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Anwar and the Politics of ISA – Hysteria & Humbug

In Malaysia on September 24, 2008 at 7:37 pm

(from the department of i’m-not-braindead-i-want-to-think)

[Update-30th Sep: Zaid Ibrahim’s open letter to PM asking ISA to be repealed, with reasons]

In 1946, George Orwell ended his essay, “Politics and the English Language“, with this:

“Political language—and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists—is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Back then Allies had just won the war but Eastern Europeans, and quite a few Russians, were still being sent to mass graves. The target of Orwell were gutless leaders of Allied states who couldn’t stomach another war, this time against the Soviet empire.

Today, 62 years later, in his tradition, but not his place, I too say to our leaders and young Malaysians:

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the decision of our government to imprison lawmakers and journalists, our Ministers’ lack of sincerity in justifying these arrests, the abandonment of political ideology for opportunity, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.

Before anyone jumps at me, let me attribute this paragraph to Orwell – paraphrased for our recent events.

Malaysians, living in an industrialised society, supported by 21st century communication technologies, fail to equip themselves to understand the dynamics of society – its structure, our stratification and function.

Simply, structure as the inter-relation of the governed and the government, stratification of civil society groups such as Bar Council, NGOs, bloggers – where power, prestige, influence are misplaced; and function as the role of the individual within the collective is forgotten.

I am no sociologist, but neither am I a pacifist.

Let’s focus on our ISA law. There are more blogs and websites than I care to acknowledge with ‘Repeal (BAD/HORRIBLE/BULLYING) ISA Laws‘ messages and buttons.


  • Are you a national security expert?
  • What threat-evaluation and risk-assessment did you conduct to conclude there’s no need for ISA? Maybe you’ve a report or two?
  • How about this, you believe ISA is abused by those in power. Hence, the law should be repealed?
  • Once ISA is repealed, there’ll be no suppression? We’ll live in Utopia?
  • One more question, what’s the weather on your planet?

This might be harsh, as I’m arguing against Malaysian civil society. I’ve not seen one argument about ISA – only the usual: it’s bad, it’s not good, it’s not fair – nor any serious discussion, let alone solution, to the issue of ISA being applied to civilians. NOTE: Zaid was our Law minister. Not civil society, but government.

I believe threats against our country, your country, is real. ISA should stay. Yet the law that is supposed to protect, is used against us, civilians- therefore, abused.

So, what’s the solution?

Look at the facts, after ISA was invoked recently against Raja Petra, Teressa Kok and Tan Hoon Cheng, our police said on 15th Sep:

“When there are reasonable ground the police will act accordingly under the provisions of Section 73(1) of the ISA. An arrest under the Section provides the police with means to investigate and verify whether the intelligence received can be substantiated.

… Let the police work within the system and laws of the country. Racial and religious unrest can be triggered over small matters and can escalate into situations that are damaging and irreversible.”

Has the police done wrong or acted outside its powers vis-a-vis ISA? If not, what’s the argument against ISA?

The argument is not against ISA. Instead, it’s a question of WHO SHOULD have authority:

  • Where should judgement about national security be made? Perhaps by our elected leaders, Ministers and the Cabinet?
  • If our Ministers dare not or cannot make the decision as to what constitutes a national security threat – who then should make the decision? Civil servants?
  • As civil servants, should the Police be empowered to invoke such tough laws (and susceptible to abuse) in the name of national security?

Our Home Affairs minister shirked his responsibility when he claimed, as a politician, he should not make this decision. I’ve blogged about this here and here and here. But it does not change the fact that Raja Petra will now be held under ISA for the next 3 months, at least.

Let me say this, clear as I can, again: Be careful of your assumptions, be careful of your leaders (media, bloggers, lawyers included) and, most important of all, be careful of using their arguments as yours.

Fluffy arguments disguised as properly considered decisions is the oldest form of trickery by politicians, spinmeisters and young bleeding heart liberals with hysteria substituting logical thought on policy matters.

In May 2005, Stephen Sackur, the abrasive host of HardTalk, cornered Anwar because the latter was trying to hoist his ‘reformer’ and ‘anti-establishment’ credentials to meet expectations. Anwar suddenly blurted out: “ISA has to be repealed …“. Not 10 seconds before in the interview, he said ISA should amended. See for yourself – at 19 mins, 50 secs onwards.

No explanation, just a declaration.

And virtually every blogger in town probably went ‘YAY!’ …

My fellow Malaysians, I know progress. I’ve seen progress. I’ve worked for it – on policy with government ministers and politicians, seeing how they think and process ideas, considering the details of execution of their plans – though not in Malaysia.

My fellow Malaysians, Anwar’s blurt “ISA has to be repealed …” is not progress. It’s humbug. The vagueness of what he stands for changes not in minutes, but seconds. Similiarly, bloggers’ cries for repeal of ISA is sheer humbug.

Yesterday Haris Ibrahim, of People’s Parliament, asked: “Have we misrepresented ourselves to RPK?”. He thinks bloggers/activists may have failed Raja Petra on his latest detention under ISA.

I know where I stand. Do you? Mind sharing why?

  1. […] it was for Anwar to answer in straight forward manner (link is at bottom of this post, ‘Anwar and the Politics of ISA‘). That Hardtalk interview was in May 2005 and you can see Anwar defending his friendship […]

  2. […] populist statements, “ISA has to be repealed”, “issue of democracy”,”freedom and the rule of law” are exactly what every politician […]

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