By Hazlan Zakaria
Jul 3, 11 | MalaysiaKini
COMMENT Growing up, Charles Dickens was my favourite author.
He still is.
His stories are exciting, insightful, witty and rich of sobering social commentary.
His tales tell of the wealthy and poor alike, of the arrogant all-powerful and the disenfranchised powerless.
But for all his seriousness, he had a great sense of humour, if a little moribund. Nothing perhaps illustrates his dry tongue-in-cheekiness than the first paragraph of one of his most revered classic, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on it being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
Splendidly done, spectacularly written, the passage is a clever way to place his tale into any time, any place. They speak of truths evident still, such is the timelessness of his work.
Sadly, its echo is heard loudly in our age, in our beloved land. Not as a lesson nor precautionary tale, but a reality that we now face first hand, if we but observe the twin dualities of the rallies; Patriot and Bersih.
Perhaps never in Malaysian history, have the lines been drawn so clear, between the dual truths of unselfish nobility and crass ignoble behaviour.
There exist two rallies hence, one of Bersih’s, a mass movement of Malaysians made up of many ilks and colours, and the other Patriot – made up of Malay rights group Perkasa and their colleagues in Umno Youth.
One seeks clean, free, fair elections. While the other sought to preserve that which authorities hold absolute; Their grip on power. I think I need not explain which is which.
‘A Marquis of our own’
Bersih has promised peace, while the other warned of violence. The Patriot group spoke of chaos, seething members they can’t control, whilst those marching for electoral reforms, have made good conduct their motto.
But the government’s spiel and response, is at inappropriate if not strange – punishing the meek with out-of-date powers and letting the belligerent walk free.
“Foreign agents” and “Communists”, such bogeymen they resurrect, but the truth is self evident, it is they who initiated misconduct.
A movement for reforms they outlawed, while the champions of divisiveness they greet.
It seems like pre-revolution France, we too have a Marquis of our own, whose actions this past few weeks demonstrate more than just mere disregard, to the plight and voice of the rakyat. What we oft see is the image its likeness paints in our hearts of hearts; A tyranny.
“Repression is the only lasting philosophy. The dark deference of fear and slavery, my friend,” observed the Marquis to his nephew Charles Darnay, “will keep the dogs obedient to the whip, as long as this roof, shuts out the sky.”
How true and how apt, an intractable authority that refuses to give up the reins nor change. Like the Bastille, our future’s safekeeping, may perhaps require the storming of our own castle of arrogance. Figuratively, if not literally. Is it time to bring down the house of cards?
As I pen these words, I cannot but feel a twinge of regret, at the life choices I made. My decision to take on the mantle of observer and join the cadre of journalists. To man the watchtowers of an alternative press, one that is as free and objective, as we can make it.
‘Rakyat’s hopes and sacrifice’
For as my duties hold, I cannot take to the streets with my brothers and sisters. Such is the curse of my profession, for the privilege of commenting, I must enact boundaries and recuse myself from those that I observe.
But I do have opinions and a clear realisation of what is wrong and right. For that and in this commentary, is my balm to setting things right.
In so far as words have power, as breath of spells can kindle magic, I give my spirit to their cause and bend my mind to their noble deed, for that freedom that well nigh fifty years, have the tentacles of oppression denied us.
For those of us in the free press, we shall do our best to record this momentous time, the hopes and sacrifice of the rakyat. Turning our objective glare unto a government desperate to stop the inevitable. May we be the bulwark against their agenda of untruths.
But be all forewarned, we shall record the misbehavior or appropriateness of each. As Dicken’s also warned us, the oppressed can also oppress. This is why we are the fourth estate, for ours is to watch and tell.
I shall end my tale with another quote from Dickens. Quite appropriately from the ending of A Tale of Two Cities. May it be for the activists on the streets and the honest journalists on the ground, that our deeds on that day measure up with the best that we can.
These are the last thoughts of the lawyer Sydney Carton whilst alive, before the greatest act of his sacrifice. As Carton’s did, may our deeds birth a better brighter future. For our nation, our brethren and our children, if not ourselves.
“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”