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Imagine if someone steps on your Daddy’s picture, even for the right reasons

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KUALA LUMPUR –  An article in an online magazine for Malaysian students abroad has provoked strong reactions in Malaysia and elsewhere, not just because of his criticism of the Malaysian government but because the article includes a photo of the writer stepping on a photo of the Prime Minister.

In an article published on September 14 in the online magazine CEKU (which bills itself as “the publication for the United Kingdom & Eire Council of Malaysian Students”), Shaun Tan expressed his disappointment with the Malaysian government’s response to the incident in which participants at a Merdeka Eve rally stepped on pictures of the Prime Minister and other figures associated with Barisan Nasional.

“It’s a pity that so few are prepared to say what needs to be said: that those young people were just expressing their displeasure at the Prime Minister in a way that harmed no one, that threatened no one, and that the government has neither right nor cause to forgive them anything,” Tan wrote.

Tan said the government’s response to the incident was one of many attacks on liberty by BN.

“I’ve grown up seeing how these attacks have infected the country with a pernicious self-censorship and reduced the mainstream media to its pitiful state, and I am unwilling to concede another inch,” he said.

The article included a photo of Tan sitting on a chair with one of his feet stepping on a picture of Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak.

“The picture at my feet is that of Prime Minister Najib Razak, a man who I think has brought great shame to my country and who has done nothing to earn my respect during his time in office,” he said.

“I post this photo not because I think that stepping on pictures is usually a good form of communication, but because I think that, under present circumstances – in the face of coercion aimed at making a simple gesture illegal or taboo – it is an appropriate one,” he said.

“Not the way we do it in Malaysia”

The article generated a large number of comments – 131 so far – which expressed a variety of views on the subject, from praise to condemnation and somewhere in between.

“I totally support your action and am of the opinion that the government should be afraid of the people and not the people having to fear the government,” wrote one commenter.

“I salute you! You get my full support!” said another.

Some commenters supported Tan in principle but said stepping on the Prime Minister’s photo was a bit much.

“Couldn’t agree more. But to condone this stepping-on-a-picture-of-someone, I do not. Imagine if someone steps on your Daddy’s picture, even for the right reasons,” a commenter wrote.

Another said: “A good post and a good read. However, the act of stepping on a person’s picture/head/face is not the way that we Malaysian have been brought up with. It is disrespectful and uncalled for.”

“Do it professionally, join politics if you think you can make a change. Be a good Malaysian. It only makes you look immature and childish by doing such act. Yes you have freedom of speech, but exercise it responsibly, professionally and maturely,” the commenter continued.

“This is somehow a thoughtful post, but the way of stepping on someone’s picture is not the way we do it in Malaysia,” said another commenter, who added: “Politics should bring us to a new level for the whole nation, not about disgrace and forgetting about our culture and norms.”

“Not cool at all,” wrote one of many commenters who expressed disagreement with Tan.

Call to action

Tan’s article also caught the attention of bloggers, whose opinions were mostly negative.

Blogger Pasquale wrote in his blog Barking Magpie that Tan’s stepping on the Prime Minister’s picture was “a despicable act indeed”.

“Why not, he probably said to himself, now that he has a good life and probably a good job and yet he cannot come to term with the fact that what he dreamt could not be realised and cursed himself that he is Malaysian of Chinese descent, but then if he was born in neighbouring countries right now he could not even speak his own mother tongue walking down the street!’ Pasquale wrote.

Another blogger, Jiwa Paradox, called Tan a “communist” and said he should be punished.

“This Chinese kid is just looking for trouble,” he wrote.

“This is a country of laws. Whoever breaks the law must be punished,” he said, urging the authorities to take action because “these communists are dangerous”.
In her blog Reboot Your Thinking, Helen Ang asked: “How did such overweaning cockiness and arrogance come about in our current political climate? – The Mole