OUR nation appears to be in a frightful state lately. Not only are those who sit on the peak of our political Mahameru constantly watching their backs, fearful that some close compatriot may stab away with some metaphorical knife, but those who guard our ivory towers and stand watch over our interstate borders also seem to suffer from phobias.
While phobias are in and of themselves irrational, it does not mean that the psychological condition cannot be dealt with or resolved. I may not be a psychologist but at the very least I believe that by writing about and highlighting these irrational fears, they will be acknowledged. And if there exists any strength of will and the foresight to safeguard the future of our democracy, then the appropriate actors must find the political wherewithal to bring about the needed change.
Ephebiphobia: A fear of youth
On 27th October 2014, an exceptionally fateful incident happened that jumpstarted the public life of one Fahmi Zainol. University of Malaya (UM) made a most erroneous decision to not only bar the UM student association (PMUM) from holding an event that brought in Anwar Ibrahim, the Leader of the Opposition to speak, but also to actively stifle said event through anti-democratic means.
As we all recall, UM first issued a warning and threat of suspension while refusing to acknowledge Fahmi Zainol’s presidency of PMUM. Then on the event day, the university asked staff and students to leave early (due to some electrical outage, apparently) and locked the gates. Had they just kept the gates open, the so-called “gate-crash” incident would not have taken place and the hundreds if not thousands of students may not have gathered to hear Anwar speak under the light of a single street lamp.
Yet such over-reaction by the politically subservient university administration is expected. Instead of being a “mecca of ideas”, our local universities create intellectual environments for students that do little to nothing to cultivate a sense of wonder, curiousity, and the spirit of daring to challenge the status quo. Perhaps this is what leads many (including my mother, who served as a public service commissioner) to believe that those who enter the workforce are ill-equipped to face the challenges of a constantly evolving job market.
UM has become a midwife to a new student activism icon. The proof of it is that wherever he goes, Fahmi Zainol (like Fahmi Reza and Adam Adli) strikes fear in the hearts of university administrators and gives hope to believers in a better Malaysia.
Ambigaphobia: A fear of Ambiga Sreenevasan
On 15th November 2014, Sabah became the second state after Sarawak (in 2011) to ban former Bar Council president and Bersih 2.0 co-chair Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan from entering its borders. This ban is on the heels of an upcoming 25th November Negara-ku (which she is a patron of) programme in that state.
Ambiga continues to be one of the current administration’s greatest phobias. Her rousing public speeches and fearless responses to all manner of threats reveal her to be a proud, passionate and indefatigable Malaysian, tireless in her quest to reclaim Malaysia from extremists and those who employ Machiavellian means to quell discontent.
While Ambiga is definitely not the first to be banned by either or both states, she will probably not be the last either. These iron-fisted measures appear to be taken in Sarawak particularly to stifle dissent, to control the flow of information (purported use of jammers against Radio Free Sarawak broadcasts), and to limit the interaction of people like Ambiga with the populace. In fact, some have quipped that the “secessionist movement” may even be a false front created by the powers that be to pull away support from the Opposition.
In the end, these phobias and their manufactured responses have a debilitating effect on the future of democracy in this country. While Malaysians have shown that - with events such as Bersih 2 and Bersih 3 - such unfounded fears can be overcome en masse, the momentum must be kept up in order to make real, sustainable change. Will we be able to do so? I have no fear to say: Yes, we will.
The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.