A taste of one’s own medicine

Raja Petra Kamarudin

It touched my heart when Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, when asked how he feels one day after he buried his wife, said he felt very lonely.

I can understand how he feels. I too felt the same when I was locked up in solitary confinement in April 2001, not knowing whether I would be released or be sent to Kamunting for indefinite detention under the Internal Security Act. And that was my strongest ‘motivating factor’, the fear factor, the fear of not knowing when I would again be by my wife’s side.

And fear can do wonders to one. It could make you cringe. People have been known to shit or piss in their pants when confronted with fear. It could make you do things you have never done in your lifetime and which you never knew you could do.

Have you read the Readers Digest article about a mother wrenching open the stuck door of a burning car to pull her child free? Not even a heavyweight of a man could do that. But the mother was motivated by fear, fear that her child would burn to death, so the strength of ten men overwhelmed her.

Yes, I too was overwhelmed with fear, fear that I would be locked away for the next few years and would no longer be beside the wife that I love. I too, just like Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, felt lonely. But the fear and the feeling of loneliness had a strange affect on me. I did not cringe. I did not piss or shit in my pants. I did not wrench open the steel door of my concrete box of a jail cell and walk free. I did something I had never done in my lifetime and which I did not know I would be able to do; I starved myself.

I was so overwhelmed with fear of separation from my wife that I chose death over loneliness. The Special Branch officers thought I had launched a hunger strike as a mark of protest. It was not a hunger strike. I was not protesting. In a way I was a coward who chose the easy way out. I could not face the agony of separation so I chose to end my suffering the coward’s way. It is like you have been diagnosed with terminal cancer and rather than suffer the agony of the disease the next six months you end life now before the pain sets in.

That is the coward’s way, the way of one who has given up on hope.

Such is the pain of loneliness and separation. And today Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is suffering this same pain. I just hope Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is now able to appreciate the pain of those still under Internal Security Act detention in Kamunting, some who are in their fifth year of detention.

But their pain is worse than that being suffered by Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. While Abdullah Ahmad Badawi may be suffering the pain of loneliness and separation, his wife is resting in peace. For the Internal Security Act detainees, both husbands and wives are sharing the pain of loneliness and separation.

It would be most unkind of me to say that Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is getting a taste of his own medicine. But then how else can I put it?

While on the subject of a taste of one’s own medicine, a few nights back I was shooting the breeze and sipping teh tarik with some Reformasi website webmasters. They had requested to meet because they were curious as to what the agenda of Malaysia Today is and they wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth. They also wanted to know whether I had been ‘bought’ by Umno and whether I have now ‘crossed over to the other side’.

I have been asked this question ever so often that it did not surprise me and neither did I take offence to it. But why did they need to ask me this? What gave them the impression that I have become a turncoat?

This, they explained, was what had been told to them by the Information Chief of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Tian Chua.

What, I asked them, gave them the impression that the Information Chief of Parti Keadilan Rakyat may be right in his assumption?

Well, they replied, Malaysia Today is very critical of the opposition.

Is not Malaysia Today also critical of the ruling party and the government? Has not Malaysia Today been most unkind to Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, Najib Tun Razak, Hishammuddin Hussein, Khairy Jamaluddin and many, many more of those in government?

Well, yes, but Malaysia Today is also critical of Anwar Ibrahim, Parti Keadilan Rakyat, PAS, DAP, the Reformasi Movement, and so on. Maybe Malaysia Today has not been as brutal in criticising the opposition as it has the government. Nevertheless, it still has been critical.

And is this so wrong? Should Malaysia Today criticise the wrongdoings of the government and its leaders yet ignore whatever wrongs that may be done by those opposing the government?

There was no response from my drinking partners. They had not thought of it this way.

Malaysia Today is about freedom of expression. The opposition, in particular activists turned politicians like Tian Chua, have been screaming about wanting more freedom of expression. They accuse the government of not respecting the rights of Malaysians to practice freedom of expression. But they only want the freedom to express themselves against the government. They will not tolerate any freedom to express dissatisfaction against the opposition.

“Is this the kind of freedom of expression they are talking about?” I asked my drinking partners. “Can’t the opposition take a taste of its own medicine? Is this not hypocrisy?”

When we criticise the government, we are a good supporter. When we criticise the opposition, we have been bought by Umno. Those who claim to struggle for democracy and freedom of expression do not yet understand the very concept. To them, democracy and freedom of expression means the right to slam the government. But this same right should not be allowed those who wish to slam the opposition.

They have a long way to go before they can claim the title of upholders of democracy and freedom of expression. I sometimes wonder: if they ever come to power, would they be worse than those they are accusing of not respecting democracy and the right to freedom of expression? Probably, if the opposition ever formed the government, Kamunting would be filled to the brim with those detained under the Internal Security Act for the offence of voicing out.

Yes, something to think about don’t you think so?