Peace in Lahad Datu, not hate around the federation
|Praba Ganesan is Parti Keadilan Rakyat's Social Media Strategist. He wants to engage with you, and learn from your viewpoints. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @prabaganesan|
MARCH 7 — When lives are lost in dramatic fashion, everyone’s attention is piqued. And those who write about it, if they intend to engage many and not just appease their base, for them it becomes increasingly difficult, fraught with emotional potholes this task.
And with this in mind, let’s talk about Lahad Datu. The area falls under the Silam parliamentary constituency and I have been privileged to have worked with some of our party organisers over there. Them with the usual stories of being underfunded, overworked and fighting from trenches — generally nice blokes.
With their hometown becoming a military space, they’d be preoccupied with keeping their families safe rather than winning an election.
Which is what the sovereignty of any country means. While your state is intact, then all discourses to satisfy groups or individuals in it are fair game. When your state is broached, then you deal with that first. No point a family sits in its living room planning house chores or finances when intruders have broken in through the back door.
There is no greater priority for a nation than security when it’s compromised. Which is also why in the past leaders have questionably leveraged on it, relegating conspiracy theorists to lifetimes of conjectures. Thatcher benefited from Falklands but Roosevelt hardly needed the Second World War to forward his agenda. The truth as I’m told always lies somewhere between.
So my first peg is this, Sabah’s security is non-negotiable. Every policy thereafter must operate with this notion intact.
What do we know?
Not much if you consume local mainstream news. Alternative media companies want to feed the newsreader, but the limited scale of their operation — as in state bureaus, investigative journalists and mobile crews — bars them from doing that.
Be mindful that the first group of people arrested in Lahad Datu since the story broke was a group of journalists for an international media company.
Since the start, the government has maintained a media blackout. From what was discussed in the initial negotiations with the group, the up and down scaling of the number of people armed in the group, the dynamics of deciding the police to take the first lead over the military and the home minister’s daily categorical reassurance that the “men” were absolutely no threat to the local residents, meaningful data was all shrouded.
Conspicuously missing was an objective analysis locally of the Sulu Sultanate — there is only the Filipino analysis of the family, bogus hereditary claims and social/political strength, all clouded by a Manila-centric take of a historically unwieldy and restive set of islands — and a daily update of the threats, real and anticipated.
Malaysians were, and still are, relying on the Philippines media headquartered in Luzon to explain about an escalation in our backyard by their own “rebels”.
The public is not asking for confidential security intelligence and ongoing military plans, therefore the politicians bundling all of it under the umbrella of national security insults millions of Malaysians, including those fervently supporting the present regime.
The public is asking for reliable information affecting their lives so that they can make personal decisions. It is grossly childish to talk down to the Malaysian public, and after a 20-day diplomatic engagement breaks down with policemen dying in two different zones — Lahad Datu and Semporna, 155km apart — destroying the contention there is effective containment, for the politicians to say all is well is several notches past insulting.
The lack of meaningful and verifiable information feeds public paranoia. Sorting the paranoia by ordering netizens to stop spreading information “ruling politicians don’t like” is stupid, the delusions are multiplied if anything by the “shouting father” approach.
There should be daily media briefings, and this might be too shocking to digest but the authorities might even concede that there have been shortcomings and possible risk factors. This will not be seen as a sign of weakness, the truth is always layered and the public will understand. They want to weigh the thought process to the solution, not regurgitations that permanent peace is guaranteed.
Though some might argue that the mainstream media, mostly belonging to BN parties and their proxies, may be at sea if they were asked to provide a measured read based on objective journalism.
Filipino media is not superior, it is just freer. While some papers are restrained, others have gone all jingoistic, editorial directions dictated by circulation. They are writing as they like about Lahad Datu barring libel in their content.
A sidenote: the vigorously free media culture over there — which never stops unfortunate reporters from being physically intimidated or killed — is a post-Marcos inheritance. The suppression of media in the martial law years of the 1970s ingrained in them a natural disobedience to authority.
My post-graduate supervisor helped run an illegal radio station back then.
Back to Malaysia and Malaysian, what do we know? Currently, very little.
Who’s to blame?
Surely a government committed to its people will focus on keeping its people safe rather than spend its time and media to blame the usual suspects for the intrusion?
This is what experienced footballers tell younger, quicker and stronger players on the pitch, get on with the game and stop blaming teammates, fans or opponents. Win the game, keep the eye on the priority, there will be time enough later to apportion blame.
So for Lahad Datu, perhaps the Najib administration might want to keep both eyes on the safety of Malaysians there, residents and security personnel, and even enjoy the potential adulation if he decisively quells the violence.
The usual suspects are not going anywhere, they’ll be here when security has normalised in Sabah’s east.
For at this rate, one day Malaysia of 2013 will be the case study for political intrigue and application of mass hysteria to build incumbency. The mainstream media has gone to town unrelentingly over a news report admittedly by the largest online news portal in the Philippines.
Nikko Dizon wrote on March 1 that unnamed sources have revealed that there may be three groups responsible for the intrusion in Sabah.
Overnight, a reporter no one knows from a newspaper — with an online news portal — oblivious to most Malaysians is the basis for print, online, TV, cable reports over and over. No persons were named, and no details were revealed, and there were two other theories from these unnamed sources on the why.
Neither do they care to mention that the Inquirer did not feel the report was substantial enough to become the focus in any way shape or form.
To smear the opposition leader daily, putting the onus on him to prove his innocence to isolated paragraphs reliant on unnamed sources not naming him, is criminal. If there is a crime here, it is the derisive and incessant badgering by men and women, who I am sure will stick to the “I am just doing my job serving my paymasters” defence.
Sabah’s peace is in the hands of the federal government, not intruders. It is not an enviable task, removing non-state actors from causing harm to residents in localities the actors have intimate knowledge of and a porous border aiding them.
It is a job of governing, and if the communicating is honest enough, the measures to engage the community in the process to normality sincere enough, the military operation clinical enough and finally the diplomatic initiative to win enough friends — without compromising our security — in the Mindanao region, which is more than just one big island or one unified Muslim reality, then an interim peace is achievable. The interim peace becomes the platform for a more permanent peace built on structural developments.
Talk to the people, stop blaming and keep an eye on a resolution, which is just “Conflict Resolution 101.”
I was to travel to Tawi-Tawi from Zamboanga on a plane and then to Sandakan from there on a boat 15 months ago. Someone told me I might not want to do that, so after three nights of being mortified by the eerie night-air of the city where the bandits roam, I skipped the boat ride and Tawi-Tawi — which has a campus of the Mindanao State University, that I regretted missing.
If I do take that boat ride one day when the region’s safer, I’d bring along Orwell’s “Animal Farm”, because today in Malaysia the “Snowball” treatment is creeping too close for comfort.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.