Malaysia’s season of fear

by Praba Ganesan
The Malaysian Insider
Jun 30, 2011

JUNE 30 — “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Joseph Welch, the attorney representing the US Army, asked this of Senator Joseph McCarthy at the height of the series of “witch-hunts” under the guise of various congressional committees to uncover unAmerican activities in America between 1953-54.

America was in the early years of the Cold War when tales of communists, spies and those bent on destroying the American way of life were rife.

McCarthy felt his populism, electability and political future could benefit from playing up the “bogeyman.”

Proof or even truth was irrelevant in the dark period referred to as “McCarthyism”.

Eventually the US government, Congress and people disowned that period, and vowed never to repeat it. However, by then, lives had been destroyed.

People who had attended certain meetings, or joined a university club or just spent time with someone “dubious” were under suspicion. No one was spared and all conversations had consequences.

Fear ruled the McCarthy era, friends betraying friends to escape persecution, lives destroyed based on hearsay and the belief truth comes before judgment became a myth. Trust in government was irrevocably shattered.

Which brings us to Malaysia, 2011. In this season of fear, arrests, intimidation, threats and encouragement to right-wing groups mount to cloud the days leading to Bersih 2.0.

[Bersih is an NGO initiative to champion freer and fairer elections in Malaysia with its centrepiece mammoth rally planned for July 9. This has resulted in the Barisan Nasional government using all arms of the state to jettison it. (Yes, the democratically elected government of Malaysia feels that there is enough democracy in Malaysia already and therefore objects to any efforts to increase the levels of democracy because this might lead to the end of democratic Malaysia. Hey, welcome to Malaysia!) The police feel it is better to use all their personnel to stop the rally than to work with the organisers to ensure a smooth and trouble-free event.]

Malaysians with certain banners, books and pamphlets have been arrested. Some have been accused of sowing the seeds of open rebellion against King and country. Opposition politicians have been summoned left, right and centre to police interviews. Citizens are to be arrested if they wear the wrong attire.

This is an old Umno tactic.

Apply immense and widespread pressure on all the “usual suspects” so that the following may occur. One, the organisers are so distracted they are unable to mobilise adequately for the event. Two, apprehension to attend the rally will grow in the hearts of citizens (I’ll support change from a distant, watch it on the Net). Three, the various Bersih leaders might differ on a response (to go on with the rally, tone it down, cancel it, postpone it or prefer a stadium) and in-fighting will result.

The police will maintain the same level of responsiveness as during the first Bersih rally in 2007. A win for the government and police is if the numbers for the rally drop from what is expected. Anything below expectation is proof that there is little support for electoral reform in Malaysia and only those hardcore supporters really want it.

It is about keeping dissent as a minority sport. No nation is altered by the majority of its people agreeing on one thing, it is led to an inevitable change when a substantial number of its people desire it. A sort of tipping point. Umno does not want Malaysians to sense a tipping point is at hand.

I have to ask the government of the day, so that I have some clarity of the issue at hand, “How afraid do you want me to be?” As a living person I already have my own set of fears. And so do all who wake up in the morning.

We fear losing our jobs, or our businesses. And even when we stay above water level in either there are a myriad of fears in those daily working hours.

We fear that our loved ones are not secure or in need. We fear that our personal relationships with our loved ones are in jeopardy, that the wrong thing was said or, worst, done.

We fear about our own existence as a source of meaning. But above all we fear our mortality.

So with my daily routine of fears, perhaps my government is convinced I have space for one more, the fear of them. To live and not know when my “pound of flesh” is to be exacted.

Of course there is the argument that I do not have to live with that fear. The fear apparently rescinds when I accept my government in its present shape and not question its powers.

Which is not too bad since no good serf ever has grounds to fear his benevolent master, so I am told.

I’ll kindly reject that offer and postulate an alternate view.

How about this?

Life already has enough fear to tip each of us from our tiny boat into the depths of a spiralling universe; in that chaos and uncertainty, the government becomes our lighthouse, our lifeboat.

For it is natural to look to government for assurance, belief and compassion.

Why doesn’t my government fill that void rather than chuck me into the void?

Government can choose its legacy.

There are two classics about men on islands, HG Well’s “The island of Dr Moreau” and Daniel Defoe’s “Robinson Crusoe”.

The title characters had different views about how to govern their islands. Moreau constructed a society of beasts to serve him through the manipulation of science and knowledge. The power consumes him.

Shipwrecked Crusoe finds a native “Friday” by accident. He decides to engage the man from a difference culture; teach him and to have him as a friend. In a combination of personal needs and moral obligation, uses his relationship with “Friday” to express his humanity and live his life.

They are stories, and I will not overextend interpretation other than to take their broad and basic lessons: To seek power as an end or a meaningful kinship with those whom you live with, without fear.

The present path of this government does not augur well for democracy. It does not augur well just on the count of decency. I have to ask, even before reading about the next arrest in these coming days, have these people no sense of decency?

  1. #1 by k1980 on Friday, 1 July 2011 - 8:20 am

    Oliver Cromwell’s address to the Rump Parliament (20 April 1653)

    You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately … Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!

  2. #2 by boh-liao on Friday, 1 July 2011 - 9:56 am

    How can elected SERVANTS now strike fear in d hearts of their BOSSES?
    老板应该炒/sack d bad servants

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