The quiet desperation of crumbling regimes, by Nathaniel Tan

Article below is taken from Malaysian Insider.

MARCH 29 — Bernice Chauly has a number of photos currently on display at the Annexe Gallery that I hope you’ll find time to have a look at (the rest are quite good as well).

In this series, she photographs a number of her close friends and her own children from above, lying on the ground in a Teoh Beng Hock-esque pose, as if they had fallen to their deaths.

She writes that her choice of subjects and “models” denote “a sense of overwhelming danger, a sense that this could happen to anyone, to our children and loved ones — that none of us is safe.”

The title of Chauly’s series is “Killing Time”, and as Henry David Thoreau writes in “Walden”: “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”

The sentence which directly follows that line is perhaps the one most often quoted from his book: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

I share Chauly’s concerns as to the safety and welfare of Malaysians, and I feel that the root of our insecurity is the quiet desperation of a select few.

I do not mean the same type of quiet desperation that Thoreau did, though I feel — like the rest of us — have had my share of such.

The desperation is nonetheless real and over-reaching, and it is quiet in an altogether more dangerous way. It is the desperation of a crumbling regime.

Malaysia’s authorities remind me of Star Trek’s Borg. Borg drones don’t look particularly bright, but your phaser rifle will usually work on one or two of them at the most. Thereafter, they adapt and learn how to resist your attacks.

Our government has had decades to learn what works and what doesn’t. Every 10 years, they come close to being toppled, and yet they somehow emerge in (more or less) one piece, having learnt valuable lessons. In a few ways, they continue to adapt and assimilate — just like the Borg. (In other ways, they appear set on recycling certain salacious scripts).

Assimilation is nowhere clearer than in BN’s adoption of 1 Malaysia and now, this New Economic Model (We started with the NEP, moved to Anwar’s Malaysian Economic Agenda, before reaching the NEM. Next? AEP? NEA? PEA-NUTS?) — both clearly pirated concepts inspired by the success and appeal of Pakatan’s Ketuanan Rakyat and multi-racial formula.

In and of itself, this type of competition is not wholly bad for the rakyat — after all, good ideas should be imitated. Sadly, the story doesn’t stop there.

Judging by the pattern that is now so insidiously forming before our eyes, stealing Pakatan’s ideas has not been enough.

The evidence suggests that there is a systemic, consistent effort to suppress any efforts to break BN’s hegemony on information and power.

When the regimes of Suharto and Marcos faced their dying days, their desperation manifested itself in state-sponsored violence. It appears the “masters” of Malaysia, however, have foregone similar full frontal attacks for orchestrated hit and runs.

Instead of banning books or persecuting authors, the police now harass and intimidate bookstores — businesses at the mercy of the authorities — effectively creating a backdoor ban on the books. Due to this pressure, I believe one can barely find copies of Where is Justice? 1FunnyMalaysia, or Politicians Say the Darndest Things Vol. 2 (on the shelves for over a year, mind), in a single Malaysian bookshop anymore, even though it is still 100 per cent legal to sell them.

There seems to be a pattern of leaving alone those who are resistant to pressure, while constantly finding alternative targets who are more susceptible to intimidation.

BN politicians no longer even need to attack their Pakatan counterparts, seeing as they now have a full stable of “independent” representatives to attack Pakatan and Anwar on their behalf (and yet until today, YB Zahrain has yet to answer allegations that he tried to get millions awarded to a RM 2 company).

This is not to say that more direct strategies have been totally abandoned. Pakatan speakers are still regularly prevented from giving ceramahs, the most recent dramatic example being in Kelab Sulaiman — where Anwar spoke at the Malay urban heart of the nation. YB’s Nurul Izzah and Tian Chua get called in for questioning months after a ceramah to have their statements taken – suggesting either a conspiracy or tortoise-like investigative speeds of the police.

The end goals of this low intensity war of attrition appear to be at least three-fold.

Firstly, to distract from the clear failures of the present administration.

Like some bad joke about Europeans, cars and sex, it appears as if the original goal for the current powerful was to be as firm as Mahathir and look as kind as Abdullah. Instead, they are about as firm as Abdullah and as kind as Mahathir.

Despite rhetoric, economic reforms are going nowhere and no change is being felt by the man in the street. MCA is in turmoil, while MIC has totally disappeared from both the news and national relevance.

We must refuse to be quiet, however, when political gimmicks start to risk lives. Surely recent allegations that 1 Malaysia Clinics are staffed by medical assistants (instead of qualified doctors) providing wrong diagnoses and making prescriptions that they are not legally allowed to prescribe, thus putting lives unnecessarily in danger, deserve our fullest attention.

Secondly, to prepare for general elections before too long. With the 1 Malaysia, the NEM, Progam Reforma… sorry, Transformasi Kerajaan, and the 10th Malaysia Plan, we are looking at a major (but ultimately empty?) public relations onslaught. I imagine polls are high on BN’s mind.

Lastly, to make life unbearably inconvenient for those working at change, without doing anything “serious” enough that they think people will care.

After all, who can expect Joe Malaysian to worry if a book is taken off the shelves, or a few YB’s get called in for questioning. Here though, who can not think of Neimoller’s poem, “First They Came” or the Reverend Martin Lughter King’s “Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Bernice Chauly captured the spirit of these two gentlemen perfectly, and I hope her work — and everyone else’s — helps us all realise that all these little things happening around us add up; that the heart can be choked by many little arteries, as much as it can be choked by a single big one.

As we resist, we must cultivate our optimism from the fact that the effort put into suppressing the free flow of information and wrongful intimidation of alternative voices indicate more than anything else a crumbling, bankrupt regime. We must be determined that they shall never, ever injure the just, prosperous eternity Malaysians deserve.

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.
Nathaniel Tan
believes this world is full of people, he was born to love them all. He blogs at