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Brave New World

Published: Wednesday February 18, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday February 18, 2015 MYT 6:57:33 AM

You can’t be ‘partly’ free

Contrary to recent ratings, freedom may not be absolute in reality but the aspiration of freedom is.

IN the Freedom House report entitled “Freedom in the World 2015”, Malaysia was classified as “partly free”.

Now I am certain that if this report is noticed by the powers that be (highly unlikely), then the usual claptrap will come pouring forth like “the researchers are biased”, “this is a foreign plot to destabilise us” and for good measure, “the Freedom House is sponsored by Israel”.

I read the report and it says absolutely nothing that we don’t already know. Although I imagine if you have zero knowledge about this country, then it might be a useful taster on the realities of political and civil liberties in Malaysia.

I just wonder how useful these kinds of reports are to us here on the ground. Freedom House has been active in international human rights for 40 years and they describe themselves as an advocate group.

I like advocate groups, but I think their usefulness is more applicable to the national or local level.

Let’s be frank, the only international bodies that can influence a country are other governments. This can take the form of United Nations-authorised activities like sanctions or individual pressure.

However, individual pressure only works if the one that is asserting the pressure is far more powerful than the one being pressured.

Freedom House is an American organisation and seeing as how its president is golfing buddies with our Prime Minister and it wants us to be on board with it for its free trade agreement, I seriously doubt that Freedom House is capable of influencing its government.

Any pressure from the US government would be little more than lip service.

This is no big deal – realpolitik is the way of the world. Besides, I have always felt that for sustainable change to happen, it must come from within and not externally.

It’s nice to get international support, but it would be foolish to place too much hope on it.

Anyway, what I really want to know is how can we be “partly” free? Is freedom something that can be subdivided? I mean, you can’t be “partly” pregnant or “partly” bald. You either are or you are not.

I suppose freedom is conceptual and therefore you can classify a nation as “partly” free. The thing is that all nations are only “partly” free. This is because there is no such thing as absolute freedom.

Hey, can you feel that? I think the ground is shaking because the Inspector-General of Police is doing a jig. “Freedom is not absolute” is exactly the kind of thing that he and his ilk like to say and here I am endorsing their view.

But hold your horses, big boy. Freedom may not be absolute in reality, but the aspiration of freedom is. No one can be absolutely free, but if the aspiration of freedom is not there, then any limitations on it will be excessive.

And that is what happens here. We have men and women in power who appear to have no appreciation of the aspiration of freedom at all.

They seem to treat freedom as a hindrance to them. What should occur instead, from my not-so-humble point of view, is that freedom ought to be the ideal and therefore any limitation on it would have to be very carefully considered to ensure that the ideal is disturbed as little as possible.

This does not appear to occur in our country, either in the making of law or the implementation of law. That is why we are “partly” free.

Be that as it may, I hope that you will have “absolute fun” this holiday season. Happy Chinese New Year, everyone!

Azmi Sharom (azmi.sharom@gmail.com) is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

Tags / Keywords: Azmi Sharom, columnist

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