Thursday, 31 July 2008

The GREATEST good!

The movie Spy Game (released in 2001), starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, revolves around the story of the complex relationship between two CIA agents; one the retiring veteran agent and spy mentor; and the other, his cunning yet relatively naïve protégé. The protégé was in trouble and the mentor, in accordance with the agency’s official policy, cannot and should not offer any help. The rule is simple. When a spy is caught, the government denies your existence. The agent alone takes the fall and the government absolved itself from all responsibilities. After all, what is one life compared to the reputation of the entire nation and the government. It is for the greater good.

The protégé knows this. As one of the scenes in the movie depicts, in one of his earliest missions, he was instructed to abandon an anti-communist political figure at a heavily guarded communist territory. The young agent, though angry and disillusioned, obediently carried out the order. He shouted angrily at his mentor for forcing him to literally leave the person to suffer and die but was nonchalantly told “it was for the greater good”.

In many of the UMNO gatherings that I’ve been to, the same philosophy of ethics was used vis-à-vis Anwar Ibrahim. They would acknowledge that Anwar is a great politician and an intelligent man, but he is more importantly a dangerous figure. He is pro-America and he is too liberal. If he becomes the Prime Minister of Malaysia, he will dismantle the NEP and remove Islam as the official religion of the country. The Malays will lose their special privileges in business, education and all other enterprises. Anwar Ibrahim will then bring in the IMF, the World Bank and the Neo-Cons to take over the country, and the Malays will be abandoned and condemned to life as peasants in villages. Preventing Anwar from becoming the Prime Minister therefore is mandatory, no matter what it takes. It is for the greater good.

What we have now are two high-profile cases, one involving Anwar Ibrahim (former Deputy Prime Minister), and the other involving Najib Abdul Razak (current Deputy Prime Minister). In both cases we have people representing the highest institutions of the nation; the judiciary, the office of the attorney general, the military, health ministry, as well as various professional bodies directly and indirectly involved. Those who are directly involved in the police investigation, medical examinations and legal inquiries would know the truth about who is innocent and who is lying. They must have seen all the evidence and witnessed all the secret conversations. Hence they have the power either to perpetuate or dismantle the conspiracy.

As of today, it seems that Anwar Ibrahim will soon be charged, pronounced guilty and sent to jail for a very long time. Najib Abdul Razak will be absolved from any involvement with the Altantunya case and will continue his march towards the UMNO presidency. It does not matter that the international community and a sizeable majority of the country think that all these are conspiracies. It does not matter that the police and the judiciary in Malaysia will continue to be ridiculed and doubted. It does not matter too that Malaysia is now an international joke taunted with dishonourable titles such as “East Zimbabwe” and “Sodomy-Land”. UMNO and Barisan Nasional must be protected. They are the raison d’être of this nation. UMNO and BN is the greater good.

Now, coming back to the movie Spy Game, despite his direct involvement in various manipulative and devious operations, the retiring agent played by Robert Redford eventually decided to break the rules and disobey protocol to conjure up a rescue mission to save his protégé. In the end, what viewers saw was that even a ruthless spy, who many would have thought does not have a conscience, was willing to jeopardize his professional reputation to do what he himself thought deeply in his heart, was the right thing to do.

Human beings by nature have a conscience, a soul, an inner speech that is good and virtuous. We would be able to know upon reflection and deep contemplation, what is the right thing to do no matter how complex or ambiguous the situation is. The only question is whether we are willing to embark on that search, follow our hearts and do the right thing.

Let us hope and pray that all Malaysians; the monarchs, politicians, members of the judiciary, policemen, military personnel, medical doctors, nurses and all others directly and indirectly involved shall see the light that paves the way for them to realise what is the right thing to do. No more conspiracies, no more manipulation, no more moral gymnastics; follow your heart and do what is right. So please, anyone who has any knowledge of anything related to this issue, come forward and reveal them to us. If that means going against the status quo, risking your personal status and threatening your own comfortable life, so be it! The truth is the GREATEST good.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Free Willed Transformation

Do we consciously direct our own actions, or is it controlled by other forces? That is the question debates on 'free will vs. determinism' try to answer; an important question in discussions on human nature, a fundamental feature in the philosophy of psychology.

Argument in favour of free will is most apparent in humanistic psychology. Unlike their predecessors – psychoanalysts and behaviourists – humanistic psychologists believe that man is in control of not only his own behavioural actions, but also in acquiring and developing new traits and beliefs. Thus, a person who has certain bad habits and maladaptive traits may consciously try to change them hence improving his behaviour and personal characteristics. An individual therefore, is not entirely at the mercy of his unconscious thoughts and desires. And neither is he powerless against the influence of his environment; social and cultural factors. He can change, regardless, and become a better person.

However, one has to be mindful of the other side of the free will equation. With free will, man indeed can change for the better but he can also change for the worse. In the past ten years, I have seen quite a few such transformations; from the mildest to the most drastic, from the most expected to the most unbelievable. I have seen how some of the most ardent and obsessive supporters of a certain Deputy Prime Minister became his strongest enemies and abusers in a matter of a few months after he was sacked from his position. I have seen how some people who used to praise and revere a certain Islamic philosophy professor from the ‘beacon on top of the hill’ began to condemn and insult his ideas and personality after he was forcibly removed from his founder-director position. And I have seen many young men and women of my generation who recorded among the highest decibel shouting reformasi and other idealistic slogans against the status quo, but upon joining the very institution they used to condemn, became passive and impotent. Alas! Some have even turned from anti-corruption activists to corruption propagators.

These spectacular transformations were all done out of free will. It is they who chose to change. It was not determined. Yes, in Islam we believe that Allah is all-Knowing hence, He knows what is to come of us in the future. That knowledge however is God’s alone. It doesn’t belong to us and should not be of our concern. Our responsibility is to utilise what God has endowed upon us; knowledge, intelligence and free will, and assume the responsibility of God’s vicegerents on earth, to enjoin good and forbid evil.

But unfortunately, when man is faced with moral ambiguities, he may lose his rationality and choose the path of ignominy.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Anwar Ibrahim: Messiah or Betrayer?

Three days ago, Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar denied ever calling Anwar Ibrahim an American spy. It’s good that he has clarified on that but he is still on record to have used the term "tukang lapor to America" (a US 'snitch') to describe Anwar during a press conference last week. Thus, I still believe that the Minister, as well as many other UMNO members, subconsciously at least are still convinced that Anwar Ibrahim is indeed a spy.

Personally, I find that very odd because Anwar’s relationship with people in Washington DC has never been a secret. His friendship with Paul Wolfowitz, Colin Powell, Al Gore, William Cohen and many others are so well known, and this has never been denied neither by Anwar nor by any of these American political figures. Would a spy want to be seen in public to be close to officials from the country he is working with? If Anwar really is a US spy, then he must be one of the worse ever. Yes, I am aware that he was given a 21-gun salute when he visited Pentagon in 1998, he warmly embraced Michel Camdessus (former chief of the International Monetary Fund) when the latter visited Malaysia (also) in 1998, and he was (until recently) Chairman of the Foundation of the Future (an organization funded the US State Department). All these are true but are they evidenced enough that Anwar is a spy?

Of more relevance is to make sense of Anwar’s political standing. Anwar Ibrahim is indeed a complex character. His opponents often describe him as a political chameleon while his supporters would revere him as an international statesman. Whichever, the fact is, Anwar Ibrahim is a person who seems to be friends with everybody – Democrats, Republicans and Neo-Cons in America, Liberals and Conservatives in Britain and Australia, Sunni and Shi’ah Muslims, Indians and Pakistanis, secular Muslims and Muslim fundamentalists, Buddhists and Communists, Protestants and Catholics, Hindus and Muslims in India, and the Jews (as claimed by Tun Dr. Mahathir). Sanusi Junid once told a group of IIUM students that even the Prophet SAW was not able to make friends with everyone. Thus, according to him Malaysians and Muslims all over the world should always be suspicious of Anwar.

To be able to make friends with anyone regardless of their religious and political beliefs: is it a strength or a weakness?

As I wrote in my earlier posting, I was not a fan of Anwar. But the events of 1998 intrigued me to know more about him. I read his Asian Renaissance and the various letters and articles he wrote from prison. I read too many different materials (positive and negative) about him written by others. In the end, the impression I got was Anwar Ibrahim (as his trusted aid Khalid Jaafar has described) is not only a political figure, but a one-man political institution. He is a unique Muslim leader who embraces the virtues of traditional Islam while appreciating the views of the purist, an idealistic Muslim intellectual who upholds the principles of human rights and global ethic while remaining rooted to his Malay-Muslim cultural traditions, and a diplomatic figure who is willing and able to engage with anyone on any topic and yet equally able to state his disagreement while remaining in friendly terms with those he disagrees with. Anwar Ibrahim therefore is an amalgamation of different and (at times) opposing political beliefs and ideologies. Strange indeed, but true.

That he is a remarkable and brilliant politician is of no doubt even to his most severe critics. Current Foreign Minister Rais Yatim, in his pictorial book Faces in the Corridors of Power published in 1987, described Anwar Ibrahim at the time as Malaysia’s most promising politician. He even said “in a decade, if not earlier, Anwar should expect to be at the top.” When he was incarcerated in 1998, the respectable Aliran Monthly magazine in its editorial in October 1998 wrote that Malaysians will now see the real Anwar Ibrahim. The article further stated that when he was the Deputy Prime Minister, he was assisted by a group of experts and advisors as well as the support of government machinery. Now that he is on his own, Malaysians will be able to see Anwar’s true capabilities (I’m sorry that I’m unable to quote in verbatim as I have lost my copy of the magazine but I’m quite certain this was written in the magazine’s October 1998 edition).

If 1998 and the following six years was some kind of an examination, Anwar surely had passed the test with flying colours. Anyone who saw or read the way he answered questions in court when he skillfully took on both Gani Patail and Mohtar Abdullah, would definitely agree with me. In addition, we also have the numerous letters and articles that he wrote (obviously by himself) from his prison cell, which have now become classical documents renowned for its sharp arguments and lucid presentation.

Anwar Ibrahim may not have been a brilliant student (many of his former classmates at University Malaya would be more than happy to tell you that), but he is indeed an outstanding leader whose ability to inspire and mobilize others is equal to none. Can anyone think of anyone else but Anwar who is able to attract tens and thousands of Malaysians from all racial groups to hear him speak even when they have to sit on a muddy field under the rain? What I saw in Batu, Kuala Lumpur on 6 March 2008 was just astounding (no need to bring in Siti Nurhaliza, Mawi and big buffets).

More importantly, I believe Anwar Ibrahim is a genuinely intelligent man, whose grasp on various issues (economics, philosophy, literature and religion) is very impressive. One would realize this simply by observing how he articulates his ideas in his speeches (which he mostly writes himself) and his sharp responses to questions during interviews and press conferences. He was not a straight ‘A’ student, but he is known to have sought personal guidance and tuition from scholars and experts from various fields. That I believe is worth much more than just getting an ‘A’ from a class, or having a fancy degree from Oxford University for that matter. He is therefore to me, genuine, not artificial (as Khairy Jamaluddin once alleged).

Hence, if friends and students were to ask me who I would like to see as the next Prime Minister of Malaysia, my answer is Anwar Ibrahim. I understand the views of Malay nationalists who feel that Anwar is now a liberal Malay Muslim whose critical views against the New Economic Policy (NEP) are too revolutionary. When a group of people has lived for so long in their own cocoon of comfort, any thought of changes to the status quo is just terrifying. I am a Malay, and yes I did benefit from the NEP and yes, I too have some concern about what my children have to face if the country adopts a system entirely based on meritocracy. Having said that, I accept wholeheartedly the wisdom of Anwar Ibrahim’s economic agenda particularly his emphasis on social justice for all Malaysians regardless of race and creed. As Anwar stressed in one of his speeches delivered while campaigning for the last general election: “Melayu mana yang nak bangkang kalau kita tolong orang-orang Cina dan India yang miskin?!” (Would any Malay protest if we assist the poor amongst the Chinese and Indians?!)

Islam is a religion that promotes universal justice, not special privileges for a selected few, and certainly not special privileges based on ethnicity or some mythical claim of 'prince-hood of the soil' (bumi-putera). For Anwar Ibrahim to promote a system based on meritocracy hence opposing the NEP that benefits the Malays exclusively, is indeed brave but is in fact the very minimum one should expect from a Muslim leader who acts firmly in accordance with the principles of Islam.

Having written all the above, some readers may well perceive that I am an Anwar-fanatic. I am very certain that I am not. I do think that the guy is great but I don’t necessarily like everything about him. I didn’t like it for example, when he kept on boasting about his academic tours around the world. I certainly thought he wasn’t making much sense with his grandiose promises of free education and many other unrealistic welfare policies. And I am strongly against his plan of taking over the federal government with the assistance of a bunch of party-hoppers (although I am persuaded to agree with Haris Ibrahim’s revised methodology). But I can tolerate all this. After all, Anwar Ibrahim is a human being and all human beings have weaknesses. And just because I support him does not mean that I have to agree with everything he does and says.

All-in-all, for what it’s worth, my humble opinion is Anwar Ibrahim is neither the messiah who will save Malaysia that some of his ardent fans think he is, nor is he the pengkhianat bangsa (betrayer of the Malay race) who will destroy the Malays as what some of his political enemies have portrayed him to be. He is, in my view a human being endowed by God with outstanding leadership qualities, who sincerely believes he can lead this country to achieve greater success and prosperity. Considering his colourful life experience, having gone through the journey from the corridors of power to the solitude of incarceration, and now free and back on the verge of greatness, I am curious to see what he can do. It would not be the end of the world if Anwar Ibrahim never becomes the country’s premier, but he will surely then forever remembered as the best Prime Minister that we never had.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

"What is happenning to Malaysia?"

I have received a few inquiries from overseas friends asking me about recent developments in Malaysian politics. I have always been a very keen political observer, never much of a commentator. But what has happened in the last ten days is enough to provoke me to say something and indeed I have some things to say.

What has happened in the past ten days are as follows: Anwar Ibrahim accussed of sodomy (again!) - Anwar denied and filed a defamation suit; private investigator revealed Statutory Declaration implicating Najib Abdul Razak in Altantuya murder case - Najib brushed off allegations as total lies - private investigator retracted declaration and issued a second declaration withdrawing all statements that contains the name Najib Abdul Razak - private investigator is currently MIA; Anwar Ibrahim promised more revelations against Najib and will no longer "forgive and forget". (Readers may refer to reports in http://www.malaysiakini.com/ for a fair, non-partisan reporting of all the above events)

When Anwar Ibrahim was first accussed of sodomy (and 49 other things) back in 1998, I became a deeply troubled young man. Not that I was an Anwarist, in fact I was far from being one. During the UMNO crisis of 1987, most of my relatives were pro-Team B which was led by the respectable Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. Anwar of course was in Team A and pro-Mahathir. Anwar therefore, was not a political figure that I grew hearing nice things about. To me, he was the not-so-nice-guy (and not so intelligent according to many) and that perception prevailed throughout my teengage years despite many of my peers' obvious adulation towards Anwar Ibrahim. After all, he was the man on the rise, and heir apparent to Mahathir Mohamad.

But when Mahathir openly accussed Anwar of sodomy, I was startled. More so after watching a press conference he gave when he explicitly said "Anwar masturbated him (Dr. Munawwar Anees)". Anwar was also, in addition, accussed of engagging in sexual activities with women from different countries and having an affair with the wife of his private secretary. All these were reported and described not only in the infamous 50 dalil book, but also in the front-pages of all local newspapers on the 2nd and 3rd September 1998 (copies of which I still keep).

The question I had was, "can all this be true?" Can a man really appear so genuinely religious but is in fact a devil reincarnate? As one of my respected professors said at the time, "if all this is true, Anwar must be the devil himself". But is he?

To find these answers, I began to search for information from many different sources. I have had the chance to speak to many different people from different sides of the political equation. I have also seen some of these "evidence"; recorded phone conversation between Anwar and a married woman, and a video of Anwar in close proximity with an unidentified lady. These "evidence" were so filmsy and utterly unconvincing. And rightly so, they were never presented as evidence in court. In the end, Anwar was convicted almost antirely based on the "testimony" given by his former driver, who contradicted himself many times during the trial, yet his testimony was considered by the presiding judge to be as strong "as the Rock of Gibraltar".

Now, coming back to present day events, with all the above (and many others) in mind, do I believe Anwar is guilty of sodomy? Absolutely not. Do I believe that there is a conspiracy against Anwar? Definitely. Can we trust the police to investigate and the judiciary to decide fairly the cases against Anwar Ibrahim and Najib Abdul Razak? I don't think so. Should Anwar Ibrahim become the next Prime Minister of Malaysia? Why not?

The truth is, as often repeated by various pro-UMNO figures in various closed-door meetings and BTN courses, the real reason why Anwar should not be the Prime Minister of Malaysia is because he is an American/Jewish agent. Thus, Anwar should be stopped no matter what it takes. Though the means to achieve this are devious and unlawful, they are necessary to champion a bigger cause which is to the protect the supremacy of Islam and the Malay race. Justified, or fuzzy logic? We'll look into that next.