A Malaysian writer says that in light of the recent Bersih 3 rally and also the DAP's censure of Tunku Aziz, there may be lessons to be found in John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost and the suppression of Milton's views by the establishment. (Graphic by Dayang Norazhar/The Mole)
KUALA LUMPUR: An article that highlights the Democratic Action Party’s treatment of Tunku Abdul Aziz using references to the life and works of an English writer who was active over three centuries ago has generated some buzz among socio-political blogs.
The article, entitled Paradise Lost, appeared on the Sin Chew website on May 12 and was subsequently picked up by blogs and news portals.
Written by Sin Chew’s Tay Tian Yan and translated into English by Dominic Loh, the article likened the recent Bersih rally to the 17th century poem Paradise Lost by English writer John Milton. Tay also drew parallels between reactions to Milton’s writing and the DAP’s reaction to Tunku Aziz’s statements regarding Bersih.
“The cold treatment accorded to him (Tunku Aziz) has stemmed solely from his dissident views on the Berish 3.0 rally,” Tay said, referring to the DAP's decision not to extend Tunku Aziz'z senatorship due to his opposition to the rally held on April 28.
“I have no intention of getting myself embroiled in the rally controversy any more. All that has come to my mind is a story I have read some time ago,” he said, introducing Paradise Lost as an epic that “underscored the fall of humanity in the pursuit of freedom, quoting the chapter in Genesis where Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden.”
Tay highlighted the poem’s depictions of heaven and hell, angels and devils, darkness and light, and asked: “Wasn't the April 28 rally a vivid reflection of the Paradise Lost?”
Tay said Milton’s experiences as an outspoken advocate of free speech and thought were reflected in the development of democracy over the years, and more recently in the DAP’s punishment of Tunku Aziz for speaking his mind.
Milton was frustrated by the Church’s refusal to allow him a way out of his troubled marriage, Tay said, so he penned essays advocating freedom to divorce and was persecuted for his opinions.
“His doctrine could possibly be accepted by people today, but not three centuries ago,” Tay said, adding that Milton had been “suppressed and locked up for his heretical thinking”.
“In the Areopagitica he later published, he proposed the theory of self-rectification of truth, arguing that only with the freedom of speech would truth become more explicit with arguments,” Tay said.
“The so-called ‘truth’ that has been erected through oppression would never be able to pass the test of time and become the real truth,” he added.
“At the same time, Milton also advocated the freedom of thought, declaring that no one -- be it a regime, political party or individual -- has the privilege of scrutinising a person's freedom of speech or thought on condition it does not pose any harm to other people,” Tay continued, adding that Milton’s idea of freedom of speech “has since become the harbinger of democratic politics”.
“Like anyone else in this world, Tunku Aziz is entitled to the freedom of speech, and DAP's action against him only attests to the democratic qualities and bearings this party holds,” Tay said.
Tay’s article elicited various reactions from bloggers and commenters.
Datuk Ahirudin Attan of Rocky’s Bru highlighted the article twice: in his main blog and also his Little Chinese Bru, which focuses on items that appear in Malaysia’s Chinese press.
“It is interesting to see how my old friend…is lost for words in his analysis of Tunku Aziz's fall from grace in the DAP, so much so he had to depend on Milton to help him with the breakdown of the problems,” Rocky wrote.
“I'm not sure how many of us are familiar with Milton's work or the interpretations of Paradise Lost,” Rocky said. “I'm still wondering: Is Tunku Aziz the Satan in Tay's own Paradise Lost or does that refer to Lim Guan Eng? Who lost, the DAP or Bersih or Tunku Aziz?”
“What's certain is, something good was lost that day on April 28,” he said.
One commenter wrote: “That was no paradise that Tunku was welcomed into. That was Dante's Inferno, a living hell of racism, prejudice and xenophobia.”
“Tunku did not cross the gates of Heaven into the garden of Paradise, he jumped blindly into the cauldron of hell into the embrace of Satan,” the commenter continued. “But drowning in the searing heat, he gained an insight that restored his sights.”
The Unspinners blog carried Tay’s piece with the title ‘Only Kit Siang can differ’, referring to Ooi Kee Beng’s biography of Lim Kit Siang entitled ‘The Right to Differ’. The irony was not lost on readers of the blog, who left comments such as “LKS Likes to do gimmick politics. He tries many ways to convince people of how open and democratic they are. But at the end the day they just spit into your mouth and want you to swallow everything.”
“DAP should be phrased as Democratic Abomination Party,” said another reader. “They have no regards for human rights.”
A Malaysia Today reader commented: "In my mind and in my perception, DAP is still a Chinese based political party and also they are not sincere in helping other races. No matter what they did in the past, whether by deeds or words, DAP is still a chauvinistic Chinese party."
“As far as DAP is concerned, I feel they have simply over-reacted over a very minor matter," wrote another commenter. "DAP has been around long enough and I really hope they don't need a political novice like me to point out that they have taken an amatuerish and immature approach to resolving the matter.”