Let’s start the con­ver­sa­tion

We will never agree on ev­ery­thing, but we should at least hear each other out.

The Star Malaysia - - Views - news­desk@thes­tar.com.my Jo­han Jaaf­far Jo­han Jaaf­far was a jour­nal­ist, ed­i­tor and for some years chair­man of a me­dia com­pany, and is pas­sion­ate about all things lit­er­a­ture and the arts. The views ex­pressed here are en­tirely his own.

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Malaysia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.