Have we often been told to keep our discussions and debates apolitical? Do parents discourage their children from voicing out their views and opinions in public?
There are many reasons why there is a disconnect between the issue of politics and family, least of which seems to be the disconcerting notion that politics does not affect the daily life of the average Malaysian, according to panellists at a forum organised by Arts for Grabs today.
Fear of authorities, fear of exercising right to speak
“The word fear is something I want to emphasise, this is the word we need to overcome in Malaysia.
“People are fearful, some do not want to talk about religion because they fear being labelled as murtad,” lawyer and activist Siti Kasim told attendees at the forum today, using the Malay-Arabic term for “apostate”.
“Some don’t want to talk about politics because they fear losing jobs, family and friends,” she added.
Siti is known for her work with the Orang Asli community as well as her opposition towards PAS’s private member’s bill to enhance the Shariah courts.
“We have to speak up and throw away this fear, if we don’t, we will be leaving a s*&^ country for our children,” she stressed.
Her daughter Aneez Yuliani Yuslizar, who was also a panellist, said that some Malaysians try to separate politics from everyday life, which in turn creates barriers and discourages the younger generation from asking questions.
Another speaker, writer Pepper Lim said that there was a fear of discussing politics especially among the older generation who experienced the days of Ops Lalang, where politicians, activists and ordinary people were hauled up and thrown in jail.
“There is fear…that everyone who brings up politics will get locked up under the ISA. Even your family censors you. Perhaps the older people are afraid of ISA and the days of Ops Lalang,” he said, using the acronym for Internal Security Act 1960.
Arts for Grabs host Pang Khee Teik said that some parents feel powerless over what happens to their children in public if they do voice out their views and thoughts, and that authorities use this as a tool to keep the people quiet.
“Its a trade-off. They tell us to keep quiet in public so that we can do what we want in private at home,” he said.
Another speaker, writer and student Eshaan Menon pointed out that university students are restricted and not allowed to take part in protests, and instead are forced to conform to those in power.
Good support system; knowing your rights
Some panellists at the forum believe a way forward in encouraging open discussions about politics is to first build a strong support system within families.
“You need to open up, talk things through with your family. A good, strong support system is needed,” said Aneez.
“My mother believes in what we are fighting for, that is what drives my mother,” she added.
Siti said that as long as people were aware of their basic legal rights, there will be less fear of political persecution.
“Use the law. Do not think the law is not there for you. When you don’t know, you are in fear.
“The Bar Council has a ‘red book’, its available on their website for download for free. It lists out your rights if and when you are stopped or harassed by the police,” she explained.