The cowardice of thugs


IT WAS once narrated that on one fateful day in the run up to the May polls in 1969, a bridge in Gual Periok in the district of Rantau Panjang in Kelantan was burnt down.

It was said the reason was that the alleged act of arson was to deprive villagers, identified to be staunch supporters of one political party, from casting their votes and the outcome eventually favoured the candidate from the other party.

But Kelantan politics at that time was not alien to such violence and uncivilised acts. Two years prior to the arson, Samad Gul, an MP for Pasir Mas Hulu, was killed in what was described as an attack of the “kapak kecik”, then an infamous weapon among the “gedebe” — thugs in the Kelantanese dialect.

Of course, Kelantan was not the only witness of such primitive behaviour. In fact, the run up to the May 1969 polls culminated with the May 13 tragedy, one of the bloodiest racial riots the nation had ever experienced.

The point is that, much as these “gedebe” and thugs continue to exist in the nation’s landscape; they are confined more to the social context rather than political.

In fact, it can be said that “gedebe” politics can be so 60s and 70s, and it has no place in modern Malaysia in whatever landscape or setting.

As such, when Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman was hounded out of a dinner gathering in a town in Johor by a group of men last week, it resonates a very disturbing message.

Such scenes could have been taken out from a Bollywood movie on politics in a rural setting which would see the rise of a hero standing up for the oppressed and the poor against ruthless politicians or landlords.

But they would not cut in Malaysia’s present climate, Kelantan, Johor or any other parts of the peninsula, and Sabah and Sarawak.

In the Bollywood movies, such scenes are intended to share with the audience the right and wrong values, and obviously the thuggery and aggression are to be abhorred.

It was not to be in the case of the attack on Syed Saddiq.

Some of the commenters on social media, mostly Malays, were more interested to the fact that Syed Saddiq had to leave the scene climbing over the fence, and that, too, is on the advice of the security forces who did not want a fracas to break out if he tried to leave through the entrance which was crowded by the thugs.

To these commenters, it was an act of cowardice on the part of Syed Saddiq.

However, someone had come forward to discuss Syed Saddiq’s “cowardice”, pointing out that if there ever was a youth of courage, it would have been Syed Saddiq.

He further pointed out that Syed Saddiq did not miss a beat when asked to join the movement to oppose then Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak for his involvement in the 1Malaysia Development Bhd scandal.

And Syed Saddiq, he added, who had everything going for him then, had everything to lose by joining the Opposition.

Of course, not to be missed, those critical of Syed Saddiq were probably at best keyboard critics and worst, supported the kleptocratic regime.

Apart from that, the inability of these commenters to censure the uncouth nature and the belligerence of the thugs is of concern.

It is not a case of liking or supporting Syed Saddiq — it is about the mannerisms, the attempt to use their number to intimidate and force a person to bend to their will and demands.

If anybody is a coward, it had to be the thugs that relied on numbers. It is doubtful that individually they would have the courage to confront Syed Saddiq or any of those present. Then comes the issue of who put them up to it?

The way they demanded that Syed Saddiq apologise to TMJ — the abbreviation of Tengku Mahkota Johor or the Crown Prince of Johor — had dragged the member of the royalty into the murkiness of the incident.

Thus far, there had been no affirmation of his involvement, neither had he denied his role.

It only stands to reason that the Crown Prince should make it a point to deny it, so as to clear his name, which had been sullied before from being further sullied.

Given his activeness on social media, it shouldn’t take much for him to explain his position.

Otherwise, the act and attempt to link him to the incident will only serve to remind the thinking public that such crude thuggery indeed reflected the Malay saying of “beraja di mata bersultan di hati” — arising from the observation of wise men of the past about the behaviour of some of the absolute Malay Rulers of the olden days, who ruled without conscience and who had used force to get what they desired.

The key words to all these narratives are past and bygone era, and summed up as acts of cowardice that have no place in the present and neither were they fit even in the days of yore.

Shamsul Akmar is the editor of The Malaysian Reserve.