Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Fascism: Zaid’s Stinging Zinger

Zaid Ibrahim was recently quoted as describing Malaysia at risk of becoming a fascist state. Perhaps you too came across the report about his remarks? Well just in case you missed it, he is quoted to have said, “The medication now being pumped into the sick body of this nation is fascism... fascism has a penchant for abusing religious or ethnic identities, where they are moulded into a culture of supremacism.”

Well, I for one was struck by his words. “Is he being hyperbolic?” I wondered. Could it be, that we’re at risk of degenerating into a fascist state? After all, when we think of fascism, we typically think of Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s Italy. Surely, Malaysia could not be approaching anything resembling these two notorious standouts of fascism.

That got me wondering, but what exactly makes a particular government a fascist regime?  So I decided to look into it. Well, I came across a very enlightening article by Laurence Britt who has actually thoughtfully spelled out 14 key characteristics that identify a fascist state.

Whilst you can surely look up what he has to say, I thought I would list them here. As you scroll down the list, you might find it interesting (and eery?) to note how our government’s policies, actions, and modus operandi are spot and correspond with Britt’s 14 characteristics of fascism. Here is Britt's list:

1.     Powerful and continuing expression of nationalism. Catchy slogans, pride in the military, and demands for unity…usually coupled with a suspicion of things foreign that often bordered on xenophobia.

2.     Disdain for the importance of human rights. The regimes themselves viewed human rights as of little value and a hindrance to realizing the objectives of the ruling elite. Through clever use of propaganda, the population was brought to accept these human rights abuses by marginalizing, even demonizing, those being targeted. When abuse was egregious, the tactic was to use secrecy, denial, and disinformation.

3.     Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause. The most significant common thread among these regimes was the use of scapegoating as a means to divert the people’s attention from other problems, to shift blame for failures, and to channel frustration in controlled directions. The methods of choice—relentless propaganda and disinformation—were usually effective. Often the regimes would incite “spontaneous” acts against the target scapegoats, usually communists, socialists, liberals, Jews, ethnic and racial minorities, traditional national enemies, members of other religions, secularists, homosexuals, and “terrorists.”

4.     The supremacy of the military/avid militarism.

5.     Rampant sexism. Beyond the simple fact that the political elite and the national culture were male-dominated, these regimes inevitably viewed women as second-class citizens. These attitudes were usually codified in Draconian laws.

6.     A controlled mass media. Under some of the regimes, the mass media were under strict direct control and could be relied upon never to stray from the party line. Other regimes exercised more subtle power to ensure media orthodoxy. Methods included the control of licensing and access to resources, economic pressure, appeals to patriotism, and implied threats. The leaders of the mass media were often politically compatible with the power elite. The result was usually success in keeping the general public unaware of the regimes’ excesses.

7.     Obsession with national security. Inevitably, a national security apparatus was under direct control of the ruling elite. It was usually an instrument of oppression, operating in secret and beyond any constraints. Its actions were justified under the rubric of protecting “national security,” and questioning its activities was portrayed as unpatriotic or even treasonous.

8.     Religion and ruling elite tied together. Most of the regimes attached themselves to the predominant religion of the country and chose to portray themselves as militant defenders of that religion. The fact that the ruling elite’s behavior was incompatible with the precepts of the religion was generally swept under the rug. Propaganda kept up the illusion that the ruling elites were defenders of the faith and opponents of the “godless.” A perception was manufactured that opposing the power elite was tantamount to an attack on religion.

9.     Power of corporations protected. Although the personal life of ordinary citizens was under strict control, the ability of large corporations to operate in relative freedom was not compromised. Members of the economic elite were often pampered by the political elite to ensure a continued mutuality of interests, especially in the repression of “have-not” citizens.
10. Power of labor suppressed or eliminated.
11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts. Intellectuals and the inherent freedom of ideas and expression associated with them were anathema to these regimes. Intellectual and academic freedom were considered subversive to national security and the patriotic ideal. Universities were tightly controlled; politically unreliable faculty harassed or eliminated. Unorthodox ideas or expressions of dissent were strongly attacked, silenced, or crushed.
12. Obsession with crime and punishment. Most of these regimes maintained Draconian systems of criminal justice with huge prison populations. The police were often glorified and had almost unchecked power, leading to rampant abuse. “Normal” and political crime were often merged into trumped-up criminal charges and sometimes used against political opponents of the regime.
13. Rampant cronyism and corruption. Those in business circles and close to the power elite often used their position to enrich themselves. This corruption worked both ways; the power elite would receive financial gifts and property from the economic elite, who in turn would gain the benefit of government favoritism. Members of the power elite were in a position to obtain vast wealth from other sources as well: for example, by stealing national resources. With the national security apparatus under control and the media muzzled, this corruption was largely unconstrained and not well understood by the general population.
14. Fraudulent elections. Elections in the form of plebiscites or public opinion polls were usually bogus. When actual elections with candidates were held, they would usually be perverted by the power elite to get the desired result. Common methods included maintaining control of the election machinery, intimidating and disenfranchising opposition voters, destroying or disallowing legal votes, and, as a last resort, turning to a judiciary beholden to the power elite.

Was Zaid on to something when he equated the Malaysian government with fascism?

You be the judge.

G. Krishnan