Draconian Laws: the Truth and Our Economy
Draconian legislation has come under the spotlight again in Malaysia as of late, now that the government has been actively using repressive statutes to round up journalists and politicians. It is wrong, no doubt, to arrest people without the benefit of due process, and to jail them without a fair trial. But what is really wrong, and what can almost never be justified, is the suppression of the human spirit: of the right to think for yourself, and to seek the truth.
We all search for truth in our lives, be it in the realm of the rational or the spiritual. We implicitly assume that the truth is desirable, that if the government will not help us in finding the truth, it will at least not hinder us. But laws which crush the human spirit, laws which let the government detain anyone for any reason it likes — or no reason at all — these are laws which suppress the truth, and which break our spirit.
We often bemoan the faltering and falling position of our universities compared to their international counterparts. We wonder what can be done to rectify this terrible state of things; we pour money and people into our education system, and hope for better results. But if you do not let people seek the truth, what is the point of having an academic system? If we feed our students lies, how can we hope to succeed when the international benchmark is one of truth?
I often come in contact with people who are shocked at how outspoken my writing can be. I always tell them that it is nothing compared to some of the rubbish morons on the internet regularly spew. But I respect those morons' right to be foolish and ignorant; if they want to believe Islam or Christianity or secularism have nothing of value, if they want to believe all Malays are lazy or all Chinese are greedy, I can't do anything about that, beyond giving my point of view. I believe we all have the right to an opinion of our own, and the right to continue developing our opinions as we find out more about our world, and get closer to the truth.
The search for truth goes to the very fundamental nature of the human spirit. Whether you are a rational academic or emotional dreamer, no matter how you perceive the world, you are looking for truth. But like any dictatorial government, ours seeks to suppress the search for truth by imposing its own truth on us.
A friend conducted some research into the economy and education system over the summer; I suggested he look into publishing his work in a local academic journal. His response: "Thanks but no thanks John — I'm not like you, I'm not interested in running afoul of the ISA." When academics refuse to publish their work because they fear the consequences, it is hard to see how our laws and our government promote or even tolerate the search for truth.
And the same goes for spiritual truths. The government insists only its reading of Islam can be tolerated; Shia Muslims, and really, any sort of Muslim who deviates from the brand promoted by the government, can expect nothing but harsh treatment from the authorities. Now, I am not a Muslim, and I don't think I have a right to tell Muslims how to practice their religion, but how can any of us pursue the truth when we are intentionally suppressing others in their own journey?
This climate of fear we live in is not something we can tolerate just because we can still put food on the table and send the kids to school. It cuts to something fundamental about us as human beings. We have a right to know, and a right to believe.
When you reject the notion that people have the right to seek the truth, you are not just rejecting some artsy-fartsy Western liberal ideas. You are rejecting the enrichment of human life, the spirit which has governed the growth of both religion and science over the millenia. You are rejecting economic development, because you have rejected the exposure of lies and corruption, because you have rejected the growth of human knowledge.
Ultimately human rights issues do boil down to economic realities. Like it or not, greater freedom of thought and expression will be a boon for our economy and the general state of our country. It is impossible to expose corruption if nobody wants to hear it because the truth is too harsh. It is impossible to carry out research if you fear you will end up in jail for your conclusions about the truth. Laws which fight the truth, be they the ISA, OSA, Sedition Act, PPPA, whatever you call them — these laws ultimately hold us back from growing as a society and as an economy.
These issues are not about the right to strip naked in public or to commit immoral acts; they are about the right to say what you think and express how you see the truth. If we cannot do that, we cannot grow. Truth compels us to abolish these laws which stand in the way of our growth, as individual human beings, and as a nation.