose to repeat a message that the government sees as pointless?
Empirically, there were 2Malaysias on the streets of KL on 1 Aug. There was the official 1Malaysia of violence, of 1,805 custodial deaths since 2003, and of 589 arrests in a single day. Then there was the unofficial 1BLACK-and-REDMalaysia, fighting against detention without trial, deaths in custody, and other forms of violence.
These are separate nations, both related by blood. That’s why Najib’s 1Malaysia army charged into the Abolish ISA Movement (GMI)’s 1BLACK-and-REDMalaysia.
Never mind that Najib has promised us interethnic equality, or that he would do away with institutional racism. The fact is, institutional sadism is here to stay. The Inspector-General of Police has defended his force’s brutality as its standard operating procedure.
What good is ethnic equality if it means that regardless of ethnic, religious, linguistic, cultural or other differences, Malaysians now share the equal opportunity to be beaten up by the police? To be shot at with tear gas when we shop in the wrong place, or to be found dead after interrogation or in custody?
Tear gas used to disperse the crowd (Pic courtesy of Merdeka Review)
I don’t have any confidence that Najib can bring any real reform because his 1Malaysia is very much built on Malaysia 1.0, the electoral one-party state secured by electoral manipulation and state-sponsored violence. Can the country have real progress and true stability when its guarantors are manipulation and violence?
Two types of liberation
A few days before 1 Aug, a non-Malaysian friend told me that Malaysia has become much messier since 8 March 2008, and the political turmoil has hurt Malaysia’s tourism. He lamented the loss of the peaceful and harmonious nation Malaysia once was. I am sure this young Middle-Easterner would be even less impressed after reading the post-1 Aug coverage, especially in the government-linked media.
I, on the other hand, can only admire those brave Malaysians on 1 Aug, as well as those in the Hindraf rally on 25 Nov 2007, who defied tear gas and water cannons to reclaim their right to peaceful assembly and political participation.
They remind us that there are two types of national liberation struggles. The first is nationalist, which aims to replace foreign rulers with domestic ones. But the people often remain enslaved, as is evident in many post-colonial Asian and African states. The second is democratic, aiming to overthrow or phase out colonial rulers not because of ethnic, religious, linguistic or cultural differences, but because the colonial government is unrepresentative and undemocratic by nature. Countries that have seen success in this type of liberation struggle — from the United States of America to Austria to Canada — are free nations.
Malaysia 1.0 was built on the ousting of foreign, colonial rulers, but it was not about real emancipation of citizens. That’s why we are still enslaved by state violence. Our independence is in fact unfinished business. But in the midst of the tear gas fired on 1 Aug, I saw the founding leaders of Malaysia 2.0 marching on.
A political scientist by training and a journalism lecturer by trade, Wong Chin Huat uses the Federal Constitution as his “bible” to fend off the increasingly intolerable evil called “state”. On 1 Aug, he believes he saw King George III‘s redcoat army terrorising the streets of Kuala Lumpur.
We don’t need an election to change government, just join the street protest, maybe someday people will join street bombing. So that all these actions will materialize the author’s Malaysia 2.0 dream.
[From Wong Chin Huat’s column:] “In every country, people quarrel over politics. In every marriage, partners argue. But in most nations today, political violence, like domestic violence, is no longer tolerated. You quarrel, but you don’t beat people up. It’s called being civilised.”
How deceitful can you be by implying that I, who condemn political violence, justify it?
If you are part of the Malaysia 1.0 officialdom, then your attempt to manipulate and deceive explains why the regime dares not engage in open debate and needs to employ violence.
dumb parents says
Er, I agree with the sarcasm of “protest”.
What’s up with the parents who brought their kids to this rally anyway? It’s NOT an outing that kids should be allowed to at all. You can’t blame the govt for the stupidity of its citizens. I will not agree with any opposition that uses this as an excuse to blame the govt.
Kids should never be involved in politics in this manner. It is fine to educate your kids and if you want to teach them hatred that’s your prerogative but seriously, you want your kids to grow up bitter and hating the word?!
Kids should have a care-free childhood. ‘Cos when they grow up, the heartache starts.
Instead, you subject their lives to danger when you could have clearly avoided it.
It is also like the time Hindraf used that little girl to further their cause by putting her in the front lines during their demonstration. That is so manipulative and wrong of them … to think their child’s life is that insignificant that they would care to sacrifice and risk their life. Seriously.
Nicholas Aw says
The day the BN government is receptive to peaceful demonstrations is the day when Shakespeare will turn in his grave. The PMâ€™s assurance that the ISA is being reviewed is just talk. One thing for sure is that it will not be abolished if the Law Minister, Nazri Azizâ€™s statement is to be taken seriously.
The rakyat are able to discern right from wrong. Many a time we have seen peaceful gatherings (rowdy actually) by pro-government organizations such as Umno Youth being allowed to go on but the moment a peaceful gathering is organized by the opposition it is nipped in the bud.
I believe that the publicâ€™s march against the ISA is the result of its selective use by the BN government to intimidate innocent people like Teresa Kok and also Sin Chew journalist Tan Hoon Cheng.
If the government thinks that it can continue to suppress the nation then itâ€™s digging its own grave because the people will vote you out in the next general elections.
revolution now! says
I think rather than just advocating “democratic” struggles based on nationalism/identity, why stop there? Why not advocate for a complete overhaul of the state based on principles of socialism? People are only as free as the lack of institutions that exert control over them, and neo-liberalism only furthers the agendas of the privileged. How does this serve the interests of Malaysian working masses, oppressed by political, economic and social inequality?
@ dumb parents: Malaysia is an autocracy ruled by the politics of fear. Fear and desire for security has led to a passive, apolitical and meek population. Those who fear change and fear the struggle for change are also those who fear telling their children the truth – that they have zero prospects and no freedom (now or in the future) in a country riddled with corruption, lies and tyranny are condescending. Stop telling children lies and treat them as individuals with a mind of their own and the ability to make their own choices. Children are not PROPERTY.
“It was not desirable that the proles should have strong political feelings. All that was required of them was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working-hours or shorter rations. And even when they became discontented, as they sometimes did, their discontent led nowhere, because being without general ideas, they could only focus it on petty specific grievances. The larger evils invariably escaped their notice.” – Orwell, 1984
I think you are seriously wrong in assuming that showing yourself in the rally is a “dangerous” thing. I think you have been wrong in logic after being nurtured in a way to think politics is dangerous, and politics is something that should not be brought into daily life.
Who made the rally become dangerous? It’s the police, not the demonstrators. So, it’s not the parents who should be blamed by you, it’s the ones who shot the teargas to unarmed citizens.
And, it’s [your logic that] makes the rally even more dangerous, that [enables] the enforcer [to perpetrate] violence [without being held accountable].
[This logic] makes our democracy become useless.
@ sloganyart : Fully support your comment. Not the demonstrators who [made the] demonstration dangerous. It’s the police. We can also see children involved on the roadshow of referendum in Taiwan these days.
So, is Malaysian democracy still [in] the old days? Unlike other modern countries, [where] their enforcement departments will worry about the power of public media / internet. Malaysia? Rule-less.
Really ah, is our country that bad in handling its affairs? Or is it something being done out of no need at all? Die in police custody? Can sue the police, now people (businesses) propose to sue the protesters – who’s gonna pay ?
FYI, the UK government yesterday proposed a new set of criteria to be used to determine the desirability of candidates for British citizenship. Points will be deducted for ‘bad behaviour’ – which include joining street demonstrations. Comments?
Dear dumb parents,
A peaceful protest is never dangerous until police fire water cannon and teargas. Who started to create the chaos? Is it not the police who attacked the peaceful march?
“Kids should never be involved in politics in this manner”?
Who arrested the fathers of children? What about the rights of those children whose father were put behind bars without trial? Do you understand their pain?
The authoritarian regime’s brutality politicises our national institutions, depriving our children the right to have a care-free childhood.
To Chin Huat.
I am repeating myself again…. We don’t need elections to change government. Just join street protests, street demonstrations, whatever marching that can be done on the street. We can do this to get rid of the Malaysia 1.0 regime.
If police ever get involved trying to disperse the crowd in the name of the law, then we have authors like you to make very big issues out of this.. [….] thus, implying to the people out there, they should join street protests, even bring along their 3-month-old baby to demonstrate. So that the author’s dream of Malaysia 2.0 can and will materialise.
By the way.. […] I’ll be wasting my time if i ever bother to register myself [as a voter] …. political parties in Malaysia are useless, self-centered and good for nothing.
Our PM has the police, the MACC and the army within his grasp and this frightens me. What is his agenda? Where is the country heading to? A little bit of thinking and forecasting would really give us a very grim picture of what lies ahead……
Not too surprised. Curious, after all they were the ones [who] divided and ruled from a united kingdom to one filled with division now – examine the provinces to the west and north and you would see the effects.
dumb parents says
Omg, so you guys actually support and [would] allow your kids to be part of demonstrations. That’s so terrible. I feel sorry for your children.
Hahaha. What about children in Merdeka celebrations? What about children waving flags to welcome the PM? What about children putting on a show for foreign dignitaries? A child should be taught right from wrong, kindness from cruelty. Politics? Who said anything about politics? The issue is human rights. If ISA is about POLITICS, then we are admitting that it is ABUSED.
Let us join street protests to pressure the government. Next, we can move on to street bombing to topple the government. We do not need elections anymore. Elections are a farce, no need to wait for GE13. Let’s all do this to materialise the author’s Malaysia 2.0 dream. […]
Yeah, agree with with ‘protest’. Why do we need elections when the losing side will always try to destabilise the government every day till the day of the next elections?
Very funny logic from @protest and @hazey:
Anti-ISA rally = toppling of BN government
Did anyone on 1 August call for Najib to step down? So, why do you think that BN cannot survive for another day if the ISA is gone? Or, why do you think it will be abandoned by voters if they see a huge rally – without even calling for its [leaders’] resignation?
Tell me, what makes BN so weak that it cannot survive without threatening detention without trial? What makes it so weak that it will be destabilised by a successful rally?
Do your “excited” responses indicate that my call for Malaysia 2.0 – like the call for 1BLACKMalaysia – has hit the right pressure point again? Thanks.
I should consider writing on the evolutionary cul-de-sac of Malaysia 1.0 then. And you will perhaps then accuse me of subverting the government with critical thinking – which I am always guilty of as charged. Cheers!
A HK legislature was once asked why he continued to be in the democratic coalition, in peaceful street protests, fighting a mighty Chinese government for more direct elections.
He answered by pointing to his two daughters. In paraphrase, he said: I am fighting for them.
So to have the children in the protest is not that far-fetched. It is their future on the line in the protest. Even if they are not [going] to be arrested under ISA, ISA makes possible corruption and cruelty that will hurt their livelihood and freedom.
What is far-fetched is the conservative Malaysian mentality that government violence is justified in suppressing the protest. When you assume that is OK, then children should not be in the protest.
Check your assumptions and premises, and you will find your true self.