Apology: Our Future Lies In Redeeming Our Past

Education Minister Hishamuddin Hussein says he’s sorry for brandishing the Malay keris at three Umno Youth general assemblies in a row that offended non-Malays. Prime Minister Pak Lah Badawi has also issued what sounded like an apology for the scandalous sacking of the Lord President Tun Salleh Abas and other senior judges two decades ago and has offered them compensation. But his deputy Najib Tun Razak suggests this is a non-apology.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad says there’s no need for him to say sorry, as it was not him but the tribunal that sacked the judges and it was done according to the law. Mahathir has also said he won’t apologise to his former deputy Anwar Ibrahim for calling him nasty names. Anwar sued for defamation but the court concurred with Mahathir by saying he is protected by “qualified speech” – he can say what he likes as long as he’s qualified. Chandra Muzzafar, JUST chairman, has also said he won’t say sorry to Prime Minister-in-waiting Anwar Ibrahim for saying that Anwar would be an unmitigated disaster if he became PM. Like Mahathir, he’s claiming right to speech.

Apology, I’m sorry to say, is a troublesome word indeed.

Dictionaries have defined the word “apology” in a variety of ways. It is also akin to the word “Sorry” which can mean, “feeling sorrow, regret, or penitence.”

The original sense was, painful; hence, miserable, sad. Grieved for the loss of some good; pained for some evil; feeling regret; now generally used to express light grief or affliction, but formerly often used to express a deeper feeling.

In legal parlance, apology can be a defence for unintentional defamation, where the defendant innocently and without negligence defamed the claimant but has offered a suitable correction and apology and has paid compensation.

The word takes on an extended nuance and is associated with other synonyms. Hence, “apology” applies to an expression of regret for a mistake or wrong with implied admission of guilt or fault. “Apologia”, however, does not imply admission of guilt or regret but a desire to make clear the grounds for some course, belief, or position e.g. China’s position on Tibet is an apologia for its foreign policy. Therefore, the one who says sorry is an “apologizer”, while the person who strongly defends his position is an “apologist.”

Let’s come back to our sorry state of affairs.

Which definition does Hisham fall under? The Star headlined his apology as: “Hisham regrets wielding keris. He apologises to all Malaysians.”

The report says, ”Umno Youth chief Hishamuddin Hussein has admitted that his raising of the “keris” was among the causes for the ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional’s poor performance, in the country’s recent general elections.”

Apologising to all Malaysians for his action, he said, ”If it affected anyone, I cannot run away from the reality of it. I apologise to non-Malays and the Malays. To the non-Malays because of the fear of a symbol which was not my intention. And to the Malays for not being able to uphold their symbol of heritage.”

He has unreservedly admitted to his culpability and has taken responsibility for it. However, on scrutiny of his choice of words, one can detect a sense of “conditionality” by using the phrases, “if I had offended” and “not my intention.” It sounds like a “plea.” But one cannot accuse him of trying to find an “excuse”, or a “pretext.” Hisham is sorry for what he has said and done. He has acknowledged his wrongdoing, showed regret and remorse, taken responsibility for it and has elliptically assured us, this is unlikely to happen again.

Hisham is therefore, an apologiser. But prior to that he was an apologist – where he tried in vain to defend his brandishing of the keris as a legitimate expression of upholding Malay culture. Pak Lah, as well as his deputy Najib, agreed with him and the matter was closed to public debate without an apology for the serial offence. Those so offended remedied the situation by venting their anger through the ballot box.

Now that the Umno Youth leader has apologized, we should respond by extending grace to him and not try to impute any ulterior motive to his apology.

As Anwar Ibrahim has pointed out, the apology should be accepted but, “Not only the keris incident must not be repeated but the political arrogance as well as the use of ethnic and racial issues in the nation’s politics must also be stopped.”

Penang Chief Minister and DAP secretary general Lim Guan Eng likewise has welcomed the apology. “It is a little too late to apologise now but we still welcome his decision to admit his fault and apologise to the people.”

It’s hard to say sorry. One has to be big enough to apologise. With his apology, Hishammuddin has come of age.

It may be better late than never but it’s never too late to say sorry. A case in point is Australia. Despite the clamour for the government there to apologise for the ill-treatment of the Aboriginal people over the past 200 years by the White population, the previous John Howard government had for eleven long years refused to apologise to them on behalf of the nation.

However, almost as soon as the new Labor government came into power, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd lost no time in making the belated apology by way of tabling it as a formal motion in Parliament to a standing ovation from both sides of the house. The apology was peppered with the words “sorry,” “apologise, ” and “future.”

“I move that today we honour the indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history. We reflect on their past mistreatment… this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

“The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

“We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

“And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry. We the parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation. For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written. We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians. A future where this parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

“There comes a time in the history of nations when their peoples must become fully reconciled to their past if they are to go forward with confidence to embrace their future.

“Our nation, Australia, has reached such a time.”

Our nation, Malaysia, has also reached such at time after 8 March 2008. The people has spoken through the ballot box. It’s about time for us to table a motion in Parliament to say how sorry we are for keeping our silence that has allowed Tun Salleh Abas to suffer the indignity of being ungraciously and unduly sacked as Lord President on 8 August 1988. We should also say sorry to Supreme Court judges Tan Sri Wan Sulaiman Pawanteh and Datuk George Seah who were similarly scandalised and sacked. And also to three other Supreme Court judges; Tan Sri Azmi Kamaruddin, Tan Sri Eusoffe Abdoolcader, and Tan Sri Wan Hamzah Mohamed Salleh who were suspended and equally scandalised by the injustice. For Tan Sri Eusoffe and Tan Sri Wan Sulaiman, who have passed away, such an apology is already too late. But it’s still better late than never in remembrance of their service to the nation.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahamd Badawi has made the first gesture in urging for a closure to the painful injustice in 1988. Malaysia’s future lies in the redemption of its past. All that it takes is a formal apology.

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