It looks like political thuggery is fast becoming legit and commonplace in Malaysia. The perception that state-sponsored thuggery is starting to proliferate is on the high side among many citizens in the country and you can’t blame them.
There have been many cases where groups that are known to have links with the ruling party, mainly Umno (United Malays National Organisation), resorting to violence to counter any ideas and opinions that go against theirs. Here are some of the more recent ones that have been in the media.
The attack on a cartoon exhibition by Zunar
Zunar is a local cartoonist who is famous for lampooning Prime Minister Najib Razak’s administration. He is celebrated abroad, but at home, he has been detained and charged for sedition and has many of his works banned and confiscated.
He was recently in the northern state of Penang for an exhibition and also to launch a new book. During the exhibition last Friday, a group of men led by Penang Umno Youth chief, Rafizal Abdul Rahim, stormed the event and launched an attempted assault on Zunar, destroying his artwork in a melee.
Instead of arresting the rabble rousers, Authorities detained Zubnar under the arbitrary Sedition Act after Rafizal made a police report saying that his artwork insulted the prime minister. He has since been released. His book launch was, however, cancelled.
The attack on Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad on Parliament grounds
Khalid Samad, an MP from the Opposition, was attacked by over a dozen as he alighted from his car. The men are presumably supporters of Agriculture and Agro-based Industries deputy minister and Pasir Salak parliamentarian Tajuddin Abdul Rahman.
The attack is in retaliation for Khalid calling Tajuddin ‘sial’ (damned), an offensive term in Malay, which was in response to Tajuddin making a sexist remark against Seputeh MP Teresa Kok. Prior to Khalid’s foul outburst, Tajuddin, who was irked by intejections by opposition members during a parliamentary session, said she “was the only woman with a ‘Kok’”.
One of the men in the group happens to be Tajuddin’s son, Dr. Faisal Tajuddin. The politician has defended the group by saying that it is only normal for a son to protect the dignity of his father. His son and nine others have been arrested by police.
The ‘Red Shirts’
Malaysia’s ‘Red Shirts’, led by Umno division chief Jamal Yunos, have been very vocal about their struggle to retain privileges enjoyed by the Malay-Muslim majority. While there is nothing wrong with voicing opinions, Jamal and his ilk constantly threaten violence against anyone who is not in line with their vision.
The group’s members are well-known for displaying martial arts “prowess” and “physical strength” during their protests. They would hit each other wooden blocks and concrete to impress upon others the blows they are willing to take for their cause.
The group is known to provoke violence. At the Bersih 5 rally last week, the ‘Red Shirts’ attempted to set upon a small group of anti-government demonstrators, and last year during a racially-motivated protest, riot police had to utilise water cannons to disperse the group when they began chanting racial insults against the Chinese minorities and attempted to storm Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown.
They are our members but acted on their own, Umno says.
Umno, of course has officially denied any support or links with these incidents. Apart from the case involving the attack on Parliament grounds, none of the alleged perpetrators are being detained or investigated for their actions, and they remain Umno members without facing any disciplinary action.
Such incidents reflect a failure of Malaysia’s widely-touted democracy, when intellectual discourse and debate gets pushed aside in favour of just pure thuggery. And it would be an extreme failure if the thuggery happens to be state-sponsored.