KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 11 – In Malaysia, it is easy to talk the walk, especially politicians and civil servants. They can declare a slogan, mouth a parable, give advice and sketch out a vision faster than sprinter Usain Bolt. But asking them to walk the talk is a different matter. And so it is with Malaysians, too. Here are two examples from the opposite ends of the spectrum where action talks louder than words. At the most base, this is how order is maintained: an individual or groups of people assess the situation and know that the minute they step out of line, they will be detained, charged and punished. The possibility of getting away with a crime or anti-social behaviour is so small that it is not worth crossing the line.

This fact is true in a family setting or in society at large, whether the policing is done by the head of the family or police. The fact that grenades and explosives were used to settle a gangland dispute in the heart of the Bukit Bintang entertainment district in Kuala Lumpur should be worrisome. Why? Because they indicate that the samseng seems to have little fear of the cops. Surely they know that the use of grenades would have spooked the general population and forced even the most blasé police officer into some action. And yet grenades were used to kill and maim. The culprits assessed the risks involved in carrying out the unprecedented attack and felt that it was of an acceptable level. And this is where law and order and the deterrent power of the police is shattered.

In the wake of the attack, some Malaysians have been saying how relieved they were this was not a terrorist attack, but surely the use of grenades over business or territorial dispute by local gangsters is even more troubling than some religious nut job making a misguided statement. There are many more gangsters in Malaysia than terrorists and it would be a fair assumption that they have also more access to weapons and explosives than the religious zealot. The attack in Bukit Bintang shows complete disdain by the local samseng for law and order and an even more shocking lack of respect for the policing authority. Do we have empirical evidence to support these two observations? Tossing a couple of grenades in downtown KL speaks louder than any surveys or focus group studies of the lack of fear among the underworld. No?

Here is what Malaysians must do if they want a better MP, minister or system: go beyond just words. If you think that the DAP or PKR or PAS lawmaker in your area is an obnoxious, narrow-minded chap whose values do not sit well with your inclusive worldview, do not vote for him even if you generally favour the opposition over Barisan Nasional (BN). And abstain from voting if the BN candidate is fond of taking the racial line or wave a kris or make no apologies that he favours his own race over other Malaysians. If you think that a state religious authority is trampling on the religious freedom in the state, assess how the politicians you voted in are defending your constitutional right. If they are merely paying lip service and passing the buck, punish them at the ballot box.

If you feel that the religious body is merely doing the bidding of some politicians, make sure you return the favour at the ballot box. The simple fact of life in Malaysia is that everyone can make a difference – but with actions and not with verbal volleys. Let us take the example of Tan Sri Dr James Masing. In recent months, he has emerged as a voice of reason, slamming Putrajaya and religious authorities for not respecting freedom of religion and the constitutional guarantees decided by the founding statesmen of the country. A couple of days ago, he lamented Putrajaya’s refusal to punish Perkasa’s Datuk Ibrahim Ali for saying that he would burn Bibles.

And yet it was Masing’s BN colleague, Nancy Shukri, who delivered the government’s flimsy excuse for inaction in an answer in Parliament. So what is the value of Masing’s admonition given that he continues to share the stage with Nancy and with the BN government? Similarly, in the wake of her inane answer, Nancy has been at great pains to show that she is a moderate politician, etc. But what do we make of politicians who say they are moderate and inclusive but yet are not offended by their government’s stand against someone who threatened to burn the holy book of Christians Action must count louder than words if Malaysians are to reclaim the country from bigots, racists and the corrupt. Just blowing off steam at the dinner table or in a press statement or at a doorstep interview in Parliament just won’t do. This is especially true for politicians who claim to represent our values.

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