JAN 18 — In this day and age, there are YouTube sensations which catapult little known individuals to fame. The K-Pop star, Psy, went from a virtual unknown outside Korea into an international sensation, with his music video “Gangnam Style”, garnering 1.2 billion views on YouTube and setting a Guinness world record and spawning masses of parodies including local favourites such as “Oppa KL Style” and “Georgetown Gangnam style”.
On the local scene, 2012 was the year of cows in condos, with Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil being lambasted by political leaders and online media, and most prominently being featured in yet another “Gangnam Style” parody, “Ubah Rocket Style” released by the DAP. In 2013, the word of the month seems to be “Listen”.
For those who are unaware or oblivious of the background, a little known leader of an NGO called Suara Wanita 1 Malaysia or SW1M was propelled to fame when a YouTube video of a woman berating a student went viral on social media circles.
Sharifah Zohra Jabeen reached notoriety, which is almost unparalleled in local politics in terms of ridicule and attention, from a video made at Universiti Utara Malaysia entitled “Forum Suara Mahasiswa Part 4” (translated into “Voice of the Students Forum Part 4”). This virtually happened overnight when she cut off second-year law student Bawani KS mid-way through her question by saying “Listen” 10 times and “Let me speak” seven times despite Bawani’s protests.
The crux of Bawani’s question was whether Malaysia would be able to move towards a system where university education could be provided for free. This is reflective of a promise being made by Pakatan Rakyat leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, to abolish PTPTN and provide free tertiary education to Malaysians. What proceeded from Sharifah Zohra’s interruption was ludicrous.
She then thanked Bawani for “having the guts” to ask the question, before turning to ask the students whether she had accorded “respect” to Bawani. At this point in the video, I began to feel sick inside because what she proceeded to do was nothing short of humiliating.
She mocked Bawani’s attitude, said she is less “pendidikan” compared to her, asked her to leave the country if she is unhappy with the government’s policies, and then proceeded to say the now famous “even animals have problems”.
If there was anyone who was being disrespectful, it was Sharifah Zohra. Her reply was not only “kurang ajar”, it was a classic red herring.
For many online netizens who vented their frustrations, she epitomised the Barisan Nasional government: arrogant, out of touch, emotionally cold and vindictive. Bawani, on the other hand, achieved hero status by being the underdog, standing up for her beliefs and daring to question the authorities.
Although the forum itself took place on December 8 last year, the outpouring of wrath and ridicule only culminated in the past week. The parodies, Photoshopped pictures and even music “re-mixes” have all gone viral, especially on Facebook, with countless “likes” and “shares”. There has also been a Facebook page opened dedicated to asking Sharifah Zohra to apologise to Bawani.
Eventually this was highlighted on Yahoo! News and then the mainstream media just a couple of days ago.
The controversy has also given birth to a slew of marketing opportunities. Yes 4G, DiGi and Nandos came out with their own “Listen” campaigns to great effect, catching the wave of emotion crashing against Sharifah Zohra. I admit that I also got caught up in all of this, going so far as to order a “Listen, Listen” T-shirt!
There seems to be no end to the scorn poured on Sharifah Zohra and Barisan Nasional from this sordid episode. What is apparent is that there is a lot of pent-up rage which is being poured out, which is far larger than Sharifah Zohra herself.
There is the anger at the BN for attempting to brainwash university students. There is also the arrogance and oppressiveness of the party which is personified in how Sharifah Zohra attacked Bawani. Subsequent to all of this, there is also the unrepentant recalcitrance by Sharifah Zohra not issuing an apology and with the SW1M Facebook page posting updates defending their president.
It may be an understatement to say that this may be worrying to Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his colleagues with the general election looming.
Gone too far?
However, in the midst of all this emotion, there were two of my friends who kept their heads to ask some very logical questions about the situation. Kelvin Yii posted a very meaningful video blog, providing a logical commentary and asking crucial questions as to the state of affairs transpiring from the event.
Another friend, Tai Zee Kin, proceeded to ask a very honest question, as to whether all the persistent mocking, joking and parodies would make us any better than Sharifah Zohra herself? Have we gone too far?
Politics, it appears, finds its basis on emotional hyperbole rather than constructive, rational discussion. Taking a step back, are we being excessively harsh on Sharifah Zohra? Perhaps so, especially where there are individuals in high political positions who had made blatantly racist or arrogant statements in the media in the past.
Sharifah Zohra perhaps is a victim of circumstances.
Was what she did acceptable then? No it was not. Shall we feel too sorry for her then? Maybe not. But then again, have we as netizens allowed for emotion to usurp logical and pragmatic discussion? Yes, but I believe that it mostly down to the fact that we are guilty of jumping on the “bash Sharifah Zohra” bandwagon.
An omen for Barisan Nasional
For the past half year I have been on the ground as a political worker, listening to the voices of the grassroots. The grumblings seem to grow louder as the election approaches and the discontent is reaching boiling point. Last week’s Himpunan Kebangkitan Rakyat’s tremendous success did not just add confidence to the opposition parties and pro-opposition NGOs, but it has also galvanised many supporters and fence sitters to firmly believe that a change of government is possible.
Part of this group is an increasingly vocal Netizen community, which continues to aggressively pounce on any kind of anti-BN fodder it can devour. Poor national policies, immigration issues, institutional corruption and incompetence all become secondary issues. Rational discussion goes out the window as raw emotion takes over, and the objective is clear: take down Barisan Nasional at any cost. Sharifah Zohra, despite all her shortfalls, has fallen victim to this sentiment.
I am reminded of a scene in the film “Les Misérables”, when the young revolutionaries whisper the lyrics “do you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men? It’s the music of a people who will not be slaves again!” Though there will not be a revolution as our country is already a democracy, finally being free after 56 years of a BN government is now the idea of a people’s victory in Malaysia.
With unresolved scandals, the Selangor water issue and additional government handouts going into Chinese New Year, it has been a tumultuous start to 2013 for the BN. Brace yourselves ladies and gentlemen as “Listen-gate” is just the beginning.
With the election date edging closer and closer, do not expect the return of reason. I believe that the 13th general election will be the most emotionally-charged election in our nation’s history.
* Douglas Tan is an active DAP grassroots worker.
This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.