Hornbill Unleashed

June 19, 2012

Free speech sends shivers down our spines

Filed under: Human rights,Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 12:00 AM
Tags: , ,

Mariam Mokhtar

We worry about rising crime, the shocking standards in education and public safety, increased cost of living, but now we face the new fear: words.

In the history of early Malacca, Indian traders introduced the bullock-cart or kereta-lembu, which became the main mode of transport. Those who could afford bullock-carts had some form of identification tag, much like our modern-day registration plates.

During a recent excavation near the Malacca River, archaeologists unearthed Ming pottery, several timber structures and gold. Much of the wood had been preserved by layers of sediment, soft silt and compacted clay. These timber structures were believed to be the remnants of bullock-carts of early Malacca.

The most valuable find was a rectangular gold shield with the inscription which looked curiously like “LLL1”.

Some speculate that “LLL1” could mean “Lembu Lari Laju”. The remains of the cart are of course priceless, but the gold has retained its intrinsic value. If modern cars are found in a future archaeological site, their plastic number plates will be worth nothing and the cars would have rusted away.

The Sultan of Johor, who paid RM520,000 for a number plate, was enraged when former Perak menteri besar, Nizar Jamaluddin, suggested ways in which a similar amount of money could benefit the poor.

Malaysia is known for its double standard. Nizar faces the royal wrath and is being investigated for sedition, but the Utusan publication Kosmo, which published two cartoons about the number plate, on May 28 and May 30 has escaped censure.

There is widespread support for Nizar but most of it is muted. Ordinary Malaysians are scared to voice their opinions and backing for him. They are afraid of being accused of sedition.

Malaysia has reached a new high. We worry about rising crime, the shocking standards in education and public safety, increased cost of living, but now we face the new fear: words.

The Spanish experience

The royal family of Spain is normally treated kindly by its press but that ended when King Juan Carlos’s hypocrisy was exposed.

He claimed to have slipped while on holiday in Africa. What was not immediately divulged was that he had been on an exclusive, all-expenses-paid safari at one of the world’s most exotic safari parks, Botswana’s Okavango delta. His safari cost RM40,000 a day and was funded by a Syrian businessman closely connected to the Saudi royal family.

The Spanish royal family is described in an English daily as “hard-working, frugal, modern and genuinely popular” among the Spaniards. Juan Carlos was also “the great bringer of democracy”.

No one begrudges him his holiday but earlier, he had addressed the Spaniards: “We all have to tighten our belts a bit because of the difficult times for the economy.”

Spain has been severely hit by the economic downturn affecting the eurozone. It has struggled with cuts in health and education. Many of its youth are unemployed.

His excesses are not his only vice. The King’s alleged lovers are openly discussed, and he has been embroiled in a corruption scandal involving his son-in-law Iñaki Urdangarín, the Duke of Palma.

The duke used to be part of the Spanish Olympic handball team. It is alleged that he used his royal title to appear with politicians, at events, to rake in millions of euros of public money. Charities were used as fronts, and not all the monies were declared to the taxman.

Naturally, the Spanish monarchy’s popularity dived. Juan Carlos once declared, “Everyone, especially those of us with public functions, must behave correctly, in an exemplary fashion.”

To improve the reputation of the monarchy, the former El País columnist Javier Ayuso was engaged for public relations purposes. Pro-monarchy editorials appeared in newspapers, and the palace adopted transparency with its accounts being made public.

Despite his attempts to showcase his family as hard-working, humble and law-abiding, Juan Carlos suffered further setbacks. His 13-year-old grandson, Froilán Marichalar, shot himself through the foot with a .410 shotgun, just a few days before the trip to Botswana.

The Spanish public reeled from this latest royal stink. Newspapers allege that the royal family did not think that normal rules applied to them.

Ignorant and shallow-minded

Malaysian royals, just like foreign royals, are more than a simple adornment or a tourist attraction. They are part and parcel of Malaysian life and they are embodied in our constitution.

The Sultan of Johor has admonished Nizar, and told him to remain silent: “Has he forgotten our Malay customs or is he indeed ignorant and shallow-minded? He should not act smart if he has no knowledge of what is happening and make statements when he does not know the truth.”

Many Malaysians are glad that Nizar has emphasised the significance of RM520,000 to the ordinary member of the rakyat, unlike some other politicians who have allegedly paid RM1.5 million to their mistresses, or whose children drive around in luxury cars and allegedly beat up security guards at luxury condominiums.

Malaysians should be able to discuss religion, politics, royalty, corruption and injustices, rationally and intelligently, if we are to become a developed nation by 2020.

Most Malays need a “mind revolution” to break free from the mental fiefdom in which their minds are imprisoned. Their favourite topics are Islam, the privileged position of the Malay in society, the deceit of the “pendatangs” and that royalty should be treated with kid gloves.

For instance, when will important issues, rather than a piece of rectangular plastic with numerals or alphabets, make headlines in Malaysian life and politics?

Incidentally, Malacca is believed to be the spiritual heart of Malaysia. The medieval Malay kingdom attracted trade and travellers from all around the world. It thrived from the blend of different peoples, influences, culture, history and architecture.

Two things contributed to Malacca’s success: its location as a port on the trade and spice route, and Malacca’s just and sensible rulers.

Curiously, Malacca, which spawned several Malay sultans and princes who founded sultanates elsewhere, does not have its own Sultan.

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1 Comment »

  1. Many of us, especially the non-Malays (of which I am one), may not be fully aware of the background and deeper aspects of the relationship between Malays and their Sultans. I recommned doing some reading to understand better the issues at hand, especially before forming critical opinions.

    Mighty enlightening to Google for stuff like “raja adil disanjung, raja zalim disanggah”, and read about historical stuff related to the days of Hang Tuah. But there appears to be an agreement between the raja-raja and their subjects, one which cuts both ways. In return for the loyalty of their subjects, there is a limit to what the sultans can do.

    Blogger Sakmongol posted a couple of good accounts about the “ancient convenent”, including what UMNO has done to hijack the agreement.

    Comment by Leithaisor — June 19, 2012 @ 11:31 AM | Reply


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