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Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Politics Of Fear... Not A Monopoly In Malaysia
by AMUbaidahS

I was at Bukit Merah for a break with the family and on my wife's prompting, we took a detour north to see how things were at Permatang Pauh over the by-election campaign weekend. This write-up is not so much about what we saw, but more about the emotive elements that I have been observing over this by-election, which I am concerned may be symptomatic.

The idea of us at least doing a drive-through of Permatang Pauh over the school break was not really new. I had an open invitation by an UMNO Ketua Pemuda to join him on campaign and I was 'made aware' of KuLi's visit on Saturday. However, each invitation was laced with a cautionary notes such as:

Don't bring your car, or at least bring your old Waja, not your MPV, as hooligans have been throwing stones and scratching cars of BN campaigners.

It may not be safe for you to bring your family along on the visit, even if you are just passing through.

We are staying at so and so place, and you're welcomed to bunk in with us. All the hotels are booked up. If you wish to just 'tumpang', watch out where you go. Some mosques may be full of the hooligans camping out.

Your sure you really want to go ka? Is it worth the trouble you may get into there? Consider this carefully before you go...

It used to be that UMNO internal elections were more viscious than Parliamentary ones, and it hardly ever got physical, but supposedly things have changed. I thought this was all a load of crock as I had fond memories of joining election campaigns even when I was a child, so we went to Permatang Pauh anyway.

What greeted us was very much what I expected, a massive poster war going on, campaigners milling about, especially in local gathering spots like Kedai Kopi's, and local folk, trying to live their normal lives through the greater excitement. There did not appear to be any outwardly menacing indicators, other than the rather aggressive, and in some cases, excesively negative campaign materiel.


Our son needed the toilet and we stopped at a kedai kopi along a road that dead-ended at a Malay kampung. The area was clearly PKR dominated, Permatang Pauh is Anwar's hometown after all, and we could see party volunteers chatting up the locals at the kedai kopi. My wife took my boy in whilst I stayed in the car with the other kids. Nothing happened, but I couldn't help feeling unsettled...

Unlike in Langkawi, Kuala Kedah or back in KL, where I would be happy to jump into a partisan anti-UMNO crowd of followers and engage in conversation of the provocative type, something stopped me from doing the same that day. I could not blame the advice of others or my wife's own nervousness of my driving an MPV into Permatang Pauh with a pro-Tun Dr M car sticker at the back for spooking me. It was something else...

To say Permatang Pauh is Anwar's stronghold or even his kampung would be belittling the importance of the contest to his political life. For Anwar, Permatang Pauh has been a symbol of his enduring survival as a politician. The only constituency that never forgot nor abandoned him, even when the rest of the country was willing to give the new guy a chance in PRU-11, then consigning Anwar to history. Had Permatang Pauh chosen BN in 2004...

So Permatang Pauh as Anwar's choice for a return to Parliament was both a surprise and not so. Not a surprise as it is where he is most likely to win, but not so as he would certainly be returned to his political grave if he is beaten there. This is why it would have been dangerous for any smart aleck pro-Mahathir UMNO member to go lone-campaigner in a middle of rural Anwar-ville. It may have gained me some experience, but for Anwar and his people, it is about survival.


So I was actually quite unsurprised to see the claims by one of the four imams who witnessed Saiful's confession that the Quran-swearing was invalid and ingenuine. I was unsurprised as the imam Ramlang Porigi was from the area, nigh 'se-kampung' with Anwar. And of course Ramlang Porigi came forward voluntarily. He had to. You only need to hear the language of his 'expose' to realise why:

"...he had not conspired with anyone in relation to Saiful’s ’swearing on the Qur’an’ episode."

"...he was now facing attacks."

"...he had nothing to do with the preparation of the text of that which Saiful uttered..."

"...he asked that the people of Permatang Pauh would not fault him for this entire episode."

Ramlang Porigi was afraid. Assuming he, as a religious man, was speaking sincerely, that does not detract from the fact that the language he used begged to be excused and forgiven by his kampung folk for 'betraying' their local hero, Anwar Ibrahim. That Ramlang Porigi was brave is not an issue, he was trying to survive and retain his license to come back to his kampung without being harassed for his involvement in the Saiful Quran-swearing event.

One must be sympathetic of the position Ramlang was put in. He made clear that he did not ask to be involved in these events, he was doing his job. But certainly it must have been most painful for him to have been exposed as one involved, as he would have been 'attacked' not just by anonymous Anwaristas on the web, but by his kampung folk, family members even!


There has always been an undercurrent of fanatacism surrounding Anwar that brings discomfort to many. One recalled his fiery days as a student leader, then youth activist. And even whilst he wraped himself with civility in government and helped re-draw the AUKU act, that would curtail the rise of another like him, he always has others around him who would attack when needed. Remember the Anwarista led UMNO Youth attack on anti-Burma junta protesters in the 1990's?

I was unsurprised at his reaction to removal from government in the late 90's. I am somewhat unsurprised at the type of emotions, fanatacism and actions he is inciting now. If anything, the added vitriol in his rhetoric following Saiful's allegations are also consistent with his past behaviour. The man attacks when cornered, especially when it is a matter of his survival. And when he attacks, his loyal followers attack with him.


I remain stunned that Malaysians have turned a blind eye to this naked, very un-Malaysian aggression that underlies Anwar's on-going, unrelenting quest for power. There are parallels that anti-UMNO folk wish to draw between Ketuanan Melayu and Nazism, though they conveniently turn a blind eye to the parallels between Anwar's and Hitler's rise to power!

As a student of history, the parallels are unmistakable. Both Anwar and Hitler were early under-achievers, rising in politics through aggressive social activism, one bordering, the other actual in perpetrating violence. Both cut down to size in their early prime, surviving, then rising again, to the point of leading a populist, yet minority grouping in Parliament. The parallels are not exact, but enough to scare. Add to that Hitler's early popularity abroad as a saviour of Germany...

Violence and aggression has never been the Malaysian way. And it seems in our desparation for a change in leadership, much as the Germans were desparate in the early 1930's, too many of us are turning to Anwar as a saviour whilst blinded of the pitfalls by the troubles of Pak Lah. Are we sure Anwar is the saviour of the nation? Or is he another for us to regret and lament trusting later?

The one Anwar-Hitler parallel that is also apparent to me from events of late, news and private, is the propensity to incite fanatical aggression and violence. We should just be grateful that Malaysians are a generally more peaceful lot.

Nevertheless... the politics of fear is not a monopoly in Malaysia...

Updates and debate on http://thoughtsintangents.blogspot.com/2008/08/politics-of-fear-not-monopoly-in.html

A brilliantly written article explaining the hypocrisy of Anwar & its supporters.

Speaking of fear, check out this documentary called "The Possibility of Hope". It was released on the Children of Men DVD, and it explores the intersection between the film's themes(infertility, totalitarianism, environmental damage & fear) and reality with a critical analysis by eminent scholars: the Slovenian sociologist and philosopher Slavoj Žižek , anti-globalization activist Naomi Klein, futurist James Lovelock, sociologist Saskia Sassen, human geographer Fabrizio Eva, cultural theorist Tzvetan Todorov, and philosopher and economist John N. Gray. Here's the docu released on 3 parts:

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