Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A mob vs a roundtable

The contrast is self-evident. Events following the High Court’s decision on the ‘Allah’ case, would suggest that Umno tacitly played up the matter to politically capitalise on the situation. Especially noteworthy was the prime minister’s remark that there was not much the regime could do to prevent the Friday street protests from proceeding. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought we were living in a failed state with an absolutely hopeless and meaningless government; much of the kind we find in Somalia, where warlords – not elected officials rule the day.

By way of contrast to the Umno response, consider the fact that Anwar recently hosted a roundtable on the ‘Allah’ controversy.

Why did it not surprise me that, from the outset, Umno’s response was utterly predictable? Indeed, I reminded you all shortly after the Court’s decision that you can essentially count on an appeal of the decision from Umno. Nowhere did you find Umno ever keen on modeling a genuinely moderate approach to such issues. Having first initiated the ‘Allah’ ban, Umno then proceeds to essentially give the ‘green light’ for the protests following the Court’s ruling. At no point did we see the so-called leadership of Umno come out and model constructive action such as promoting a public dialogue to help channel the energy this issue had arounsed.

No. Instead we saw a kind of impotent response to the planned illegal protests. Whatever happened this time around to the FRU and police who only months ago were cracking down on Hindraf, Pakatan Rakyat or other NGO protesters? Did these instruments of brute force suddenly misplace their batons and water cannons?

Indeed, the contrast is self-evident in how Umno responded then and how it responded now to the protesters. But equally revealing is how Umno cannot fathom to openly and genuinely model any democratic qualities, such as having a public forum, roundtable or public dialogue between the various concerned segments of the population. You see that would be how leaders and organisations committed to democratic principles would respond – by helping to bring various parties to the table, by showing that dialogue is the way to moving forward; not just in this instance, but in every situation.

That different groups might have competing and divergent interests is not surprising. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhist, and others may not all and always see eye-to-eye on all matters. But a responsible government, especially one that espouses to be ‘democratic,’ would know the importance of generating and modeling dialogue: not fanning the flames of sectarianism.

G. Krishnan