Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Being Radical

Some of you reading this blog may possibly be one of the pioneers of the Malaysian political blogosphere.

I personally started blogging in 2006, when I finally couldn't remain silent upon seeing and hearing of the injustices and stupidity perpetrated by the ruling coalition, BN.

I was by no means, the first to "pick up the pen", figuratively speaking, but back then, speaking out against the government was an absolute no-no.

People lived in fear of being arrested under the Internal Security Act -- being locked away for years and years and tortured behind the veils of prison.

But yet, that didn't stop some people from blogging anyway. They were unafraid.

They were radicals.

I don't think I can begin to describe what role radicals play in the scheme of life.

Having seen the changes that have happened in Malaysia, because a few people were brave enough to blog, to attend candlelight vigils, to show up for rallies and protests, and to lead these people who stood up to be counted, I can attest to the fact that none of these would have happened if not for the radicals.

And yet, being radical is not considered a good thing. It has somewhat negative connotations. Not only here in Malaysia, but around the world.

From The Guardian:

America has a propensity for dismissing people and ideas with labels. Terms like "socialist" and "communist" are frequently hurled at those who dare to promote substantial programs that address poverty, or suggest that government provide what many other "developed nations" deem fundamental services – like universal healthcare. Anyone who openly identifies with such positions is assumed to have nothing legitimate to contribute to public debate, irrespective of the plausibility, merit, and true ideology informing their arguments.

It's a similar scenario with "radical" – a word often used to evoke associations with extremism, instability and an absolutist approach to politics. But the popular usage belies the important role many radicals have played in promoting democracy and justice throughout history, not to mention the continued role radical ideas and activism have to play in unfinished projects.

Once upon a time in Malaysia, voting for an Islamic party was a ludicrous idea. Coming out on worker's day (a public holiday) to support the Socialist Party of Malaysia in demanding minimum wage for poor people was considered a waste of time.

More disturbingly, it was considered radical, as if a normal person would not consider doing something like that.

Andy Fitzgerald continues:

Indeed, it was "radicals" who were responsible for sowing the seeds of two of America's most important social movements: worker rights and racial justice. The labor movement, in its nascent days, was a radical movement. A confrontational approach to management was necessary to win many of the concessions now sorely taken for granted: the minimum wage, the eight-hour day, even the very possibility of forming a union.

Prior to the American civil war, "radical abolitionists" occupied the fringe with the seemingly absurd and absolutist demand that people should not be property. Perhaps its most infamous member, John Brown, attempted to lead an armed slave uprising in the south. His failed raid on an armory in Harpers Ferry, Virginia and subsequent execution for treason are portrayed historically as the act of a madman – an idealistic extremist with delusions of grandeur, despite the fact that it inspired greater opposition to slavery – a portrait sociologist James Loewen properly skewers in his book, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.

Brown's message of (what was then considered) radical equality was carried forward by activists in the 20th century, many of whom struggled at the intersection of economic and racial justice, and were, like Brown, labeled radicals by much of the status quo in their time, from Martin Luther King to Cesar Chavez. Contrary to Brown however, many (King most explicitly) have been subsumed into the natural arc of American history, minimizing the role radicalism played in their movement's disruption of entrenched practices. They are now "mainstream".

Read the full article here: Being labeled a 'radical' is meant to be an insult. History tells us otherwise.

I am proud to be radical. Not everyone can be.

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