Saturday, March 14, 2009
BATTLE LINES DRAWN: SARAWAK BLOGGERS TO THE FORE.
For the benefit of those who are unable to access Malaysiakini I produce a posting by Sarawakian SIM KWANG YANG who was the MP for Bandar Kuching between 1982 and 1995. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This posting is to reinforce the groundwork already in place by the people who want back their Native Customary Land. It is also to inform Malaysians in peninsular Malaysia to establish contact, link and bond with our brothers and sisters over there.
Sarawak bloggers, your first big battle begins in Batang Ai
As the political sky over the fair land of Sarawak begins to heat up in anticipation of the Batang Ai by-election, the attention is suddenly focused on a new phenomenon - the political bloggers in the state.
Alfred Jabu, deputy chief minister and PBB deputy president, has in recent months been quite vocal in his criticism of the bloggers. A few days ago, he warned that "outsiders" must be careful in observing Iban adat when lobbying in the Batang Ai area. Dr James Masing, the PRS president and a state minister, also warned bloggers not to stir up negative feelings that could divide Dayak unity - or something to that effect.
The way they talk about "outsiders", one gets the impression that they mean the PKR leaders and bloggers from West Malaysia. In cyber space, the blogs are already buzzing with all kinds of speculation on when Raja Petra Kamarudin and his fierce army of Barisan Rakyat bloggers will descend upon Batang Ai. Some expressed the view that they may be banned from entering Sarawak.
The BN ministers' tirade against the bloggers is interesting. Since the bloggers seldom answer back in the main stream media, Jabu and Masing appear to be engaged in an exercise of shadow boxing against flickering ghosts.
Those Sarawakians who are alien to the world of the Internet will be scratching their heads in puzzlement. Who are these bloggers and what do they do to deserve such scathing attack from important Dayak leaders. Are they that powerful?
More freedom of speech
I too discovered to my great delight the presence of these Sarawak bloggers only in resent months. Obviously, they are much younger than me, and therefore Internet savvy to a fault. Many are pro-opposition, but there are some who are obviously pro-BN. As they say, this is a free country.
As bloggers, they do enjoy far more freedom of speech than the mainstream media. But many also take responsibility by mediating (meaning "editing and censoring") the postings on their blog sites. There is a great deal of garbage floating around in cyber space.
The latest news of people being charged in court for insulting the Sultan of Perak is a warning sign. I too commented on the sultan's decision, like thousands of others. As they say, there is nothing to fear but fear itself. But free speech does mean responsible speech, defensible in court.
Those who are familiar with Sarawak blogs will have known by now that Masing and Jabu are two of the most vilified names in Sarawak's cyber universe. I will not sleep easy if I know that I am so much cursed on the Internet. But of all the most cursed names, none draws such blind rage as Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud.
I just pluck out at random what a reader to Joseph Tawie's blog The Broken Shield said about Jabu in a recent posting:
"But then again, every thing that Jabu touches turns to xxxx. I see from today's Borneo Post he is now resorting to associating everyone anti-BN that they will cause death and destruction when they visit longhouses. Can you believe this idiot? What about those YBs and other pro-BN people who have moved on to the next life? Are they there because they support BN?"
"Someone should tell this anak Numpang that politcs and religion should not mix. He is too high on his pedestal that someone should knock him down a peg or two...or throw a shoe or two at him."
I would not write such virulent words about anybody, but that is the Internet for you.
Unprecedented in Sarawak!
The emergence of these Sarawak political bloggers is a new phenomenon that the BN leading lights are grappling with. In a state where the newspapers and radio stations are overwhelmingly controlled by the government, dissenting voices can hardly be heard in the mainstream media. Blogging allows commentaries on current events to surface on the Internet, from the bloggers themselves, and from their readers. This is unprecedented in Sarawak!
For the first time, public statements of important political leaders published on the newspapers are no longer accepted as absolute gosple truths. They are dissected by the bloggers, with readers contributing insight and exclusive little known background information. The monopoly of the BN leaders to narrate the Sarawak story has been broken forever.
I read them every day. Living in KL as I do, I can rely on them to catch a glimpse of the undercurrents and nuances that pulsate beneath the stultifying political surface of Sarawak. The expose there can really open your eyes. I am grateful to them.
In the context of the Batang Ai by-election, the presence of the Dayak bloggers is particularly damaging to the BN propaganda machine. This bunch of New Dayaks are pretty independent minded, and they offer a diversity of views on what a Dayak agenda must be like. Diversity and a clash of ideas are essential to the intellectual progress of any ethnic community.
Of course, like all bloggers elsewhere, Sarawak bloggers are by the nature of their lonely work, individualistic people. Sometimes, they clash with one another. This is quite natural, and somehow, they have been able to kiss and make up in the unique Sarawak tradition after a while.
Sarawak Head-hunter - one of my favourite bloggers - has recently launched an attack on Dominique Ng, the PKR state assemblyperson in Sarawak, to the shock of everybody else. But that seems to have subsided somewhat, to the relief of all.
Sarawak is a vast state with a small population. Kuching City is a small town. Everybody knows everybody else. Naturally, I get to know the true identity of most of these Sarawak bloggers, and their personal and political background, though I may not know how they look in person.
In Batang Ai, coverage for telecommunication and electricity supply is very restricted. I am told that the telecommunication tower there can provide for 200 mobile phone lines at any one time. The number of rural Iban farmers outside the main town of Lubok Antu there with a PC at home must be infinitesimal.
This is a land where 56 of the 108 longhouses can be reached by river transport only. Physical and telecommunication infrastructure there still remains in the dark ages of the 19th century. So much for politics of development touted by the BN!
So the Sarawak bloggers cannot campaign in Batang Ai like the Barisan Rakyat Bloggers did for the Pakatan Rakyat in West Malaysia. What they can do very well is to influence the urban middle class Ibans in Kuching and elsewhere to influence their relatives in Batang Ai. Blood is indeed thicker than water in the Iban community.
Naturally, if these Dayak bloggers can make frequent trips to Batang Ai and make on-the-spot reports about heartaches and dreams of the poor Ibans there with dramatic stills and video pictures to illustrate their point, it will be an invaluable service to the Ibans, to the nation, and to the entire world in fact.
Perhaps they are inexperienced in this aspect of citizen journalism. I do hope that RPK and his gang of Barisan Rakyat bloggers can make that trip to Sarawak soon. A meeting between bloggers from both sides of the South China Sea may be an opportunity for learning from each other and the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
Unfortunately, RPK is caught in the battle for his life in the court. Judging from some recent judgement, to call our court a kangaroo Court is an insult to that harmless animal down under. With so much on their hands, there is serious doubt whether the Barisan Rakyat generals and soldiers can indeed go to Sarawak, what with the two Bukit by-elections held at the same time.
But I still value the contribution of the Sarawak bloggers. They are a new force, a digital civic society that accumulates social capital in Sarawak. As we know, civic societies and the social capital that they generate are the pre-condition for the democratisation and the opening up of closed autocratic societies all over the world. Taiwan is the most recent example.
Public engagement, social activism, and citizen participation in the political process in any form is to be applauded. Well done guys and girls in Sarawak! Your first big battle for a free Sarawak begins in Batang Ai.
Agi idup, agi ngeleban Raja Laut!
Go to links provided HERE. Visit them and give them all the support you can.
UPDATE AT 7:24PM
This from a Sarawakian residing in KL now: Shiok Guy said...
Dear Bro I am from Sarawak but now work and stay in KL.. In order for PR to have any chance in Sarawak! We need the indelible ink.. seriously!
http://shiokguy.blogspot.com/2009/03/sarawak-needs-indelible-ink.html or anything that we can control the repeat voters
March 14, 2009 7:05 PM
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