The Storm and The Rainbow

A Reformasi Diary by Sabri Zain

The Emperor's new clothes
June 13th, 1999

Once upon a time there lived a Great Emperor whose only aim in life was to be the Greatest. He didn’t care what it was - the biggest, tallest, longest, highest, most expensive - as long as it was the Greatest. He would spend billions of the country’s wealth just so he could have something to show them off to his people and to the foreigners he envied. Word of the Emperor's vanity spread over his kingdom and a fashion designer named Dalilah decided to take advantage of it.

“Sire, it only fitting that one as great as you, Lord of All He Surveys, the greatest man to have walked this planet, should be dressed in nothing but the finest of clothes,” she said to the Emperor. “I am the country’s finest fashion designer and after many years of research, I have invented an extraordinary method to weave gold into a cloth so light and fine that, to some, it looks invisible. This cloth will not only be woven in the brightest and loudest colours and patterns created especially for you but it will also be invisible to anyone who is too stupid and incompetent to appreciate its quality.”

The Emperor's curiosity - and vanity - got the better of him. The Emperor gave Dalilah many bags of gold coins in exchange for her promise to begin working on the fabric immediately. “Just tell us what you need to get started and we'll give it to you.” She asked for a loom, silk, gold thread and then went home and pretended to start work.

The Emperor thought he had spent his money quite well: in addition to getting a new extraordinary suit, he would discover which of his subjects were ignorant and incompetent. A few days later, he summoned his ministers, all of whom he considered as intelligent and competent. “Go and see how the fashion designer’s work is proceeding,” the Emperor told them, “and come back to let me know.”

The ministers went to her house and were welcomed by Dalilah. “I’m almost finished, but I need a lot more gold thread. Here, Your Excellencies! Admire the colours, feel the softness!” She pretended to hold up a piece of cloth from the loom - and, of course, there was actually nothing there!

The ministers bent over the loom and tried to see the fabric that was not there. They felt ashamed and afraid. “I can't see anything,” each one of them thought. “If I see nothing, that means I'm stupid! Or, worse, incompetent! And if we admitted that we didn't see anything, we would lose our jobs!”

So everyone of the Ministers smiled and sang the highest praises to the fashion designer. “You are indeed the greatest of fashion designers! What a marvelous fabric, what incredible colours! We will certainly tell the Emperor.”

And they all remarked about how wonderful, how beautiful, how elegant the cloth was - except the deputy prime minister! “I can’t see a thing!” he said. “Are you sure there’s something there?”

The other ministers looked horrified and rebuked the deputy prime minister. “Sir, how can you say that of such exquisite cloth?!” they said. “We shall tell the Emperor of your stupidity!”

The fashion designer rubbed her hands gleefully. “Aha! Looks like I can make lots of money as well as get this dog into serious trouble,” she thought to herself. “I never liked him!” She asked the ministers for more gold thread to finish the work and they eagerly promised her all the gold in the country.

And month after month, she asked for more gold, and when there was no more gold to give, she asked for shares, bonds, property, government contracts - anything that was of value. Finally, when the Treasury was almost bare and the economy began to suffer, Dalilah said the cloth was ready and came to the Imperial Palace to take all the measurements needed to sew the Emperor’s new clothes.

“Come in,” the Emperor ordered. Even as she bowed, she pretended to be holding a large, heavy roll of cloth. “Here it is your Highness, the result of my labour,” Dalilah said. “I have worked night and day but, at last, the most beautiful fabric in the world is ready for you. Look at the colours and feel how fine it is!”

Of course the Emperor did not see any colours and could only feel empty air between his fingers. He panicked and felt like fainting. But luckily the throne was right behind him and he sat down. “I can’t see anything!” he thought to himself. “Am I stupid?!” But then he realised that no one could know that he did not see the fabric, and he felt better. “Nobody need find out I’m stupid and incompetent.” “Beautiful cloth!” he cried out aloud and pretended to stroke the invisible fabric.

And the Emperor didn't know that everybody else around him thought and did the very same thing - except the deputy prime minister! “I still cannot see anything!” he insisted. “I swear, there’s nothing there! Beware, Sire, you are about to be cheated!”

“You are obviously stupid!” the Emperor cried out angrily. “And not fit to be my deputy prime minister! My other ministers have warned me about you. Even the chief of police! From today onwards, you are no longer my deputy prime minister! You’re fired! Get out!” And the chief of police smiled and dragged the deputy prime minister out of the palace, and beat him up for being so stupid.

The fashion designer smiled gleefully, seeing how well her farce was working. Once she had taken the measurements, she began cutting the air with scissors and pretended to sew her invisible cloth. “Your Highness, you'll have to take off your clothes to try on your new ones.” She draped the new clothes on him and then held up a mirror. The Emperor was embarrassed - he was as naked as a new-born baby. He looked at his Ministers. “Well?”

“You look exquisite, Sire” said one minister. “The cloth matches your eyes!” said another. “The most wonderful clothes I have ever seen,” said yet another. Not a single one of them had the courage to say that he looked rather foolish standing naked in the magnificent Imperial Hall.

The Emperor felt relieved. “Yes, this is a beautiful suit and it looks very good on me,” the Emperor lied, trying to look comfortable and shivering from the cold draft.

In the meantime, the people were getting angry that the deputy prime minister was dismissed so ashamedly. People were protesting in the capital and many were hurt when the Imperial Police attacked and dispersed them. Word began spreading that there really was no magical cloth or clothes and that the Emperor was walking around his palace buck naked. People became angry at so much gold being paid to the fashion designer, when the economy was suffering and they themselves were tolled heavily. And they were angry that not a single one of his weak, spineless ministers dared utter a single word.

The Emperor ordered all the newspapers and television stations to write articles and show programmes about how wonderful and beautiful his new clothes were. Of course, the editors who were summoned to the palace to see his new clothes could not see anything, but they too were frightened and they wrote the most wonderful stories about the Emperor’s new clothes. No one believed them, of course, especially when pictures of the naked emperor were distributed widely all over the Internet.

“This is an evil foreign plot!” he shouted angrily to his ministers. “These foreigners are stupid and they don’t like the idea of me being the world’s best-dressed head of state!”

“Your Majesty,” the ministers said, “we agree, we must do something about all this slander and defamation over the Internet. The people are anxious to see you in your new suit.” The Emperor was doubtful showing himself naked to the people, but then he abandoned his fears. After all, no one would know about it except the ignorant and the incompetent. “All right,” he said. “I will grant the people this privilege.”

He summoned his carriage and the ceremonial parade was formed. The ministers walked at the very front of the procession and anxiously scrutinized the faces of the people in the street. All the people had gathered in the main square, pushing and shoving to get a better look. As the Emperor passed, a strange murmur rose from the crowd. The ministers said, loud enough for the others to hear: “Look at the Emperor's new clothes. They're beautiful!” “What a marvelous train!” “And the colours! The colours of that beautiful fabric! I have never seen anything like it in my life.”

The people all tried to conceal their disappointment at not being able to see the clothes, and since nobody was willing to admit his own stupidity and incompetence, they all just stood and watched silently, not knowing what to say.

But a little boy who was sincere and could only see things as his eyes showed them to him, went up to the carriage. “The Emperor is naked,” he said.

"Fool!' the Emperor cried out angrily, running after him. 'Don't talk nonsense! I'll arrest you! I'll detain you without trial! My chief of police will give you a black eye!"

But the boy’s remarks, which had been heard by the bystanders, was repeated over and over again until everyone cried: “The boy is right! The Emperor is naked! It's true!” The people began to see through the Emperor’s new clothes and see his nakedness and all its different forms - its greed, its vanity, its arrogance. And all the people began to jeer and laugh at their Emperor. And the one laughing the loudest was the poor deputy prime minister, watching the procession from behind the bars of his prison cell.

The Emperor realised that the people were right but could not admit to that. “I shall pretend that there is nothing wrong.” And though he knew that he was really naked, he though it better to continue the procession under the illusion that anyone who couldn't see his new clothes was either stupid or incompetent. And he stood stiffly on his carriage, ignoring the jeers and laughter from his people and from the world, as he continued to be carried around his empire, as naked as the day he was born.

And the Emperor remains naked, to this day....