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Time to be afraid

cow skull telling malaysians to be afraid
Malaysians are being told to be afraid (© Marcelo Terraza /

BE afraid. Be very afraid.” That, in essence, was what the protestors against a Hindu temple relocation in Shah Alam were saying. But they were not just saying it to their Hindu neighbours in Section 23, Shah Alam. They were also saying it to the Pakatan Rakyat Selangor government. In fact, they were saying it to all Malaysians.

How else can we explain their actions? First, on 28 Aug 2009, when they demonstrated with a severed cow head outside the Selangor state secretariat, promising bloodshed if a Hindu temple was relocated to their neighbourhood. And then on 5 Sept 2009, when they acted aggressively and threatened to rape and harm during what was meant to be a state government dialogue with the residents.

What’s worse is that the Barisan Nasional leadership and the administration under Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is doing little to address this threat of violence. Indeed, if Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein‘s actions are anything to go by, it would seem that the Umno vice-president actually supports the threat of violence by disgruntled Malay-Muslim Malaysians in their bid to get their way.

It’s the violence, stupid

Yes, six of the cow-head protestors were charged with sedition on 9 Sept after much public outcry at the state’s double standards when dealing with demonstrators. These six, together with another six men, were also charged with illegal assembly.

The Star quoted the Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan in a report on 8 Sept 2009 as saying the police was serious about taking action against protestors who offended the people of other faiths. But doing so does not address what the real problem is.

What is the real issue at hand? It is this — violence and the threat of violence should not be tolerated. Period. And it is incumbent on the state to ensure that people are protected from violence. That, unfortunately, isn’t what the state is doing.


Hishammuddin’s failing in defending the cow-head protestors in his office, mind you, was showing that he actually has a high tolerance for the threat of violence. Unfortunately, his actions also signal a particular tolerance for uncouth behaviour if it’s by a Muslim-Malay Malaysian group towards non-Muslim, non-Malay Malaysians. We shouldn’t be surprised, of course. He is, after all, the former Umno Youth chief who raised the keris twice at the Umno general assembly in upholding ketuanan Melayu.

My question is, why are the cow-head protestors and the violent residents at the 5 Sept town house meeting not being charged instead with assault under Section 351 of the Penal Code? Why charge them with sedition, which we all know, from numerous past cases, is arbitrary?

And by justifying the charge of sedition with terms like “offending other faiths” and “disrupting harmony” as was underscored by the 8 Sept Star news report, doesn’t that demonstrate that any other act which is remotely seen as “offensive” to another faith would be open to charges of sedition as well?

For example, does this mean then, that if a Muslim-majority neighbourhood deems the sale of pork in a wet market as offensive, pork sellers can be charged with sedition? What about the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims? Can Christians be charged with sedition then for offending the sensibilities of some Muslims, most notably those in government who continue to uphold the ban on the use of the word by Christians?

Right to peaceful assembly, please

Police interfering with anti-ISA vigil, 13 Sept 2008
(pic by Danny Lim)

What else is the state doing by charging cow-head demonstrators with “illegal assembly”? It is signifying that it will not respect the right to assembly and protest. Of course, in this particular instance, it took the police and the Attorney-General’s Chambers a while to be consistent in their actions with regard to different groups of protestors. But the issue isn’t about protestors assembling against the state or any other entity. The issue is this: the state must uphold the right to assemble peacefully. It is when protestors turn violent or threaten violence that the state must act.

But this is definitely not what the BN-administered state is saying. Perchance, it’s because it actually condones violence, especially against minority groups, but this time round could not be seen to be doing so because of the public outrage. And I’ll definitely wager that by charging the protestors with “illegal assembly”, the AG is ensuring that the government’s hands are not tied when it wants to crack down on any future anti-Internal Security Act rallies.

What’s more, instead of immediately showing no tolerance for the violence that was promised and the actions of the home minister in endorsing the protestors, our government is attempting to suppress video reports of both incidents. Why else would the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission be harassing Malaysiakini to remove video reports about these two events from its site, and hence from public knowledge?  

Be afraid

We should be afraid. Really. When an elected government shows such tolerance and so little adversity towards violence and the threat of violence, what assurances do citizens have? When the state will not act to punish those who act violently — including against the town hall mob who threatened sexual violence against an elected representative — what does it tell us about the administration we have in place? Worse, when the government of the day tries to censor the media from revealing its own folly, can we trust the people who are in power?

What’s left for us to defend ourselves then? Do we need to be bigger bullies than the cow-head protestors and the mob at the town house meeting to ensure we get our way in our neighbourhood, state or country? Do we need to be in the majority so that we are much larger in numbers and can out-muscle and out-shout our way through, regardless of the legitimate interests of others?

It’s beginning to feel that way all over again. Mind you, it’s not the first time Malaysians have been made to feel threatened by the Muslim-Malay Malaysian majority in this country.

And if the state is not going to do anything about it, do we really still want this government running our country? As peace-loving citizens, what will we do to ensure that violence isn’t the name of the game in Malaysia where the brashest, loudest and most threatening take over our nation?

Jacqueline Ann Surin is heartened by the Muslim Malay Malaysians who visited the Hindu temple in Section 19, Shah Alam with fruits, flowers and offerings of peace, respect and support on 4 Sept 2009. She believes more Malaysians need to engage in such gestures to take back our country from bigots and thugs.

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20 Responses to “Time to be afraid”

  1. mrsfish says:

    The likes of Hishammuddin and Rais are enough to tear the nation asunder.

  2. penny says:

    Thank you, Jac. The AG seems to have forgotten that at least one of the men promised bloodshed. That could be tantamount to criminal intimidation, at the very least. Any lawyers care to share on other laws that have been broken?

  3. law man says:

    I choose to look at the positives in this despicable episode of hate and intolerance by these bigots. Many true Muslims in Malaysia condemned their display of religious insensitivity and arrogance and reached out personally to heal hurt feelings. They know indecency when they see it . Whether there was a hidden political hand behind such open defiance of societal norms is debatable but it is heartening to know decency exists in Malaysians of all faiths and creed.

  4. Gallivanter says:

    This is nothing but a plot to regain Selangor using scare tactics.

  5. lkl says:

    The blood-thirsty dagger stood in the way of God
    A bloody cow head was the toll
    The cousin approved by way of a nod
    The cowprits gleefully extolled.

  6. Antares says:

    It is Umno that’s panicked by the inevitability of its own demise as a dominant political force. All these threats of violence will come to naught because in the 40 years since May 1969, there are enough Malay [Malaysians] who have emerged from under their cultural tempurung and who have seen right through the silly games Umno has been playing, just to keep its grubby hand in the national cookie jar. If there is any violence in the streets, you can be sure it originates from ultra rightwing Umno factions, aided and abetted by […] trained thugs masquerading as the Royal Malaysian Police Force.

  7. starlight says:

    Yes, we do indeed need to be afraid. The Selangor government compromised too much in handling the temple relocation issue in Section 23. Their motto to be fair to all races is seeing most challenging times.

    As much as I support the motto, but to lend an ear and even consider the irrational demands of these small group of residents (some of whom are not from Section 23) does not go well to ensure satisfaction for all layers of community, and smooth governing.

    To this minority, action based on irrational emotion and barbaric ways, threatening peace and racial harmony, will always give them an upper hand to get their way. What about the level-headed majority, they get sidelined….yes, indeed, time to be afraid….

  8. megabigBLUR says:

    And it never came out in the papers that some of the […] goons threatened to rape an Adun and physically assaulted another Adun’s female assistant. Could anybody possibly believe any more that Umno has any interest in the welfare of women, let alone racial harmony?

  9. rowena says:

    This is why I stop reading the news.

  10. M.K. says:

    Excellent comments! Keep it up! God save Malaysia…

  11. James says:

    Yes, to those of you who have been blind to what is happening in Malaysia, WAKE UP!!! And be very afraid.

  12. crap says:

    Can [The Nut Graph] stop segregating Malaysians?

    Please stop your “Muslim Malay Malaysians” and “non-Muslim, non-Malay Malaysians” crap.. […] It’s media like you that plays [a] part in breaking up Malaysian harmony….. we have enough of Umno doing [this]…please do not add more insult to Malaysians…..

  13. FELIX says:

    Malaysia is heading [down] the road to hell led by political morons.

  14. chinhuatw says:

    Crap, will you also suggest that the society will have gender equality by eliminating the words men and women? Truly insightful indeed.

  15. parc says:


    The article is telling it as it is. Save the uniting words for everyday conversations when we rightly best identify as Malaysians and not by race etc, or not to stereotype a certain race. But the reality painted by this article is that of those from certain groups and whether you like it or not it is for all to see, and already perceived.

    One should know when to label and when not to.

  16. crap2 says:

    Dear crap,

    Just because we stop talking about will not make it go away.

    Let’s give you an example: some animal shits in front of your house. Pretending it’s not there certainly won’t make it go away. If you ignore it you might even step on it and bring it into your home. Then the problem just got worse! Anyway the stench of it will keep reminding you it’s there. The only way to clear the shit is to deal with it directly and clean it up. Better still, get the animal that did it so it won’t happen again! Or rather get the master of the animal. Notice how some animals keep shitting in the same place. Clear it today, they shit again tomorrow! Solve the problem!

  17. Ellese says:

    Let’s be clear on two things. The protest using the cow head is unforgivable. But the failure to get the buy-in by Khalid Samad and his ilk for such a sensitive issue is also unforgivable.

    What in essence is an incompetency and “arrogant mishandling” issue has then exploded into a religious issue with people now questioning even mosques and azan. This is totally unforgivable.

    Had the Selangor government carried proper consultation (in fact the new location was suggested by the protestor) this would not have happened. And this issue is further compounded by the Malaysian Insider report, which first took the religious and racial angle because, as PR supporters, they could not blame the Selangor government.

    I am very sad with the whole fracas and the ensuing tit for tat remarks. Totally insensitive.

  18. Anon C says:

    You draw your line inconsistently. Compare your “violence” in section 23 with “stone/things” throwing protests of reformasi and PR movement? There is no physical violence “literally” in section 23 issue yet. But there’s a lot of provocation. Who then defines and determines “threaten violence”? You? The police? The government? If police say it threatens peace and security from their source, would this be acceptable?

    Try not to be biased. In the West demonstrators threaten so many ways and even throw physical things to public officers. So where do you draw your line?

    Isn’t it best that we don’t allow demonstrations at all since one party or the other will always claim that the other are being too provocative and call for incarceration? We don’t seem to be able to handle racial and religious criticism rationally. Don’t you think we have enough examples that Malaysians are themselves insular and ethnic centric and not mature yet?

  19. sumat says:

    “What in essence is an incompetency and “arrogant mishandling” issue has then exploded into a religious issue with people now questioning even mosques and azan. This is totally unforgivable.”

    What issue is there? Relocating a temple is not an issue, the issue is in the head of some residence. Do you think this is Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan. What majority? A 10% more or less doesn’t confirm a society majority or minority, it is strategically almost equal.

  20. notstupid says:

    Anon C,

    Honestly, you can’t tell whether an act is violent or not? Verbal, or arrogant posturing and threats are violent. A man who verbally mentions rape to a woman, is a lot more violent than pebbles thrown at armed guards. Just because it’s not physical, doesn’t mean it’s ok. If you still cannot understand, put yourself or someone close to you in the receiver’s shoes of such verbal and threatening posturing, and perhaps you can start to understand.

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