Thursday, 4 September 2014

Mr PM, guns and jail aren’t the answer

Zaid Ibrahim

Instead of using the Sedition Act to get even, our leaders should engage with the people on their grievances.

The Prime Minister must quickly call for a national dialogue so we can talk about what qualifies as “sensitive” and “insulting” and what does not. The PM must start talking with those whom the police has described as “secessionists”.

Getting more people arrested for sedition is never a clever way to deal with problems. We must first know what the problem is, and what the sedition law seeks to realistically protect. Leaders must expect that in the Internet age, we are bound to have more people expressing their opinions on a public platform.

But society will not crumble just because some idiots express their idiotic opinions on social media.

There are many others who do provide good feedback; if only the government cares to listen. Why do we pay so much attention to such individual insults that the government needs to act so drastically?

Shouldn’t the PM and his Home Minister pay less attention to these inconveniences, which public officials must bear if they want to hold public office? Anyway, let’s have a national dialogue with leaders from different communities to reduce the so-called seditious stuff. Our leaders are better off concentrating on the real task of governing the country.

The government gains nothing by restricting opinions that are not favourable to them. Nobody is going to be scared of giving their opinion these days. The Sedition Act may frighten schoolboys or senior government officers, but for most of us our right to freedom of expression is worth fighting for.

For the Sabahans and those in Sarawak, it will take more than being arrested to silence them. How many people does the government hope to jail and how many do they expect to be silenced with this dragnet of charges? It’s just not going to work.

It would be better if our leaders started talking to the people. It’s pointless for Home Minister Dato’ Seri Zahid Hamidi to say non-Malays are being too arrogant now, because arrogance is not against the law. And there are many Malay leaders who are arrogant too! The PM must know the grievances of the people in the East are boiling over.

What our leaders need is a mindset change. They need to engage with those who are critical of them instead of always lashing out at them. They must be more willing to allow the stuff on the Internet without feeling upset about it. Leaders in other countries suffer from the same problem and they do not always react like we do in Malaysia.

Our leaders must stop believing that if they are insulted, the whole country will crack. That’s a sign of arrogance too.

The PM must act now instead of being very quiet (again). Call for peace talks between different factions. Let us talk about what constitutes hate speech, and discuss the possibility of allowing for opinions that qualify as criticism. Have a national dialogue on issues pertaining to the Malaysia Agreement. Let’s not just stereotype arrogant and insulting groups, because it will not solve anything.

The PM must know that peace and stability cannot be imposed by force, guns and jail terms. That has never worked anywhere. Talking and engaging always works to reduce tension and bring back harmony to the country.

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