Opinions abound and they are bound to hit some sensitive nerve. When it hits, there goes another police report. There goes another demand for an ISA arrest.
The right-wing group Perkasa has been at it for some time now, calling for the arrest of various individuals for challenging what the group considers as Malay rights. Leaders of MCA and MIC meanwhile have lodged police reports against Perkasa for calling for the abolition of vernacular schools. An Umno politician recently said that nobody should question the existence of these schools because the founding fathers had agreed to it — nobody should question it; neither such an ultimatum nor threat has any place in a democratic system that cherishes freedom.
Some debates are engaging in that there are outstanding ripostes to brilliant arguments as opposing sides try to outwit each other. An exploration of ideas happens along the way to awe both participants and spectators. They are well-researched and well-argued. Malaysia requires this kind of debate for it to take the next step into the future confidently. We have the infrastructure and the institutions to take that step. What we lack is the culture. The exchange of threats reflects that.
The ones taking place in Malaysia are unimpressive by any measure. There is no witty riposte. There is no brilliant argument. There are just people who disagree with each other so badly that they want to silence the other. They are unable to conjure attractive thoughts to undermine the others’ arguments. They are not creative enough to convince the others and the spectators why they are right and the others are wrong. All they can muster is “shut up or else.”
Worse, some of these arguments are made by members of the ruling coalition. One would expect more from them, given that they are driving the car.
When an argument is really a thinly veiled threat, it betrays something about it or those who make it. It is a weakness of intellect or laziness in thoughts. The gears in their heads stop running and their muscles begin to flex.
If this was the dominating atmosphere on the fringes, it could all be ignored safely. They can flex their muscle all they want in dark corners populated by cuckoos. But all this is happening in the center of the public arena.
It is because it is taking place in the centre that this lamented trend cannot be tolerated. It creates a climate of fear that crowd freedom out from the center.
No one in Malaysia needs any reminders that multiple issues need resolutions. These are old legacy issues and problems we inherited from our founding fathers.
None can claim to know what the eventual sustainable solutions are. What is true is that the way for us to begin to imagine those solutions is by being free to debate all issues with reason, not by resorting to threats.
First published in The Malaysian Insider on August 27 2010.