When it comes to proposing your thoughts to the public, you must be very, very careful. If not, you will be facing a sedition charge right in front of your doorstep in no time regardless of your social status.
These few weeks have been a very disconcerting period with several sedition charges being issued towards opposition members, journalists and the latest one, an academician. To be frank, even Dr Mahathir during his reign, did not (directly) interfere with the academic world by charging critics of his personalized politics.
Most of us who support the democratisation processes are frustrated in the way things are going. However, did we not realise that we too are to be held responsible in the frequent use of this colonial law by allowing ourselves to be caught in the never-ending communal discourses (and culture) that sprout in the public space? My concern is that despite our keen efforts in proposing arguments, even discourses in opposing this authoritarian behaviour, we ourselves, unconsciously, are reinforcing and worse, legitimising this reinstatement of the culture of fear in the public space.
We can examine this issue by approaching the problem around the moderates: that is a lack of discourse initiative, and failure in establishing efficient communicative activity within public space.
Arguing the former, we can see that the moderates, in certain aspects, failed to identify the main issue in promoting the democratisation process and tend to behave in a reactionary manner rather than proactive one. The lack of discourse initiative can be seen in their approach in several issues sparked by conservative groups such as Isma and Perkasa. By engaging, responding and taking part in the discourse, they are actually legitimising and deepening the conservative culture even more.
This scenario happens because the moderates lack in the terms of proposing new values and meanings that escape the existing ideological signs determined by the State. To put it into words, the discourses proposed by them are still caught in the same established structures constituted by the State that are institutional, procedural and constitutional in forms, rather than focusing on the substance of democratisation itself. By only demanding the changes in those aspects, they tend to abandon the more fundamental element, that is, the substantive part of democracy, which is to nurture the essence of democracy in the public and making it as “the only game in the town”.
The rationale is, you cannot preserve or improve the established democratic institutions without the democratic culture itself. That, for me, explains the resurgence of the old communal politics in the political realm despite rigorous efforts of democratisation initiated by the democratic bloc.
The lack of discourse initiatives is also made worse by the failure of the moderates to provide efficient communicative activity within the speech community in the public space.
Mustafa K Anuar, in his article, has touched on the alienation of the moderates. He wrote that by “selling” these moderate views, it reduces the moderates into a form of commodity and
unconsciously poses them as a group of individuals with “weird ideas”. Not only it has put a distinction between the moderates with the extremist ethno-religious groups, but it also alienates them from the public. When there is a gap between you and the public, how can your ideas be propagated, and more so, accepted by the public at large?
The problem is, our medium of communication is progressing, but not our own communicative activity. Establishing an efficient communicative activity within the public speech is a very crucial approach in nurturing the public with democratic ideas. Sadly, not only that the moderates are allowing themselves to be alienated, they themselves are alienating their ideas from the public by not treating the public as an addressee.
The moderates tend to propose a discourse with the public as the subject matter in such issues that touch on social justice, sustainable environment, human rights, political stability, etc., but in doing so, they were addressing the issues to the wrong parties, usually the government. Then, the people, who are left out of the discussion, can only peep from a distance and could not grasp the context of the ideas that are being pushed forward. The methods and approaches used are flawed, in a way that the moderates have failed to identify the real correspondent to their dialogues.
Thus, in proposing a fresh and acceptable discourse initiative, the moderates first, have to acknowledge the people as a worthy addressee to their proposed discourse. Hence, sprouting active democratic dialogues within the speech community and simultaneously nurturing a more substantive democratic culture in the society.
This essay was published in The Malaysian Insider under the same title on September 8, 2014 http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/sideviews/article/discourse-initiatives-and-why-the-moderates-are-failing-razan-rose