As I was stuck in traffic at the intersection between Jalan P Ramlee and Jalan Raja Chulan in Kuala Lumpur last week, I could not help but notice a large billboard on the right (the Menara KL side) that brought a wry smile to my face.
To commemorate 50 years of Malaya’s independence, this long billboard displays large photos depicting what seems to be life in Malaya during the colonial times and Malaya’s struggle for independence.
The thing that got to me was the last photo ( right ) on the billboard which proudly showed a public demonstration against the formation of the Malayan Union.
This photo is a wonderful example of freedom of expression and civil disobedience through peaceful assemblies for a truly just cause, something that I sincerely hope that is still part of our culture. The local authority that presumably approved its content must have shared my view as it would not have approved any photo that is ‘against’ our culture (eg. obscene photos or seditious material).
Much to my dismay, the message I got from this moving advertisement has since been obfuscated. We are now being repeatedly told over the government-controlled visual media since the Bersih rally on Nov 10 last year that peaceful assemblies and marches ‘bukan kebudayaan kita’ (are not our culture)!
These propaganda clips seem to draw a parallel between peaceful demonstrations and violence suggesting that all demonstrations somehow end up in violence. A discerning mind would argue that the syllogism is fundamentally flawed for the simple reason that all demonstrations do NOT end up in violence or unrest.
There would, however, be a different deduction if unwarranted attacks by the state on participants were added to the equation. Sadly, this is not an unlikely scenario as portrayed by the government given the plethora of evidence of such acts during the recent Bersih and Hindraf rallies.
I shudder to speculate as to what the expected outcome would be in showing these clips to the public. Is it to scare the ‘rakyat’ from expressing dissent even though this is done in an organised and peaceful manner as allowed under the Federal Constitution and in any proper democracy?
Much worse, can we expect to have our culture dictated to us by the state? Is such authoritarianism and despotism now part of our culture? In earnest, I pray that the clips are merely a feeble attempt to advise the people to exercise their constitutional right of freedom of assembly peacefully But somehow, I am not convinced.
The more I look at that photo on the billboard, the more I want to believe that the ‘demonstrators’ (who are now celebrated as patriots) would not have thought for one minute that what they were doing was not part of our culture.