Aug 12, 2000
Many years ago there was a story
doing the rounds in English university campuses about Labour
MP and former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Denis Healey. The
Tories, under Maggie Thatcher, were coming to power then and
Labour was being grilled for purportedly having extreme Left
In this environment, so goes
the story, Healey was being vilified by the pro-Tory media for
apparently having been a member of the radical Young Socialists
in his student days. His sweet response was: "I also believed
in Santa Claus when I was young".
After all these years, this story
suddenly came flashing back to me the last couple of days upon
reading about Suhakam head, Musa Hitam, being hounded by the
mainstream, especially Malay, media.
Mingguan Malaysia headed the
pack with "Musa terus dibidas" ("Musa continues
to be criticised") as its front-page headline. To belabour
the point, its editorial page had columnist, Awang Sulung, reminding
Musa - in not one, but two short pieces, mind you - that he too
was once a home minister, and criticising his actions then.
In this regard, is it not conceivable
for the columnist and others who constantly and nauseatingly
harp on the past to understand that often - and perhaps unlike
them - people mature and develop new ideas? Ideas often opposed
to views they previously held?
This process is called growing
Indeed, there's no point in discussing
a "K-society", a "developed nation", a "mature
democracy" and all those other wawasan slogans if we simply
refuse to grow up and learn from our past mistakes and indiscretions.
Unless, of course, "growing
up" and "maturing" are going to be deemed concepts
that are "Western", hence alien to us. This is, of
course, the stupid line that some politicians have been taking
lately in the media in attempting to lambaste Musa and Suhakam.
Such indeed was the case when
the Perak menteri besar was reported in the press as having chastised
Musa for bringing over a "European" version of human
rights into our "Eastern" setting. According to him,
"Kadang-kadang kita mahu hak individu terlampau lebih, akhirnya
hak orang ramai. Di Barat mereka boleh bogel di tengah pekan
dan tepi pantai ... kalau kita buat di sini macam mana?"
("Sometimes we want too
much individual rights which, in the end, oppress the rights
of the wider society. In the West individuals can go naked in
the centre of town and bythe beach ... what would happen if we
allowed that here?")
What, pray tell, was he waffling
It's bad enough that one MB not
so long ago publicly displayed his boorishness, and was rightly
ridiculed for doing so. Must we now have another either deliberately
distorting the issues at stake or simply displaying his ignorance,
and yet another disingenuously trying to equate the Memali tragedy
of 16 years ago with what was a proposed peaceful assembly?
First, let's please grow up a
bit here and try to get our minds out of the sewer, hard though
that may be. The issue isn't about frolicking naked in Ipoh city
centre or on Pulau Pangkor. It's about the right to peaceful
assembly. Reference to Articles 8, 9 and 10 of the Malaysian
would be in order here.
Second, to be as trivial and
facetious as these politicians for a moment, the "West"
is one helluva big area. Try romping around naked in the streets
of Montreal, London, Brussels, Geneva, Madrid or Paris and chances
are you'll be arrested for indecency. I would think that Malaysians
have grown pretty tired of this infantile kind of stereotyping
by now, wouldn't you?
Third, and more seriously, this
constant demonising of the "West" and "their"
version of human rights. Generally, I find it puzzling that,
if everything is so bad and decadent in the "West",
why on earth do these politicians go on holiday there, send their
children to schools and colleges there, and even engage in trade
with these heathens?
As far as the issue of human
rights is concerned, this demonising leaves me wondering whether
we, and Suhakam, are supposed to look at countries like Burma,
Cambodia or Somalia as human right's role models as opposed to
countries from the evil "West"?
Truth be told, it is not about
adopting human rights standards derived from a mythical, cultured
"East" or an equally mythical, decadent "West",
as the mainstream media like to put it. It's about adopting internationally
recognised and internationally acceptable human rights standards
Let us not be so arrogant and
pathetic as to assert that we have nothing to improve on as regards
our human rights record, that we have nothing to learn.
Let us not continue to make fools
of ourselves in the regional and international arenas by making
stupid comparisons in the media, such as that London has only
one Speaker's Corner while we have a multitude of corners for
speakers (in coffee shops, places of worship, etc.).
If we, more especially the mainstream
media, really need to continue doing so, perhaps in the spirit
of Malaysia Boleh, let us at least please remind ourselves beforehand
that, together with the coffee shops and the places of worship,
we also have the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Internal
Security Act, the Sedition Act, and the Official Secrets Act.
Indeed, in terms of our human rights record, let us please try,
shall we, to move one step forward without scrambling two steps
ROM NAIN writes about the
media in Malaysia, is critical of state and market control of
the media, and yearns for the day when Malaysian media practitioners
and educators can genuinely talk with pride about their work.