Turning a blind eye to moral policing vigilantes will give the wrong signal to those who are inclined to carry out illegitimate justice, says Mustafa K Anuar.
The vigilantism exemplified by the moral police called the “Badar Squad” in Kedah, whose purported intent is to monitor and curb activities they consider “sinful”, must be stopped at all costs because it obviously has adverse effects on the rule of law, security and democracy in the country.
Driven by their warped sense of vigilante justice, the group’s members take it upon themselves to catch and punish couples they regard as promiscuous, to the extent of humiliating these couples by giving them a dressing-down at a cemetery, the final destination of ordinary mortals.
The problem with vigilante justice is that it lacks the organisation of a genuine legal system.
The group’s modus operandi, which is decided and legitimised by members, not only has no legal standing, but can also become dangerous as it is often fuelled by the intensity of their zeal to combat ‘social ills’.
The force of the ‘mission’ of such vigilante groups also depends on what they perceive to be the urgent need to fix the slow and lengthy process of the law or the lackadaisical attitude of enforcement agencies dealing with such ills.
Given their burning fervour to achieve their supposedly pristine goal, and imbued with a strong belief that they have divine blessing, these vigilantes are ready to wage ‘war’ against those regarded as miscreants.
Such a mindset and rationale may gain traction with the far right and other extremist elements in society.
In Europe, for example, the far right have taken the law into their own hands in their professed aim to protect themselves and others considered to be on their side against the ‘menace’ of refugees who recently settled in the continent. The outcome of such conflicts is often violence.
Contemporary Philippines has its fair share of vigilantism, which has brought about literally bloody consequences.
Here in Malaysia, religious extremism and ethnic bigotry of various stripes may well fit the garb and language of such vigilante groups snugly in their fight against liberalism and its adherents. Dialogue and discussion are often absent, if not frowned upon, in this situation.
To turn a blind eye to this phenomenon in Malaysia is certainly to give the wrong signal to those who have a penchant for executing an illegitimate brand of justice.
The fact that the Badar Squad has been operating for the last two years without the seeming knowledge of or reprimand by the authorities might have emboldened its members to push the envelope.
Vigilantism that is bent on breaking laws and mocking civilised behaviour must be condemned in no uncertain terms. This phenomenon must be addressed firmly and urgently if we want to prevent the escalation and spread of such lawlessness in our midst.
Government enforcement agencies, on their part, should see to it that they do not leave gaps in the implementation of laws, which provide some excuse for vigilantes to conveniently fill.
Additionally, law enforcers, particularly those from religious agencies, should also attempt to avoid questionable, if not overzealous, ways of enforcing laws that could tempt wayward vigilantes to imitate them.
The gravity of this problem demands that political parties from both sides of the divide take a stand on the matter, so as to send a stern message that concerned Malaysians do not tolerate such unruly and dangerous acts, especially at a time when serious attempts are being made to strengthen the country’s democratic practices and institutions.
To take this menace lightly is to do so at our own risk.