The choice of fear over hope

DECEMBER 13 — I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear — Nelson Mandela.

Football experienced collateral damage from last weekend’s city rally.

The team set to play my pub team pulled out belatedly, they had mortal issues, primarily the fear of being set upon by a lynch mob.

Them being exclusively an ethnic Indian Malaysian team, the referee accepted the excuse.

What a week it has been! Other than myself being denied a football match.

As if they had not had enough coverage, the anti-ICERD rally requires a concept summary.

The right wing of various factions converged in the capital drenched in a flotsam foam of white discontent, visibly upset over how their world of entitlement was set to collapse around them. 

Or in other words, they felt it was their birth-right to be racist. Sorry, a sacred birth-right.

They — I mean the Tamil-speaking footballers — were not the only ones who remained out of Kuala Lumpur on the day. Embassies urged caution or even outright prohibitions, and human rights advocates postponed their annual celebration just outside the city limits, in order to let the protesters have their day.

The prevailing zeitgeist suggests, to preserve peace and stability, everyone not with the right-wingers have to stand back and give in to those who threaten any amount of peace and stability. 

There is the temptation to ask if our peace and stability are held repeatedly hostage by fear expressed through forceful intimidations of the vituperative, did we actually possess peace and stability, to begin with?

The democratic facade

The one chilling characteristic of fear is that it breeds more fear.

As if on cue, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced early this week that local council elections were off the agenda.

It’ll piss off some people, he succinctly argued. Primarily the racists who can’t fathom any concept of democracy which does not pre-approve their approved list of candidates to run local councils.

They like their democracy controlled, oxymorons aside, or cruelly put, freedoms in which choice is absent.

For divisiveness is a mortal sin, apparently.

Might be news to spry Mahathir but elections are by definition, divisive. He may have been spared this realisation, for he spent his 60 plus years in politics, except the last three years, in a party allergic to informed choice.

But the ridiculous does not end there.

In the converse logic universe, Umno haemorrhages leaders despite incendiary spins around the protest. The consistent message circulated, Umno leaders can’t serve the rakyat, without access to the federal resources. They are rudderless without patronage politics, by their own admission.

They might remain in their station if there were no arms wide open elsewhere to embrace their departures.

Pribumi Bersatu, PKR and Amanah wait at the gates for them.

Unofficially, only those overly antagonistic of Pakatan Harapan or lacking ties with the coalition’s leaders are subject to rejection. The rest are free to scurry about on deck or in the water for new masters.

The news passes at electric speed. One minute, all of Umno’s Sabah legislators — state and Parliament — quit, and leave colourful Bung Mokhtar and international man of mystery ex-chief minister Musa Aman as the only Malay bromance left in the state chapter. 

Next minute, Bung, ever the backbencher is lifted high up to where he belongs, as the new Sabah Umno chief. I hope the departing crew left the office stationery intact.  

The developments have a consistent theme, legitimise fear and disregard democratic principles.

The Mahathir stratagem

The prime minister can’t contain his glee.

Mahathir cares little for international conventions like ICERD, but he does have an unlimited need to appear to be a communal leader. Which is why Pribumi Bersatu was set up as a race-exclusive party. The flight of Umno traitors is proof of concept.

He does not feign guilt about appropriating legislators from defeated parties, for he’d regret it if they passed their allegiance to the other party in Pakatan.

He seems to be willing to bypass the opportunity to lead in order to get all the political scraps available.

Courage to fail

Malaysia shares the maladies of many other nations.

Nations are separated by those who confront their difficulties and those who point convenient fingers and gather the dust under the proverbial carpet.

The US government had to send down federal troops to uphold school desegregation in the confederate states in the 1950s, because aggrieved whites felt their way of life, their culture was being attacked, and in retaliation threatened violence if Negro children sat in the same classrooms as their children.

If the purpose of political capital is to avoid the contentious, and continue overzealously to prod for support — regardless of whether “less strategic” citizens are left vulnerable or the suspects are raked in for a quantitative weighing-in, not a qualitative one — then it is a misnomer. It deserves to be referred more accurately as political cowardice. A sort of, I had to be race-conscious to serve the greater race equality objective. It’s putrid.

Hopes and dreams

If fear is the only game in town, then the only winners are the cruel.

A desire for equality is not wrong. Allowing cities and towns to have their own democratically elected leaders is just. The absence of it is abhorrent. 

Opposition politicians should be beseeched to serve their electorate as how they are. They have to be reassured this government will allow all legislators to operate, and it is not the Gulag to serve as the opposition.

Government cannot just be about staying in power. It’s a horrible reflection of how Malaysians appreciate value. Government is what people turn to, for its decisions provide legitimacy and courage to its people.

Truth is far more important when it is inconvenient and unpopular. Government more than all can hoist it better, for it is robust. It builds its strength for moments like these. To confront the difficult, the impossible and the unfair. To take the blows on behalf of all its people, not just those electorally convenient. To be forthright and the guardian of hope, not a servant of fear.

That’s not the case these days in Malaysia. Dark clouds gather.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.