28 August 2018

Let’s stop the ‘hatewave’
by Marina Mahathir

Sunday, 26 Aug 2018

AROUND the world, climate change is causing heatwaves where people are unused to very warm weather. Back home, due to another type of climate change, we are experiencing a different kind of wave, which I call a hatewave.

There are people who are still unable to accept that the cliched “new dawn” has arrived in our beloved country. A new environment where inclusivity, indeed democracy itself, is the byword for all things from now on. People want to be listened to, want things to be done transparently, want wrongdoings to be punished and justice for everyone. They want the rule of law, which applies to everyone and not where some people are above and beyond the law. Most of all they want to be left in peace and to live in an atmosphere of goodwill and neighbourliness with everyone else.

But some people still have not gotten it into their heads that the reason they lost power was because they totally misread what people wanted. It could even be said that they were so cocooned that they didn’t really know what people wanted or simply refused to believe it.

And so despite it being a failed formula, they are still using the same one to try and gain popularity or if not, to make the current lot in power look bad.

I don’t want to repeat some of the shocking things being said about a community that is comprised of fellow human beings, citizens and let’s not forget, voters. But it takes zero amount of courage to pick on people who cannot really respond without endangering themselves, their friends or families. There are no bravery medals to be handed out for calling for the killing of fellow citizens using pseudonyms on social media. There is no honour in the name-calling of people, especially when hiding behind the cloak of religion.

To say that these are just words and cannot do any harm in real life is a mistake. Recently, a human being who happens to be transgender was set upon by eight (presumably non-transgender) men and beaten up so badly that she wound up in hospital. The photographs of her wounds should horrify any decent person. Apparently those men set upon her for the simple reason that they didn’t like transgender people. Now why would they suddenly get that idea?

The police are investigating the case and hopefully this time they will actually catch and charge the perpetrators. We are supposed to have the rule of law in this country and the law does not allow anyone to beat anybody up, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. We should all be horrified when people openly defy the law. Once we allow this, where will it all end? In anarchy, where anyone can take the law into their own hands?

I really hope that the police do their duty without fear or favour. That’s what professionals do, regardless of what profession they might be in. (In the latest development, five people have been charged for the crime)

Imagine going for treatment by a doctor and the doctor openly states they don’t like your race/religion/gender/sexual orientation. Would you ever go to that doctor again?

People who spew hate often don’t realise that they can be victims themselves from the same sort of bile. Hate is always directed at the Other, the person whom you perceive as different, and often inferior. In one set of circumstances, you may be the dominant person. But change the circumstances and you become someone else’s Other.

Muslims in particular should be very aware of this. Immediately after Donald Trump was elected, there was a rise in the number of hate crimes towards people perceived as “the Other” – African-Americans, Muslims, Latinos, Jews, anyone who is not white. An analysis of FBI statistics showed that “hate crimes more than doubled the day after the 2016 election, with a 92% spike in average daily hate crimes in the two weeks following the election compared to the daily average from the beginning of the year. Crimes against Latinos increased by the greatest percentage, followed by Muslims and Arabs and African-Americans.”

This spike was because, through his words and actions, Trump seemingly gave permission to white supremacists to be bigots.

For the first time in several decades, people were proud to display their Ku Klux Klan affiliations openly such as in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the President refused to unequivocally condemn them.

As we saw with our own local supremacists in the past few years, if our leaders don’t condemn them unequivocally, they will only become emboldened.

The same thing occurred after the Brexit referendum in the UK.

The Leave campaign promoted the notion that by remaining in the European Union, they would be swamped by refugees, most of whom would be Muslim. The Independent reported that “police figures obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests showed incidents surged by 23% – from 40,741 to 49,921 – in the 11 months after the EU referendum, compared with the same period the previous year, marking an unparalleled rise.”

Is it therefore any surprise that given the hate campaigns against sexual minorities, there has been even more violence against them, especially the more visible transgender population?

The thing for everyone to remember is this: hate comes from fear. And fear comes from ignorance. I have seen so many comments on social media that are fuelled only by hysteria and over-active imaginations. None of them are grounded in reality.

It makes me wonder about the mental health of these commenters, given the amount of time and energy they spend to whirl themselves into hurricanes of hate. Any professional psychologist would recommend meditation to calm them down, preferably five times a day.

The point is, if you can’t even walk outside without the fear of being beaten up just because of how you look, then we don’t have a civilised country. What more an Islamic country, which is supposed to be a peaceful and stable place, a haven for all of God’s creations. What sort of representation of faith is it that is expressed in anger, in slander, in insults and even lies?

There are many people who find it hard to refrain from judging others. That’s probably human. But there are consequences to voicing out those judgements.

Hopefully, you’re not the sort of person who can sleep well knowing what you’ve just said has, at minimum, caused hurt or in the worst of cases, caused that person to be killed. Consideration for the wellbeing of others is a central tenet of most religions, is it not?

Nobody is forced to accept people who they do not approve of.

But non-acceptance surely does not mean condoning violence against them. Non-acceptance surely does not mean letting criminals go scot-free. Non-acceptance cannot possibly mean denying anyone the right to live.

People who think of themselves as good people of faith cannot at the same time avert their eyes from violence against fellow human beings, especially in their own backyard.

There has been equally as much slander about those who defend the weak and marginalised. Apparently being kind and compassionate is also unacceptable. That is the kind of thinking that allowed us to be oppressed for 60 years. If we are to truly celebrate our second Merdeka this coming week, we have to free ourselves from the shackles of the old thinking – especially that we need to be cruel to others in order to be true followers of our faith.

There is a lovely authentic hadith (sayings of the Prophet Mohamad, peace be upon him), recorded by Muslim, which goes, “You will not enter Paradise until you believe. You will not believe until you love each other.” As far as I can tell, there are no conditions attached to this, that you should only love certain people.

Many people want to emulate the Prophet. The Quran describes him thus: “O Messenger of Allah! It is a great Mercy of God that you are gentle and kind towards them; for, had you been harsh and hard-hearted, they would all have broken away from you” (Quran 3:159). Yet, how many refrain from being harsh and hardhearted?

Last May we gave ourselves a new freedom, based on the rule of law, on equality of all Malaysians and on justice. Let’s not be selective about who that applies to.

Happy Merdeka! And Happy Malaysia Day in advance!

31 July 2018

Sunday, 29 Jul 2018
By Marina Mahathir

THERE’S a quote I found somewhere that goes “What screws us up most in life is the picture in our head of how it’s supposed to be.” I don’t know who said that but it’s a wise observation on how our expectations often don’t match what actually happens in real life.

So it is with our new Malaysia. We worked hard for this win and we therefore expect everything post-elections to be perfect. And while many things have been great, the reality is that not everything will be. We are setting ourselves up for disappointment and can only hope that they won’t be huge ones.

Here are some of the biggest disappointments so far:

1.The DPM saying that the government is powerless to annul the marriage of an 11-year old girl to a 41-year old man even though it is clearly illegal and despite statements that the age of marriage will be raised to 18.

2.The Youth and Sports Minister not standing up for his staff who had to step down just because some people objected to his sexuality, as if this had anything to do with his competence to do his job. And worse, not making any comments about the injustice of the his staff faced.
3.The divisive foreign preacher Zakir Naik being allowed to stay even though he has nothing to contribute to the new Malaysia.

What this shows is that one of the last things to change is not governments or even laws but culture, or really what’s in people’s heads. And the trouble with politicians’ heads is that they’re often unwilling to take risks because they often have their eye on the next elections rather than the long term.

Obviously it’s not just people’s culture we have to change but also politicians’. Our new government should be reminded that they have already won the elections and they are actually in power now. I know it’s a feeling that’s hard to get used to for most of them. They probably still get up every morning pinching themselves to make sure they aren’t dreaming.

But the point is, they are now in power and they must realise they can actually do things now. And what we hope most is for them to do things that will be good for us in the long term. So it is an opportunity to do things that may seem unsafe if elections are near but very safe if elections aren’t for another five years.

Of course they shouldn’t do things that are going to cause hardship for everyone. But it is the right time to do things like ban child marriage, raise the age of marriage to 18, lower the voting age to the same and pass laws that does not allow any form of discrimination on anyone based on their sexual orientation.

Before everyone starts jumping up and down calling me an apostate, I just want to ask under what law, secular or religious, are you allowed to beat another human being, sometimes to death, just because they are different from you? I see people who think of themselves as “religious” actually advocating this. It’ll be interesting to see what excuses they will give if that different person happens to be a family member or close friend.

I hear about people saying that they don’t care about people’s lifestyles, don’t believe they should be discriminated against AS LONG AS they don’t start demanding their rights. The thing is, if they demand their right to go to school or university, or hospital or just to work, is that demanding too much? Isn’t every human being entitled to these basic rights? If they demand that the police do something if they get beaten up, is that asking for too much?

In fact most sexual minorities demand very little. Some have been discriminated against for no other reason than that they “walk funny”.

Some have been gainfully employed for some time, causing no trouble to anyone, and then suddenly their employers start insisting they dress differently or get fired. Are we supposed to be proud of this in the new Malaysia where we put otherwise good people out of work just because we’re afraid someone might say something?

Here’s the other bit of culture that hasn’t changed: the Opposition. And by that I mean the people who used to be in charge until they massively screwed up. In a democracy a good Opposition is essential. That means an Opposition that takes an interest in real issues and demands answers from the government when they see something wrong.

A good Opposition isn’t one that spends all its time baiting the Government on unimportant issues to supposedly prove that they have the moral high ground.

We don’t hear a peep from the Opposition on the issue of child marriage or on corruption. But somehow they’re obsessed with sex, especially those of the same-sex kind. As if we’re being overrun by gay people all of a sudden.

This is the same culture that we saw in the previous government. For some reason they have not learnt the lesson that trying to frighten the people with imaginary problems is not going to keep them in power. Voters wanted them to deal with real problems, like the cost of living for example. I suppose they’re just slow learners.

The government too has to learn not to rise to the bait. It doesn’t have to be on the defensive all the time. Besides you can never win a morality war.

The other side always thinks it has a straight route to heaven, despite their multitude of obvious sins, so there is no point in even engaging in this battle. Just do what is right especially for the weakest, poorest and most marginalised and it’ll be fine. The strongest, richest and most mainstream can take care of themselves.

But I do see some progressive thinking already among our new lot. There is a proposal out to increase the age of marriage and lower the voting age. Another is a proposal for the somewhat clunkily-named Racial and Religious Hatred Act.

It all sounds good but there has to be more thinking put in. Raising the age of marriage is a good move but it doesn’t solve the issues that make people give away their daughters in marriage to older men. Hatred is not always expressed towards other races and religions but also to people of the same race and religion but for other reasons. And by the way, you can’t insult religions per se, only people of particular faiths. For example, when Donald Trump says all Muslims are potential terrorists, he’s insulting a group of people, not a faith.

So I wish for two things: for the new Government to have the courage to do what is right, and for the Opposition to finally get down to do some work and perhaps have a fighting chance of proving its worth.

25 June 2018

Sunday, 24 Jun 2018
By Marina Mahathir

WELL here we are in the New Malaysia. It’s still hard to believe that all this is true: that on May 9, we came out in great numbers to finally make the change we thought would never come. I still think of those depressing days just a few months ago when everything seemed against us, when we all felt full of angst because nothing seemed to go right.
I still catch my breath when I think of the narrow escape that we had, with each passing day and each new revelation of the mismanagement, corruption and abuse of power that used to be the norm. How could so many of those who could have said or done something kept quiet? Yet some of them are still in denial, still believing the lies despite the evidence that people were simply not going to buy them.
My head still spins when I think of the dizzying days of April when as the previous government made mistake after mistake, Malaysians became more and more determined to change. I have never known a time when Malaysians became more aware of their voting rights than during GE14. Every barrier to voting imposed by the previous government was viewed as an attempt to deny Malaysians their right to vote.
First it was the redelineation exercise which the Election Commission Chairman said was so that each ethnic community could live with only each other. He seemed to think that apartheid was what we wanted. Malaysians rightly found this abominable and insulting. They responded by not only refusing to vote by stereotype but giving greater majorities to Pakatan Harapan candidates than before. Despite having 10,000 voters delineated out of his constituency, Khalid Samad of Shah Alam won by a majority three times greater than the last elections. Fahmi Fadzil also had a bigger majority over his opponent, despite having new voters, mostly from the police, included into his constituency of Lembah Pantai.
Then it was the Wednesday polling day. I am curious to know the explanation given by the previous government to their own party members for this unusual decision, given that it affected their voters as much as it did Pakatan voters. The people saw this as yet another attempt to deny them their right and they rose to defend it.
Those outside the country decided to come home to vote, even from as far away as London if they could afford it. Those at home found sponsors and benefactors who were willing to help fund their air, train and bus tickets home or to share rides to their home states to vote. Meanwhile those who were eligible for postal voting overseas were incensed that their ballots arrived late but somehow, through the sheer power of determination and social media, managed to find fellow citizens willing to carry their ballots home for them. Who can watch that documentary The Amazing Malaysian Race without crying?

But here’s the most amazing thing of all: in all the efforts to get people home to vote, nobody asked who they were going to vote for. #PulangMengundi was about respecting our right to vote for whoever we wanted. But I am certain that the sheer generosity of the benefactors made a strong impression on the many young voters who benefitted from the programme and was a factor on who they eventually voted for. Why vote for anyone who’s trying to deny you your right?
Next were the unbelievably crass missteps that the previous government kept making during the campaign. From the attempt at banning Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia just before the dissolution of Parliament to the disqualification of Tian Chua on Nomination Day, they misjudged how clearly the rakyat could see injustice and the attempts to load the election against any opponents, and they didn’t like it.
Instead of pulling back on these mistakes, more were piled on. Rulings about whose faces could be on posters and billboards, already ridiculous, went into the sublime when local authorities actually cut out or blackened these faces. The people’s responses were not only outraged but witty. Cartoons and funny comebacks abounded on social media. People changed their Facebook profile photographs into photos of the banned faces. Like I always say, if you can’t decide who to vote for, always vote for the wittier side. Evil is never funny.
Indeed I don’t know what we could have done without social media. Without access to mainstream media, we had to rely on Facebook and Whatsapp to get news and information about party platforms and candidates, which whirled around at dizzying encrypted speed. To be sure there was also a lot of rubbish but most of it was educational about both sides. Facebook live streaming was a boon; nobody needed to go to rallies to see and hear candidates. Even then people flocked, in rain and mud, to see their candidates, to chant slogans with them, to cheer them on. Nobody paid them to attend, their own will pushed them to go.
On polling day, voters heeded the call to come out in great numbers. There they were in the heat, queuing for hours to dip their fingers in ink and carefully mark their ballots. Again there were attempts to deny some people their right to vote, especially those who had queued but weren’t allowed to vote after 5pm. By then most people had already voted and these last few would not have made much difference to the count. But the sheer inconsiderateness of disallowing them to vote did the EC no favours.
Here I have to give a shoutout to the unsung heroes of the day: the PACAs or polling agents and counting agents. Most people, like me, had little awareness of how important PACAs are to elections. But this time, because of the fear of cheating, thousands of volunteers signed up for PACA training and duty. It turned out that their training was far more thorough than those of the opponent candidates, and this kept the whole process of the elections on the straight and narrow. Pakatan PACAs stood resolute in the face of obstinate polling station heads who refused to sign off on the number of votes. And the rakyat came out to support them whenever there were signs of trouble.
I shall forever remember the crazy crowds on the night of May 10, after the swearing in of the Prime Minister and the new government, at the gates of Istana Negara, on Jalan Duta and in front of the Sheraton PJ hotel where Pakatan had their election night headquarters. Flags waving, singing and cheering as if we were in a Brazilian carnival, it was a sight to behold. Most heartwarming of all was the sheer diversity of the crowd. All Malaysians were represented, regardless of race, religion, gender and age. This was truly a Malaysian victory.
It’s been almost two months now and people still can’t stop beaming. Friends noted how suddenly people seem nicer to one another. We’ve become addicted to TV news again because the media has suddenly become unfettered. New faces are on TV giving intelligent responses to smart questions. Everyone gets excited when yet another live press conference is announced. The very sight of the new Finance Minister and new Attorney-General has us all pinching ourselves to make sure that this change is real.
It is real. We made the change and we did it in an extraordinary way, just by voting, without shedding a single drop of blood. People all over the world are congratulating us for being this bright hope of democracy.
But as we know, a democracy is not to be taken for granted. It is far from just about voting in elections. Like a comfortable house, maintenance takes vigilance and work. And the work has to be done in a new way, one that is inclusive, respectful and just. The test of a real democracy is how we check our mindset every time we treat another human being as unequal to us, regardless of whether they are fellow citizens or not. Whether we give those who had no space or voice the opportunity to be seen and heard. When we consciously make an effort to listen to the smallest voices.
If we are able to change ourselves in this way, that would be the real victory of May 9.

30 May 2017

Thursday, 18 May 2017
Recent acts of violence against the less powerful are symptoms of an even bigger problem.

AN assistant warden beats an 11-year-old boy so badly, his legs need to be amputated, his suffering so great that he eventually dies.

Some men beat up another man who honks while they are praying.

A 12-year-old girl pulls out of a chess tournament after the director deems her clothes too provocative.

We are rightly outraged by all these events, which range from the ridiculous to the outright cruel and criminal. We write letters to the papers, sign petitions and rage all over social media about these people. Yet we are not remarking on the underlying thread among them all.

And that is anger. What all these incidents have in common is a seething anger in the perpetrators that lies just below the surface, waiting for something to bring it out into the open. What could possibly cause a grown man to abuse a child so badly, if not for some deep seated anger about something that may or may not be related to the child? And yet our outrage is not universal, with various parties willing to defend him and bail him out.

Similarly with the beating up of a man who had the apparent temerity to interrupt people at prayers with honking. If you’re concentrating on communing with God at Friday prayers, you would notice nothing externally at all. Secondly, one should come out of prayers feeling serene and calm, not angered and violent.

And thirdly, anyone who has had the misfortune to park in the wrong place on a Friday knows very well the frustration of not being able to move their car. This I blame on town planners and architects who routinely build mosques and other houses of worship without adequate parking space.

I have just started reading a book by the Indian writer Pankaj Mishra called Age of Anger. His book agrees with me that many people, as individuals, are very angry these days.

His theory, however, is based on his vast reading of history. That people often react with anger when they feel left out of the grand sweep of history, and are vulnerable to having these feelings exploited by various autocrats and demagogues to a very unsatisfactory end.

When a person feels left out from what he sees makes the elites of a society happy – wealth and power mostly – but he feels powerless to gain any entry into that elite, then he reacts in the one way that makes him feel powerful, with violence.

It is no coincidence that these acts of seemingly irrational violence are carried out by very ordinary people. Feeling insignificant can be humiliating, especially in a society where men of a specific race and religion, are constantly told they are superior. Why therefore, do these superior beings have to constantly struggle in such anonymous humiliation?

Thus an anger begins within a person when he realises that all the aspirations he is told he should have by sheer virtue of his race and religion – that God-given entitlement – are simply not going to come true.

Not unless he knows someone, not unless he toadies to someone just a bit more important than him, who toadies to another slightly more important person, all the way up that hierarchy.

All this does is point out how low down the food chain he is and this only makes him feel hopeless. And angry. So he looks around for someone even less powerful than him. A little boy. A little girl. A member of what he believes is an inferior race and religion. And takes it out on them in varying degrees of violence, including fatally.

I’m not saying that we should excuse this behaviour at all. But when you see this ever-growing list of acts of violence – against women, children, people of other faiths, sexual minorities – any reasonable person has to wonder what is going on.

I doubt our leaders haven’t noticed these incidents but they appear to have kept silent. They know very well that these incidents are symptoms of rage ... against them. For not fulfilling promises, not of a smooth path to heaven, but of a decent and dignified life on Earth. Where every single person feels that he has an equal chance in life. As Mishra points out, this rage isn’t limited to certain people only. Nor is it a new phenomenon.

“Then (in the early 20th century) as now, the sense of being humiliated by arrogant and deceptive elites was widespread, cutting across national, religious and racial lines.”

He continues, “The crises of recent years have uncovered an extensive failure to realise the ideals of endless economic expansion and private wealth creation. Most newly created ‘individuals’ toil within poorly imagined social and political communities and/or states with weakening sovereignty. ...Their isolation has also been intensified by the decline or loss of post-colonial nation-building ideologies, and the junking of social democracy by globalised technocratic elites.”

The angry young man justifying his racist or violent acts in Malaysia with religion is not much different from the supporters of far-right politicians like Marine Le Pen or even Donald Trump.

They are suspicious of the elites who seem to have everything while they have nothing, yet they cannot help but allow the very same elites to lead them by the nose to a promised land that they delude themselves will materialise someday.

But ultimately it doesn’t, at least not in the way they expect it to. They do not fathom that while their job is supposedly to ensure a heavenly future, their secular rivals are being rewarded for preparing their charges for a comfortable life on earth.

How could they be subjected to such injustice when they’re fulfilling, so they’ve been told, God’s wishes? This is a rage we need to pay attention to. Because history has shown that unless this rage is properly dealt with, the results can be catastrophic.

We are not like France, a country with enough sensible people not to allow a demagogue like Le Pen to gain ultimate power. Nor are we even like the United States where despite Trump, there is an active and vocal resistance and the institutions that can keep him in check.

We are not listening to warnings. That is a recipe for tragedy.

18 November 2016

Those who equate the anti-Trump protests with local protests against our Government are ignoring some key differences.

WELL that was a shocker, wasn’t it? The Unthinkable won against the Unpalatable! Who would have thought!

It turns out that if some people had actually thought properly, they would have seen it coming. They would have seen the despair in parts of the country where people have felt left behind and left out. They might not have so easily dismissed all the bad behaviour and attitudes, to see that what actually fuelled them was fear (racism and misogyny also comes from fear). They might have not taken him literally but more seriously, as the voters did.

But there you have it, the most unthinkable President of the United States ever, a former bankrupt, reality TV show star and self-confessed groper. Someone that all of us have to live with for at least the next four years.

The ever-opportunistic social media propagandists in our midst spared no time in trying to equate the anti-Trump protests with our local protests against our own Government. They ignored a few things.

The losing candidate herself has not disputed the results, affirming the credibility of the US election system, despite winning the popular vote. And since the US still is a democracy, it is the right of its citizens to protest against their new President-elect. They are not necessarily disputing the election results and saying that the election is rigged, just that they don’t like the new President.

That is what is known as freedom of speech and expression, and is well established as the First Amendment in the US Constitution, which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

On the other hand, some of us have doubts about our election system, especially with the recent proposed redelineation exercise. And despite Article 10 in our Federal Constitution which grants us freedom of speech, the freedom to assemble peaceably and the right to form associations, these rights are restricted by other clauses and laws.

So to compare the anti-Trump protests with our local protests is comparing apples with durians. Even Republican politicians there, despite now having a very strong government, are not complaining about these protests. Whereas ours, who are perhaps not feeling as secure as the Republicans, whine at every single contradictory opinion.

But this much is true; minorities in the US are not going to have a good time with a Trump administration. Already there are reports of hate speech and actions against Muslims, African-Americans and gays, indeed anyone who is not white and heterosexual.

Much like post-Brexit, the election of Trump seems to have given licence to all those who have resented being “politically correct” all these years to let it all out. It’s not pretty.

It is particularly not pretty to see the lack of sympathy of some of those who are a minority in our nation for those very vulnerable minorities in the US. Apparently human rights is not as universal as one might think.

In the US, minority groups have realised that they have to stand in solidarity with one other – whether religious, social, racial or gender minorities – in order to protect the human rights of all. They have understood that the US Constitution protects everyone, not just some people. This is something which we Malaysians have yet to understand. It is hypocritical to insist on our own human rights while ignoring the fact that others have rights too.

Perhaps one thing that is similar between the American electorate and the Malaysian one is our propensity to believe fantastic stories, especially if they confirm our own biases. Many fake news sites, mostly originating in Eastern Europe, have been publishing news stories which sound true but are in fact not. But many people have spread these news stories, mostly because they sound like something they want to believe. These types of things can make a difference in elections, if people believe them.

The encouraging news is that, according to a Reuters survey, most Malaysians do not believe the news, especially in the mainstream media. But that doesn’t mean they won’t believe news from other sites without checking whether it is true or not. We have a tendency to take these stories both literally and seriously, although a sceptic would have easily punched holes in them. And we are very prone to reacting to certain trigger words, without really knowing why.

The new Trump world has up-ended everything Americans have ever thought they knew. They should consult us on how to deal with it, since we’ve been trumped for a while now.