Civil Disobedience Is Not A Bad Word

Zain HD on different forms of peaceful resistance

*This piece was originally written for a youth section of another publication that was not in the position to publish content of such nature so near to July 9th.

Freedom of expression is action. Speaking out regarding an issue you are passionate about is as basic as celebrating a football goal. Imagine being told you can’t do that? How inhuman would that be?

I’m going to write about a form of expression that arises from our consciousness: civil disobedience.

No no, it’s not a bad word. Some of you may remember it as the non-violent resistance movement most famously lead by an intelligent charming bald wide smiling man named Mahatma Gandhi. Among the two simple things he advocated for:

  1. That his supporters stop saluting the Union Jack
  2. That they do not swear or insult officials of the British army.

It says: I don’t agree with you, but my objective is not to harm you.

Let’s take a look at something closer to our time and a little different in form. Banksy is a graffiti artist from England whose works of art — some call it vandalism — now cover walls around the world. He uses his creativity to exercise civil disobedience.

He probably will not lead a movement to chase an imperial power out of occupied territories, but his works on The Wall separating Palestine and Israel brought attention to the issue for those who would never have otherwise cared.

That gives you an idea of how an act of civil disobedience by one person can affect the course of history for others. Remember Mohamed Bouazizi, who unfortunately set himself alight in Tunisia? Weeks later, two very interesting things happened.

The first was a little act of disobedience by some Malaysian friends and me with about 10 over Egyptian students. Before we could even approach the Egyptian Embassy across the street, we were approached and questioned by the police who eventually compelled us to leave. We were very, very dejected especially for the Egyptians who couldn’t be back home to be counted among what was going on then.

The second thing — just a week after the above incident in KL — a whole LOT of Egyptians in Cairo disobeyed the authorities by refusing to go home and instead hung around Tahrir Square. As we now know, this lead to the ousting of their dictator. I was extremely delighted. I did not expect that the little movement of which I was part of in KL, grew to something of this size.

During the Tahrir Square uprising, members of the authority, the army, were seen sharing meals and pleasantries with civilians. No wonder we’re still talking about Gandhi. The approach he adopted works till today.

Let’s not be confused by the misconception that the law is always right. The benchmark should be Justice, not the law for its own sake. Some laws, policies or approach to things are simply not right. An African American woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus for a man of another skin colour. The policy of the bus company required her to do so. But that was not a reflection of justice, so she disobeyed.

Please, however, let’s not get carried away. Justice through civil disobedience is not you refusing to do a school assignment because you don’t feel like it. And should the whole classroom disagree on the topic for the assignment, civil disobedience should not be the first resort. Sometimes all it takes is an open minded civil discussion with your teacher.

This is important to note because civil disobedience is about getting your point across, just as in a discussion. When the problem is not communicated to the other party, there will be no solutions.

If the people behind Operation Malaysia, who recently hacked our government’s websites, did not release a youtube video explaining their reasons, the authorities would have no idea how to even begin working towards addressing the issues.

To conclude: Civil Disobedience is part of the process towards a desired outcome. It is a problem-solving action that sometimes becomes necessary. Most well known cases of civil disobedience have been successful because they were done responsibly. Disobedient, yes. Civil, yes too.

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One Response to Civil Disobedience Is Not A Bad Word

  1. katasayang

    Surprised the post doesn't mention anything about Thoreau's 'Civil Disobedience' written in 1849, which already has the following to say about the Chinese and Malays.…
    I saw to what extent the people among whom I lived could be trusted as good neighbors and friends; that their friendship was for summer weather only; that they did not greatly propose to do right; that they were a distinct race from me by their prejudices and superstitions, as the Chinamen and Malays are; that in their sacrifices to humanity, they ran no risks, not even to their property; that after all they were not so noble but they treated the thief as he had treated them, and hoped, by a certain outward observance and a few prayers, and by walking in a particular straight though useless path from time to time, to save their souls.