So, things have been happening this week. One of them, of course, is the growing global media attention against the first phase of the Syariah law. The Facebook page Boycott Brunei has gained a lot of local attention.
Comments against the page far outnumber any comment which support a boycott of Brunei. Despite this, the number of likes sits at around 700.
The handful of supporters of a boycott, comment in a muddled and confusing way which reflects the sudden media attention Brunei has gotten.
If you need a map in an article to explain where the country is, it is highly doubtful the average reader has any real idea what is going on, and will base their opinion on a short article alone.
Substance goes out the window as both sides of the argument -for Syariah and against Brunei’s implementation – are carried away in CAPSLOCKS and rhetorical questions.
It does state as one of its aims: “…to make people aware of the repression and persecution the people of Brunei face and to encourage them to lobby for the freedom of Brunei’s people.”
The page is to raise awareness for people outside Brunei however it has now become a place for people in Brunei to share their support.
Commentators in support of Syariah direct their opinion towards a perceived audience of doubters. Comments such as, “Why are you afraid of our laws? Are you planning to do something bad in our country?” is not addressing any commentator.
It’s a stand alone comment on a picture that nobody has replied to it.
It’s sharing an opinion that out “there” critics have a set of arguments which need to be answered with a response. Any response, which will in turn change their mind.
Commentators on the website usually set up to write an argument against a perceived “you” and regularly address the country as a “we” and “us”.
The main problematic with this way of commenting is…well the lack of engagement by the supporters of the Syariah.
This absence of engagement has been the mainstay on public forums such as The Brunei Times website since its announcement all those months ago. It has made it difficult for those on the fence to make a reasonable move to support the law and those against it more firm in their opinion.
Armed with a prepared set of answers, supporters bombard forums and pages on American, European and British media sites hoping their message will come across.
“Hope” since it is not so much to engage, but a comment to further develop the opinions of other Bruneians or supporters reading the comment, not so much the undecided person or person against it.
Prepared set of answers are then continually repeated. Further spread to other commenting platforms and Facebook pages.
None of the media reports have made any attempts to reach out and talk to ordinary Bruneians living their humdrum lives.
So maybe the comments on the forums in support is the only way for Bruneians to express themselves. To hear what each other has to say and think. To try and figure out how they actually feel about it. What opinions they have amongst each other.
Change is a weird thing and when the media – local or otherwise- dictate how you should react and understand the circumstances around you, a gut reaction would be, “WHAT? NO? REALLY?”
Nobody has really asked Bruneians: “How do you think the Syariah law will affect your everyday life?“
It has been answered for them. Newspapers in the Brunei have shirked away from public opinion and Bruneians have been caught off-guard with how the global media is developing a narrative they don’t submit to.
Bruneians don’t really sit on park benches reflecting on the world around them in a hazy dream, they figure things out as they go along. But what they have realized is that the narrative of oppression and hate usually reserved for foreign nations in distant lands, is not them.
As Bruneians sit in McDonald’s wondering when the next showing of Spiderman 2 is going to start, perhaps they should instead sit back and reflect:
“I should probably think about what is happening in my country for a while and try to understand the situation clearly before I form an opinion. This way I can express my thoughts in a logical manner before I share them on the Internet.”