Sunday, August 16, 2009

Why propaganda and bigotry must be exposed

In response to my previous post, You can never win with a bigot – my response to “OutSyed the Box: Is The DAP A Chauvinist Party?”, a reader who signed off as Paul Warren left the following comment at Hartal MSM:

You just wasted a some bytes writing a crtic on this guy SAA. He’s an idiot to have thought that his opnions mattered. Just as he was, I am pretty sure, unable to comment on acts against non-Muslims and places of worship as well as worship right here in Malaysia itself he seems so cncerned about behaviour elsewhere

ITs more important now for decent Malaysians to ignore these kinds of bigotted writings and racist incantations and move on to forge a better Malaysia for Malaysians.

This is the response I posted over at Hartal MSM, which I reproduce here FYI:

Thanks for your comment, Paul. Yes, it is tempting to brush aside SAA and other BN cyber-troopers as idiots. However, I can see some parallels between our situation in Malaysia today and Germany, during the rise of Nazism:
  1. Political leaders who have no qualms about demonising minorities in order to hold on to power (e.g. Nazi anti-semitism)
  2. Promotion (and acceptance) of racist and supremacist ideologies e.g. Aryan Supremacy and Lebensraum) as "OK" or necessary
  3. Media (mainstream and cybertroopers) becoming propagandists for their ideology
  4. The rise of organisations that threaten and intimidate other citizens with violence just to prevent them from exercising their rights (ala the brownshirts and SS)
The BN owned MSM and cybertroopers seem to be applying lessons from Nazi propaganda well; as Hitler wrote in chapter IV of Mein Kampf:

"Propaganda must always address itself to the broad masses of the people. (...) All propaganda must be presented in a popular form and must fix its intellectual level so as not to be above the heads of the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed. (...) The art of propaganda consists precisely in being able to awaken the imagination of the public through an appeal to their feelings, in finding the appropriate psychological form that will arrest the attention and appeal to the hearts of the national masses. The broad masses of the people are not made up of diplomats or professors of public jurisprudence nor simply of persons who are able to form reasoned judgment in given cases, but a vacillating crowd of human children who are constantly wavering between one idea and another. (...) The great majority of a nation is so feminine in its character and outlook that its thought and conduct are ruled by sentiment rather than by sober reasoning. This sentiment, however, is not complex, but simple and consistent. It is not highly differentiated, but has only the negative and positive notions of love and hatred, right and wrong, truth and falsehood."

As to the methods to be employed, he explained:

"Propaganda must not investigate the truth objectively and, in so far as it is favourable to the other side, present it according to the theoretical rules of justice; yet it must present only that aspect of the truth which is favourable to its own side. (...) The receptive powers of the masses are very restricted, and their understanding is feeble. On the other hand, they quickly forget. Such being the case, all effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials and those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotyped formulas. These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward. (...) Every change that is made in the subject of a propagandist message must always emphasize the same conclusion. The leading slogan must of course be illustrated in many ways and from several angles, but in the end one must always return to the assertion of the same formula."

Do these similarities mean that Malaysia will inevitably become a fascist state? I don't think so, but we ignore these signs at our peril. Let's not forget that the Nazis were (also) viewed with disdain as harmless idiots, just before they were able to take Germany over.

I believe that the way to pre-empt this danger to Malaysia, is not by us becoming the mirror image of the BN cyber-trooper; using their tactics for our cause. Rather, we need to "change the game" by calmly, rationally and with goodwill towards all, engaging Malaysians from all walks of life, building social capital, exposing BN propaganda for what it is, and laying out our case for change.

"Vibrant Democracy Requires Eternal Vigilance"



  1. I had some similar responses when I wrote a piece castigating Azmi Anshar of NST in my piece
    Whether or not Najib uttered those words is moot

    What some does not understand is some 20 % of voters who are fence sitters are gullible an fall for such rhetoric,if drivel is not called by its rightful name and challenged, the perpetrator will sell it as gospel to the gullible,the predicament is not whether you, those familiar with the issues or myself know those assertations are false, the problem is the gullible who do not exercise critical thinking, and examples of how gullible Malaysians are can be seen in abundance.

    Allow me to add this quote :

    “There's a gullible side to the American people. They can be easily misled. Religion is the best device used to mislead them.”
    ~Michael Moore

    If that is what famous film director and author Michael Moore says of the American public who are among the most sophisticated in the world , what more the Malaysian public who are just coming to terms with freedom of expression.

    Please continue in your endeavours Malaysian Heart.

    Vijay Kumar Murugavell

  2. From MAK JUN YEEN

    Dear Malaysia Heart,

    You have called SAA's article bigotry and BN cyber troopers. No doubt SAA was a BN man and Tun man at that but i did not find any whiff of racist bigotry in the article to derserve your accusation.

    What he did was to expose what he perceives as the double standards of DAP politicians.

    I voted for the opposition in GE13 but I expect I have the right to expose their leaders' mistakes and inconsistencies. Their actions and thoughts are not untouchable and unassailble.
    They are as human as those sitting in the seats of power.

    They are not sacrosant.

    Let me give you an example of the racialistic thinking that the opposition particularly the DAP can sometime be unable to free themselves.

    Max Ongkili and Ali Rustam was pilloried by TK for insulting the foremer's ancestors by even suggeting that if a kadazan were to profess Islam he or she can choose to become a "Malay". The same TK declared that one can change religion but cannot change one "race".

    By giving the impression that one can change his racial identity TK believe Max was not standing up for his race .This I find to be the straitjacket racialistic thiniking that one racial entity is set in stone and eternity and one can never change.

    This kind of arguements is similar to the kind of criticism levelled at DSAI and RPK as "traitors"

    I find malaysia today are not just polarised racially but political persuaion. Just because I criticise the opposition I am with BN and vice versa. This is absolutism and in the words of Obi Wan Kenobi "Only the Sith Lord of the dark side deals in absolutes!"

  3. Dear Mak Jun Yeen (anon 12:33 pm),

    Thanks for your comment.

    Although in his post, SAA tries to attribute racist bigotry to DAP leaders (e.g. when he doubted that LGE would have spoken out against Chua Soi Lek in a similar situation), you are quite right: in the post in question, SAA did not indulge in racism himself.

    However, bigotry is not limited to the racist variety only, is it? As I had shared in my original post, a bigot is someone who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ. As I have shown in my post, SAA has used crooked, unfair and unsupported arguments and innuendo against DAP leaders, and he seems to have been motivated by his victims' politics. Therefore, I stand by my post, and maintain that SAA's article demonstrates bigotry, and much more than just a "whiff" of it.

    It is immaterial to me whose man SAA (or indeed anyone else) is. A person's political loyalties serve only as a guide for me to look for potential bias and vested interest. I never hold that against them per se, but analyse their arguments on (what I believe to be) its merits; in other words, to me bigots are as bigots do.

    As for Pakatan Rakyat and their leaders, you and I are in full agreement. They are just as human as those sitting in the seats of power; they (their actions and thoughts) are definitely not sacrosanct. All of us have the right to (indeed we must) expose their mistakes and inconsistencies, just as we do those of the BN.

    I myself have taken PR leaders to task in my blog here and here, and in this letter to Malaysiakini. Barisan Rakyat bloggers do not belong to any party, and we do not spare PR our scrutiny and criticism; I invite you to read the Barisan Rakyat Blogger's declaration by Zorro. Please also read also these recent posts by BRBloggers regarding PR, here, here and here.

    Therefore, SAA, you, me and and everyone else are more than welcome to scrutinise and criticise PR leaders. However, just as we should be honest and just when exposing the mistakes and inconsistencies of BN leaders, we need to do the same with PR as well. Bigotry and propagandistic smears, like SAA has indulged in, will not do, and must be exposed for what it is. Indeed, if SAA's perceptions of double standards amongst DAP leaders were true, he should not have resorted to dishonest arguments as he did. How can anyone credibly show double standards in others when they practice double standards themselves?

    You are right when you say that Malaysia is politically divided, and that absolutist thinking (ala George Bush: "[e]ither you are with us, or you are with the terrorists") must be opposed. However, eschewing absolutism must never be used as an excuse for not examining all arguments thoroughly and calling out all those based on racism, bigotry and dishonesty, without fear or favour.

    (continued below)

  4. (continued from above)

    You seem to be taking YB Teresa Kok (TK) to task for what you call "racialistic thinking". Let's take a closer look at the issue, shall we? Firstly, the word "race" itself has many meanings, and can cause misunderstanding. While it may be argued that the human physical characteristics that are taken to constitute race are genetically determined (even that is disputed), I believe that ethnic identity is just a construct. People may choose to identify with any ethnicity, regardless of what genes they carry. In this light, TK seems to have mixed up genetics with identity; she is therefore wrong to hold that our ethnic identity is determined at birth.

    Next, TK took Maximus Ongkili (MO) to task, not for failing to stand up for his community (as you said), but for failing to, in her own words, "stop visiting Umno troublemakers from spewing hate politics among his community". There is a difference between the two, and I believe that it is not the same as DSAI & RPK being called traitors to their race. What was it that TK considered to be "hate politics" (we'll come back to her choice of words later)? It seems to me that TK took exception to Ali Rustam (AR) saying this: "The Kadazans if they are a Muslim, we considered them as Malays, and if they have not embraced Islam, they are Bumiputeras. It is easy to become a Malay." AR's statement seems to be saying that if any Kadazan embraces Islam, then he/she is (or should be, or wants to be) automatically considered as a Malay. In his statement, AR seems to have been insensitive to the fact that Kadazan culture is very unique by itself, and did not consider the possibility that there may be Kadazans who embrace Islam but wish to practice Kadazan culture and maintain their Kadazan identity.

    To be fair, AR was just doing something that many, if not all, politicians do, namely attempt to redelineate and reassign identities in such a way so as to increase their own "constituency". TK was responding to challenge AR's attempt, perhaps because it would be disadvantageous to her party. What both seem to have forgotten is that the decision to adopt an ethnic identity is a personal one, and is not a political prize to be fought over like a football.

    Personally, I believe that MO got it right when he said, " .…. there are Muslims among the Kadazandusun Murut community as well as Christians. It is therefore up to them how they wish to define their race". He has grasped the point that people are free to build their own identities. I was somewhat surprised, that as a Kadazan leader he did not point out the uniqueness and rich legacy of Kadazan culture, but that's his personal choice to make.

    (continued below)

  5. (continued from above)

    Looking at the language in TK's statement, I take exception to the following words and phrases she used:
    - "hate politics" - I cannot see AR's statement as inciting hate for any group. Using such a emotionally loaded phrase without justification is dishonest and demeans it. She could have called it by its proper name, "playing politics with ethnic identity".
    - She called AR's statement "racist", when there is no part of it which, strictly speaking, meets the definition. Again, dishonest and demeans the word

    The rest of her statement (besides the "your genes are your race" bit) seems accurate. Since she believes that race is determined genetically, and since she has spoken for the Kadazan identity and "race", one could argue that she thinks in a "straitjacket racialistic" way (we should note, however, that whatever her motivation, her statement was in defense of another "race", not her own). Has she used dishonest arguments? I believe so, namely by using emotionally loaded words without evidence. Could we call her a bigot? Yes, if we can show that she has practiced double standards (say, by herself making statements similar to AR, or by approving such statements by her party fellows). Has she? I doubt it, but will stand corrected if anyone can show it to be so. Is she (or the DAP) racist, like the people who believe that only Malaysians from certain races are eligible to lead Malaysia are? Based on their manifesto and policies, I do not think so, but again will stand corrected if anyone can show it to be so. As far as I know, even if TK believes that race is genetically determined, she is against anyone being discriminated against on the basis of their race (unlike some other Malaysian politicians).

    Frankly, I was quite surprised that you seem to agree with AR on this issue. In January 2008, you wrote this and this to chide the authors of a post, the tone of which (you believed) implied "a condescending attitude to “Malays” view of themselves", and "betrays anti malay bias". In my opinion, AR did worse than condescend to Kadazan identity and culture; I believe that TK saw it, and reacted to it, just as you had reacted to Ong Hock Chuan and Michael Chick. However, you are of course entirely free to hold your own opinion. (I'm assuming here that you are the same Mak Yun Jeen who wrote those comments. My apologies if you aren't.)

    Thanks for dropping by, it is nice to see comments that address the topic, are not offensive and above all, are reasoned. Do come back often.



How to Paste Text into Comment Boxes

Google seems to have disabled pasting text (including ctrl-v) into blogger comments boxes in Firefox. The good news is that:
1. You can still copy paste using Internet Explorer (I successfully tried it with IE7)
2. With Firefox, you can still "Drag and Drop" text into the comment form. I have successfully dragged and dropped text from MS Word, websites (HTML) and from ScribeFire (plain text and HTML). Just do the following:

a) reduce the size of the window you want to take the text from, and place it near the comment box
b) Highlight the required text with cursor
c) Click on the highlighted text and drag it over to the comment box and drop it there.

Happy commenting!