Archive for June, 2014

THE debate on the need for laws to promote national harmony, outlaw hate crimes and prevent negative discrimination in our society is making our socio-political temperature hotter than the weather.

The three new proposed bills are sponsored and promoted by the National Unity Consultative Council which is doing, under the current (sensitive) constraints, an excellent job of getting public feedback and doing something concrete to promote national unity rather just mere talk.

There seems to be some confusion and disagreement, even among people on the same side and espousing the cause of national unity. Like many things in life, differences of opinion are often not about the goals but how to get there.

Much of the confusion lies in the proper understanding of the issues and what the bills set out to do.

What are the concerns?

First, like the Sedition Act (which is supposed to be abolished), some critics argued that the proposed laws can be abused.

Giving the reason for not having a law because it can be abused is illogical. If that is the case, there would be no laws. Any law in the world can be abused, sure, some more so than others, especially those which are not well worded or clearly defined.

There are good or bad laws, so by all means oppose the bad laws but not the good ones for fear of them being abused. Instead of just opposing these proposed bills by using this scare tactic, it would be more constructive for these sceptics to scrutinise the wording and definitions and seek to improve on them.

Abuse of the proposed laws can also be minimised if a check-and-balance system and transparent enforcement can be put in place.

Perhaps, it is important to ask ourselves, why we need these new laws. Are they meant just for window dressing to please certain sections of our society that something is being done to address the worsening ethnic relations?

Based on my understanding of the proposed bills, they are meant to protect the potential victims (minorities) from hate crimes, to prevent negative discrimination without undermining the rights of others and to ensure the rights of minorities to practise their own religion in peace and without hindrance. So it’s about protecting the legitimate rights of minorities who are the likely victims of hate crimes and negative discrimination.

In this respect, the views of the victims and potential victims count more than others who may have little idea of how it is like to be discriminated against negatively or abused or attacked based on their ethnicity. It’s like when it comes to sexist crimes such as rape, the views of the potential victims count more than others because the laws are meant to protect them and prevent crimes against them.

The point about any law is to protect innocent people, ensure justice or prevent injustices of any kind.

Another argument used against the proposed bills is that you cannot legislate for harmony. Yes, that’s true in a way as you cannot force people to be united or be in harmony with each other but you can legislate against disharmony and hate crimes or their causes by having good and comprehensive laws.

By promoting laws which would deter and prevent acts which cause ethnic conflict and disharmony, it would be a step in the right direction for national unity, which is a long-term goal. When you are falling down a slippery slope, you have to find a way to stop sliding down before you can climb up the hill again. The proposed bills are intended to stop our society sliding further into ethnic chaos and disharmony.

Promoting ethnic harmony and unity is the responsibility of everyone but political, government and community leaders play a much bigger role by virtue of their influence and positions they hold. What they do and say can spark a firestorm or put out a raging ethnic fire.

Another reason why we need a comprehensive law to address ethnic disharmony is that the Penal Code is too general and not focused enough to deal with this problem, which is very serious and specific.

One more good reason for the bills is that we cannot depend on the whims or fancies of political, government and community leaders to address the issue fairly and decisively every time a hate crime occurs. We need a systematic and institutionalised approach to deal with hate crimes like they do in most other civic-minded and democratic countries. We need a set of laws that would act by itself and impartially against an ethnic crime.

Even a small minority of say 1% of our population, with extremist tendencies can cause havoc to our society, if what they do and say are left unchecked. There are always going to be extremists, fanatics and lunatics in any society and this cannot be avoided but what we can do is to checkmate their destructive and divisive moves by having suitable laws.

There is a saying that “might is right” but in our country, a small group of noisy extremists is trying to tell us that “the loudest is right” due to the relative lack of response from the moderate silent majority. We need such laws to deal with these evil extremists, who wait for the right opportunity to cause ethnic troubles or exploit a genuine misunderstanding by pouring oil over it and turning it into a racial fire.

These opportunistic extremists have only one purpose in mind – to destroy ethnic harmony (whatever that is left) by attacking minorities of their basic rights and accusing the other communities of being the enemy or “bogeyman” of their race and religion (which is not under threat at all in this country).

The extremists’ secret agenda may be to exploit such a situation to gain power by creating bogeymen and non-existent threats to scare their community into supporting them and they (or their sponsors) are the only hope for their community to defend their rights under attack from these bogeymen.

Based on news reports, our security and intelligence agencies have considered a group of local extremists turned terrorists and waging their terror activities in Iraq and Syria as a “national security threat”. Whether or not there is a need for regime change in Syria and Iraq is another matter but Malaysians should not get involved in the violent conflicts there.

These local terrorists, who are claiming to fight for the same cause as the “mainstream extremists” here, are also targeting our country and government which they deem as secular, unIslamic and “evil”. The security and intelligence agencies should leave no stone unturned in investigating if there are any links between the terrorists and mainstream extremists like what they did many years ago under the Emergency when the authorities clamped down hard on the communist terrorists and their supporters and sympathisers.

The writer, CEO of a think-tank and strategic consultancy firm, believes that the cause for national unity would get a major boost if the proposed new bills can see the light of day. Comments: kktan@thesundaily.com

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