The Storm and The Rainbow

A Reformasi Diary by Sabri Zain

Barbarians at the gates
June 18th, 1999

With all the accusations now being levelled at the local media of being unashamed propaganda arms of the government , a news telecast last night made me wonder if they really were rabid political brown-nosers or just extremely subtle critics. Or whether they were incredibly stupid or stunningly clever. The telecast in question began with Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi ranting about the evil ‘foreigners’ supporting groups out to topple the country and warning loyal Malaysians not to fall prey and be controlled by these foreign powers out to control us.

Without even waiting to catch his breath from that first news segment, the newsreader’s stern demeanour turned to a jolly smile when he cheerily announced the good news that US corporate giant Hewlett-Packard is launching a RM160 million bond issue in Malaysia - its first ever outside the US. Shaking hands with and smiling eagerly down upon the evil foreigners was none other than Federal Bank deputy governor Datuk Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz. Hmmm, come to think of it, she does look suspiciously Caucasian. I didn’t notice if there was anyone from Salomon Smith Barney looking on rubbing his hands.

Confusion began to cloud my simple mind. One second they’re foreign devils funding riots and looting in our fair country. Within the blink of an eye, they’re suddenly transformed to those nice chaps giving us so much money. Guys, so which is which?

This reminded me of a similar paradox last November 25th. This time it was two newspaper articles. Some where in the national news section, then Information Minister, Datuk Mohamed Rahmat, said at a function in Kepala Batas that “... the United States does not want peace and harmony in the region ... it wants to create disunity among the people ... racial strife in Malaysia ... the West wants us to fight each other so that it would be easier for them to control us ....”

According to the paper’s business section that very same day, Special Functions Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin, barely a few miles away in Penang, told a press conference: “Trade relations between the two countries - Malaysia and the United States - must continue as usual and their businessmen must continue to invest in Malaysia ... I do not see any reason why there should be any disruption to the trade links between Malaysia and the United States ...”

Oh yes, I almost forgot ... Datuk Mohamed Rahmat also said “Malaysians must reject these people who are cronies of the west ...”. And just a few days before, the Perlis Menteri Besar burned effigies of Bill Clinton.

Can someone please explain to me how we can allow a government Minister to encourage trade and investment in Malaysia with country that is accused of inciting violence and riots, plotting the downfall of the government, having imperialist aims of colonising our country and pouring CIA agents and money into our beloved country that is awash with flags? Is he a CIA agent as well? The way we are ranting and raving, beating our chests and waving our flags, it is as though we are at war with the United States - but “trade relations will continue as usual”?! How can you expect Americans to invest in Pulau Pinang and Alor Setar when people are burning effigies of the US President a few miles away in Kangar? You can cause riots, spit on us and humiliate us, but we'll take your money, thank you?

Well, at least then, they had the balls to actually name this mysterious foreign enemy. Today, they only have the courage to call them the ubiquitous ‘foreigner’ or ‘foreign enemy’ or ‘foreign power’ - that nameless, mysterious, invisible but omnipresent and omnipotent enemy full of hate and gnashing of teeth, pouring billions in foreign exchange to those thousands of paid demonstrators apparently waiting in long queues along Jalan TAR.

And yes, it’s that same ‘foreigner’ who is gracing massive (and very expensive, I may add) billboards all around Kuala Lumpur rebuking him for his ‘interference’. And the same ‘enemy’ we’re all supposed to unite against that is mentioned in that tuneless almost fascist song that is constantly played over television.

What next, I suppose? Weekly air raid warnings and exercises so patriotic Malaysians can be well-prepared for the almost certain air strikes that will come from this powerful enemy? Emergency numbers advertised on television that you can call should you happen to see a well-armed Marine parachute down onto your lawn one fine evening?

Because with all the hatred, hostility, enmity and downright bad manners that this mysterious ‘foreigner’ has clearly (according to the government) demonstrated, it can mean only one thing - THIS MEANS WAR! Declare war on the buggers! Mobilise our troops! Scramble our jet fighters! Arm the missiles! The nation is being attacked!

Do you think if the United States learned that Cuba was flooding their country with looters, rioters and agent provocateurs, they’d just make long, boring speeches in Congress ranting and raving about it? No sir-eeee! They’d send in the aircraft carriers and at least ten divisions of Marines would be hitting the beaches at the Bay of Pigs.

But what do we in Malaysia do when we are apparently under attack by a foreign power? We make boring speeches ranting and raving about it in Parliament. And at UMNO conferences. On television. In the newspapers. On billboards. Heck, we don’t even have the guts to send their ambassador packing on the first flight home to Washington.

Could it be that we’re all yellow-bellied cowards? Or could it just be that all that ranting and raving is really just so much hot air? Face it, it can only be one or the other.

The fact that we’re all sunshine and smiles when it comes to them trading with us and giving us money also seems to suggest that the barbarians are probably not quite at the gates just yet.

But those pesky barbarians are mentioned yet again ad nauseam in the UMNO President’s address to the faithful at the UMNO General Assembly today, in a speech that gives one the impression that the UMNO universe revolves around foreigners, the Opposition and Anwar Ibrahim -and little else. If I had a friend like that, my only message to him would be “Get a life, pal!”

He reminds us that these ‘foreigners’ need not all be of the white-skinned variety. He said that Malays to the north and south - in Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore - were not free and independent. “They live in other people's country and will continue to do so.” I somehow think that persuading Sumatra, southern Thailand and Singapore to join Malay Malaysia would not augur too well for ASEAN solidarity.

But his most revealing remark appeared almost right at the beginning of the speech, when he mentions that foreign colonialists took only weeks to conquer the Malay states and Sabah and Sarawak , and that “our independence and our freedom can be lost within a short period.”

Now, I don’t know who writes our Great Leader’s speeches but, with due respect, may I suggest that whoever it is consults any Form Two child who can probably tell him that the length of time between the first arrival of the Europeans in 1509 up to the formation of the Federated Malay States in 1895 does amount to quite a bit more than a just few weeks. Johor even managed to get along without a British Adviser right up to 1914.

That small oversight in the history of the Malay States aside, I have to say it is still an important message to deliver. To use a word now popularised by a judge-turned-author, time is not relevant. Whether it takes weeks or centuries, free and independent states will only become colonised because they allow themselves to be colonised. My late father once wrote a drama that had the following monologue:

“Why should I oppose them? They build roads for us ... they build tall buildings for us ... they build towns ... we’re given enough to eat ... enough to drink ... they protect us from our enemies ... why should I oppose them? Indeed, I should be loyal and grateful to them!”

“But it is because we are so dependent on them that we have become like this. No different from a bird in a cage, lulled by comfort. Give food every day. Given water. But when the times comes for us to fly, our wings are paralysed.”

“I am not saying that they are wrong. What they are doing now is not wrong ... because it is in their nature. Like the story of the snake and the frog. Before the frog is swallowed up by the snake, it asks: ‘Snake, why are you eating me?’ And the snake replies: ‘Because frogs are my food’.”

“No, it is we are who are wrong ... because we have been stupid and passive all this time, and we have let things come to this. And it is only the people who can correct the mistake that we ourselves made, and oppose the lies and deception of our white oppressors. But we cannot use lies and deception. We cannot fight fire with fire. But we can use the fire of justice and freedom that burns in our hearts, and that fire shall consume oppression and cruelty.”

My father was writing about the struggle for independence from the British. But his words could easily been written today.

If a free people do not have the will or courage to defend their freedom, they are as much at fault as the oppressors who want to enslave them.

And it doesn’t matter if those oppressors are foreigners or their own countrymen.