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MGG: Blaming the foreigner for a problem closer home
By M.G.G. Pillai

28/1/2002 1:36 am Mon

An artful rule in politics is to accuse a wrongdoing in foreign shores you would not raise at home. So Malaysia is quick to accuse the United States of less than humane treatment for its detainees in the Guantanamo Gulag in the Carribean but defends her own questionable treatment of illegal immigrants in its holding camps in Malaysia. The methods vary but the ill-treatment is the same. Kuala Lumpur and Washington do not run summer camps, they insist. Both insist they treat well those held against their will, and defend their turf in frustrated self-righteousness. And both accuse the other of what they do with impunity on their detainees.

The war on terror is fine, echoes Malaysia's foreign minister, Dato' Seri Syed Hamid Albar, but Washington inhumanely mistreats its detainees. UMNO Youth chief, Dato' Hishamuddin Hussein is likewise incensed. The US ambassador, Mrs Marie Huhtala. denies it, of course. As the Malaysian ambassador in Washington when the US had harsh words for how Malaysia treated her detainees and Indonesian and Bangladeshi migrant workers. The US is silent on its detainees, holding to its high moral ground at home while losing their cool abroad. And so Malaysia, and many other countries. But where was Dato' Seri Syed Hamid and Dato' Seri Hishamuddin when the Inspector-General of Police mauled the just detained former deputy prime minister, Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim? Where is their concern for their government's ill-treatment of a man-who-would-be-prime minister, now in a wheelchair and severe back pain? Their silence at the time was deafening.

Our newspapers are house-trained not to ask searching questions of our cabinet ministers and business men. If they do, they are blackballed or worse by their news desks. Cabinet ministers and business men should not be made more stupid than they already are. This has its downside. Reporters uncritically report what they hear, and Malaysian newspapers contains fascinating raw material of government. News is displayed as tombstones in cemetries, with no relevance and method how they are displayed. If the Prime Minister gives a press conference, what he says is all over the newspapers, with no attempt to link them. To drive the message home, the full text is over several pages. If he and his men criticise the world, it gets star treatment; if he is asked of similar conditions at home, the reporter's position is insecure.

So, we live in this dream world, where Malaysia is perfect because the Prime Minister and his men tells us it is, and the rest of the world imperfect because the Prime Minister and his men tells us it is. But this also tells us it is not. A theory I hold is proven time and time again: the newspapers are read by many, if not most, thinking Malaysians, of hints of wrongs in Malaysia. Reading between the lines is an art. One is amazed how accurate this is when you transpose an event in, say, Caracas with home. The more authoritarian a society the more this is adhered to. Since press freedom in Malaysia is only the right to praise those in power, this art has a honourable past.

Newspapers highlight Malaysian criticism of US wrongdoings in the Carribean Gulag points to a confidence crisis within. The newspapers, a mere government voice, leave clues all over its pages that my first information of political developments often is buried in a long story on, say, horticulture. Sometimes it is more direct. The high level talks between representatives of the two men who matter today in Malaysian politics, one in self-inflicted imprisonment in Putra Jaya and the other in court-ordered imprisonment in Sungei Buloh, is denied.

In the rumour-ridden Malaysian capital, there is no smoke without fire. The sudden concern of the foreign minister and UMNO youth leader for human rights of detainees in the Carribean Gulag is in part the fear of the reports being true. Suddenly many a cabinet minister and National Front (BN) leader fears the truth of these rumours. The plot on the Prime Minister's life, officially denied, is not fiction, nor it appears would be the last. As the rumours that the weapons stolen from an army camp in Grik have not all been recovered, and some are now in hands which should not.

M.G.G. Pillai