Let’s start the conversation
We will never agree on everything, but we should at least hear each other out.
ONE of the defining moments of the United States’ senate confirmation hearings didn’t actually happen during a session. It happened when Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was about to take his seat.
Fred Guttenberg, who lost his daughter in the Parkland shooting, approached Kavanaugh, introduced himself and extended his hand for a handshake. Kavanaugh hesitated, turned his back and walked away.
To Kavanaugh’s detractors, the incident speaks volume about his failure at least to acknowledge views by others, although he later said he would have shaken hands with Guttenberg if he had recognised him.
Guttenberg has been actively advocating gun control laws after the tragedy. The powerful NRA (National Rifle Association) lobby is said to be supporting Kavanaugh’s nomination.
The debate on Kavanaugh’s refusal to shake Guttenberg’s hand is as furious as the nomination hearings themselves.
The US is supposed to be the beacon of hope for real “conversations”. The fact that President Donald Trump has painted the press at large as “enemy of the people” manifests his real stand on the First Amendment.
No president since Richard Nixon has had such a frosty relationship with the press. For Trump, it is getting worse by the day.
He is not alone. Many leaders of the world would agree with his position on the free press.
As the world becomes smaller with the advent of the Internet, there are those who still believe in the idea that free press is bad and laws should be enacted to silence the people. The voices of the little people should not be heard. Power shouldn’t be given to the powerless. Power is exclusively for the powerful.
We have seen how governments fall because of that. The folly of leaders believing the constituents are merely statistics at the poll booths has resulted in the people rejecting them.
Barisan Nasional has learned a bitter lesson on what People’s Power can do. Other than hubris and perceived abuse of power, the blatant disregard for dissenting voices is cited as one of the reasons for the people’s angst.
Laws are enacted to silence what’s left of the freedom of expression. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the Anti-Fake News Act, which most people deem unnecessary and unwarranted.
There is the Sedition Act hovering over our heads, not to mention other laws that curtail freedom of expression and a free press.
The universities – supposedly the last bastion of free voice – have been silenced. Debate on almost everything was discouraged at one point.
It is easier to criticise than to be criticised.
Pakatan Harapan leaders are now waking up to the reality that they are in the government. Being an opposition member has its advantages, and sitting on the opposite side of the aisle has its setbacks.
Demanding for a free press when you are on the other side sounds noble and even romantic, but it is not easy when you are part of the government.
But they should not be deterred by that. The promise to free the press must be kept, and so too the need to repeal or abolish some of the pukat tunda (dragnet) laws.
Things are changing and we need to make adjustments. The dissenting voices must be heard. The press must be freed as promised. It is a pre-requisite for a healthy and vibrant democracy. The institutions of higher learnings should be depoliticised.
It is easy to frame the criticism of the Malay leadership as Malaybashing. The truth is that some of their leaders have failed the Malays in the past.
There is a dire need for a relook at the culture, mindset and psyche to understand what has happened. It is in fact the right time to understand how leaders who have been trusted to help and protect, have betrayed the Malay race as a whole.
I find it disheartening to listen to people taking issue with Siti Kasim’s column in Sunday Star or with Perlis mufti Datuk Dr Asri Zainul Abidin’s position of certain religious matters.
We have many more relevant matters to deal with rather than worrying about different views and interpretations.
I don’t believe the Muslims’ position would be jeopardised just by reading or listening to either of them. Or that one will convert to Christianity just by reading Hannah Yeoh’s book or listening to a song by Jaclyn Victor.
Muslims can’t be that weak! We must have the audacity to discuss matters pertaining to race relations in the country or else the work of the National Unity Consultative Council would be in vain. We should encourage intelligent writing in the country. We should nurture a vibrant arts and culture scene that is free of political encumbrances.
In a televised discussion with me organised by the Sinar Harian newspaper, Education Minister Dr Maszlee Malik proposed the idea of setting up sudut debat (debate corner) at schools and to reintroduce Sudut Pidato (Speaker’s Corner) at the universities. It is a good move to create an eco-system for healthy discourse.
We must be able to confront and shake hands with those who disagree with us, however much we dislike them.