Sun Tzu and the art of war

In 1998, when we first started using the Internet to fight Barisan Nasional, there were only 280,000 Internet subscribers against 8 million registered voters. Today, ten years on, there are almost 16 million Internet subscribers against 12 million registered voters.


Raja Petra Kamarudin

The Internet has been abuzz the last couple of days about the ‘accidental’ police report an NGO made against Malaysiakini. Those who had made the police report did not know the difference between Malaysiakini, The Malaysian Insider and Malaysia Today.

The following day, they ‘corrected’ the mistake and two more ‘Malay’ NGOs made a police report against Malaysia Today. While I am honoured that the news reports talk about Malaysiakini, The Malaysian Insider and Malaysia Today in the same breath, I have to correct this misperception and declare that Malaysia Today should not be compared to Malaysiakini or The Malaysian Insider.

Malaysiakini and The Malaysian Insider are proper or legitimate online newspapers or portals run by professional media personnel, most who have many years experience in the media industry. Malaysia Today, however, is not in that same league. We are not a proper or legitimate online newspaper. Neither are we run by professional media personnel. Malaysia Today is a ‘weapon’ that is meant to bring about political change in Malaysia.

We learned how useful the Internet can be back in 1998 when the Reformasi Movement first exploded onto the Malaysian political scene. More than 100 Reformasi websites mushroomed overnight to give Barisan Nasional a run for its money. Of course, then, most of these websites were aligned to Anwar Ibrahim and/or PAS. There were some that were aligned to DAP as well.

In 1998, however, there were only 280,000 Internet subscribers. But that was enough to sufficiently damage Barisan Nasional in the 1999 general election that was held about a year after the debut of Reformasi. No doubt the Internet was not the major contributor to the opposition victory in November 1999. But it did contribute enough, though in a small way, as to how Barisan Alternatif performed.

Then the opposition became complacent. Their 1999 ‘victory’ lulled them and put them to sleep. Not long after that DAP pulled out from Barisan Alternatif and that aggravated the problem. In the March 2004 general election, the voters demonstrated their disgust for the opposition coalition.

I have already talked about this matter so many times in the past so there is no need to go over all the issues and statistics again. The bottom line is: the opposition practically got wiped out.

Soon after that, Anwar Ibrahim was released from incarceration. There was jubilation all around. My wife, Marina, and I stood on the steps of the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya, quite amused at the chanting and cheering going on. My phone rang but I could not hear properly because of the noise. I handed the phone to Marina, who has better hearing than me. “It’s the BBC from London,” she told me as she handed me back the phone.

“Hold on,” I shouted into the phone. “It’s so noisy here. Let me move to a quieter place.”

Marina and I quickly walked to the side of the Palace of Justice where it was quieter and I spoke to the chap from the BBC.

“We heard Anwar has just been released. Can we get your statement?”

“Sure, but why me?” I asked.

“Well, you are the Director of the Free Anwar Campaign and you run the freeanwar dot com website. I suppose you are now out of a job since Anwar has just been released. What do you plan to do now?”

“I suppose you could put it that way,” I laughed. “I must be the only Director who got retrenched from his job because he is successful.”

The BBC chap laughed and asked, “So what do you intend to do now, now that you have been retrenched?”

“I am going to now focus fulltime on the new website I just started three weeks ago.”

“Oh, what is it called?”

Malaysia Today. It’s at malaysia dash today dot net.”

“You said you started this website three weeks ago? Does this mean you anticipated that Anwar would be released?”

“Yes, I did. In fact, that was one of the first articles I wrote on Malaysia Today. I said that Anwar would be released with a two-one verdict and that the lady judge would be the sole dissenting voice.”

“How did you know? Do you own a crystal ball?”

“It’s my business to know. That is what I do. I find out what people don’t know or try to hide and publish the story, while crossing my fingers in the hope that I am right.”

“So what do you hope to achieve with your new website?”

“Let me put it this way. It took us six years to free Anwar from jail. But only Anwar is free. Malaysians are not yet free. And Malaysians will never be free until they can be allowed freedom of expression and freedom of choice. It may take us 60 more years to free Malaysians, I don’t know. I may even never see that happen in my lifetime. But that is the mission and vision of Malaysia Today, to free Malaysians by allowing them freedom of expression. Freeing Anwar was phase one. Phase two is to free Malaysians.”

“Thank you Raja Petra. And I wish you luck in your new endeavour. Can we call you again if we need anything further?”

“Sure, no problem. Bye.”

That was my ‘interview’ with the BBC on the steps of the Palace of Justice on the morning of 2 September 2004. Malaysia Today was then only 20 days old. But Malaysia Today was created with a vision and a mission. It is not, as the government said, a hobby of bored and unemployed housewives. Malaysia Today was created to gain back the territory that we lost in the March 2004 general election when Barisan Nasional performed its best ever in the history of Malaysian elections.

“What do you think we are going to see?” Marina asked me. “This is going to involved a hell of a lot of work. And you are going to suffer all sorts of hassle from the police. Is it going to be worth it?”

“Hun (we call each other Hun, which is short for honey, not hantu),” I told Marina. “Come the next election, in 2008 or 2009, Malaysia Today is going to be the weapon we use to hit Barisan Nasional where it hurts most. We are going to engage Barisan Nasional in the cyber-world and use hit and run guerrilla tactics. They will be running around in circles trying to duck our hit and run attacks but they will not be able to do anything about it. By then the Internet will be the most powerful ‘terrorist’ weapon in the elections. And we will be there, ready to take on Barisan Nasional in 2008 or 2009.”

Yes, in 1998, when we first started using the Internet to fight Barisan Nasional, there were only 280,000 Internet subscribers against 8 million registered voters. Today, ten years on, there are almost 16 million Internet subscribers against 12 million registered voters.

Over the last ten years, the number of registered voters increased only 50%. However, in that same period, the number of Internet subscribers increased 328.9% (according to the official statistics). Today, the Internet reaches 62.8% of the Malaysian population. Malaysia has more Internet subscribers than it has voters. (See the statistics below).

Yes, that was our plan back in 2004 when we launched Malaysia Today. No, Malaysia Today is not a newspaper. And it is not in the same league as Malaysiakini and The Malaysian Insider. Malaysia Today is a guerrilla outfit. We are cyber terrorists. Our job is to hit the government whenever and wherever we can. And if hit and run is what it takes, then hit and run is what it will have to be.

We almost succeeded in meeting our aspirations in March 2008. But, in our books, that is a job only half done. We have to finish the job. We have to complete what we started back in 1998. And the completion would be when Barisan Nasional has been brought down from its high horse and made to eat humble pie. We will consider to have met our objective when the government admits that it serves the people, and not the people who serve the government.

On a slight digression, when I was in Kamunting from September to November last year, Marina sent me loads of books to read and one of those books was The Art of War by Sun Tzu. It was a most interesting book and took me only a day to finish. I must say that book gave me new insight into guerrilla warfare.

The government calls the Barisan Rakyat Bloggers cyber terrorists. Actually, I had never thought of it that way. I suppose, under the circumstances, since we have been classified as cyber terrorists, then we have no choice but to act as one. And terrorists must master the art of hit and run.



Internet World Statistics

Total world: 1,581,571,589
Asia Only: 650,361,843
Malaysia: 15,868,000 (62.8 % of the population) (user growth 2000-2008: 328.9 %)

Source: Internet World Stats
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The Art of War: Sūn Zǐ Bīng Fǎ

Chapter summary

1. Laying Plans explores the five key elements that define a successful outcome (the way, seasons, terrain, leadership, and management). By thinking, assessing and comparing these points you can calculate a victory, deviation from them will ensure failure. Remember that war is a very grave matter of state.

2. Waging War explains how to understand the economy of war and how success requires making the winning play, which in turn, requires limiting the cost of competition and conflict.

3. Attack by Stratagem defines the source of strength as unity, not size, and the five ingredients that you need to succeed in any war.

4. Tactical Dispositions explains the importance of defending existing positions until you can advance them and how you must recognise opportunities, not try to create them.

5. Energy explains the use of creativity and timing in building your momentum.

6. Weak Points & Strong explains how your opportunities come from the openings in the environment caused by the relative weakness of your enemy in a given area.

7. Manoeuvring explains the dangers of direct conflict and how to win those confrontations when they are forced upon you.

8. Variation in Tactics focuses on the need for flexibility in your responses. It explains how to respond to shifting circumstances successfully.

9. The Army on the March describes the different situations in which you find yourselves as you move into new enemy territories and how to respond to them. Much of it focuses on evaluating the intentions of others.

10. Terrain looks at the three general areas of resistance (distance, dangers, and barriers) and the six types of ground positions that arise from them. Each of these six field positions offers certain advantages and disadvantages.

11. The Nine Situations describe nine common situations (or stages) in a campaign, from scattering to deadly, and the specific focus you need to successfully navigate each of them.

12. The Attack by Fire explains the use of weapons generally and the use of the environment as a weapon specifically. It examines the five targets for attack, the five types of environmental attack, and the appropriate responses to such attack.

13. The Use of Spies focuses on the importance of developing good information sources, specifically the five types of sources and how to manage them.

Sun Tzu