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Danger could be one SLAP away

Photograph: Malaysiakini.com

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With an irresponsibly indifferent regime in power, being emotional now is really not a smart choice, says Nicholas Chan.

Photograph: Malaysiakini.com
Photograph: Malaysiakini.com

As a very amateur political analyst, I’m always flattered when people approach me for predictions or forecasts. But lately I was confronted with questions I took no pleasure in answering.

The elephant that may or may not be in the room; the possibility of another racial riot happening in Malaysia. The wails of the May 13 incident, although it happened almost 50 years ago, never seem to fail to leave us shuddering. As the nation flips through the chapters of its history, that particular page still stands out like a looming tower. The shadow it casts is immensely dark and worrisome, especially during this critical juncture of our story with its heightened political unrest and ethno-religious tensions.

I have to admit that this question forces me into a moral dilemma.

On the one hand, as the logical mind dictates, I don’t think a full-blown, blood-spilling racial riot can happen in present day Malaysia, nor is it in the making. Analysis is abundant for the rationale, but I shall sum it up as (i) Malaysians are inherently a non-violent people; (ii) economic deprivation has not reach the point for a massive uprising; and (iii) we have a multi-racial and religious opposition that stands as much to lose as the incumbent if a racial riot breaks out. A lesson learnt with a terrible price paid.

But, on the other hand, I am not too keen to be a pacifier either, lest people take our peace for granted and through certain actions or inaction bring harm to our social harmony, gradually turning their initial fears into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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This is because, despite a majority of us preaching reason and peace (we do have a siege mentality but luckily, we occupyourselves in defence rather than in producing a siege), it has become apparent in the light of recent events (especially in Penang) that there are quarters who have sought an allegiance with the devil. Why? It could be that ultra right groups want to raise the political stakes or it could be the work of those from the fringes of the society who are more attuned to misguided ethno-religious supremacy and xenophobia, not unlike the Nazis – or it could be both.

Either way, malicious, concerted and constant effort has been made to shake the benign and courteous foundations of our society. And to borrow from the recent Teresa Kok slapping threat incident, I would call their tactics (no matter whose they are), the slapping trick.

This trick is unapologetically easy to perform. Thou shalt slap the enemy until he/she slaps you back, and you shall then cry foul and go on a warpath. That is why you see banners insulting religion being put out; one day a Molotov cocktail is thrown into a church and another day a slab of pork is found at the entrance of a mosque.
And it is all happeninhg in conjunction with a never-ending barrage of racial slurs and undignified public attacks. The non-Muslims, the liberal Muslims, the purportedly Shia Muslims are all figuratively ‘slapped’ till kingdom come.

The catch to this trick is that, it is difficult to get away with it in a democratic state governed by the rule of law. Ours, however, is tilted heavily towards an autocratic state, which seems to not just have neglected such threats to the law, but has also condoned it in the fashion of a Machiavellian ethnocratic state.

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The opposition thus far has, to their credit, been carefully avoiding this game of brinksmanship. But who can guarantee a knee-jerk response won’t be elicited one day to the delight of the provocateurs? For now, we still have the alternative media and the online democratic space for voices of conscience to spread the message of peace and reason and also to ease tensions by communicating truth and love.

But what if the game is upped and this space is closed down to stifle such voices? It is not an unthinkable scenario seeing that we have films, radio shows and even works of art regularly censored. There might not be any ambition left in the often silent Seri Perdana but it is not hard to see that there are interest groups carefully plotting a return of Mahathirism, or worse, religious totalitarianism.

All it takes is a situation that warrants total rule. What better than the excuse of security? It doesn’t take much really. It only takes one sick man to have the entire village quarantined.

Although not wanting to sound like a doomsday prophet, I can’t help but stress the need for patience, vigilance and kindness to counter these conspiracies of deceit and mala fide pursuits. And if this means enduring more slaps, so be it for the love of our nation, because the real danger of losing peace, or even humanistic democracy, might just be a slap away.

With an irresponsibly indifferent regime in power, being emotional now is really not a smart choice. As Michael Caine’s character said in Christopher Nolan’s take of the Caped Crusader in The Dark Knight,

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“Endure, Master Wayne. Take it. They’ll hate you for it, but that’s the point of Batman, he can be the outcast. He can make the choice that no one else can make, the right choice.”

It’s evident we should follow the message in the old British poster, Keep Calm and Carry On.

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