Remembering Said Zahari

The following is a tribute on Said Zahari by Muhammad Fadli Bin Mohammed Fawzi delivered on the memorial event, “Remembering Said Zahari, Patriot and Freedom Fighter” held on 4 June 2016. English text follows the Malay deliverance.

SaidPerjuangan Said Zahari bermula akibat ketidakadilan sistem penjajah. Sistem penjajahan ini merebut sumber semula jadi dari Tanah Melayu ke negeri Britain. Ini juga merupakan satu sistem yang berdiskriminasi atas dasar bangsa dan bahasa. Sebagai seorang yang amat prihatin terhadap nasib bangsanya, beliau melawan sistem penjajahan ini untuk mencapai kemerdekaan. Setelah kemerdekaan dicapai, beliau terus berjuang demi rakyat jelata, terutamanya untuk golongan yang terpinggir.

Perjuangan untuk keadilan ekonomi dan sosial inilah yang menjadi asas perjuangan politiknya. Walau bagaimanapun perjuangan ini terbukti menjadi terlalu menyusahkan bagi golongan elit baharu yang muncul setelah kemerdekaan dicapai di Malaysia dan Singapura. Apabila beliau enggan membenarkan Utusan diambil alih oleh UMNO, beliau telah dibuang dari Malaysia. Apabila beliau enggan menyertai PAP dan seterusnya mengetuai Parti Rakyat di Singapura, beliau ditahan selama 17 tahun akibat operasi Coldstore.

Rasa kagum kami terhadap Pak Said berpunca daripada kesungguhan beliau dalam perjuangannya walaupun beliau sedar akan pengorbanan besar yang terpaksa dibuat. Pengorbanan apabila beliau hilang kebebasan dan menempuhi dugaan cukup sukar. Namun ini tidak boleh menandingi kerisauan beliau terhadap kesusahan yang beliau tahu keluarganya akan alami. Pengetahuan ini akan menghantuinya selama sepanjang hidupnya. Kami mengingati pengorbanan keluarganya seperti kami mengingati pengorbanan Pak Said sendiri. Dalam ucapannya di majlis peringatan di KL, Dr Syed Husin Ali menyebut bahawa antara cara terbaik untuk menghargai pengorbanan Pak Said dan keluarganya adalah untuk mengingati dan meneruskan perjuangan mereka. Dengan tujuan ini, saya akan cuba memberi pengertian saya tentang bagaimana pelbagai aspek perjuangannya masih relevan hingga ke hari ini.

Aspek yang pertama ialah perjuangannya untuk masyarakat yang lebih adil dan demokratik. Inilah yang boleh disebutkan sebagai perjuangan yang masih belum selesai. Sebagai contoh, kebebasan akhbar yang pernah diterajui oleh Pak Said, negeri Singapura mempunyai kedudukan yang ke 154 dalam Indeks Kebebasan Akhbar Sedunia. Walaupun ada ruang baharu seperti di ruang internet di mana berita boleh disiarkan dengan cara yang lebih bebas, ruang tersebut juga dikawal dengan ketat seperti yang dibuktikan oleh peristiwa baru-baru ini yang mana kenyataan di lelaman Facebook boleh mengakibatkan siasatan yang intrusif oleh pihak polis.

Daripada segi hak untuk perbicaraan, Akta Keselamatan Dalam Negeri masih berkuat kuasa, dan kuasanya meningkat disebabkan oleh perubahan yang menghalang keputusan menteri daripada semakan mahkamah. Nilai material hak-hak ini sering dipersoalkan oleh mereka yang lebih pragmatik. Nescaya, tanpa kebebasan akhbar, keupayaan seorang individu untuk lebih memahami isu-isu dan dasar kerajaan, serta menyuarakan rasa tidak puas hati, tersekat. Tanpa sekatan undang-undang terhadap kuasa pemerintah, seseorang akan terkawal oleh pemerintah dengan sewenang-wenangnya. Oleh itu, walaupun hak-hak tersebut tidak mempunyai nilai ekonomi, ini penting bagi kebajikan dan kesejahteraan rakyat dalam jangka masa panjang.

Aspek kedua dalam perjuangan Pak Said yang masih relevan hingga masa kini ialah persahabatan dengan rakan-rakannya yang pelbagai kaum. Jika diimbas sepintas lalu, ikatan erat antara editor akhbar nasionalis Melayu dan ahli kesatuan sekerja yang berpendidikan Cina tidak dijangkakan. Namun fahaman lebih baik terhadap sifat nasionalisme mungkin dapat menjelaskan hubungan erat antara Pak Said dan temannya yang berbangsa lain.

Sifat nasionalisme adalah cinta dan kebanggaan terhadap budaya sendiri. Introspeksi terhadap budaya sendiri boleh menjana kefahaman yang mendalam dan hal sebeginilah yang memberi pengiktirafan kepada sifat kemanusiaan yang ada di budaya-budaya lain. Berdasarkanhal ini, maka tidak begitu menghairankanlah bagaimana dua tokoh nasionalis seperti Chin Siong dan Said boleh menjadi rakan karib. Kedua-duanya dapat memahami dan menghargai budaya masing-masing. Ini mungkin menggalakkan Said dan kawan-kawannya saling belajar bahasa masing-masing. Persahabatan mereka boleh dijadikan sebagai teladan bagi kami mencintai budaya sendiri dan pada masa yang sama bersikap terbuka untuk mengenali budaya lain.

Aspek ketiga perjuangan Said ialah pengorbanan. Satu persoalan yang jarang ditanya ialah: bagaimanakah kami tahu bahawa nilai-nilai yang kami hargai seperti kebebasan, keadilan atau kesaksamaan memang wujud? Kami tentu memahami nilai-nilai ini hanya sebagai konsep tetapi ini tidak menjadikan nilai-nilai ini lebih nyata daripada kata-kata kosong. Sebaliknya kami tahu bahawa nilai-nilai ini dianggap nyata kerana ia mendorong orang untuk bertindak seolah-olah ia benar, walaupun ia bukan bagi kepentingan mereka sendiri. Perjuangan Said untuk menegakkan nilai-nilai ini, pengorbanan keluarga dan rakan-rakannya menunjukkan kepada kami bahawa nilai-nilai ini bukan nilai-nilai Barat, Melayu, Cina atau India. Sebaliknya nilai-nilai ini terpendam mendalam di nadi kemanusiaan kami. Kami tidak akan lupa bagaimana anda berjuang untuk nilai-nilai yang kamu sanjung dan kami sanjung perjuangan kamu yang hebat dan murni.

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IMG20160604143652Said’s struggle arose against the injustices of the colonial system. The colonial system was a system of economic injustice, which extracted the resources from Malaya to Britain. It was also a system of social injustice which discriminated on the basis of race and language. As a man whose heart was with the people, he fought against this unjust system for independence. When independence was achieved, he continued to fight for the people, especially those marginalised in society such as the urban poor and the farmers.

It was this fight for economic and social justice which formed the basis of his political struggle. However this struggle proved to be far too inconvenient for the new elites on both sides of the causeway. When he refused to let Utusan be taken over by UMNO, he was banished from Malaysia. When he declined to join the PAP by heading Parti Rakyat in Singapore, he was detained for 17 long years during operation Coldstore.

Our admiration for him stems from his resoluteness despite the sacrifice he knew he would have to make. The personal sacrifice in terms of loss of freedom and hardships endured was difficult enough, but the real difficulty was the hardship that he knew his family would have to endure, something which he knew would haunt him for the rest of his life. We remember their sacrifice as we remember his. In his speech at the KL memorial, Dr Syed Husin Ali mentioned that among the best way to appreciate their sacrifice is to remember and continue their struggle. In this spirit I will try to state my understanding of how various aspects of his struggle are still relevant today.

The first is his struggle for a more just and democratic society. It is a struggle yet unfinished. In terms of press freedom Singapore ranks 154th in the World Press Freedom Index. While there are new avenues such as the internet where news can be broadcasted and opinions exchanged, such spaces are also closely policed as evidenced by recent events where a Facebook post can warrant a full scale and intrusive investigation. The Internal Security Act under which Said was detained is still in force, its power increased due to amendments which preclude it from judicial review. These rights may not have economic value in this society but are important in other ways. Without freedom of the press, the ability of individual citizens to better understand issues and policies, and articulate grievances is restricted. Without legal limits, the individual is at the mercy of the arbitrary power of the government. Thus while these rights may not have economic value, they are important to the long term well-being of citizens.

The second aspect of his struggle which is relevant today is his friendship with his comrades of different races. At first glance, the close bonds between the editor of a nationalist Malay newspaper and Chinese educated trade unionists may seem counter intuitive. However this might not be so surprising with a better understanding of nationalism. Nationalism is love and pride in your culture and people. True nationalism involves deep understanding and appreciation of the inner wisdom of your own culture, that upon introspection, you may see reflections of it in another’s. In this light it is thus not so surprising that Chin Siong and Said would become close comrades as they would see what they loved best about their culture reflected in each other. This perhaps encouraged them to learn more about each other by learning the other’s language. Their example is still instructive today for us to love our culture but to be mindful and open to other cultures.

The third aspect of his struggle is that of sacrifice. One question that is not often asked is: how do we know that values we love such as freedom or justice or equality exist? We understand these values as concepts and ideas in our heads but that does not make them any more real than empty words. Rather we know that they are real because they compel people to act as if they were real, even at great cost to their own interest. Said’s struggle to uphold these values, the sacrifices of his family and his friends and comrades show to us that these values are not Western or Malay or Chinese or Indian in nature, but values which lie deep in the heart of our humanity. We will not forget how you fought for these values loved and how we loved your great good fight.

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About fn8org

For computers, it means to start again in safe mode. For us, we hope we can also start again in safe mode. But it's more like re-booting our systems and starting from much needed basics for democracy in Singapore.
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