Perak’s Raja Nazrin Missed A Splendid Opportunity

They all professed to be aware of the grave dangers corruption poses to the nation and Malay society in particular, but alas their deliberated solution was but to resort to homilies and simplistic measures. More dua’s, and educate the imams on the evils of corruption!

M. Bakri Musa

The Sultan of Perak recently (September 22, 2022) launched Kamal Hassan’s Corruption And Hypocrisy In Malay Muslim Politics. The book was published in January 2021 and I reviewed it last July. A Malay version has also been released but this royal launching was for the English edition only. The Malay version was not even mentioned. I wonder how the language nationalists feel about that.

The sultan’s speech (about 45 minutes) and the author’s subsequent remarks (over 35) were followed by an hour of panel discussion comprising Johan Jaafar, former journalist and Chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission, Tajuddin Rasdi, an academic architect and public intellectual, and Hafiz Saleh Hudin from the International Islamic University. It was moderated by Annuar Zaini, former Chairman of Bernama.

Halfway into his speech the sultan revealed that his state religious department (of which he is the titular head) had ordered 2,000 copies of the book (not stated whether the English or Malay version) to be distributed to the state’s imams as materials for their khutba (sermons). For added measure, at the end of his speech the Sultan ordered two new duas(supplications), condemning corruption, to be recited during Friday sermons. That was his solution to the endemic, entrenched corruption in the country. In short, the sultan echoed Kamal Hassan’s thesis in his book that the answer to Malay society’s corruption is more religion, Islam to be specific.

The sultan is the head of Islam in his state. Raja Nazrin played that role to the hilt that morning, quoting the Qur’an and hadith more than a dozen times. I ran out of fingers after the tenth. Thankfully he spared us the original Arabic and gave only the approximate Malay translation.

For Kamal Hassan’s part, he reiterated what he had written in the book, only of necessity more briefly and thus succinctly.

I cannot help but feel how far detached from reality the whole program and the participants were. They all professed to be aware of the grave dangers corruption poses to the nation and Malay society in particular, but alas their deliberated solution was but to resort to homilies and simplistic measures. More dua’s, and educate the imams on the evils of corruption!

No one even suggested learning from nations that had successfully tackled the problem, like nearby Singapore, or following the example of China–shoot the bastards. That may be “un-Islamic,” but it works. Nor did anyone mention or alluded to the perverse if not pathologic national deification of that pengkhianat negara (national traitor) aka Boss Ku Najib Razak. The young participant from the International Islamic University, Hafil Salleh Hudin, briefly mentioned his displeasure to that phenomenon in the ensuing panel discussion.

The program could have unfolded very differently and created great national impact.

Imagine if at the end of the ceremony Raja Nazrin had announced that, as an expression of his great displeasure with the corrupt and considering the seriousness of the pestilence of corruption, he was withdrawing Najib’s and Rosmah’s Perak royal titles! That would capture in an instance the audience’s as well as the nation’s attention. That would also be the next day’s headlines! Raja Nazrin should have emulated the Sultan of Selangor, or better yet, the Ruler of Negri Sembilan who withdrew the couples’ Negri royal awards upon their being charged and not waiting for their conviction, as with the Sultan of Selangor.

“Innocent till proven guilty” is the standard in a criminal court. In positions requiring great trust, as with the leadership of the nation, the standard must necessarily be much more stringent, as with not even a hint of impropriety. Yet today, UMNO, the party most identified with Malays, is led by a character facing serious criminal charges. Nobody in the party’s governing Supreme Council has the gumption to demand that Ahmad Zahid Hamidi resign. If these characters cannot stand up to this slimy stuttering character, how can we expect them to negotiate with or face foreign leaders?

With the long speeches by both the sultan and the author, there was little time for questions from the audience, the most important part in any discussion or book launching. Noting the number of ex-dignitaries from UMNO in the audience, the moderator gave the floor first to Musa Hitam, a former Deputy Prime Minister. He took his senior statesman status too seriously and went on a long monologue, with the moderator having to interrupt him. As for the other half a dozen or so speakers, they too were interested in making their own mini speeches rather than posing probing questions.

If not for Tajuddin Rasdi, the ensuing panel discussion too would have been a dud. Johan Jaafar was asked what was the greatest pressure he faced when chairing the Anti-Corruption Commission. Political interference! Surprise of surprises! The moderator then asked him to judge the independence (from political pressure) of his Commission. Johan meekly replied a passable 6 out of 10. Good enough for a general degree, as the moderator commented. If I were the moderator I would press Johan as to what he did to resist those pressures. I suspect that Johan too was one of those all too common “Kami menurut perentah” (I follow orders) type of public servant.

The sparkles of the panel discussion came from Tajuddin Rasdi. He prefaced his remarks by noting that this was the first time he had been invited to address an almost exclusively Malay or Muslim audience. Tajuddin is of course well known to non-Malay or at least English-speaking readers through his trenchant columns in The Star.

He made the profound observation that corruption is difficult to eradicate among Malays and Muslims because it has been enmeshed into the Malay versus non-Malay (or non-Muslim) narrative. It is but a sub-variety of the old “us versus them” divide. We have framed corruption as war against the infidel and thus halal, or can be made so. To make that narrative stick even more easily, to Malays anything coming from the land of the Arabs is halal. It is thus not a surprise that Najib had framed the loot he pilfered from 1MDB as money coming from an Arab prince.

Another astute observation from Tajuddin is that, as in the universities, we are more into the answers without first asking the necessary probing questions. Worse, often the solutions would have been imposed upon us, as with Raja Nazrin ordering those new supplications for Friday sermons. However, we are more likely to find the right solution if we first begin by asking some tough questions.

One simple question is this:  Why are the corrupt so admired in our culture? Prime exhibit:  Najib Razak. The next complementary question is why are the talented in our midst not rewarded? Instead we reward the duds and those satisfied with a general degree, as the moderator commented. You can bet that Tajuddin will never make it to the National Professors Council!

Malays should learn from our peladang (farmers) ancestors. To ensure a bountiful harvest and a productive orchard, they pruned their fruit trees, getting rid of the unproductive suckers and water sprouts. They also uprooted thelallang and other weeds that would sap the precious nutrients from the soil. Malay culture today perversely nurtures and rewards those parasites. My late father (himself a part-time peladang besides being a teacher) had an apt expression for that stupidity–membajakan lallang (providing manure to the weeds).