Suppressing dissent at a cost

By Azmi Sharom, The Star

We are squabbling over the ridiculous while the really big issues that will affect us all go undebated. One day we are going to look up and realise these issues have overtaken us.

TWO weeks ago 10 students in UPM, who had won seats on the Student Representative Council, were told that they were disqualified by the university management.

This led to an angry reaction from their supporters and scenes of chaos on campus … well, by Malaysian standards they were chaotic. Eventually the 10 were reinstated.

Last week seven students from Kuala Kubu Baru wanted to return their copies of Interlok to the school because they did not want to read it.

This resulted in them being brought to the police station and collectively interrogated for 10 hours.

These two incidents are separated temporally and spatially but there is a common link between them.

Before I go into that however, I just want to say how shocking I find the Kuala Kubu Baru incident.

It is beyond belief that seven boys, could be questioned by the police in a police station for something like this.

No doubt there is some political controversy about this book, and obviously the boys were making a political statement of some sort.

It would be naive to think otherwise.

However, they were not breaking any law and they were not in any way acting in a manner which would justify this heavy-handed action by the school and the police.

At the very most this was an internal school matter which should have been dealt with by the school authorities and no more.

Ideally of course, knowing the combustible nature of this book, it should have been dealt with in a firm, but sensitive, manner.

Be that as it may, this is what happened in the last two weeks and the common thread is paranoia.

The students of UPM and the boys in KKB were standing up for what they believed in, and it just so happens that what they believe in contrasted with what the powers-that-be want.

The UPM candidates who were disqualified were all “Pro-Mahasis-wa” candidates, not the establishment friendly “Pengerak”.

The KKB boys were in their own way protesting against a book that has been given the stamp of approval by the Education Ministry.

They were in short, dissenting. And dissent cannot be tolerated, especially if expressed by the young.

This is clear by the over the top reaction by the authority figures in these two situations.

So keen were they in protecting the status quo that they would behave in a manner that defies logic and reason.

Is this the level of feudalistic loyalty that we have in this country?

I am afraid that it is.

This kind of medieval thinking and attitude does not only lead to acts of injustice but also bodes ill for our future.

This year is more than likely going to be an election year. Buoyed by its recent by-election victories, the ruling coalition is bound to want to go all the way to win back their precious two-thirds majority.

In a mature democracy winning a strong majority and being able to form a government would be more than enough.

Not here. It is complete domination or nothing at all.

Be that as it may, there will probably be an election this year.

If this is the case, I want to hear what the politicians who want our votes have to say about the floundering economy.

I want to know why there is so much currency leakage.

I want to know how much longer can we depend on our petroleum resources.

And, more importantly, I want to know what are all the candidates going to do about it.

However, considering the stage of our national mental development – that the winning of seats on a powerless student council and the returning of textbooks can lead to such an over reaction, I doubt we are going to get that level of debate.

We are squabbling over the ridiculous in this nation.

We are squabbling while the really big issues that will affect us all go undebated.

One day we are going to look up and realise these issues have overtaken us, by which time it may well be too late.