#UMProtest: Why the convo 'stunt' may have been wrong but really isn't

Alwyn Lau
Alwyn Lau

OCTOBER 21 ― There is an on-going debate over Wong Yan Ke’s solo protest at the recent University of Malaya convocation, and whether or not what he did was right and appropriate.

I mean, it was a solemn ceremony so wasn’t his protest very disrespectful and even sacrilegious? Or, well, since he was protesting against institutional racism and poor university management, what is barely one minute of showing a list of reasons why an ineffective VC must resign?

The folks in favour of Wong’s protest (like me) insist that what he did was fine given the on-going severity of racism in Malaysia, not least the fact that the most prestigious institution in the country could sponsor and co-host a pretty obviously racist and “supremacist” event.

The anti-Wong folks insist that Wong should have protested somewhere else, and not during a very dignified and respected majlis, plus what about all the other graduates and guests who attended? Don’t they have the right not to have the event disrupted like that?

People like me (who are obviously right) believe that the tragedy of institutional racism is precisely what makes it so necessary to perform a protest as per Wong’s actions.

The disrespect to university protocol is regretted but perhaps that’s  the price needed to pay to call attention to the issue. Besides, didn’t Wong get assaulted when he protested at a bus-stop within the university last year?

However, some detractors have responded by saying, “Oh are you then okay if Wong did his protest at a funeral, or if he stripped as a form of protest, etc, etc?”

Slaves to ideology

Putting aside some nonsensical fallacies (and Wong’s critics have committed many), perhaps we should address the elephant in the room which is that we’re more approving of the manner of protests employed IF we approve of the cause being protested.

This is why people who complain about Wong disrupting the convocation usually have no problem with him being beaten up at the bus-stop.

This is why those of us who are pro-Wong would not be happy if a student shouted “Malaysia belongs to Malays!” or “Down with Pakatan!” during any public ceremony. Period.

The alignment of the cause with our own political narratives decides our approval of the way the protest was conducted.

This is why no matter how rude or “toxic” Greta Thunberg appears to be, most people will support her, because we support climate change action.

But if a similar teenager spoke against abortion —”How dare you kill babies in the womb?!”— most of the same pro-Greta people will ask why a child is being manipulated as a platform for political gains.

Likewise, you won’t read much about the protests in France or Dutch farmers, as these are primarily from working class people who object to carbon taxes or “unfair climate goals.”

We consider “good” those protests which befit the issues we feel strongly about.

This is why when Left-leaning antifa members physically assault people wearing MAGA hats, people generally keep quiet or say something like, “Well, Antifa hasn’t killed anyone, unlike the white supremacists!”

But if a male Trump supporter shouted at a group of gun-control activists, you’ll not hear the end of  “toxic masculinity.”

It is unlikely liberals will rebuke liberal protesters for their methods; same thing with conservatives.

This is also why some Malaysians can get all upset when certain parties in Malaysia approve of child marriage, yet remain strangely reserved when Hamas flies incendiary balloons and kites into Israeli civilian towns to target Jewish children.

But these same people who keep quiet about Hamas’ deliberate intention to murder their enemies’ children will speak very loudly against the United States separating children from their parents who try to illegally cross the US-Mexico border.

Our values are relative but our politics are absolute.

We are all creatures of ideology, and this decides what forms of protests we consider “appropriate”, or “necessary” or “disgusting.” The bizarre thing is how almost everyone believes that their protest is natural, perfectly legit and beyond reproach.

We are also usually “outraged” and “appalled” that other people can hold the polar opposite view that we hold.

Stepping into our opponents’ shoes

But back to Wong and UM.

Wong’s critics should learn to step into the narrative-shoes of the parties Wong represent ie. the millions of minorities in Malaysia forced to endure race-based quotas, preferential treatment and what-nots.

To add insult to injury, we have key Malaysian institutions sponsoring events in which key figures continually proclaim the “greatness” of one particular ethnicity whilst insinuating that other ethnic groups need to be second-class.

Wong’s supporters, on the other hand, need to think hard about the balance between real injustice and the right kinds of protest.

Exactly which platforms may be off-limits to protest such as Wong’s and why? Also, maybe we need to imagine ourselves in the shoes of certain people who have been brought up believing in their natural-born entitlement to benefits over against other groups, who have been fed a “siege mentality” story of how the minority groups may actually overcome the majority group.

When someone has been in such a position for so long, it won’t be, uh, easy to agree with what Wong did.

In the end, I trust that both will come to the same logical, rational and absolutely true conclusion: That Wong was right in this instance and UM was wrong.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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