Originally published by The Malaysian Insider on 4 July 2011.
Whenever I flush the toilet at home, my cat, often seen lazing on the floor would spring to her feet and run for her life. It’s obvious that the sudden sound of rushing water petrifies her tremendously.
Sometimes, out of strange habit, I find myself warning her that I will be flushing the toilet in false hope that she would not get agitated. I used to think that once she gets accustomed to the noise, she would get over her unreasonable fear.
I’ve had her for more than two years and each time I flush the toilet, it still has the same effect on her, with or without my warning.
It then dawns on me that my cat will continue to have this fear simply because she is unable to comprehend what is happening. There’s nothing I can do about it for how does one explain to a cat what a flushing mechanism is?
Life is full of fears. We fear for our safety, we fear for our future, we fear humiliation and we fear death but what we probably fear the most is what we don’t know, just like my cat.
In the past weeks, the government has been carrying out a campaign to instill fear in the rakyat. We have been warned that if we participate in the Bersih campaign, we will be committing a crime and as result of that, our freedom will be taken away.
It is quite understandable that every reasonable person will be frightened by this knowledge. If the most fearsome thing in this world is indeed ignorance, why are we then still afraid despite knowing the consequences of our actions?
Many people have asked me whether I am afraid. The simple truth is, yes I am but not so much of what will happen in the next couple of days, but of what will become of our beloved country if we continue to allow the government to intimidate us.
Knowing what might happen to my security and freedom is only half as scary as not knowing the fate of our country and the future of young Malaysians.
Great religions and nations teach us to stand up for the truth. Our government teaches us otherwise. When a government becomes the main agent provocateur of fear and at the same time warns its people that they will be guilty for provoking fear and instability, something is fundamentally wrong.
So far, the real culprit for instilling fear and provocation seems to be coming from the government, not those who choose to wear yellow T-shirts, blow bubbles into the air, carry yellow balloons and walk peacefully on their streets on July 9. The colour yellow does not provoke, but public threats of arrest and detention do.
A few days ago, I confessed to a friend that what’s happening in Malaysia stresses me more than what I had experienced in Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Cambodia. He was surprised and wanted to know why. My answer to him, “Because this is not supposed to happen here. You expect it to happen in those countries but not here.”
What most people don’t seem to understand is how fundamentally tragic and wrong it is to be ruled by a government that imposes arbitrary laws that go against the core principles of human rights and to add salt to the wound, resist the call by its people for free and fair election. I’ve seen it in Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Cambodia and sadly, Malaysia seems to have hopped on the bandwagon.
Some friends have argued with me that Malaysia is far better off than these countries. I was asked to evaluate our economy and told that I should come to the conclusion that we are better off. I’m reminded that we’re blessed for having a government that promotes economic growth and I should just be grateful.
It would be a persuasive argument but for the nagging question that if a man provides for his family, does it entitle him to do whatever he wants with them? Are they saying that if their father has looked after their welfare, then surely they should be able to forgive him for raping their sister?
These days when I walk on the street, I look over my shoulders, not for snatch thieves but for the police. When an innocent citizen feels threatened by the very people they depend on for protection, something is wrong.
When an anxious child who is afraid of the dark is being told that monsters will come after them when the light is turned off, something is wrong. If you still don’t know how to differentiate who the real coward and culprit is in this situation we’re facing today, then shame on you for refusing to believe and see the truth. You’re not a cat and you should know better.
For close to half a century, we have been living in fear. I’ve seen that fear in my parents and friends. I’ve experienced how we have conditioned ourselves to lower our voices when we talk about “sensitive” issues.
I’ve seen how people disguise themselves as someone they’re not simply because they believe it is safer to live a lie than to face the truth. The only credit the government can ever claim is that they’ve run a pretty successful campaign, thanks to us.
We’ve come to a crossroad where we either rise above our fear or allow it to perpetuate for generations to come.
Plato once said, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”
We have been living this real tragedy for far too long.