By Mariam Mokhtar
OPINION During a parliamentary session last week, Deputy Foreign Minister A Kohilan Pillay called vocal overseas Malaysians “traitors” and said they had “breached loyalty to the King and country”.
He told the Dewan Rakyat: “The ministry monitors the behaviour and actions of not only people from the opposition parties but also tourists and those who reside abroad.”
Kohilan Pillay (right) accused these Malaysians of giving foreigners the “wrong perception” of Malaysia.
But hasn’t he shot himself in the foot with his ludicrous charges?
Malaysians need not bother dishonouring the good name of the country and its leaders. Kohilan Pillay need only search in his own backyard and judge for himself how his government, principally the Umno faction, has tarnished Malaysia’s good name, both within and outside Malaysia.
But he is right. Malaysian missions overseas have an important role in fostering positive relations and promoting Malaysian interests.
In addition, the Prime Minister’s Office would elevate the national agenda, uphold the government’s stand, provide clarification on current political, economic and social developments and rebut any unfounded negative perception of the country.
Kohilan Pillay then revealed how the ministry would monitor foreign media reports and correct any unfounded allegations. If they’re already doing that, why worry?
Even if Malaysians choose not to berate their ministers for corrupt practices, irresponsible behaviour or unfair policies, there is plenty of non-political fodder for citizens who question the morality and poor judgment of their politicians.
A woman was flogged for drinking beer whilst children have been seized because one of their parents converted to Islam. The desecration of the cow’s head, the banning of Bibles, the ‘illegal’ use of the word ‘Allah’, journalists who violated the sanctity of the Catholic mass and the coerced conversions of some of the Orang Asli are a few of the religious injustices.
Men who abandon their wives and who refuse to pay child maintenance need not act responsibly. Their ex-wives can apply for financial aid from a RM15 million state-sponsored slush fund.
Errant husbands who wish to marry again, but without their wives’ permission, may take advantage of a loophole in the Syariah law and re-marry in neighbouring states.
A child as young as 10 is caned for eating the wrong kind of sausage, whilst under-aged teenagers are allowed to marry just so the statistics of illegitimate children and abandoned babies can be kept low.
The rape of Penan women are ignored and the true original peoples in Peninsular Malaysia – the Orang Asli – are not accorded full bumiputera rights.
The ancestral lands of indigenous folk of Sarawak and Sabah have been seized to make way for monuments to vanity like the Bakun Dam. This and other projects have all but destroyed the biodiversity of the land, caused massive pollution of land, water and air from the activities of mass-logging and oil palm planting. Our rainforests are depleted, risking climate change on a global scale.
People who dared to protest against illegal seizure of their lands have been threatened by thugs or arrested by the police.
Hundreds, including teenagers have been victims of police brutality or have been shot dead, or have died in detention. The public remains helpless.
Even learning institutions are not spared when school heads fail to lead by example and shamelessly espouse racist views.
Malaysia disgraced abroad
If Malaysians abroad are warned about making unfair comments, then the government should also tell certain prominent families that they should also behave properly when in the casinos of London, Monaco and Las Vegas. They should not expect to be bailed out from the public purse.
How about seizing the overseas multimillion-dollar assets and properties of well-connected people who paid for these in money siphoned off from public funds?
How is the Malaysian to defend his or her country when told that members of the Malaysian UN peacekeeping force had disgraced themselves by trashing and vandalising their quarters and desecrating religious symbols in eastern Europe?
How does the ordinary Malaysian feel about having to save hard to take his family on a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ foreign holiday, when those whose job it is to promote Malaysia as a tourism destination, clock up several thousand air-miles and spend a few million ringgit within a matter of months?
In their book ‘Small Acts of Resistance’, ex-journalists and human rights campaigners Steve Cranshaw and John Jackson show how courage, tenacity and ingenuity of ordinary people have managed to change the world.
The book describes how those suffering under repressive governments have managed to effect change, by simple individual actions.
For instance, Radio Solidarity picked up popular support that swept across Poland, by broadcasting ‘illegal’ news bulletins which countered official propaganda. What could the Polish government do? Arrest all the inhabitants of a town or a city?
The Turkish writer Yasar Kemal who wrote an article about brutality against Kurds, found himself charged under the anti-terrorism laws. When authors and publishers came to his defence and produced books and articles in support of Kemal, the authorities found the task of prosecuting hundreds of prominent intellectuals too cumbersome, politically embarrassing and idiotic, so the trials were abandoned.
To rid Peru of corruption and brutality, the public engaged in the mass public laundering of the national flag. Peru’s unpopular president Alberto Fujimori was soon toppled and he was later jailed for his brutal, corrupt rule.
Who knows? Zunar (left) and Radio Free Sarawak might be featured in the next edition of this book.
Kohilan Pillay’s veiled threat is a sign that the government is panicky about the increasing rumblings from citizens.
Perhaps, he should read the book and realise the impact on public lives by the small acts of ordinary people. Will his leaders change their ways? Or will they continue to betray the country and continue the mass theft from the nation and subjugation of its peoples?
The government’s attempts to monitor the actions of its citizens are an ill-use of resources. It may try to jam the airwaves and halt the flow of digital information.
But how will it extinguish the flame of courage, or destroy the human spirit, or quash the tiny acts of bold defiance or witty disobedience in Malaysians who value the ideals of living in a democratic and free society? – Mkini
MARIAM MOKHTAR is a non-conformist traditionalist from Perak, a bucket chemist and an armchair eco-warrior. In ‘real-speak’, this translates into that she comes from Ipoh, values change but respects culture, is a petroleum chemist and also an environmental pollution-control scientist.