NOTHING stirs the humbug soup better than spurious talk of patriotism and loyalty. The saddest thing of all is that more often than not, whenever there is the rallying call to demonstrate one’s patriotism and to show one’s love for the nation, it comes from the most narrow-minded, chauvinistic and intolerant quarters of society.
This was demonstrated in Malaysia recently when political differences between the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN), led by Umno, and the opposition coalition of Pakatan Rakyat, spilled out onto the streets. In the wake of the BN takeover of the Perak state assembly, several Pakatan Rakyat politicians — including veterans like the DAP’s Karpal Singh, and embattled Perak Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Muhammad Nizar Jamaluddin — cried foul over the means that were used to wrestle control from their hands.
Complicating matters was the role of the Sultan of Perak, who chose not to dissolve the state assembly but instead allowed for a new BN-led state government in a matter of days.
From the wider perspective of world politics, the goings-on in Perak may not have registered even a blip on the international news radar. Indeed, years from now, the historian may write on the episode and sum it up in one sentence: as an instance of power changing hands in a controversial manner.
But what was alarming was Umno Youth, who reacted by condemning opposition party leaders for having the temerity to question the process and the role of the Sultan in the ensuing political crisis.
Among the Umno Youth leaders who were present at such a demonstration was Khairy Jamaluddin, son-in-law of outgoing Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, who will be stepping down by March this year. Speaking before a crowd of fans and supporters, Khairy was reported to have asked them, “In the old days, what did we do to those who committed treason?” To which the crowd replied, “Kill them!”
That chants for death and vengeance can be made in public like this and at a demonstration led by an Oxford-educated politician suggests that Malaysian politics has reached a new low of late. For a country that once aspired to attain “first world status” and a “first world mentality” — to quote Prime Minister Abdullah, father-in-law to Khairy himself — there seems little to suggest that Malaysian politics today has evolved any further than the sorry standards of Bantuland.
When right-wing conservative politicians lead rallies that end with chants for death and retribution such as banishment from the state, we know that the normative operational rules of democratic politics have been breached. We are now on a different playing field altogether.
One is reminded of the hate speeches of the Nazis and fascists of Germany and Italy, who likewise claimed the values of patriotism and love of the nation as exclusively theirs. And who decried and condemned their opponents as the enemies of the state, worthy of banishment, exile, persecution, imprisonment and ultimately death.
Likewise we have seen the same sorry state of affairs in many a failed state and dysfunctional polity where the democratic process is all but redundant and the rule of law usurped by the might of thugs and squads of goondas instead.
Suharto (Public domain)Indonesia under Suharto and the Philippines during Marcos witnessed the use of such right-wing stormtroopers who hounded the political enemies of their paymasters. This same group was later responsible for a host of attacks, killings and disappearances.
In Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto contributed to the slide in law and order when he, too, created his own para-military force to serve the interests of himself and his party; but which ultimately helped only to erode further the state’s credibility and the process of law in the country.
Ali Bhutto (© Mohd Shahid
Nawaz; source: Wikipedia)Is Malaysia heading down the path of these countries too, then? Had the Umno-led protests been the behaviour of spotty teenagers suffering from hormonal imbalance, one could have dismissed the demonstrations in Perak as a case of silly boys doing what silly boys do. But this was a demonstration organised by a dominant political party, led by an aspiring politician, who was savvy enough to realise the full import and gravity of the words he uttered, and cognisant of the emotional effect they were bound to have.
Hate speech is hate speech, even if it is cloaked in the guise of misguided patriotism. The pressing need at the moment is for Malaysians to reclaim the value and meaning of patriotism again, and not let it be defined solely by those who equate patriotism with love of themselves, their party or their political interests. Should that come to pass, then hope will surely be lost.
Dr Farish A Noor
11 Feb 2009