By Kee Thuan Chye
COMMENT Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said this at the press conference in 2009 in which he defended the cow-head protesters: “In this day and age, protests should be accepted in this world, as people want their voices to be heard. If we don’t give them room to voice their opinions, they have no choice but to protest.” He should of course be held accountable for this statement.
Why then did the police clamp down so hard on the people taking part in the anti-ISA candlelight vigil on Aug 1? Why did Hishammuddin not come out to advise the police that this voicing of the people’s opinions was acceptable and room should be given for it?
Why was he so understanding towards the cow-head protestors – who were potentially more threatening to national security because they displayed violence against a sacred icon of the Hindus – and so intolerant of the people participating in a peaceful demonstration, some of whom were reportedly singing the national anthem when the police moved in on them?
Aren’t those in power aware that this display of double standards will be viewed as such by sensible Malaysians, and that it may come back to haunt them at the hustings? Are they so arrogant about their power and so confident they won’t be displaced that they don’t have to care about what the public might think?
Hishammuddin has been eloquent in expressing this position. In fact, his track record since becoming home minister suggests that he is not behaving like a home minister who should be looking after the country’s internal matters and safeguarding its security for the sake of all citizens. He appears more like a home minister safeguarding the interests of the ruling party and those of selected groups. The rest of us can go to blazes!
Speaking of blazes, he sent out questionable signals on Jan 6, 2010, after the High Court’s ruling on the “Allah” issue, when he said he would allow a demonstration by Muslims after Friday prayers at a mosque in Kuala Lumpur’s city centre. One day later, churches in KL and Petaling Jaya were attacked with fire-bombs and molotov cocktails. The public reaction to that was that Hishammuddin should be held accountable because he did not forestall any potential undesirable action but instead allowed a sensitive issue to be stoked.
While he had been so assiduous in breaking up other demonstrations, especially those opposing government actions and policies – most of which were peaceful and of little potential danger to society – he was uncharacteristically lax when it came to the “Allah” issue protests. In other words, he put the nation’s security at risk.
He did nothing to stop the cow-head protest on Aug 28, 2009, either. Perhaps he couldn’t because it happened so fast. Nonetheless, it was one of the most shameful and blatant public demonstrations of religious intolerance Malaysians had seen in a long time. It had the explosive potential of causing inter-racial strife.
Worse, Hishammuddin came out to defend the protesters afterwards. This was almost unbelievable; sensible Malaysians were shocked that a minister was justifying what had apparently been a seditious act. And seated next to him at the press conference was a protestor who had earlier declared that all non-Malays were second-class citizens.
‘Pig’s head in Umno HQ’
As if that was not enough, Hishammuddin also said that a pig’s head had once been wrapped in an Umno flag and dumped outside Umno’s headquarters. Why did he have to bring that up? In drawing a parallel between that act and the cow desecration, was he saying that two wrongs made a right? Or, more sinisterly, was he trying to blame another community for having perpetrated that “haram” act as if to plead that the cow desecration was understandable and therefore excusable?
To this day, I have yet to fathom the reason for a home minister to bring up that kind of parallel. To me, it is something that would cause disharmony and divide the people, which a home minister should not do. Was Hishammuddin not aware of the importance of what he said? Is he someone who shoots off his mouth without thinking first?
The prospect of that seems likely – and recent evidence seems to support it. This was in conjunction with his declaration of regret over the mistake made by his predecessor, Syed Hamid Albar, in banning the Catholic Church from using the word “Allah”. He added that the mistake would haunt his ministry for a very long time.
Automatically, anyone hearing that declaration would retort, “So what are you going to do about it? Why stop at just expressing regret? It’s at your disposal to take action and rectify Syed Hamid’s mistake. Why not do so?”
That action would of course be to drop the government’s appeal against the high court ruling on the use of the word “Allah”. Taking that step would show Hishammuddin’s sincerity in saying what he said. Otherwise, talk is cheap, as they say. And people can accuse him of saying it merely as a cheap shot to win non-Muslim and East Malaysian votes.
But what was his reaction three days later? He back-tracked on his earlier statement by saying that the “Allah” matter should be decided by the courts. No, Hishammuddin, it doesn’t have to be. The government can choose not to pursue it further – and that doesn’t involve the courts.
But that apparently is not what he wants, because he rejoined, “Why would the government retract the appeal, or why would the church retract the court case?” The second part of that sentence is of course irrelevant. Nobody from the church has made any statement recently along the lines of expressing regret for having challenged Syed Hamid’s ban.
In dragging the church in, Hishammuddin was displaying the same warped thinking that characterised his mention of the pig’s heads dumped at Umno headquarters. In actuality, he was actually trying to deflect the question he should be answering, i.e. “Why shouldn’t the government retract the appeal?”
Then he tried to make some excuse for having expressed that regret in the first place, by saying that it should be seen in the context of his giving an answer to a question posed at a students’ forum. But why should that be considered less valid? He said it. He addressed the issue. That’s the point. Where he said it and in what context are irrelevant.
Wasn’t he serious when he answered the student’s question? Or is it that he only now realises he shouldn’t have said it because it’s come back to hold him accountable? And he wants to get out of being accountable by saying it was merely an answer to a student’s question? Sorry, my dear man, it doesn’t work like that. You can’t worm yourself out of the situation with excuses.
Then he got defensive: “I regret that there are terrorists in Malaysia, I regret there are peragut (snatch-thieves) in Malaysia, I regret that this (the word Allah) is becoming an issue. But why pick on that to make it a firestorm or bigger than what it is?”
Any intelligent person can see through the desperation in that defensive drivel. But more damning for him is the fact that by saying it, he was demeaning his earlier statement of regret. He now seemed to be connoting that he didn’t really mean it because he was merely speaking off the cuff at the time, speaking impulsively, merely answering a question. It came to his mind and it sounded right, and so he said it. So don’t take his word for it. He was merely talking. The bottom line, therefore, is, he wasn’t sincere.
If a minister can be like that, talk like that, make impulsive statements and later deny their import, even sincerity, then he has no business being a trusted official of the nation and its people. Perhaps he should do the honourable thing and step down. But then, that might be too much to expect of a man who cannot even stand by what he said.