I must say I was surprised at how much attention my article Enemies of the State (I owe this title to the Malaysian Insider as my original title was lame in comparison ) attracted.
There were many comments at my blog as well as the Malaysian Insider, where my article appeared. Zaidel Baharuddin, a fellow writer with the Malaysian Insider posted a comment and also ran a reply on his blog, Catatan Seekor Lipas. The famous Rocky of Rocky's Bru also ran a post on the topic which basically pitted my stand against that of Zaidel's aka the "Lipas Man".
I must say I am impressed with the passion shown by most of the commentators on either side of the fence. However the debate at Rocky's Bru had somewhat degenerated into a lawyer bashing event and the issue at hand transformed into:
- a question of whether lawyers are of any use to the society.
- and whether a doctor makes a better Prime Minister than a lawyer.
I will of course refrain from wading through such murky water because quite honestly I have a fear of vast, dark and vacuous space.
The article which I wrote was not at all intended to be a polemic on whether a particular system, be it democracy, socialism, communism or anything in between, could ensure more development and progress to the exclusion of other systems. Rather, that article was aimed at taking issue with Dr Mahathir's apparent stand that "too much democracy" is a hindrance to development and progress.
DrM's position is obvious from the comparison which he made, that is between India and China. The former, according to him, was too engrossed in democracy, unlike the latter. And the latter has more progress. I therefore concluded that it is DrM's position that a dictatorial system or a less democratic system would be better for development and progress.
DrM was at pain to show that freedom and liberty as enjoyed by the people, - or at least as demanded by the people - especially in the West are not good for development and progress. With that, I took issue.
What I wish to address here is the argument that human being would prefer to have food on their table or economic progress than freedom, liberty or even democracy in itself. Zaidel encapsulates this position when he commented:
"I'm pretty sure, those starving hard working farmers in India who has to fight drought and fertilizer prices don't give a damn about freedom of speech or expression. It is those comfortably well paid lawyers with some extra time on their hands who are more concerned about these things and write about it."
The problem with that statement is the fact that it is rested on pure assumption.
Human beings are born free. The moment he comes out from the womb, he is freed from the constraints of the womb and thrust into this world a free human being. The first thing which he tastes, apart from the air which he inhales, is freedom and not food or drink.
Freedom of expression is tasted early in his life outside the womb. The first cry which a human being give is an expression, which he is then free to demonstrate. And he moves, his eyes opening up, his limbs moving in no particular pattern and without any specific control. Freedom and liberty are not only what which dignify us as human beings but they are our divine rights.
Zaidel talks of the poor and impoverished farmers in India. What if all the hardworking and starving farmers in India, or elsewhere, were locked up in a cage and fed food and drink to their heart's content but they were not allowed to speak nor go anywhere at all? Then they are given the choice of leaving the cage, live freely and find their own food and drink. Wouldn't they leave the cage? I think they would. But of course, like Zaidel, I would be making an assumption.
However, in this day and age, when freedom and liberty are regarded as universal rights of human beings and when they are regarded as part of natural and divine rights, it is a measure of the sorry state that we are in that we are still arguing which is the more basic and primordial need, food and drink or freedom and liberty!
My question is, why can't we have them all? Especially in a democracy, where we elect our so called leaders to look after our well being as members of a State?
I think in this day and age, it is downright insulting - and not to mention, pathetic - for any leader to say to the people that I will give you food on your table in abundance but you would have to shut up, toe the line and do as I say, all the time and under all circumstances.
For a leader to lay the blame on the people which he or she ruled - for not understanding the limits of democracy - as a reason for his or her failure to achieve development and progress does not speak much of his or her leadership.
A comparison was made with Singapore in one of the comments. It was pointed out Singapore did not have much of a democracy and they progress well. But that does not prove that Singapore progressed well because it was less democratic. Hasn't it occurred to any of us that Singapore progressed because of the mentality and work ethics of its leaders?
By the way, Malaysia, during the 22 year reign of DrM had identical benevolent absolutist regime with Singapore. Both DrM and LKY were the staunchest apologists for what they termed as "Asian values", which to me was nothing more than a self serving excuse for totalitarianism.
Malaysia had everything which Singapore had in terms of repressive legislation as well as actions. In fact history would show that Malaysia imposed more limits to democracy than Singapore did in the 22 years of DrM's rule.
So I am going to ask the obvious question. Why is it that Malaysia had failed to match Singapore's progress and development during that 22 years? Both had untold limits on democracy. What happened? What were the differences between the two countries?
The thing is this. If we stripped all the deliberate cost overruns (I am being overly generous with my description here); all consultation, introduction and service fees; all middle men; all other "value-not-added services" from all of our projects all those years, I am sure this country would have enough finances and resources to do much more. The money being churned by Petronas alone would be more than enough.
And if only we had put in the right people - instead of some silver-spoon fed children, brothers in law, nephews and what-have-you of the people in power -where they were needed, I am sure this country would have equaled Singapore, if not overtaken it.
As for India, fellow blogger Wenger J Kahiry had answered well in his article India, China, Democracy, Communism and RM 50 billion on his blog. I don't want to add anything.
Whether we like it or not, we are a democratic country. Our leaders should stop asking for more and more powers and start delivering results with whatever powers they already have. Why can't development and progress be achieved without trampling on the people's freedom and liberty?
In this cyber age, the people are slowly being empowered. And they wish for emancipation. They wish for development and progress. And they do not wish to give more than they need to, particularly when it comes to their rights, freedom and liberty.
The people now have become an enlightened customers of the politicians. And they have become demanding customers. They want food and drink on their table. And they want their freedom and their liberties in the same breath. Their basic and fundamental rights as human beings. Those very things which give them human dignity and which differentiate them from other animals.
The times they are a-changin, says Bob Dylan, and you'd better start swimming or you'd sink like a stone.