Updated: Dec 23, 2022
Having different political opinions in a democratic nation is normal, but not until we see each other as enemies that cannot co-exist.
Few days ago, police and multimedia regulators summoned TikTok's management to explain three videos on its platform that warn of a repeat of the 13 May 1969 riots leading up
to the Malaysian 15th General Election. Some users also noted that a few of the posts were “paid partnerships“, which meant that the users were being paid to create the polarising content. Some also suggested that the posts have been “coordinated” as the posts have used the same captions and hashtags despite being posted by different users.
"The dissemination of provocative content with the intent to cause discord, hatred, and prejudice is a violation of Act 574 of the Penal Code, and will result in a penalty, jail sentence, or both if convicted," said The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) in a statement on 30th November. It went on to say that spreading such content on social media is irresponsible because it could incite hatred and spark an unnecessary racial war.
Most videos under attention falsely alleged the political dominance by DAP if PH formed the federal government, carried anti-Chinese messages, and openly threatened violence. Some also questioned the religiosity of Malay-Muslims who voted for DAP, suggesting that Muslims should not vote for the party.
In a statement, TikTok said it will also “aggressively remove” content that violated its community guidelines, including video, audio, livestream, images, comments, links, or other text.
What happened on 13th May 1969?
The 1969 election resulted in a shift of representational power within the Malaysian Parliament. The Alliance Party, representing the majority Malay population, lost seats to the newly established opposition Chinese parties, the Democratic Action Party, and the Parti Gerakan. While the Chinese are a minority in Malaysia, they hold substantial socio-economic power, and as a result have steadily increased their influence both economically and politically. The political victories of these Chinese political parties sparked race riots based on deep-seated ethnic tension dating back to Malaysia’s British colonial rule.
British colonisation constructed this dynamic, which persisted after Malaysia’s independence in 1957. The Chinese population were concentrated in urban areas and Malays in villages. With increasing Chinese economic power, many Chinese felt that they deserved more representational power in government. When the election resulted in the increase of seats for the opposition Chinese parties, it upset the ruling Malay Alliance Party, revived a long-standing grudge, and inflamed ethnic tensions. A parade that was meant to celebrate the election results led to the brutal rioting and violence between ethnic Chinese and Malay.
Although the infamous incident is one to be forgotten, several politicians have used it as a tactic to scare people from voting certain candidates just because they are of a certain religion or race.
Dangers of labelling
Mat Sabu says worried about Muslims declaring one another infidels amid post-GE15 tensions.
"Recently, Malaysia has been plagued with unpleasant notions. I can criticise Umno, I can bash Barisan Nasional (BN), I can criticise or bash DAP... but don't let it come to the point we are declaring Umno as infidels.
"I am worried that the concept of takfiri is re-emerging now. We see countries in the world that are destroyed because of the belief of takfiri. Like we disbelieve them when they do not agree with us, we lead the people astray, eventually it happens like in Syria, in Iraq, in Somalia. Parti Amanah Negara president Mohamad Sabu has also expressed his concern about the prevalence of takfiri among Muslims, or the act of declaring one an infidel due to a difference in opinion, saying this would ruin the country.
"If you look at Somalia for more than 40 years no solution could be reached; (for) Iraq and Syria it has been 10 years and (they) have yet to resolve the conflict between them, between tribes, tribes and sects,” he was quoted as saying during a political ceramah in Rompin.
Abdul Hadi also alleged PH leaders of being liberals who would legitimise issues that are prohibited in Islam, giving examples such as recognising the LGBT and bribes. Prior to the election, Hadi had caused backlash for suggesting that non-Muslims are the roots behind corruption.
Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan Tuanku Muhriz Tuanku Munawir decreed for political leaders to cease and desist from raising religious issues to flame public anger after chairing the 260th Conference of Rulers.
A new challenge to Anwar’s government.
Muhammad Faisal of Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia (ABIM) said this new unity government is an opportunity to restore political moral values and reject those riding on religious and racial sentiments, which is damaging to society and prosperity. This task, he said, must include improvements to key performance indices in portfolios and ministries related to national unity and integration.
"Abim believes that the flames of racism and incitement can lead to violence. And any group's identity should not be used to fan the flames of destructive racism, hatred and beyond. We urge all parties, especially political leaders, not to drag the community into this destruction for self gain," he said.
Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan Tuanku Muhriz Tuanku Munawir also proposed that the Rukun Negara be declared at suitable functions, adding that this will prove that the government is serious about making the Rukun Negara the basis and guide for all Malaysians.
Adding onto that, Professor Emeritus Datuk Dr Teo Kok Seong said it is a clear message to the new prime minister that he must take the necessary steps to strengthen national unity. He said racial unity is critical to creating a stable nation which, in turn, will have a positive impact on the economy and the well-being of the people.
"I hope the government will look into unity right from the kindergarten stage. Presently the children are segregated (and don't mingle with children of other races) and this situation continues until they go to primary school. "This education system that encourages and allows segregation must be reviewed because it hinders the nation from attaining unity," he added.
IMPLICATIONS OF NEW MEDIA TECHNOLOGIES IN POLITICS
First, content becomes more democratised. GE15 was arguably the ‘freest’ election for Malaysia’s media in its history, and live videos further exemplified the more transparent and open nature of the campaign.
In GE14, ‘subversive’ or ‘underground’ content, spread clandestinely through closed WhatsApp groups was vital in spreading messages of the Najib government’s corruption despite the ‘anti-fake news law’ then in operation. In GE15 there was less of a need for this secrecy, with this law revoked and a more fervent online discourse growing since GE14. Campaigning was much more ‘open’, as exemplified by content regularly and monotonously livestreamed on social media.
At the same time, the massification and popularisation of video content is allowing for a wide variety of professional content producers to engage in political discourse, from politicians, to preachers, celebrities, activists, and even social media campaigners themselves. Video content also enables a cacophony of ‘influencers’, including some who are essentially professional rabble-rousers engaged to stir up racial and religious tensions in the country.
The danger is the possibility of controversial video content moulding Malaysian society to become even more polarised around race and religion, and is one we should all do our best to avoid.