Bar the zealots and bigots


IS politics really the systematic organisation of hatreds, as observed by American historian Henry Adams? Recent events in Malaysia certainly seem to prove so.

We can no longer deny that the country is becoming increasingly divided by hate and mistrust and descending deeper into disunity by the day.

The simple reason for this is we have allowed racial and religious zealots to set the agenda and politicians to stoke our emotions for support. Polarised debates and comments dominate our daily conversations, with the odium more profound on social media and cyberspace.

We seem to have evolved into a “de-mock-racy”, where there is no longer any sense of decency or decorum when whacking the other side.

Instead of improving the situation, our political leaders on both sides of the divide are adding fuel to the fire to gain more partisan support.

Reactions to the bloodied cow head dumped outside an assemblyman’s house provide the latest examples. One minister made a totally unprofessional and thoughtless re­­mark about the assemblyman getting his just desserts for making controversial remarks.

On the other side, a chief minister predictably linked the dastardly act to one particular party even before the police could start investigations.

It’s not that there are no voices of reason left among our elected representatives. However, their views are usually drowned out by the constant strident spiel of hate.

When it comes to racism and hate speech, most urban Malaysians who tend to only depend on a few websites to get their information and news are quick to accuse the usual suspects – Perkasa chief Datuk Ibrahim Ali and vice president Zulkifli Nordin, Isma head Abdullah Zaik Abdul Rahman and lecturer Ridhuan Tee Abdullah.

But they don’t seem to have any problems with the clearly racist, seditious and spiteful comments posted daily by the readers of the websites or shared on Facebook.

Rational comments or those which do not support the prevailing view or spin of the story are quickly voted down.

It seems that righteous indignation, hate or mockery is acceptable as long as it is directed against the other side. But it isn’t and it is up to the rational majority who believe in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural and harmonious Malaysia to stand up and stop the hatred churned out by both sides.

It is sad but political partisanship in Malaysia has already come down to tribal-level zero-sum thinking, with an increasing number of people driven by mindless anger.

The intense and vicious loathing for the opposing side is being consciously built up with scant regard for the dangerous consequences.

It looks like things are likely to get worse unless people become consciously aware of the cynical political games being played before them.

Must our quest for better political leadership, fairness and good governance come at the expense of the country’s destruction through dis­unity?

The current situation in the United States, where two parties have dominated politics for decades, provides a valuable lesson.

According to Pew Research’s recent report on “Political Polarisation in the American Public”, Republicans and Democrats are now more divided along ideological lines, with partisan antipathy running deeper and more extensively than at any point in the last 20 years.

The report, based on a telephone survey of 10,000 people, basically noted that the opposing parties and their supporters really hate each other, although the words used were “beyond dislike”.

Most of the leaders in each party believe that the opposing party’s policies are so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.

The report also highlighted “ideological silos” in which liberals and conservatives disagreed over where they wanted to live, the kind of people they want to live around and who they would welcome into their families.

The report, however, offered some hope by stating that the partisan sentiments were not shared by most Americans as the majority did not support one party or the other.

Perhaps we can also learn from the observation that most Americans believe their elected representatives should meet halfway to resolve contentious disputes rather than hold out for more of what they want.

Economist Charles Wheelan, leader of the Centrist Movement in the US which aims to build a third political party of the middle to find sane and pragmatic policy solutions, lamented in his blog last week that America’s moderates had ceded Washington to the zealots.

He cited the Pew report’s findings that many of those in the centre remained on the edges of the political playing field, relatively distant and disengaged, while the most ideo­logically oriented and politically rancorous made their voices heard through greater participation in every stage of the political process.

That’s a bit like what is happening to us. Like in the US, there are many contentious issues in the country but it appears that only the bigots and extremists in Malaysia are calling the shots.

Yes, they are being allowed to do so, not only by those who have the power to act but choose not to do so but also by the indifference of those in the middle ground.

So, even if it is seen as politically incorrect or makes them unpopular, it is about time that the majority of rational and reasonable Malaysians stand up and speak up.

We have to help put the country back on track to its original course before it is too late.

> Associate editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by George Orwell: Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.


Opinion , ALong the Watchtower Veera

   

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