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Published: Thursday October 23, 2008 MYT 1:51:00 PM
Updated: Thursday October 23, 2008 MYT 1:52:26 PM

Syed Hamid talks to The Star Online (Part 2)

KUALA LUMPUR: In the second part of an interview with The Star Online and mStar Online, Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar talks about the Hindraf ban, the Internet and the dissemination of information, the social contract and the role of the media.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here

Syed Hamid: Hindraf (the Hindu Rights Action Force) has an address. It has a committee. It has operated as if it’s a registered society. Under the law, we recognise two types of society by definition. One is a registered society under the Societies Act and the other is just a society, which for all intents and purposes has many elements of a registered society. That was why we had to take action to stop the activities and ban them (Hindraf).

This is the same thing with al-Arqam. It also was not a registered society. It was formed and we had to take the decision to ban it, arresting all the leaders and the committee members, and confiscating their assets.

For Al-Maunah, we took the decision of deregistering it -- because it was a registered society -- and charging one of its leaders for treason against the King; he was hanged. That is how sensitive extremism issues pertaining to religion are.

We are not banning it (Hindraf) because it was promoting Hindu rights or Indian rights. On legitimate issues, nobody can quarrel with Hindraf. But we are taking action because we consider the way it has gone about doing things -- promoting extremism.

Hindraf has said “our enemies are the Malays, the Muslims.” This is in some of their leaders’ speeches. We have allowed them to go on. Yes, there are some issues involving the Indians that have not been totally resolved, but to say that we oppress, commit apartheid or genocide and that the police allowed murder in Kg Medan and Kg Rawa?

Hindraf has organised 17 forums and 338 street demonstrations. We took a long time before taking action because we don’t want them to think that because it is a society that seems to speak for a certain race or religion, that we took action. We took action because we considered that they have taken a very extreme approach to propagate their ideology.

Jemaah Islamiah was not allowed to operate, KMM was not allowed to operate, Darul Islamiyah was not allowed to operate. If I allow all the extreme groups to operate and wait for trouble to happen, then this country would be in trouble.

Syed Hamid:Somebody said, “You can imprison the body but you can’t imprison the mind.” We are not trying to imprison anybody’s mind. We are not stopping anyone from expressing their views, but you must express them within the context of ensuring that you do not jeopardise peace, security and public order.

How should one act against threats? Threats are questions of perception. If we wait for the threat to materialise, then it’s no longer preventive. It won’t help us to stop things. The fact is that today, we are able to go round, move freely, sit at roadside stalls and eat, no matter what time of the day it is. No country in the world is considered safe, where you can sit outside and enjoy life and laugh.

And yet, everybody says we are not doing our job. It is because we are doing our job that people are able to do that, living in this country peacefully and able to live a comfortable life.

I have a feeling that there is a lot of confusion over what is security and what is crime. People tend to think security and crime are synonymous. They are not. They are two different issues. Security goes deeper than simply a question of crime.

Crimes are activities conducted by criminals. Security threatens public order, threatens peace. It is important for us all, whether we are in the media or part of society, whether it comes to human rights and transparency, to see how we can promote our shared values and common destiny.

I always feel that Malaysians should represent Malaysian interests and not look at it from our narrow ethnic or religious perspectives -- we have got a very unique mix. Anything can happen, it is so delicate.

In some countries, when you take action against people, you would not be misinterpreted. In this country, if the policeman is a Malay, it could always be misinterpreted as the Malay guy is after the non-Malay. In other countries, nothing would happen. You take action because there is a need to take action.

Q: Wouldn’t the Indian community be further alienated by the banning of Hindraf, which is seen by some quarters as the voice of underprivileged Indians? There has also been talk that Hindraf was banned to help MIC make inroads into this segment of the Indian community.

Syed Hamid: I think there is a wrong perception that Hindraf represents all Hindus or all Indians. The Indians are a mixed community. The Sikhs are also Indians. There are Indian-Muslims and Indian Christians. When they (Hindraf) do their activities, there are only 100-300 people.

Twenty-eight per cent of lawyers are Indians. There are Indian doctors. There are Indian elected representatives in the various states. Even on the poverty line, the Indians are better than the bumiputras.

Syed Hamid:
The Internet is now the mainstream media -- blogs, websites and chatrooms. Now the mainstream is the bloggers, not the print media. They seem to be the driving force. You can criticise the Minister and the exercise of his functions or in governance.

But not when you incite. You see, all their ideologies in support of the Opposition. When you support the Opposition, then you are already political. I believe this country depends very much on understanding. The Prime Minister always says we can accept comments and criticism, no matter how hurtful they are. But if it goes beyond that, we may have to take action because peace and security is threatened.

People ask: “Show us how peace and security is threatened?” How can we show that? It’s not something that is tangible, that we wait for the thing to happen. When it is our responsibility to prevent such a thing, we have to ensure that it does not happen.

I think so long as I’m doing my job I answer to legitimate questions that are being asked. The beauty of democracy is, we must recognise that we have a right to agree to disagree. Criticisms are also subject to responses. Give the same equal treatment and it will be fair. What we are seeking is to give us room to give our side of the story.

Syed Hamid:
Umno can win over all the Malays and PAS would be finished if we took the extreme way and promoted just Malay national interests, because the Malays are also feeling threatened. They feel that everything that was agreed to by our forefathers, what was called the social contract, that was put into the Constitution, has been undermined.

The debate has been reopened. In our history, I have never read about the Rulers coming out with a statement of very strong concern about this issue. So, I believe we have a role to play, whether or not we are bloggers.

People say we are just creating a bogeyman. The Opposition will use that. But it’s very political. There are certain things that should not be political. We must realise that sometimes the voice of the majority is very silent. It is for us to interpret ... the voice of the majority.

The minority voice is always vocal. The Opposition always talks like it is the voice of the majority, but they have 80 MPs, and we have 138 now.

Syed Hamid:
I was considering whether there could be the possibility of having to issue publishing licences (under the Printing Presses and Publications Act) once only, instead of annually.

But this would also depend on how the media accepts it. How it would affect them, that their self-censorship rights are looked at with responsibility. I have never heard people talking about responsibility or being a true Malaysian but I always hear about rights. At first, the United Nations talked about about rights. But later they realised that rights must be balanced with responsibility.

In the media, you do not realise that you are a government unto yourself because of how things get propagated. The media must own up that you have a fantastic and important role in shaping opinions, that you’re opinion makers and leaders.

Embedded (American) journalists in the Iraq War - there are many things that they know but they do not publish. Why? Because they have a sense of patriotism. Same with us. We are building a nation. It is not easy. You can talk about Singapore being multiracial but it has one dominant race. Here, you have dozens of ethnic groups.

I am not blaming the media. If we criticise the paper, we get in trouble. Many times I have been rejected. None of my news came out, and there were instances, when even I had good news, it was put out in a negative manner. But coming out every day in the newspaper does not mean it’s good for you.

If you are fair, everything would come out better. The media must understand more about what the functions of the ministry are. Don’t rubbish us all the time. Give us credit when it is due.

As far as Malaysia is concerned, we are seeking to do the best for the country, for the nation. Everyone has got a role to play in nation building.

At the end of the day, if you want to talk about self-censorship and that sort of thing, there must be that sense of responsibility. That sense of not simply reporting but thinking of what is good and what is bad for the country.


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