To know you is to love you

Raja Petra Kamarudin

The Malays say, if you love your wife then leave her, and if you love your children then beat them. In Bahasa Malaysia this would be: kalau saying isteri ditinggal-tinggalkan dan kalau saya anak dipukul-pukulkan. Not sure whether my Malay grammar is correct or not but I am sure you catch my drift nevertheless. I suppose the English concept to this would be ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ and ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’. Yes, sometimes familiarisation does breed contempt and the occasional ‘space’ would certainly make you miss the one you love. After all, love can be suffocating at times, if you know what I mean. But make sure the ‘absence’ is not a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

Since we are reminiscing about old sayings, we might as well go all the way. They also say: to know you is to love you. Malays would say: tak kenal maka tak cinta.

Kind of contradictory isn’t it? You need to know someone to love that person. But then, if you crowd each other too much, then you get on each other’s nerves and climb the wall. So, to strengthen that love, you must endure a period of separation once in awhile. And you need to beat, chide or take to task that person you love as a sign of love.

Never mind though. These are all old sayings anyway and old in Malaysia is not relevant. Today, cars become ‘old models’ even before the warranty period expires, and it reaches ‘no value’ before you can finish paying off the monthly instalments on it. Cell phones or hand phones become obsolete as soon as you walk out from the shop and are still in your car driving home. Such is the ‘throw away’ society that we have become.

And when do politicians become old, obsolete or expired? When they touch 80? When they celebrate their 70th birthday? By the time they no longer know how to spell their own name? Well, none of the above actually. Politicians become old, obsolete or expired when they no longer hold office. When you are in office it does not matter what age you are. You can be 39 (the age when Khairy Jamaluddin ‘got into office’) or 79 (roughly the age when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad left office). As long as you hold office you are very much relevant. People bow when you walk pass. They kiss your hand. And if they are Malay, they will clasp their hands over their testicles when they address or talk to those in power. (I think it is called pegang peler in Bahasa Malaysia, the act of putting your hands over your family jewels when you are talking to someone important).

The Chinese say it is like riding a tiger. When you are astride a tiger you are very powerful and very few people dare face you unless in an act of respect. But once you get tired and decide to get off the tiger, then you are eaten alive in an instant. The bottom line is, once you are astride a tiger, you must never get off. You need to remain riding that tiger until you die. In short, you must die standing, not die sleeping. If you decide to die sleeping, then you will die with your eyes wide open. And Malays believe that those who die with their eyes open are those who have left this world with an unaccomplished mission.

Tunku Abdul Rahman, the First Prime Minister and Father of Independence (Bapa Merdeka), learnt this the hard way. So did Hussein Onn, the Third Prime Minister. Ghafar Baba too suffered this, twice in his career. Abdullah Ahmad Badawi was not spared this either back in 1987. In fact, many Malaysian politicians would qualify for membership to this Hall of Un-fame. The list would certainly be endless and is not exclusive to only Prime Ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers.

Well, today, Dr Mahathir is rapidly discovering what it is like to be a political ‘has been’. Would you want to visit Dr Mahathir today and kiss his hand like you did when he was the Prime Minister? Would you declare Dr Mahathir the Father of Modern Malaysia like Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was the Father of Modern Turkey? The Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS) has in fact labelled Dr Mahathir as Malaysia’s Kemal Ataturk. But this was done not as a sign of respect but to suggest that Dr Mahathir has ‘destroyed’ Islam like what Ataturk did in Turkey more than 80 years ago.

Malaysians in general and Malays in particular flock to those in power and sing their praises, when they are still in power. This, as what Dr Mahathir once said about a decade ago, is the ‘herd mentality’. Cattle, or lembu in Bahasa Malaysia, do this. That is why ten cowboys can control thousands of lembu. They only need to control the head of the lembu and guide it where they want it to go and the thousands of other lembu would just follow the leader of the lembu. Tunku Abdul Rahman also said this. Just pegang kepala (control the head), said the Tunku, and the ekor (tail) would follow.

I suppose this is how the Malays became Muslims. Once the Ruler converted to Islam, the entire population followed suit, though they did not fully understand what Islam was all about; and until today many still do not. It is therefore very easy to control the herd or lembu. Just make sure the head follows you and the thousands of others would be with you.

Okay, who is the ‘head’ we are talking about here? Of course this would be the President of Umno, a.k.a the Prime Minister of Malaysia. If he is with you, then the other 190 of the 191 Ketua Bahagian (division heads) would also be with you. And if the 191 Ketua Bahagian are with you, then the Ahli Jawatankuasa Bahagian (division committee members) would be with you as well. And if all the Ahli Jawatankuasa Bahagian stand by your side, then the 3.5 million Umno members would throw their lot behind you. And if the entire Umno is solidly behind you, then the whole of Barisan Nasional would sing your praises.

Sigh…..that is how the herd mentality works. Dr Mahathir himself has told us about how it works. And today Dr Mahathir is learning how accurate he was ten years ago in describing the scenario.

Recently, in a dialogue in Penang, Anwar Ibrahim was asked why Raja Petra and Malaysia Today are so critical of him. Anwar replied, “He criticises me 1%, so that means he still supports me 99%.” So there is no harm in Malaysia Today criticising him, argued Anwar. After all, Malaysia Today is independent and we should respect the independence of the media and the right to free speech. This also demonstrates what would happen if the opposition were to come to power, explained Anwar. The opposition would allow space for criticism and dissent and would respect the right to free speech and opposing views.

I suppose if Dr Mahathir was asked that same question he would reply, “Raja Petra criticises me 99%, so that means he still supports me 1%.” And Dr Mahathir, at least today, would agree with Anwar on the right to free speech, independence of the media, etc. like what was argued by Anwar in Penang.

Yes, Anwar and Dr Mahathir must both learn that there is no such thing as 100% support. Neither will we oppose them 100%. We will disagree with them even if we support them. And we will agree with them even if we do not support them. But we will agree or disagree with them based on issues, not on personalities or for the fact that we support or do not support them.

I disagreed with Anwar when he was in government. I was one of his strongest critics and he knows this. But I supported him in 1998 when I felt an injustice had been done to him. I was one of Dr Mahathir’s opponents back in the late 1980s, ten years before Anwar was sacked and while Anwar was still ‘carrying Mahathir’s balls’. Today, Dr Mahathir is no longer Prime Minister and I do not wish to kick a deflated ball like those very brave Umno souls who will kick a person only when he is down and never while he is on top.

Do I like Dr Mahathir? Why not I put it another way? Do I need to like Dr Mahathir? Are we concerned about the singer or the song? I don’t care who the singer is as long as the song is music to my ears. Most times I do not even know who the singer is though the song that singer sings is one of my favourites.

In that same context, if Anwar sings a song I like, I will listen. But if the song is shit, then I tune off. And if Dr Mahathir sings a song I like, I will also listen. And the same goes if I don’t like what comes out of his mouth; I will close my ears. Whether I like Anwar and dislike Dr Mahathir, or vice versa, is of no consequence to me.

Well, lately, Dr Mahathir has been singing many right tunes. I really don’t want to repeat all that I have written in The Corridors of Power, The Khairy Chronicles, Loony Malaysia, and Monday Morning Blues. I am sure you know what I am talking about. What Dr Mahathir says makes sense and is music to my ears. So I listen. And if Anwar sings equally beautiful tunes, I will listen as well. But I will never listen to Anwar because I like him or close my ears to Dr Mahathir because I dislike him. It is the song, not the singer, that counts.