Tragedy has a face, and a name

By Paul Si (The Malaysian Insider)

The powers that be, to no one’s surprise, are reacting to that emotional reaction in time-tested fashion – attack the attackers, accuse the accusers, the best defence is offence!

JULY 20 – Many people are reacting angrily to the untimely death of Teoh Beng Hock who, god rest his soul, needs no further introduction by now.

The powers that be, to no one’s surprise, are reacting to that emotional reaction in time-tested fashion – attack the attackers, accuse the accusers, the best defence is offence!

Cast aspersion on their motives. Accuse them of politicising the issue, as if “political” is a dirty word. That’s rich, don’t you think? Coming from politicians, and especially in a case that is patently political from sordid beginning to tragic end – a political secretary hauled away by a tool of political oppression in a case that is clearly politically motivated by one political party against its political enemies. Never mind which side you are on, let’s call a spade a spade.

It is clearly a political issue to everyone. Everyone, that is, except the heartbroken Teoh family, and especially his cruelly cheated fiancée, who now ponders a bleak future without the man who was hours away from being her husband and the father to her unborn child. Even in her hour of unimaginable grief, she has to worry about the legitimacy and name of her innocent child!

And just in case that standard field manual tactic is not enough, follow up with a barrage from the ever-reliable Umno-controlled heavy artillery – the media. Use the deadliest, most inflammatory ammunition – make it a race issue.

So, now MACC is off-limits because it is “a Malay institution” and any criticism of it is “an attack on Malay rights”.

Then, hunker down and wait. After bad cop has gone on the offensive, good cop promises that wrongs will be righted. The very wrongs that bad cop denies were wrong, these will be righted. You can trust me on that, good cop says. Then, stall and stonewall like crazy, drag the heels, throw up some technical gibberish as excuses for delays and, when enough time has passed, Malaysians will forget. They always have, and always will. Come the next polls, they’ll vote on the same lines as always – race.

These standard ripostes have worked so well so many times before; so well and so often, in fact, that it is hardly surprising that the standard plan is being rolled out again. Why mess with a winning formula?

Now, the one thing they can count on about Malaysians is that we love peace and harmony. So much so that we’d bend over backwards to avoid jeopardising the calm and predictable lives we enjoy. Which is usually a good thing, might I add.

So they tell us what to do, and we do it. Or else. And the “else” would be our fault, they tell us. Because we did not agree with what is obviously for our own good.

The only problem with this overwhelming love of peace is that we tend to get pushed around. We keep turning away from confrontation because that disrupts our precious tranquillity.

So, what happens to those who get their way at our expense simply by threatening to disrupt our peaceful lives? We keep backing down, so they keep wanting more of their way at our expense, that’s what happens.

And before we know it, we’re living in a state of tyranny. A peaceful state of tyranny, mind you, and it might even be a prosperous tyranny, but it is tyranny nonetheless.

So, one person dies in police custody. So what? Cops are the good guys, thieves are the bad guys. He was a car thief, the good cops say. Okay lah, “suspected” car thief, whatever, same difference lah. Anyway, it was water in the lungs that did him in … what do you mean you don’t believe?

Then another drug addict … must you be so technical with all this “suspected” business? … slips in the toilet. Oops. And another. And another.

So, we read about these things happening, we get upset, we rant and rave among friends at a coffeeshop, and then we get on with our peaceful, harmonious lives.

As news first broke of the latest sudden death, and before any details had begun making the rounds on the Internet, I googled “teoh beng hock” and found only about a dozen results, many of which were not related to the unfortunate political secretary. I just repeated the search and google returned 31,000 results, and still rising.

No matter how cynical we become after years of exposure to dirt corruption, I believe we still have a soul, individually and collectively. We may be surprised less and less, and nothing shocks us any more. At least, that is what we tell ourselves.

The powers that be count on us to be inured to all this. We’ve seen it all before so what’s one more?

And, even if you feel outraged, what are you going to do about it? They’ll just lock you up – sedition, disturbing the peace, insulting a police officer, disobeying a police officer – all these are the laws passed by our honourable representatives, elected by us, that can be used against us. And being locked up is the last thing you’d want to happen, if you know what’s bad for your health.

So the infernal machine rolls on, and nothing changes.

So how is this Teoh Beng Hock episode any different? Why should the establishment worry instead of just letting things run their course before we forget?

Just the bare-bones newsflashes about some political secretary’s death in the MACC premises shocked me, as I am sure it shocked many others.

Then more details filtered out, bit by bit. That he was “interviewed” up to 3.45am. Wow! Civil servants who work until the wee hours of the morning … and I thought nothing could surprise me any more.

Then, reports that he was to be married the next day. Then, that his bride-to-be is two months pregnant.

I am not speculating, the information above are facts, as widely reported in the media. Well, except for my surprise at civil service working hours.

What is different this time, I believe, that will be the undoing of the system is that the peace-loving, law-abiding citizenry are right royally pissed this time. Not in some intellectual or moral way that can be conveniently shelved in the face or more pressing day-to-day concerns, but in a deep-seated, heart-felt way.

To paraphrase Joe Stalin, the theft of billions is just a statistic, the death of one man is a tragedy. And, this tragedy has a face, the face has a name, and that name is Teoh Beng Hock. Forget it at your peril.


“The death of one man is a tragedy.  The death of millions is a statistic.” ~ Josef Stalin, comment to Churchill at Potsdam, 1945