Raja Petra and Teresa Kok: A “Threat” to Malaysia’s National Security?

1. Malaysian politics took a dramatic turn this week with the arrest of well-known political blogger Raja Petra and Teresa Kok, the MP of Seputeh. According to the police, both of them have been detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) Section 73 (1) (1960) for causing threat to national security. As usual, following their arrests, some people question the legality and basis of the arrests. They question: why are they a threat to our national security? What threat? What have they done? Why not just try them in the conventional court of justice, rather than detaining them indefinitely and cut them off from the world and legal representation? These are the lingering questions posed by the public.

2. This article attempts to look into the meaning or concept of national security. What does it mean by that? Why it is so important? And how can a citizen endanger the security of the state? And finally try to offer an answer why Mr. Raja Petra and Mrs. Teresa Kok are regarded as threats to Malaysia’s national security.

National Security as an ambiguous concept

3. The concept of national security is undeniably an ambiguous and slippery concept. It has different meaning and connotation to the different people. Just like other concepts in political science such as war, power, national interests and etc. It reminds me of Prof. Raymond Aron, a renowned scholar of International Relations who was commenting about Clausewitz’s concept of war whereby he said “everything in war is simple but the simplest thing is difficult.” Similarly, the issue of national interests could easily be identified but subsequent analysis of it could drag one into difficulty.

4. Historically speaking, the concept of national security is relatively a new one perhaps dating back to the 1950s. But one thing for sure, there is no widely accepted definition of it and the concept remains ambiguous and underdeveloped. Perhaps for this reason, Arnold Wolfers in his essay entitled National Security as an Ambiguous Symbol stated that “the term security covers a range of goals so wide that highly divergent policies can be interpreted as policies of security.”

5. Despite the ambiguity and underdevelopment of the concept, there are however, various definitions that are generally acceptable. For instance, by Arnold Wolfers “In Walter Lippmann’s words, a nation is secure to the extent to which it is not in danger of having to sacrifice core values, if it wishes to avoid war, and is able, if challenged, to maintain them by victory in such a war. This definition implies that security rises and falls with the ability of a nation to deter an attack or to defeat it. This is in accord with the common usage of the term.”

6. Prof. Hari Singh in his article Malaysia’s National Security: Rhetoric or Substance offers quite a simple definition. National security refers to “a package of values that are deemed worthy of protection.” Again, there would be disagreements, whose values? Who is the definer of these values?

7. Prof. Arnold Wolfers believes that we can reduce the ambiguity of the concept national security by firstly having a correct idea on the meaning of security. Security according to him is “absence of threats to acquired values.” In other words, state has certain values which need to be safeguarded. These values can be categorised into three quadrants. Firstly, the “core values” this value related to the survival of the state. The state would do anything necessary, including through the means of force and coercion, to protect her survival, sovereignty, territorial integrity, economic welfare, socio-political institutions, ideology, religion, culture and national unity.

8. In a  more specific term, state will make an ultimate sacrifice to preserve the above mentioned values so that it would remain functional, robust and healthy in the socio-economic and political system of the state. Anything which challenges these acquired and protected values are considered as a threat to national security and the state has no hesitation whatsoever in putting the end towards any activities which undermines its security.

9. The state also pursues its “middle range goals” such as prestige, international and regional influence, developmental status, uninterrupted trade and access to foreign markets and raw materials. I think in the context of Malaysia, this goal might refer to government’s continuous effort in projecting the “right” image of Malaysia to the world and international community at large, such as sending off Malaysian astronaut to the space, organizing internationally recognized conference in Malaysia, like the OIC Conference in Putrajaya last time and the World Economic Forum recently, and etc. Finally, “long-term goals” which serves as the state’s long term goals such as the U.S.’s project of the new world order, democratization, etc. The long-term goals are usually associated with the great powers’ projects for the world. Small states usually have no luxury in time and material support to pursue this goal.

10. Back to our main concern here, that is of the national security issue. Perhaps we can break down the concept of national security into several subsets as the following:

Political dimensions

Social dimensions

Economic dimensions

Territorial dimensions

State has to ensure the political stability within its territory.

Any element of threats, perceived or real must be pre-emptively dealt with.

Political stability is the foundation of economic and social prosperity.

State cannot flourish well if politics is in the state of instability.

Ensuring the social stability of the state from any elements leading to social unrest, disorder and public anxiety.

Threat to national security constitutes public statement related to ethnicity, religion and language.

Social stability, peace, harmony, tolerance are basic ingredients of economic progress in the state.

Ensuring the smooth-running of economic activity in the state.

Expunging any detrimental elements to economic security.

Economic growth and prosperity is founded upon stable political and social institutions. Thus the state has to ensure these institutions are health and functional.

Ensuring the state’s defence from external threats, perceived or real to its territory.

Forward deployment strategy is used if necessary.

State has the right for self-defence and preemptive strategy when the needs arise.

Territorial integrity constitutes the “core values” of the state.

11. Based on the foregoing illustration, Malaysia’s national security is conceptualised as having four pillars, political, social, economic and territorial dimensions. All of them are considered to be the “core values” that the state needs to protect at all costs. Compromising one of these values might lead to the disintegration of all other pillars of state’s national security. Therefore, our government today is exerting its utmost effort to preserve Malaysia’s security from threats of any kind and at any time.

Raja Petra, Teresa Kok and National Security

12. In relation to the arrests of two individuals-Mr. Raja Petra and Mrs. Teresa Kok-it seems to me that the government of Malaysia consider them as a threat to the security of the nation because their actions, words or behaviours threaten the social and political security of the nation. For instance, Mr. Raja Petra’s writing entitled I promise to be a good, non-hypocritical Muslim is considered to be socially, religiously, culturally and politically offensive and provocative to the Malaysians, especially Muslims. We can understand that Mr. Raja Petra has grudges towards certain individuals for causing so much misery to his life. But by making a statement of that kind would incite religious sentiments to Muslims in Malaysia and elsewhere.

13. And as we all know and have seen in other societies in the world, religious issues are highly sensitive for its potential in creating combustible environment in the fragile society like Malaysia.

14. Raja Petra has pointed out one major illness that is plaguing the Malaysian society today, that is “hypocrisy”. I think it is true that hypocrisy exists everywhere and among anyone. It is practiced consciously or unconsciously by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, because the fact is that hypocrisy is religious blind. Hypocrisy does not know colour, race, religion and culture of the individual; it would be with any one who wants to wear it.

15. Perhaps there is one thing that we have to understand about Muslims. They will do anything which is un-Islamic, illegal or haram, etc, just like non-Muslims, but when they hear Islam is being ridiculed they would jump upfront to defend it, even at the cost of their life. They are willing to fight the religious ridiculers, face to face, with their own blood in defending their “unobserved religion”. That is Muslims that we are dealing with today. Therefore, one needs to remember that playing out religious and racial issues is very dangerous. It would lead to hatred, murder, social unrest, and political instability. So, we need to avoid this. Malaysia cannot afford to have this kind of life for its people.

16. Of course, we as Malaysians do not want another “Iraq” or “Afghanistan” here in our beloved homelands. In Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, people are at each others’ throats over religious issues. In Iraq, sunni killed Shiite. The next day, Shiite killed sunni. Similarly in India, today Hindu killed Muslims and the next days, Muslims get on Hindus. God forbid! We do not want Malaysia, a peaceful nation, with peaceful people falling into the spiral of social and political unrest just like other countries in the world.

17. Mrs. Teresa Kok is another character in the ISA episode this season. She was  detained over the allegedly issue of azan (the call for prayers in Islam). Again, in her case religious issue is played out instigating so much religious sentiments among Muslims in this country. Religion, as I have indicated above, constitutes an integral element of the “core values” that state needs to protect at all costs. Having some people openly challenge, debate and criticise other religions is somehow intolerable especially in the multi-religious-ethnic and cultural society like Malaysia. What more if the statements are rude and appeared to be imprudent and insensitive to the public. It is certainly considered to be challenging the state’s authority, thus state has to act upon it in order to protect social order and harmony.

18. The individual concerned might thought that they have exercised their political rights, by expressing their opinions about issues of their interests. However, we need to seriously remember that, right is not an absolute property of individuals. Our rights as citizens are limited by other’s rights. True, we have freedom of expression, for this is the right of every citizen as enshrined in the Constitution. However, we cannot overuse this right and endanger public order and social stability. Other citizens also have the right to live in peace and tranquillity. For this reason, anyone who is deemed threat to this “core values” would be quickly dealt with, with an absolute authority of the state: indefinite detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA). The objective of the arrest is not the sake of its own, rather to preserve the interests of the public and nation.

The Use of ISA

19. It seems that many people expressed their repulsive views on the use of ISA for political dissents. For the antagonists, ISA is a draconian law invented by the colonials during their occupation to deal with the communist threats prevalent during that time. Therefore, the Act now becomes a passé and obsolete given the fact that our country has already 51 years into the independence, the populace become more educated and IT-literate. Thus, it is no longer suitable for the advanced society of our type.

20. In my humble opinion, it is true that ISA was a colonial invention and was out-dated. But, I strongly believe that ISA is needed in the country like ours. The ISA empowers the power that be to detain any citizens who are deemed threat to the security of nation, at least for 60 days period. This means that ISA has the power to shut down any unnecessary “noises” and simultaneously toning down the heat in public sphere. For this reason, I believe that ISA has a role to play in our society. If we look around, many countries have this system. The U.S., the champion of democracy in the world also possess a system that is ISA-like. For instance, Guantanamo Bay prison was constructed to deal with the problem of this sort. The infamous “extraordinary renditions” conducted by the CIA coverts are another form of ISA. Singapore, the model city-state in the world keeps the ISA-like system in its judicial system.

21. The question here is that, why do they have it? Why are they still keeping it? The answer is simple, because it has proven effective and has a role to play in the society under dire circumstances. We might not like it for it is not in favour of our interests, or because we are afraid of it, or because our friends or relatives have been detained under the Act. But, we have to acknowledge that our country needs it. If we abolish it, I believe that more problems would emerge and during that time, regret has no price anymore. We are too late!

22. Sometimes, I just could not understand why some people tend to be conflict-prone rather than conflict-solver. We should understand that if the issue is going to attract troubles, what’s the point of pursuing it? Can’t we live in peace, side by side, respecting each other, building up this country, rather than quarrelling over the differences?

23. I, as Malaysian, would like to call upon all Malaysians of diverse groups to stop quarrelling over the differences and conflict. Let us work out on similarities and common interests. Our beloved country Malaysia is the locus of peace and progress. It is a good place for the growth of our children in the future. Let us preserve this status quo of peace, tranquillity, harmony, progressiveness and tolerance. Let us put the end towards the politics of religions and race, before they put the end towards our existence. Let us pray for the peace of this country. Amen!

*Our guest writer holds a B.A. (Hons) in Political Science and is currently doing his M.A. (International Relations). His area of interests includes Malaysian politics, Malaysia’s foreign policy, political thoughts, Middle Eastern politics and Israeli political affairs. All of his writings reflect his own opinion on the issues indited.


4 thoughts on “Raja Petra and Teresa Kok: A “Threat” to Malaysia’s National Security?

  1. Because the articles and statements contain the elements in which believed to be created the tension in the multi racial Malaysian society and causing threat to national security.

    The scenario was bad and to addressed immediately no other than using ISA as is proven the effectiveness……

  2. @>— Dear freelittlebrain I agree that the scenario went from bad to worse and ISA-like laws remains relevant in any country but two facets needs to be reconsidered;
    1)what were the causes of these dissents
    2)was the use of ISA suitable in this context? this method of using fire against fire is just causing another detrimental ‘domino effect’ to Malaysian politics.

    Thanks for your kind response.

  3. @Samuel Couldn’t agree more. Threat is a matter of perception. Human beings fear what they do not know. Those who feel threatened should be more exposed of what they fear in order to alleviate or eliminate such perception.

    In this case, the authorities deem that the acts of those incarcerated were threatening to the country’s social stability. However, I believe that there other means to save this situation rather than mainly resorting to Draconian measures.

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