Betraying Malaysia's Founding Fathers
The founding fathers of a country are not just the politicians who sign its declaration of independence, or draft its constitution. The founding fathers of an independent nation are the men and women, big or small, who yearn for freedom and fight for it — the freedom to determine where they will go, the freedom to chart their own course free of outside intervention.
When the independent Malaysian nation was founded almost half a century ago, our Merdeka Constitution promised the new nation's founding fathers that they would have the freedoms they sought.
That they would have the right to move throughout their country, and reside where they liked, free from the arrogance of a colonial master. That they would be free to argue and debate where the country should be headed, and be free to be masters of their own lives, their own conscience.
Of course, there were a number of strings attached. What modern-day Malaysians often forget is that at the time of independence, and at the time of the Malaysian state's formation in 1963, the country was wracked by what was known as the Emergency.
(Some historians — including one writer you may have heard of, Rehman Rashid — argue that this "Emergency" was actually an euphemism for "civil war", which may not be an exaggeration considering the communist guerillas assassinated the top British colonial official in Malaysia, and as late as the 1970s were murdering top police officers like nobody's business. The phrase "civil war" is of course very harsh on the mouth, and liable to frighten foreign investors, so both the colonial and independent governments referred to the communist insurgency as the Emergency.)
So, our founding fathers were told, we had no choice but to give up some of these freedoms for the time being while the communist insurgency was ongoing. The communists continued to manipulate public sentiment and the electoral process into the late 1960s, and so some freedoms had to be temporarily suppressed.
Naturally, our founding fathers went along. After all, we waited centuries for independence — what harm would a few more years do, while we got rid of those guerillas who threatened to nip our independence in the bud and return us to the dark age of oppression under the thumb of foreign powers and distant leaders?
And so, our Constitution was made to basically disavow Malaysians of our "fundamental liberties". Parliament was given near-absolute freedom to limit these rights as it pleased, so as to contain the communist threat.
This is the reason why draconian laws like the Internal Security Act came into being — to tackle communists whom the government suspected of planning something, but could not nail with convincing evidence.
Of course, we all know how this story ends. Those who were alive at the time of independence have yet to see their independence fully realised; those of us born afterwards have been born into a pseudo-independent nation, still under the thumbs of colonial masters who now sit in Kuala Lumpur rather than London.
Let's do our founding fathers a favour, and undo their betrayal while they are still alive. Let's claim the rights we deserve as citizens of an independent democratic nation, who have the right to chart our own course.