When silence is not golden

By Terence Fernandez, The Sun

SILENCE in the light of criticisms and accusations are usually equated to admission. After all, that’s one of the first things first year law students learn.

In politics and business, however, silence can mean many things. It could mean that the allegations are true and responding with denials will make the situation worse or that the recipient of such barrages does not wish to engage in a public spat.

Or it could mean that clashing swords in an open stage would be bad for business and that if you are not ready with the right response, it could affect stock prices.

We see instances of muted responses in the stoic response of an ex-leader who even in retirement is berated by his predecessor, the businessman who turns the other cheek in the wake of assumptions that his money goes towards political manoeuvrings or the iconic political leader who bites his lip when facing the rhetoric of a newbie.

Hence silence does not necessarily mean admission all the time. Dignified silence could also mean that the allegations and attacks are baseless. Hence the one bearing the brunt of the attacks knows that the truth will surface and is merely giving the attacker enough rope to hang himself. After all, the truth will surface eventually right?

But the muted response from the floor at the Umno General Assembly when Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin asked his members to respect the feelings of the minorities is silence of a different kind. It could be apathy or nonchalance, but it is certainly discomforting.

It gives one the impression that they don’t subscribe to his view that one should empathise with the feelings of other races and recognise their contributions to this nation. He reminded them that the minorities are as Malaysian as the next person

Any veteran of the assembly will tell you that loud applause, thumping of tables and boisterous cheer are the regular responses when delegates approve what’s being said at the podium.

However, Khairy’s unifier theme did not seem to sit well with the delegates as much as it was discomforting to watch the young leader trying to rally the party’s future leaders to embrace and live with the diversity that made this country what it was and what it can become again.

Even party president and prime minister, Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak, had it tough working up a positive response, if any, that independence could never have been achieved without the contribution and sacrifices of all races, particularly the participation of the non-Malays.

I was not at the Dewan Tun Hussein Onn at the Putra World Trade Centre but I am sure that one could hear a pin drop when mostly stoic faces responded to Najib’s reminder that this country belongs to all and that is the birthright of all its peoples. They only showed signs of life when the president said destiny dictated that this nation is ruled by one race. Their reaction, and I hope I am wrong, is indicative of the problems that many of our leaders face today. While they are saying the right things, it seems that there are many who find it hard to swallow their pride and face facts.

The leaders we have today seem to want to steer this nation away from further social and economic regress, but some are unhappy with the status quo while others have a real or imagined notion that there are new dynamics to community relations.

But I am slightly relieved that there was some sort of positive response to the prime minister’s call to reject leaders who play the race card. It assures me that there are people who reject extremism and are on the same wave-length as leaders who take pains to unite the nation.

Unfortunately their voices are stifled by the minority who do not subscribe to the call for respect and empathy for all.

It is the silence of this majority which may decide where this country is going. And if they don’t speak up we may not like where we are heading to.