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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Political Grandstanding or Sinister Policy Shift?

[Reprinted from Malaysiakini.com July 19, 2005]

Political Grandstanding or Sinister Shift Policy?

Co-written with Din Merican*

Our “reformed” Royal Malaysian Police recently raided the home of Raja Petra Kamarudin, editor of the website Malaysia Today (http://www.malaysia-today.net/), and seized his computers. To Malaysiakini readers, it is déjà vu.

The police routinely resorted to the Internal Security Act to raid the private residence of citizens. That is nothing new, and sadly, no longer shocking to Malaysians. This time however it is the home of a respected editor. After the public debacle over the Malaysiakini raid two years ago, we would have thought the police would be more circumspect. They never learn!

A benign take on this episode would be to assume that it is a case of political grandstanding ahead of the UMNO General Assembly next Tuesday, July 19th UMNO must regularly demonstrate its prowess against those who may challenge its “Ketuanan Melayu” (Malay Hegemony) obsession, and UMNO’s role as “protector” of the Malay sultans and their subjects.

Hollowness of the Government’s Assurance

A more sinister view would be that this action merely exposes the hollowness of the presumed liberal stance and attitude of the Abdullah Badawi Administration towards open discourse, especially in cyberspace, on matters of public interest. The raid on Malaysiakini made a mockery of the government’s oft-stated commitment to keep the Internet free of official censorship. Malaysia has yet to recover from that blow.

At that time Prime Minister Mahathir took the brunt of the heat for the actions of members of the xenophobic UMNO Youth even though the action was initiated by Abdullah Badawi’s Internal Security Ministry. We commented on the folly of UMNO Youth’s action and the immaturity of its leadership. Our hard-hitting commentary angered many in the movement including some who were our friends. Nonetheless, we did it because we believe that it is unhealthy to censor dissenting views and opinions. Such actions also damage Malaysia’s image.

Robust public debates are the essence of democracy. Further, such clumsy and bumbling attempts at censorship and control are futile in this age of the Internet. You could no more control the flow of information than you could atmospheric flow. The communist rulers of China and the mullahs in Iran have tried, and both failed. When the police closed the case against Malaysiakini, we thought that there would be no more raids of this nature. We were rudely mistaken.

Raja Petra Kamarudin’s brand of analytical and aggressive investigative journalism is alien to Malaysia, where the reprinting of ministerial speeches and press releases constitutes “newsgathering.” It is no surprise then that the uncensored and independent Internet news portals have been rapidly gaining readership at the expense of the mainstream media.

Two particularly hard-hitting series received wide readership and comments. The first was on corruption in the Negri Sembilan Royal Family, and the second, the meteoric career of Khairy Jamaluddin, trusted advisor and son-in-law to Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. In both, Raja Petra cited names and specific instances.

Both series are practically road maps for the police to investigate. Such expose ahead of the UMNO General Assemby could have devastating political consequences. The police therefore, took the more sycophantic approach by raiding Raja Petra’s home in an effort to please and appease the Minister of Internal Security, who is Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi himself.

Kampong Kisssinger-Lite Wannabe

It is well known that the ambitious Khairy is not popular among certain factions of UMNO. He is feared not because of his talent rather for his being the Prime Minister’s son-in-law. In short, the old familiar Malaysian refrain of “who, not what you know.”

Khairy who did his thesis on Machiavelli at Oxford subscribes to the Florentine’s dictum that it is better for the Prince to “be feared than loved.” Interestingly that too was Henry Kissinger’s doctoral dissertation at Harvard. What we have here is a kampong version of a “Kissinger lite.”

The seizure of Raja Petra’s computers hardly interrupted Malaysia Today’s operations. News articles continued to be posted, and readers were as eager as ever to register their views.

Raja Petra, like all prudent and responsible editors, web operators, and bloggers, must have taken the necessary precautions, like backing up files and having mirror servers elsewhere.

In the battle of ideas, the removal of hardware is a primitive and ineffective strategy. More productive and constructive would be to counter with superior ideas and respond frontally to the criticisms. Indeed later on the same day of the police raid on Raja Petra, Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi preached the same message in a speech to the Mass Media Conference organized by his own Ministry of Internal Security. In it, he chastised the mainstream media for their sensationalism and at the same time admonished government officials who could not tolerate public criticisms. He should have done the same thing for his cabinet colleagues and fellow Barisan Nasional politicians.

Alas that was vintage Abdullah Badawi at his best, good only at preaching. He has been dispensing homilies ad nauseam ever since he took over the country’s leadership. He is, as one of my readers put it colorfully, "lebai pantai ratit saja.” (A rabbi good only at chanting!”) If Abdullah had written that speech himself, then he should be the first to heed his own advice. If, as more likely, that it is the handiwork of Khairy Jamaluddin, then he (Khairy) should be the first to heed his own message.

If this raid was merely political grandstanding, then we feel sorry for Raja Petra and his family who had to bear the terrible burden. The only consolation is that this annual circus that is the UMNO General Assembly will be over by the end of next week. If this raid portends a sinister shift in public policy, then we feel sorry for the whole nation.

* Din Merican is Senior Research Fellow with the Phnom Penh-based Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace. This is his personal commentary.


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