For the past month or so, I’ve been working on the production of several video reports on the infamous red-shirts group headed by the loose mouth Jamal Md Yunos. He also happens to be the Umno division chief for Sungai Besar.
I attended several of their rallies, including the protest they had in front of the Malaysiakini office demanding that action he taken against the news portal for accepting foreign funds, and also the anti-Bersih rally last Saturday on Nov 19.
I find it very fascinating but disturbing to see how people can actually be swayed to believe in a cause such as the one that the red-shirts are fighting for – which is steeped in racism, bigotry and ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy).
Think about it. The red-shirts don’t think that it is right for the country to be led by people of any race other than Malays. They are against freedom of the press and they are against Malaysia having clean and fair elections.
For any logical and rational thinking human being, these are all ideals that would lead to a regressive, oppressive and backward society. And why would anyone want to contribute towards a country that is governed by this kind of people?
And this is where the interesting part comes in. I constantly try to engage and converse with the people who attend the rallies full of fervour and wearing all red. The conversations that we have would sound either totally absurd or downright scary.
There will be the leaders, who are usually only a handful and very few among the crowd and they will be the ones who give speeches to rile up the crowd. One such individual would be Zawawi Othman, who is the Umno division chief for Pasir Puteh.
I had a conversation with him at the red-shirts anti-Bersih rally last Saturday at Padang Merbok. What he said absolutely scared me because it sounded intimidating, racist and, from how I perceived it, full of hatred and selfishness.
“These people must remember that they are are only guests (tumpang) in my country. Do not behave until I lose my patience,” he said, referring to the non-Malay Malaysians.
He warns the people who are supporting Bersih that if they were to continue to push on, it will force him and his gang to be violent. For a politician who is a member of the country’s ruling party, I would say that is very unbecoming.
The next group of people, and these are the ones who actually make up the numbers for the red-shirts, are those who follow. These are the people who listen to the leaders and choose to believe in the ideals preached by the leaders.
One such individual that can illustrate this group would be Norazimah Sanur from Klang. I’ve met her in two different red-shirts rallies – the one against Malaysiakini two weeks ago and the one against Bersih just last Saturday.
“I don’t want Malaysia to fall to foreigners. That’s what happening now. Do you know that ‘Malaysiaterkini’ (sic) is being influenced by foreign powers?” Mak Tam (as Norazimah is affectionately known to her friends and family) asked.
She is referring to Jamal’s accusation that Malaysiakini receives funds from the Open Society Foundations. This is something that Malaysiakini admits and does not hide. Editor Steven Gan has already stated that in no way does the foundation determine editorial content.
Mak Tam also says that Bersih is funded by the Jews and that a majority of the Chinese who support and organise Bersih are not Malaysians. She even accuses the Malays who support Bersih as not being real Muslims.
“I watch the news on television and they say that Bersih is being influenced by the Jews. If it’s on the news, then it has to be true. Why would the news lie? These Bersih people don’t watch the news,” she explained.
Mak Tam is a nice person. She is polite, jovial and very welcoming. She smiles and laughs and if she doesn’t talk about red-shirts, Bersih and Malaysiakini, anyone can take her in as a very warm and pleasant individual. Very grandmotherly, to be exact.
The fact of the matter is that she doesn’t know any better. She watches the news, but what kind of news? Would it be the kind of news that is skewed? She listens to speeches and ceramahs, but what kind of speeches and ceramahs?
The leaders of the red-shirts, such as Zawawi, play on the ignorance of the followers such as Mak Tam. They manipulate them and feed them with more skewed information in order to convince them and rile them up.
We listen to Mak Tam and criticise the fact that she doesn’t know anything. We even probably look down on her ignorance. We sit on our high horse and say that these are exactly the people that the red-shirts target to get support. Sometimes we even laugh at them.
We say that these people are not educated enough and that they need to be more exposed and more intellectual. They need to read alternative news and information so they won’t be easily manipulated. But that’s all many of us do. We just say it. We don’t do anything about it.
I don’t believe people are stupid. Ignorant yes, but stupid definitely not. And ignorance basically just means that people either don’t want to learn, or, a more probable reason, doesn’t have access to information and knowledge that is essential.
What we need to do is engage with these people and appeal to them. Present them with the knowledge and information that we think is right and open dialogue with them. There might even be knowledge that we can gain from them that will help us understand their perspective.
People like Zawawi are not ignorant. His kind has no hope and can’t be helped any more. But people like Mak Tam can be saved. In fact, they could be the vary saviours that Malaysia needs right now. So let’s not forsake them.