Saturday, August 23, 2008


By John Teo

FORMER Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid parlayed his credentials as a highly regarded Islamic teacher into high office before getting his presidency unceremoniously cut short and suffering the ignominy of becoming the first head of state to be impeached in his country.

After his high-wire political act, the man many know simply as Gus Dur now seems to be employing his quixotic brew of religion and politics again, but this time in the potentially volatile environment of already fraught Malaysian-Indonesian relations.

It is one thing for the former Indonesian leader, much admired by some Indonesians and many Westerners for his irrepressibly liberal leanings, to openly express his admiration for Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, whom he regards as almost a kindred spirit.

It is quite another for an ex-president of the republic to wade so intimately into our internal political affairs, abusing our famed hospitality by pronouncing on our internal security laws and institutions, and even giving his take on the highly contentious issue of the current charge of sodomy levelled against Anwar.

And this at a particularly sensitive time when Anwar is embroiled in a potentially do-or-die political battle to enter Parliament and meet what he regards as his destiny to be our next prime minister.

It is perhaps the fact Gus Dur is from Indonesia, a country many Malaysians regard as "elder brother", that the reaction among us to what he had most recently said has been surprisingly muted this far. I dare wager that if it were a leader from any other neighbouring country saying what he did about our country, the reaction would have been fast and furious.

Imagine for a moment what the reaction in Indonesia itself would be like if someone such as Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad were to say in Jakarta some time before the country's presidential election next year something as explicitly as Gus Dur just did for us, in favour of either current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono or Megawati Sukarnoputri, seen as the likely top two presidential contenders.

I can almost visualise what a hyperbolic storm would be generated by the marauding tiger out of its cage that seeks to pass itself off as the paragon of a newly free Indonesian media. Dr Mahathir would surely be metaphorically lynched and most probably banned from setting foot on Indonesia ever again. But then our leaders, past or present, would never be so idiotic as to weigh in so indiscreetly on Indonesia's own affairs.

What I particularly resent is not so much outsiders butting in so rudely into our domestic affairs. What really gets my goat is when outsiders -- Gus Dur or the Americans, most especially -- feel so compelled to rather smugly speak out supposedly on our behalf.

It feels deeply offensive that they would arrogate to themselves the liberty to speak out for Malaysians supposedly denied the liberty to speak for ourselves. To condescend, in totally misplaced arrogance, to speak out for Malaysians purportedly repressed under an overbearing government that will, in their imaginings, stoop to inventing charges just so a potent political opponent can be brought down.

To stand in uncalled-for solidarity with Malaysians supposedly living under a virtual police state (which inexplicably still managed to mete out justice to its top policeman who gave Anwar, and in consequence the country's image, that now infamous black eye a decade ago).

Which is not to deny that Malaysians are currently feeling rather overwhelmed by problems and challenges piled seemingly one atop another. But this is our mess and we will sort it out as best we know how ourselves, or at least learn to live with and manage the endemic problem that lies at the core of Malaysian-ness: our uniquely complex racial-religious conundrum.

We may look to neighbours for some answers, but they seem in far worse binds than ourselves. As to that supposed global beacon on the hill that is the United States, your stock panacea to any challenge has long ago been found wanting. A whole swath of newly rich East Asia will not be where it is had it taken your simplistic prescription. And you should have your hands quite full now anyway with some fairly commonplace if serious housekeeping chores of your own. So, thanks but no thanks.

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