Friday, June 24, 2011

Another day, another bogeyman raised

In all the furore surrounding the Bersih 2.0 rally, I couldn’t help noticing that all the things and events used to scare us are being dragged out yet again, presumably so that we would all be scared of history repeating itself and therefore stick to the status quo.

First up is of course the spectre of May 13. Time and again self-serving politicians bring this up to remind us to toe the line. You know what? I was born after 1969. I didn’t live through those events, and all I know about May 13 I learnt through my own endeavours.

If May 13 is so important to us, and if we’re always exhorted to remember it, then why, if we so much as try to discuss what happened then, are we told NOT to do so because it may be detrimental to our racial sensibilities?

I mean, come on. How can we be expected to remember something that we don’t fully know about, and that nobody seems to want to discuss objectively? It’s as if we rakyat are little children told by our adult politicians not to open a cupboard because monsters hide in there. What rubbish.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my country, and I have no wish to see it descend into Arab Spring-like chaos, but I think our politicians should give us a bit of credit too. Most of us are actually mature adults capable of holding rational discussions.

Yes, the events of May 13 were horrendous, and I fervently wish that it would not happen again, but I also think that we need to bust the myth of May 13 by discussing it openly so that we can learn from it — the lessons learnt in its aftermath might need reviewing after more than 40 years.

Then there’s the other favourite bogeyman — the Jews. For a country that doesn’t even have a Jewish population, politicians of a certain type in our country are obsessed by the Jews. Anyone accused of blackening the country’s name is denounced as an “agent of the Jews.”

Have any of these people even met a Jewish person? Funnily enough, they’re just like you and I (contrary to what an ustaz told me years ago, they don’t have hooked noses either!) and quite frankly, I think most Jewish people have other things to think about than worrying about our country!

I don’t quite get this obsession with the Jews actually. Is it because of Israel, and its treatment of the Palestinians? Is it because we want to show solidarity with the Arab world? Is it just because they’re Jews?

Well, at the risk of sounding callous, the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is no better and no worse than the treatment of the Talibans towards their fellow Muslims when they were in power in Afghanistan (where were the demonstrations and agitations against the Taliban then, eh? And what about those Saudis and their penchant for beheading maids who have the temerity to strike back against employers who abuse them?). There are bad people everywhere. Should we demonise an entire race just because one country oppresses some of its people?

Yes, I too feel anger when I see the demolition of houses in the West Bank; when I see the shelling in Gaza. I too feel anguished when I read about men and women forced to abandon their ancestral lands simply because a wall has arbitrarily split their land into two. I too feel loathing when I read about the attitudes some of the Israeli settlers have towards the Palestinians.

But you know what? If I was an Israeli I would probably feel a lot of hatred towards the Palestinians too, because Hamas and its ilk have made life unpalatable. All I’m saying is, there are two sides to every story. Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians are whiter than white and I find it extremely tiresome when a Malaysian politician peddles the Jewish line to score some points because it just comes across as being ill-informed and plain nasty.

In fact, what I find even more seriously disturbing is our prime minister inviting the likes of Robert Mugabe and Omar al-Bashir to our country to attend the recent Langkawi International Dialogue conference. I know why they were invited, but really, the excuse that we need to have dialogue with these types of people is nonsense.

Mugabe has personally bankrupted his country and presided over the death of many, many Zimbabweans. The many accounts of life in Zimbabwe, especially during election campaigns, are absolutely shocking and I am sickened at the thought of that man pontificating about how evil the West is, on our soil.

Yet still our PM invites this man to our country? It’s like saying we’ll invite someone like Hitler to our country so that we can engage him in dialogue. Why bother? With some tyrannical, despotic leaders it’s just not worth the effort.

Then there’s the explanation given by our PM on why it was all right to invite al-Bashir to our country — we’re not a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC), so we don’t have to comply with their rulings.

Goodness, how far our ethical standards have fallen! In the 1980s we boycotted South Africa because of apartheid. Now, it seems that we are more than happy to play with the leaders of tyrannical states rather than abide by the ways of the civilised world.

Actually, if I were a politician, I wouldn’t need to go too far to find something to scare Malaysians with. Forget May 13 or the Jews. A government that sees nothing amiss with playing host to murderous tyrants, and giving them a platform to air their views ... let’s just hope our politicians aren’t thinking of learning from them, especially during the Bersih 2.0 rally.

[Source :Farah Fahmy is based in London, and has written for the media. She is intrigued by trans- and international relations between Malaysia (ns) and the Rest of the World.]

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