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George Floyd, the social contract – and solidarity in the struggle for justice

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Ch’ng Chin Yeow says we can be a power for moderation by extending our solidarity to all those who are disadvantaged by unjust policies.

The mass demonstrations across the US have demonstrated just how fragile society can be when the ‘social contract’ is broken. 

The specific incident which sparked the unrest was the inhumane way a black man, George Floyd, was treated by a white arresting officer, Derek Chauvin. Having restrained Floyd, who was lying face down on the road, Chauvin knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. Despite Floyd’s pleas of “I can’t breathe”, the officer refused to take the pressure off his neck, even after the victim passed out and turned motionless.

Floyd had reportedly been arrested under suspicion of having used a fake $20 (RM86) note at a nearby shop.

The social contract was broken when the US police, tasked with maintaining law and order, safety and security in society, turned into the perceived enemy, ever ready sometimes to use excessive force and commit acts of brutality against the black community.

Many whites, both men and women, the young and the not-so-young, came out in droves to support the blacks in the mass demonstrations that erupted across the US. They displayed their solidarity with their fellow black brothers and sisters to protest over the prejudices and injustices against the black community.

In heartwarming scenes, some white demonstrators even shielded black protesters from frontline police personnel. These whites were probably motivated and spurred into brave and admirable action by their sense of solidarity, compassion and justice.  

The social contract between a government in any country and its people is important – and it needs to be just. The love and support for a government can never be forced upon its people through the use of brute force. It has to come from the people’s intrinsic motivation from within.

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Any government that tries to force its citizens into total submission will find that the resulting peace and security is only temporary and superficial. The discontentment simmering under the surface is merely waiting for an opportunity to flare out into the open.

Many populist politicians derive their power and support by making scapegoats out of some minorities.

In Malaysia too, we have politicians who campaign based on race or religion to boost their popularity. Such politicians think little of the discord and disunity they sow in a multicultural and multi-religious society and the damage inflicted on the social contract and harmonious coexistence.

In February, in the wake of the infamous Sheraton Move, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who had chaired the Pakatan Harapan coalition government, announced the formation of a unity government with all parties. But the PH parties declined to be in a government that would include Umno and Pas politicians. The DAP itself has been painted as a bogeyman, a threat to the Malays, Islam and the rulers, an allegation that is unfounded.

The current Perikatan Nasional government, which came to power – without the people’s mandate in a general election – is practically an all-Malay coalition. Is this a prelude to the minorities including the Chinese losing whatever influence they have? I cannot see any possibility of much minority (eg Chinese Malaysian) representation in government anymore unless the Chinese vote for the MCA, which has long since been perceived as not having their interests at heart.

The only hope left for move inclusive governance lies in the few Sarawak and Sabah non-Muslim politicians in the PN government, and hopefully they will not openly betray the minorities.

The only political tool left for the minorities in Malaysia is to struggle on behalf of all people against all injustices. This could be the most powerful political tool to counter the entrenched racial and religious politics in Malaysia.

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Struggling against any injustice against any group – whether they are the Malays, the Indians, the Orang Asli and Orang Asal or the Chinese – could provide genuine checks and balances against abuse of power by our politicians and political institutions. Together, we can build solidarity, and we can become formidable.

To be vocal against all forms of injustice in society would keep politicians playing racial and religious populist politics in check. We have seen how Umno and Pas rallied the Malays to the streets using ethnoreligious issues. Conveniently, the Other, the Chinese especially, are sometimes scapegoated. And so, real change in our political landscape will be difficult to achieve in the near future.

Gerrymandering will probably continue in its current form to make sure that urban voters are underrepresented and rural voters overrepresented. There is no way this PN government or the next government – whether it is headed by Umno, Pas or Bersatu – will be open to the redrawing of electoral boundaries to make them more equitable.

No matter which country we are in, the people coming out in droves to struggle for justice and fairness is the only way we can counter powerful political elites.

Are we not grateful to the many Malays who always come out to voice their support for the Chinese and the other minorities? These Malays are not from the disadvantaged. They have nothing to gain from struggling alongside the minorities. They speak out because they believe in justice and fairness for all.

Because those from the majority community have nothing to gain from struggling alongside the minorities, that makes their solidarity truly great. Otherwise, when the minorities voice their grievances, their voices may not be heard or they may be perceived as sore losers. They should be eternally grateful to the majority community, in this case the concerned Malays, showering them with compassion, love and justice.

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This is the power of solidarity. Minorities in Malaysia can also be a powerful voice in their support for everyone who is disadvantaged. They can be a moderating force against extremism and the powerful.

When minorities support Orang Asli and Orang Asal rights, they are pursuing justice on their behalf. When they voice out support for moderate Malays who are struggling against the encroachment of their personal rights, they are extending solidarity to their Malay-Muslim brothers and sisters. By struggling on behalf of all the different groups of people, they broaden their base and extend solidarity to others. United, we are powerful.

This is the power of moderation. This is the only political tool minorities have in making sure that they are not alone as a minority.

Support and selflessness from the majority community, the Malays, in speaking out against any injustice, on behalf of the minorities, is what we need most when we are vulnerable.

The whites coming out in droves to support the blacks in US are acting out their sense of justice and compassion and solidarity with their black brothers and sisters when they are also at their most vulnerable. They show by example how justice for all – and not only for the majority – is their intrinsic motivation for supporting others.

We too can be this power for moderation by extending our solidarity to all those in Malaysia who are disadvantaged by unjust policies. We need to keep the social contact between the government and all people intact.

Ch’ng Chin Yeow has an interest in many issues and subjects, including history, mineralogy and human behaviour. Based in Penang, he truly likes to be a busybody

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.

AGENDA RAKYAT - Lima perkara utama
  1. Tegakkan maruah serta kualiti kehidupan rakyat
  2. Galakkan pembangunan saksama, lestari serta tangani krisis alam sekitar
  3. Raikan kerencaman dan keterangkuman
  4. Selamatkan demokrasi dan angkatkan keluhuran undang-undang
  5. Lawan rasuah dan kronisme
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