Is It Part of Our Culture?

By Kee Thuan Chye
Malaysian Digest
14th March 2013

Last week, I was speaking to students of a higher institution of learning about a play of mine that they are studying called We Could **** You, Mr Birch.

When I got to the issue of getting Malaysians to discuss so-called sensitive issues openly, one of the students commented, “It’s not part of our culture.” I asked her if she was being ironic. The bright lass nodded.

She was alluding to the favourite catchphrase of the Government that is invariably invoked when it wants to discourage Malaysians from taking part in certain activities, usually those that are adversarial or threatening to it.

One such activity is taking part in demonstrations and street protests. Many a government official has used “it’s not part of our culture” to denounce especially large gatherings that challenge the Government’s rulings and actions, like the Bersih and anti-Lynas rallies.

However, when Barisan Nasional (BN) groups like Umno Youth or even pro-BN NGOs like Perkasa and Jaringan Melayu Malaysia (JMM) stage street protests, public officials are silent.

And on one significant occasion at least, even the Prime Minister and the Home Minister seemed to subtly endorse demonstrations. This was right after the High Court ruled in 2010 that the Christian publication The Herald could use the word ‘Allah’. When asked about the intention by some quarters to stage a demonstration against the ruling, PM Najib Razak said, “We can’t stop people from protesting.”

And minister Hishammuddin Hussein was reported to have said that the Government did not prohibit the people from expressing their views on the ‘Allah’ issue. He later said he was misquoted, but the question remains as to why he did not say unequivocally from the start that any protests would not be allowed.

As it turned out, the protests did take place. The next day, fire-bombs and molotov cocktails exploded in a couple of churches.

Of course, demonstrations and street protests cannot be said to be alien to Malaysian culture. In 1946, Onn Jaafar led Umno in street protests against the Malayan Union. The fact that it was a protest against the colonial British administration does not make it any less a protest. So we have had a precedent. It is therefore bunkum to say that protests are not part of our culture.

Protests that resort to violence, however, are a different matter.

Some protests do not start out with violence as their premeditated course but nonetheless do end in violence because of provocation, such as what happened with Bersih 3.0, for which the police have much to answer in terms of their mishandling of public order and their mistreatment of rally participants. But there are also those protests that are deliberately aimed at inflicting violence in order to intimidate a target group. This becomes thuggery, actually; it amounts to gangsterism.

In the past two years, we have seen a disturbing increase in this sort of protest – or, for want of a better word, counter-protest. Even the threats by Perkasa and Umno Youth to hold counter-rallies to Bersih 2.0 in 2011 can be filed under this category although they did not openly threaten violence (there was some hint that it could break out, nonetheless) and when the actual happening took place, Umno Youth’s counter-rally was a farce and Perkasa’s was a non-event.

The insidious counter-protests are those that attempt to disrupt rallies that are deemed to be challenging the ruling party and the political status quo. Such attempts can take the form of heckling followed by the use of robust physical force, as was the case when Umno Youth and Perkasa members interrupted an anti-Lynas gathering at Speakers’ Corner in Penang in 2011 at which Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was also a speaker and experienced harassment by the troublemakers.

The more direct approach of inflicting violence straight away has also been practised a lot. We have seen this happen at the ceramah co-organised by Anything But Umno (ABU) and Hindraf in Shah Alam last year, in the attacks on students who were part of Solidariti Mahasiswa when they held a talk in Klang and on the students who camped out at Dataran Merdeka calling for the abolition of PTPTN (National Higher Education Fund Corporation) loans.

There have also been frequent thuggish attacks on ceramahs held by the Opposition in various parts of the country, from Kedah to Johor. Even its roadshow vehicles have been pelted with paint and rotten stuff. It is interesting to note that by and large, such thuggery has been inflicted against the Opposition or against groups that challenge the federal government. Seldom has it been the other way round.

Only last week, at Komtar in Penang, a group of protestors representing Malay NGOs tried to break the glass doors to get to the state government’s offices. They wanted Chief Minister Lim to withdraw his call made last Christmas for the word ‘Allah’ to be allowed in the Malay versions of the Bible in East Malaysia. When they were not allowed inside the building, they pounded, kicked and rammed the glass doors and shouted obscenities.

A couple of days later, a group of 50 protesters from pro-BN groups including JMM marched to the PKR headquarters in Petaling Jaya and threw eggs, bricks, stones, sticks and a traffic cone at PKR members there.

One of the protestors reportedly said, “We are not gangsters”, but he also said to the PKR members, “If there were no police, I would burn down your building.”

Speaking of the police, it is amazing to note from this phenomenon of political violence that videos recorded show that the police appear to do nothing when the violence occurs. They seem to just stand and watch. Which explains why of the many cases so far, hardly any of the troublemakers is apprehended. Which also explains why those who have been making trouble of this nature over the last two years continue to do so because they know they can get away with impunity.

Is this part of our culture?

In the first place, is it part of our culture to use physical force rather than rational argument to get our messages across? And if the assailants happen to be pro-BN, is it part of our culture for the police to not take strong action?

Can anyone rightly justify such violence?

Chief Minister Lim pointed out after the Komtar episode, “If we allow law-breakers to threaten law-makers, then we don’t have rule of law in Malaysia.”

Is it part of our culture not to uphold the rule of law?

* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling book No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians, and the latest volume, Ask for No Bullshit, Get Some More!

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Sunday, 17 March 2013 - 8:04 am

    It scares me to no end the ignorance and simply mental failure of so many of graduates and students. The world was inspired by Gandhi’s peaceful resistance and how could ANY Asian country’s graduate stand up to say its not part of our culture when it was pivotal to our own independence? We are part of the continent that started it all..

    And still to ask such a question in the face of ovewhelming proof of TREASON by UMNO/BN especially this coming GE with the electoral roll..Honestly even Gandhi would say are you out of your freaking mind?

  2. #2 by SENGLANG on Sunday, 17 March 2013 - 9:20 am

    There is no point to have big gathering. No point to ask three times are you ready, and the recent is Najib PM of all Malaysian three times.

    People will come for the food and drink and go.

    The reason that people has lost faith is what Mr Kee has written above. The government of the day practice double standard all the times and at the same time talking different tune to to different group on the same subject.

    There is no point to shout slogan of so many satu here satu that when what you practice has never been satu in your act.

    People are losing faith one and for one and they are just waiting to cast the vote.

  3. #3 by Winston on Sunday, 17 March 2013 - 9:52 am

    Well, well, well!
    All the evil that UMNO/BN is doing is part of the Malaysian culture.
    It’s in fact part of the Malaysian fabric.
    For fifty-six years!!
    That’s why this country not only have corruption, scams and scandals.
    It also has a ruling party that is going all out by hanging on like limpets to milk all they can.
    As for the opposition, all the good work they have done and are still doing to save this country from these vampires is deemed not part of the culture.
    So, it all boils down to the fact that allowing crooks to wreak havoc in the country is the “in” thing??
    Anything that runs counter to that is not the culture.
    Would Malaysians continue to allow the Devils to scam and scandalise them any further?
    If not, change is just around the corner.
    Give all your votes to the PR!
    Don’t let UMNO/BN be even in the opposition!!!
    JUST DO IT!!!

  4. #4 by cseng on Sunday, 17 March 2013 - 11:49 am

    There is no rule in our laws, it is free to law as they like.

  5. #5 by Winston on Sunday, 17 March 2013 - 12:17 pm

    Allow me to digress.
    Found this in the Staronline:
    Saturday March 16, 2013
    ‘Direct line’ to Selangor Barisan
    By JAROD LIM – End of quote

    This is a channel for people in Selangor to channel their dissatisfaction of the performance of the Selangor government to the BN.
    All of a sudden, they are very concerned with the problems of Selangorians!!!!
    They have been ruling this state for umpteenth years!!!
    And what have they done during that period?
    Yes, the same as they have done to every other state ruled by them!!!!
    Corruption, scams and scandals!!!!!
    If they think that they can wrest back this state or any other state by such means, they are stark raving MAD!!!!!!
    Malaysians have it up to their eyebrows in anger & frustration with them and what they are doing just shows their utter desperation!!!!!!
    They really leave no SAND unturned!!!

  6. #6 by digard on Sunday, 17 March 2013 - 3:55 pm

    (this is slightly off-topic)

    Dear Thuan Chye,

    may I suggest that you start collecting all sorts of sayings reasoned with “that’s (not) our culture” by Malaysian students? Many of us will be able to contribute anecdotes on all sorts of topics when reasoning was not so much of enlightenment, common sense, logic, but some infamous leanings on ‘culture’ or what is perceived to be one.
    Sociologically these might be interesting, as well as in comparison with other cultures. How much of someone’s life is directed by the notion of ‘that is my culture’ in different parts of the world, or in different stages of development?

    The intention here is a pure scientific one, not to belittle anybody. We all have our own cultural backgrounds; though it could be of a general interest on how far this can be (ab)used to regulate matter beyond a strictly cultural background, and beyond the leanings of an individual, and rather prescribe a collective or communal behaviour; including its abuse(s) by a government du jour to keep a population under self-imposed thumbs.

    • #7 by cemerlang on Tuesday, 19 March 2013 - 10:20 pm

      She is right. It is not our culture to follow other people’s culture. Our culture is yes ! yes ! yes ! smile ! smile ! smile ! However, ask her further. How does she express dissatisfaction ? Over anything ? Political ? Non political ? One thing great about Malaysians is they are nice. Really. If things are perfect, they would be nicer still. Each time, some Mat Salleh comes over, it is the complimentary you are so nice. Listen ! Listen ! Listen ! You are so nice !

  7. #8 by waterfrontcoolie on Sunday, 17 March 2013 - 5:20 pm

    I would not agree that the current state of affairs is part of Malaysian social fabrics, this has been the creation of UMNO whose aim is simple enough: use cash to brainwash the lower sector of the society and then prevent them from THINKING so that they will be easily led with some Ringgit when election comes around. Even the so-called Education Hub is laughable. How could it be? When every Malaysian parent has cursed and swore on our education standard. Our hub has indeed attracted drug operators from Africa and the Middle East. And most of the private ” International Colleges” thus created are aimed by money-merchants just to make their profits. Indeed, having to deal with even some graduates of UK from the ‘lesser’ red-brick’ Us, the world has changed indeed and with our Boleh agenda, we are indeed rolling down to join Zimbabwe!

  8. #9 by chengho on Sunday, 17 March 2013 - 5:51 pm

    What is Malaysian culture , food and language , when you have vernacular school for 3 diff races . You guy cannot even speak and write proper National Language , even Bangla speak better National Language

  9. #10 by cseng on Sunday, 17 March 2013 - 8:54 pm


    Saya sahut cabaran, mulai sekarang, saya akan tulis dalam bahasa melayu, kamu pun tulis dalam bahada melayu juga, setuju? Kalau setuju, balas, kalau tak balas, berambus!

  10. #11 by tak tahan on Sunday, 17 March 2013 - 8:56 pm

    You better watch out your English first else uncle Sam there would kick your butt out very soon.Well,say,how many languages could you speak better than the bangla,Filipino,vietnamese and Indon working and staying in Bolehland?

  11. #12 by tak tahan on Sunday, 17 March 2013 - 9:01 pm

    chengho is the most lowly paid Dumno trooper for mere distruption purpose judging from his intellectual thesis and brilliant command of English.

  12. #13 by tak tahan on Sunday, 17 March 2013 - 9:11 pm

    #10 should’ve been how many local languages…

  13. #14 by cinaindiamelayubersatu on Sunday, 17 March 2013 - 10:11 pm

    budaya samseng bukan budaya melayu;bunga yang segar jika tidak disiram akan melayu;aku anak cina pandai berbahasa melayu;chengh entah entah dipergunakan melayu umnoputra didahulukan pencapaian wangringgit diutamakan

  14. #15 by sheriff singh on Sunday, 17 March 2013 - 10:14 pm

    When people say “It is not Part of Our Culture” it means they have no good response to rebut what has been said or done. It is quite common now and our students have all been brainwashed to give this reply when they are stumped. They are not capable of thinking or debating anymore.

  15. #16 by Jeffrey on Sunday, 17 March 2013 - 11:52 pm

    Rule of law would literally mean ruled by the law (above favouritism). So Selective enforcement – the law enforcers’ selective choice of individuals on whom the law is enforced against and others likewise choice to exclude/exempt others based not on an intelligible criteria but on arbitrary criteria (such as, to name a few, politics, socio-economic status and influence, race religion or creed) – is definitely a violation of the Rule of Law. Is it part of our culture not to uphold the rule of law? Yes if the Rule of Law is consistently and pervasively violated by selective enforcement – and tolerated generally by all without objection. It is not the case here. Eg Mr Kee and many others would protest. Hence where selective enforcement appears a norm, it more immediately reflects the culture an mindset of those who selectively enforce the law. [This does not necessarily mean that this selective enforcement is condoned or approved by all enforcers and administrators of the law (eg Mat Zain is not one these) unless, again, it can be shown to subsist by overwhelming majority at all levels of law enforcement as a norm and consistently occurring throughout a period of time].

  16. #17 by Noble House on Monday, 18 March 2013 - 2:58 am

    And the only way in which the power of the interests can be undermined and their maneuvers defeated is by bringing home to the public the danger of its indifference, the absurdity of its prejudices, or the hollowness of its fears; by showing that it is indifferent to danger where real danger exists; frightened by dangers which are nonexistent. For these are the very reasons UMNO/BN should be wiped out.

    If anyone says that good culture is all about food and language and the ability to speak and write proper National Language then you have a typical example here. It’s the EDUCATION, stupid!

  17. #18 by monsterball on Monday, 18 March 2013 - 1:23 pm

    Tak Tahan…beh tahan chengho.
    Most ignore Chengho…but I also beh tahan Chengho’s nonsense…taking Bahasa in an English post…..but when a post put out in Bahasa…he is quiet as a mouse.
    Short circuit…for sure.

  18. #19 by on cheng on Monday, 18 March 2013 - 9:25 pm

    Can chengho explain why have mara this (colleges), mara that (Institutes, university) exclsusively for you know who lah ! when come to educations?
    R u sure we cannot speak bahasa,
    Jika nak berbahas dengan aku dalam bahasa, sila beritahu, bila bila sahaja !!

  19. #20 by tak tahan on Monday, 18 March 2013 - 9:53 pm

    waist of time for just an idiot like this..

  20. #21 by good coolie on Tuesday, 19 March 2013 - 12:13 pm

    Don’t scold Cheng Ho so much. He is actually pro-Pakatan. What the Admiral does is to make us realise our weaknesses so that we are able to face the enemy (Barisan) when crunch-time comes. He is the Socrates-type. He asks inconvenient questions that frustrate us, but all for our own good.

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