What I learned from the Bersih protests, and to a larger extent- all instances of civil society movements across the globe that turned to violence, is that there are often two faces to The Law.
The first, is the version we met with in our growing up. We’re told that the law is meant to be the standard of what is fair and just, and that by extension, the enforcement of these laws must also mean an implementation of justice.
Then there’s the second face to the law, the one that we met with that day on the streets. As much as the law was a present force, The Law was also, mostly a tool used by those in power to suppress anything that threatens said power. The police brutality in all these instances have reminded me that yes, the “Law will protect you… provided you fall quietly in line and be a good citizen” (Alexander, S).
Actually, one can’t even say for sure in a country like Malaysia, what the law does. We’ve inherited a deeply patriarchal, hegemonic, and monarchial background that have often had a far bigger influence than legislation.
Too many instances in the past have we seen that the law does not serve those it was drafted to serve. The Penan indigenous tribes* did not see that for example, and in many instances of our patriarchal structures, The Laws do not favor say, a woman that has been raped or sexually assaulted, because said woman “should not have been there/worn that”. She should have been with a man who would protect her, or a woman that was raped should marry her rapist etc. Tradition is often so much stronger than rights, or in this case, what is right for that matter.
Part of these problems, still stems from our sociopolitical factors. How we began as a nation-state had set the standard to how we rule or how we are ruled. Here I’m referring to British imperialism. Yes we are a Constitutional Monarchy taken from Britain, but that should not mean that our ministers and politicians should still hold on to long held beliefs of leaders and rulers as being “absolute”, that the people serve them, instead of the other way round as democracy requires.
And here’s the thing, we would like to think that we work as a democracy, but Its come to the point where all these problems that surface has led me to believe that Malaysia is not ready for such a democracy, unless our old ways of thinking about power can be challenged (I didn’t even say “changed”, because I know we’re still a long way to go from now to being “changed”).
You know there’s something intrinsically wrong with a system if it can’t be challenged. Here I refer to the Fatwa’s in Kedah that “cannot be challenged” (quote The Star). If we were to get so threatened by questions, and so offended by people that want to hold concerts, or to have tattoos on their bodies, or by what they wear, then what does that say about our beliefs or our morality?
Of course in that instance, we know that there are deeper political underpinnings as to why decisions were made or concerts cancelled, and I’ve digressed.
But going back to the point, its just frustrating how laws don’t protect us.
As always, Malaysia’s political future, remains like Malaysia’s current weather- mostly cloudy.**
However, one thing is increasingly apparent when we look at the world. An overwhelming amount of protest and civil society movements in our current times are and have been made up of student bodies, student movements and youth activists. Though it had not always been in the wisest choices in where to invest their efforts, like what happened in the PTPTN protests, or the Joseph Kony campaigns (whatever your stance on the controversy is), one thing is certain and apparent, youths can move great things with their energies, and even more when they focus these energies in the right places.
The thing about politics and decision-making is, members of parliament and government seats are often occupied by ‘old white men’ (in this case, just old men) over their fifties who have gotten increasingly disenchanted, diplomatized as a culture, and slow to make a stand for something if it would mean getting ousted from their position. All of our policy-making decisions are made by a member group that makes up less than five percent of the population, with its decisions affecting populations that aren’t inclusive of the other 95% made up of women, children and youths. I really question, how much of the policies are made with the actual population in mind?
No one ever asks the women what they think, no one ever asks the youths what they think. And not enough people are pushing for these groups to be represented. No one is listening.
Its come to a point that the ones that want to be the winners in our next elections will have to take a good hard look at themselves and stand to represent what no one dares to take up. As in most cases in history, its the ones that are different, the outliers, the ones that do not conform, or the ones that dare say what no one else is saying that will really be able to win the hearts and minds of the people. And really, honestly, its such a simple concept. Just meet the people’s needs.
I’m starting to think, that being a Malaysian is more of a calling and not a birthright. Because it takes a whole lot out of a person to still want to remain a Malaysian. If you’re privileged enough to be able to make that decision on whether to leave this place or not, I’m telling you right now, maybe its not a privilege. And maybe its crazy to think that, but there’s something amazing about responding to a call, no matter how perilous, fruitless or dangerous it is. And ir-regardless of whether or not you think you’d see the bright skies after the storm.
*I’m not sure what updates are on the Penan issue. Search results don’t tell me much.
** Written on a cloudy day. Now its just really sunny. Hope perhaps?