By Stanley Koh
COMMENT Astrologers avow that the Age of Aquarius is an era of spiritual awakening. But has mankind really entered or arrived anywhere near an era of spirituality, enlightenment, wisdom, harmony and truth?
Sceptics do not think so.
Even cartoonists are learning that their work can invite arrest, prosecution and death threats.
A few of them, no doubt, lack sensibility and wisdom. Instead of appealing to the very human sense of humour, their cartoons invite violent protests and provoke murderous instincts.
Such, for instance, was the case of Lars Vilks, the Swedish artist who offended Muslims across the globe with his perceived insult in 2007. The following year, Amsterdam police arrested Gregorius Nekschot on allegations that his work discriminated against Muslims.
In another incident, 20-year-old Bangladeshi cartoonist Ariful Rahman broke his country's law when he stirred up religious sentiments with his play of words for a caricature published in the newspaper Aalpin.
The case of Malaysian cartoonist Zunar, however, is somewhat different. He has joined the ranks of persecuted cartoonists—not for his insensitivity to the feelings of fellow human beings, but for his tendency to reveal what the authorities believe ought to be kept hidden.
To paraphrase a Russian proverb, politics is a rotten egg; if broken, it stinks.
Zunar has been trying to crack the Malaysian egg for some time now, releasing smells that the authorities cannot tolerate.
Everything looks like a nail
To the corrupt and corruptible, the truth is so precious that it must be hidden at all costs, usually with a pack of lies and half-truths.
“To the man who has a hammer, everything he encounters begins to look like a nail,” said American psychologist Abraham Maslow. As a depiction of the psychology of Malaysia’s political leadership, this is not far off the mark. Critics, it seems, should be hammered into compliance or obedience like a nail, and this can be done through repressive laws.
According to Aristotle, the mark of an educated mind is that it is able to entertain a thought—or criticism—without accepting it.
Can an individual, through written or spoken criticism, really cause nationwide rioting or trigger a violent revolution? Does a drop of water constitute an ocean? Remember that riots are usually caused by groups orchestrated by politicians and wars are conducted by military commanders, not by any one individual citizen.
The real problem with our leadership is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubts and fears. They make grave political mistakes as a result.
As George Bernard Shaw once quipped, “Political necessities sometimes turn out to be political mistakes.” That applies to all the draconian laws in the country; they are political mistakes perpetuating an out-of-date political culture.
Our political culture would make Aristotle shake his head in despair. Our so-called leaders are apparently incapable of accepting criticism and deem it fit to punish the critics. Perhaps they should heed John F Kennedy’s famous remark: “When peaceful revolution becomes impossible, violent revolution becomes inevitable.”
Silencing criticism and prohibiting press freedom under bad laws is a form of tyranny. “There is no crueller tyranny than that which is perpetuated under the shield of law and in the name of justice,” according to Charles de Montesquieu.
How many more Zunars are out there who will speak, write or draw to show what they think is true and right?
Since 2005, the Malaysian government has intimidated numerous critics, notably Nathaniel Tan, Syed Azidi Syed Aziz alias Kickdefella and Raja Petra Kamaruddin. It has not spared even radio deejays and talk-show personalities. And there is now a high profile committee to monitor some 503 websites and train cyber troopers and computer forensics experts to rein in critics and dissenters.
Let us have freedom
The paranoia of seemingly educated leaders and their unwillingness to give free rein to their sense of humour speak much of the prevailing crisis of representation in Malaysia.
Czech freedom fighter Vaclav Havel, in a famous essay published in 1979, aptly titled “The Power of the Powerless,” wrote that those who live under oppression and do nothing to oppose it are living a lie, the lie that their life is normal.
According to him, if people were to choose to tell the truth, to begin to act on this truth, and to resist the lies of the state, they would open up an “explosive” and “incalculable” power in society.
The Age of Aquarius is about freedom, especially of the human spirit. If power is about what politicians can control, then freedom is about what the people can unleash.
When Abraham Lincoln finally freed his nation from slavery, he wrote: “Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”
Neither should we forget that there is one law for all humanity and against man’s cruelty. That is the Creator’s law, the law of Truth, Humanity, Logic, Justice, Compassion and Wisdom.
The greatness of a nation is measured not by its material wealth or military strength, but by the positive values it cherishes.
Politicians have no greater duty than to nurture those universal values. To carry out that duty effectively, they must realise that they, like everyone else, are not perfect.
Stanley Koh is a political observer who use to head the MCA's research unit.