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Wednesday, 21 December 2011

2011 was year for the protester

This image released by Time Magazine shows the Person of the Year issue featuring "The Protester." The magazine on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011 cited dissent across the Middle East that has spread to Europe and the United States, and says these protesters are reshaping global politics. (AP Photo/Time Magazine) >>

Year that was for the protester

The silly season is already on us and no doubt will be a fractious and prolonged one going into 2012. 

IT’S the end of the year and, like everyone else, I’m going to try and summarise what made it an interesting year indeed.

Time magazine named The Protester as its Person of the Year in 2011.

I couldn’t agree more, because really few people have made an impact on society than protesters this year.

From the protesters in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya and Syria to the Occupy Wall Street protesters and its many offshoots, these largely peaceful protests have forced things to change in their societies.

In the Middle East, corrupt and authoritarian leaders have been forced to step down. In some, it’s still an ongoing battle.

Of course, these steps towards democracy are not perfect. Nor are the results. But that’s democracy for you.

Just because people don’t know what they want is no reason to dismiss democracy.

It is the fact that they finally have choices is the triumph, after so many years of not having any.

For those who insist on equating the London riots with the Arab Spring, do get your facts right.

The former was not about changing an authoritarian government for a more democratic one, nor was it meant to be peaceful.

The latter was a peaceful demand for change; the violence came from the government response.

If you want to equate the London riots with the Syrian government’s response, perhaps it would be more accurate.

Time magazine has mostly recognised the Arab, Spanish and American protesters in their essay.

But perhaps they should have also looked eastwards.

I think the Bersih rally goers, protesting peacefully for clean and fair elections, are also deserving of the award.

For the first time, ordinary Malaysians went out to demand what should be their right, to be able to vote fairly.

Young and old of all races and religions, Malaysians marched to protect this basic human right. And were demonised because of it.

While the Government responded to the Bersih demands by establishing the Parliamentary Special Committee on electoral reforms, at the same time the so-called Peaceful Assembly Act – aimed at curbing any other rallies like Bersih – was passed.

In any case, it is delusional to think that curbing protests will curb rebellious thoughts. These will continue to thrive in 2012, that’s for sure.

Perhaps 2011 was also the year of the Strong Woman.

On the international scene, not one but three women won the Nobel Peace Prize this year: President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, Leymah Gbowee, also of Liberia, and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, the youngest-ever recipient.

It’s interesting that all of these women are rebellious women, who refused to accept the established, and patriarchal, way of doing things.

Instead, they found their own way, and worked for peace in their countries.

Malaysia, too, has its share of strong women. Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan is the prime example of someone who has had to withstand personal attacks from all quarters like no other person has had to in our country, yet still carries on with her strong principles.

Let it never be said that she lacks courage.

For women to get ahead, it really is imperative that they have the sort of integrity and display the sort of ethical behaviour that we often find lacking in men.

This year is, of course, also the year of the Obedient Wives Club, hardly a great leap forward for womankind.

Nevertheless, the OWC knew exactly how to get publicity for their causes.

And, I suspect, despite the sniggers over their sex manual, there are many who actually agree with their basic premise, that a good wife is one who blindly obeys her husband even when she doesn’t feel like it.

Finally, this year has been a bad year for justice and equality.

Children born less than six months after their parents married are considered illegitimate, thus forcing them to bear the sins of their parents.

Even if legitimate, children can be married off at even 10 years old, surely a blight on our society if we are to consider ourselves progressive.

Muslim women still don’t have the same rights as their non-Muslim sisters when it comes to marriage, property and inheritance.

And people of different sexual orientations are not regarded as full citizens.

I’d like to be optimistic about 2012 but that does not look likely.

The silly season is already on us and no doubt will be a fractious and prolonged one.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, folks!

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