The miracle of Bersih 5

Despite all the anxious moments, despite the many threats of violence, it is something of a miracle that Bersih 5 took place peacefully, that violence was averted.

Nov 25, 2016

By Anil Netto
Despite all the anxious moments, despite the many threats of violence, it is something of a miracle that Bersih 5 took place peacefully, that violence was averted.

Many had been worried that violence would break out, so much so they stayed away though their hearts were with those who attended.

For the Church, this was a time when they provided a spiritual dimension by praying for a peaceful gathering. I popped by St John’s Cathedral for Mass last Saturday morning to find the interior of the church bathed with the golden yellow glow from the many parishioners decked in their Bersih 5 T-shirts.

It was moving to see them praying fervently for the event. They had come determined to take a stand, quietly, firmly. They found encouragement from Bishop Bernard Paul who told them to lighten up and not feel so stressed out.

As it turned out, the Bersih 5 rally drew a large crowd, over 100,000 by some estimates though, perhaps, not as many as Bersih 3 and 4. This was understandable, given the repeated threats by the red shirts, of possible violence breaking out.

But the publicity Bersih 5 received —ironically aided by the red shirt threats, which were amplified in the media — exceeded the organisers’ wildest expectations. For every one who attended, perhaps 20-30 family members, friends and colleagues were kept abreast of what was happening — even if they weren’t able or were too worried to attend. The wonders of social media and messaging apps!

It’s funny how things work out. For every threat of violence, the choice facing the people became clearer. Do we want a country divided along the lines of race and religion where people cower in fear? Or do we want a more inclusive nation, standing for justice and truth and love and clean governance, where people can bond with one another as fellow human beings travelling on this journey of life?

On the streets, among the tens of thousands of yellow shirts, the answer was resoundingly clear, among people of all ethnic backgrounds, young and old, who braved the threats to take a clear stand.

But it is not over. For now, many are praying for Bersih leader Maria Chin Abdullah, who has been detained under Sosma. Just like the ISA (since repealed only to be replaced by Sosma), this new security law was supposed to deal only with terrorism or security threats (so the politicians had once again assured us).

Maria, who helms Bersih, has been nothing but an advocate for peaceful change. So it is disturbing that she is now said to be in solitary confinement. Once again, it reveals how laws that allow detention without a proper trial can be open to terrible abuse.

Confronted with the injustice that Maria and others faced, last Sunday night, the day after the Bersih rally, more than 1,000 people gathered outside the Jinjang Police Station. This will probably not be the last vigil taking place.

At the time of writing, all the 15 other Bersih detainees have been released. But Maria’s fate remains uncertain as she has been detained under Sosma. We will not forget Maria and the others still detained at this time.

I spoke to many strangers during the rally. Somehow it was easier to break the ice when we shared a common trademark — a yellow T-shirt.

I marvelled at their quiet but fervent hope for a better Malaysia and realised that deep down, we shared more than just a similar T-shirt. Deep down, most of us — yes, even the red shirts, if they were to pause and think about it — want a clean, democratic nation with leaders who put the interest of the rakyat uppermost.

To paraphrase Gandhi, “Malaysia has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” (And this “everyone” includes the migrant workers, refugees and others who are marginalised.) We need leaders who are accountable and clean, who work unceasingly in the public interest. It is a noble, solemn duty that they are entrusted with.

We praise and thank God for answering our prayers for a peaceful outcome to the Bersih 5 rally. Now we pray for “liberty to captives” and for “thy kingdom (of justice, peace, love, mercy and compassion to) come.” And come, it surely will.

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