Supporters and members of the media at the vigil held in Bukit Aman, Kuala Lumpur, for ISA-detained blogger
Raja Petra Kamarudin, journalist Tan Choon Heng, and Seputeh MP Teresa Kok on Friday, 12 Sept 2008
AMID the barrage of political news surrounding the average Malaysian, it is easy to miss the forest for the trees. We are thrown with news feeds by the hour, and e-mails and SMSes flow in regularly throughout the day, resulting in a big bagful of information to be made sense of, stuffed with every imaginable conspiracy theory. Under such circumstances, citizens must be watchful in distinguishing fact from fallacy.
Such vigilance is of great urgency, so as to avoid being manipulated into falling into the same old trap of racial and religious politics.
Teresa Kok’s arrest is a perfect case in point where facts are being mysteriously twisted. The plot here seems to be: construct a scene, plant this scene as real and true in the minds of all Muslims, and use this as a reason to instigate fear and insecurity, thereby justifying the use of the Internal Security Act (ISA).
The ISA allows for indefinite detention without trial on persons who are deemed a threat to national security. This is the first time that a serving Member of Parliament(MP) who is also concurrently a state councillor has been subjected to this law.
An MP for Seputeh and senior executive councillor of the Selangor government, Kok was arrested under the ISA on Friday, 12 Sept 2008, for having “acted in a way that threatened national security, which warranted arrest under Section 73(1) of the ISA.” She had apparently been involved in “activities which can cause tension and conflict among races and religions.”
Although the exact activities causing such tension and conflict were not made explicit in the notice issued by the Special Branch police to her next of kin, it is largely assumed that the arrest is in relation to the azan and/or Jawi signboard debacles — both of which have had little factual coverage in mainstream media.
The azan incident
Former Selangor menteri besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohamed Khir Toyo alleged that Kok had organised a petition against mosque officials in Kota Damansara, Sri Serdang and Puchong Jaya to lower the volume of the azan (call to prayer) at a mosque. His comments appeared in online website Pembela Melayu (no longer online as of time of publishing) and in an opinion column within Utusan Malaysia.
Siti Mariah (Source: pru12pas.org.my)Kok denied organising any such petition, a position affirmed by Abdul Rahman Nasir, head of the Masjid Kinrara mosque committee, who said she had “never set foot” to present the petition. Kota Raja MP Dr Siti Mariah Mahmud from PAS consequently lodged a police report against Mohd Khir for misrepresenting the issue with “lies, slander and malicious intent.”
In fact, such a petition does exist. However, this was initiated by a private individual on behalf of the residents in the area, and was in no way instigated by a Pakatan Rakyat party.
The petition, signed by 189 residents, was not to request the lowering of the volume of the azan itself but that of the ceramah delivered after prayers.
It seems that the only error made by the residents of Bandar Kinrara was to have forwarded a copy of the letter to Kok, the nearest state assembly representative apart from the Umno-represented Serdang state legislator Mohamad Satim. Hence, her only involvement in the case was having received the letter in her office.
Other personal testimonials have corroborated this evidence.
It is clear that messages have been painfully manipulated and engineered in order to make it seem as if she is guilty of encroaching upon racial sensitivities.
In fact, the messages have been so cleverly crafted to provoke angry sentiments among Muslims — precisely the intended reaction that should be cautioned against.
At the PKR-organised Malaysia Day rally at the MBPJ Stadium, Kelana Jaya, on 15 Sept 2008For example, two days after her arrest, the Muslim Consumers Association of Malaysia (PPIM) and the Islamic Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), Heritage Associations, Malay Cultural Organisations and Related Bodies Cooperation Network (Pewaris) lodged police reports against Kok because her “alleged statements could hurt the feelings of the Muslim community” and spark racial animosity in Malaysia. Banners read: “Teresa Kok is rude and crude — do not stir the hornet’s nest” (translation mine).
It seems to be forgotten that Kok’s role in the azan incident was nonexistent, aside from being forwarded a copy of the petition. Islamic NGOs should similarly not fall prey to the political manoeuvring of certain quarters. Their police report would have been valid if Kok had indeed made derogatory remarks about the mosque call, the latter of which is an accepted cultural norm of Malaysian life. But she had not.
PPIM secretary-general Datuk Dr Ma’amor Osman said the ISA detentions were proof that the government does not remain silent with regards to matters involving racial sensitivities and the Federal Constitution, because, if ignored, “they could incite hatred in the people, especially the Malays.”
Even if one were to agree with the use of the ISA to protect national security, I would urge all Malay and Muslim groups to take heed of the facts, investigating and exploring every possible loophole to come to reasoned conclusions.
The facts of the case speak for themselves. A mere allegation led to her arrest. As with the two other ISA arrests made on the same day, she seems to be a dubious choice for a lamb led to slaughter. Really, there have been other more slanderous remarks and actions by others.
Dance to a different tune
It would be too easy to dance to the same tune of racial politics played to all Malaysians. We seem to be confronted by what appears to be the juggernaut of history which, if not overcome with an intelligent response, will destroy inter-ethnic relations for good.
Malaysia is a different society altogether today, and results from both the general election and the Permatang Pauh by-election show promising signs of a multiracial polity.
The powers-that-be seem to completely ignore the face of this new political landscape, instead desiring to hold on to power by using childish tools of race and religion as before.
It is necessary, therefore, to counter foolish games by rising above them. And indeed, some success has been visible in the support shown for the multi-ethnic Pakatan Rakyat.
Deciphering truths is not always simple, especially when messages are convoluted and information obscured. Nevertheless, the principles of justice and truth stand. When incidents are manipulated to achieve selfish gains — and worse, Malays themselves are hoodwinked into believing these to be real — justice, an essential element in Islam, is lost.
Every fact must be scrutinised. Leave no stone unturned, lest Malaysians swallow false information and form opinions based on falsities. Distinguishing fact from fallacy has never been more crucial than now.
A supporter lights a candle for Raja Petra Kamarudin at the Malaysia Day rally on 15 Sept 2008
Tricia Yeoh is the Director of the Centre for Public Policy Studies. She calls for the immediate release of ISA detainees, including the most recently held Raja Petra Kamaruddin and Teresa Kok. She urges all Malaysians to engage in some investigative reading when absorbing all news reports.