The ISA and the Rights of the Majority

The Home Minister, with all due respect, don't seem to grasp the issue well enough. In the first place, nobody, and I mean NOBODY has ever questioned the fact that certain individual rights must be given away to the state in exchange for the benefit of the state and the people it comprises.

Azhar Harun

Malaysia Today published a piece of news from The Daily Express today (16th April 2009). Among others, it reports that "the Home Ministry will ensure that a balance is struck between the individual right and the right of the majority in any changes to laws under it, including the Internal Security Act (ISA)."

Our new Home Minister, Hishamuddin Hussein was quoted as saying :

"People always talk about the right of the individual only but in any change, the right of the majority is just as important. It's a principle that I will uphold without fear or favour."

It is regrettable that there seems to be a conceptual misunderstanding on an issue which strikes at the core of a civil society, namely, the fundamental rights of the people. The real issue is not the balancing of the rights of the majority and the rights of the individual. If that was the case, the logical conclusion would be the majority should be able to do whatever they like at all times and in any manner they wish.

To my mind that would be an abuse of Bentham's utilitarian principle. That principle – although positing that an act or policy which brings the greatest pleasure or happiness to the greatest number will be a good act or policy – is never about the majority in a society riding roughshod over the minority. Bentham was never the author of "The All And Be All Of The Majority" if you get what I mean. In actual fact, he warned that certain unnecessary laws or punishments may just bring with them new and more dangerous vices than those which were supposed to be suppressed in the first place!