Truth is inconvenient

By Christine SK Lai
July 13, 2011 | The Malaysian Insider

JULY 13 — It’s the first time in my life I joined a demonstration. Do I like demos? No way. Was I scared? Of course; it’s no “walk in the park, picnic on the grass”; you know what to expect when it has been declared illegal and everyone is being warned by everyone else from the King to the church to well-meaning friends to stay home and be safe.

Actually that was what I intended to do as a law-abiding citizen and obedient sheep; at least it was until I was challenged by my own children with certain thought-provoking questions like… “Ma, where would the world be if Martin Luther King just prayed and didn’t march?” “Ma, where were the Christians when six million Jews were systematically led to slaughter by an evil dictator?”

And this final shot from my teenager son, “Ma, you know, even Malayan Union got march for independence?” (well, at least he’s studying something right for SPM!)

And I recalled myself, didn’t Jesus cause demos everywhere He went — demos of God’s power, grace, love, healing? Didn’t the early church “turn the whole world upside down”? — all for a cause greater than themselves.

Still I dithered, because I didn’t “really” want to get involved in this messy business of demos; I was already figuring how inconvenient it would be; trying to get past road blocks, maybe having to walk a long walk into the city centre, besides what purpose would all that “noise and clatter” serve, not to mention the risks involved… well, again it took my kid to pointedly tell me off (nicely) — whether or not the demo gets results isn’t the point, Ma. It is simply whether you choose to make your stand in support of it. I guess it’s like voting — it’s your choice; even if the one you chose didn’t win, it’s ok, you made your choice to vote this or that person because of the ideals he/she represents.

So there’s that all-important word — choices. My kid asked me what made me change my mind last minute to join a rabble (read rebel) crowd. I guess the final straw was when I was told our weekly street-feeding for the poor/homeless had to called off because the food couldn’t be brought in due to the road blocks all over the place.

And that’s when something clicked inside. I felt angry, angry at all the things that are happening in this land. Everyone knows, everyone complains, there are tonnes of emails floating around on all kinds of stuff which we shake our heads at and yes, certainly pray over. An email sent to me said to pray for good sense to prevail. Of course we are to pray. Duh. Well, that’s fine and good; only problem is you can only talk good sense to people who will listen to good sense.

At the end of the day, i had to answer myself 1 question: if I believed in justice and righteousness for all, how much am I willing to show it? Some friends sms’ed me that I was very brave to go out there, when I asked for prayer support for my family.

My reply is I am not brave. It’s just that there comes a time in everyone’s life when each of us have to make a choice about the things we say we believe in — that’s a very personal decision. Well, my day had come. So I found myself smack in the midst of a crowd of I-dunno-how-many thousands, marching along with them on July 9, 2011. A day that will forever be etched in my memory….

A day when I saw total strangers of all ages, races and religions gathered under the skies and facing a big red monster truck firing tear gas just because the crowd was formidable in size. There were entire families, people from same kampungs, from outstation states, even someone on a wheel-chair. And it was total strangers who went all out to help one another, without any qualms or calls needed.

When the tear gas started, and some took shelter in a car park, a man opened up the fire-hose reel there and sprayed water over everyone to wash away the sting. When people had to run into the bushes surrounding a private hospital, everyone was extending hands to each other to haul and push each other up the slippery slopes.

With the authorities chasing us all the way into a church compound, somebody opened up the back gate for people to climb over. Someone offered me salt to ease the throat. Another was handing out zip-lock bags, telling me “Aunty, better keep your hand-phone inside this, if not get wet by the rain”. Still another old man offered to share his umbrella with me. This is 1 Malaysia in action, no need for words or banners to proclaim it.

But what shamed me personally was a non-Christian group who spontaneously started a prayer meeting in the heavy rain. I watched as people just stepped out from their shelters and ran to join them in the open.

Was there violence? Yes — tear gas, water cannons. That was about the only actual violence I saw in my group (I can’t say what happened to other groups spread all over, because of the blockades which separated us).

But well, if you want to call making lots of noise and chants and singing Negara Ku and shouting “Daulat Tuanku” several times violence, I guess we were pretty violent. My group didn’t have any “famous faces” to lead us, but whoever was shouting instructions we obeyed — so obediently we sat when told to sit on the road, we walked when told to walk, regrouped when told to regroup. (Of course, we didn’t need to be told when to run), so where’s the violence?

In fact when someone got a little bit too enthusiastic and started running down to the truck which was parked in front of us on the road, people were shouting at him to come back and not provoke the authorities. Violence? Quite the opposite, there were some very happy people that day — the mamak stall-operators, McDs and 7-Eleven stores which dared to stay open — they were doing roaring business; did anyone bother to interview them about loss of income caused by rioters? Did they get looted?

Was there inconvenience? Of course. So we can put up with all sorts of traffic jams every “normal” day of our lives and for this one day we say we are so very inconvenienced? The funniest thing is when we wanted to disperse, we couldn’t! Talk about deliberate inconvenience.

By 4pm, most of us were tired, and all we wanted to do was go home and take a bath after being pelted with tear gas and soaked to the skin by rain. Someone was asking like a typical Malaysian, where got makan arr? Yet there was still that big red bully truck monster hogging the road, and they were not allowing anyone who looked Malaysian through the barricades.

So unless we suddenly grew blond hair and blue eyes, we were stuck. I approached a policeman and asked if I could just walk through alone. He was very nice and said yes, so hurray, off I trooped only to be stopped two minutes later further down the road and turned back with a very sarcastic, “You orang buat kecoh, sekarang tahu rasa kecoh lah.”

Geez, what a sour lemon. So I had to take a very very long and roundabout way back to the LRT station, only to find it closed. Great… now all those who simply want to call it a day can’t get out of KL!

I am still wondering, hey, man, what’s the logic? I thought the idea was not to let people gather around in “illegal” assemblies; yet what do you expect people to do if you stop or hinder the very means that’s meant to disperse them? — you get illegal assemblies at the LRT and bus stations some more lah! To be fair though, I have to “tabik” the police for being even-handed with all the opposing sides involved.

Was there politics? Of course. But surely whether we like it or not, politics is politics. And surely concepts like justice and righteousness don’t exist in a vacuum. There is supposed to be justice and righteousness in politics, in economics, in social affairs, even in private affairs; in fact they are meant to work in the very fabric of human life, isn’t it?

So how can we divorce these ideals from the realities of life? And I guess that’s what I joined the rally for — to make my stand for ideals which are surely God-ordained for all of humankind. Others may join the rally for different reasons, rightly or wrongly, but that’s not my concern.

Was it worth it? Yes. Being there on the spot exposed the falsity of many of my (our) facile assumptions. What has been “manipulated” into our psyche is the threat of what-could-happen. And I realised, hey, it’s all hyped-up — the threat turned out as unfounded shadows.

As it goes, from the behaviour of the crowd, if only they had been allowed to make their “noises” in a stadium, all the inconveniences could have been so much reduced and better-controlled.

Unfortunately we have been ingrained to fear violence, we assume all strife = violence and violence = bad. Therefore, we will not get involved in any strife situation; we will pray for peace. Yet what is peace? As someone puts it, “Peace is not the absence of strife.” Jesus, the Prince of Peace, slept in the midst of a terrible storm — that’s peace, even though strife was all around Him. At the height of it all, when people were running all over, and tear gas was stinging my eyes and throat, and I was wondering what if I get arrested, what if I get trampled in this rush? — I had God’s peace.

I faced the fear by His grace, and survived it. So did my children, though we were never together at all. My eldest was up close and personal to the front-line action, doing her reporter’s beat, tweeting real-time reports into her office. My No.2 didn’t even want to go with me. Ended up she had to walk all the way from/back to Sentral. (Hey, that’s still better than the woman who walked from Mid Valley!)

I got back home, finally after they opened back the LRT at about 5.15pm. None the worse for wear and tear, thank God, except for achy achy feet. Looking back, I think perhaps above all, this experience is for me, a test of how prepared I will be when the day comes when God calls me to give up my life literally (not figuratively) for a bigger cause than myself, would I still balk at being “inconvenienced”? Would I choose to “be safe” than run risks for God’s sake?? Ahh, million dollar question. I think I am better prepared to answer it after July 9 2011.

  1. #1 by for my country1 on Wednesday, 13 July 2011 - 4:13 pm

    Bravo ! brave heart!
    Cheers for a Clean Malaysia!

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