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.

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