Today’s news inspires a song of sadness

ONE of the most haunting songs I know from my youth is “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” by the legendary duo of Simon and Garfunkel. 

The song starts off with a soulful rendition of the well-known Christmas carol “Silent Night”.  You start to hear the news of the day being broadcast and that slowly gets louder till it reaches the same volume as the song.  The news, read by American radio and television announcer Charlie O’Donnel, was of the news events on the day of the recording – August 3, 1966.

The news of that day, and forever immortalised in the song, was about civil rights and open housing; the death of comedian Lenny Bruce from a drug overdose at the age of 42; and the plans by Martin Luther King to organise a protest march, the authorities urging its cancellation and the police threatening to call in the national guard if the protest was still held.

Also mentioned was a grand jury indictment against someone for the murder of nine student nurses who were brutally stabbed and strangled in their apartment, and events related to the US involvement in the Vietnam War.

The song ends with the newsreader saying, “That’s the 7 O’clock news.  Goodnight.”

Chilling indeed and filled with sadness that the news of the day can be so horrid.  It is even more ironic when such sad news is heard against the backdrop of a peaceful song.

Fast forward 41 years to today, and the news may not be as chilling but really not that different. 

We have a certain political party demonising a man that they held in utmost regard and who was their leader for more than 22 years.  The claim is that he used the party for his own benefit.  The demonisation goes further to make reference to his ethnic background, which is supposedly Indian.

This “revelation” begets many questions.

Firstly, why is ethnic background such an important criteria?  Isn’t it more of a concern how much someone does for the country than what his ethnic background is?  For 22 years, Umno was happy to have Dr Mahathir Mohamad lead Malays and the country.  His ethnic background was never questioned when many knew the facts as they were.  Suddenly, now that he is on the other side of the political divide, the powers that be decide that he needs to be “shamed” for his Indian roots.

Pretty amazing stuff really. 

Even more amazing when Dr Mahathir is considered the “Father of Modernisation” and someone that has espoused Ketuanan Melayu or Malay Supremacy for much, if not all, of his career.  Love him or hate him, one cannot doubt that he did indeed bring a lot of progress to the country.

Sad that we are so fixated on race. Sad that the National Registration Department only seemed to glean this information now.  Sad that it has to be highlighted when most of our other prime ministers have mixed blood as well.  Why was it never highlighted before if it is such a big deal?  All that he has done for the country seems to have been forgotten just because it appears that his blood is mixed.

Then we have the decision by the Court of Appeal that held that a child born out of wedlock may carry his or hers father’s name. However, NRD seems to be going against this decision, saying it will not act on the Court of Appeals judgment until an appeal filed by the Attorney-General’s Chambers is heard in the Federal Court.  I do not have any legal training but isn’t this some form of contempt of court?

A book written by a group called G25 has been banned.  The book entitled “Breaking the Silence: Voices of Moderation: Islam in a Constitutional Democracy”  has been prohibited based on the grounds that the book could be prejudicial to public order, public opinion and public interest.  Strangely enough, this book was actually launched in December 2015 and so far there has been no unrest caused by the book.  So why ban it now?

Yes, the news today is not that different.  There is racism, there is character assassination, there is control of what we can and cannot do, there is contempt for the law and the list goes on and on.

I wonder what song would provide the ideal backdrop for the Malaysian version of the “7 O’clock News”.  Man Bai’s “Kau Ilhamku” perhaps?

* Dharm Navaratnam reads The Malaysian Insight

* This is the opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insight.

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