Prime Minister Najib Razak is saying that the Bersih 2.0 rally should have been held – all nice and orderly like – in a stadium instead of invading the streets of KL. Just like how the wonderful and cooperative Himpun rally was held in Stadium Shah Alam this past Saturday.
When I say I’m drawn to conspiracy theories, I’m referring to sober analyses that counter the dominant way of thinking; the kind of subversive messages that could illuminate a troubling truth.
In this age of noise, many truths lie hidden among falsehoods. We rely on experts to tease out the complexities because it is impossible to keep pace with technical knowledge (much less jargon), but often we prefer to listen to specialists and talking heads whose ideology fits snugly with our own; little wonder then that debates surrounding god and global warming are so polarised. There is little give. People seem so set in their beliefs.
The rapid proliferation of traditional and non-traditional forms of media over the past two decades has shifted the balance of power only slightly: this is manifest in the sense of unease underpinning the chaotic protests currently underway in many parts of the world (except noticeably in countries like China where the regime can choose to clamp down on media coverage and Internet searches for the word “occupy”).
We are beginning to question things, even if we aren’t sure exactly what it is we want to challenge. That’s partly why it is tempting to buy into conspiracy theories: they make us feel connected, both with other people as part of a larger community and also with reality. Subversive thought (of the reasonable kind) arms us with the power of hyper-awareness, and presumably the ability to distinguish between actuality and deceit.
Sometimes dissenting voices are compelling enough to overturn the status quo and gain legitimacy in the public sphere. A week after Muammar Gaddafi’s death, the public more or less accepts that he was executed without trial by enraged resistance fighters. A few decades ago the world might have naïvely accepted the official line, but today it seems unlikely that any investigation would find that he died of wounds sustained in battle.
In this age of cell-phone videos and YouTube, technology is easily harnessed to document evidence. We know how a despot like Saddam Hussein behaved in his final moments: far from appearing afraid, as was initially reported in sections of the media, he even managed to laugh in the face of death, thus improbably gaining sympathy.
It is much harder however to establish the fate that befell the likes of Velupillai Prabhakaran and Veerappan. Many bloggers speculate that the LTTE chief and the poacher were first captured and then tortured to death by government forces; only given the notoriety surrounding these men and the horrific crimes they perpetrated in their respective domains, there is little moral incentive for the mainstream media to dig any deeper.
At the other end of the graveyard lies Osama Bin Laden. The government and public may feel it’s best to bury that story for the sake of world peace and the greater good.
All the same, everybody loves a good conspiracy. Sometimes a plausible theory is founded on rumour and whispers, if that’s the only way for information to get out. I regularly scan supermarket tabloids for stories that tell you How Everything Really Is. It’s worth it too, for the occasional piece that gives you an insight into reality, even if most of the time, tabloids are fueled by pure fantasy.
Speaking of fantasy, I wonder how much of my worldview has been shaped by my new-found interest in science fiction. The Matrix offers an elegant metaphor for the human condition. Ray Bradbury disguised what he saw in the present as a dystopian vision for the future. And if you watch Doctor Who, you’d know the aliens are responsible for practically everything (although I must insist on drawing the line when it comes to JFK).
Yes, I know fiction is the last desperate drug for reality addicts –—I am a conspiracy theorist; I am not psychotic.
But in all seriousness, we would be well-advised to pay a little more attention to the confluence of reality and myth, as it swirls around us. If Wikileaks has taught us anything, it is that the world is not as it is.
Let’s recap why Bersih 2.0 was not held in a stadium..
When PM Najib was forced to accept the breadth and depth of public support for Bersih 2.0, he moved quickly to try and wrest control of the situation. Bersih 2.0 was verbally legitimized and even promised the use of a stadium for their rally. They decided on the historic and symbolic Stadium Merdeka which has capacity for 30,000 people.
Abruptly, their request to use the stadium was turned down and Bersih 2.0 was delegitimized again – despite PM Najib’s overtures and promises – with the excuse that the expected 300,000 attendees would be way over Stadium Merdeka’s capacity. That would be ten times too many people for the stadium to hold.
Way to troll the entire population of Malaysia! You can almost imagine our IGP’s face scrunched up in a a wry smile, going ”PROBLEM?” ( )
Outraged at this about-turn, the rally went ahead anyway, bringing its message of clean and fair elections to streets (and worldwide via sympathetic rallies). After everything, Bersih 2.0 claims 50,000 attendees showed up. Meanwhile, the media estimates between 10,000 to 15,000 people – well within the capacity of Stadium Merdeka. And the police mockingly put the number at a pathetic 6,000.
Wherefore then the justification for denying Bersih 2.0 the use of Stadium Mereka? Can a measly 6,000 people not safely gather and chant their slogans as the tear-gassing, chemical-spraying police in full riot gear close in on the stadium? /sarc
Now let’s look at Himpun.
The full title of the rally itself clues us in to the hoped-for turnout – ‘Himpunan Sejuta Umat’, 1 million people.
Yet Himpun was cleared to use Stadium Shah Alam – in record time nonetheless – even though the venue can only accommodate between 70,000 to 100,000 with some squeezing.
Similar to Bersih 2.0′s original planned turnout-to-stadium-capacity ratio, Himpun would have had ten times too many people for the stadium to hold. But Himpun’s planned excess of 900,000 people is a completely different paradigm from Bersih 2.0′s mere excess of 280,000!
How can PM Najib and the authorities justify and handwave away the blatant double standards shown here? The hypocrisy is insulting enough, but expecting us to swallow it is doubly insulting!
(Don’t get me started on the narrow, factional prupose of the Himpun rally – protesting ‘apostates from Islam’, which carries worrying echoes of the official + mob persecution of Christian Copts in Egypt which is often triggered by rumours of converts leaving Islam.)
And just for the record, a paltry 4,000 attendees actually showed up for Himpun. Can we take that as a resounding Malaysian TAK NAK!!! to religiously divisive politics?
So in this Bizarro World, fringe gatherings with disruptive aims are to be commended and legitimized… While broadly-appealing rallies with noble goals are actually lawbreaking riots bordering on rebellion and civil war.
It depends on whether it serves the political interests of the powers that be
Finally, I’m going to risk making readers fed up with US/Malaysia political comparisons – but US politics offers us key lessons about what might be up with our local politics. (And hey, there’s a good reason I was snidely dubbed ‘Leading Malaysian Neocon’, a label I have since adopted.)
For a few weeks now, Occupy Wall Street and its related protests have been touting their narrow, factional demands which basically amounts to END CAPITALISM FOR FAIRNESS but which as a practical matter translates to PEOPLE WHO WORK HARD ALL DAY SHOULD GIVE FREE STUFF TO SLACKERS LIKE US – complete with plenty of vulgarity, violence, crassness, lawbreaking, hundreds of arrests, and even the occasional defecating on police cars.
However, the media has been coddling the protests with carefully edited coverage, focusing only on the few individuals who seem the least abnormal, ridiculous and unreasonable. The ABC, CBS and NBC networks gave them 33 full stories or interview segments in just the first 11 days of October 2011.
Meanwhile, the massive nationwide Tea Party protests against wasteful government spending – comprising hundreds of rallies, each with thousands of very normal, job-holding attendees – were given only 13 total stories by ABC, CBS and NBC in all of 2009.
Even then, they are usually depicted as hateful, potentially violent and radically extreme – despite the total lack of observational evidence and about zero total arrests. They even pick up their own trash, instead of pooping on the street!
So in this Bizarro World, fringe gatherings with disruptive aims are to be commended and legitimized… While broadly-appealing rallies with noble goals are actually lawbreaking riots bordering on rebellion and civil war.
Wait, didn’t I just use that whole paragraph earlier?
You see, it all depends on who is favoured by certain political parties and their crony mainstream media… And who they oppose as a threat to their precious status quo of power and control.
By Mark Green
Voter fraud vs. the right to vote. Romney vs. Perry. Obama vs. Gaddafi.
Mary Matalin and Ron Reagan debate why GOP governors are in favor of voter ID laws while Obama constituencies — young, poor, non-white — seem to be the target. When, if ever, is it OK to ask about a candidate’s religious tenets? Eight debates down, 16 to go — are they substantive or merely contentious? And does the death of Gaddafi and his regime imply an Obama Doctrine whereby we help produce a democracy without risking American lives or trillions of dollars? (To listen to the show, please click below.)
*On Voter ID Laws. Ron wonders why ID laws are needed at all if, according to the FBI and Brennan Center, there’s no evidence that voter fraud is a significant problem. Mary counters that there is evidence of voter impersonation (she saw it in Chicago when she started as a young “GOP grunt”) and no examples that these new laws have impeded voting.
We listen to Dorothy Cooper, a 96-year-old Chattanooga resident, turned away by a voting registrar because she lacked a valid ID and couldn’t come up with her marriage license. While Mary discounts this case as a red herring, Ron regards her as representative of an injured class, adding that the reason Washington doesn’t work is that “each side sees a different reality when it comes to things like voter fraud and climate change.”
*On the Politics of Religion. First they came for the Mormons…
JFK’s famous Houston Ministers Speech laid down the marker on this issue, but questions linger. Mary thinks that Romney’s Mormonism won’t be a big deal in 2012 and that Democrats can be as intolerant as Republicans: “I care about Romney’s views on cap gains, not what Joseph Smith did in the 1830s in New York” (“in ancient New York,” adds the host, having done site research this week attending the The Book of Mormon). As Rick Santorum stated in Tuesday’s CNN debate, Ron argues that if a candidate publicly highlights his faith, it’s OK to ask about that faith (e.g., does it insist that evolution is just a theory, that the Earth is 6,000 years old, that homosexuality a sin, that you should submit to your husband even if his view is inconsistent with the Constitution?).
Mary concludes that it’s the lack of faith that bothers voters. While that may be true, Ron acknowledges, it doesn’t bother him as a non-believer. “Then I’ll pray for you, Ron,” she says. He replies, “That’s nice.”
*On Mud and Debates. Until Teddy Roosevelt, it was gauche to actually campaign for president beyond your front porch. At the CNN debate last week, Perry and Romney exchanged such personal attacks (“hypocrisy” and “testy,” respectively) that we talk about David Gergen’s conclusion that Obama therefore “won” the debate. The two concur that neither helps their candidacies by such personal disparagement.
Also: yes, Gingrich is a quick-witted debater, but is he a pure demagogue for saying that Dodd and Frank should be criminally prosecuted for something or the other? Mary argues that he was winning the debate until he went too far. Ron maintains that it doesn’t matter, since Gingrich, tossing out allegations of criminality after quitting the speakership in a cloud of ethical charges, is not really running to win. Mary says that she’s talked with Gingrich about his candidacy and reports that he thinks he’s serious.
*Quick Takes: Cities. Drug Tests. Gaddafi. Are cities on average healthier than rural areas? Ron says yes, and that’s why cities are the future; Mary teases both venues. Drug-testing welfare applicants rub both wrong. And the two worry whether Libya or any of the other newly freed Middle East countries can elect small-d democrats. They focus less on any new “Obama Doctrine” and more on whether Islam and democracy are compatible.
*On the Radar. Reagan and Matalin then chat about the upcoming “war on Halloween” (Ron), as some parents will rant about witchcraft, while Mary ponders whether the First Lady will insist that salads replace candy… and they agree that the release and killing of exotic animals in Ohio was horrible and probably interested Americans more than the events in Libya.
Mark Green is the creator and host of Both Sides Now, which is powered by the American Federation of Teachers.


Send all comments to, where you can also listen to prior shows.
Both Sides Now is available Sat. 5-6 PM EST From Lifestyle TalkRadio Network & Sun. 8-9 AM EST from Business RadioTalk Network.


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