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Blinded in the eye of the storm, and cannot do what he must

THE UNITED STATES SHOULD cease and desist in Iraq and stop Israel from assassinating the Palestine leader, Mr Yassir Arafat. Otherwise the Middle East could well go up in flames. President George Bush should know better. The Muslim has lost his patience. Rhetoric like that finally made the front page of Malaysian newspapers, a year after the US invaded Iraq and now struggles out of this self-inflicted quagmire or anarchy and civil war. This dominated news coverage for three days last week. Malaysians are told, as often in a vacuum, not that they ought to know of these home truth but so they could praise the statesman in their midst. They know of this in excruciating detail because the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) held an emergency meeting in Putra Jaya last week. The chairman - lest you forget - is the Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. The newspapers and the official media could not control themselves to report in hallowed terms of what he had to offer but paid scant attention to other views. The 57 OIC members took a unanimous decision to stand up to the US and Israel.

The form in Malaysia is more important than the substance. The OIC has 57 members; but only 14 attended, and fewer than half a dozen foreign ministers. This meeting should have been next month, but it was put forward because Mr Bush agrees with Mr Sharon, in the meanwhile, that it is all right to assassinate Mr Arafat. Malaysia raised scarely a voice when Iraq was invaded last year. How could it when it agreed with President Bush's war on terror, and Iraq was a target of that war, whilst it detained without trial the Muslim rabble who dare support Islamic mutinies overseas. Whether they do is another matter. The government says they are and did, are too dangerous and injurious to national security to have them tried in open court. For this service to the war on terror, Washington pats its back as one would a faithful dog. Malaysia jumped on board this war gleefully if only that Washington now sees how useful detention without trial is. Washington praises Kuala Lumpur for its commitment to Islam hadhari (progressive Islam). That this Islam exists only in the minds of Orientalists is a minor detail that can, and should, be ignored. Malaysia and Pak Lah needed Islamic legitimacy in the Muslim world and in Malaysia itself. Malaysia would send troops to Iraq under a UN mandate, Pak Lah said. No, thank you, said the Iraq foreign minister, we do not want any Muslim troops; we can take care of our security. Not true, but is Iraq about to reveal what it needs to this unrepresentative cabal of Islamic nations?

Pak Lah now wants the Non Aligned Movement to meet in emergency session to discuss Iraq and Palestine. He is - lest you forget - chairman of NAM. Fresh from telling the US to cease and desist in the Middle East as an Islamic leader, he now wants to as a non-aligned leader. But is that why they are planned and called? No. It is so he could divert attention from his political troubles at home, and respite from the conflicts and confusion from his nine-tenths victory in Parliament last month amidst the Election Commission's dereliction of duty to ensure fair and clean elections. The BN and UMNO have mutinies galore that their leaders cannot resolve, and with each other. Victories create their own enemies, often more vicious within than against opponents across the political divide. Pak Lah should have revelled in his dramatic victory. He cannot. Large sections of Malaysians believe his victory is flawed. His claim that he rose to victory, that possession is nine-tenths the law (no pun intended!), the people therefore love him somehow falls on deaf ears. One frightening consequence of the 2004 general elections is a clear political divide, especially but not exclusively, within the Malay community.

The Malay ground took to the streets in 1998 after Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim's arrest, humiliation, and jailing. It was brutally put down. Key figures in the Malay ground are arrested, detained, jailed, charged in courts to warn others of their fate if they continue backing the jailed politician. The consequent peace of the graveyard is touted as proof that all is well. But this election unleased an angrier Malay ground: it is convinced all is not right, and holds the Pak Lah government and the EC responsible for it. The BN and UMNO politicians are angry with their leaders and the new cabinet marionettes who dance not to not one puppet master but a hundred. Pak Lah, to be fair, tries to reverse the trend, but it is a task beyond him. He did not have the time to settle in his job, or even reflect on what he ought to do. His first task should be to get this right, but he has no help. His cabinet says what it likes when it likes, policies and plans continue to be announced which commits Malaysia to billions of ringgit we do not have.

But Pak Lah must pay the price of his predecessor, Tun Mahathir Mohamed's profligacy. The BN government insisted it would do as it likes, brooked no opposition, especially from Parliament, the voters there only to vote it in and shut up. It has all the answers. It does not make mistakes. The Prime Minister will decide. The cabinet will approve what he wants. The one required qualification to be in it is incontrovertible proof he or she cannot and will not think, will parrot the prime minister's view creatively, has no independent power base, would rather sell his country than even think of disobeying his prime minister. To make sure of it, Tun Mahathir Mohamed would hold four day courses - first at Kem Bina Semangat, Pasir Panjang, Teluk Kemang in Negri Sembilan, then in Langkawi - for the cabinet, secretaries-general, UMNO leaders in and out of government. He breaks them down psychologically, subliminally subverts their minds, make them hold an egg in their hands at all times, and they must never let it break. The egg represents national unity and integration, he tells them, so fragile that it can only be saved with constant care and attention. Why he took no action against the two cabinet ministers - Dato' Seri S. Samy Vellu and Datin Rafidah Aziz - who would not attend is unclear. But when ministers are dropped, or jailed, for nay saying, the message is clear. Incidentally, the only other instructor of this couse was Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim. Tun Mahathir's anger towards him has much to do with this gamekeeper turning poacher.

Pak Lah is a prisoner of this. He attended this course. Now that he is at the head of government, he is caught in a dilemma of his own, how to distance himself from that subliminal loyalty towards Tun Mahathir and be his own man. He could, in normal times, have done it. But these are extraordinary times. He is in the eye of a storm, the peace and quiet around him cossetting him from the convulsions on its periphery. He does not have time on his side. The eye shrinks as the mayhem and discord convulses. He has to look to external events for respite. Hence the OIC meet in Putra Jaya, and the NAM meet next month. How much would that help him in his design for Malaysia hadhari through Islam hadhari? Very little, I am afraid.

M.G.G. Pillai
[email protected]





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Terbitan : 26 April 2004

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