Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Malaysia Fear-no-more (part I)

I was there at the Bersih 2.0 rally. I was attacked by tear gas, sprayed with water cannon, chased by FRU personnel. But alas I am fear-no-more.

In hindsight, I can see very clearly how pervasive and all-encompassing the propaganda of fear has been against the Bersih rally. The constant arrests of activists relating to Bersih, army rehearsal with banners saying “Disperse, or else we will shot”, the “third line of defense” declaration, weapon cache “discovered” by the police, and all sorts of thinly veiled threats from the government and pro- government right wing groups.

The all out intimidation and psychological warfare unleashed by the government was sickening and nauseating to the utmost degree. I was so turned off that I did not hesitate for a single moment when I was invited to join a small group of friends to participate in the Bersih rally. Despite all the fear drilled into my consciousness I knew that I had to do something. I knew that Malaysia is in real danger of descending into a police state if the people do not put a stop to it.

We anticipated that KL will be completely barricaded, so we book some hotel rooms in KL for Friday night to make sure that we won’t get locked out of the action. But our little group got more and more un-nerved as the day approaches. We took all sorts of extreme precautions – including purchasing new handphones, new prepaid SIM cards, and we would not exchange our new phone numbers with each other over the phone. Yes – we were paranoiac. The fact that we have some recognizable faces associated with a NGO weighted heavily on the group.

Our horror story begun to intensify tremendously soon after we checked into the hotel on Friday evening. Our group leader received a very strange phone call after we can back from dinner.

 “Is Mei there?” a voice asked.
“Your friend Mei from Singapore is in trouble. Can you come down?” the voice said.
“I do not know of such person.” Somehow somebody thought that one of us was from Singapore. Of course our leader was not so naive.

The phone call got everybody very uneasy. Then around mid-night we got winds that the police have started raiding hotels. Now everybody is getting really nervous. We were told not to put the “Don’t disturb” sign on our doors – and we should never answer the door.

The next morning proved to be even more unnerving. One of our group member pointed out that seated next to our breakfast table was two personnel from the Special Branch. It was obvious from the type of boot they wore and their crew cut hair, she said. Everybody was a nervous wreck by then. We decided to erase any trace of evidence that can link us to the Bersih rally. No salt, not even face towels, and we made up stories why we were in the same hotel together. Our leader even told us that if decided to pull out, we should not feel that we have failed.

I am telling you all these so that you can get a sense of the type of pressures that one has to endure in being associated with anything that is perceived as being remotely anti-government. It takes a lot of courage to be in the forefront of change. Amiga, and indeed the whole Bersih committee, deserve every bit of recognition for their courage.

I was quite nonchalant about all these intimations nevertheless, much to the annoyance of my wife. I had my reasoning and perception of the situation. My reasoning was that firstly we have not committed any crime. If we were to be harassed by the police, I do not even feel that there is any need for us to explain ourselves. Doesn’t the constitution guarantee our freedom of movements?

What annoyed my wife most was that I could not care less to lower my voice. I continue to blare with my booming voice. I discussed passionately and openly with our group members about the crisis the world is facing and the future of Malaysia. I had no concern that whatever I said could be misconstrued as being seditious (whatever it means). I have deep faith that true sincerity, with no hatred and no negativity, has the power to touch another heart. So what if the Special Branch personnel are spying on us? I wouldn’t mind at all - if that is way for our plights to get across to the government.

But fundamentally I don’t think the police can do anything to us. There is no ground for the police to harass us is one thing. More importantly there is little value for them to harass us, and I don’t think they have the man power anyway. We as individuals are simply too small and too insignificant to have an impact on the rally.

The total deployment of the police force, together with the plain cloth police and Special Branch personnel that do not care to cover themselves are totally irrational. The massive display of force can make it inconvenient for people to get into KL, but there is no way for the police to prevent an individual from entering and remaining in KL, apart from a court order. The government did manage to obtain the court order to restrain 91 people from entering KL, but that is already making the government a laughing stock in the eyes of the people and the international community.

It is all about intimidation. That’s the only logical conclusion I can reach. But logical reasoning is one thing. It took a lot more to alleviate the fear drilled into our emotional brain through decades of propaganda. It wasn’t until the rally begun with explosive suddenness that my fear was shattered with with the suddenness of being woken up from a bad dream.