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Monday, December 05, 2005

48] Are we Abu Ghraib Now?

Are we Abu Ghraib now?
Azly Rahman
Nov 28, 05 12:37pm


How much must we deteriorate in the area of human rights under this administration that calls itself tolerant, liberal, progressive, and wish to be founded upon the principles of civilisational Islam? Did we not sign the Akujanji of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and have agreed to use the instruments of the declaration to promote human rights in our region? Why is our record of human rights abuses getting worse?

Must we emulate the brutality of the American oppressors at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay? We have to get our story straight: was not the policewoman following orders of her superiors, just like the “torture specialists” at the now two infamous prisons? Who gave the orders? Is this the culture of abuse we have embraced ever since we created the modern prison?

Must we continue to show our brutality in a time when the camera phone has eyes that do not lie? Technology is the absurd hero in this case. Just like the Internet. We have got a lot to tell the public in this ‘Age of Rights’ as Human Rights Professor Louis Henkin might call it. ‘Be scared’ It is now taking a cabinet minister to fly to China to apologise. It is now taking Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to warn us that no stones shall be left unturned in this fiasco of international magnitude - in a country that wishes to be known as a haven for tourism, and a hub for the war against terrorism.

Many allegations of human rights violations have come to light in the last few weeks via the independent media, including the: - suspension of students who protested against the recent campus elections; - abusive treatment of students by campus authorities during campaigning; and - dismissal without appeal of two academicians of Universiti Utara Malaysia for refusing to sign the Academician’s Pledge of Loyalty, that contains clauses violating Article 10 of the constitution.

Did our prisons/police stations become an Abu Ghraib long before the Iraqi invasion? Did our detention centres become a Guantanamo Bay even before Cuba leased it to the American army? What is happening to this country of “gentle and polite beings” call Malaysians, as we trumpet our “successes” internationally yet continue to abuse our prisoners and detainees, our workers, our university students, our academicians, and those whom leaders are entrusted to lead by example under the slogan Kepimpinan Melalui Teladan (leadership by example)? Is this an election gift for Malaysians? Our version of Thanksgiving?

We ought to be scared. We ought to be very scared of the power of the independent national and international media if we do not clearly and cleverly explain what happened to the Chinese nationals and other nationals during detention.

"Our human rights pledge"

Did we not sign the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Has not the government been loud-mouthed enough in the international arena to condemn this and that regime for its human rights abuses? Did we not protest against Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, violation of Palestinian rights, invasion of Iraq and massacre in Bosnia? What is wrong with our own understanding of human rights? Is our hypocrisy cultural?

We have always had a government that violates the principles of human rights since it inherited the mantle of colonialism from the British. That is why we still have repressive laws such as the Internal Security Act, Official Secrets Act, and University and University Colleges Act.

All these ensure that the machinery of repression continues to run smoothly so that the cogs in the wheels of exploitation will run well in the overall scheme of making this country richer and richer for the few. We have Kamunting as our own symbol of repression. This is why we have a history of repression, especially during the administration of former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad; one that institutionalises the apparatus of control, domination, and silencing of dissenting views so that the leaders can do whatever they please in the name of “national security” and “national development”.

"What we need"

A change of government would be best. A government that corrupts the least governs the best. Power corrupts and rampant corruption corrupts the powerful absolutely. We have been operating as a nation with halfway measures, allowing more and more corruption cases to be forgiven and forgotten, allowing old despots in government to continue to serve ad nauseum. Even the younger breed of leaders is emulating the shrewdness of the old, all because they have better and more sophisticated means of control of the propaganda machinery at their disposal.

When a government no longer serves justice and the interest of the people who voted them in, and when the government has merely become a state apparatus for an ideology that is becoming bankrupt fast due to the insatiable pursuit of power and wealth of its leaders, radical change must be sought.

When a government has evolved as such, the people have to sit still, take a deep breath, think, meditate, organise, strategise, and rise up and do whatever that is legally and peacefully necessary to revolt and demand for a change of government. It is perhaps time to do that.

The recent waves of inaction in dealing with our universities for example and the latest conflicting call by another minister in defence of the suspended students characterise this confusion and contradiction in the way justice is handled, even at the level where lawmakers reside.

Perhaps that is what we need to have a fresh start and to clean house. Perhaps we have been as a nation long drawn and existentially, as Kierkegaard would agree, dreadful in the way we live. Perhaps the ideology of the coalition government is no longer the best formula these days, at a time when the general intelligence of the people/masses/proletariat/rakyat, or whatever sociologist might call it, is higher than that of the leaders. Or else, how do we explain the degenerating and embarrassing culture of parliamentary debate?

In this culture, if one fails to Reason intelligently, one wields the keris, suspends students, dismisses academicians, and uses scare tactics on citizens, and strips naked and tortures detainees. And now, as a nation we are bared naked in the international newspapers, first after our homegrown bomb-maker made world headline news just a few weeks back, and next because of the Abu Ghraib-isation of our police stations/detention centres.

Truth is surfacing, however well we try to cover it up. The ground is opening up. Perhaps we have moved from the Malaysian Age of Recalcitrant Politics to one of Renaissance of Lethargic Politics where there is too much complexity to handle with the breakdown of authoritarianism left by Mahathir as legacy, and unable to be carried out in style by Abdullah...the Balkanisation of Malaysia where the centre can no longer hold.

"Time of contradictions"

But must we live with contradictions? Humanity cannot live by governmental brute force alone. Humanity needs its mind to be respected. The individual is more powerful than the corrupting state, more sovereign in times of contradictions like ours. Just like the academician whose sole allegiance is not to the state or to any politician whose role is to cage truth through ideology, but to liberate the mind through freedom of speech and inquiry. One cannot take away the mind of the Malaysian academic.

In Malaysia, this aspect of human rights is not being observed, respected, and developed. Perhaps not in the lifetime of this administration nor in the next, with a clone of this administration. Human rights awareness requires a sustainable educational agenda that must begin in the universities. But if students in our universities are kicked around, booted out or hanged and academicians’ mouth are taped, how might we even begin to talk about introducing the curriculum for human rights education in our universities, in our public service, in our police academies and in our public schools?

"What then must we do?"

We must make our citizens aware at a very young age the need to replace governments that are corrupt and no longer serve the interest of the people who naively install them into power. Teach them what “renewable democracy” means. We can begin by teaching children what it means to be ‘human’ and have ‘rights’ and how to exercise ‘responsibility’ in a world that is increasingly moving towards accepting and monitoring human rights as a universal value and a global commitment.

We ought to look at rights more cosmopolitan than communitarian. Human rights know no national boundaries or racial profiling. We have abused the notion of ‘Asian perspective’ of human rights legitimising the prosecution of those who dissent and those who challenge the ‘Asian state’ or the kerajaan (government).

We must not evolve into America of the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

We are too polite and gentle a multi-cultural nation to bare ourselves naked of such humiliation for the whole world to see.

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