And the elites panicked

Last Friday, the Malaysian government announced that they were going to enlist military ‘help’ to curb the abundance of people not abiding the Movement Control Order (MCO) beginning Sunday. Upon hearing this, one of my elderly aunts who lives nearby with her teenage grandson called my mum, crying and almost losing her mind, begging for us to pick her and the kid up to stay at our place. I am glad my mother had the sense to console her that this was not going to be possible, that it would be different if they were staying with us before and/or there was no deadly infectious virus going around — the very reason the MCO is enforced — and that the military was just there to ‘help’ — and she eventually calmed down. Anyone without any prior knowledge as to why my aunt was freaking out would think she was overreacting. But for context, the many frames of references when it comes to the state of emergency and curfew involving military intervention in the mind of my elderly aunt, who is older than mum by any stretch, are these two events that have shaped our country tremendously: the Japanese invasion of Malaya, and the 1969 racial riot. Even so, without any one of us not having experienced any of the events, military deployment into the civilian spaces should be considered as a last resort by any ‘functioning’ government and not to be normalised. I say ‘functioning’ because we need to be reminded this new Malaysian government is one that is borne not out of a democratic electoral means like it should be, hence every single decision of theirs — like all governments’ anyway — should always be critically analysed and challenged. I say ‘functioning’ because in an event of a disaster just like today, a properly functioning government should approach through an empathetic lens — such as freezing rents and loans, providing better safety nets for workers, proper funding for hospitals, and so on so forth. Shifting the frame from the government failure to the frame of ‘delinquent citizens’ in any way, is completely unacceptable. Not only that, rushing to enlist military deployment could induce panic, like in the case of my aunt. I wonder how many elderly people and people recovering from trauma going berserk upon hearing the announcement, because military = bad.

I am rereading Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell right now, where this page complements the flawed idea of romanticising military involvement in civilian spaces:

A page from Rebecca Solnit's A Paradise in Hell explaining the condition of elite panic, where the elites fear disruption of the social order which could challenge their legitimacy.

When fear manifests among the elites as the social order is disrupted in the middle of disasters, they turn to impose strict control on us, rather than mitigating issues from a more empathetic, inclusive lens. It is called elite panic, and the strict control here in the current Malaysian context, is the military intervention.

Coronavirus-related reads:

Other reads:


  • Reading: Rebecca Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell, and Chanel Miller’s Know My Name.
  • Viewing: Haven’t watched anything today, unfortunately.
  • Listening: Westerman, a West Londoner musician who mixes folk-like lyrics with synthetic choral melodies and skeletal percussion.
  • Food & Drink: I plucked my first pineapple from my own tree, and made pajeri nenas today.

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