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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Friday, July 15, 2005

They Never Learn!

They Never Learn!
M. Bakri Musa

[Reprinted from www.malaysia-today.net July 15, 2005]

On July 14, 2005, the police raided the home of Malaysia Today’s (www.malaysia-today.net) editor, Raja Petra Kamarudin, and seized his computers. For those with a historical bent, July 14 is Bastille Day, a day to commemorate the storming of the Bastille and the start of the French Revolution.

The Malaysian authorities never learn, not from history nor its own experiences. Two years ago when the police raided the office of Malaysiakini.com and carted away its computers, there was an international scene. The raid made a mockery of the government’s oft-stated commitment to keep the Internet free of official censorship. Then Prime Minister Mahathir had to step in to calm the furor. Only a few days ago the authorities finally returned the last of the computers they had seized during that raid. There were no charges, criminal or civil.

Raja Petra Kamarudin has been doing some remarkable and aggressive investigative journalism. This pursuit is alien to mainstream journalists and media in Malaysia. To them, reprinting ministerial speeches and press releases constitute newsgathering, the staple of their brand of journalism.

Consequently, Malaysia Today has been recording an escalating number of “hits” (readers), consistently exceeding over a quarter million a day. Two particularly hard-hitting recent columns received wide readership and comments.

The first was a two-part series on corruption in the Negri Sembilan royal family. Posted right after the controversy over the suspension of its former Chief Minister Isa Samad, the expose received considerable attention. After the first installment was posted, Raja Petra was “visited” by the police, but interestingly, by its commercial crime division! Far from being intimidated, Raja Petra went on with even more damning reports.

The second was a three-part series on Khairy Jamaluddin, advisor and son-in-law to Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. Only the first two parts have been published, with the third due any day. Readers eagerly await the final installment.

In both series, Raja Petra named names and cited specific instances. In short, both articles were virtually a road map for the police to investigate the allegations.

If the intent of the computer seizure was to prevent the posting of the final installment, then the authorities have badly miscalculated. Nor have they learned from the humiliation they received locally and abroad over the Malaysiakini raid. That episode put Malaysiakini out of commission temporarily; it was back running within hours using mirror servers elsewhere.

The seizure of Raja Petra’s computer hardly interrupted Malaysia Today’s operation. Articles continued to be posted, and readers were as eager as ever to register their views. They were hardly restrained or intimidated.

We are certain that Raja Petra, like all prudent editors and web operators, has taken the necessary precautions like backing up his files and having mirror servers.

The police have also not learned from their earlier incarceration of Raja Petra under the Internal Security Act a few years back during the height of the Reformasi and Anwar Ibrahim furor. Raja Petra was defiant to the end; he never recanted and never apologized. Such resolve!

The Malaysian authorities are still in their Neanderthal mode. They have yet to learn that they cannot control cyberspace. Not even the powerful and oppressive Chinese government could do it, though not for lack of trying. The mullahs in Iran are trying very hard, yet the most vigorous anti-government websites are in Iran.

Soon after the Malaysiakini raid, Khairy Jamaludin bravely declared that UMNO Youth was not afraid to battle anyone in the marketplace of ideas. He said this while his minions in the organization were gloating over the seizure. Some claimed that Khairy and UMNO Youth instigated the affair. This prompted my comment that we can take bright young Malays from the kampongs and send them to the Oxfords and Cambridges of the world, but more difficult to take the kampong out of them.

I would have thought that had Khairy been offended by Raja Petra’s series, or if what was published were nothing more than trash, he would have made a strong rebuttal or threaten the writer with a mega libel suit. Khairy should have learned that at Oxford. Resorting to the police to do your dirty work is like crying to mamma.

This was not the first time that the Malaysian police had “visited” bloggers and Internet journalists. These visits have been remarkably effective; those bloggers and Internet journalists have disappeared from cyberspace, or if they returned, they were noticeably emasculated.

Far from being intimidated, Raja Petra seems invigorated. Readers of Malaysia Today did not notice anything amiss, except for a short statement to announce the fact of the raid. He even had a new submission of his regular column!

When court documents exposed a former chief minister incurring millions of dollars in gambling debt while in office, the Royal Malaysian Police saw fit to seize the computer of a journalist for daring to expose malfeasance in high places. What a perverted priority!

A while back, the Prime Minister with great fanfare set up the Royal Commission to investigate the police. Chaired by a former Chief Justice, it released its long awaited report only a few months ago. The revelations, long suspected by the public, were still nonetheless shocking. Obviously setting up of that commission was an exercise in futility, for the police have learned nothing.

The cyber revolution has been going on for years but the authorities have missed it. They still think they can control cyberspace, their mind trapped in their own fortress. Unlike the physical fortress of Bastille, this mental fortress of those in authority is much more difficult to storm.


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