I’ve wondered what it was like to be grown-up during Operasi Lalang. I was 7 that year – truly a child of Mahatir, who came into power in 1981, and ordered the government crackdown on political dissidents and activists in 1987. Over a hundred people were arrested under the Internal Security Act, and many of them got sent to jail.

People who lived through that time are calling this recent spate of arrests and convictions under the Sedition Act ‘Ops Lalang 2‘. Lim Kit Siang blogged about a “…climate of fear in the country, as if we are in the midst of a ‘white terror’…” Ambiga Sreenevasan declared to rousing applause at a forum: “…We are no ‘lalang’ (weed). We’re going to stand up today.”

Perhaps the confusion and fear in 1987 was the same as ours is now. Maybe parents chided in lowered voices about being careful what you write or say, at least until ‘this blows over. You never know.’

The same but not the same.

In 1987, we didn’t have the Internet. We didn’t have these amazing magic machines, which let you write, take photos, make music, shoot video and then connect it instantly to the whole wide world. The same machines with which you could start a fire, or a spark of hope, and watch it spread, or flickering, die, only to revive again, like those magic birthday candles that refuse to go out.

My favorite journalist in the West, Quinn Norton, has called the net the ‘Promethean substance of this age. It can consume, it can destroy, and it can empower. Like fire, we have to learn to use it and live with it.’

If you’re an artist, or a writer, if you keep a blog, or have an FB profile or Twitter account, whether you scribble the workings of your heart, or work all night drawing scary hands (because dammit it is fun), you wield a tiny part of this power. Now is the time to use it.

In contradiction to Ambiga’s words, though not, I believe, their spirit, I say: We ARE the weeds. We are the weeds with fire. We’re sending smoke signals across the net to find each other, and our hands are moving faster than theirs can catch.



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