Liberty Politics & government

[2878] The anti-ICERD protest is a chance to show this government is different from the past administration

This is the first significant protest the current government faces. And this is yet another opportunity for this government to demonstrate that it is different from the previous corrupt racist, fascist regime.

That can be shown by accommodating the protest as much as possible with a view of not being explicitly hostile to it either through speech or action, but by guaranteeing the safety of the protest participants and others while they exercise their rights to freedom of assembly and speech.

I participated in all of the Bersih protests and each time, there was always a dread feeling inside of me expecting the worst to happen. Such feeling was warranted.

Previously, government-controlled media always delivered threatening messages to the masses ahead of any large protest. May 13 without fail was the boogeyman.

My first taste of tear gas happened while I was standing amid a large crowd near the Maybank tower.

I have been chased by the police before. At one time, an officer pulled a gun near Jalan Raja Laut after chaos erupted. There was a time when I walked by a security personnel during a protest, and he verbally abused me.

And the laying out of barbwire and other actions like the conspicuous rolling out of anti-riot assets with security personnel all equipped with armor always threatened the atmosphere of the protest.

Furthermore, it was common knowledge that the party in power then sent provocateurs to create chaos, and create a reason for the security personnel to come in and break the protest.

All this should be avoided by this government. The police should hold back and not purposefully threaten the crowd. No provocateur should be sent by anybody associated with the ruling parties and the government.

It is by backing off from these provocative tactics that we can show to the world that the government is self-assured and strong.

The function of a government within the context of its citizens exercising their rights is to protect those rights and the people who are practicing it peacefully.

We can disagree with the agenda of the protest participants, however racists they are, but we should also respect their right to assemble peacefully.

We can be different and we must be different. We can show to them that there is another way. We do not need to beat our chest to show our confidence and strength.

That is the best way to blunt their message: that we are different and better.

Photography Politics & government

[2840] Bersih 5, ticked

This edition of Bersih, felt less carnival-like unlike last year. Nevertheless, Bangsar still had the fun crowd, with all the banners and masks and flags and songs. I love the fight songs.

But well, the protest is not about having fun. It is about exercising political rights. And it is never really courageous to take potshots from the sides. From time to time, we hafta go down.

I had expected the worst, after all the heightened provocations and shrilling threats made by Umno men. I was prepared with salt water, some medication and legal aid contact written on a piece of paper in my bag. In the end, it proved to be unnecessary thanks to the protest organizers and the police. I m thankful in the end, the protest was peaceful.

I am glad we have learned something about right to peacefully assemble after all these years. That took a lot of work. And that alone is progress, and that should be restated time and time again to the cynics.

There are various persons currently being held by the police for merely protesting peacefully. Whatever progress we have achieved, there is still much to be done. After all, Najib Razak is still the Prime Minister, after all the wrongs he has done.

Bersih 5 on Jalan Bangsar

How was it in Bangsar?

Well, from left to right, Riza Aziz, Rosmah Mansur (obscured), Jho Taek Low and the man himself, Najib Razak.

Activism Photography Politics & government

[2795] The protest signs of Bersih 4

One of the things I like about protests are the signs.

This refers to the Home Ministry’s petty law gazetted on Friday to ban all yellow t-shirts with the word Bersih 4 on it. Walking around KL, or if you used the public transport over the weekends, you would see the level of civil disobedience. This also reminds of me V for Vendetta: “Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.”

Remember, civil disobedience is a hallmark of democracy. “Donation,” probably less so.

And yes, protests require stamina, especially for Bersih-style protests. Mentally, we had to prepare for tear gas. A lot of running. And of course, strong arms to hold up the signs. See the sign next to the yellow one? Have some sympathy for him please!

Others are… well. Snarky.

Bersih is not about toppling the government, although no doubt many if not the majority wants the corrupt man to step down and face a proper court of justice. We ain’t seeking a revolution kid, but we want change nonetheless. So, the “Bye Najib” sign is a hilarious interpretation of that sentiment.

The tildes add to the effect. Hahaha.

Some are more direct in their anger.

For the man of doublespeak, this needs no description at all.

There were signs with coarse language. I could not point my camera fast enough to shoot it. The streets were packed with people, filled with vuvuzela noise courtesy of the South African World Cup and I had to watch where I was going.

Make no mistake, this was a peaceful protest (I hate the word rally. I am a purist and I will use the exact word to describe this: it was a protest). But, those here on the streets were angry.

The shimmering anger makes a hand-off police attitude a must. Any intervention will lead to chaos. This is true for all past Bersih protests. Hell came down only after the first tear gas was shot. I have been teared gas before. It hurts. It irritates the skin, it feels like chili in your eyes, you will have trouble breathing. It weakens you. If your mind loses control over your senses, panic will strike soon after. But, it also turns you into a hulk as soon as you recover. It is scary the first time but the next time, you are prepared for it.

Remember, this is a protest led by the middle class. The first time might be a nightmare for naive men and women on the streets. But the next time, the confrontation tactics will be more sophisticated. We are not sheep to the wolves.

But I am going off the rail.

Back to the signs!

For king of U-turns and for the king of changing stories.

I have to explain this a little bit. Gostan is a funny Malay word originating from English. Apparently, it is a corruption of “go astern” (who on earth would tell a driver to go astern I have no idea).

Here is for the I love PM crowd.

20150829 Bersih4 (68)

While most signs are for the register of protest, others are more utilitarian.

20150829 Bersih4 (69)

Bersih organizers were recruiting volunteers to pick up the trash left behind, and demanding participants to be responsible. Do not be a litterbug. We want a clean government and a clean street. You there! What are you doing? Pick up your trash!

Also, it will be very instructive to observe the level cleanliness during Bersih and that during the August 31 celebration. I write so because detractors say Bersih would leave behind trash, but the truth is, they do not really care and making issues out of nothing. They would not care about the trash left behind during other government-sanctioned major events.

Hell, do these people clean their treys and table when they eat at McDonald’s? They would leave their rubbish behind.

This one is for the police.

20150829 Bersih4 (42)

It is an appeal for the police not to use force against the protesters, arguing that a clean government is for the family of these men and women in blues too.

And… do you hear the people sing?

20150829 Bersih4 (31)

Well, not really, but you know.

This one asks, where is democracy?

20150829 Bersih4 (26)

At least I think so. That is a non-standard Malay, likely more Iban or Sarawak-based. Actually, I am not sure whether my translation is correct.

There were multiple guerrilla-style notification posters. These two informed protesters where to gather and who to call in times of troubles.

20150829 Bersih4 (11)

I need to go. So I will end this with a vandalism unlikely done by Bersih participants.

20150829 Bersih4 (32)

Keep our city clean.

Photography Society

[2539] Crowd violence and police stupidity

I had an expensive bet with a friend that more than 200 would be arrested after the Bersih dust settled. The tally now is coming close to 500. I won. My record with him now is 2-0 in my favor.

In the beginning, the odds were against my favor. It appeared that the government had finally reached a kind of maturity to match a more political active society. The gathering crowd was not harassed and the authorities, apart from closing Dataran Merdaka with barbed wire, were largely taking a hands-free attitude. I started to think that I had entered into a fool’s wager.

There were some stupidity by the police, like trying to drive several trucks right through the middle of the crowd. Some irresponsible individuals threw plastic water bottles at the trucks. This trend would prove bad later as the situation deteriorated beyond anybody’s control after somebody broke the barricade to Dataran Merdeka that invited overreaction by the police force, which fired unreasonably tear gas right into a largely peaceful crowd. With the crowd spanning from Dataran Merdeka to Sogo on both Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman and Jalan Raja Laut and to well beyond Masjid Jamek, it is a wonder that there was no deadly stampede. (There was another large group on the other side of Dataran Merdeka, at the Bar Council; Marina Mahathir has story from the other side).

So, I had expected to lose the bet. That was until I saw on the road to Jalan Parlimen a troop of riot police was equipping themselves with their gears. This was probably an hour before the chaos began.

When I saw that, I began to retreat to the back, expecting the worst. I know how it feels like to be exposed to tear gas. I had no intention to go through the same experience all over again.

I did not know whether the riot police was just on standby mode or was preparing to disperse the crowd regardless of what happened. I am more inclined to believe the latter. The reason is that in the morning, plain cops were forming a barrier. The riot police riot in their full gears took over when it was close to 2 o’clock, the time when the Bersih sit-in was to begin officially.

Whatever the possibilities, the crackdown started later than I expected. So, I spent the time exploring the true size of the crowd.

The size was just amazing. This was larger than the first and the second incarnation of Bersih. I went to both and this sit-in surprised me the most. I had expected protest-fatigue. I had expected a smaller protest. I was dead wrong. This was bigger than anything Malaysia had ever seen. Anybody who thinks otherwise is probably a Barisan Nasional sympathizer, or an anti-protest couch potatoes dependent on papers like Utusan Malaysia.

Both my phone and internet connection did not work close to Dataran Merdeka. Somebody told me it might be network congestion. The funny thing was that, farther away from Dataran Merdeka, the connection worked. I suspect a jammer was deployed.

As we all know by now, the worst came. Some fools broke the barricade and the even more foolish riot police fired tear gas into the crowd of thousands without warning. The police could have arrested those whom broke the barricade, but despite the hundreds of police officer deployed at Dataran Merdeka, they chose to punish the thousands.

That made the crowd angry but they knew they were no match for tear gas and water laced with chemical. And so they retreated.

This was an angry crowd. Remember that adjective.

The anger was focused solely on the police though. It requires no brainpower to understand that. It was a concentrated anger against the police force and there were proofs to this. Civilian vehicles were let through. The medical team was cheered on and let through.

The police, well, water bottles were thrown at them. With kilometers of angry crowd, some police officers had the audacity to drive their vehicles through the angry crowd. This was utter stupidity by the police, always clueless about the situation on the ground, despite having deployed helicopters and paragliders in the air, in the era of social media.

The hostility and violence of the minority in crowd was regrettable and should be condemned. Yet, would you, being the sole focus of crowd anger, drive through a road filled with kilometers of angry crowd, at unbelievable speed that could cause roadkill?

Here is a proof of that stupidity and the targeted hostility.

More balls than brain.

The unnecessary violence by some in the crowd, and the stupidity of the police caused a police car to ram into at least two protesters as it was later reported. And the car was overturned by an angry mob. It is unfortunate that that is the focus of the mainstream media, and not the context, or the larger issue of electoral reform, or the lies of political transformation program.

Conflict & disaster

[2327] No to foreign military intervention in Libya

There is a civil war in Libya and the one that started it is Muammar Gaddafi. He is a vicious man. The way he violently handled peaceful protests against his government justifies the rebellion that is underway in the country. Between the Gaddafi government and the rebels along with the protesters, I find it impossible not to support the rebellion morally. Despite that, I cannot support any foreign military intervention that sides with the rebellion.

The talk of military intervention gained prominence when there was suggestion to impose a no-fly zone in Libya. The fact that two US warships are approaching the waters off Libya heightens the possibility of US intervention in Libya.[1] It is a relief when US Defense Secretary Robert Gates poured cold water on the suggestion.[2]

At the risk of sounding sadistic, I do not support intervention because I like to see how the civil war will play out in the end. If the rebels and protesters won the war eventually, then it would be relatively easy to justify the new government arising from the popular rebellion. The new government would be formed popularly and organically.

Any foreign military intervention will rob some legitimacy from the new government. Accusation of US imperialism will fly, possibly making the rebellion less popular inside and outside of Libya. Furthermore, in times when the whole Arab world appears to move forward towards a more democratic environment, such external intervention is unhelpful.

Meanwhile, Gaddafi does have some support in Libya, however deluded he is about the level of support he has. There are still people fighting for him. These supporters would definitely try to justify Gaddafi’s so far outrageous claim of foreign intervention in Libya. Having an actual military intervention will hand Gaddafi and his supporters some undeserved moral victory.

Besides, the rebels themselves have stated that they do not want foreign government to intervene.[3]

If the rebels loses, then the Gaddafi government will further lose its legitimacy because the rebellion is seen by many as a popular movement.

And then, there is another issue which I have raised earlier: we cannot fight tyranny everywhere. If intervention is justified in Libya, what about other protests suppressed violently in other part of the world? Myanmar? Iran?

I do not even support any United Nations or any other organization’s peacekeeping mission in Libya, given the current situation. The rebels seem to be winning. An international peacekeeping force by the United Nations would halt progress made by the rebels and protesters, preventing or at least prolonging possible victory that would remove Gaddafi from power and along with it, hopefully his arguably socialistic policies. I do not want any intervention that would increase the likelihood of Gaddafi staying in power. I would support a peacekeeping mission only if Gaddafi has the upper hand.

Until then, I insist all we can do — apart from humanitarian aid — is sit, watch and hope for the best in the Libyan rebels and protesters.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

[1] — WASHINGTON — A US warship with hundreds of Marines on board headed towards Libya on Tuesday, defense officials said, as US and European allies sought to pile pressure on embattled leader Moamer Khadafi. [US warship headed to Libya: officials. AFP. March 2 2011]

[2] — Military options, such as imposing a no-fly zone to prevent attacks on regime opponents, have consequences that need to be considered carefully, Gates said. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization hasn’t decided on any specific steps. [US signals caution about Libya military intervention. Lachlan Carmichael. AFP. March 3 2011]

[3] — Ghoga said the newly formed council was not contacting foreign governments and did not want them to intervene. [US signals caution about Libya military intervention. Al Jazeera. February 27 2011]