Water cannons in Cambridge

Sabri Zain's Cambridge Diaries

Culture of hatred
February 5th, 2000

I have to say that, after what was perhaps the most bitter General Elections that I can remember, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's speech in Kedah last December had me floored. "There is no need for us as Muslims to harbour ill-feeling and hatred against each other . forget the harsh words used during the election campaign," he told the gentle folk of his home state. "Now the community needs to forgive one another and become friends," he cooed soothingly. Pictures of Mahathir and Fadzil Noor laughing together over a joke on a wooden bench in a teh tarik stall on Jalan TAR raced through my mind as I pinched myself black and blue to make sure what I was reading was not a hallucination.

I couldn't help but think of that delicious line from the British wit Oscar Wilde in his classic farce 'The Importance of Being Earnest'- "I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy!"

I needn't have worried - our Great Leader is no hypocrite. Just two weeks later, Mahathir showed just how much he wanted us to 'forgive one another and become friends' when police swooped on senior Opposition politicians Marina Yusof and Karpal Singh, as well as the editor and printer of Opposition newspaper Harakah - charging all of them under that most friendly of laws, the Sedition Act.

Also 'forgiven' was National Justice Party Youth head Mohamad Ezam Noor, who was charged under the Official Secrets Act for disclosing official documents revealing that the Anti-Corruption Agency had recommended that two senior government ministers be charged and prosecuted for corruption. In all fairness, though, it must be said that the two ministers in question do appear to have been 'forgiven', as neither have yet to be charged by police.

PRM President Dr Syed Husin Ali's response to the arrests was succinctly eloquent. "More democracy? Forget it!"

But then, what would you expect from these Opposition troublemakers who seem to have this backward notion that 'democracy' has something to do with 'freedom' - something which Mahathir, in his Hari Raya message last month, said could be 'bad, dirty and disgusting".

If we want to see what true democracy really is, we need to look no further than that model of democracy-at-work UMNO. The UMNO's Supreme Council's decision that there should be no contest for Mahathir's Presidency in the party's upcoming elections clearly demonstrates that democracy is alive and well in our country's dominant political party - you have the unalienable right to elect anyone as your leader, as long as it is Mahathir.

Former UMNO Wanita leader Rafidah Aziz fully supported to the hilt the no-contest rule for the UMNO leadership - but in the same breath said that it doesn't apply to the UMNO Wanita leadership race. Obviously still smarting from her unceremonious ouster from that lucrative position, she clearly illustrates that more refined democratic principle of the UMNO leadership - 'you have the unalienable right to elect anyone as your leader, as long as it is me'.

In her case, what's good for the gander is obviously not good for the goose.

But they would say, that's democracy. Though there are some uncharitable souls who may call it hypocrisy.

In true 'Malaysia Boleh' spirit, we have evidently taken democracy beyond the restrictive confines of evil Western concepts of freedom to even loftier heights. Like Mahathir said last December when he announced his new Cabinet: "This country is much freer than any country in Europe!" He even had the gall to say 'they' beat up demonstrators and 'we didn't'! Those horrific wounds on the hundreds of Reformasi demonstrators in court last year must obviously have been self-inflicted - just like Anwar's. That our democracy is more free than any country in Europe cannot be denied. Take a look at Britain. Prime Minister Tony Blair and his cabinet is now under constant attack for wasting millions of pounds sterling on national prestige 'mega'-projects such as the spectacularly unsuccessful Millennium Dome, while the National Health Service is crumbling to pieces due to lack of funds, with patients sometimes waiting weeks in hospital wards to be treated.

But Opposition Conservatives still openly attack government policies without fear, newspapers still viciously criticise the government with impunity, demonstrators still picket in front of the PM's residence on Downing Street like they owned the place. It must shock Malaysians to know that, despite these threats to national unity, not a single Opposition MP has been arrested, not a single newspaper has been shut down and there isn't a single black eye among the demonstrators. This anarchic situation has deteriorated so much that the government has done the unthinkable - it has been forced listen to the public outcry and pledged more funds to upgrade hospitals and train more nurses.

This is the sorry state of democracy in Europe, my friends. We Malaysians would have immediately arrested those Opposition troublemakers, revoked the printing permits of those newspapers, fired their editors, beaten the crap out of those demonstrators and showed those evil Westerners what freedom really means - the freedom of the government to do what it jolly well likes.

Even if it means arresting Opposition politicians and newspapermen and peaceful demonstrators and shutting them up for good. But, of course, you will have these slanderers and liars who will claim that these arrests are politically-motivated. What utter rubbish. Any thinking Malaysian will know the arrests have nothing to do with politics - it is just pure spite, revenge and hatred. That's all. And, like the Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Abdullah Badawi said at the time: "It's a normal matter."

This is not to say that there is a culture of hatred within our leadership. No-o-o-o-o, perish the thought! As Mahathir highlighted in his recent speech to Malaysian students and bankrupts in London, it is not the government but the Opposition who are promoting a "culture of hatred" towards the country's leaders, especially among the young. "They are again incited to hate certain quarters," he warned menacingly. "They can no longer think this could lead to a society of people with closed minds." In stark contrast, of course, to the liberal open-mindedness of the Sedition Act, Official Secrets Act and the Internal Security Act.

After that tirade on the Opposition's 'culture of hatred', he immediately launches upon his usual hateful attack on the despicable Anwar Ibrahim, with the kind of venom one would normally associate with a jilted lover rather than a political opponent. He spouts the usual mantra of "Anwar is ambitious, Anwar is corrupt, Anwar is a flirt, Anwar is a liar, Anwar is homosexual, Anwar is disgusting, Anwar is dirty .". How he was able to do this without succumbing to that dreaded 'culture of hatred' is an incredible feat.

He further demonstrates that there is not a hateful bone in his body when he alludes to a Cabinet meeting in the 1980s, when he said 'the first thing we do, we should line up all the lawyers and shoot them'. "It was a joke!" he exclaims but doesn't deny that he is against some lawyers. "I don't see why I should like Karpal Singh, for example, but not all the lawyers. But there are some lawyers who of course go all out and say things which are nasty. Then I would like very much to hang the lawyers, these particular lawyers. But of course this is just a wish."

What a joker! Now, does that sound like a hateful, spiteful man to you?