Aerie Rahman feels a chill sweeping into London, all the way from Malaysia.
Despite it being Spring, London is chilly. Malaysia, so I hear, is extremely hot right now, with friends and family members telling me that the current heat wave is unparalleled to any we’ve had before.
Nevertheless, a chilling effect is haunting Malaysia. This kind of chilly feeling is unable to be insulated by thick clothing, a warm fire or a kiss from a mistress. It seeps into your cold black bones and relentlessly gnaws at them. This is the chill of sedition laws.
Adam Adli is not the victim of the chilling effect. He can continue to say what he wants to say because he’s got nothing to lose. He’s already charged of the act; he might even be a martyr. On the other hand, we, the unfortunate citizens of Malaysia are the victims of this effect, every single one of us.
Of course, by every single one of us, I must qualify that with the fact that not everyone who makes a ‘seditious’ statement is charged with sedition. Some people are exempted from being punished. Selective prosecution or cherry picking is something familiar to Malaysians. In fact, a certain daddy of the “gomo” persuasion would gladly attest to this. This is hypocrisy at its finest.
When a person is publicly muzzled from speaking, we shudder at the thought of us being in his position. What if I’m the one in prison for my anti-establishment rhetoric? What’ll happen to my family? My parents would be so disappointed, and so on.
We tend to censor ourselves and consciously prevent our true voice from speaking our mind for fear of sanction. Power works in insidious ways. By its domination, it not only creates but it also destroys. Power constrains how we think, what we think, and what we know.
Take a look at Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. This is a state-of-the-art prison with a tall watchtower. This watchtower serves as a point of surveillance against prisoners. Prisoners can’t when they are being watched. They tend to assume that they are being watched all the time even if they are not. Over a long period of time, they tend to police themselves and subconsciously modify their conduct, to appease the powers that be.
The same goes for censorship and the silencing of ‘seditious’ statements. Seeing Adam Adli being treated as if he is a criminal due to his remarks, we then tend to prevent ourselves from speaking our minds. The chills of sedition laws have long and firm roots which embeds themselves within our cognition.
The problem is, what qualifies as sedition? This is determined by the executive powers and the judiciary. Sedition is relative and can interpreted differently by different people in different contexts. The worldview of those in government can be out of touch with the masses. What we consider trivial is considered by the gerontocracy as statements which can lead to subversion against the state.
As a result, we are unsure if what we say will be considered sedition. The line between sedition and criticism is blurred, deliberately made ambiguous to serve the convenience of our masters.
If criticism of the government is not sedition, what about harsh criticism that is akin to aggressive interrogation, which is something the MACC is familiar with? What about defending the seditious statements made, which is not exactly the seditious statement?
The climate of fear whipped up by the Barisan Nasional government has become nauseating. The desire to puke after every meal is fulfilled when sedition law apologists try to justify the fact that Malaysia is not a mature democracy and therefore requires some form of social control.
Tell me, when then will we be a mature democracy? What are the indicators? Election is an important component of democracy and a turnout of 85% (more than most European countries) shows that we are a politically conscious lot.
Do sedition laws lead to a mature democracy or does a democracy mature without sedition laws? I say that the existence of sedition laws perpetuates the mentality that we are an immature society, constantly needing supervision from above. This projects the image that we are a fragile society, in a state of tension that is ready to blow up with just a spark.
Free discourse, a core criterion for understanding, is a prerequisite for a mature society. The chains of sedition laws constrain us from actualising our maturity.
Save an unscrupulous minority, Malaysia is far better than that. And we deserve more than being the victim of a chill from our own government’s doing.