Malaysia Turns Adult in the Festival of Lights: The 21st Anniversary of Operasi Lalang
Writer Alliance for Media Independence (WAMI) wishes all Malaysians a happy Deepavali which shall soon usher in a new era of light over darkness. This year’s Deepavali is especially meaningful for all Malaysians, and not only the Hindu faithful, as it is also the 21st Anniversary of Operasi Lalang, the darkest moment in the Malaysian history for a generation.
In 1987, 106 socio-political activists – of all ethnic and convictional backgrounds – were detained without detention under the draconian Internal Security Act (ISA) while three newspapers were suspended under the authoritarian Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA). All these were done in the name of preserving national security and inter-ethnic harmony.
Same Law, Different Reactions
While the law is still intact two decades later and has produced new prisoners of conscience such as Raja Petra Kamaruddin, the Hindraf 5 and other political dissidents, Malaysians now have completely different reactions to such political crack-down.
Rather than engulfed by a climate of fear, Malaysians of all ethnic, religious and political backgrounds are now calling for the abolition of the ISA and the release of all prisoners of consciences.
This shows that Malaysians have come out age as a nation and a people. If we were a baby easily intimidated and traumatized 21 years ago, this Deepavali marks the attainment of our political adulthood. The outcries against ISA and other draconian laws have never been louder.
The public now squarely reject the flawed argument that a multicultural country can only choose between different forms of darkness: an authoritarian government and communal conflicts. Instead, we seek the lights endowed in ourselves as humans: rationality, free will, and the wisdom to strive for common goods.
Celebration of Democracy, Human Rights and Nationhood
The celebration of this Deepavali, in this sense, is more than a celebration of multiculturalism. As we overcome our fear for the darkness of authoritarianism and communalism, the victory of lights over darkness is no longer only an ancient Hindu legend, but also a contemporary Malaysian experience.
Lights, far from being an exclusive symbol of Hinduism, are shared by other traditions. Muslim Malaysians lit their “pelita raya” just less than one month ago. Similarly, Chinese Malaysians carried their lanterns celebrating the mid-Autumn festivals just two weeks before Raya. And the Deepavali lamps will soon be followed by Christmas candles.
Shouldn’t all of us be awed by the wonderful proximity of Mid-Autumn Festival, Hari Raya Aidil Fitri, Deepavali, and Christmas, and the meaningful concurrence of Deepavali and Operasi Lalang’s anniversary in this year? It’s the best “Deeparaya” or multi-festival we can ever have.
Malaysians of the generations to come shall remember the 2008 Deepavali for how we unite to live the spirit of lights by fighting the darkness of authoritarianism and communalism. It is a celebration of democracy, human rights and nationhood.
Step up Calls for Reforms
In this spirit of lights, WAMI calls upon the government to heed the public’s call to abolish ISA, to release all detainees denied trials, and to set up a parliamentary select committee to reform all media-related laws.
WAMI also calls upon the public to step up their support for ISA abolition and media law reform. The deafening public outrage has resulted in the release of two other detainees in September 2008 – parliamentarian Teresa Kok and journalist Tan Hoon Cheng. We can make a difference to free Raja Petra Kamaruddin, the Hindraf 5 and 60 other ISA detainees. We must therefore do more.
Civil society organizations are urged to endorse the Anti-ISA memorandum co-sponsored by Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall, Gerakan Mansuhkan ISA, Malaysian Bar Council, Dong Zong, Jiao Zong and Hua Zong which had 398 endorsements thus far. (http://www.scah.org.my/modules/newbb/viewtopic.php?topic_id=554&forum=2) Individuals are urged to endorse the 2008 Memorandum on Media Freedom at www.benar.org .
Wong Chin Huat (email@example.com)