Colour-blind justice

As Malaysians, we need to stand up and deplore the horrid taint our public officials have cast upon our culture and our ethnic heritage by using these things to defend a regime of dictatorship and terror. The Internal Security Act is not a Malay law; it is an unjust law. The abusers of power are not Malay, Chinese, or Indian; they are criminals and sinners. No culture and no race can ever justify these wrongs — not in a million years.

By John Lee, The Malaysian Insider

Race, culture and politics are a deadly trifecta. There’s a reason people often ask you not to politicise or racialise an issue — it isn’t pleasant. But I’m going to stir a hornet’s nest or three today, because there’s an important issue at stake in Malaysia today: the fundamental right to life.

Far too often, we let our politicians use race and culture as excuses to run roughshod over basic freedoms—and now it has clearly gotten to the point where they use them as excuses to ignore even the value of human lives.

For far too long, we have allowed the silliest of excuses to justify the denial of basic human and civil rights to Malaysians: the argument that it isn’t in our culture. Our politicians love to say something like “Oh, we aren’t the West. We must govern ourselves using our own cultural norms.”

Complete bullshit. So, our ancestors didn’t question their superiors. Does that mean we should not question our superiors? Only if that means we should also live in grass huts and destroy all our modern infrastructure. This is a classic example of “1st world infrastructure, 3rd world mentality” if I ever saw one.

When this culture of complete obedience to your leaders and of complete disregard for the wellbeing of ordinary people permeates the country’s politics, what you get are cases like A. Kugan’s and Teoh Beng Hock’s. The people with power will believe they can get away with anything. And “anything” potentially includes murder — something I’m pretty sure isn’t and shouldn’t be part of our culture.

But when you let a culture of openness and accountability prevail, you get something very different. Anwar Ibrahim’s famous “black eye” is a fantastic example — it was publicised among the press and public, and the government had to call a Royal Commission to investigate.

The former Inspector-General of Police, Rahim Noor, eventually did jail time for beating Anwar to within an inch of his life. I’m pretty sure jailing the IGP is not in our culture, if by “our culture” you mean a culture of slavish deference to those in power, but it was the right thing to do, because those who do wrong must be punished — something I’m pretty sure is present in any culture.

At least with culture, though, there was the pretence that we were all united under one budaya of our Bangsa Malaysia. This being Malaysia, it seems to be our budaya to bring race into politics on a regular basis. Teoh Beng Hock’s case is a perfect illustration of this.