I am disappointed at the treatment which Tunku Aziz received with respect to his comment about the Bersih’s sit-in. It is quite clear the DAP-led Penang state government ended Tunku’s senatorship to punish him for criticizing the sit-in.
While I disagree with Tunku’s position and I do support the sit-in, the path taken by the state government is utterly disproportionate to the issue at hand. It reveals immaturity of those in power in handling disagreement over what I see as a minor issue. Worse, it suggests some kind of intolerance towards differences of opinion.
Some differences may require severe punishment. The case of Hasan Ali in PAS is a perfect example where there were severe differences that translated into actual actions that caused real unrest and consternation among the populace. Hasan Ali appeared determined to weaken the state government.
In the case of Tunku however, this is really the first real public disagreement. Furthermore, the disagreement is over something that cannot be turned into action. What could the Tunku do as a senator? To be sure, nothing as nearly as severe as what Hasan Ali did. And Tunku has no intention to bring down the state government or break the unity of Pakatan Rakyat coalition.
Another disappointment is the naivety on the part of the state government. It is pure foolishness to peg Tunku’s senatorship to his take on the sit-in. The result of the pegging has now raised questions about DAP’s commitment to free speech. That opens DAP to attack unnecessarily, especially when the general election is just around the corner. Now that Tunku has decided to quit the party, the DAP finds itself in a deeper hole dug by the party itself.
Among these disappointments, there is an insulting opinion floating around accusing Tunku as an UMNO mole.
What is this? Prior to this, the man was praised as the hallmark of integrity. Now, the man has none?
The DAP-led state government is a mistake. DAP supporters and sympathizers need to realize that. Step out for awhile and see the larger picture.
Instead of that they are leveling an outrageous accusation against a gentleman that is Tunku.
What is this? How is this filth any different from the slime UMNO is employing?
Have a bit of class. Now, class is something they can learn from Tunku.
Though a libertarian and in many ways individualistic in the sense that I am protective of my individual negative rights, I am highly conscious of the fact I live in a society. Even with these rights intact, there has to be a give and take, some kind of mutual and voluntary compromises.
The realization that we do not live as an island is doubly important in times when rights are unclear. The exercise of these unclear rights does create tension and ultimately bad blood in society. That is not a way to live by. This is especially so in a multicultural society where no certain way of life is necessarily taken for granted.
Yes, this about the call to prayer controversy in Penang. Although it happened it Penang, it has happened elsewhere in the past and it is really a case applicable nationwide, even elsewhere.
In Malaysia where everything done in the name of Islam is accepted by the conservatives as sacrosanct, criticism against the use of loudspeaker by mosques has been considered as an attack by Islam, at least by them. I do not think this can be seen separately from the Malay right narrative, where rightly or wrongly within local context, the idea of Malayness is seen as Islamic.
Noise (I use noise here without prejudice and only in a very general sense that it is a series of loud sound regardless of its human origin) is a complex issue as far as rights are concerned. On the default, I think I am happy to have the right of making noise stands as it own. It does seem to me like a negative liberty.
It is not a primary right I suppose but only a derived right, derived from freedom of expression. One perhaps could derive it from religious freedom but I tend to believe religious freedom itself is a derived right, and as far as the Islamic call to prayer in Malaysia is concerned, I think freedom of expression is more relevant than religious freedom. That does not mean religious freedom is being negated. I am simply stating that freedom of expression is more relevant. Sometimes, reiterating that in useful as an emphasis. I have found that typical readers read only to forget what they read in the previous sentence.
In any case, given the default position, there clearly is a problem with individual or organization like mosques using its right in early morning in a residential area, causing discomfort to others, especially for those who do not appreciate being effectively shouted at with a loudspeaker.
I personally have bad experience with mosques and call to prayer. My childhood home in Malaysia is surrounded by at least three large mosques, never mind the smaller ones dotting the neighborhood. During call to prayer, the three will seemingly engage in a competition with the loudest call will win the day.
This is very, highly annoying. Things are made worse when these mosques use loudspeakers and project their reading of the Koran or the actual prayer outward.
While the default position belongs to the mosques, it is much better for the general harmony of the neighborhood to not, at least, use the loudspeakers at every single chance these mosques have. Even with the right, voluntary compromise goes a long way in creating tolerating neighborhood. One does not what to live a neighborhood which bad blood prevails.
Respect, compromise and harmony may be a something-in-the-cloud or everything-and-nothing kind of approach. It sounds nice, but what exactly does it entail?
Well, I think it means mosques need to use their loudspeakers discriminately. Personally, I think the best is by turning the loudspeaker inward rather than outward. Realistically, use it only for actual call to prayer, and be extra mindful about its morning usage. Lower the volume by some notch, especially when there are oppositions. If there were none, the problem would not have existed in the first place.
Be as that may be, with the default case of right belonging to the mosque, freedom of expression and free speech is a two-way street. If the mosques insist in using its right, then criticism will be mounted. The mount of such criticism is also part of negative individual right. It is part of free speech.
So, if negative rights and liberties are adopted as the way forward by the mosques to justify their use of loudspeaker and projecting it outward to show its Islamic credential, they must face the criticism in the spirit of free society. Do not issue threat. Do not think that that criticism is some kind of unfair demand.
This goes with churches and temples as well.
In fact, I think it goes for all of us. Loud radio, loud TV, loud party, firecrackers, speaking into the phone loudly in the train, etc.
Just be mindful of your neighbors. Do not be obnoxious.
And I think that is reasonable.
p/s — while I am supportive of any move of reducing the use of loudspeakers by mosque, I do not support having a central authority telling local mosques what to do. That however is another issue that I will give it a pass right now.
I have nothing clever to say with respect to the controversy involving the usage of the term Allah by Christians in Malaysia (specifically, Catholic Christians I suppose) and objection raised by considerable number of Muslims there. What I have to say is just some plain old consequences arising from my libertarian position. I think I have somewhat clarified my position while trying to explain, what I think is why some more conservative Muslims in Malaysia object to the use of the term Allah by Christians in Malaysia.
In any case, I am going to explain my position.
From the principle of freedom, specifically religious freedom and more broadly, freedom of expression, there is no reason for me to be alarmed by the recent court decision to allow Christians to use the term Allah to refer to their god in Malaysia. For any group to claim exclusive right over an idea that cannot be, in a sense, privatized or perhaps — however ridiculous this may sound — trademarked, is problematic. I cannot quite find the right words to describe it but clearly, no individual liberty has been transgressed by this action taken by Christians. Meanwhile, to prevent Christians from doing so will violate their liberty, and therefore should be untenable for libertarians.
Furthermore, based on the concept of secularism, which I consider as an essential aspect of the libertarian concept of the state, the state should have no role in this at all. So, to me, the court decision is only right. If the court had ruled otherwise, it would call for government intervention in form of religious control in the society.
Not only that, that government intervention will expand the frontier of the state into private life of a person. Just imagine the kind of mechanism required to enforce a ruling that insists the term Allah belongs exclusively to Muslims and no one else in Malaysia. Well, actually, you do not have to imagine it. It is already in place.
Lastly, this conflict paints both Christianity and Islam in Malaysia in a bad light: those Christians who insist in using the term Allah when there are other alternatives and conservative Muslims for their schizophrenic attitude. It is true that the Christian insistence does not violate liberty but hey, a lot of things a lot of people say and do do not violate liberty either. Whether all those things are the smart things to do or say is another matter altogether, even within libertarian constraint.
 — Dec. 31 (Bloomberg) — Malaysia’s High Court ruled that a government ban on non-Muslim publications using the word ”Allah” is unconstitutional, settling a dispute that stoked questions about religious freedom in the country.
The Herald, a weekly publication of the Catholic Church of Malaysia, filed for a judicial review after it was temporarily ordered to stop publishing for two weeks in December 2007 after using the word, which means ”God,” in its Malay-language section. [Malaysia Court Rules Catholic Paper Can Print ”˜Allah’. Manirajan Ramasamy. Ranjeetha Pakiam. Bloomberg. December 31 2009]
The era of government knows best is over, or so said Prime Minister Najib Razak in the early part of his young administration. As a person who distrusts the government greatly, I consider that there was never a time when the government knows best. Instead, there was only a long period of paternalism where the government tramples over individuals, especially the ones conscious of liberty.
Notwithstanding the issue of trust, when the head of the government says something so liberal, it provides a glimmer of hope that finally there is a window for a liberal democratic era, however minute the opening might be. What happened in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday, as the authority responded to the anti-Internal Security Act march, quickly proves that it is a false window opening to a sordid wall painted blue. In the end, we are still in a small stuffy room imprisoning us all, with blue sky nowhere in sight.
The Barisan Nasional federal government possibly sees the worst in all individuals when it comes to the exercise of freedom of assembly. It takes an almost Hobbesian view in a sense that any assembly in an open public space will degenerate into a rampage. Without control, chaos will reign, as Thomas Hobbes more or less stated in the Leviathan.
It is most unfortunate for history to side with those in Malaysia holding an overly pessimistic view of human nature. The racial riot of May 13, 1969, which has become a boogeyman of sorts that those in power have used time and again to cow individuals from discussing so-called sensitive racial issues so openly, began after groups paraded through parts of Kuala Lumpur. In 1964 in Singapore, at a time when the island city was an integral part of the Malaysian federation, a racial riot that has largely been forgotten by most — even by some in the older generations who accuse the younger generation of being ignorant about the history of the country — was also sparked by parading groups.
If indeed that is the cause of its hostile view towards the exercise of freedom of assembly, then the Barisan Nasional government needs to mature in democratic and liberal terms in order to keep up with Malaysia’s maturing civil society.
The way these protests are carried out and handled — by protesters, by those who disagree with the protesters as well as the authorities — is crucial in the training and inculcation of the culture of liberty by civil society. As long as the authorities continue to assume the worst in individuals, the training will not go far. A government that is still hung up on past fears will become a substantial barrier to the development of civil society.
Peaceful protests happen frequently in developed parts of world for various causes. What any mature government would do with respect to freedom of assembly is to have police officers and other authorities stationed at multiple locations to ensure that these assemblies, either supportive of the government or otherwise, remain largely peaceful. Anyone who causes damage to public property or hurts another person can simply be arrested. There is no problem with that. Furthermore, those interested to keep the assemblies peaceful will agree with that too.
How many times have the authorities failed to suppress peaceful marches only to have the marches end up being peaceful in Malaysia in recent times?
The Bersih march on Nov 10, 2007 ended up peacefully. There was no damage to public property, almost nobody was harmed — and if they were harmed, it was because the police fired tear gas and water cannons before relenting for some reason — and the organisers even picked up trash left behind!
The same goes with the march by lawyers as well as other sympathisers that occurred in September 2007.
This is definitely a sign of a maturing civil society. These groups are conscious of their liberty as well as the associated responsibility that comes with it.
To suppress large peaceful assemblies, like what happened on Saturday and on various occasions in the past, is to turn everything unnecessarily ugly. Actions taken by the authority on Saturday, either in the form of roadblocks or actual coercion, unnecessarily exacerbate the whole episode.
Kuala Lumpur would have not turned into a war zone if the authorities did not suppress the march. Shops would not have to close temporarily if the authorities simply respected the individual’s freedom to assembly. Commuters would not have to suffer hours in traffic if the authorities had taken a liberal stance. Malaysia would not have been painted in such a bad light by the international media.
Perhaps, the government is worried what happened in Bangkok would repeat itself in Kuala Lumpur. Before that track of thought is taken up, it is imperative to realise that the motive in Kuala Lumpur is very different from the one in Bangkok. The one in Bangkok was explicit in its intention to lay prolonged siege on important public institutions. That was never the goal in Kuala Lumpur. Those participating in the anti-Internal Security Act march in Kuala Lumpur are far too respectful of democratic ideals to supplant the legitimacy of the ballot box.
Yet, judging by the inconsistency shown by the Barisan Nasional government, it is not truly a Hobbesian view that it takes. Even if one disagrees with the idea that by nature humans are chaotic beings, the sincerity of a Hobbesian view cannot be denied if he or she takes a consistent stance on the matter. For the Barisan Nasional government, it is only almost a Hobbesian position because there is no sincerity. It is only almost Hobbesian because only assemblies expressing dissatisfaction against the Barisan Nasional government have its participants risking becoming victims of the state security apparatus, or really, given the absence of a necessary separation between the state and a political party that is required to avoid abuse of power, victims of Barisan Nasional’s apparatchiks rather than the state security apparatus.
When some students of Universiti Teknologi Mara took to the streets to protest against Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim’s suggestion that the institution should slightly liberalise its intake to include some non-Malays to encourage competition in that tertiary education institution, these apparatchiks stood silent, and perhaps, even approvingly. Meanwhile, peaceful candlelight vigils held in protest against police actions irreverent to the idea of liberty in the past have been forcefully dispersed.
In stark contrast to actions taken on Saturday by the police, juveniles were arrested and handcuffed to be treated like common thieves, while actual common thieves ran loose on the streets. The hypocrisy displayed cannot be any clearer.
A proper Hobbesian government will act consistently towards all assemblies and the Barisan Nasional government is no Hobbesian government. Its tolerance to peaceful assemblies depends on who participates and what those assemblies are about, not how peaceful they are. The fact that these assemblies are peaceful are of no consequence to actions taken by these apparatchiks to suppress individual liberty, be it the firing of a water cannon or a stormtrooper shooting teargas to politically conscious but otherwise unarmed and unaggressive individuals.
The inconsistency demonstrated by the Barisan Nasional government is worse than a Hobbesian government. It is a kind of paternalism, which leads to tyranny. They will argue that it is for the best for the country but really, it is only the best action for them to remain in power.
The ideals that Barisan Nasional holds mostly are corporatist, one based on ethnicity. The idea of individual liberty, if it is allowed and encouraged to take its rational course, will dismantle any corporatist set-up. For Barisan Nasional to remain in power while holding to its corporatist ideal, it is in its interest to curb liberty, as it did on Saturday.
Therefore, the era of paternalism is not over. It will be over only when Barisan Nasional evolves or is replaced by a more liberal democratic government. This kind of evolution however is not in its menu.
First published in The Malaysian Insider on August 3 2009.