a component of an argument and is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent's position. To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition (the "straw man"), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.
July 9, 2011 is a date that some will remember for the rest of their lives. For others, it is a date that they'd rather forget. Walski had wanted to post this write up a long time ago, but despite it being a couple of weeks after the rally, he still thinks it is something relevant to talk about. For a few reasons.
Key among them is how the Malaysian government has reacted – or overreacted, as some would say – to the coalition of NGOs. And continues to do so until today.
In an all too non-humorous way, it’s funny how Bersih 2.0 has been politicized, and hijacked by its opponents. The arguments against this civil society initiative have revolved around:
- Bersih not being about free and fair elections at all
- That Bersih is actually for the benefit of Anwar Ibrahim primarily, and in a larger context, PKR
- Bersih is being used to topple the government of the day illegally (i.e. through revolution, and not through the ballot box)
- Bersih is being used to resurrect Communism
- Bersih is being funded by foreign elements bent on destroying our country
- ... and too many more to mention
But ask yourself this question, as a rational person: are all these accusations based on hard evidence and facts, or merely what UMNO politicians have been saying?
As a rational person who can think and analyze on his own, it really makes Walski wonder: why the vehement, and, yes, violent, opposition?
Thus far, all Walski hears about the opposition to Bersih is that the movement is bad. No solid (or at the very least, logical) reasons given. Yes, there are DAP, PAS, and PKR political figures involved with Bersih. But does becoming a politician relieve one of being a citizen? And does this involvement mean that Bersih is about Pakatan Rakyat, and not about clean and fair elections?
Granted, as Marina M. has quite correctly pointed out in her column this past week, politicians being politicians, they have this tendency to hijack something for their own benefit. In this regard, Walski cannot help but lay blame on some Pakatan Rakyat politicians for trying to use Bersih as a launch pad.
UMNO/BN politicians, too, have tried to hijack Bersih for their own agenda. Applying the same kind of reasoning that has become the justification for Bersih to be vilified, Perkasa must then naturally be part of the UMNO agenda, a sort of strong-arm outsourcing, if you would. Walski is very sure that those within UMNO and Perkasa will disagree, but actions and events pretty much have created that perception.
Has a scary Yellow Straw Man been created to thwart the voice of Bersih, a civil society initiative? And if the answer is Yes, isn’t it reasonable to wonder WHY?
(our rights seen as wrongs, and more, in the full post)
Walski, in truth, can’t answer the question of why. But based on the equally paranoid more recent action of the government to deport French human rights lawyer, William Bourdon, indications are that the UMNO/BN led Malaysian government of the day is one with a lot of scary skeletons in its closet.
Much more scary, in all probability, than the Yellow Straw Man that has been conjured to scare off the populace from associating themselves with Bersih. As we have seen from what happened on July 9, that strategy backfired quite badly.
From the get-go of Bersih 2.0 announcing it’s July 9th march, opposition to it was almost immediate. Among the first to balk was, of course, Ibrahim Ali and Perkasa, claiming that 'Bersih 2.0 is organised by Pakatan Rakyat leaders to "rescue" PKR de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim's political career by throwing the country into "chaos"' (via Malaysiakini).
Claiming this as an exposé, he read out the names of committee members who are also politicians - such as PAS deputy president Mohamad Sabu.
Ibrahim noted that none of the committee are NGO members.
"The committee shows that it is a Pakatan project, but they try to cloud this fact by putting (former Bar Council president S) Ambiga as president.
"They have no choice, they failed to change the government with (the) Sept 16 (takeover claim) and now Anwar has enter his defence (in the sodomy trial). It's a matter or life or death for Anwar and the best way for them to topple the government." To support his case further, Ibrahim produced a copy of a June 7 PKR circular by secretary-general Saifuddin Nasution inviting members to attend the Bersih 2.0 rally to protest unfair elections.
Before that, Ibrahim Ali had proclaimed that Perkasa would hold a counter-demonstration if Bersih went ahead with the July 9 rally, claiming that chaos would erupt, resulting in injury and mayhem, like in Tunisia.
As it turns out, Ibrahim Ali’s vitriol was all bark – he and Perkasa decided to pull a no-show on July 9.
But as Kee Thuan Chye wrote in his article published in Malaysian Digest, Bersih 1.0 got chaotic because of the police unleashing chemical water cannons and tear-gas – the march had every intention of being a peaceful one, until the police ensured otherwise.
Following in Perkasa’s footsteps soon after was Patriot, a counter-Bersih movement formed by UMNO. And what did Patriot do to dissuade the Bersih rally on July 9? They threaten PKR.
So, calling for fair and clean elections is NOT OK, but threatening a counter-march, and actually carry out not-so-veiled threats of harm is OK, apparently. A constitutional right is now ‘wrong’, and a wrong (threats of violence is still illegal in Malaysia, Walski believes) somehow is condoned as ‘right’.
In the meantime, the police apprehended anyone seen in the yellow Bersih 2.0 t-shirt, and even some wearing non-Bersih yellow. It is almost as if PDRM has been gripped by a mysterious outbreak of xanthophobia. A non-viral sort of Yellow Fever, if you would.
Incidentally, the accusation of trying to resurrect communism and the involvement of “foreign elements” emerged because certain socialist paraphernalia was found during the police raid on Parti Sosialis Malaya (PSM). 30 PSM members were arrested, and 6 remain in custody under the Emergency Ordinance (EO), which allows for a 60-day detention without trial. The initial charge, by the way, was “waging war against the Yang Di Pertuan Agung”.
The EO6, as the six have become to be known, are still in custody, despite the revelation that their detention has nothing to do with communism, but all to do with Bersih. They remain victims of an overzealous effort to thwart the voice of civil society.
From a personal perspective, Walski agrees with Bersih, in principle. He has no problem with the 8 demands, and he does view them as reasonable ones. In that respect, Walski is fully supportive of the movement.
He also is of the opinion that Malaysians are capable of conducting peaceful assemblies – provided that the police are there to ensure the peace, and not there with the intention to disperse, by force if necessary, any assembly deemed illegal. But as we all saw, the police were out in full force not to facilitate a peaceful demonstration, rather to thwart it.
Bersih 2.0 - New York City from Leng-Feng Lee on Vimeo.
Without police crackdowns, demos can be peaceful...
So, is Bersih such a dangerous and scary movement deserving of the violent opposition, much of it state-sponsored, that it has received? Or is the crackdown really symptomatic of a paranoid UMNO/BN government so desperate to stay in power?
Raja Petra Kamaruddin, in the days following July 9, released a communiqué that if true, indicates that all the opposition, attempts at painting Bersih as a platform for the resurrection of communism, demonization by all and sundry – everything plus the kitchen sink, in other words – has been a concerted effort to construct a scary straw-man, bright yellow in color, one that purportedly will bring about chaos and destruction.
Concerted, in that it has involved law enforcement, UMNO’s Unit Media
Bahalol Baru (UMB), the mainstream electronic and print media, NGOs and martial arts organizations friendly to UMNO... the list is extensive.
We live in an era where technology enables information to break the traditional shackles of state control. It is something the government is well aware of, but simply cannot come to grips with, it seems.
Instead of engaging Bersih in an intelligent and sincere way, the government has instead chosen the archaic approach of arrogance and government-is-always-right attitude.
The Yellow Straw Man it has built may be scary to those with sycophantic tendencies, but for the increasingly intelligent populace at large, it is very easy to see through the gaps between the loose straw weaves, which easily fall apart like a battered piñata, upon closer scrutiny.
In closing, allow Walski to make one thing crystal clear – the only way to change our government is through the polls. And what Bersih wants is for the polls to be fought on a level playing field. Nothing more than that.
Employing archaic scare tactics, authoritarian communist-like strategies, and constructing a Yellow Straw Man that in the end scares no one but UMNO/BN themselves, will not make Malaysians at large love them a single iota more.
Quite the contrary, continue with the arrogance the government is currently showing, and GE13 may prove their paranoid fears come to self-inflicted fruition.