Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Dissent, the Highest Form of Patriotism?

Written by johnleemk on 4:58:12 pm Sep 1, 2007.

A popular quote has it that dissent is the highest form of patriotism. I found myself thinking about this when I stumbled on this gem from one world leader to another in a time of crisis:

Quoted from: Idi Amin to Richard Nixon at the time of Watergate
When the stability of a nation is in danger, the only solution is, unfortunately, to imprison the leaders of the opposition.
Idi Amin's thinking, unfortunately, represents that utilised by most governments around the world to quell dissent. The "national security" or "stability and harmony" card is often played by politicians when they seek to silence those against them.

Many would eagerly point out that few, if any democracies have been clean either when it comes to this. Even the United States had a Sedition Act at one point.

But even at the height of the American Civil War, George McLellan, the candidate who ran against Abraham Lincoln in 1864, did not face imprisonment. Even after the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the few Congressmen who voted against going to war with Japan did not end up in jail.

If you're not familiar with Idi Amin, he happens to have been one of the world's most queer and destructive dictators — a man who exiled thousands of his country's own citizens because they happened to be of the wrong race. His term in office was one which saw the murder of tens or even hundreds of thousands.

A lot of authoritarian countries around the world today attempt to justify their repressive actions in almost the same words and phrases used by Idi Amin.

Now, it may be true that you can't tar all authoritarian regimes with the same brush just because they happen to think along the same lines as a brutal African dictator.

But if you recall correctly, one of the largest and most diverse countries in the world has never had to imprison its political opposition, even in the direst times of war. It has been a similar case even in the United Kingdom.

Authoritarian leaders like to argue that their uncultured, unintelligent people are too sensitive to handle destabilising dissent, even in peacetime with no apparent threat. They argue that the American or Western model of democracy is inapplicable in their countries.

But they never present any hard evidence why. Are the brains of people in different parts of the world hardwired differently? What in different cultures makes them innately incompatible with democracy? And how does this argument jibe with, at the same time, fears that certain cultures are being "Westernised"? In that case wouldn't that make them perfect for democracy?

If one of the most diverse countries in the world — and by some reports one of the most stupid and uncultured as well — can have gone through wars where the very existence of the nation was threatened without imprisoning political opposition, how can other countries justify silencing dissent in this manner?

I am open to hearing a case from authoritarian leaders. What disappoints me is that virtually none of them are willing to make it. They are willing to make unfounded assertions, and not willing to back them up with facts. Until they can do so, they deserve the company they are in — lumped in with brutes like Idi Amin.

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Infernal Ramblings is a Malaysian website focusing on current events and sociopolitical issues. Its articles run the gamut from economics to society to education.

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