Dear folks, this must be something of a record but I’ve just been told that once again, my column’s been spiked. In newspaper-speak, that means it’s not going to be published tomorrow. This would make it the second of my columns recently that was totally spiked, plus one more that was chopped up badly. (See previous posts)
People ask me why I keep writing at The Star if they keep doing this. Well maybe I’m just sentimental. They gave me this column to write about 23 years ago when nobody else did and for the most part they’ve published most of what I’ve written. I do know that lots of people read it and I would feel as if I’m abandoning my readers if I just stopped. I’m hoping that those who read it in the paper also read me online and will realise that perhaps my days at The Star are numbered ( or at least until the elections are over.)
My editors at The Star did politely ask me to tone down my column. They even bought me tea to tell me this. They explained the type of nasty pressures they face over many articles, pressure from people who seem to be hyper-paranoid over every little bit of news that might be construed as anti-government, anti-Islam, anti-everythingtheystandfor. I can sympathise with my editors. It can’t be fun being constantly shouted at on the phone or having to attend ‘briefings’ where they are told exactly what they can or cannot write, no argument.
But just last week I was at a forum on media freedom, in Singapore, and I listened to two Burmese journalists talking about media freedom in their country. They talked about how for years they had to deal with the military censors who insisted on seeing their articles BEFORE and AFTER publication. They had to find ways to creatively get their message across either through writing ‘between the lines’, using codewords or writing about foreign news which somehow had some relevance to Burma though obliquely.
Recently however Burma has been moving towards democracy. And with it has come new media freedom and many new newspapers and magazines have proliferated. And where once Aung San Syu Kyii was never mentioned in the papers, she is now on the front pages of almost every paper “because she sells papers”. They now can write about most things although some things -like corruption – are still taboo.
But one thing they said left a mark on me. Through all those years of pressure, the temptation to self-censor was always there. And while others may have succumbed, this one young man decided he would not. “My job,” he said, ” is to write. The censors’ job is to censor. I don’t censor myself because that’s not my job.”
That’s the way I view my column too. I don’t ‘tone down’ largely because I don’t know how to. But also because it’s not my job.
So, for what it’s worth, here is the column that should have appeared tomorrow:
Marina Mahathir for The Star
Obfuscation is a word I love. It means to make something obscure or to confuse people. I love it because it is an apt word to describe the noisy politics we have to endure these days, the sort of noise that makes it impossible for anyone to even hear themselves speak, let alone think about what needs to be thought.
Obfuscation is an every day occurrence these days in our country. When issues should be presented clearly, they are obscured by side issues, distractions and misinformation. People who attempt to bring some clarity are shouted down, drowned by the sheer noise of the loudest though not necessarily the smartest nor the most sincere of loudhailers.
How did a campaign calling for that most innocuous of causes, clean and fair elections, come to be characterized as a clarion call for LGBT rights? Only because some people decided that the best way to distract from a popular issue is to project it as one that is ‘really’ about something else. And then the ‘something else’ was defined as an issue which most people will reflexively react against.
So the logic now sounds like this: if you call for clean and fair elections, that means you want LGBTs to take over the country. Wow!
How wonderful is this obfuscation tactic that a man who was once hailed as a great nationalist patriot for leading a demo to call for the overturning of the policy of teaching maths and science in English, is now likened to a pervert because he is calling for clean and fair elections. He literally went from hero to zero overnight.
Meanwhile, so-called amendments to various laws are touted as the long-awaited reforms by a modern and democratic government. Yet such amendments are rushed through Parliament and ‘debated’ by parliamentarians late at night when they are no doubt sleepy and fuzzy-minded. Surely such important laws deserve better? But no, the obfuscation continues. The bulldozing is touted as ‘proof’ of genuine commitment to reform. And people actually buy this?
Some students decide to stage a tent-in in a public space for a cause that may be a bit too idealistic. Certainly it doesn’t seem to have captured much public sympathy. But the obfuscation continues, confusing the students’ right to voice their unhappiness with their cause. What’s more, news reports on the students seem not to have made clear that there are in fact two groups at Dataran Merdeka, and although there are some overlaps, there are some fundamental differences between the two. Not only are their causes different, so are their ways of working. But obfuscation requires that the two are conflated and by that, the tarnishing of all young people continues.
Today it is difficult to speak publicly in any intelligent manner because it is the unintelligent and the belligerent who rule. On university grounds, grounds where the intellect should reign, a man can blithely say that if LGBTs take over this country (despite there being no evidence whatsoever of this happening), he would not hesitate to take his keris out and use it. In other countries, such a pronouncement would elicit immediate arrest. But no, in this self-proclaimed moderate country, such violent arrogance is applauded.
What is the point of promoting any sort of science in this country when basic evidence is never respected? When anyone can come up with the most dubious statements without any facts to back it up? A full 30% of men in this country are gay, according to someone, and this is a danger to the country. What does this mean? Does that mean that out of the 28 men in our Cabinet, at least nine of them are gay? Out of the 13 Muftis making fatwas around the country, 4 of them are homosexual? If a full 30% of Malaysian men prefer their own sex, they also make a sizeable voting bloc. Why alienate them?
But there is no longer any point in talking sense or logic in this country. The less logic you speak, the more popular you are. The less facts you present, the more you are lauded. Better still, the more incorrect facts you give, invented out of thin air, the more you dazzle your followers.
Obfuscation however tends to bite back. The more you use it to blindside people, the more you make it a culture, the less people will trust you. It’s hard to continually create a fog around facts, to drown truth with noise. Sooner or later, you’re bound to trip up. That would be enough to create mistrust.
So, like the boy who cried wolf, even if you present facts now, it’ll be hard to persuade anyone.