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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Merdeka! Are we truly free?

Corruption, nepotism, cronyism and the abuse of the judiciary and legislation have marred the significance of Aug 31.

COMMENT

Aug 31 is a day of reflection, of taking cognisance of the fact that the country’s independence or Merdeka can no longer be taken for granted, that too by the “keepers” of this nation.

Regrettably, it is the “powers that be” that have marred the meaning of Merdeka. Corruption, nepotism, cronyism and the abuse of the judiciary and legislation have marred the significance of Merdeka, especially for the younger generation.

Instead of imparting profound meaning to Malaysians, Aug 31 had been reduced from the sublime to the ridiculous by the power-hungry and “self-first” politicians-leaders of this country.

The fact is Malaysia is “independent” but only in name, not in act. The existence of draconian laws that are continuously abused by the “powers that be” to safeguard its position have turned the understanding of Merdeka into a laughing stock.

To worsen matters, politicians never tire of playing the racial card, not the least bothered that they have relegated the nation’s Merdeka, the respect all but diminished. As for patriotism, it had become very much a case of “to each their own”.

Had the country’s Merdeka been given due respect, the rights and sentiments of its people of all races would have been equally respected. We would not have had the incident where former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad cautioned the non-Malays to “behave” themselves if they were to continue living in this country. For Malaysia, he said, belongs to the Malays, simply because at one time this nation was called Tanah Melayu (the Malay land).

If Merdeka held any meaning to the country’s leadership, there would have been no such case where the present deputy prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin unabashedly proclaimed that he is a “Malay first and Malaysian second”.

Misusing the keris

Had the meaning of Merdeka been understood by Umno, the country’s dominant party championing Malay rights, its key players would not have misused the keris or Malay dagger by swaying it at the party’s general assemblies to remind the non-Malays to back off from questioning Malay rights.

Under Article 153 of the country’s Federal Constitution, the Malay rights are guaranteed, thereby creating a deadlock as far as debating these privileges is concerned.

Indeed, if Merdeka truly holds meaning, the Aug 28, 2009 episode would not have happened – where a cow head that had been severed was stepped on by a group of angry Malays who could not tolerate and accept the fact that a Hindu temple would soon be built in their neighbourhood of Section 23 in Shah Alam. Merdeka, really?

What was unbelievable was that such an act of desecration went on to receive the support of the Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein. Did he not know that the cow is considered a sacred animal to Hindus? Merdeka, are we?

Yes, the painful truth is that Merdeka is no longer synonymous with freedom or liberty, more recently depicted by the July 9, 2011 “Walk for Democracy” rally calling for free and fair elections.

The police brutality vis-à-vis tear gas and water canons and beatings would always serve to remind Malaysians that they, albeit living in an independent and democratic nation, have no avenue to voice out their unhappiness with the government.

The Barisan Nasional-government which had been ruling the country since 1957 is no longer taking any chances, not after the political debacle it faced three years ago, when it lost five states to the opposition in the 12th general election.

The BN-agenda now is to, by hook or crook, silent all dissenting voices and impress a rosy picture of the country, the aim being to give BN the chance to enjoy the two-third majority that was denied in 2008.

Merdeka –but from whom?

The federal government’s refusal to do away with draconian laws such as the Internal Security Act 1960, the Emergency Ordinance (Public Order and Prevention of Crime) 1969 and the prohibitive Official Secrets Act 1972 and Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 all confirm that Merdeka had long been manipulated by the BN-government and Umno, both of whom are led by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.

The June 26, 2011 arrest of 30 activists from Parti Sosialis Malaysia under trumped up claims of waging war against the country’s monarch and spreading subversive beliefs is another proof that truth has no place in the heart of the country’s leadership.

To summon the police to “finish off” certain people because of the “danger” they pose had put the police force in a shameful position. Deaths in police cells have become the norm more than an exception. The Najib-led government’s refusal to acknowledge the importance of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) in helping reform the police force signals that all is definitely not well where Malaysia’s democracy and Merdeka are concerned.

Tampering with the country’s judiciary to stifle the truth, as seen from the “suicide verdict” announced in the case of the DAP-aide Teoh Beng Hock and detainee A Kugan who ended up dead while in police custody give the rakyat much reason to question the validity of Aug 31.

When long-serving estate workers as in the case of the Bukit Jalil estate residents are made homeless by City Hall under the pretext of development, can they be blamed for questioning if Merdeka truly exists for Malaysians?

Unity vital for Merdeka

Does unity i.e. camaraderie between the rakyat exist? If the non-Malays are incessantly chastised and threatened, as done by the extremist Malay-rights group Perkasa and the Umno-owned Malay daily, Utusan Malaysia and coupled with the poor example shown by the country’s leaders, the answer at best is ambiguous.

Name-calling and threats are not going to sustain the Merdeka spirit for long. For a nation as young as Malaysia, there is much to learn in preserving the independence it had achieved from its British masters.

But it seems that the country’s politicians, this includes Najib, the ever-racist Hishammuddin, Perkasa founder Ibrahim Ali and the Umno honchos are far too foolishly arrogant to want to learn from the annals of history on what it takes to promote unity and sustain the independence gained.

Malaysians like Perkasa’s Ibrahim through his racial discrepancies has tainted the whole struggle towards Aug 31, when the nation finally achieved independence back in 1957.

The likes of Ibrahim believe their onslaught of threats would blench the non-Malays into subservience towards the dominant race, often times promising bloodshed should the non-Malays dare question Article 153 of the Constitution.

The damage, however, had long been done. In 2009, churches were attacked with petrol bombs after a court lifted a government ban on the use of “Allah” as a translation for “God” in Malay-language bibles.

The ban had been in place for years but enforcement only began in 2008 out of fear the word could encourage Muslims to convert.

Najib decided meeting Pope Benedict XVI in July this year to facilitate relations with the Vatican would somehow placate the Christians back home. But once again, Najib failed to walk his talk, unwilling to control the reigns of the overzealous respective state religious departments.

Using faith to rebuke and condemn as well as the repeated threats to persecute the non-Malays is a recipe for disaster.

The most recent case of “attack” by the Selangor Religious Department (JAIS) which on Aug 3 raided the Damansara Utama Methodist Church under the claim that it was investigating complaints of apostasy among the Muslims who attended a farewell dinner there have placed unity between the people in a very precarious position.

Just five days before the nation’s 54th “birthday”, a death threat made its way to non-governmental organisation Harapan Komuniti, organiser of the thanksgiving dinner held at DUMC.

FMT reported on Aug 27 that the threat, in the form of a handwritten note, was written in Malay and contained a warning to Christians that Muslims would not “lose”. Fearing for the lives of those under its care especially children, Harapan Komuniti had no choice but to “relocate” its outreach centre for single mothers and people living with HIV/AIDS as well as its tuition centre for needy children.

Umno marred Aug 31′s significance

The government is upset that Malaysians are not patriotic enough, looking at the pathetic display of the Jalur Gemilang, the name given to the Malaysian flag, be it at homes, offices or restaurants.

But had the BN government bothered to figure out what is dissuading the rakyat from flying their national flag come Aug 31?

For one, looking at the threats to racial unity and the political agenda of BN and Umno, there is no reason to be convinced that Merdeka is very much alive and kicking in Malaysia.

The BN government has to work very hard to bring back the people’s profound feeling for Aug 31 and not dismiss it as yet another public holiday.

It appears that the blemish and nightmare left behind by the May 13, 1969 racial riot is lost on Umno in particular and BN in general. Democracy had been taken for granted by Najib and his cronies, when abusive laws despite having overstayed their welcome, are used as a weapon to threaten the rakyat, forcing them to crouch under fear.

Malaysians are fed up with the BN- government’s bullying tactics. The 2008 general election verdict was the rakyat’s way of saying they had had enough. But a stubborn BN refused to listen and learn.

Once again Malaysians’ showed their displeasure with the dirty tactics of the BN-leadership, this time when they supported election watchdog Bersih 2.0.

But did the Najib-administration listen? Unfortunately, not and it went on to make the mistake of manhandling the participants. And then Najib is puzzled as to why Malaysians are indifferent to the Jalur Gemilang.

The answer is obvious, is it not? But still, here is wishing the rakyat Selamat Merdeka!

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