Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Bigots: Democracy's Nemesis

Joshua Wong’s recent resignation as ntv7’s producer of Editor’s Time is another vivid reminder of how the bizarre and twisted logic of bigots – particularly those condoned by UMNO - in this country tends to trump free speech, and any prospects for building any real democratic practices.

Frankly, I was not exactly disgusted by the fact that Joshua apparently experienced political interference on matters about his programme. That, after all, is to be expected, given our long legacy of government-controlled media. Should any of us really be surprised by any revelation of UMNO-related manipulation or interference with the press? You’d really have to be living on planet Mars all this while if you’re actually shocked by what happened to Joshua. The fact is, censorship in the mainstream media is the norm; I’d be shocked if there was no censorship occurring in the mainstream media and if journalists in these media actually had professional autonomy and independence. So given that’s the case, what’s the big deal?

Actually, I wanted to remind you, in case you missed the real issue here, that what is telling about this episode is how it reveals the bizarre and twisted logic used to invoke control on journalists and free speech in general.

Remember the controversy over the Bar Council’s forum on religious conversion in 2008? There we had a mob of some 300 protesters outside the Bar Council threatening to storm into the forum in order to disrupt a perfectly legal and peaceful gathering to discuss, in a civilised manner, a perfectly appropriate issue affecting our lives. And what was the authorities’ response? Well, so as the aroused mob of protesters are not “provoked,” into doing anything violent and illegal, the police actually convinced the participant’s of the legal forum to disband! Yes, it was not the mob that was asked to disband from its illegal protest or for intimidating participants at a perfectly legal gathering; instead it was the lawyers who were forced to abandon the forum, censored, and denied their right to partake in the forum.

On that day, bigotry prevailed. Worst yet, free speech was choked because bigots were apparently offended by a mere forum to deliberate and discuss a most relevant topic.

Fast forward to the cow-head incident in Shah Alam. Remember the home minister’s public response and comments in that instance? In case you don’t recall or missed his comments, you can check it out here. But the jest of it was that let’s not blame the cow head protesters; we need to understand that their actions were provoked by unreasonable challenges to Malay supremacy! Ahh, how wonderful. The message we got was let’s not question and correct the bigots from their gross ignorance, arrogance, foolishness and overt, provocative intimidation of others. Rather, we should censor ourselves so that bigots don’t get aroused to chop-off cow heads and parade them in public as a way of threatening others.

Again, bigotry prevailed. Just as the Bar Council’s forum incident, free speech was choked; we were admonished not to address ‘sensitive matters’ because bigots might get aroused and do foolish things like chop off animals’ heads.

So we’re not to deal with real issues because bigots will be upset.

And now we have the Joshua Wong episode. Apparently, the story goes that someone had sent an SMS, which was forwarded to ntv7 via one or more politically well-connected persons, that “rants with racial undertones, suggesting that Chinese people are “becoming rude” and that “the Malays should go to war.

So here again is an example of how a bigoted person’s insecurities and paranoia becomes the excuse for censoring free speech. We’re again told to “watch out,” so to speak, because some racists are getting upset so we should not exercise our free speech.

So you see, the dilemma is not that there is repeated censorship of individuals or of journalists. The striking pattern in our country seems to be that the bigots become the ones who rule the roost.

Rather than taking those bigots and straightening them out (after all, we have really good government re-education and propaganda camps for brainwashing people), the government coddles these bigots by giving their voice credibility and legitimacy, while it chokes off legal forums, journalists such as Joshua Wong, and just plain regular people for fear that we don’t want the bigots to get aroused!

What wonderful logic, isn't it, for undercutting democracy.

G. Krishnan