Monday, June 06, 2005

19] Learn from the Kids of Perlis

Educate for Peace!
By Azly Rahman

I have always loved war protests. In the early 1990s I organized one in a Malaysian school when the first Desert Storm broke out. It was a good exercise in critical thinking, public speaking and poster-making for a school in Perlis. At that time George Bush Senior was the President of the United States

I stayed up till early morning, in my home library in Kangar Perlis, listening to the news of the breakout of Word War III; a world war disguised under the name Desert Storm. Having heard so much the phrase "Mother of Inventions" from the rock musician Frank Zappa, that night I hear for the first time the phrase "Mother of All Battles".

The next day, I helped the school organized Malaysia's first high school anti-war protest in the compound of this high school. The New Straits Times came. They were attracted to this placard which read "Bush is a Coward" and "Bush is a Chicken". They said that the government was concerned.

The media carried the news. It was a great feeling to be able to express something of great significance, of importance to the the issue plaguing humanity, and to go an extra mile educating children for peace, in a place as uncomplicated, laid back, and pastoral as Perlis. These children were the best the brightest of their generation. I am sure, wherever they are, they are still carrying the memory and the inextinguishable flame of peace and social justice.

Of course a group of Malaysian Special Branch high-ranking officers came down the following day to "interview me and my peace-loving student protesters". I told them this:

"I'd rather teach them to be pro-peace than to be pro-war. My role as educator is to
also do that. Your children will appreciate this" They listened and learned, I

The following week, the government of Mahathir Mohamad agreed to allow a national peace vigil in Stadium Merdeka, to protest the bombing of Baghdad. He registered his international protest against the invasion of Iraq. What a contradiction!

That was 1990 -- my year of teaching dangerously.

Spray those protestors!

The recent water-spraying of peace protesters bring me memories of my days in beautiful Perlis.

The protest was a global concerted effort in expressing our anger at the United States and its allies for the devastation done on Iraq and the atrocities done on the Iraqi people. Even in the United States, loud voices continue to call for the troops to be brought home. Veterans of the Vietnam War and of Desert Storm are in concert asking the Bush Administration to pull out the troops.

The youth of America especially in the “Blue States”, some right out of high school are dying in the name of misinformed patriotism, trumpeted under the no-longer-popular guise of "war on terrorism".

War protesters in America, Europe, Japan, and other developed and developing countries are contributing to the loud voice of disgust of the "crimes against humanity,” that continue to be committed by the American Empire.

Our stand on this issue is clear: we want the U.S- led Coalition forces to pull out of Iraq. All of our elected politicians have agreed to that.

But what is the Abdullah Ahmad Badawi Administration doing to our own people who are voicing exactly the same principle of what the present government has written in stone?

Water-spraying the protesters is a puzzling act and a misuse of the State apparatus. These protesters were not asking for more U.S. troops to be sent to Iraq, were they?

Why humiliate them? What logical explanation must the Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's Administration give to the public when in fact we have a broad coalition of peace activist such as PEACE/AMAN Malaysia asking Malaysians to join in a similar war protest?

A double standard

There seems to be an unwritten standard in the way we try to protest against war. Consider the difference between the incident that happened in the recent protest and the officially sanctioned one emanating from the government.

Consider this:

UMNO YOUTH organized a peaceful demonstration in 2003, about two years ago. Hishamuddin wanted to bring George Bush and Tony Blair to the international court for the two warmonger's crimes against humanity.

A rally war also planned:

“Hishammuddin also announced other decisions made at today's meeting, including a plan to hold a peaceful demonstration on Saturday.

Umno Youth expects some 50,000 people at the rally, which will begin 2pm at Padang Merbok and end at Dataran Merdeka.

Hishamuddin called on peace-loving Malaysians – including members of the opposition parties – to join the demonstration".



WHEREAS the military offensive against Iraq and her continued Occupation contravenes the United Nations Charter and international law

WHEREAS the security and stability of the state of Iraq and the lives and property of her civilian population continue to be threatened

WHEREAS the reconstruction of the nation of Iraq has not materialized with certain infrastructural development lagging behind pre-war levels

WHEREAS the abuses of Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghrib prison and other detention centers by personnel of the Occupation Forces including members of the United States' military contravene provisions of the Geneva Convention and tantamount to criminal acts of violence;

We, members of Barisan Nasional Youth and UMNO Youth representing PEACE Malaysia, a peace movement of 1,300 civil society organizations, representing 4 million Malaysians hereby:

CONDEMN the abuses of Iraqi detainees as criminal, reprehensible, outrageous an inhuman

PROTEST in the strongest terms the said abuses which are totally unacceptable standards of behavior on the part of the Occupation Forces whose express mission is supposedly the liberation of oppressed Iraqis and restoration of democracy

DEMAND speedy, impartial and comprehensive investigation of the abuses and sexual humiliation and just and appropriate action on personnel of Occupation Force including civilian contractors found guilty of the said offences

CALL on the Government of the United States, Coalition Provisional Authority and Occupation Forces to immediately institute measures to guarantee acceptable standards of behavior by Occupation Forces personnel that will ensure humane and just treatment not only of detainees but of all Iraqis

URGE immediate withdrawal of Occupation Forces and control handed over to peacekeepers of the United Nations as interim measures pending Iraqi self-determination through democratic elections to be supervised by the United Nations.

That was the beautiful memorandum by PEACE MALAYSIA. Can’t we be angry together – citizens and the State? -- Demang Daun Lebar and Sang Sapurba?

Let’s be angry together

Let our citizens express our anger over the Iraqi occupation in whatever peaceful ways they wish to. This is an expression of democracy.

No one has the monopoly over democracy, human rights, and the definition of peace and justice, I recall Anwar Ibrahim as saying in his meeting at the Pentagon. Being a former career diplomat, I am sure Abdullah Ahmad Badawi would agree too. I am sure any sane and peace-loving Malaysian would also agree.

We ought to plan more protests, and in fact teach schoolchildren to protest against war and destruction. We might evolve into Costa Rica, a state who chose not to have a standing army.

The more the merrier and meaningful. We ought to be non-partisans when it comes to speaking up on issues that are plaguing humanity. The State cannot use its ideological State apparatuses in deciding whose anti-war protest is more legitimate than the other.

We are still a young democracy that has the potential of learning to be free and responsible, in a safe environment. Let us not kill that enthusiasm.

Let us learn from the schoolchildren from Perlis. They might be one of the protesters water-sprayed.

We must teach our children how to become peaceful individuals by teaching them how to be "peace-makers, peace-keepers, and peace-builders", as sloganized by Kofi Annan.
I am sure the Prime Minster, once a skilled diplomat totally agree to this notion of education for peace and global security.

Only by teaching them how beautiful a protest against the crime of humanity can we teach them to the beauty of tolerance in the most meaningful sense of the word. The image of Malays, Chinese, Indians, Iban, Kadazan, Orang Asli, and Orang Bukan-Lagi-Asli, singing protest songs, carrying placards, banners, and other signs and symbols of protestation will demonstrate to ourselves and to the world that we Malaysians can also think about these issues.

But the image of these protesters being wildly dispersed is philosophically and politically hideous! The government need not continue to show its childishness in dealing with an issue as adult as an anti-war protest.

Protesters, we must educate our government on the monopoly of the freedom of expression.

We do not wish to continue with the legacy of Mahathir Mohamad who was called a "Wira Dunia Ketiga" or "Third World Warrior” for his frequent protests against all forms of colonialism, but yet use the state apparatus at his disposal to disperse protesters of all sort.

Mahathir was a great champion of freedom of speech for Third World Nations, but also a great champion of silencing free speech in his own nation. This is a confusing notion of statesmanship.

Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is emulating such heroism by championing the use of State apparatus not only to water-spray peace protestors, by sending confusing message on peace too. It is an utterly confusing in a world in need of voices of peace.

It is time that we the people, educate the current regime of the meaning of making stand on the possibility of world peace. The American people are getting weary of the war, which has cost billions of dollars. The government may go bankrupt soon if the war continues.

In our case, it seems that this aspect of Intelligence of the Malaysian government – of making pro-peace stand -- has not fully developed. We are confused --- even when it comes to such basic diplomatic matters of grave concern.

Educators, in the broadest sense of the word, I urge you:

Teach our schoolchildren the beauty of peace education. We are all educators for peace now. The world is no longer safe for our children and grandchildren. We prioritize bread over bombs. Steven Gan in a recent editorial [] wrote eloquently on the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction especially amongst the richest most advanced and supposedly most civilized nations in the world.

Let us bring down warmongering governments through peaceful means, and dismantle systems of structural violence so that our children and grandchildren may live in a less mutually-assured destructive world!

In the meantime, the Abdullah Ahmad Badawi Administration owes a public apology to the war protestors. Expressions of peace is not a monopoly of the few.

Let us all educate for peace.

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