Loh Seng Kok

Parlimen Malaysia

Barisan Nasional MCA

Loh Seng Kok 卢诚国
Member of Parliament for Kelana Jaya
(2004 - Feb 2008)

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New threats to new freedom

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New threats to new freedom

Scene: Coffee House, Corus Hotel, KL.

Mohan: Is there freedom in Malaysia?

Chong: Wow, wow. What a strange question, Mohan? Certainly there is freedom. It is a free country. Everyone is free - of course within the bounds of our laws and our national constitution.

Azman: And of course we have to respect the cultures, customs and traditions of the various ethnic groups that make up this nation. For instance we don't wear shoes when we enter the homes of some people.

Mohan: So other than the laws and the need to respect the customs and traditions of the various groups, we are free. That's what you are saying.

Azman: Yes. In fact the feeling of being more free is very apparent now. I suppose many people have got this feeling ever since Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi became prime minister. He is encouraging more openness and greater freedom. And transparency, of course.

Mohan: Yes, I agree. Now you Azman, you and your newspaper people mustn't go around spreading the foreign concept of freedom and democracy.

Azman: You think so, ah?

Mohan: Yes lah. Please don't go around misinterpreting Abdullah's idea of freedom and confuse it with some foreign concept.

Azman: I didn't know lah. Usually foreign is an euphemism for Western. You know how our officials are. When they don't want to say Western they say foreign.

Chong: Does freedom mean one thing in Malaysia and another thing in Mongolia? And is it some strange animal in India and another strange creature in Britain? Cikgu?

Zain: I believe freedom is the same everywhere. It is a universal concept. But how much each person in the world has of it depends on how much his country's laws proscribe it or limit it.

Azman: So there is such a thing as Malaysian freedom after all.

Zain: Maybe. But maybe it is not so much the meaning but the amount. So Malaysian freedom means the amount of it that we have. Freedom means the same thing everywhere.

Chong: I agree. So Malaysian freedom is really the amount of it that we have after its proscription by the ISA, the OSA, the Sedition Act, the Official Secrets Act and a host of other laws.

Mohan: So when someone accused you of practising freedom the way the foreigners do, it means that you have ignored those laws.

Azman: I don't know. We ignore those laws at our own peril. But doesn't greater freedom under Abdullah mean that we have some leeway?

Zain: Maybe.

Mohan: What about democracy?

Chong: Whether you spell it demokrasi or democracy, it is a foreign word and foreign concept altogether. There are no two ways about it.

Zain: True. But again like freedom, Malaysian democracy has its own characteristics. Maybe it's a further abridgement of the universal concept of democracy.

Azman: Let's go back to freedom. I think I know what people mean when they talk about more openness and greater freedom under Abdullah. He has not - maybe not yet - started to remove the laws that are seen as constraining our freedom but he did other things.

Mohan: What?

Azman: You see it is not just the laws that constrained our freedom previously. It was the way certain things were done. After a while certain ways of doing things crystallised into accepted practices - the unwritten rules. When Abdullah became PM he ignored and pushed aside all those practices and the so-called accepted practices of the past. And that gives the sense of greater openness.

Zain: At the same time I fear the openness is also encouraging others to also institute their own practices, their own ways of doing certain things. While some people are encouraged to be more free to speak up and to write, others are becoming more daring in doing other things that, if nothing is done to stop them, will ultimately stop people from speaking freely - takut, intimidated. New accepted practices.

Mohan: You think so Cikgu?

Zain: Yes. Even MPs are not so sure that they can truly speak their mind on some subjects. They now know that some subjects OK, some subjects not OK.

Chong: I see what you mean. For instance a minister recently said that non-Muslims cannot speak on Islam. I think that's unfair as many things done in the name of Islam also affect us non-Muslims.

Azman: Yes, you should be allowed to. After all isn't Islam the religion of the federation and non-Muslims, too, citizens of this federation?

Chong: And we are not discussing the religion per se. We are discussing things that are done in the name of the religion. For instance too many doa's in school, the hijab becaming part of the policewomen's uniform. Things like that.

Azman: But more frightening is the way Kelana Jaya BN MP Loh Seng Kok was visited by 50 Umno Youth members in his constituency and told that he did not do the proper thing when he spoke on certain things in the Dewan Rakyat. Loh had complained about the "imbalance" in the history textbooks, new prayer recital guidelines and the problems faced by the non-Muslims with regards to places of worship.

Zain: My only hope is that such "visits" do not become an accepted practice. Other MPs may feel intimidated.

Zainon Ahmad is Political Editor at theSun

Updated: 01:23PM Tue, 04 Apr 2006


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