I like to think of these unexpected victories as a legacy of the Resurrection, a sign that the forces of Death and Oppression will never have the last word over those who struggle for justice and peace, even though those who struggle may never live to see the fruit of their work. For Christ’s Resurrection tells that the struggle to build a kingdom of love, compassion, justice and peace will always triumph against all the odds.
We need only look at a few examples to see the progress that has been made over the last few decades and centuries despite all the bad news along the way. But even with these triumphs, we always have to be on our guard against the forces of darkness, which continue to assail the human race, giving rise to fresh challenges.
Let’s look at a few examples in this piece I wrote for the Herald:
For many centuries, slavery flourished in many parts of the world. But thanks to the abolitionist movement and the dedication of enlightened souls, today slavery has been outlawed. (Though of course there are new forms of legalised ‘slavery’: Think of the migrant workers who are exploited, the domestic helpers who are treated like bonded labour.)
Another classic example: In South Africa, after decades of struggle, the oppressive apartheid system was dismantled, thanks in large part to the perseverance of pro-democracy activists. Nelson Mandela’s party, the ANC, took over the reins of power as an entire nation celebrated. But sadly, the ANC has since then introduced top-down neo-liberal “free market” policies and embraced privatisation. It has also failed to introduce meaningful land reforms. The result: race-divisions under apartheid have now given way to class divisions. But that does not diminish the sensational triumph over apartheid. And let’s not forget how Gandhi and his independence movement brought down the might British Empire in India.
In Malaysia, the struggle for human rights has gone on for a few decades now. For many years, “human rights” was considered something of a dirty word. Darkness descended in the land during Operasi Lalang in 1986-87, when over a hundred people were detained without trial under the ISA. A decade later, we heard of cases of police brutality against street demonstrators during the reformasi period of 1998-2001.
Who would have imagined then that we would one day have a Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) – whose major contribution has been the official legitimacy it has bestowed on the human rights struggle. This was later followed by the Royal Commission’s recommendation to set up an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).
These were major victories, but unfortunately Suhakam, without any enforcement powers, remains a powerless and conservative toothless tiger while the IPCMC has still not yet been set up – a sad reflection of the current administration.