Why racism, religious extremism were rife under Pakatan

DID you ever wonder why racism and religious extremism were even more rife under Pakatan Harapan than they were under Barisan Nasional? For a coalition that fought for a diverse and multiracial Malaysia, that cried for change from the tyranny of the previous BN regime, did you not find it incredulous that such hateful sentiments thrived right under Pakatan’s very nose?

Well, racism and religious extremism increased during Pakatan’s rule not because the now fallen government supported or endorsed them. Pakatan wanted a complete departure from the oppressive days of BN, and that’s exactly why they firmly upheld democratic freedoms – of which freedom of speech and expression were cornerstones of their administration. 

More than just paying lip service, Pakatan walked the talk. Unlike its despotic predecessor BN, Pakatan did not threaten, harass or intimidate the press. Neither did it bring down the force of law against ordinary citizens. Pakatan most certainly never utilised its newfound powers to silence or terrorise political opponents or critics, which was the infamous hallmark of the BN regime. 

Under Pakatan, political cartoonists like Zunar and graphic artists like Fahmi Reza had peace. They were not persecuted simply because the authorities couldn’t deal with a little parody or satire. Newspapers like The Edge had peace: their licences did not get suspended just because their coverage threw the government in an unfavourable light. 

Online news portals like Malaysiakini and The Malaysian Insight had peace: websites weren’t attacked or blocked by Pakatan simply because they criticised the coalition. Journalists had peace: they could report the news without fear or favour. Ordinary Malaysians had peace: they didn’t have to agonise about getting arrested and charged over peacefully protesting with yellow balloons.

In fact, even long-standing enemies like Umno and PAS had the peace to speak their minds without being dragged to court for trumped-up charges, or put behind bars for sedition or “threatening national security and public order”. Due to significantly relaxed press freedoms under Pakatan, these parties and their hardcore supporters took advantage of the new climate to freely advance their own racist and extremist agendas.

Knowing full well that Pakatan would not launch a brutal crackdown against them the way former prime minister Najib Razak did against his opponents, Umno got to work right after it lost the 2018 general election, doing everything it could to fan racial flames. The scandal-mired party smeared Pakatan with endless lies, slander and half-truths, and tirelessly spread divisive rhetoric to turn Malays against non-Malays. 

Certainly, it knew very well that inciting hatred and breeding mistrust between the different races were the most effective ways to divide and conquer the nation; a lesson it learnt superbly well from the British. Umno had one goal – to use and capitalise all the resentment it built up to set the perfect stage for the ultimate betrayal of the people’s mandate – the political coup of February 29, now infamous the world over. 

   Pakatan wanted to be radically different from BN, but perhaps, it gave the country too much freedom too soon. Ironically, this was one of the strongest reasons that led to its undoing. A government that genuinely upholds freedom of speech and freedom of expression cannot selectively grant them to certain segments of the population; it would have been undemocratic. But, give people too much freedom, and they abuse it. Restrict their freedom, and be painted as authoritarian and no better than BN. Thus, Pakatan was stuck in the middle. Striking a healthy balance between the two is like navigating crocodile-infested waters: take a single wrong step and you’re eaten alive. 

But, now that Pakatan is gone, so are the freedoms we so dearly held on to. You can safely bet on this: racism and religious extremism will rage on even more under PN. But this time, it is because the government we did not vote for glorifies them. – May 17, 2020.

* Lara Ling reads The Malaysian Insight.


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