In Weberian philosophy, a nation-state is defined by, inter alia, its monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. This is to say that the state retains all rights to the use of force through its legitimised instruments, i.e. the police and military. At the same time, the state, especially a democratic one, is also entrusted to to exercise this right in a manner that upholds the spirit of justice and human liberty.

However, because philosophy has no place in our national education, and perhaps because any Malay translation of Max Weber’s writings would probably have been acquired from Google Translate (as was the case with the translation of Teoh Beng Hock’s ‘suicide note’), it is understandable that those running our country today would fail to understand the intended implications of his seminal thesis.

As comprehensive as the online translator may be, the term ‘legitimate’ has appeared to have escaped the notice of the authorities, resulting in a situation in which state-sponsored violence is meted out in arbitrary fashion, with no regard whatsoever to the principles of justice.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the actions of the Royal Malaysian Police, a law enforcement agency empowered by the state to use force in the preservation of peace and public order.

Yet if we were to take last weekend’s water rally as an example, we have the complete opposite occurring:

Riot police fired tear gas and used water cannons on at least 1,000 protesters near the KL Railway Station as they marched to the Istana Negara today to rally against a potential bailout of Selangor water utility companies. Hundreds of protestors sought refuge at the Railway Station to avoid the police action after they started their march from the National Mosque.

Riot police later turned the water cannons on those who had gone back to the National Mosque despite organisers announcing an end to the rally shortly before 3pm.

According to witnesses, police used tear gas and water cannons on the crowd after allowing Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim and several state exco members to proceed to the Istana Negara.

In other words, the protest had been incident-free until the police started harassing the people. This is likely to be construed as ironic to every rational being in the free world, but in Malaysia it is the country’s very own police force that was responsible for the injudicious use of violence to disrupt a hitherto peaceful and orderly rally that had been organised to voice the legitimate concerns of the people!

Perhaps the Inspector-General of Police should rely less on Google Translate and instead attempt to reeducate himself and the rest of his officers on the basic principles of justice, human rights and the rule of law that are supposed to be upheld and defended (and not violated and ignored) by the police.

The record of abuse and indiscriminate violence by the police in this country is abhorrent to say the least, and it is only getting worse as instances of extra-judicial fatalities are on the incline:

  • As of last year, there have been 1,535 recorded deaths in custody.
  • The number of fatal shootings by the police has increased 17-fold from 5 in 2001 to 88 in 2009!
  • The above trend is not circumstantial. In 2000 there were 9 fatal shootings, and in 2008 there were 82. Evidence points to an unequivocal rise in police shootings.

In recent times, we have seen the death in custody case of S Kugan, the mowing down of 15-year-old Aminul Rasyid, the gangland-style execution of three youths suspected of robbery, and many more. In most of these cases, the police escape by pleading self-defence, notwithstanding the fact that many of those shot were neither armed nor in a position to attack. Yet in 1Malaysia, reason and logic are not prerequisites for a judicial decision, especially when the state stands in defence.

In the case of Teoh Beng Hock, the young political aide who ‘fell to his death’ while being held for interrogation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), we are told that it could have been suicide, and that perhaps he strangled himself prior to leaping. (I re-iterate: 1Malaysian justice requires neither reason nor logic.)

To make matters worse, the arbitrary application of (in)justice is not merely confined to the police force, but in fact also appears to be abetted by other institutions of state, such as the office of the Attorney-General, the judiciary and the MACC.

When all is said and done, these problems are in actuality symptoms of a superiority complex that has rooted itself deep into the psyche of the Malaysian government. The fact is that until and unless a total reform of perspective occurs, in which those in power come to the conscientious realisation that democratic governance requires conformity to the principles of law, justice and human rights, we will never be rid this nightmare.

Change must, and will occur. If those in power refuse it, it will be served unto them.