Conflict or convergence: which will it be?

Raja Petra Kamarudin

In 1998, Anwar Ibrahim launched the Reformasi Movement. Soon after that he was unceremoniously thrown into jail on what many believe were trumped-up charges of corruption and sodomy. Most, of course, believe that Anwar’s only ‘crime’ was refusing to kowtow to the then Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, on the issue of whether government money should be used to bail out certain people from their financial predicament brought on by the Asian Crisis.

In early 1999, while languishing in the Sungai Buloh Prison awaiting the outcome of his ongoing trials, Anwar wrote his AGENDA PERUBAHAN. It was smuggled out from prison soon after that and Dr Chandra Muzaffar, the then Deputy President of Parti Keadilan Nasional, asked me to get it translated into English. Reading Anwar’s handwriting was difficult enough, but trying to find the suitable English words for what Anwar had written was a task that stumped even the experts I consulted.

For example, what English word would best replace the Malay word ‘rakus’? ‘Greedy’? ‘Greedy’ would be ‘tamak’. Rakus is more than that. Rakus could be greedy to the point you swallow everything until you almost vomit. No, there are no English words to best replace ‘rakus’, so we had to be contented with a ‘near-translation’.

The AGENDA PERUBAHAN became the AGENDA FOR CHANGE in English and I must admit it is a most superb document which, until today, many Malaysians have probably not read yet, or maybe are not even aware it exists. It is not a very thick document. Nevertheless, I will not reproduce the entire document here but would instead like to focus on a few key points that have been mentioned in it.

It starts with the objective of the struggle.

The principal objective of Parti Keadilan Nasional’s (keADILan’s) struggle is to build a society and a Malaysian nation centred on religious faith and noble humanitarian values.

That was how Anwar kicked off the AGENDA FOR CHANGE.

After the two-page preamble, Anwar talks about the GUIDING PRINCIPLES of the AGENDA FOR CHANGE.

2.0 Guiding Principles

The struggle to build a just Malaysian society and nation guided by the fundamental principles of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia. Included in these principles are:

2.1 To uphold the principle of a Constitutional Monarchy and preserve the institution of the monarchy in the context of a parliamentary democracy.

2.2 To uphold a parliamentary democratic system by giving supremacy to the voice and power of the people.

2.3 To defend the Rule of Law and to ensure that this principle is not transgressed for the benefit of the leaders or certain cliques.

2.4 To establish a judiciary that is free and conscientious as a bastion of justice for the people.

2.5 To uphold basic human rights and noble values regardless of status or descent.

2.6 To enshrine Islam as the religion of the nation while guaranteeing freedom of worship for all.

2.7 To honour the Malay language as the national and official language while guaranteeing the right to use the right to learn all other languages.

2.8 To defend the special position of the Bumiputera community while protecting the rights of all other communities by giving emphasis plus offering opportunities to all other communities on the principle of justice.

2.9 To protect the citizenship of all Malaysians, while emphasising the responsibilities of citizenship.

2.10 To strengthen the Federal system of government by guaranteeing appropriate State rights and effective district representation.

Then Anwar goes on to say:

B: Basic Rights and the Law

3.1.8 To guarantee freedom of speech, association and assembly, along with other basic human rights.

3.1.11 To defend the independence of the media against control by the political elite or by business elites for their own interests or the interest of their cronies.

In section 3.3 Agenda for Change – Religion, Culture, Community Relations and the Federal System, Anwar says this:

A: Religion

3.3.1 To provide the Muslim community with the environment and the educational and legal systems conducive to the realisation of Islam as a complete way of life (ad-Deen) among Muslims. The right of all non-Muslims to uphold their respective religions or faiths will be protected.

3.3.5 To increase dialogue between religions and cultures and enhance mutual understanding among the communities of Malaysia.

C: Community Unity

3.3.7 To espouse national unity on the basis of justice for all. The noble values common to all communities will shape the solution of Malaysian society.

3.3.8 To establish a Community Relations Council, independent of the Executive, to present ideas to Parliament. This Council will address and seek solutions to communal problems facing Malaysian society. Strategies will be formulated to counter the inclinations of those who would use communal issues to frighten the people and divert their attention from the attempt of a small group of communal leaders to enrich themselves.

The above are merely two pages from the 13-page document. They should, however, suffice for what we will be discussing today.

Before I go on, though, I would like to draw your attention to that fact that, unlike in the past, you must now first of all register to post a comment in Malaysia Today’s blogs. I am sure all of you are educated and intelligent enough to know the reason for this and I do not need to go into any lengthy explanation. Malaysians may be intelligent and educated, but they are certainly far from tolerant and civilised. They are also extremely irresponsible and could not care less whether what they write or say rub the feelings of fellow Malaysians the wrong way.

The various comments many bloggers have made in Malaysia Today since August last year lies testimony to this.

Today, you need to register to post your comments. If this still does not work, then, tomorrow, we may have to close down the blogs entirely and you may then only read whatever is published but you will no longer be able to post any comments or opinions.

We must all be accountable for our actions, I included. But if you wish to act without having to be accountable for your actions — never mind what your excuse may be; scared of ISA, scared of retaliation, etc. — then you lose that right of free speech. No one should be allowed to maliciously throw stones while hiding their hands. If you want to throw stones, fine, but then do it the Intifada way. Throw stones by all means, but be brave enough to run the risk of ‘taking a bullet through the head’, figure of speech of course. If not, then stay in the safety of your homes and do not venture outdoors. Even the Palestinian women have the balls to face the consequences of their actions.

Now, back to Anwar’s AGENDA FOR CHANGE and note the following key issues:

3.1.8 To guarantee freedom of speech.

3.1.11 To defend the independence of the media.

3.3.5 To increase dialogue between religions and cultures and enhance mutual understanding among the communities of Malaysia.

3.3.7 To espouse national unity on the basis of justice for all. The noble values common to all communities will shape the solution of Malaysian society.

These are just four of the many points in the AGENDA FOR CHANGE. But if we cannot achieve even these four BASIC points, what hope is there in achieving the so many others?

Malaysia Today would like to accept Anwar’s challenge for change. Malaysia Today would like to guarantee freedom of speech, would like to defend the independence of the media, would like to increase dialogue between religions and cultures and enhance mutual understanding among the communities of Malaysia, and would like to espouse national unity on the basis of justice for all, but only if Malaysians too would like to see the same.

As they say, you can drag a horse to water, but you cannot force it to drink. Malaysia Today, for the last eight months or so, has been dragging Malaysians to water, but it looks like Malaysians just do not know yet how to drink.

If you wish, you can say that Malaysia Today is experimenting in offering Malaysians a platform to dialogue and debate the many issues that divide us in the hope that this discourse would result in better understanding and tolerance between those of various ethnicities and religious persuasions. Of course, sometimes the medicine can be very bitter. But aren’t all medicine so? Therefore, to camouflage the bitterness, we have to always sugar-coat the medicine. Sugar-coating does not mean we are deviating from or hiding the truth. It just means we are skilful in presenting what is unpalatable in a more palatable manner. It is merely a matter of choosing your words properly and structuring your sentences so that the message is not lost in the insults.

Ultimately, our intentions dictate our actions. If we are bent on conflict, then our words would reflect this. But if our intentions are noble, then we would most certainly tailor our language to meet this objective.

And what are the real intentions of Malaysia Today’s readers?