Side Views

Countering the anti-Bersih talk — Azmil Tayeb

July 10, 2011

JULY 10 — To those who support the recent Bersih 2.0 rally for clean elections we’ve heard the same old tired detracting canards propounded by the Malaysian mainstream media echo chamber, which were later parroted by our own family members and friends.

Truth be told, it got to the point where I simply refused to dignify their “anti-Bersih” arguments with sound intellectual responses because I think they were too frivolous and didn’t deserve any.

Still, I also have this nagging need to clear the air for once and for all especially now in the aftermath of the event. The dust has finally settled and the facts have naturally emerged from the battle-scarred ground.

Below are some of the main arguments put forth by the Bersih 2.0 detractors and my ensuing refutations.

Traffic jams: They were actually caused by the police roadblocks on major arteries leading into the city, checking for imaginary weapons and stopping potential rally participants. If people were allowed unimpeded access in and around the Klang Valley the traffic flow would just be like any other day.

Even some of the nearby LRT, Monorail and Komuter stations were shut down to force people to walk farther than they had to with the all too obvious intention of discouraging them from going to the rally sites. Also, if the protesters were given the permission to march on a pre-determined route the authority didn’t have to close down more roads than what were necessary.

Also, how can one complain about the traffic jam in the city during the rally when there had been ample warnings ahead of time and plus it was only a matter of few hours of inconvenience? More streets were closed for an even longer period of time during the recent Standard Chartered KL Marathon, of which I was also a participant, and I didn’t hear a peep from anyone. That said, common sense dictates that it’s simply irresponsible and foolhardy to go through life without any contingency plan! 

Economic loss: It was clear that shops that dared to open up during the rally were raking in huge profit due to streams of marchers stopping by for food and drinks. A few mamak restaurants near Central Market, Jalan Nagasari and Masjid India seemed to be enjoying brisk business.

The mamak place by Central Market even charged 30 cent for the use of its toilet! The Medan Selera on Jalan Masjid India (next to Pasar Borong Mydin) was also packed with people. So was the pasar malam near Semua House and Campbell. If Bersih 2.0 merchandise had been legal vendors could have made a killing by selling them along the marching route.

Heavy downpour during the rally also meant that if some of the shops had carried (preferably yellow) umbrellas and raincoats they would have been sold like hot goreng pisang. If somehow the business people still felt that their businesses were genuinely affected by the rally then it was advisable for them to counsel patience and bear with the hassles for only a short while.

What’s a few hours of temporary setback for the sake of common good and a better future for all? In short the rally could have served as an opportunity for businesspeople to profit off the mass influx of people into the city. Even the ice cream seller on motorcycle seemed to be doing pretty good. (Disclosure: I bought an ice cream from the guy selling next to the Sogo shopping complex and he attested that his stock almost ran out.)

Chaos and property damage: The march was peaceful and calm at first until the police and the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU), unprovoked, decided to shoot water cannons and lob tear gas canisters at the protesters. What kind of orchestrated dispersal the authority expected when they indiscriminately fired tear gas and water cannons into the crowd?

The crowd, much to its credit, managed to stay as composed and orderly as it could given the very stressful condition. Also, the authority should claim responsibility for destroying public property due to use of excessive force.

As best as I can recall the throngs of protesters were respectful to their surrounding and did not engage in any kinds of vandalism at all. None of the parked cars were burned nor shop windows broken. After all these were concerned citizens with real grievances, not thugs and looters.

Had the authority allowed the march to proceed on a pre-determined route and time it could have easily avoided all the confusion and pandemonium, which would have then resulted in a win-win situation for all parties involved.

Malay-dominated rally: The crux of this racist conjecture is basically saying that the Malays, due to their prominent presence during the rally, were exploited by the Chinese in DAP. The word used was “diperkudakan” (to be ridden like a horse).  I was a bit taken aback when several of my (Malay) friends posted statements of this nature on Facebook — and not surprisingly they weren’t even at the rally.

It also goes without saying that they are all anti-Bersih 2.0 to begin with and most likely Umno and/or Perkasa supporters too. But the facts on the ground proved otherwise. Of course Malays, by virtue of being the largest ethnic group in Malaysia, would be heavily represented proportion-wise in the rally. But other ethnic groups were also well represented, even the Dayaks from Borneo.

If the Prime Minister honestly wants to see what a true 1Malaysia looks like, he doesn’t need to look any further than the composition of the Bersih 2.0 participants who braved the streets on 9th July. The whole rally was essentially multiracial that transcends age and religion. It was the very epitome of 1Malaysia, and not to add, a completely voluntary and uncontrived one.

What the Najib administration has vainly tried to achieve in the past two years with its multi-million Ringgit public relations campaign (read: Apco scandal) the Bersih 2.0 organizers managed to do it in a much lesser time, against almost insurmountable obstacles, and free-of-charge too. Maybe there’s something the government can learn here.

It was such an amazing feeling to be among my fellow Malaysians who were courageous enough to take to the streets of KL, despite the threats, intimidation and possible arrest, facing down water cannons and tear gas, to struggle for a more democratic and just Malaysia.

I’m also saddened by the baseless statements coming from some of my so-called “educated” friends, summarised in the preceding points. They emotionally engage in a form of solipsistic argument, in which only one’s own lived experience and weltanschaaung (world view) form the sole basis of “truth.” In research parlance their sample size (N) is equal to 1, which every self-respecting social scientist knows is empirically weak and statistically insignificant.

In addition, it rankles the mind of how these people can just eat up the bile churned out by the Malaysian mainstream media and somehow stop using their critical thinking faculty to question the fairness and veracity of the government propaganda.

One doesn’t need to be a seasoned media analyst to be cognisant of the blatantly one-sided nature of the mainstream media in Malaysia.

Maybe it’s time for these anti-Bersih 2.0 people, especially my dear friends, to swallow the bitter red pill — or is it blue? — and escape for once and for all the illusionary and corrupt world of the Barisan Nasional Matrix. As the cliche goes, only the (un-solipsistic) truth can set you free. 

* Azmil Tayeb reads The Malaysian Insider.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.