Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The polarised world of politics




Musings By Marina Mahathir

Politicians of every stripe have two bad habits. Firstly, they think that those who don’t belong to any political party are incapable of having a single political thought. Secondly, when non-politicians think of a good populist idea, politicians of all stripes rush to hijack it.
Marina Mahathir, daughter of Mahathir MohamadImage via Wikipedia

George W. Bush, that giant of intellectuals, famously said after the Sept 11, 2001 attacks that “Either you’re with us, or you’re against us.”

Those words unleashed a world polarised by politics with no hope for peace, which necessarily requires a coming to the table of all sides to discuss common issues.

This “Us versus Them” mentality is an affliction that has befallen not only American politicians but many others around the world, including in our own country.

It creates an illness known as hyperpartisanship, which can be defined simply as “if you’re not on my side, you must be wrong.”

It’s the only explanation I can give for the consistently delusional statements that tend to come out from our politicians’ mouths.

To their minds, nobody can be right unless they’re on the same side.

Additionally, if you don’t agree with them, then you must surely be on the “other” side. Politicians can’t seem to fathom anything but a bipolar world.

They can’t seem to get it into their heads that firstly, there may yet be a third (or fourth, fifth) way of looking at things, and secondly, that the ones with these different perspectives could conceivably be civilians.



Politicians of every stripe have two bad habits.

Firstly, they think those who don’t belong to any political party are incapable of having a single political thought.

They forget that every five years or so, it is they who insist that we think of politics when we go and vote.

Secondly, when non-politicians think of a good populist idea, politicians of all stripes rush to hijack it.

Non-politicians, otherwise known as civil society, then have to fight them off tooth and nail.

How many times have we had politicians turning up at big events organised by non-politicians and trying and making it sound as if it’s a big endorsement of themselves?

Some politicians are certainly more delusional than others. Since Bersih 2.0 shocked them, they have been working overtime to demonise it.

It is one thing to badmouth the rally in the days before it happened but it’s quite shocking to see the pathetic attempts to paint it as a riot when it was clearly not.

From calling the teargassing “mild” to denying that the police had fired teargas into the Tung Shin Hospital, to trying to check the motives and bank accounts of those who went for the rally, our dear leaders insult us every day.

Yet all they have to do is, instead of surrounding themselves with sycophants who will only tell them what they want to hear, read all the heartrending and heartwarming personal accounts written by the many ordinary people who went to the Bersih 2.0 rally.

These were housewives, retirees and young people, all fearful of what violence they might encounter, but who steeled themselves to go and exercise their right to voice their opinions.

These were people who had probably never done anything more confrontational than argue with a salesperson in their entire lives, who faced teargas and water cannons fired at them by a government they probably voted in.

How much courage does it take to insult your own people from an airconditioned room compared to facing the FRU?

If our leaders think teargas is something mild, they should ask the FRU to try it on them. I was lucky that day because I chose a route where the police decided not to deploy their gas and water cannons on us.

But many of my friends and colleagues were not so lucky. I feel ashamed that I suffered no more than tiredness, compared with what they so courageously went through.

And all our hapless leaders can do is call them names. The people who went to Bersih 2.0 are Malaysians who will forever feel united and bound to each other because of that experience. Some may have been politicians and NGOs but so many more were just people of every race, religion, age and creed.

So many have said they never felt more Malaysian than they did that day. At a time when everyone has been lamenting how divided we are, we came together. What more could we have wished for?

Perhaps we should take another leaf from Sept 11. In the wake of the death and destruction wreaked by the US government to avenge the World Trade Centre deaths, some of the families of those who died, horrified by such violent vengeance, started an NGO called Not In Our Name.

Perhaps those many decent Malaysians, the “silent majority” our leaders like to claim as their own, can come out and say that, even if they disagree with Bersih 2.0, they will not stand by and let their fellow citizens be insulted and abused in this way.

At least, not in their name.