Friday, September 19, 2008

All Present And Accounted For

Tuesday, September 16, 2008
All Present And Accounted For

All Present And Accounted For

Like many others, I stopped breathing last Friday evening as I saw my worst fears begin to materialize.

For some time now, talk of a crackdown similar to the 1987 Operasi Lalang had been intensifying, in part due to the Government’s unapologetic stance as to its readiness to use the Internal Security Act when it thought it necessary. This had not given much comfort to those who remember the dragnets of 1987 and 2001. If history had taught us anything, it was that in a world where politics determines so much, “when necessary” is a heavily nuanced and very subjective notion. We cannot be faulted for assuming that UMNO will employ the ISA to its convenience if it is in its political interests to do so.

As the events of the weekend have shown us, our assumption has some basis.

By early Friday afternoon, I had learnt that Raja Petra had been detained. I had also begun to hear the rumours that this was the start of a wider sweep that was to take place over the weekend and was profoundly troubled by them. I found myself struggling between not wanting to believe that the Government would be prepared to take that course, it being so counterintuitive, and being forced by circumstance to accept that the terror had started. The situation was not clear. there had after all been prior indication of the Government’s intention to detain Raja Petra specifically. Furthermore, no one had been detained since Petra’s detention at about 1.50 pm. Like all victims of impending disaster, clutching at straws I began to try to rationalize my way out of what seemed like a certain outcome.

I had begun to make some headway when I got news that Tan Hoon Cheng had been detained.

Up to that point dinner had been congenial. It carried on in complete silence, each one of us there thinking of who it was that we knew who could possibly be picked up. We recalled how there had been no apparent pattern to the detentions of 1987 and appreciated that the authorities would want to be able to point to random causes to argue against accusations of a political plan if in fact there was one. Academics and missionaries had been swept up in Operasi Lalang, even as the opposition was neutered by the removal of its leaders and prime movers.

The detention of Hoon Cheng meant that virtually anyone who had in some way or other been a little more public than average was a potential target. As concerned friends and acquaintances began to call in, for my sake and a number of people I knew and cared for, the yawning abyss of uncertainty before me brought home the painful realization of the potential costs of standing up for beliefs and a better country. Liberty and the integrity of mind, body and spirit were really no more than a question of not being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The news that Theresa Kok had been detained rammed that conclusion home. She had done nothing out of the ordinary, more so when compared to other personalities in politics. Any doubts I had began to dissipate; there was something bigger afoot.

It was a long night. Tracking news about people I knew, speaking to them, making sure that we all felt connected to each other, to share what little encouragement we could. Speaking to others, trying to help spread the message that whatever was to happen we were to meet it calmly and with the belief that things would be for the best.

But even as the pieces fell into place and we began to face up to the probability of a wide sweeping operasi, the differences began to emerge and I could see that this was not 1987. Malaysians were reaching out to each other, messaging and calling, organizing vigils, lending their support, standing up to the intimidation as best as they could with a calmness that shone out into the gloom that threatened to engulf us, dissipating it. Looking out, I saw lights on in houses on the street where I was late into the night, early into the morning. They were beacons of hope that promised the dawn of a new day.

And come it did, something happened.

Hoong Cheng was released, accompanied by a farcical explanation that only strengthened public resolve. Raja Petra and Theresa are still under detention but their families have got to see them and their lawyers are hard at work on what in my view seem to be promising cases for habeas corpus. No other persons were detained, perhaps in part due to Barisan Ministers and component parties having taken positions against the detentions, echoing the sentiment of outrage expressed by civil society. In an unprecedented move, an UMNO Minister tendered his resignation on principle for the unjust use of the ISA. And the Government has had its hands full attempting to explain the inexplicable as it never has had to before.

Whither Malaysia? We are right here, all present and accounted for.

(Malay Mail; 16th September 2008)

Posted by Malik Imtiaz Sarwar at 6:45 PM 18 comments
Labels: democracy, governance, Internal Security Act, Malay Mail, Malaysia, Operasi Lalang, Raja Petra, Tan Hoon Cheng, Theresa Kok
Free RPK

We filed for habeas corpus this afternoon. Time to fight the good fight.

Posted by Malik Imtiaz Sarwar at 4:05 PM 15 comments
Labels: blogging, democracy, freedom of expression, Internal Security Act, Malaysia, Raja Petra
Selamat Hari Malaysia

Selamat Hari Malaysia.

This photograph gives you an impression of the state of euphoria in Kelana Jaya last night at the Pakatan Rally (photo by TV Smith, more here; photos by Chee Seong here). More importantly, it gives you an idea of what a pluralist Malaysia would look like. I say would, not could, because it is an inevitable reality built on the undeniable truth that the only thing that keeps us apart from each other is politics. We are all anak Bangsa Malaysia.

September 16th, 2008. Whether it happens today, tomorrow, or the day after, Malaysians will get a government that they are entitled to, one that stands for truth, justice and fairness for all. Anwar Ibrahim says that the Pakatan Rakyat has the numbers. Even if they do not, even if it takes us a few more months or years to get to a point where Malaysia will look like it does in this photograph, with or without the Pakatan Rakyat, we will get there. I am convinced of this.

We are reclaiming what is ours, a free Malaysia.


Update: see also Thinkvision's Weblog for more photos and commentary

Posted by Malik Imtiaz Sarwar at 8:33 AM 14 comments
Labels: Bangsa Malaysia, Malaysia Day, September 16th 2008
Friday, September 12, 2008
RPK, ISA And The Rest Of Us

Malaysiakini reports that RPK has been detained by the police under the ISA. At the time of publication, the RPK was still at his house with police officers.

The news has spread fast. With it are concerns that a wider 1987 type crackdown is going to happen or that even worse, there is going to be chaos and racial violence.

We must remain calm. Reactionary behaviour and fear mongering is not going to make things any more sensible or easier. Things will unfold as they have to.

The Government must also do its part and explain clearly how RPK is a threat to national security and why he has been detained. He had presented himself everytime he was asked to at police stations and in court. He has been charged, has not attempted to flee the jurisdiction and has indicated his desire to defend himself in court. Access to Malaysia Today has been permitted. And though four police reports have recently been lodged against him by agencies linked to the Government, a consideration of those police reports in the bigger picture would reveal the unreasonableness of his being detained on the basis of what has been alleged in those reports. The Government must make the basis of its decision clear and why it is RPK cannot be tried in an open court.

And for the rest of us, let us stand united and firm in our belief in a better Malaysia.


Posted by Malik Imtiaz Sarwar at 2:13 PM 27 comments
Labels: governance, ISA, Malaysia, Raja Petra
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
One People, One Destiny

One people, one destiny

I was reading the Proclamation of Independence again recently. It struck me how the proclamation starts with not only with the utterance “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful” but also, in the next sentence, “Praise be to God, the Lord of the Universe (Rabb Al-‘alamin) and may the blessings and peace of God be upon His Messengers.”

The expression Rabb Al-‘alamin resonates. It is my favourite description of the Creator, saying to me that Allah’s embrace is so all encompassing, like a mother’s, that no one, not a single one of us, will ever be allowed to fall from His cradle. ‘Abdullah Yusuf Ali conveys the nuances of this phrase richly in translating it as the “Cherisher and Sustainer of the Worlds”. “Worlds”, not “world”. Worlds. ‘Abdullah Yusuf Ali says, “There are many worlds, astronomical and physical worlds, worlds of thought, spiritual world and so on. In every one of them, God is all-in-all.” I agree. The world I live in is in many ways different from the world in which my neighbour lives. My family, friends, experiences, history and spirituality are so different from his, as are his from mine.

As I read the opening words to the Proclamation again, I was reminded of how in invoking Rabb Al-‘alamin and His Messengers, our founders had not only proclaimed this nation as one in which Islam was the religion of the Federation, they had also recognized that the Malaysian universe was one made of up of so many different worlds. The Proclamation goes on to declare: “AND WHEREAS by the Federal Constitution aforesaid provision is made to safeguard the rights and prerogatives of Their Highnesses the Rulers and the fundamental rights and liberties of the people and to provide for the peaceful and orderly advancement of the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu as a constitutional monarchy based on Parliamentary democracy.”

We are one people, all of whom have a common destiny. We come from different worlds and we will continue to have our own peculiarities even as we forge a common identity. Islam is embedded in the Constitution and that will not change. Leave aside the practical impossibility of ever denuding the Constitution of Islam, our shared history and our present are so interleaved with the faith that its absence would leave a void for many of us, even non-Muslims. A friend of mine of another faith used to complain about the azan until she spent a long time away and realized how it had given her comfort, signaling the end of night and the start of another day. In the same way, the funds that are used for the advancement of Islam in this country come, in part, from taxes collected from all of us and we do not hear complaint about it.

An appreciation of this, and the equally protected status of the Malays, must necessarily bring with it an equal understanding of our need for mutual respect. This is not just about the guarantee of equality in the Constitution, this is about what common good requires of all of us. I do not profess to be an expert but I recognize at my core that God made us equals even as He made us different so that we could understand acceptance within His full embrace. I understand that our diversity mirrors the worlds that are His domain, as much as I understand that our diversity is a reflection of His Oneness. For this reason, when we cleave any one of us away from the rest of this society, it is a cause of great pain and anguish. There are sensitivities that have to be handled very delicately even where we feel that there are issues that need to be confronted. Perhaps too belatedly, I understand now that so focused on law and constitutional rights have I been that I have at times overlooked the need to be less robust in the way I explained myself; though things needed to be said, and still do, they could have at time been said that much better.

When Dr Rais Yatim opened the conference at which the proposed Interfaith Commission Bill was to be discussed, he said something that has remained with me since, “We must know the sharp edges protruding in a multi-religious and multi-racial society.” Rightly so, for how else are we to understand how to live with each other more harmoniously unless we know the sharp edges. We must confront, understand and resolve. And while sensitivity is necessary, it must not be permitted to keep us away from what we have to do as a community of worlds or to shut us out.

We must also not blind ourselves to the fact that sensitivity is a two-way street. No one person or community has a monopoly over the right to feel pain. We all bleed the deep, red blood of Malaysia. Tanah tumpahnya darahku.

(Malay Mail; 9th Sept 2008)


Posted by Malik Imtiaz Sarwar at 5:45 PM 13 comments
Labels: Bangsa Malaysia, democracy, governance, Malay Mail, Malaysia, pluralism
No ISA For Ahmad Ismail

The call by Gerakan Wanita to have Ahmad Ismail detained under the Internal Security Act must not be acceded to.

Judging by media reports of the events in Penang at his latest press conference, yesterday what Ahmad Ismail did and said are not easily reconciled nor accepted. I found him and what he said to be offensive. People I know felt the same way, some were also made fearful and anxious, though whether about Ahmad Ismail or whether UMNO was going to use this to its advantage it is hard to say.

Having said that, what Ahmad Ismail did and said are not grounds for a detention under the ISA. Nothing can be. The law is draconian, inhumane and wholly against constitutional freedoms that are central to our existence as Malaysians in a modern, democratic Malaysia.

If Ahmad Ismail has done wrong, and I believe that enough has been said and done to warrant at the very least an investigation into incitement crimes under the Penal Code, then charge him for his crime and give him his day in court. He, like everyone else in this country, deserves that. As repulsive as we may find him or his values or his politics, he is innocent until proven guilty.

Investigations underway are apparently into an offence under the Sedition Act. I have written elsewhere that the offence of sedition, as defined under the Sedition Act, is in my view unconstitutional for contravening the freedom of expression guaranteed under the Federal Constitution. Though not absolute, the constitution limits incursions by legislature to those that are necessary in the interests of democracy and proportional to the wrong sought to be curbed. The Sedition Act does far more.

Charge Ahmad Ismail, let bail be opposed if it must, but do not detain him under the ISA.


Posted by Malik Imtiaz Sarwar at 11:33 AM 24 comments
Labels: criminal justice system, democracy, governance, Internal Security Act, Malaysia
Monday, September 8, 2008
Suspicion Of Tyranny

"I realise that the police have a difficult duty to perform to maintain the public peace and security. They should by all means exercise their powers under the law but in exercising these extra-ordinary powers of detention without trial, they should be careful not to raise in the minds of the public any suspicion of tyranny."

The late Justice Harun Hashim (as he then was) in IGP & Anor v Lee Kim Hong [1979] 2 MLJ 291

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