I just read the article by Hafiz Noor Shams entitled “The last refuge of the scoundrel”. Basically he highlighted how US politicians used attitudes that are universally valued and accepted in order to gloss over their own failures. Specifically he wrote of how the mistake of the war in Iraq is set against the patriotic ideal that “we must support our troops”.
Those who question the Iraqi war are not only painted as “unpatriotic” but also deemed to be undermining the morale of those who put their lives on the line for the country.
Hafiz writes, “Underneath the cliché was a stark case of false dichotomy. One has to either wholly support the war or oppose it unpatriotically. It is either you are with us or you are against us. There was no room for criticism. There was no in-between. As George W. Bush infamously put it then, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”
The context of Hafiz’s reflections is the ongoing stand-off with the armed Sulu group in Lahad Datu. He raised what he sees as due to incompetence the ease with which armed men are allowed to enter the country and the poor and contradictory communication to the public over the matter. The Prime Minister seemed more interested in launching his instagram campaign, the ministers spoke to gain political capital, and the authorities, from the Home minister downwards, seemed not to be in control of the situation until the military stepped in.
The time-tested cure for all these failures is the call to “support our troops”.
It got me thinking about what other calls have the power to “cover a multitude of sins”.
Chief on my mind, because it is the most recent and truly rankled me, is the statement by Rosmah, wife of the PM, that “Malaysians should be grateful”. The message is subtle, that we should “together help to preserve stability in the country so that we do not suffer like the Palestinians in war-torn Gaza.” We should be grateful because “none of our people died of starvation, easy for us to get treatment at hospitals, equipment, doctors and medicine, there is enough of everything.” Even Birkin bags, it seems.
It creates the idea that when we say that the country deserves more, we are ungrateful. When we accuse the BN leadership of corruption, mismanagement and incompetence, we risk the stability of the nation. After all, is anyone dying of starvation? What needs to be asked is whether after 50 or so years of BN leadership, are they still asking to be judged by the basement criteria of whether Malaysians are dying of starvation.
”We must be united”. Or variants such as “Malays should be united” and “Chinese should be united” and so on.
It doesn’t matter if Malay leaders are enriching themselves and impoverishing the nation through ill-advised schemes like the “cow scandal”. We should support Malays because Malays should be united. We should unite behind MCA because only they can uphold the rights of the Chinese. Indians should be united behind MIC. After all we are already a minority. We will lose much more if we become fragmented.
”Give us a chance to set things right”. “I now know what mistakes I have made. Give me the chance to do the right thing.”
”We have done so much for the country. Look at all that we have achieved.” “I help you, you help me.”
Malaysians must be patriotic. Tian Chua is unpatriotic. Malaysians must be grateful. Malaysians must be united. Malaysians must be forgiving and generous. Malaysians must be grateful.
We need to take time and think through Hafiz’s point that those who resort to such arguments are really scoundrels.
How about some other calls: Leaders must be honest. Leadership must be transparent. Leaders must not be involved when they can gain financially. Leaders must truly serve the nation. Leaders must be prepared to be judged by their performance. Leaders must not endanger the unity of the nation by their politics.
And most importantly: Malaysians deserve such leaders and by God’s grace, we will find them if we consistently uphold these standards.