Bigotry, brawn and buffoonery

SEPTEMBER 27 — Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah, at the time of writing, has received a death threat and understandably is concerned for her safety.

In the meantime, Mohd Ali Baharom, or infamously known as Ali Tinju, the man who was alleged to have made that threat, surrendered himself recently to the police for investigation – and was later released on police bail.

In an effort to show even-handedness by the police in the face of public accusations of double standards, Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar announced that the police had summoned Ali who then dutifully went to the police station concerned in a jiffy.

For the uninitiated, Ali Tinju initially denied that he had ever made such a threat and that he was merely misquoted by the media. But a recording of an interview with him by Free Malaysia Today, which was made public, implies that he wasn’t truthful.

It is worrying that these days political and ideological differences are often responded to by certain groups in society with a threat of violence or show of force, if not the use of brute force itself. It is as if addressing such conflicts in a peaceful and civilised way is no longer tenable.

In May 2012, for example, former Bersih co-chairman Ambiga Sreenevasan was “entertained” to a butt dance by Ali Tinju and his army veteran colleagues in front of her Bukit Damansara house to register their disapproval of the Bersih 3 rally.

Co-chairman Pak Samad, it appears, was not treated to similar entertainment.

And in early 2014, Seputeh MP Teresa Kok got into trouble after she uploaded her “Onederful Malaysia” Chinese New Year video clip. A group of Malays reacted angrily by slaughtering chickens and offering a cash reward to anyone who would slap her in the face.

The above examples suggest sheer intimidation. But given the male-dominated nature of our society, one also suspects that these brazen threats also involve bigotry of the sexist variety.

It seems that these women, like many other Malaysian women who dare to go against the grain, were considered an easy prey particularly by the male perpetrators given the vulgarity employed and the crass physical threat displayed.

Such gross misconduct should have been slammed in no uncertain terms by the so-called moral guardians, particularly among the male Muslim holier-than-thou-ers, because their silence is deafening here, as this may give the impression that these women – and non-Malay to boot -- are “fair game.”

And yet there was not much “noise” from these quarters so much so that it suggests acquiescence.

Ali Tinju and gang could have just staged a peaceful street demonstration to register their condemnation of the said rally – minus, of course, the vulgarity and muscle-flexing, as is expected of any civilised citizen of the country.

Or better still, Ali Tinju and his band could have chosen to confront Maria Chin squarely in a cultured manner such as having a public forum where he could present his arguments against the pursuance of the Bersih 5 rally that is scheduled for November 19.

After all, Ali seems capable of engaging in a forum as was shown in his recent participation in such a public platform – although the intellectual level of this forum as a whole appears to be wanting, judging from Ali’s performance and that of other participants.

Why, there was even a participant in the said forum who accused news portal Malaysiakini of being a “terrorist” outfit simply because it was perceived to be aggressively critical of the government. It seems that the participant prefers only a government mouthpiece or servile media in our midst.

This indicates a nagging intolerance towards differences of opinion and diversity, including dissent, in a democracy. Competing viewpoints are seen as unnecessary diversion and annoyance. It also hints at an anti-intellectual syndrome in society.

“Terrorism”, as mentioned in that forum, normally has the negative connotations of fright and horror, and evokes condemnation – and presumably it was hoped that this social stigma would stick onto the news portal. However, when used in such an indiscriminate and cavalier manner, it becomes laughable as it also implies imbecility.

Anyway, if Ali and friends are intellectually incapable of carrying out such a meaningful conversation, others who are a bit more cerebral could represent them and the ideas they champion.

In turn, Maria Chin and friends would then have an opportunity to explain, if not convince, to Ali Tinju and his ilk the importance of having a clean and fair election, among other Bersih’s demands, in a concerted effort to deepen democracy in Malaysia.

Incidentally, what Bersih has been championing becomes all the more vital and relevant in the wake of the recent redelineation exercise across the country that has left many affected politicians and voters feeling outraged and accusing the Election Commission of committing gerrymandering that consequently stacks the odds against the Opposition.

It is true that in any social and political struggle, there are risks involved. However, violence or the threat of violence should not be incorporated into this equation especially when it involves women, which lends credence to the suspicion of sexist intimidation.

Resorting to such intimidation and bare brawn is darn primitive.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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