Who’s afraid of whom now?
MAY 28 — Fear is something Malaysians know well, even if most of us do not regularly wake up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat.
For decades, the ISA kept us in fear. Even though only a few of us have ever had to go through the ordeal that is detention without trial, the chilling effect of the law on our society was obvious and far reaching.
Malaysians were successfully kept under the thumb of the Barisan Nasional (BN), as any hint of a threat to the coalition’s grip on power was quickly dispensed with.
Perhaps Malaysians have since grown up politically. Or maybe the repeat indiscriminate use of the law has rendered us desensitised, but our collective fear of the BN regime and its repressive tools like the ISA has waned in recent years.
This is not to belittle the torment the yet-unrepealed law can still inflict on us, but obviously its effect on Malaysian society as a whole is not what it used to be.
There’s no lack of trying on the part of the authorities. The police still go ballistic every time the BN and its interests are remotely threatened. Black clothing, candlelight vigils and lawyers are a bigger menace to society, it seems, than loan sharks who are imprisoning defaulters or bike gangs that terrorise our streets.
If Malaysians are no longer afraid of BN’s might, however, then something else must take its place. Enter Chin Peng and communism.
Cabinet minister Datuk Seri Rais Yatim has likened the opinion that Malaysia should be a country of her word and honour its agreement to the 1989 Hat Yai accord as an attempt to raise “positive feelings” about communism.
Fellow minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, on the other hand, is trying to spook Malaysians by alleging, without evidence, that there is an attempt to revive communism in this country. His “ghost story” is almost as ignorant of reality as his belief that exploiting scantily dressed women for political purposes is part of Chinese culture.
Mr McCarthy, I mean, Datuk Seri Zahid, don’t you worry. Malaysians are about as interested in communism today as the government is in developing public transportation.
There’s no doubt that attempts like these to induce fear in the public can be effective. After all, the fear of Islam, of terrorism and of gay marriage kept the incompetent and criminal Bush administration in power for eight years. And fear successfully demonised the Opposition parties in Malaysia for far longer.
PAS equals Islamic State, the non-Muslims were told, while Malays were made to be fearful of the DAP, who were supposedly going to take away the community’s rights.
However, as we have seen, people get tired of being afraid all the time. Malaysians didn’t buy the fear that BN was trying to sell in the last general election, and instead took a risk and went with the unknown. It was a watershed moment in our nation’s history. We finally let go of one of our irrational fears.
Still, there remains a long way to go before we as a society become less driven and defined by what we are afraid of. The powers that be continue to exploit the insecurities of the Malay community by continuing to use other Malaysians as the bogeyman, even though, the reality of demographics and politics in the country obliterates that view.
Non-Malays, on the other hand, are often excessively paranoid about having their culture and identity taken away from them, to the point where wearing a songkok for ceremonial purposes becomes an issue.
What I think is an irrational fear of assimilation is why the debate over vernacular schools are often virulent but short of intellectual honesty.
As Malaysians, our list of fears is a long one. We continue to be frightened by open debate and discussion, as if Malaysians are simply waiting for a reason to go amok. We also have no issue displaying our xenophobic tendencies by blaming crime on migrant workers, not our own government’s failure to run an efficient police force.
One reason why fear is so easily disseminated is because it is often irrational. Harian Metro need not have any proof of its sensational stories of young Malays losing their way to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. It just needs to put the story out there for conservatives to escalate their paranoia.
Likewise, there need not be any real evidence that communism is making a comeback here. Nor does there need to be any coherent argument why a man in his twilight years is a threat to an entire nation. Just throw out stories of historical violence and hint at the possibility that it could happen again, and the ignorant and easily frightened would immediately toe the line.
Will Malaysians reject this new campaign of fear? I hope so. Franklin Roosevelt most famously said that there is nothing to fear but fear itself. For the many fear merchants around us, however, there is nothing more frightening than a population not easily spooked by their ghost stories. There’s nothing I’d like more than to see them running scared.