Divide and rule

February 5th, 1999


Race has always been - and still is - used by the rich and powerful powerful to divide and rule. The government’s recent scare-mongering campaign among the Chinese community is a classic example of this divide-and-rule tactic. To protect itself from the wrath of the people, the government is now trying to turn Reformasi in Malaysia into a racial issue. Malays will riot, they say. Malays will burn Chinese shops, they say. Malays will rape Chinese women, they say. And their loudest message of all - remember Indonesia.

Look at the attempts by the government to racialise the Reformasi demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur for example, equating them with the riots against Chinese in Indonesia.

Less than one week of rioting in Indonesia killed hundreds and gutted whole districts in Jakarta. Since the mass assemblies at Anwar’s house on Sept 3, there were almost three consecutive months of demonstrations here collectively involving hundreds of thousands of Malaysians. How many Chinese shops have been burned or looted? How many Chinese have the demonstrators killed or raped? Zero.

I myself saw dozens of “Free Guan Eng” banners and posters next to the “Free Anwar” posters at these demonstrations. This did not seem anti-Chinese to me.

Look at the Reformists who have been victims of police brutality. Tian Chua was beaten up on many occassions, arrested and even re-arrested just seconds after the Courts freed him. And long before the word ‘Reformasi’ was even coined, Lim Guan Eng was already in prison for the ‘crime’ of defending the dignity of a Malay girl.

Reformasi in Malaysia transcends race and even petty party politics. Upholding justice is a concern for all races. Race is being used again and again to divide and weaken us because our leaders are showing contempt for the fact that we Malaysians have learnt to live side by side in harmony, that we trust each other. And their attempts at racialising the call for more freedoms and more justice only show they do not want that harmony to exist but instead want to use disharmony so they can cling to their thrones.

Injustices are being committed on Malaysians of ALL races. The media which is supposed to be the people’s watchdog, a voice of the people that offers constructive criticisms of government policies and a check-and-balance against governmental excesses is instead being used to keep powerful men in power. In fact, it is only the Chinese vernacular press who seem to have have had the courage to speak out against some of these injustices.

The independence of our courts is seriously being questioned - there no longer seems to be that separation between the judiciary and the executive that is yet another important check-and-balance against government excesses. The police, who are supposed to protect the people, are instead being used to terrorise, oppress and harm the people.

These are all wrongs that we as Malaysians - Chinese, Malays, Indians, everyone - must correct - whether you are a government supporter, an Opposition supporter or a fencesitter.

Reformasi in Malaysia is not about Malays against Chinese. It is not about whether Anwar Ibrahim is guilty or innocent. It is not even about whether Dr Mahathir is right or wrong. It is about whether the Malaysian people are ready for democracy or not - whether we have grown out of the ‘divide-and-rule’ of racial politics. This is a real test for our democracy.

If Malaysians casually accept all that has happened so far without question - the climate of fear, trial by media, detention without trial, violent repression, blatant unfairness, sheep-like loyalty - then Malaysians are condemning themselves to future abuses as well. They are telling the government “Do what you like with us”.

And it will be our children who suffer from our neglect today to defend democracy and justice - just as we have suffered from the racial division policies of our colonial masters in the past.

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