Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sorting Out The "Garbage"

The use of the Internal Security Act against Raja Petra has been formalized – signed by Syed Hamid Albar. Yes, the same minister who said he should not interfere in case it be seen as a politically motivated action, and that it was entirely a police action. One wonders whether he might retry his “for your own protection” story, when members of his own Barisan Nasional found that excuse unacceptable.

NGOs, bloggers, and more importantly the multitude of readers that make blogs such a credible threat to the powers that be have come out in support for Raja Petra’s release, some focusing not just on the individual but on the repeal of the ISA. Suddenly the word “draconian” has become household lingo, and Penang Chief Minister has called it “historical garbage”.

The depth of our understanding of laws like the Internal Security Act goes as far as knowing that it was originally intended for communists and armed insurgents. However, until we completely try to get our hands around the rationale of its conception and its use, we won’t really see how ludicrous it is that Raja Petra has been detained.

I remember how the appearance of the Patriot Act in the United States during the Mahathir era was proclaimed as vindication of the ISA. It was a “even our critics use it” attitude – not credible rationale as much as convenient rationalization. I never quite got the logic of the comparison, since Mahathir was vehemently against the West in general, and yet their actions were being used to justify that of our government.

In the end it comes down to why communists here and terrorists there at some point in our histories made detention without trial a necessary evil. The logic of it is basically that the devious nature of criminals at this level ensure that the manipulation of “innocent until proven guilty” can cost the lives of more innocents if they are let off the hook. On one hand it is the immediacy of the threat and the level of concealment that requires more time for formal charges to be brought. But on the other it is also admission that law enforcement is inadequate, that it is not yet efficient to get the information and evidence enough for a trial within the regular time requirements.

Laws like the Patriot Act and the ISA are ones which by their very nature must hurt the credibility of their enforcers. This ensures that the court of public opinion has its turn in deciding whether the cases were extreme enough to allow a little leeway for the enforement agencies to do their work. Also, the threat of public discontent is logically meant to ensure that it is truly a necessary and not a casual, convenient evil.

It is in this context that Raja Petra’s role as a blogger – for which he now stands under detention without trial – is clearly antithetical to the use of the ISA:

1. RPK is clearly not an armed threat and thus does not threaten lives
2. There is no level of concealment since the very nature of blogs is one of public consumption
3. The only way one can justify inadequate abilities of law enforcement in not bringing RPK to trial is thus if they are downright illiterate
4. RPK’s role is to articulate public discontent already present – which is ironic since his arrest has only proven to amplify that very discontent for which he is being wrongly held accountable.

And so, a person who deals with words has been arrested under a law meant for armed terrorists. Again, ironically – and moronically in the case of our Home Minister – the use of the ISA has proven true the old adage that Raja Petra’s blog pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

"Um... no."

In the backlash of the backfire of the arrest of Sin Chew reporter Tan Choon Cheng, Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar unknowingly indicated the double standard at work.

From today's Star article, 'Reporter's life was threatened':

"Asked if he thought the police action was justified, Syed Hamid said, 'If I start to interfere with the administration of enforcement then it's difficult.'
'I am a minister. I am a politician. If I start to interfere, then people will say I have a political motive. It will send the wrong signals. I cannot interfere,' he said."

And from the same article:

"On why Ahmad (Ismail) was not detained for making racist comments, he explained that Umno had already punished him by suspending him for three years and stripping him of his party posts."

So, essentially, it will provide "wrong signals" to say that the detention of Tan Hoon Cheng was unjustified, because ministers and politicians are out of the picture.

But at the same time, Syed Hamid actually believes that it doesn't give "wrong signals" when he says that the police shouldn't act against Ahmad Ismail? Further, that the police should sit on their hands because of a purely political reason?

There are clearly wrong signals at home.

Is there a valid logic to this? The answer is simple:

"Um... no."

Saturday, September 13, 2008

In Pictures: Candlelight Vigil

Notwithstanding her release the day after, the arrest under the ISA of the award-winning journalist Tan Hoon Cheng who reported on Ahmad Ismail, is being questioned by political leaders, NGOs, and members of the public. The subsequent explanations of keeping her for personal safety concerns are somewhat dubious for the following reasons:

1. Timing: she was held in a series of arrests including Raja Petra and Teresa Kok.

2. Communication: her own family was not informed that she was being 'protected', not to mention Member of Parliament Chong Eng who talked to police at the gate of IPK.

3. Setting: there was no reason to move her from one police station to another.

The candlelight vigil was held by members of Suaram and alumni of Universiti Sains Malaysia. A highlight was the participation of PAS members, who stated that this was "not a racial issue". A large number of the press converged to show their solidarity. Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, members of the DAP, Gerakan, MCA and PKR, as well as Datuk Dr. Toh Kin Woon, were also present.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It occasionally helps to listen to what you’re saying

Much has been said about the whole Ahmad Ismail affair, and rather than to add to a healthy chorus, I’d like to point out a couple of points that may have gone unnoticed.
  1. Ahmad Ismail called for the removal of Dr Koh Tsu Koon as Penang Barisan chairman, saying that the position should be given to the MCA. Oddly enough Gerakan, of which Dr Koh is acting president, is a multi-racial party, whereas the MCA is dedicated to those Ahmad Ismail considers “squatters”.

  2. Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz on the DPM’s earlier apology:

    “I think nobody should belittle his apology.
    It is not easy for a Deputy Prime
    Minister to do that.”

    (The Star, Sept 10: “‘Don’t belittle Najib’s apology’”)

    First of all, does it mean that the higher up one goes in office, the harder it is to take responsibility for errant actions? And secondly, we don’t belittle him for his apology – what is belittling how little it mattered to a lowly Umno division chief. So in a sense it’s ironic that indeed a “nobody” did indeed “belittle his apology”. And we haven’t even talked about the PM’s original statement that he “didn’t mean it” and that he would “tell him not to say it again”.

  3. I really want someone to ask Ahmad Ismail if he think that the Indians are “squatters” too. And then pass him a large photo of Samyvellu.

  4. “The Barisan Nasional supreme council meeting yesterday was more open and sincere compared to previous meetings as component party leaders discussed the Datuk Ahmad Ismail issue that threatened the coalitions unity,
    said PPP president Datuk M. Kayveas.”

    (The Star, Sept. 10: “Kayveas: Everyone spoke up”)

    So in which circumstances and with which topics are meetings less open and sincere? Say, petrol prices? The Budget? Bar Council forums?

  5. On a similar note to Kayveas’s statement, let’s take a brief excursion to our DPM’s comment on the ethics of sending MPs to Taiwan. For agriculture, kononnya – let’s just pause a moment to think about that. Taiwan. And agriculture.

    “What is more immoral is trying to buy them over. It is subverting the principles of parliamentary democracy.”
    Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak (The Star, Sept. 10: "Najib: Expenses borne by BBC".)

    “More” immoral? So… sending them to Taiwan is only slightly, or somewhat, immoral?

  6. The three year suspension of Ahmad Ismail is a move meant to placate uneasy associations – especially BN component parties. The question is what happens after those three years (which incidentally would end right before the next general election). If Ahmad Ismail is still stubbornly the flag bearer of racist sentiments, would Umno then take him back? And what of the other Penang Umno division heads who condoned and supported those same racist positions? Jeff Ooi's Screenshots mentions something along these lines and (quite rightly) calling for law enforcement to take over now, not three years from now.
Nevertheless, on a positive front, the reaction from certain quarters has been interesting – showing that this is a time for moderate, progressive Malays to make their presence felt. Take Jeneral Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Zainal for example: “I would like to propose to the Government to take stern action against those who raise racial issues.” (The Star, Sept. 10: “Jen: Act against those who raise racial issues.”) While I think the point is that it’s those who raise racist and not just racial issues, the more important message is that the general is asking the Government to allow the enforcement arms – like the police and the army – to take action. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think the general was asking permission to shoot a particular person who’s shooting his mouth off.

Metaphorically speaking, of course...