Anwar emerged from the Turkish embassy yesterday evening. I didn’t think he could stay in there for long, given that it would have created a major diplomatic stand-off between the two countries. Farish Noor was in KL over the weekend – and returned to Singapore feeling deeply concerned about events in the capital. This article was originally meant to go on the Aliran website, but the website has gone down due to a sudden surge around the same time Anwar walked out of the embassy. (Update: The website has now been restored. According to the webhosting service’s support, the website came under attack from two IP addresses, which bombarded the website with close to 60,000 hits in the space of a few minutes.) So here’s guest writer Farish making a special appearance on this blog with his take of events over the weekend:
A crazy weekend
By Farish A Noor
Its been a long time since I’ve had a weekend as crazy as the one that has just passed. Travelling back to KL by bus I was looking forward to a relaxed weekend with my significant other, and to giving the odd lecture or two in the process. What was meant to be a nice, relaxing break from my work after taking part in a strenuous conference on transnationalism and religion turned out to be a kafka-esque moment extended over 48 hours, from which I am reeling till now.
For a start, the public forum on the Social Contract organised by the Bar Council which I took part in attracted more controversy than was warranted. How odd that in this day and age, when Malaysia is half a decade old, discussion on things as mundane as the social contract – that would have been a catalyst for yawns and snores in any other country – could have been seen as something so controversial that it even warranted more than a minute of news coverage the next day. Dazed and flabbergasted by the reaction of some, I found comfort in the words of the President of the Bar Council, who reminded us all that we, Malaysians, are now a mature and civil society where we can speak of such things in an intelligent, rational and objective manner.
Three hours later I found myself at a public reading at a gallery in Bangsar where my better half was reading an excerpt from her newly-published book. She chose to read an article on the fate of our fellow Malaysian citizen Lina Joy, and I was struck by the appreciation and goodwill of those present who listened to her attentively and congratulated her for writing what she did. It was a mixed gathering that indicated to me that a new, brave and bold young Malaysia was in the process of being born. The hall was full of Malaysians from all walks of life; the young and old, Malaysians of every conceivable ethnic, linguistic, cultural, religious and class background. And yet there we were: the Malaysia of today, mixed and complex, hybrid and confident of our plural identity. How wonderful to live in such a country, where newness is still not a distant dream and renewal a constant possibility.
I felt proud to be a Malaysian then, and proud to be among other Malaysian-minded Malaysians who were colour-blind and open to dialogue and engagement in the most meaningful sense of the word.
The very next day I woke up to a flurry of sms-es informing me that Anwar Ibrahim had taken refuge in the Turkish embassy and that a police report had been filed against him on the charge of sodomy. My immediate reaction was one of disbelief. What?? Again?? Were some of my friends playing a sick joke on me, on a Sunday morning to boot?
Apparently not. And in the course of the day dozens of sms-es invaded the small confine of my handphone to keep me updated on what was going on and things were going pear-shaped very fast. At this stage, it is too early to predict what will happen as a result of these allegations, but by the end of the day I found myself besieged by calls from TV and radio stations the world over for comments on the events as they unfolded. As was the case in 1998, Anwar is back in the headlines all over the world for all the wrong reasons.
Thus it has come to pass that we in Malaysia are witnessing the slow and painful birth of a new Malaysia where the forces of change are constantly having to struggle against the forces of inertia and reaction. There is no need to dwell on the nature of the charges or how this latest episode of Malaysia’s political drama will play out; suffice to say that the convulsions will be long and laborious, as in the case of any birth.
What is clear, however, is this: In every single conversation I had with every single Malaysian I met in KL and on my way back to my office in Singapore, I was confronted with the same statement repeated ad infinitum: We don’t believe it. If the charges in 1998 were false, why should they be true today? Faith, it should be noted, is not merely a matter of religion but also of politics; and in politics political credibility counts for everything. Over the past ten years the reputation of Malaysia’s governmental, judicial and security institutions have taken such a battering that public confidence is at an all-time low.
I will not entertain the many conspiracy theories that are making the rounds at the moment as I have grown tired and immune to them, as most Malaysians have I’m sure. But the political scientist in me is worried about what all this may do to our common faith in the idea of Malaysia itself, and whether the Malaysian project can sustain such battering for much longer. Others, like my friends Haris Ibrahim and Malik Imtiaz, have already beaten me to the keyboard and raised questions that need to be asked concerning this latest political hot potato. The timing, context and purpose of these revelations and accusations have been questioned by some. And we have also been reminded of the wider context against which this is all happening, at a time when allegations made about those who may or may not have been involved and present at the brutal slaying of the Mongolian woman Altantuya were already making the rounds on the internet and grabbing the headlines of the mainstream press.
I can only concur with the opinion of Malik Imtiaz when he raises the pertinent and timely point: “Somehow, the sexual proclivities of an individual, whether real or fantasised, do not seem to matter when the country is facing a financial crisis largely due to fat cats having looted and pillaged their way through national resources, seemingly at will”, while “Morgan Stanley has indicated that some RM330 billion has been dissipated from Malaysia through corruption falls even lower on the list of priorities (if it was on the list at all)”.
Enough said, I think.