Sunday, October 12, 2008

Hindraf demonised: Polishing the devil’s horns

By Helen Ang
Centre for Policy Initiatives
Sunday, 12 October 2008 12:34

An alert should go out to embassies in Kuala Lumpur cautioning foreign nationals. The updated travel advisory:

(1) Open houses in Malaysia are possibly illegal,
(2) If a tourist should saunter into the premises, he may be guilty of trespassing,
(3) A tour group could be banned by Malaysian authorities for unbecoming behaviour, such as all its members wearing uniform attire,
(4) Cops on duty at open houses will confiscate a greeting card and such other contraband, as well as
(5) Summon to police headquarters for questioning if someone attended open house but rejected refreshments, did not shake hands with the VIP host and failed to extend festive wishes.

Meanwhile, locals are expected to behave in exchange for free lunch at the Putra World Trade Centre. The Star reported Tourism Minister Azalina Othman warning that some Malaysians at open houses give a poor reflection of the country’s image to tourists. “If you are here as a guest, then behave as one. Parliament will convene on Oct 13. They can do so (submit their memorandum) then,” she said.

Azalina was referring to Hindraf supporters but Hindraf legal advisor N. Surendran has countered there was no memorandum delivered. Memo or no, Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, his deputy Najib Razak and Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar still complained the Indians were ‘kurang ajar’ (untutored), ‘biadab’ (unmannered) and ‘tak beradab’ (uncivilised).

The badmouthing is a clear example of one group, Umnoputeras, demonising another group of fellow citizens. Visitors should also be aware that they cannot believe all they read in Tourism Malaysia brochures about the country’s ‘racial harmony’, and in the mainstream media (MSM) about BN’s successful formula of ‘national unity’.

Yes sir, Umno sir

Deputy Home Minister Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh has intimated that there are many options on action against Hindraf for causing – I’m borrowing the following description from the Star’s headline – a ‘commotion at the government’s Raya open house’, and otherwise being ‘aggressive’, ‘unruly’, ‘provocative’ etc, etc, as alleged by some Malay associations. Home Ministry secretary-general Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof is looking into banning Hindraf. Information Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek called on all political parties to condemn the incident.

What did Hindraf do that was so bad to make Umno big shots so angry?

A six-year-old girl wished to give the PM a teddy bear and Raya card. She is the daughter of Hindraf chairman P. Waythamoorthy and brought the bear in a basket along with some flowers. She had wanted to give roses too last year to Abdullah, who refused to receive her on Valentine’s Day.

This is a little girl who has been separated from daddy for almost one year now as Moorthy is likely to be ISA-ed if he ventures to step foot on Malaysian soil. This is the small child who must be wondering whatever her Uncle Kumar did wrong that caused the authorities to lock him up, under ISA.

And this is the gist of Abdullah’s complaint: “The rest (of their words), which I heard very clearly, was, ‘Abolish the ISA! Free the Hindraf! Abolish the ISA! Free the Hindraf!’ That’s all they wanted to tell me. This is not the spirit of Hari Raya, where you wish (Selamat) Hari Raya, are happy and have fun and socialise.”

How does an unwelcome guest answer when quizzed by police on why he fails to socialise and display the requisite joyfulness at the PM’s party? Lawyer Haris Ibrahim who blogs ‘The People’s Parliament’ wrote that he and his Hartal ISA group (wearing solidarity-with-RPK T-shirts) were ushered by police to a holding room and segregated.

People’s Parliament last November launched a ‘Hartal MSM’ campaign in the wake of newspapers disinforming on Bersih and demonising Hindraf. MSM has not changed its slant against the Indians. The Star article on the alleged commotion during Raya carried the byline of four reporters. If a whole quartet covered the story, surely one of them could have obtained Hindraf’s clarification that the movement did not present any memo. But no.

Instead, the popular rag – which incongruously dubs itself ‘the People’s Paper – preferred to give airing to VIPs as per its usual practice of cue journalism. The Star report had quoted Azalina and also Unity, Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Mohd Shafie Apdal admonishing, “Hindraf members should have known their limits and not turn up at an open house ‘like this’.”

Star’s article had Shafie going: “There are platforms for you to make your submission. This is not the proper way of doing things. I mean, it’s a Raya do. Today is Hari Raya, it’s got nothing to do with memorandums.”

The spirit of Raya

The Star, a publication under the control of MCA, is big on ‘the proper way of doing things’. It has been full of how the Chinese communal party always used ‘proper channels’ and engaged in ‘internal discussions’ with BN (though not quite admitting that the outcome of any discussion is MCA invariably kowtowing to Umno).

But not only did that particular Star article omit Hindraf’s clarification that there was no memo, it also failed to mention that Indians throughout the past year had made many attempts to convey the community’s grievances to the powers-that-be and were ignored. So the ‘the proper way of doing things’ gets nothing done.

The paper similarly neglected to publish that unlike MCA Cabinet ministers who engage in closed door sessions where they ultimately accede to ‘the BN consensus’ (read, again kowtowing to Umno) Hindraf pleaded they had no other opportunities to approach the PM except at the open house.

BN’s idea of propriety and legality is ‘do as I say, not do as I do’. Abdullah, who often preaches Hadhari, sermonised on religious tolerance around Merdeka last year when at the same time, Hindu temples were tumbling down around him. His big ears did not hear government bulldozers destroying the houses of worship.

To the PM, the spirit of Raya is that everyone must be happy, have fun and socialise, unlike the Hindraf crowd creating “a lot of unhappiness to a lot of people who were around” at his PWTC, possibly illegal, gathering.

Since I’m not Muslim, it’s hardly in my place to contradict the Grand Imam of Hadhari. I’ll just note that when I balik kampung to Penang, I saw many billboards put up by the Pakatan state government bearing its Ramadan message of ‘Amar makruf, nahi mungkar’ (Do good, abhor evil and sin).

Does amar makruf not accommodate compassion for a discriminated community, and courtesy to women and children who were in the Hindraf delegation?

Umno and its collaborators instigating Malays to view Hindraf as bogeyman threatening Malay rights is amar makruf? Malaysiakini reported Surendran as saying Hindraf has become the victim of a harsh campaign to incite hatred against the movement and Indians.

Moorthy and many others in Hindraf agree, and have filed police reports but may have to wait for investigations to be completed first on insulting (Case 1) egg and (Case 2) PWTC food which the bloggers and Hindraf refused to touch.

We’ve often lamented ‘between the devil and the deep blue sea’ to signify BN, the devil we know, and the uncharted waters of the Opposition. A few months ago, Justice Ian Chin described Dr Mahathir Mohamed as “a devil incarnate” and Dr M hitting back at the judge, gestured with his hands at a pair on imaginary horns on his head.

Although the Malay word ‘ampu bodek’ has infinitely more oomph, the English translation ‘polishing apples’ largely characterises MSM coverage of domestic politics and BN politicians, First Families and their in-laws. But a metaphor of polishing the devil’s horns is a more apt on the nature of our mass media’s collusion with the establishment in demonising Hindraf.

No comments: