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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

141] Sharing our collective guilt

Sharing the collective guilt
Azly Rahman
Sep 24, 07 1:03pm

"But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal - there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court.

"It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest J.P. court in the land, or this honourable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal."

- Harper Lee, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’


If the video clip purportedly linked to the appointment of the Chief Justice is verified as authentic and those involved in it are clearly identified, will we see a major wave of change? One that would signify and realise our longing for a counter-factual history of our nation?

As the poet Langston Hughes said: "Would it dry up like a raisin in the sun…. or will it explode?"

By counter-factual history, I mean the what-ifs of the way we view history, somewhat like the movie ‘Back to the Future’ in which one can go back in time and change the nature of things.

Was PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim's expulsion from Umno and the government and consequently his brutal treatment and castration invalid? What could have happened as a moment of counter-factual history? How would things have turned out to be if justice had been blind? As the Muslims would say, "Allah knows best…"

And if the claims in the video recording are verified and the Bar Council embarks upon a boycott of the courts, the question is: where are we heading, given that the general election is said to be about seven months away?

If the opposition parties, NGOs, those rallying behind the Bar Council, and the rakyat march to the Prime Minister's Office demanding explanations, verification and immediate action, what might happen next? Which groups in our society will also march - in this newly-acquired sense of discovery of the powerful civil rights movement?

What would happen to a nation that is already traumatised and psychologically-deranged by a range of issues of our own crafting - from the Altathunya murder case to the riot in Batu Buruk; from the gangsta-ish incidents in Ijok to the demolition of Kampung Berembang; from the continuing socio-economic injustices brought about by abuse of the New Economic Policy to the continuing harassment and criminalisation of students and faculty in public universities?

Imagine a boycott of the courts - can you? I dare not imagine what will happen. I hope we can still respect the rule of law amidst impending chaos.

But then again, are we becoming a nation whose conduct is not only unbecoming but worse, unruly - bordering on the ideology of Mat Rempit-ism as a national-social character of our hyper-modern political culture?

Hegemony and guilt

But are we in it together, aren't we?

In modern European history, the Italians had a similar experience with the national guilt of not doing much to stop Benito Mussolini.

Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci, while in prison and writing his ‘Prison Notebooks’ - wondered whether Mussolini's Italy had come to that stage where the nation seemed to have accepted the norm - corruption, abuse of power, control of the courts, and the increasing corporatisation of the government.

The rise and consolidation of Fordism (named after the Henry Ford production-house ideology) as a phenomena of Mussolini's modernist philosophy helped soften , rationalise and objectify the issue of class and the rise of the militarist state in the years preceding the rise of the Axis Powers and subsequently of World War II.

"Hegemony" was his explanation of why the Italians did not revolt against the fascist regime or vote the Italian Communist party into power. Gramsci remained in jail and his work remained studied as a source of discourse analysis on the relationship between power, ideology, and history as these interplay to produce totalitarianism and next, fascism.

In Malaysia, we have allowed not only ‘hegemony’ (defined by Gramsci as "moral and intellectual leadership") to prevail but also ‘hegemony’ and ‘utopianism’ crafted by the previous regime, to take root. We have allowed the courts to be controlled, the universities to be shackled, Parliament to be classically conditioned a la Pavlov, and the masses to be Prozac-ed by the ‘feel good’ messages of this great utopianism called Vision 2020, cemented by a Stalinist style five-year national development agenda.

We the voters have allowed this illusionary sense of ‘order and harmony’ to prevail and to allow our leaders to stay as long as they wish in a form of political culture apologetically called ‘guided democracy’. We are collectively guilty of installing this brand of democracy.

Hegemony permeates all levels of society - psychological, political, economic, cultural and even religious. It creates what Gramsci called a "historical block" in which this moment of history as I re-interpret it, that was supposed to be a passage for the advancement of social justice through regime change, was hijacked and appropriated by a totalitarian regime - much to the ignorance of the masses.

In our case, where would a common person seek justice if the courts are not independent? Isn't there supposed to be the separation of powers - of the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary - to protect the rights of the citizens; natural rights that the citizen surrendered to the state in place of protection and the advancement of the ‘general will’?

Is this the kind of justice system we have built? Are we all doomed as a nation?

I hope not. But what must we do now?

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