May 13: A shameful incest — Boo Su-Lyn

May 10, 2011 at 10:02 am Leave a comment

May 12, 2010

MAY 12 — When some talk of freedom of expression, what they really mean is that only they should have the right to say whatever they want, and no one else. It is those who lament the loudest over the lack of freedom of expression in Malaysia that would throw you behind bars should you disagree with them.

Take Penang Opposition Leader Datuk Azhar Ibrahim, for example. He was referred to the state assembly’s Rights and Privileges Committee for saying that there would be a repeat of May 13 riots if people lost confidence in the police.

Pakatan Rakyat (PR) assemblymen demanded that he withdraw his statement. He was not spared even by MCA or Gerakan who censured him for his “seditious” remarks.

This is ironic considering that just about a week ago, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng launched the first Speakers’ Corner in Malaysia allowing people to exercise their rights to freedom of expression.

Malaysian non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have mourned so much over the country’s perceived lack of freedom of expression that they should just compose a dirge and play it at the Speakers’ Corner, instead of writing banal petitions.

PR’s censure of Azhar and the absence of NGOs defending him reveal the hypocrisy in their fight for freedom of expression. It shows that what they are fighting for is really the right to voice only their thoughts, or the opinions of others whose agendas are the same as theirs.

If they are sincere about wanting freedom of expression, they should wholeheartedly defend the rights of another to express a dissenting opinion instead of punishing them for it. Fighting for the right of someone to agree with you isn’t fighting for freedom of expression. It is merely a weak attempt to make yourself sound louder than you really are so you have a fighting chance with the school bully.

Besides railing against the government for allowing police reports over statements on the caning Muslim women that allegedly cause disunity and hatred, NGOs should also fight with equal intensity for the right to mention May 13. Otherwise, they should not call themselves believers in freedom of expression.

Castigating someone for bringing up May 13 reminded me of George Orwell’s totalitarian state in his book “1984,” where the State destroys words in order to prevent people from thinking of incendiary concepts like freedom and rebellion. If people cannot express such thoughts in words, then they are unable to revolt.

If May 13 was removed from our vocabulary, would people be emboldened in their battle for freedom of expression as there would no longer be threats to detain one under the Sedition Act for mentioning racial issues? Perhaps, the perception of race as a “sensitive” issue may not even occur if we could not mention May 13.

But then, Barisan Nasional (BN) has always referred to it through thinly-veiled references and ominous threats of anarchy should anyone bring up racial issues. So, unlike Orwell’s Big Brother government, BN would be perfectly happy in keeping May 13 in our mental dictionaries as it can spread nebulous fears about race and religion even 41 years later, thus supporting its race-based existence.

May 13 is not deleted from memory completely. Neither can it be voiced out in the open without censure. May 13 remains in the recesses of one’s memory, like a shameful incest.

Instead of destroying the hold of such an event over Malaysians by bringing it out in the open, PR and civil society groups play right into the hands of BN when they punish those who mention it, or fail to defend them.

Not only do they unwittingly ensure the continuity of racial politics, they have also shown themselves incapable of embracing freedom of expression beyond their narrow agendas.

* Boo Su-Lyn is a reporter with The Malaysian Insider.

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