One Black Malaysia in Ipoh

Sim Kwang Yang (Malaysiakini)
As psychologists may tell you, the nameless and extremely violent rage that is sometimes exhibited by road bullies is akin to temporary insanity. At the ripe old age of nearly 61, I would like to think that I am free from that sort of compulsive rage.

The kind of rage that engulfed me when I read that Wong Chin Huat was arrested has a different name. It is called moral outrage. Apparently, my outrage is shared by many netizens in Malaysia, as Chin Huat’s arrest became one of the hottest topics in Malaysian Internet traffic.
I did receive his SMS extolling people to wear black for the Perak fiasco on May 7. I called him up and we chatted briefly. He was his usual enthusiastic breathless self. I did help him to get to Batang Ai by-election last month. He was also enthusiastic and breathless about the beauty of Sarawak ladies, and rightly so. He had discovered Sarawak’s best kept secret!
I met Chin Huat in the early 1990s, I think. He was a budding columnist in a Chinese daily under the tutelage of the old master, Chang Ching Yin. Already, he had shown his penchant for dramatic language, popularising the slogan “Rakyat are towkays in a democracy”. He was a prolific writer who seemed to churn out his pieces every week effortlessly. Only columnists would know what a strenuous task that can be.
In the early 2000s, I found him very active as a speaker on the circuit of Chinese-speaking forums. He was in his enthusiastic breathless self, but unlike many speakers at such circuit, his views were forward-looking, sometimes unconventional, and often refreshing, the kind of new outlook that the Chinese community needs badly.
Of course, in the eyes of many conservative Chinese, he could be lumped under the stupid pigeon hole of “anti-government elements”.
The next I heard about him, he was off to a well-known university in the UK, where he earned a Master degree in political science. He is now working on a thesis on the Malaysian electoral system for his doctorate degree while teaching at the Monash campus in Kuala Lumpur.

Giving injustice a human face

He interviewed me once for his doctorate thesis. I found that his intellectual prowess had grown from his exposure to the British system of postgraduate studies. He had become even more combative, clinically critical, and very rigorous in his research procedure. But he was not dogmatic, and did concede to me the epistemological problem of too much empiricism in the social sciences.
In parting, as an old man is wont to do, I did offer my unsolicited advice for him to stay out of party politics. We were not that close friends, but I instinctively knew then that he would be too good for any political party. All his talents would just be suffocated by the internal bickering,
Therefore, I was delighted to learn that he became the leading light for Wami, the NGO that has its root in the 2003 boycott against Nanyang Siang Pau by an alliance of Chinese writers when the paper was bought over by MCA.
It now promotes independent journalism. He also took an active part in Bersih, whose mass demonstration before the general election last year must have helped partly to change the outcome of the election.
He did turn up at my house in Cheras for a drinking party with some friends once, and I served him some ‘langkau’ from Sarawak. He was slightly complacent, and the evil spirit from the Land of the Hornbill bit him to the quick to the amusement of everyone present.
To me, Chin Huat is one of those New Malaysians young and old who are actively changing the political landscape of our country. They form the new dynamo that drives the formation of a new type of civil society in Malaysia outside the mainstream party politics. They accumulate a new sort of social capital, the energy from which will keep politicians from both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat in check.
And now, he is in jail, under one of those nefarious charges for sedition, just because he sent out a message for people to wear black in protest against the dying of democracy in Perak. I did read the message in Chinese, and could not find anything that could incite the feelings of any reasonable sane Malaysian.
I told those personal anecdotes above just to give the injustice of his arrest a human face. I am sure he will bear and grin at his ordeal with his usual enthusiastic breathless optimism. Sometimes, an ordeal like that will temper a strong person into hardening the iron in the soul. He will have some interesting stories to tell when he gets out.
Now that the presence of the Internet is so pervasive in the mind of New Malaysians, Chin Huat’s detention and possible charge in court is unlikely to silence or intimidate critical, independent, and vocal writers and activists.
If anything, the sense of outrage and the display of solidarity that I feel will ripple in huge waves through cyberspace, consolidating our resolve to work for an alternative Malaysia where freedom of expression and freedom of association will be a reality soon. Come what may, we shall overcome. Those repressive laws must be dumped into the dustbin of history, and soon. Enough, is truly enough!
A Chinese proverb says, “A worm with a hundred feet will not freeze over even after it dies.” The old tired conservative regressive reactionary political forces of blind power will not give up without a fight. They have no lack of cheerleaders.

Tell that to Martin Luther King

I do not know whether a sea of black will descend upon Ipoh on May 7 as I write this article. Already, the usual mind-numbing cynical sneering voices have spoken in the mainstream media. Writing in the New Straits Times, under the title of ‘Taking to the street will not bring change’, Zainal Arifin has this to say:
“Apart from the obvious problems brought about by the demonstrations, one would ask what purpose is served by such gatherings.
“I hope it is just a show of collective displeasure in the political developments in the state and nothing more than that.
“I am rather agnostic about the desire to express anger and dissent by demonstration. As much as I think it is a waste of time – the ballot boxes, after all, await us sooner or later – I also believe people should be allowed to gather peacefully if they want to.
“I subscribe to the idea that some discomfort may be the price to pay for the greater good, just like income tax.
“Nevertheless, there will be some people who may perennially be spoiling for trouble. They are the ones likely to push the limits and bait law enforcers. They are essentially troublemakers easily swayed, or used, by savvy politicians who know which of their buttons to push and chains to yank.”
If Martin Luther King had listened to this sort of nonsense, America would not have a black president in the White House today.
The US civil rights movement in the 1960s was a political struggle led by “illegal” public demonstrations by black and white Americans, at the risks of arrests, police brutality, and even gunfire.
What we Malaysians have to learn from King is his legacy of peaceful civil disobedience. He preached to his followers to struggle for justice by putting their own bodies in public places in harm’s way, not striking back at police officers when beaten, go willingly into the prison cell when arrested, proudly and peacefully, and never harm innocent people.
Most people fear to get involved in this sort of street marches, because they fear arrest and rough treatment at the hands of the police. But King was able to mobilise hundreds of thousands of Americans to do just that. It took courage on the part of the participants, and a strong belief in their cause, and in themselves. Their participation in those rallies changed them, and it changed America over time.
Those thousands of Malaysians congregating in Ipoh today are repeating King’s history of peaceful civil disobedience. With the police so paranoid, even putting on a black shirt and gathering near the Perak state legislature building can put their body in harm’s way. It takes great courage and conviction in their just cause.
At the end of the day on Black Thursday, no matter what happens, those brave souls will have changed themselves. They will have sowed the seeds for radical change in Malaysia.
I do not have a black short, but I do have a deep dark blue T-shirt. That will have to do.
SIM KWANG YANG was MP for Bandar Kuching in Sarawak from 1982 to 1995. He can be reached at [email protected].