If we take an honest and critical look at our history – certainly since the 1980s – smoke and mirrors have constantly been used by the regime to legitimise greater coercion and control, writes Zaharom Nain.
The term “threat to national security” has been bandied about so often lately by the authorities and the country’s largest political party that it has begun to sound like a tired and tiresome cliché.
So, what threats are they talking about? Are these purported threats, first, physical threats to our very being, our existence – like the dreaded Islamic State (IS)?
Or are they, second, non-physical but nonetheless deemed serious threats to our way of life, our cultures, the moral fabric of our society – like that proverbial whipping boy, “western” culture?
Or, third, simply smoke and mirrors to rally the wider population to the side of an administration that is facing a crisis of leadership and hegemony?
Indeed, it really does sound rather awkward, pathetic even, for a country that purports to be a democracy to declare peaceful rallies by its citizens to be possible “threats to security”.
It is as if we’re living in a police state, where the democratic right of citizens to assemble peacefully and march in the streets is deemed a breach of security.
And then to arrest peaceful protestors who have absolutely no criminal record and drag them to the lockup.
Here in contemporary Malaysia, we get a range of people – from the “other” side, of course – being arrested and charged for sedition under a law designed and introduced by the colonial powers way before we attained political independence.
All evidently calculated to shut us up and curb discussion and dissent in a democracy. Talk about taking one step forward and two steps back.
Imminent threat and emerging legislation
Now, there is talk that there are new threats to security, especially from terrorist groups such as the IS.
These, evidently, are very real threats. In late November last year, the Home Minister talked about the threat by Malaysians who had joined the IS – and would possibly return to spread the IS’s vile, hateful message domestically – and the need to address this threat.
Yet, recent news exposes illustrate that our borders are not exactly impenetrable or well-fortified. Indeed, there evidently are some places with non-existent security checkpoints where people can easily move in and out of the country.
Instead of addressing these basic problems, the-powers that be informed us that in addition to Sosma (the Security Offences [Special Measures] Act) and PCA (the Prevention of Crime Act), a terrorism Bill would be introduced in Parliament.
There was a lack of transparency on the Bill. There was no open discussion surrounding it and, as is often the case here with new legislation in the making, this Bill was kept under a shroud of secrecy not befitting of a democracy.
We were asked to accept that there are real threats and, on top of that, to accept the clear and rapid passage of a Bill through Parliament without our representatives in the House having much information, if any, regarding the contents of the Bill and its implications on personal freedoms.
We were asked to conveniently forget, as loyal citizens, how the discarded Internal Security Act (ISA) – which many say is what this Terrorism Bill effectively replicates – was abused, time and again, to suppress legitimate dissent and NOT to overcome the threat of terrorists and terrorism.
New legislation is all too often ushered through Parliament hurriedly without allowing elected representatives from various political parties to examine and debate them
What then should the rakyat do?
In response, we must first of all insist that whatever threats the authorities say we face, we must be allowed to openly question and discuss these possible threats so that we may all understand and gauge the extent and legitimacy of these `threats’.
We must demand accountability and greater transparency. There needs to be greater discussion and debate about security issues, followed by systematic and coherent studies to assess these issues and threats.
Certainly not ad hoc half-baked schemes designed by politicians who wish to capitalise on security issues and hang on to power.
Second, we must discard the double standards and hypocrisy based on our own highly prejudicial and discriminatory points of view.
We cannot condemn and punish certain groups indiscriminately just because they are a minority and allow other, hateful, groups like, say, Isma and Perkasa to spew their bigoted venom simply because they are part of the majority.
Third, we need to reopen – and keep open and expand – the channels of communication, the networks of free expression and not curb public discussion and critical media coverage of many issues deemed “sensitive”.
If we take an honest and critical look at our history – certainly since the 1980s – smoke and mirrors have constantly been used by the regime to legitimise greater coercion and control, to rally the wider population to the side of a regime faced with a crisis of leadership.
It looks like this approach is now at work again in contemporary Malaysia.