T’ganu shooting: Flag competing narratives

Helen Ang (malaysiakini)
Sep 13, 07 11:23am

The Article 11 road show came to a premature halt after Muslim mobs acted to put a burqa on the broad-based NGO effort. The nationwide road show planned by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih) may be similarly stymied by Saturday’s shooting. This, folks, is the real story and the big picture. The flag burning is only a sideshow.

When elections are unclean and unfair – from my living memory it’s always been ‘Flawed elections, ergo flawed democracy’ – Bersih is an urgent, all too necessary and possibly a too-little-too-late initiative. Be that as it may, the Opposition and many NGOs have gotten together to try and take this off the ground. Good on them. Better to do something constructive than to shrug that nothing can be done.
But now that the purported ‘riot’ has occurred, will the disturbance be used as an expedient excuse to curtail Bersih’s momentum?
When we say “It can only happen in Malaysia”, we sometimes say this with cynicism, in exasperation or as a way of expressing wry resignation. But when the prime minister says rioting is a deliberate Opposition tactic, we know for sure it can only come from the lips of a morally bankrupt ruling coalition, and such lingo only in Malaysia.
Mr Prime Minister, the blood spilled at Pantai Batu Buruk is on your hands. ‘Your’ police force and riot squad shot and injured unarmed people attending what should have been a peaceful ceramah to raise public awareness. That the minions in your media that your coalition tightly controls are putting a spurious spin on the alarming episode can only happen in basket case countries which treat its citizenry as if their intellect were half-boiled eggs.
The Star’s headline ‘CPO: Cop was protecting women, kids’ would be funny ha-ha if it were not tragic. The paper’s deliberately angled report said the police constable who shot at “rioters who attacked him at an illegal gathering” had been directing women and children to leave the area as the situation was unsafe.
Barking at people to move away, this newspaper interprets as ‘protecting’ civilians. Protecting who from whom? Women and children from their PAS-PKR neighbours, friends and family, apparently, because police itself admitted that the gathering comprised mostly Opposition supporters. Who made the peaceful situation ‘unsafe’ by slinging lethal weapons?
What is worrying is not the alleged ‘rioters’. Since women and children felt it safe to be in the crowd, it does make us wonder how genuine the purported ‘rioting’ was. What is most worrying is that police fired live ammunition.
It can only happen in Malaysia that one (or both) of the unarmed civilians shot by police – i.e. the victim – is to be investigated for attempted murder no less, presumably of the police constable or Special Branch officer, under the Penal Code. Welcome to our world.
The wider cause for public alarm is what the police aggression, taken to new limits, now portends. Besides the men shot and others injured, among those arrested by police that night was a 78-year-old PAS sympathiser, according to Harakah.
Barisan baloney
What happened in Terengganu is a watershed. We are not at all ‘grateful’ that the PM-cum-home minister has this time condescended to sheath his ISA claws.
When BN politicians invoke the word ‘grateful’, alarm bells for a lobotomy drill should instantly start ringing. Consider this statement issuing from the Prime Minister as reported in The Sun. “He (Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) said the incident, which saw the burning of the national flag, showed the Opposition had bad intentions probably after it saw that people were happy and grateful to the government following the 50th Merdeka celebrations”.
Shiny happy people should be ‘grateful’ to the government of 50 years and for 50 more after? It’s beyond remarkable! It makes you think that Dr Mahathir Mohamed has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams in channelling his trademark lingo and his successor Abdullah a worthy understudy.
If I were a Terengganu resident, I’d have a long memory and recall that petroleum royalties were frozen and the Petronas contract breached by the Federal Government when PAS was in control of the state and not be grateful for that. I would remember the irregularities during the last general election that lost PAS control of this state – something I wrote about in ‘Alice in Cloud-Cuckoo Land’.
But I’m just grateful to have half a brain left after being subjected to such drivel as is spewing from the BN and reproduced unquestioningly through its media mouthpieces, seemingly quite oblivious to how unconvincing they sound.
PKR secretary-general Khalid Ibrahim has voiced his disappointment over news reports that portrayed Saturday’s ceramah disruption as incited by his party members. The nature of Khalid’s complaint is nothing new. It was precisely this dirty underhanded tactic by the ruling party, executed through its minions and proxies in the media that was the tipping point for me. It tipped me from political unconcern into holding BN to be an anathema.
I remember the moment when the scales of indifference fell off my eyes; it was during the 1999 general election. Malaysians belonging to the reformasi movement had previously taken to the streets. BN ran a series of ads which portrayed these ordinary Joes desiring reform as anarchic elements out to destabilise the country.
Then as now, I’m no fan of Anwar Ibrahim. However, depicting PKR supporters as dangerous, violent rioters is inaccurate and unwarranted. BN’s attempt back then to tar the DAP and PAS with the same black brush was similarly despicable. This week’s attempt to demonise the Opposition and blame them for the ‘riot’ and to depict the Terengganu crowd as dangerous and violent is BN and its media flunkeys flogging a dead horse.
Malaysia’s mainstream media were complicit in the 1999 contemptible election ad campaign. They ran the BN ads without any qualms and pocketed the lucrative ad revenue without any twinge of conscience. Eight years down the road, the conscience remains as incapacitated as ever.
Here we go again
BN framing images of Reformasi ’98 to frighten complacent Malaysians (swaddled in their comfort cocoons) into thinking the country was on the brink of chaos were composed as black propaganda. The same approach is being recycled this week. The Star reports: “Follow the law or else the country would plunge into chaos – this stern warning came from Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak”.
The same specious vocabulary is trotted out: anarchy, police are good/restrained/acting in self-defence. Non-BN elements are bad/rowdy/attacking men in blue or in plainclothes.
A sense of déjà vu was evoked by Saturday’s photograph of a youth burning the national flag. It was an image deliberately designed to provoke, and a diversionary tactic for BN hulubalang to latch on, to deflect attention from the abused electoral processes being placed under public scrutiny.
The Opposition have accused agent provocateurs of instigating the riotous scenes in Terengganu. National flags are symbolic of the countries they represent, and burning them a deliberative political act. That’s why the Stars and Stripes, Union Jack and Star of David every so often go up in flames in this and that far-flung corner of the world. Some obscure towns in Pakistan even managed, God knows how, to get hold of Danish flags to set afire.
Whether the flag burning in Terengganu was genuine or staged, to rake the ashes or stoke the embers of a witch hunt against the culprit(s) is only playing into BN’s hands.
Brainwashed Malaysians have simply been directing their ire at the wrong targets. Namewee pictured the national flag in his video clip as a backdrop and that was all. He did not do anything rude to it otherwise. Yet the patriotic grandstanders have been tiresomely braying for his blood as if Wee had desecrated the flag.
Shouldn’t these ‘patriots’ be aiming their poisoned darts instead at the ones guilty of desecrating justice, civil liberties and the rule of law? Where is the sense of proportion and a wider perspective? Whoever the Saturday flag burner really was – actor, agent or anarchist – oh, please, don’t let’s get into another silly jig over him like patriotic puppets on the BN string.
Call a flag a flag
I have resolved in my writing to refrain from referring to the flag as Jalur Gemilang. When Malaya and Malaysia came into being, this flag was not called Jalur Gemilang. When I was growing up, this flag was not called Jalur Gemilang either. It is a moniker that came about in the epochal crisis year of 1997 when discontent peaked.
After only a decade, the description Jalur Gemilang is becoming sacrosanct like the national anthem. To me, these two words – ‘Glorious’ and ‘Stripes’ – are not hallowed unless and until governance in this country shows that it has earned the distinction to wear ‘stripes of glory’.
But given a few more years, most Malaysians will have forgotten the phrase’s recent and prefabricated origin. Jalur Gemilang will have become embedded as incontrovertible political legend, and as ‘untouchable’/‘un-insultable’ as the words ‘Malay special rights’.
I will not deign to help legitimise the BN narrative nor corroborate with the storytelling that makes BN, and BN only, the hero of the piece. I’m on the antipodal side of the competing narrative and that means deconstructing BN propaganda poppycock. It means rejecting BN terminology and BN ideological constructs.
Making inroads into Parliament and state assemblies is the immediate frontline battle. But I’m not optimistic because I expect BN to pull out all the stops to ensure Umno’s victory at the polls. What happened in Terengganu is cause for pessimism. To prevail in the long-term war, we need a sustained effort to win over Malaysian minds to see good sense; within this rubric is subverting the official line put out by the current regime.
To do this, I suggest withholding unquestioning belief in authority and automatic respect of symbolism invested in the Administration by the Administration. I refuse to join the crowd in chiming ‘Jalur Gemilang’ – PR jargon that echoes the self-indulgent, masturbatory sloganeering of ‘Cemerlang, Gemilang, Terbilang’.
It was called the national flag for 40 years and to me it’s the national flag, period. And I don’t care to salute this flag when Khairy Jamaluddin is the poster boy of Malaysia: Next Generation given the honour to hoist it at the momentous event of 50 years Merdeka.
Malaysians must learn to free themselves from their knee-jerk conditioning to lavish respect where respect has not been earned and is undeserved. If the next person burns the flag, I will merely say despite his iconoclasm, he’s also engaging in a form of political protest where in Malaysia there is too little room for. He does not irk me the way a person does who declares “My vote is secret”.
Why should it be so secret? Voting is your right as citizen. Exercising an inalienable right of democracy is not something one need be furtive about. My vote is no secret. Here’s my full disclosure: I have never voted BN and don’t ever intend to.
Is burning the flag that destructive an act to the country? I don’t think so. Supporting the BN, condoning the BN, and believing there is no other alternative to the BN is by far more destructive.
Returning its mandate to absolute power is tantamount to handing our country the sword with which to commit hara-kiri. Or the gun to shoot unarmed people peacefully gathered near the beach for a talk on civic responsibility.