December 10th, 2009 by Hafiz Noor Shams
The day I had a lunch appointment with a friend at the central business district in Sydney was one of those pleasant summer days. With blue sky and time aplenty, I walked the distance, which was about a mile or two from my home. As I approached the restaurant, my cell phone beeped. It was a message from the friend. She requested for an hour worth of postponement. With me already among streams of people crisscrossing the city centre minding their own business, I switched direction and headed toward Hyde Park to visit a prominent war memorial. Inside, on the wall carved the word Malaysia, along with other places where Australian forces had fought long ago. My mind immediately raced toward a period when communist insurgency was running high in Malaysia. Years have gone and sympathy for communism should be dead by now but it is has not.
The dishonorable path the Malaysian government takes with respect to former communist militants may unnecessarily fuel the fire of communism and the general political left in the country.
Communism is a disagreeable idea that restricts liberty. Its goals are arguably dreamingly nobly utopian. Its means are not however; its opposition to private property right is enough to demonstrate how communism is anti-liberty. Furthermore, good intentions and goals are never enough. History has shown how communism failed in all four corners of the world.
Wherever it still exists, it is a façade supported by capitalism, it exists side by side a ruined economy, its promises unfulfilled, or it only exists within the framework of democracy that communists in the real world — not mere theoreticians who failed to account for reality — long ago considered as an anathema. Communism simply fails to confront real world problems.
In great contrast, capitalism in one form or another continues to be the best system to ensure prosperity despite all criticism that have been lobbed at it and despite painful crashes that we see every now and then. It has been performing better at delivering prosperity than any form of communist solutions that any communist can realistically hoped for, so far. A stronger statement is possible: it has been performing better at delivering prosperity than any other system, so far. In the face of this observation, those who still cling to the promises of communism are being hopelessly romantic, bathed in stubborn denial and doomed for ideological failure.
The truth is self-evident yet, former communist militants — more so its former head Chin Peng who is unrepentant of past transgressions and his failed ideology — continue to receive sympathy from far too many individuals in the country.
For all the pain communism had caused all around the world and especially in Malaysia, only those on the political margin should be expressing sympathy to either communism or former communist militants, and not those near the centre. Yet, many close to the political centre do so. When those near the centre do that, then something is definitely amiss. It is worrisome for such sympathy to blossom in the mainstreams section of our society because such sympathy can sow the seed for future growth of communism.
At the very least, it creates a groundswell for strong support for the general political left in the country. Communism may be a weak movement here in Malaysia but in the future, especially with the proliferation of greater democratic culture, that statement does not have to be true, even if we are living in the age of Fukuyama’s end of history.
It can be the seed because a short-term factor may override dire long-term consequences of communism when individuals consider the issue. That factor is a linchpin for the sympathy former communist militants currently enjoy. That linchpin is injustice. A sense of injustice is the reason why there is sympathy for Chin Peng and other former communist militants.
It is a short-term factor because some time in the near future, the issue will be academic since nobody lives forever. Nevertheless, the refusal of Malaysian government to allow for the former leader of a defunct militant — some would say terrorist — movement to return to the land of his youth will no doubt be an example of injustices communists and communist sympathizers may highlight as part of their populist rhetoric to attract new acolytes for the hive.
It is an injustice because by refusing Chin Peng the right to return, the government is reneging on its obligations arising from the peace treaty signed between it and the communist. That treaty specifically calls upon the government to allow former communist militants to return to the country if the application is made before a deadline, which Chin Peng met.
That turns the matter into an issue of sanctity of contract. As much as communism is an enemy of liberty, the idea of sanctity of contract is a cornerstone of liberal societies. Indeed, one of the reasons for the establishment of a state in liberal tradition is the need to enforce contracts entered voluntarily, as long as those contracts do not violate individual liberty. When the state goes back on its words with impunity, it inevitably raises a very serious question regarding the legitimacy of a state. In a more concrete term, it undermines public trust in the Barisan Nasional federal government, which does not have a sterling reputation to start with.
One does not need a lecture on the importance of sanctity of contract in liberal tradition. One does not need to be a liberal to understand the idea of sanctity of contract in wider traditions. Surely, at some point in time, our parents or our teachers have impressed on us on the importance of keeping to our promises. Being true to our words, generally, is good ethics.
Opponents to the act of honoring the agreement among others cite that Chin Peng deserves no forgiveness for all the heinous crimes he committed. Furthermore, Malaysia would have been a very different place if the communists had succeeded. We might as well have been another North Korea. For that and more, Chin Peng may indeed deserve no forgiveness and in fact, continuous denunciations.
Nonetheless, in the words of Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz of the Malaysia Think Tank in an email exchange regarding this very matter among several libertarians, “the issue of forgiveness and honoring a contract are separate.” Our refusal to forgive a person should not be the basis of us refusing to fulfill our obligation to the other person as stated in a contract. Therefore, there is a liberal case for allowing Chin Peng to return, unless there is proof that he has violated the 1989 Hatyai Peace Accord.
More importantly, by allowing the former militant leader to return and hence, fulfilling the obligation imposed on the Malaysian government, it removes injustice from the equation. Without injustice as a factor, there is little reason for those close to the political centre to sympathize with Chin Peng and thus, killing the seed for greater support — however small the increase is — for communism and the general political left in Malaysia.
First published in The Malaysian Insider on December 8 2009.