Courtside seats

THE sedition charges levelled against Seputeh MP Teresa Kok are something out of a bad dream. Apologies for the hackneyed choice of phrase, but it’s hard to banish the feeling that the best possible solution would be to wake up, scrub sleep from bleary eyes and wait for daylight to sear away the horrors of yesterday. But this is real. This is actually happening.

Kok’s situation, coming on the heels of US president Barack Obama’s visit last week, demonstrates how deeply Malaysia is starved of anything resembling mature political discourse. When the echo chambers that are my social media feeds erupted in frothing appreciation of
Obama’s comments that all races in Malaysia deserved equal opportunities, it wasn’t an endorsement of him or the US – it was a reaction to a politician saying something simple and true, and having that statement reported in the mainstream media.

To many, Obama’s statement was purest oxygen, sweet and clean and potentially incendiary. It also represented a wonderful opportunity for the government. Here was a chance to respond to a veiled criticism from the most public of figures, to articulate a riposte in the most public of arenas.

Instead we were treated to responses suggesting that claiming non-Muslims are marginalised is
simply a matter of perception. It was the political equivalent of sticking fingers in your ears, closing your eyes, and yelling as loud as you can until the other person stops talking. Which brings us back to Teresa Kok.

If Kok is guilty of anything, it’s releasing a video that is a little too long and a lot less funny than certain of its supporters would have you believe. This is not sedition, it’s a flailing attempt at satire, and the fact that it seems head and shoulders above anything appearing in newsprint is as telling as it is worrying.

Quite apart from the inherent ridiculousness of responding to ruffled feathers with a lawsuit, the worst part of crying sedition in the Malaysian context is how inextricably intertwined that word is with the arbitrary concept of racial harmony.

In this country, that sort of harmony is as artificial a construct as the virginity certain fathers in the US cling to and celebrate at purity balls. The intimation is that the status quo is something precious and unsullied that can only be lost. It’s a sentiment in keeping with the sentiment that reform, or change of any sort, is a harbinger for moral decay, a cultural apocalypse and the utter
downfall of civilisation as we know it.

Equality and harmony are not fixed positions, they are ongoing conversations, and the juvenilia that passes for dialogue in Malaysia is part of the reason why each department is lacking. Since matters of perception have been brought up, here is a proposition. If you disagree, or you simply don’t like what I say, tell me. Let’s talk about it. You deserve to be heard, and it definitely won’t cost as much time or money as a lawsuit.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.
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