Political politeness

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Culture and courtesy are under attack by youthful ignorance

IGNORANCE is far too often the cause of much unnecessary grief among young people and their hapless parents. The barely adult, rebels without causes and spoiling for one in a peaceful and prosperous country like Malaysia, are easy targets for less-than-responsible politicians.

That some supporters of the so-called "Janji Demokrasi" gathering on the eve  of Merdeka Day were reported to the police for public displays of offensive behaviour that could lead to a public disturbance suggests that many have no real sense of the importance of constructs intended as embodiments of national sovereignty and identity -- an insult to which is punishable by law.

National emblems fall within this category, and all nations go to great lengths to cherish and protect them.The National Emblems (Control of Display) Act 1949 defines a national emblem as "any flag, banner or other emblem... of any state... or any likeness or resemblance however reproduced of any national leader or former national leader of any state or the leader or former leader of... political organisation(s)". What the act does is to regulate and safeguard the public use of these emblems. Though the punishment of offenders is not severe, its writ is large and includes the power of arrest without warrant. A reasonable cause to believe that an offence under the act is being committed can be considered evidence enough.

Unfortunately, how many of our compatriots know this? To many, a flag is more decoration than symbol of national dignity. This is borne out by the many faded and tattered Jalur Gemilang left to litter public spaces. But this casualness is different from the dishonour of replacing or equating the national pennant with something else. The insult alleged to have happened at the same gathering to pictures of the prime minister and his wife is also demonstrative of the infantile nature of political discourse in the country. After all, we do not wish any of us to be so profaned, so why would we wish it on our leaders?

Since the 2008 general election, Malaysians have been treated to astonishing spectacles of incivility. Politicians have been happily photographed stepping on the posters of their foes. Such immaturity cannot be a good thing given that politics consists of the serious business of deciding what is best for the greater good. Every voter must participate and party manifestos, speeches and door-to-door campaigning are the given methods of persuasion. Why then this recent rush to offensive and sometimes violent expressions of protest? Why this sudden descent to barbarism? This is not how Malaysians should conduct their politics and exercise their democratic rights.


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