Friday, October 2, 2009

Murugiah's attempt to stifle legitimate political discourse (and give BN an edge in Bagan Pasir) must be opposed!

From the New Straits Times 4 days ago (bold emphasis mine):

Instant detention threat for talk on cow's head


PORT DICKSON: Anyone bringing up the Shah Alam cow's head incident during the Bagan Pinang election campaign will be detained immediately and could face charges of inciting racial tensions.

The warning was made by Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk T. Murugiah, who said that it applied to Barisan Nasional and the opposition.

"We will assign officers to keep tabs on all ceramah and other activities during the campaign and they will alert the police immediately if the issue is raised."

Murugiah is the deputy minister in charge of the National Unity and Integration Department.

"We want a clean and fair campaign and to ensure no racial or religious issues are raised to incite the people."

The real purpose of this threat is to protect Umno/BN from the political fallout resulting from the deep outrage Malaysians from all walks of life felt at the Umno/BN inspired cow's head incident. Futhermore, it is a pernicious attack on free speech in Malaysia and the right of Malaysians to freely discuss and exchange ideas on matters of national interest. If this threat is left unopposed, it will set a dangerous precedent for the future of political discourse in Malaysia: that the party in government can decide what we Malaysians can and cannot speak about.

To see that this threat has nothing whatsoever to do with preserving racial harmony in Malaysia, let's take a closer look at it, by examining some definitions first:
  • Incite - to stir up or provoke to action
  • Tension - a situation or condition of hostility, suspense, or uneasiness
  • Racial - Arising from or based on differences among human racial groups
Put them together in this context, and "inciting racial tensions" means stirring up or provoking hostility, suspense or uneasiness between groups of Malaysians based on their race. The result of "inciting racial tensions" is that Malaysians would feel (and perhaps behave with) hostility, enmity and agression towards other Malaysians, just because they are from a particular other race.

Next, let's look at the cow's head incident. Was it a racial (or religious) incident, or was it a political one? Is it credible that the Malay/Muslim residents of Section 23 spontaneously decided to insult their Hindu neighbours? While there had been dissatisfaction over the temple for some time, the aggressive, thuggish behaviour only began after GE-12, when Pewaris, one of Umno/BN's "astroturf" organisations, got involved. After the incident itself, Hishamuddin and Mukhriz Mahathir provided justification and sympathy for the protesters, and Perkasa, another Umno/BN proxy, took up their case as a "jihad".

No, the cow head incident was not about race or religion per se, but Umno/BN would like it to have become one. It was just one of a series of activities inspired and encouraged by Umno/BN to destabilise Pakatan Rakyat led state governments, and in the longer term to polarise Malaysians racially and by religion. Although we Malaysians have not yet reached the stage of accepting and truly cherishing our diversity, we have been living and praying side by side and in relative peace and with mutual tolerance for centuries. Whenever there has been serious inter-racial conflict (e.g. 13 May 1969), it's easy to identify the political hands behind it.

However, this time it backfired badly on the perpetrators. Malaysians of all walks of life were horrified, and in a heartwarming demonstration of good values, principles and unity, civil society groups and opinion leaders of all races and religions rose as one to condemn the antics of the cow head protesters (and their backers). Unfortunately, Malaysia had already become a laughing stock in the world media.

Umno/BN were caught on the back foot, and realising how damaging the truth would be to them, they tried to expunge the evidence by getting the MCMC to go after Malaysiakini to remove the videos of the incident itself, and Hishamuddin's support for it, with the ridiculous excuse that the video was offensive to Hindus. In reality it was the spitting and stamping on the cow's head, as well as the threats of violence that was offensive to all Malaysians. All that the videos could do was to embarass Hishamuddin, and further damage Umno/BN's credibility as a party with values and principles for all Malaysians.

Now, is it important that Malaysians know what Umno/BN has been up to? Of course it is. We have the right to know how our government and politicians try to manipulate and divide us by race and religion so that they may hang on to power uninterrupted. We voters need to know the truth about the perfidy that pervades Umno/BN, so that we can boot them out in elections.

Would telling the truth about the cow head incident be "inciting racial tensions"? Only if the facts were twisted to imply that Malays and Muslims as a group are behind it, and meant to insult Hindus, and that Hindus should feel enmity towards all Malays and Muslims in turn. Given the fact that it was Umno/BN inspired, and that many Malay and Muslim Malaysians have strongly spoken out against it, this would be factually wrong. Anyone who argued so would be in the same category as the cow head protesters, their supporters, and people like Ridhuan Tee and Awang Selamat; they would certainly be inciting racial tension (whether all these people should be charged with sedition is another matter altogether).

Would it be in PR's interest to incite racial tensions in this way? They would have to be stupid to do so. The PR candidate in Bagan Pinang is a Malay from the Muslim party PAS. How would PR best explain the incident to the voters? By exposing Umno/BN's hand in the incident, and making it clear that it was about politics, not about race. Report the truth and let the facts speak for themselves; res ipsa loquitor, and the only ones who would deserve the rakyat's enmity would be Umno/BN dalang behind the incident.

Would doing this incite racial tension? Not in the least, but it would effectively kill off support for Umno/BN amongst reasonable peace loving Malaysians, including the Indian community who form 20% of the voters in Bagan Pinang. That is what Umno/BN is afraid of, and that is why they sent Murugiah to issue the threat. The last thing they want is a "clean and fair campaign", where Umno/BN's shenanigans can be laid bare for voters to see, and they have no qualms about abusing their position in government to threaten the rakyat.

So, how should we respond to this politically inspired "order" that is masquerading as concern for racial harmony? IMHO, we have to expose it. We need to organise ourselves so that the facts about the cow head incident are as widely known to every voter in Bagan Pinang, by all means possible. We must take great pains to show why it has nothing to do with race and religion per se, and everything to do with Umno/BN using racial and religious issues for political gain; i.e. politics as usual, Umno/BN style.

One more thing we must do. We must never let the idea, that the party in government can dictate political discourse, become accepted practice here. IMHO, we must call their bluff and challenge it by peacefully disobeying such an unjust order. We need a large multiracial and multireligious group of Malaysians who are willing to speak the truth and give the voters of Bagan Pinang the facts about the cow's head incident. These people must be prepared to be detained; and there must be sufficient others ready to take their place and be arrested in turn. Let's see how many of us Najib's 1Malaysia can arrest, and if it is willing to face the acute embarassment that will result once the free newsmedia start exposing it for the two-faced scam that it is.

Sincerely ,
Malaysian Heart


  1. Though you are correct in your analysis, Murugiah is not entirely wrong either. The politician from either sides are using race based politic strategy. The intention of bring up the cow head episode is aimed at the Indian audience specifically. This is backfire for the UMNO. But the opposition need not need to exploit this issue. What the opposition can show that they are different from the UMNO is to bring up this issue in the mosque or in the campaigning in the Malay majority area to show that the opposition is not using this as a racial issue.

  2. @ anon 6:34 pm,

    The opposition (or indeed anybody else) can only be accused of exploiting the race card if they twisted the facts to imply that all Malays and Muslims were collectively responsible for the cow's head incident. That is not true; we know that Umno/BN were behind it. Therefore Murugiah attempt to portray all reference to the incident as "inciting racial tensions" is totally wrong.

    How do you know that the opposition will only speak of the cow head incident to the Indian voters in Bagan Pinang? I believe that the opposition should speak of the cow head incident to all communities, because Umno/BN's attempt to divide Malaysians by race and religion by causing tension is an important issue for all of us and must be raised. However, even if they only communicate it to Indians only, as long as they speak the truth and do not wrongly implicate all Malays and Muslims, they still wouldn't be "inciting racial tension".


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