Malott trying to distract us from Anwar’s woes

Malott doesn’t get this but, to be fair, he makes no mention of the word “racism” in his opinion piece but he, whether he likes it or not, is party to the loaded WSJ heading “The price of Malaysia’s racism”, which implies that Malaysia is drowning in a toxic cesspool of racism.

By Azmi Anshar, New Straits Times

FORMER United States ambassador to Malaysia John R. Malott has penned a sweeping but disingenuous indictment of Malaysia in the Wall Street Journal’s Asian opinion page, alleging that “racial and religious tensions are higher today than when Mr Najib took office in 2009”.

Referring to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s handling of prickly race relations issues in that period, Malott mischievously characterised the tensions as “worse than at any time since 1969, when at least 200 people died in racial clashes between the majority Malay and minority Chinese communities”.

Malott went on to accuse Malaysia’s leadership of “tolerating and, in some cases, provoking ethnic factionalism through words and actions”.

His 1,100-word missive had two obvious but odious slants:

– The so-called racial tensions he misdirected are perpetrated exclusively by the Malay leadership against what he deemed as helpless and hapless non-Malays; and,

– a deep-seated revulsion for the Najib administration, matched only by his consistently unabashed public relations pitch for opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, which makes his vitriol a simple sales promotion for Anwar.

Let’s see. By cleverly deploying the noun, “tensions”, against the May 13, 1969 trajectory, he is implying that racial clashes are a regular feature in Malaysian race relations since 1969.

The real question is, where are the worsening tensions that could trigger fatal racial clashes as terrible as those incited on May 13, 1969, as Malott slyly claims?

Malott asserted that the Malaysian leadership “is tolerating and provoking ethnic factionalism through words and actions”. He can’t be more flat on that.

What Malott perceived to be a malevolent circumstance can be seen in a more enlightened prism; it is Najib’s willingness to engage all aggrieved parties — Malays, Chinese and Indians alike — by encouraging them to say their piece, even if it is unpleasant.

That’s several notches up for free speech when previous administrations had curtailed debate on race relations, restricting them only to Parliament and special closed-door councils.

Now, the debate is so open that websites, blogs and social media networks are abuzz with the freedom to discuss what had been a taboo topic.

The downside? You’d think Malaysia is reeling in a perfect storm of racism, given the rancidness of many comments from all sides.

From Hindraf’s exaggerated claims of genocide to the Chinese community’s leverage of precious votes (some would call it blackmail) to get more Chinese schools to the Malays’ defensive posture against shrill demands that their special position is irrelevant and obscured by historical skewering, the multi-pronged debate is boisterous and healthy.

These are strong, passionate stances made possible by an administration that accepts such sentiments as a fact of life and does not fear them from surfacing aloud, only if it allows Najib to formulate pragmatic solutions which may or may not appease the aggrieved parties.

Malott doesn’t get this but, to be fair, he makes no mention of the word “racism” in his opinion piece but he, whether he likes it or not, is party to the loaded WSJ heading “The price of Malaysia’s racism”, which implies that Malaysia is drowning in a toxic cesspool of racism.

That’s not what Malaysians are experiencing now though the WSJ appears to have no misgivings in branding that label on Malaysia.

Here’s an alternative perspective to Malott’s blinkered observation: Malaysians are no more capable of institutional racism (read apartheid and the US’ pre-civil rights segregation) than Malott can be in his personal dealings with other races.

Malott might like to consider Malaysia’s plus point as a burgeoning plural society that goes way back to 1957 when the first multiracial government was formed. In comparison, developed Western countries can’t even place a non-white high up in their respective administrations.

The tensions Malott mischaracterised are what Malaysians get tangled up constantly — seemingly irreconcilable social, cultural, economical and political disputes on how best to prod the country towards a promising future of prosperity and creation of new wealth.

A lot of harsh words and comments have and will be exchanged, but a prime outcome is the nature of its civility — and none of that bloodletting innuendo. Everyone, naturally, wants a bountiful share but no one is willing to budge, compromise or lose pertinent benefits gained over decades of political struggle.

So, the logical step is to continue negotiating, bargaining and bartering, even if the outcome is a full-blown civilised war of words.

Former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had a barometer on gauging disenchantment among the races: he would ask representatives of each race if they were satisfied with their lot and the immediate response would be a “no”.

Since nobody was satisfied, then the cogent conclusion was that the government had been fair in its treatment of all races.

Conversely, had one race stated that they were satisfied, then something would be wrong somewhere.

It’s obvious that Malott based his thinking on the advisement of the opposition crowd which puts the blame squarely on the Malay leadership and certain Malay non-governmental organisations when the reality is that every ethnic community is shouting and screaming, jockeying and jostling for the best possible position to capitalise on the goodies promised under the New Economic Transformation Programme.

It comes to this: Malott has a very big axe to grind in manipulating Malaysia’s political machinations. But his objective, since the time he was last ambassador in 1998, had always been to blacken Dr Mahathir to shore up Anwar’s political doldrums.

Interestingly, Malott conducts his sorties on Malaysia when trouble fixates on Anwar, from his troublesome sodomy trial to his tribulations in dealing with the growing army of PKR rebels and dissidents.

This latest sortie fits into Anwar’s scheme of things and, being a close associate, Malott would have no qualms disparaging Najib as long it can help distract Malaysians from a very beleaguered Anwar.