Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sedition... or Sedation Act? -- extended version, unplugged

Sedition Act ... or Sedation Act? PDF Print E-mail
Posted by Super Admin
Monday, 19 May 2008


When are we going to have national integration when we design educational institution that deliberately disintegrates society and discriminate each other. What hypocrites we are. This is our philosophy of education inspired by the keris.

Dr. Azly Rahman

Image Our current interest in talking about sedition is exciting. I think Malaysians, especially avant-garde Bangsar Malaysians, are discussing the difference between 'sedition', 'sedation', 'seduction' and 'sadistic-nation'.

But the word 'sedition' is making me confused. Is it 'sedition' or 'sedation'? One is legal, one is medical. One connotes 'talking bad about others and about systems', the other connotes '"putting others to sleep' using medication.

Although I am not a lawyer I have a deep interest in the philosophical, cultural, and class basis of law. My interest (among other fields) lies in philosophy and its possibilities for the creation of a republic of virtue wherever we are: in Raja Petra's Malaysia, in Mugabe's Zimbabwe, or in the late Altantuya's Mongolia.

My interest is in how words get used or abused and how they perform action in society and how they even transform 'social relations of production' and 'inscribe ideology and institutions' onto the landscape of humanity.

In fact this is the theme I explored in a doctoral dissertation at Columbia University New York. I wanted to find out the genealogy, the archeology, the complexity, the historical-materiality, and the post-structurality of language. I studied the relationship between cybernetics and social-philosophy of change, as these impact "cybernating" nations.

I wanted to explore the dimensions of words and concepts, who defines what is defined and how words get to be defined. I also wanted to investigate how words can be oppressive and how those in power use words to mesmerise people, to make a living, or even to lie in political campaigns.

I have been fascinated by words since I was a child. I have often felt overwhelmed with joy interacting with words and their power. From word becomes flesh. Travelling on a bus from Johor Bahru to Singapore, on a train from Johor Bahru to Bukit Mertajam, on a barge from Johor Bahru to Kuantan, or in a taxi around Kuala Lumpur, I would notice and contemplate upon names of roads, road signs and billboards - and wonder what those words mean. My mind would be in a dissonance, constructing images. In my kampong in Majidee, I was fascinated by the names of roads such as Jalan Rahmat, Shukur, Nikmat, Aman, Sentosa, Damai, Bahagia, Kurnia, Pendita, and Merdeka. These are words that are peaceful I interact with on a daily basis. These words resound in me. Like the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor would say, these words form the "language of personal resonance" in me.

Johor Bahru the place I grew up in introduced me to names such as Tun Dr. Ismail and Ungku Aziz. These are good Johoreans with good ideas on human development. I grew up fascinated by the story of the late Abdul Razak Ahmad, the Parti Sosialis lawyer who protested by laying on the railway tracks. I heard the name of Hishamuddin Rais and the Tasik Utara demonstration. Now I am sharing a space with him in Malaysia-Today, what an honor!. These are good people with clear conscience. Johor Bahru was an interesting place to grow up in. One can "cross-over" to Singapore and watch Malaysian-banned Godfather movies. One can feel like walking in New York city strolling down Orchard Road talking about John Travolta and Saturday Night Fever. Crossing overs were a fun thing to do those days.

To cross-over to Singapore you have to first have a haircut. National Service recruits will have no problem crossing over to watch those Godfather movies.

"Crossing over" used to be a fun word. I would say to my friends:

"Hei Mamat... gua nak cross-over causeway Johor lah babe... lu nak join tak...Gua nak jam dekat Orchard , lepak lepak tengok Saturday Night Fever... amacam?... lepas tu gua nak sambar tape Ramli Sarip lepas tu... Achmad Albar's GodBless... lu tak cukup sen gua sponsor, lu mau ka?

What a string of slang words!

You see, Johoreans are pretty "multicultural" in their use of "cross-over" slangs. I wonder if Johor politicians will also do their cross-over. I wonder if they will do this if they know the political-economic nature of the Iskandar Development Region -- who owns what and how this is hidden from the public.

Nowadays "cross-over" is a dangerous word. You may also be charged for "sedition" if you overuse it or be charged for high treason by party leaders even if you need to cross over for ethical reasons. I hope those crossing over to change paradigms and after achieving enlightenment will not ask for a single sen in their pursuit for political truth. That cross-over culture will breed corruption all over. I am sure there will be anti-hopping laws passed on of these days, before it is too late.

Our world these days is no longer peaceful. Our politics have become violent -- too violent by any means necessary. The most hideous crime we read these days is of course the murder of Altantuya. That was a Saturday Night High Fever; a deadly disco party onboard a Bahtera Merdeka. Not since the days of Mona Fandey had Malaysians heard such a hideous crime committed.

Yes I am still fascinated by language. Even now, travelling from New York to Boston or Philadelphia, my mind interprets names of townships and figures out their origin - Spanish, German, Dutch, French, British, Lenape, Iroqui, Cherokee, Sioux, or any of the early Indian tribes. A good way to teach children about words is to get them to notice signboards and let their imagination run wild. I love to also be bathed in the neon signs of Times Square and next to analyze what has become of this city and this world; the financial capital of the world that is a powerhouse of cut-throat corporate conspicuous consumption crony capitalism. This is a city that was a haven of pirates, bootleggers, prostitutes, pimps, and politicians in the 1700s. The movie Gangs of New York illustrate this point. New York city is a semiotic world par excellence. "I love to watch the velocity of money as it races down Wall Street..." as the beat poet Allen Ginsberg once said about the financial district of New York.

'Just sign it'

When I lived in northern Malaysia, teaching Thinking Skills and Ethics in Malaysia's self-proclaimed foremost management university, I still had a child-like mind in thinking about words.

One word that fascinated me is of course Akujanji, which has become public enemy word No.1 for students and lecturers, but a good friend of many a vice-chancellor and their political masters.

In the word, Akujanji contains the legal and political implication of turning students and lecturers into automatons by silencing and sedating them into supporting any leader however corrupt and abusive he may be. While the political masters can break rules and fall like Humpty Dumpty, the academicians or the "managers of virtue" will need to kowtow to these Humpty Dumpties. This unfairness of life must be resolved. A good radical mental revolution will do the job.

I now wonder if the word is going to be expunged from our consciousness should there be a regime change in the next general election. Akujanji is an allergic word that we need to detoxify. A word that is not only a sedative but also seditive if you choose to question its practical use. You will lose your job if you choose not to kowtow to those who impose the word on you.

'Sign it... sign it... just sign it....all of us had to sign it… even if the last two clauses of the Surat Akujanji are questionable... you are not allowed to ask any questions or you will be dismissed…,' as many a Registrar of a university would say.

'Just sign it... as we actually do not have an explanation on how one's Constitutional Rights will still be protected...,' as many a vice-chancellor would agree.

'If you don't like what we are doing, leave or don't come home. We are a university, like many others, that will always support the government and promote the ideology of Ketuanan Melayu (even if we are 'educating Malaysians of all races') and we will silence anyone who is working against our idea of what a university is.' We will promote only those who will champion the agenda "ketuanan Melayu" and we will make sure that this or that university will always be "universiti untuk ketuanan Melayu". We will make sure that instruments of mental domination will be used whether in the most direct way, or in the most subtlest of all ways. Ah... what a misconception of what "education" means. Ah... what a bankrupt understanding of what the Malays actually are.

When are we going to have national integration when we design educational institution that deliberately disintegrates society and discriminate each other. What hypocrites we are. This is our philosophy of education inspired by the keris.

I now wonder what an academician's definition of a "cross-over" is. Will it be ideological, theoretical, or simply political? Will academicians who wish to exercise their radicalism and nurture their passion for "crossing borders" and "deconstructing totalitarianism" be "crossing over" as well? How many students will these Noam Chomsky and Edward Said -type of Malaysian educators bring along in their "cross-overing" adventures? In the language of corporate management, they call "cross-overing" "thinking outside the box", "lateral thinking", and "using the blue ocean strategy" to thrive in chaos. These are cliches and slogans we live by.

I believe a good academician is a subversive educator-- one who questions all forms of authority so that frontier thinking can be arrived at. I believe he/she should be a social and intellectual agitator making the mind of society restless, so that society will question its leaders, challenge them, challenge assumptions, and even replace them whenever necessary. In this way society will rejuvenate and become more intelligent that its elected representative. What we are seeing now in parliament is an evolvingly-intelligent parliament. We are not yet there.

We still see precious problem-solving time wasted by those conduct-unbecoming of our elected representatives. I believe a good academician must challenge all forms of oppression and domination and, like many a philosopher such as the French Noble Prize winner Jean Paul Sartre, to help society understand how money. machinery, media, and the mind is being controlled through an "Official" definition and packaging of State propaganda.

A good academician pays allegiance not to any political party but to the tentativeness of truth an the dialectical-materialism of our world. Philosophy, the mother of knowledge governs the realism of politics. A good academician is driven by philosophical passion, not herded obediently by political masters.

Back to "sedition", "sedation" and our "sadistic act".

Defining 'sedition'

Some definition can help us in understanding this national issue concerning the Sedition Act. I have used the Compact Oxford English Dictionary to help me locate the definitions:

Sedition (hasutan in Malay):
• noun conduct or speech inciting rebellion against the authority of a state or monarch
- Derivatives: seditious adjective seditiously adverb
- Origin Latin, from sed- 'apart' + itio 'going'

Sedation (dibiuskan in Malay)
Notice that 'sedation' does not have a good Malay equivalent. I am using the word bius as a Johor pasar word that is familiar to kampong folk. We borrowed the act of sedating, using the Sedition Act, from the British colonials. It is also a borrowed concept from the English language from the medical profession.
• noun: the administering of a sedative drug to produce a state of calm or sleep
- Origin Latin, from sedare 'settle'

From an entry by the Human Rights Watch:

The Sedition Act, originally enacted by British colonial authorities, limits free expression by broadly criminalising any speech that is judged to have a "seditious tendency," including speech which tends to "bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against" the government, promote "feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races," or question constitutional preferences in business, education, and government employment opportunities given to Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak. The speaker's intent and the statements' veracity are irrelevant. A violation of the act is punishable by up to three years in prison, a RM 5,000 fine or both. …

From an entry in Wikipedia:

Section 4 of the Sedition Act specifies that anyone who "does or attempts to do, or makes any preparation to do, or conspires with any person to do" an act with seditious tendency, such as uttering seditious words, or printing, publishing or importing seditious literature, is guilty of sedition. It is also a crime to possess a seditious publication without a "lawful excuse".

The Act defines sedition itself as anything which "when applied or used in respect of any act, speech, words, publication or other thing qualifies the act, speech, words, publication or other thing as having a seditious tendency".

Under section 3(1), those acts defined as having a seditious tendency are acts with a tendency:

a) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against any Ruler or against any government;

(b) to excite the subjects of the Ruler or the inhabitants of any territory governed by any government to attempt to procure in the territory of the Ruler or governed by the government, the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any matter as by law established;

(c) to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in Malaysia or in any State;

(d) to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the subjects of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or of the Ruler of any State or amongst the inhabitants of Malaysia or of any State;

(e) to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Malaysia; or

(f) to question any matter, right, status, position, privilege, sovereignty or prerogative established or protected by the provisions of part III of the Federal constitution or Article 152, 153 or 181 of the Federal Constitution.

Section 3(2) provides certain exceptions, providing examples of speech which cannot be deemed seditious. It is not seditious to "show that any Ruler has been misled or mistaken in any of his measures", nor is it seditious "to point out errors or defects in the government or constitution as by law established".

It is also not seditious "to attempt to procure by lawful means the alteration of any matter in the territory of such government as by law established" or "to point out, with a view to their removal, any matters producing or having a tendency to produce feelings of ill-will and enmity between different races or classes of the population of the Federation".

However, the act explicitly states that any matter covered by subsection (1)(f), namely those matters pertaining to the Malaysian social contract, cannot have these exceptions applied to it.

Questioning the Act

We can see that the Act can be used as a sedative to put to rest those who speak up against the social contract as defined by the government in power. We have a problem here.

As Malaysia progresses and as we are confronted with new realities of multi-culturalism, faced with emerging needs that concern the redistribution of wealth, and blessed with a more educated and thinking citizenry, how do we now define 'sedition'?

Would championing the rights of all Malaysians instead of the special rights of the keris-wielding few be considered seditive? Would initiating a serious dialogue to question and enrich this "fantasy" (as Royal Professor Ungku Aziz said) called Malaysian social contract be considered a 'sedative act'?

We are confused. As an intelligent nation that has built the world's third-tallest building and sent a space tourist to run experiments in zero gravity, we need to have zero tolerance for refusing to discuss 'sensitive issues'.

We must discuss sensitive issues. By sedating those engaging in discussions 'sedative' in nature, we are only engaging in sadistic acts. That is not what we want to be known as a people. We must open our minds in facing history and engaging in difficult and painful dialogue.

We cannot let the ignorance of a government dictate our urge to question and hence deny our rights to be more intelligent. We cannot allow university administrators to continue to breed a culture of unquestioning and unthinking in the name of this or that Act, particularly the Universities and University Colleges Act of 1971.

We must act on the definitions. We are fast becoming a sadistic nation. Let us do our linguistic "cross-overs" before this Bahtera Merdeka sinks entirely.

Language defines Reality. In language too lies power/knowledge.


Anonymous said...

Another defamation sue in the making. This will be the first Malaysian taken to court for libel charges just because he made a Genuine Consumer Complaint on the Internet. Should we keep quite from being bullied by the rich and powerful? Is it right to use the law to muzzle a consumer in grievance? Read more here http://www.consumer.com.my/message/index.php?itemid=1715 and original complaint at http://www.consumer.com.my/message/index.php?itemid=1671

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