Saturday, April 25, 2009

Of badangs and blogoticians



Of 'badangs' and 'blogoticians'
Azly Rahman

The mythical Malay Frankenstein, Badang, has now morphed into "Agent Smiths" of movie The Matrix fame in circa Malaysian 12th general election. If one is to believe in the Last Supper, the next one will see a banquet of a new regime. It might take the 13th general election henceforth to install a good check and balance system, in tune with "the scales" - the symbolism of the current ruling regime.

Badang is a monster created by human imagination—the technocratic fantasy of Man. It is a surrealistic being; meaning that Badang was created by a mad Majapahit scientist in antiquity, to help human beings extend their capability of roaming rudely but justifiably into cyberspace.

The Malays are not poor in Nostradamic ideas of change – the Puteri Buluh Betong was the first test-tube baby, Hang Tuah was a prototype of a Robocop and disguised as an over-glamourised fool, Hang Nadim was actually a clever investment banker who fooled the King of Temasik into importing banana trees to be planted along the shores of Singapura during a pre-meditated swordfish attack, Si Tenggang was a warning to Malays not to venture into frontierland and not challenge autocratic regimes. Raja Bersiong was a warning to modern Malaysians to be aware of blood-sucking leaders who control the oil-rich country's wealth and leave the poor of all races to protest on the streets and get arrested and pepper-sprayed.

As one who grew up in Johor Bahru, perhaps Si Bongkok Tanjung Puteri reminds me of the Malay's Beauty and the Beast—trapped in a dungeon waiting for the right time to come out and runamuck protesting against the rape of Johor through the newly-built corridors with a hegemonizing name "Iskandar Development Region".

When I begin my doctoral studies analysing the impact of digital communication technologies on "cybernating nations" such as Malaysia, I had statements I made in my weekly seminar on dissertation writing at Columbia University; that hypothesised the possibility of the Internet as a major player in the changing landscape of Malaysian politics.

I was studying the webs "Laman Reformasi" and "Free Anwar Campaign" run by Raja Petra Kamaruddin, way back in 1999 and sympathized with the plight of Malaysiakini when their servers were confiscated by the current regime. Little did I know that, through Fate decreed many years later I would be a columnist for both online portals. I decide to become a columnist after watching the story "A Beautiful Mind" about John Nash, the Princeton professor and Nobel Laureate in Mathematics. I thought, I had to share what I believe.

I have since enjoyed sharing my views on many aspects of Malaysian politics, true to my calling as an academician. This is my contribution to society, from far.

Major force

Back in the year 1999, I made a prediction that the Internet will be a major force in "cybernating nations" such as Malaysia and that democratic spaces will be widened. In politics, the government, I hypothesised will be challenged by this protean technology and will be made aware of the death of distance and the birth of 'digital proletariatism". There will be creative anarchy in the nature of Malaysian democracy evolving.

I do not consider myself as a blogger in the real sense of the word, merely an archiver of some of my own writings. But I do see a role I can play in raising the level of political, cultural, and philosophical dialogue to a challenging level.

As campaigning begins, I see the impact of digital communications technologies increasing. I see bloggers you have never met, running for political office. One that will be the prototype is perhaps Jeff Ooi, an interesting case study of Malaysia' first "blogo-tician".

Broadcast media might be supreme as long as the rakyat is not yet fully digitally-literate. Government-owned and controlled television stations will be useful when the rakyat can be made to be stone-glued to their television sets. Hegemony of the ruling regime can continue to be maintained as long as the rakyat is given bread and circus (or roti canai and fun-fairs). This is the feature of the success of the previous 22-year old regime; one that began to crumble after the fall of the Thai Baht of 1997, after the Tom Yum Effect of 1997.

Why are governments afraid of the power of citizen journalism - and of the Internet in general? What will be the conclusion of this great war between government bloggers and Guevara-inspired guerrilla-like grassroots-based cyber-freedom fighters? Especially the one that is raging in Malaysiakini and Malaysia-Today; war that is bringing criminals from the battlefields of cyberspace into the real world of the interrogation rooms of the Anti-Corruption Agency. Ones that help expose wrongdoings of elected representatives and bring his downfall.

Battles that rage between ideas of totalitarianism in universities and prospects for a freedom of inquiry and anti-fascism in college classrooms. Spaces of knowledge that bring us up to date information on what magnitude of corruption the New Economic Policy has brought us after 40 years.

"Information wants to be free" as some Internet guru and philosopher of this cybernetic age might say. And as information leaves the author and transmits and transmutes itself, it assumes a life of its own. As the great historian Ibnu Khaldun would say, to the effect "as the hands writes nothing is erased…" Or, as the physicist Stephen Hawkings would say, even data that transmutes is a life-form in itself.

But why is the Malaysian government afraid of the power of the Frankenstein it has allowed to roam the streets of Cyberjaya. Why is Malaysia's "ministry of cybernetics" afraid of this creature the magnitude of the mythical "Badang" that becomes like "Agent Smiths" roaming the streets exposing brutishly the corrupt practices of men and women, screaming of these people to be brought to justice?

Who can stop our Agents Smiths – even if counter-agents called Malaysian cyber-troopers as those cybernetic soldiers of fortune are cloned and droned and then released into blogs to engage in battles of the cyberfrontier – in this Mahabaratha of Malaysian cyber-rama as the 13th general elections arrives?

Informational hegemony

The Internet is challenging the very root of informational hegemony; one that is built upon totalitarianism as a consequence of the 22 year-rule of the previous regime. The current regime is trying to create the same formula, not realizing that our Berlin Wall is crumbling. The younger politicians in the ruling regime are not reading the signs on the wall. They are still lulled by the ideology. The middle class has evolved. To demand for respect is wrong, the politicians need to earn them - not force the rakyat to accept them via threats. This is still happening even in our public universities, let alone in schools and the rural areas.

The Internet is going to be the biggest winner in the GE-13. "I blog, therefore I am" as I once said in a gathering of Malaysian students in Washington recently.

The rush to become powerful by the younger politicians is not going to be a smooth journey. Alternative media will play its role in checking them and also check-mating them.

But what changes do we see are going to happen to policies, after the general election? Already we are seeing that the current regime is like a Santa Claus, bringing goodies to the people.

I hope the universities are asking the current regime to release them from the shackles of the UUCA and the Akujanji Pledge of Loyatlty to the Ruling Regime and to teach our students how important it is to be politically conscious and to have the ultimate freedom in choosing their political future. In America, any student group can be formed based on political affiliation - so that college students can decide the next government free of threats. We are doing the wrong thing in Malaysia. Terribly wrong for the students and lecturers to be threatened if they are involved in raising political consciousness.

What will be the student/faculty respond to this threat?

Whatever the outcome of the GE-13 will be, demands for more freedom will continue to be made. Since four years ago, we have seen how the current regime has been "deconstructed" and made accountable to what they have done. Of course things have worked quiet well but many are still terribly wrong. Criticisms on our democratic practices is an evolving act. Ultimately, I think, race-based politics and political arrangements is going to lose its relevance, making way for a truly multicultural two party system that is going to be evaluated based on the merit of their honesty and commitment to humanistic and humanitarian ideals. In all these, the Internet has played an important role in deconstructionism.

Essentially, through education for political consciousness in cyberspace, Malaysians are beginning to educate each other that race, ethnicity, and color are merely "constructs" and works well with the ideology of "social dominance" such as "ketuanan Melayu" or the "ketuanan of any race".

The real basis of human nature is the DNA. It is with this premise that we can look a the children of all races as "gifts of the Creator" to be fully developed, nurtured, and educated out of the prejudices of their parents. Through the lens of the DNA, we will not need the NEP, nor any form or mutation of race-based politics. Even the "myth of the lazy native" will remain a myth.

The real winner in Malaysia's general elections is again, technology of the body - the Internet and cyberspace. Badangs and blogoticians are the forces that will be with us.

2 comments:

francis ngu said...

A Gym for the thinking Mind

Whereas the use of raw force can generally suppress dissent spilled on to the streets, authoritarianism is no match for dissenters in the neutral technology of cyberspace.

The malarchetects of the present political-business hegemony erred fatally on 2 counts.

They put their faith in oppressive law (UCCA) in
creating a technocratic class, at best partly successful, but without turning out the troublesome intellectuals (intellectuals as defined by E. Said). While some are subdued under the utilitarian model of education, many still manage to overcome the mental confines imposed "for their good", so it is said.

Similarly, the grand-archetect(s) of cyberjaya, hoped that the new technology would speed the progress of the nation (read benefit the crony monopolistic business interests), without being dutifully informed by the (Evil) western technology providers of the wider social impact of cybertechnology. It did not occur to them that perhaps an IT Social Contract may be possible to augment the smart UCCA!

Science, technology and liberal arts have since synergistically brought a paradigm shift which the political lords are at a loss as
to how to deal with. They can only watch, earthbound, dissenting ideas soar and soar ever higher.

Francis Ngu, Sarawak.

Antares said...

Little did I realize when, back in Dec 2006, I "accidentally" clicked on the Blogger icon I saw at the bottom of Patrick Teoh's Tokkok blog and on the spur of the moment decided to "create a blog"... that I would find myself swiftly sucked into an unknown zone called The Blogosphere... and that I would be happily implanting memes into the collective psyche... just as you are doing, Azly Rahman, and doing so brilliantly! Thanks, bro, for being such a fine fellow :-)

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