Home 2012: 4 When and why did KL lose that Mona Lisa smile?

When and why did KL lose that Mona Lisa smile?

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If only there was no “Siapa Raja?” attitude that seemed to prevail among our Umno politicians when refusing to allow Bersih 3.0 to use Dataran Merdeka, laments Stephen Tan Ban Cheng.

A section of the massive crowd at Bersih 3.0 - Photograph: Aliran

Sadly for me, Democratic Action Party vice-chairman Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim, a well-known corporate leader on whose British-trained shoulders I had placed such high hopes for Malaysia’s future, has become the lone voice in the wilderness of confusion.

All this was caused mainly because Tunku Aziz was trying in vain to be a voice of moderation as the polarisation intensified over the Bersih 3.0’s much earlier announced choice of Dataran Merdeka as the venue and the government’s offer of Stadium Merdeka a few days before the Bersih sit-in rally for free and fair elections on 28 April.

But most Malaysians are not confused. They know that the basic issue is the right to assemble in peace, with only good senior police officers appointed to ensure that the Agung’s peace is not disturbed by anyone, yes anyone, for whatever their ulterior motives might be.

Basic right

Most Malaysians know that Bersih 3.0 co-chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan’s oft-declared peaceful assembly was a sit-in rally for free and fair elections, a basic human and democratic right, given the way things are being handled by our supposedly independent Elections Commission.

Most Malaysians are also troubled and agitated by reports (a) that the No. 1 and the No. 2 in the supposedly independent Commission allegedly are or were Umno members; and (b) of unhindered gerrymandering in many constituencies where voters are willy-nilly shunted from one constituency to another to weaken the Opposition.

As my old friend, Pejo, rightly stated, laws are man-made. About 400 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, Socrates believed in a citizen’s total submission to the State, to the extent that he refused to budge when his friends gave him money to escape from what was certain death on trumped up charges made by the State.

Against this total submission to the State and therefore no-revolution-against-the-State position, philosopher John Locke of England in the mid-1600s argued that revolution is a duty when the State becomes far too onerous to its citizens.

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Coming as he did from the Church and all that this represents, including the sacredness of human life, he must have got his idea from Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) and the fourth philosopher St Augustine of Hippo, who wrote that “an unjust law is no law at all” – thereby providing the foundation of civil disobedience movements across the globe.

“If a law is really not a law at all,” Martin Luther King Jr argued in his famous letter from Birmingham Jail, “one has a right, even a duty to break it.” If a law is not really a law at all, it is argued, one has a right — even a duty — to break it. King articulated this view in his letter from Birmingham Jail: “one has a moralresponsibility to disobey unjust laws.”

What is the appropriate response to an unjust law, then? King argued that we should break it openly: “An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.”
The great American democrat Henry David agreed: “Under a government which imprisons unjustly, the true place for a just man is … a prison.”

The Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) said:

The best (Jihad) is (to speak) word of justice to an oppressive ruler. – Sunan of Abu-Dawood, Hadith 2040

O you who believe! Be securers of justice, witnesses for Allah,and do not let the hatred of a people make you swerve to do wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is nearer to God-consciousness; and fear Allah, for Allah is well acquainted with all that you do. – (Sura Al Maida: 9)

The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said to Mua’ad Ibn Jabal (RA):

Beware of the supplication of the unjustly treated, because there is no shelter or veil between it (the supplication of the one who is suffering injustice) and Allah (SWT) – [Sahih Al-Bukhari and Muslim]

Best jihad

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Indeed, Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) said that “the best (jihad) is (to speak the) word(s) of justice to an oppressive ruler.”

So in line with such wisdom, Locke, against his contemporary Thomas Hobbes of Leviathan fame, who upheld the Socratic tradition, virtually espoused that revolution against the State was justifiable in certain circumstances.

It is therefore no accident that by the time America was founded in the Revolution (1775-82) just before the French Revolution of 1789, learned leaders like Thomas Jefferson saw the wisdom of dividing power – horizontally and vertically. They wanted to give the State enough powers to rule its citizens but never enough to be a rue to them.

If only there was no “Siapa Raja?” attitude that seemed to prevail among our Umno politicians when deciding on the refusal to allow Bersih 3.0 to use of the Dataran Merdeka for just two hours on 28 April 28 from 2.00pm to 4.00pm, things would never have come to such an ugly pass.

The Dataran Merdeka would have been a much easier place for less police personnel to ensure that the rally was held in peace. And I am pretty sure that we as a nation-state have been blessed with good and reliable top police officers to ensure that such a rally could be held in peace.

Lacerated streak

And there would never have been the need to gear up our police force through the deployment of tear-gas cops and water cannon vehicles.

In the result, that decision has cost our country dearly. Why? On the record now, Kuala Lumpur remains the only city in over 72 cities around the world where violence erupted. Even other towns in Malaysia never experienced that lacerated streak in their faces.

Kuala Lumpur has now become a Mona Lisa stripped of that certain smile in her face by that lacerated streak. And do remember that Mona Lisa is valued because of that certain smile that has tantalised poets for ages.

I wrote earlier in this piece that Tunku Aziz was confused because I am pretty sure that he does not have the theoretical ballast to mount his dissent. Even if he is armed with the theoretical basis, which I doubt, that never amounted to the ballast that was needed for the solid foundation of his dissent.

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If one studies the Federalist Papers of the American Revolution period, one will know what I mean. Having said that, the thrust of this piece seeks to make a valid point of focusing on Bersih 3.0’s objective of ensuring free and fair elections by attaching levity to a serious subject!

Why do I use levity on a serious subject? It is because my earlier piece on the People’s Republic of China sending a strong signal to the world about making the yuan an international currency never got the attention it deserved although such a move would affect the world and our very lives, or whatever remains of that, when China finishes that monumental stride.

Stephen Tan Ban Cheng or Anak Tanjung Tokong Lama is a veteran journalist-turned-lawyer based in Penang.


A place named for a state of being.
In which there is liberty from arbitrary encumbrances.

A place occupied using barbed wire and armed might.
A state of being encumbered by arbitrary laws and judgments.
Enacted and enforced by the powerful.
Intent on preserving power and privilege.
By ruthless and indiscriminate use of force.
Without regard for reason, morality or compassion.
By the supposed consent of the people.
In the supposed name of the people.
For the supposed good of the people.

We will determine what is good for us.
We will think and speak for ourselves.
We will exercise consent based on reason, morality and compassion.
We will no longer respect power arising from privilege.
We will no longer fear ruthless force.
We will no longer accept indiscriminate use of such force.
We will no longer be encumbered by arbitrary laws and judgments.
We will liberate our state of being.
And then, we will liberate this place called Merdeka.

By Alwyn Goh

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.

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