Archive for October 29th, 2010

State terror in Bangsa Malaysia

Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it. – Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, 1961

To countermand the terror (clip) which the state repeatedly inflicts on its people – invariably the sufferers are poor and at the bottom of the social heap – Haris Ibrahim’s Bangsa Malaysia offers an overarching solution that is highly political in nature.

Bangsa’s philosophy lends itself to multiple interpretations because the idea is itself tenuous, some formulation stitched in, yes, but overwhelmingly it’s about compliance to a code of human conduct. Haris calls this code ‘human rights’ (although it’s civil rights). Whether this is appropriate to Malaysia’s circumstances won’t be argued now.

So, to accept its governing principles, then extrapolate it, Bangsa has two planks. The first is ethics, the other is politics:

  • Ethics: all are equal, therefore, all should be treated equally, in whatever respect and without discrimination.
  • Politics: from ethics, politics flow. Because the system is rotten to the core, the rules of equal treatment, hence civility and law, can only be restored if the system’s political masters are changed.

Now to R Gunasegaran.

His murder was no ordinary homicide wherein one man kills another, after which the state steps in. In Guna’s case, he was killed under state sponsorship, represented in the police (and this isn’t for the first time, or the hundredth). The terror actually goes beyond. After his death, the hospital authorities (the doctors, the morgue) and then the judiciary (the coroner) work not to deliver the law, or justice, but they obfuscate as if with the intent to circumvent it. Guna in life and in death had been denied his rights.

The Bangsa idea, made applicable to Guna, demands to restore those (civil) rights. Haris is clever enough to know that, at this juncture, restoration comes only after the fact of the death. This is useless to Guna. Should justice come later all it could do is to serve a lesson in pushing back state incursion against individual lives, which is terror.

Haris also knows there is a limit to resisting state power. Chief among the reasons, Guna’s death (as with many others) had arisen from deep, entrenched causes, principally from a corrupted and discriminatory political system (Umno being the viper head).

The second leg of Bangsa Malaysia – politics – enters into the resistance calculation. It’s to ‘change’ the way the system operates, at the core of which has the lattice framework of racist institutions. To change the system is to replace the head. If Umno was replaced by a non-discriminating regime, then there won’t be another Gunasegaran in the future, or only minimal.

[That line of argument (paragraph above) is, as a brief critique, shaky. (a) The system functions the way it is not for no reason and its racist institutions, like the system itself, were constructed over time with the connivance of one of its chief architects, named democracy. (b) Umno is falsely equated with the system rather than as an institutional by-product. Changing the head, as opposed to replacing the system that is founded on the constitution, does not ensure that there won’t be another Umno in another, whatever form. (PAS? PKR?)]

At its base, Bangsa’s driving principle is equality, hence non-discrimination. Guna’s murder, as have other cases preceding it, tests the Bangsa idea (a) against itself for robustness and consistency, and (b) against the terror of state power. Like the Ten Commandments, Bangsa’s set of human rights code is fundamentally an import, a Judeo-Christian covenant with which an individual demands from the state, as a Christian demands from his god, thou shall promise me this and not do that.

As it is with the police, Umno is not the state or even a part thereof. It’s an instrument of the state which, in turn, finds concrete, formal and written expression in the constitution and other documents leading to it. Umno’s pledge of allegiance is to the constitution not any Bangsa god, although some elements, like equality, are common to both. Similarly, the police shrugs off Bangsa’s challenge, affecting not just Guna but also numerous precedent cases.

The impunity with which the police attacks, then imprisons, a witness (Selvach) who had pointed to it as Guna’s murderer is to take the shrug farther, to up the stakes and to raise, in common parlance, the middle finger at the Bangsa people. The police can afford to do all this in the comfort of the knowledge that it belongs to a power greater than even the Bangsa god. This power is the giver of the human rights, the state.

What the state gives it can also take away. Failing to see this truism, the ‘universal’ human rights project made itself dependent on, and needy of, the state. The fallacy persists to this day….

Dependent on the state, powerless against its instruments, Bangsa Malaysia shows its face at the only place where it will be tolerated: the public. Even there it is reduced to appealing on moral sentiments, rather than to call on the law which is currently being used to work against Guna’s interest. Thus, as the Bangsa argument goes, Guna’s case is one more reason to overthrow the damn government, Umno specifically.

There is a problem to this however: Bangsa again misses (or is it avoiding?) its actual target – the state.

To farther illustrate Bangsa’s contradiction, or anomaly, is to simply to ask the question: why did Guna die? This way of phrasing is deliberate, and not the short cut to the precise question, ‘why did the police kill Guna’ which is bound to elicit rationale: the police was just doing their job (a favourite of DAP’s Tunku Aziz), it got out of hand, and so on and on.

Any answer to the earlier question is going to more complex, more difficult because it will have to come from, not the mind, but the heart. It’s a kind of question that demands a strongly intuitive, gut-feeling answer and, like why did Teoh Beng Hock die, which the Bangsa people won’t face up to.

The Bangsa idea cannot bring itself to say Guna was killed because he was Indian first. Just as it is likely Teoh died because he was Chinese first. To concede on either one of the two cases is to disavow its own principle: there are no ethnic classes, all are Malaysians.

To say Guna was murdered Indian first is to suggest the police were more willing to pulverize him than he if were, say, Malay (or, to use a social distinction, a Tan Sri’s son). This reality bears the same psychological trademark of bullying somebody weaker because it’s easier, the risks to the police greatly lower, and the repercussions, if any, minimal. Among Malaysians few people are weaker than an Indian poor. And, therefore, more likely than any other group to be violated. Haris refuses to, or can’t, see this point.

That also means Guna’s pain – and concomitantly the police motivation – is three things stacked up, one on top of the other: being poor, being at the bottom of pile, and being Indian; the last is invariably the exemplar of the first two. Plainly, the police knew who to pick on. Guna did not die because he was Poor First, or else there would be more dead Malays than Indians.

Over the decades Umno make legitimate, legal even, racially bigoted economic and social policies on an unprecedented scale so that, on the sidelines, all else have become props to the main framework, the state itself. Racism has become a condition of state, which Umno (and Perkasa) says is necessary. To deride Chinese and Indians at Biro Tata Negara or to beat dead an Indian in a police station is simply to pay obeisance, therefore, to satisfy the condition of the state’s raison d’etre. In the clip Guna’s sister speak Tamil, a situation identical to a Chinese woman at a police station who could speak no Malay. That alone forfeits her rights even as a Malaysian. So, go back to China, the policeman told her.

To the problem faced by the Chinese woman and countless others, Guna included, Bangsa Malaysia offers no way out, not even comfort. They might say that if the police had treated Guna with some decency, observe the law and observe innocence-first principle, then he won’t be dead. But all that is operating procedure, according to law. And the law, contrary to what lawyers like Haris might say, is never neutral. The oppressed, the weak, tend to suffer the most under its feet. In Guna’s case, procedural, legal justification is now used to keep him not only dead but also silent: want to complain? Want justice? Go back to India.

Upholding the law has only the spine of the page upon which the words are written.

After that, there is also the individual motivation to consider: the lance corporal who saw Guna as Indian first. And, what about the police inspector who saw the woman as Chinese first? Against these odds, violations against humanity have a clear racial face that Haris won’t look at (but he’s very good in his methods to fight state terror). Equally, Lim Kit Siang fails in his thinking to understand that identity is not merely in the beholder but also in how other people see another person.

Bangsa can do nothing for Guna alive when it is unable, or refuses, to trace the ultimate, root causes in discriminatory conduct and so apply an all-in-one remedy that conflates nationality (Malaysian First), individual identity (bangsa) to human (civil) rights. Like Kit Siang, it errs in the belief that the dilemmas and problems of nationality arose from ethnicity when it is the other way around. It’s the political demand for a single national identity (especially since March 2008) that is driving ethnic relations up the wall and which, the old folks complain, was never before a problem. National identity, that is, being Malaysian or being Bangsa, is demanding to squeeze out the ethnicity like it’s the pimple on a face.

Contrary to all the chest-beating at Bangsa, the Chinese cultural identity is the countervailing idea to the above. It’s ethnically blind, the exact same position Haris seeks.

The Chinese extremist who is clear into who he is has no problem knowing or deciding where duty lies and loyalty is owed. This is in the nature of Chinese culture; unlike Islam and Christianity, it has no mechanism for an individual to recognise group divisions segregated as ‘believers’ and ‘kaffirs’. It’s a rationale enterprise pivoted not on some state or god giving away commandments like human rights, but on some objective, whether noble or vice, which has be thought through individually and worked out on the basis of what’s good for all. (See this for an essay on Chinese chauvinism and extremism – Mahathir’s words.)

The Chinese chauvinist worldview and conduct are therefore relational, with a fervent regard for the Other, a regard greater than all the Bangsa role models stacked up bottom to top. The Bangsa models see others purely from the white man, Christian lenses; so, to them, the Chinese (this term excludes the Hannah Yeohs and she should be happy to learn this) has no Commandments and don’t care for it.

The Bangsa throng, to repeat a frequent claim, is a bunch of Anglophiles who, claiming to be a liberal class, is more illiberal than any other in the world, save the Islamists. Chinese chauvinism has for 50 years practiced tolerance to a fault, permitting even Umno racism to diffuse and take root, so it’s only in the last few years that the Bangsa Anglophiles and the DAP evangelists have woken up to the reality of the oppressive system.

In the same vein, the Malays have a greater problem individually working out their morality. His religion is already decided for him even before birth; his likes, fears and entitlements are fixed beforehand. When such a life is a closed book, not opened, discrimination is already a condition of the person’s existence. Who else, other than the state, has such powers of influence? And imagine if this condition is lodged in a person of great authority, with power of life and death over another? Like the police.

Again, Haris, as a Malay (so he claims), fails or refuses to see that.

Bangsa recognizes discrimination exists at large, but its equality solution refuses to recognize the nature or the origin of the discrimination. State terror is not blanket, but discriminatory and racially pinpointed because that, too, is the reason of the state. In consequence, Bangsa struggles against state terror backside up. In another way of saying the same thing, Bangsa is a non-ethnic, race-blind remedy to a national problem, fundamentally and in its roots, racial in origin. It’s like prescribing Panadol against a fever that is dengue.

Haris Ibrahim need not throw away his politics if its other leg, ethical philosophy, is flawed and misplaced. But his Bangsa solution is far too Eurocentric for a half-century problem that Europe has never, yet, to experience in full blast.

Haris could still keep his human rights if that’s so dear to him, but let’s call it human rights with Malaysian characteristics (this, in the light of Najib Razak’s Umno speech, merits a separate post).

After all the shouting and shoving, Bangsa might, hopefully, return some consolation to Guna’s sister. But, for the next Indian (or Chinese) to be equal to the Malay policeman is another thing. For that to happen Haris will have to change his politics from ‘beyond race’ to one based on race because that’s the constitutional foundation upon which the entire system was built and to which Guna and countless others, Indians and Chinese, are sacrificed on a daily basis.

In the long haul, political power must be returned to the Indians (so too the Chinese and, especially, the Orang Asli) – this is their ‘human right’. Only in this way can the status of the Indian, the “wretched of the earth” as Frantz Fanon would put it, can be flipped back right side up. Only then will that lance corporal think again each time he wants to lift his hand against another Indian. One of those Indians today is Selvach.

You see, Haris, actual, true justice is only possible among equals, by which Nietzsche means power. Equality is not some cuddly idea of human brotherhood you borrowed from some dead white male named John Locke. Kongzi (孔子) anticipated Martin Luther King Jr. by 2,000 years when he reportedly said (in lunyu 论语): yes, all are equal at birth but in time they grow apart.

The task, consequently, isn’t to return to the natural, equality state of birth, both unrealistic and impossible, but to saw off the rough edges that inequalities bring to life.

Deng Xiaoping (paraphrase from a Chinese proverb): We’ll cross the river by feeling the stones beneath. We’ll not get ourselves drowned, but we’ll cross it.


Read Full Post »