What’s the alternative to assassinating someone?

What’s the alternative to assassinating someone?
By Zan Azlee

So the conversation I had with my seven-year-old daughter yesterday afternoon was a little bit unanticipated.

“Pops. Why did someone want to shoot the old prime minister of Japan?” Alethea asked me.

“I don’t know. Maybe the gunman doesn’t like him,” I said.

“Why must he shoot him pops? I don’t like a lot of people, but I don’t shoot them. I just don’t play with them lah,” she said.

“Do you even know how to shoot a gun?” I asked.

“No. I’m not even strong enough to shoot dai ga jie’s (big sister) nerf gun,” she replied.

Only seven years old, and my daughter already sounds like she’s wiser than so many grownups in the world, especially the individual who shot former prime minister of Japan Shinzo Abe yesterday while he was giving a speech while campaigning for the election. If he didn’t like Abe, then just don’t play with him. It’s as simple as that.

People pray next to flowers laid at the site where late former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe was shot while campaigning for a parliamentary election, near Yamato-Saidaiji station in Nara, Japan

Against everything democratic

We can’t deny the fact that, historically, the assassination of political leaders is something that does happen. In Japan, recent history has seen two other politicians assassinated – Iccho Itoh, the mayor of Nagasaki, in 2007 and Koki Ishii, a member of the Democratic Party of Japan, in 2002.

Around the world, there have been many well-known examples, such as US president John F Kennedy, Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, Benazir Bhutto, and many more. But just because it is something that does happen doesn’t mean that it is something acceptable or right.

It goes against everything that is democratic or even humanistic. Personally, I felt a little dejected having to explain what happened to my children. As parents, my wife and I are always encouraging them to talk about whatever issues they have because talking and discussing things is always the key to solving problems.

I believe in dialogue, understanding and tolerance so much that even in my work, my small media company Fat Bidin Sdn Bhd, focuses on producing non-fiction content that is PCVE-themed (preventing and countering violent extremism). Basically, we create content that encourages non-violence.

US president John F Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy and Texas governor John Connally ride in a limousine moments before Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963

The world needs to learn that differences in opinions, thoughts, and ideas are normal and should be allowed. If the differences cause conflict, then the way to solve it is to have rational discourse to come up with the best solution or compromise. There needs to be better understanding and tolerance for this to happen.

What is wrong about agreeing to disagree but still coming to a compromise? We are all living in this world together, and we need to learn to do just that. There is no place for extremism and intolerance. Anything of that sort is unacceptable and should be condemned strongly.

In fact, the basis of democracy is just that – different ideas are put forth to the people, they vote for their choice, and when the majority has decided, everyone accepts it. The decision is not absolute, and it can be changed or amended as they go along. After a certain period, the people get a reset and can vote again. Simple.

Even in Islam, the basis is the same with the concept of shura, which is mentioned in the Quran, where Muslims are encouraged to decide on their affairs by consulting with one another. Let me stress that they are encouraged to consult each other and discuss. Not to dictate and compel.

But I guess the concept of democracy and shura are harder to implement in reality than it is in theory. There will always be pockets of people who cannot accept the decision of the majority or compromise. These are the people who feel that their way is the only way and no other way can exist.

Minimising extremism

What was shocking about Shinzo Abe’s assassination is that these kinds of incidents rarely happen in Japan. There is a reason why the shooter was able to do what he did. People didn’t expect it to happen in a country that, for the most part, is very safe and does not have a gun culture.

Japanese culture is one that is known for its high respect among its members. They live in a very collective society, and the whole is usually more important than the individual. But like I said, there will always be pockets that exist and as despicable as the act is, we need to find out the cause and try to solve it.

People pay respects at the site where late former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was shot

No society is perfect, and hence there will be opportunities for extremism to breed. It is a challenge to identify and solve, but we must always make an effort so that incidents like these won’t happen again, or at the very least, not too often. So why do these pockets of extremism happen?

We can never fully understand the actual causes for extremism to exist and breed, but this is not for lack of trying (and we will continue to try until we get it). However, there are things that we as a society can do to minimise the risk.

We should always encourage healthy discussion and debate in a safe and non-judgmental environment. When people feel like they can ask questions without being judged, they tend to be more open to other perspectives and not aggressively defensive on their stand. They can understand things better too.

Different layers and members of society also need to have channels for them to express their concerns. If this opportunity isn’t provided for them, they will begin to feel marginalised and unheard. This, in turn, will push them to find alternatives to be heard and most probably, it will be undesired alternatives.

Every part of society needs to be represented, and they need to be seen as being represented. Again, this is to avoid them being marginalised and feeling like they are unwanted or insignificant. Nobody wants to be forgotten, or worse, told that they or their opinions didn’t matter.

We also must work hard to ensure that society cultivates an appreciation for positive and peaceful engagement. And that’s why my wife and I work hard to provide these opportunities for our children. We start it at home, and then we extend through the content that we produce, and hopefully, we can do our small little part for society.

My heart goes out to the family and friends of Shinzo Abe, and especially to the people of Japan. Such a horrific act can traumatise a nation and its people because a certain trust, security and confidence have been snatched away from them. I pray that they are able to recover from this and address the issues that need to be addressed.

[This article was originally written for and published at Malaysiakini.com]

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