Wednesday, 9 May 2012

When Thuan Chye takes the bull by the horns


The recent Bersih 3.0 is a loud indication that many things aren't right in Malaysia, particularly the alleged unclean electoral roll and procedures, the weakened democratic institutions and the shackled media.

And in many ways, things haven't changed much since Bersih 2.0 that was held last year despite the much-touted reform initiatives taken by the Najib administration.

no more bullshit, we are all malaysians book by kee thuan chyeWhich is why the section on ‘Bersih 2.0 and All That Dirt' among other matters in Kee Thuan Chye's latest book ‘No More Bullshit, Please, We're All Malaysians', serves as a grim reminder as well as a useful documentation of things that have gone awry in our beloved country.

But this 404-page book is more than just a mere observation of things that matter to this political commentator- journalist-playwright-dramatist-actor. It's a no-nonsense commentary that lends voice to other patriotic Malaysians who are equally concerned about the roller-coaster journey that the Malaysian society has been subjected to over the years.

This explains why Kee delves deeply - judging by the number of pieces placed in the section on ‘Najib the Salesman and Flip-Flopper'- into the issue of governance under Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

Mentioning a few examples of his pieces here in this section would give us an inkling of how troubled author Kee is about what he sees as the mismanagement of the country as a whole: ‘Peanuts, Not Sweeping Reforms'; ‘Are We Stupid Enough to Fall for the Same Scam?'; ‘Just One Empty Slogan?'; ‘Najib Speaks With Forked Tongue'; ‘Anti-Extremism Begins at Home'; and ‘Can Umno Change or Cows Fly?'.

Former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad isn't spared Kee's sharp end of his pen either, metaphorically speaking that is (given the digital age that we're living in).

In fact, Kee was scathing in his remarks pertaining to Mahathir, whom he considers as the one person "who has done the most damage to the country" (p.39), and his past policies and actions particularly in the section called ‘Mahathir the Mess-Maker'.

Kee categorically blames Mahathir for having created a culture of fear among Malaysians, especially since the Operation Lallang of 1987 that resulted in more than 100 people being detained.

That fear, although has subsided especially in these Bersih days, still lurks in the minds of many Malaysians.

Dream of getting an even chance
Kee's outpouring in this volume, which is a collection of his incisive commentaries, poems, plays and interviews, is by and large it seems to me, predicated upon his desire, his hope, his dream of being given an "even chance" as a bona fide Malaysian citizen - as it is lucidly explained in the first piece of the book, which is an excerpt from an article originally published in the New Sunday Times on May 14, 1989: ‘All we want is an even chance'.

Being someone with a keen interest in the arts, Kee obviously is more than miffed with the censorship that had been imposed by the authorities on his staged plays and other art forms such as films of other people.

In the third piece in this collection, ‘Freedom of expression and culture in Malaysia: Telling you what you already know', Kee expresses his outrage over the fact that certain ideas that are dear to him cannot be shared with fellow Malaysians through various media, including the stage, such as the productions of ‘The Coffin is Too Big for the Hole' and ‘The Vagina Monologues'.

While censorship had been vigorously employed by the authorities against certain plays, films and even cartoon books over the years, certain sleazy videos had found their way into the public domain unhindered.

NONEIn particular, Kee is perturbed by the fanfare accompanying the screening of a sex video by the ‘Datuk T; trio (left) purportedly incriminating someone who looked like Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim.

In the section of the volume ‘Sex, Lies and Videotapes', Kee poses the question of immorality of the very act of exposing illicit sex "for an ulterior purpose".

And the question posed by Kee remains relevant till this day as certain mainstream newspapers have already come on board in their attempt to throw mud at certain opposition politicians, using sleaze and sex to smudge their reputation.

As rightly implied by Kee, such a low-down tactic makes a mockery of Islam (to be sure not Scientology) as the country's official religion. Isn't slander considered heinous by Islam and other revealed religions as well?

Very much a Malaysian at heart, Kee is patently agitated by certain actions taken by government leaders as well as right-wing groups like Perkasa that smack of racism and religious bigotry.

Order to censor two videos

In the section entitled ‘Race and Religion Rumbles' the author recalls, among other things, the infamous cow-head incident in Shah Alam where Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein instead came to the defence of the protesters.

section 23 shah alam resident cow head protest against hindu temple relocation on the 28 august 080909In this regard, Kee also takes exception to the action taken by the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) for having instructed news portal Malaysiakini to remove (in other words censor) "two videos from its archives - the cow-head protest itself and of Hishammuddin's shameful press conference (where he defended the protesters)" (p.160).

In the piece entitled ‘I am Malaysian First' of the same section of the volume, Kee also lambasts the deputy prime minister for having difficulty in acknowledging "that he is Malaysian first and Malay second" (p.182).

As if this isn't enough to disconcert him, there is the incident of the principal of a secondary school in Kulai who allegedly made racist remarks during the Merdeka celebrations in her school.

To quote Kee, the principal "is alleged to have said that Chinese students are not needed in the school and can go back to China or Sekolah Foon Yew (a private Chinese school in Johor), and that the prayer strings Indian students wear on their neck and wrist make them look like dogs, and only dogs would be tied this way". (p.163).

Kee's irritation about such matters is understandable given that he is so committed to the notion of Bangsa Malaysia that he assigned "Malaysian names" to his two children, bearing Malay, Indian and Chinese names (p.182). In short, racism is a no-go zone for him.

But as they say, every cloud has a silver lining. Although racism has reared its ugly head from time to time, one however can argue that Malaysians, especially the rational ones, should be commended for having the tenacity to withstand or resist the temptation of "promoting" and "protecting" the vested interests of one's community against those of the others.

This was made evident, for instance, by the actions of many members of Bersih 2.0 and especially Bersih 3.0, irrespective of their ethnicity and faith who were and remain united around a common purpose of achieving clean, free and fair elections - and by extension, a better future for Malaysia.

In the section ‘March 8 and More' Kee also makes an interesting assessment of political developments since the watershed general election of 2008 where he looks at the performances of both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Rakyat.

Kee also allocates enough space in this volume to take a swipe at ‘Tweedledee MCA' and ‘Tweedledum MIC' that have lost their political shine ever since the setback in 2008.

Another BN component party Gerakan isn't spared either. Here the author poses some hard questions to the party pertaining to its uncertain future in Penang and nationwide politics.

In the section ‘The Other Side' Kee assigns some space for the discussion of the parties in the Pakatan, especially PAS. Here he interrogates nagging questions such as the "Islamic state" as propounded by PAS.

Given that this volume is a collection of the things mentioned above, it could do with a substantial introductory chapter so as to help the reader, especially the uninitiated to connect the dots. The short preface in the beginning of the book is well, too short.

Additionally, an issue that is important and should have been allocated a section in this book is corruption, which has pervaded all levels of society and torn its moral fabric.

Despite this shortcoming, however, this volume which is published by Marshall Cavendish makes a compelling read for Malaysians who love their country.

Dr MUSTAFA K ANUAR, who teaches communication studies at a local public university, doesn't like to receive bull either.

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