Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Politics of Yellow

One of Malaysiakini columnists, the one with the big BIG words where a nearby dictionary would be most essential when you read his articles, ;-) Azly Rahman, waxed eloquent over Bersih's rally, which he termed the ‘yellow wave’.

But I like his frequent of the word ‘evolve’ in his article to describe the necessary political changes for a better and more democratic Malaysia. Yes, I rather we have ‘evolution’ rather than ‘revolution’.

In fact, one blogger by the name of Saidul chided a certain
Bersih leader in calling for another mass rally, but a bigger one. The blogger stated his objection:

Please do not do anything silly, BERSIH. Stick with the agenda; please do not turn this into some kind of revolution against the government. Think of our poor Malaysians who had participated in yesterday’s big event. They were bombarded with tear gases and blasted with ‘stinging’ water cannons. They joined you because they believe in your fight to have an electoral reform. Please do not take advantage of them.

Though this blogger wants my hide - yes, Saidul hates my guts for allegedly being anti Melayu and anti Muslim ;-) - I say Amin for his advice to that Bersih leader.

Let's play 'evolution' rather than 'revolution'. Let's take the 'middle path' of moderation. Let's nudge the politics towards accountability, transparency and democracy where we want it but through peaceful and democratic process.

Most of all, let's not be too boastful that we 'showed' AAB what people's power has been ... because when push comes to shove, people like AAB and his mob can turn fairly ugly, and the ones hurt will be those earnest sincere innocent supporters of Bersih.

Afterall, didn't Mao said that 'all power comes from the barrel of a gun.' Consider the case history of Tian An Men Square, Myanmar monks, Thailand post Thaksin Sinawatra - where's the expected democracy in each case, and what's the world doing about it?

In May this year, Thailand's Constitutional Tribunal dissolved and banned Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party and a hundred of its officials for 5 years - a convenient touch which is familiar to us, but did His Royal Majesty frown on that totally undemocratic action?

Now you know why I posted
The journey of a 1000 li and Rulers no 'Silver Bullet'. And I would still to like to ask the embarrassing question again - what happened to the Malaysian royalty when the previous Lord President Salleh Abbas was sacked! Did any of the Sultans or the Agong speak up then for him?

Anyway, back to Azly Rahman – Azly tends to get carried away with metaphors. He reckoned that
“there is a durian dimension to the Nov 10 march of grievance.”

He wrote in Malaysiakini:
“The yellowness of the durian is a metaphor of the yellow wave of change.”

“The durian is a yellow fruit - an exquisite and truly world-class Malaysian fruit. It has a Marxist contradiction built in.”

Marxist contradiction in a durian? ;-)

Continuing -
“It is pungent, banned in hotels and airplanes, tastes like vomit to some, feels like eating ice-cream in a Malaysian toilet to many, yet it has one of the most heavenly taste that even the most glorious of Malaysian statesmen and Supreme Rulers would not resist it over a pot of thick Malaccan coffee.”

I wasn’t aware that durian taste great with coffee. I normally have mine with mangosteens – you know the yang (heat) of durian balanced by the yin (cool) of mangosteen, and the Tao would be One!

Continuing –
“In the yellowness of it lies heaven and hell. In it lies the joys and sorrow of tasting. It is a bitter fruit of freedom. Like the fruit in the song 'Strange Fruit' rendered beautifully by the grand diva of jazz, Nina Simone; a fruit that tells America the story of lynching down South.”

'... sorrow of tasting ...' durians? ;-) We better stop there before Azly takes us on a roller coaster ride to an unknown destination.

It's obvious and unfortunate that Azly has chosen to look at the durian from a Westerner’s point of view, as in -
“It is pungent, banned in hotels and airplanes, tastes like vomit to some, feels like eating ice-cream in a Malaysian toilet to many ...”.

It would be the rare Malaysian or South-East Asian who shares those views. To us, the durian is THE KING of fruits, period! So I don’t share Azly’s perception of the durian having ‘Marxist contradiction’ ;-) In fact it’s 'haute bourgeoisie'.

Anyway, Azly’s semi-poetic discourse on The yellow wave and its durian effect in Malaysiakini follows a pattern of groups using colour to symbolize resistance or desire for change.

He wrote:
"If we can have the masses to continue to wear yellow (like the Irish with their St. Patrick greens) as a memory of Nov 10, we will continue with the message right till Election Day. Revolutions need martyrs, reformations need signs and symbols and significations - etched in the memory of even the little child near Pasar Seni pepper-sprayed by the Mighty Machine trying with paranoia to crush those voices no longer in the wilderness."

"This is why we have the yellow fever. Clean, Efficient, Trustworthy - a good old slogan to arrive at."

Hmmm, he did get carried away, didn't he, but I am not too sure about his proposal to have the yellow fever – maybe Dr Azly has lived so long in the USA that he may have forgotten what yellow fever actually is - something we sure as hell don't want to have or get.

If we recall the recent resistance of the Myanmar monks, people around the world including Malaysians wore ‘red’ to pay tribute to, and support those intrepid monks and indeed the Myanmars. The colour ‘red’ has become a significant symbol for their struggle against a draconian military dictatorship.

I deplore and regret the drastic action taken by the Myanmar military against those monks, but it was precisely an example of an ugly authority facing a situation which it couldn't handle, and which invariably brought out its brutal caveman tactics.

Yes, praise the courage of the monks, commemorate their ideals, beautify them for their sacrifice, but they, not us, are very very dead. I recall what my late father used to say to my older cousins: "Don't be brave and hot with other people's blood".

A few years ago, in 2004, the Ukranians also employed a colour to signal their intentions to break free from the past. In many ways, perhaps over-done by a Western press eager to see the dismantling of the Russian influence, the political battle between pro-West Viktor Yushchenko against pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych was glamorously labelled as the Orange Revolution.

In the midst of the euphoria over his election victory, Viktor Yushchenko made a hasty and ill-considered declaration (rather provocatively to Russia) to take Ukraine into NATO. Not unexpectedly, the Russians moved swiftly to squash the Orange Revolution into pulp and sour lemony juice, when it started to remove its substantial subsidy for the fuel and gas it supplied to Ukraine.

That suddenly took the air out from Yushchenko's breath, braggadocio and bravado. Of course the USA who was egging Yushenko on didn't offer to replace the Russian subsidy. That's the problem of euphoria which leads people to believe they're on top of the world when they're really in danger of oxygen starvation.

But the colour ‘yellow’ seems to be very popular with resistant groups, though in the West it's the colour of cowardice. However, in Chinese culture as well as that of Malay, it's the colour of royalty. Incidentally the Chinese were also known as the Yellow Race or descendants of the Yellow Emperor.

In recent times (just 20 years back) 'yellow' was made famous by Corazon Cojuangco Aquino, who was/is more popularly known as Cory Aquino.

When her husband Senator Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino was assassinated immediately on his return from exile in the USA, millions of Filipinos were outraged and set on overthrowing Ferdinand Marcos and his 4,000-shoed wife, Imelda, whom they blamed for Ninoy's untimely death.

Apparently Cory adopted the ‘yellow’ colour as her standard, because Ninoy's favorite song was ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree’, which was playing all over Manila the day he returned, but only to die in Manila.

From thence, Cory wore a yellow dress on the (political) stage, and the Yellow Revolution came to be. It seemed that when Cory and his supporters marched down Manila’s Ayala Avenue, the people in the offices lining the streets tore up the Yellow Pages to use as confetti to fete her.

When she became President of the Philippines and visited the USA to address both Houses of Congress, every US congressman and senator wore a yellow tie. Hmmm ;-)

But while Cory made ‘yellow’ famous in recent times, it was actually way back in CE 184 that the colour assumed significant religious and political meaning in China.

Then, there was a peasant rebellion against Emperor Lingdi of the Han Dynasty. The uprising was known as the Yellow Turban Rebellion, named for the color of the scarves which the rebels wore around their heads. Secret Taiping Taoist societies led or guided the rebels, with the uprising marking an important point in the history of Taoism.

However, there wasn’t to be a happy ending as the Yellow Turban rebellion was defeated eventually. But what it did achieve was to quicken the collapse of the Han Dynasty in AD 220. Although the rebellion was crushed, its legacy lived on. A number of peasant uprisings in China looked at the Yellow Turban rebellion as a role model.

But I am always wary of people who promote seizure of power by revolution, basically using non-democratic, intimidating and even violent means. The excuse of violence for reforms should not be accepted. If we cherish the democratic process, we cannot and should not support revolution, especially in a nation like ours - yes, it's bad but not that bloody bad to justify street revolts. We should reject violence, intimidation and non-democratic practice whether these are from the other side or ours.

As Dr Azly said, let's work for evolution, and the way kaytee sees it, it should be the evolution of our mentality, mindset and mettle to strive ceasinglessly for democratic reforms through the ballot box, and certainly for an improved system to better the integrity of the ballot box.

I salute those who did march in the yellow wave of Bersih, even more those who braved the police attacks on them. They have achieved much, especially in awakening our conscience and our desire for change, and through peaceful and democratic expressions.

Let 'yellow' be the colour of our political standard for our peaceful but firm resolve to evolve. Let's evolve in Gandhi-like manner to honour their efforts and sacrifice.


  1. Aiyaa Ktemoc..

    You made me cry la.. :-)

    Great post by the way. Keep it up!

    Malay Women in Malaysia Blog

  2. There's a lot of chatter now on the blogsphere about the opposition wanting to call another rally, a bigger one than Nov 10. I'm glad that many (like Saidul) are dismissing the idea. I wish the opposition leaders would realise that while so many of us marched with them that Saturday, that doesn't necessarily mean we support them.So well-meaning Msians, take note. Don't let these politicians make use of us.

    Gosh, you can read Dr Azly? With all due respect, i can never get past one para.

  3. this post is refreshing and certainly says what i want to say. the protest was for clean and fair elections. we all want to see a different government. but let's not hijack this , dear mr opposition.

  4. Well said. You echoed my thought clearly and eloquently.

    Thank you

  5. Personally, I don't believe in street rallies.
    But I support the right of people to have a peaceful public assembly.

    The violent attack by thuggish police on the peaceful gathering, using water cannons and tear gas was another shameful episode in the regime of Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.