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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Raja Petra, Bashir al-Assad, and Najib Tun Razak


by Zaid Ibrahim

With his TV3 interview, I am glad that Raja Petra has somewhat made overtures to the Malaysian establishment that he is neither anti-BN nor a Najib and Rosmah hater. That he was not in the business of seeking to incite hatred towards any politician in Malaysia. That he is, in fact, a genuine reformer who wants to see a better Malaysia for all.

The reactions to his TV3 interview, where he recounted his famous Statutory Declaration, was as expected. For merely being interviewed by any media linked to UMNO is in itself treason in the eyes of the so called reformists. It is a betrayal of the worst kind. More so when Petra appears to his critics to exonerate the PM and his wife of any wrongdoing in the Altantuya case.

Looking back at his writings, at his blog, at his public statements, one will quickly realise that he had not, at any time accused the PM or his wife of any complicity in the Altantuya case. In actual fact, all he was saying was that he received certain information and wanted the police to investigate.

And so a deluge of letters and emails followed, each and every one attacking Petra for his so called about turn. They accuse him of being was paid to do so, that it was all part of some deal for Petra to return to Malaysia. Then there are others who falsely accused Petra of needing the money to pay for Marina's medical expenses. So The Special One sold his soul they chanted.

Petra was somewhat shaken by all these attacks and understandably so. When your core supporters, when those people who you thought would stand by you rain or shine suddenly begin accusing you of things most foul — calling you a pariah, attacking your integrity and honesty despite all the sacrifices you have made — it is incredibly painful. So much so that you begin to wonder what all the sacrifices were for. You begin to ask if the so-called support you’ve been getting all along was real.

It would seem that so long as you sing the song they like, so long as what you say fits into their chorus line, then you are the hero. The same hero that suddenly becomes their whipping boy when the things that you say are not to their liking.

This is nothing new in the world of politics. Many joined the movement for change as commentators and bloggers. Nothing more. Occasionally they will partake in events or even make an occasional donation to the cause. Anything difficult or dangerous they will pass. Because opinions are free - not to mention relatively safe - they are quite open in expressing their views. They make judgments about people they barely know. And when they get very angry their unbridled venom is spewed across the Internet. They have never sacrificed anything worthy of mention and yet they have the audacity to ridicule the likes of Petra. A man who has done more to rekindle reforms for a fairer Malaysia then all those critics combined.

And so, my advise to Petra would be to just ignore these people. They come and they go. Maximilien Robespierre did so much for the French revolution as did Leon Trotsky for the Russian. But did both of them get what they deserved? No. They were accused of betrayal. They were accused of undermining the revolution they helped ignite. They died in the hands of their erstwhile supporters. Gandhi did everything he could for India and for the Hindus; but it was not enough for the extremists and they killed him.

History has taught us well. We do not dedicate our lives to the struggle to be popular or even to make some people happy. We do it for the cause. And we are the ones who eventually pay the ultimate price. If perchance we receive support and accolades we welcome them. In the same vein, we should not be surprised or dismayed when they choose to take them away.

Still Petra should be more careful about the veracity of information he received; more so if it is from those who also wish to become Prime Minister. He should be less gung-ho and more circumspect now. Circumstances sometimes dictate how we react and we are entailed to revisit them as things change. But Petra is still resolute and dedicated as ever to see reforms in Malaysia for the benefit of the Rakyat.

Even if the overtures by Petra are seen as supporting Najib, what’s wrong with that? Supporting the PM is as beneficial as supporting some of the legitimate issues raised by the Opposition if that support will help bring about the desired change. There are things the PM is doing that deserve support.

He is engaging the people on many issues. He is working hard to kick start a fledgling economy. He is trying to make the government administration more efficient. Whilst he should be more explicit about the meaning of 1Malaysia; he has on many occasions stressed the importance of racial harmony and unity. He has openly acknowledged the immense contributions of the non-Malays to the growth of Malaysia.

Of course he is yet to fulfil his promise for political reforms and reviewing preventive detention laws and press freedom. Of course he should be firm with Utusan, with Perkasa, and even with his own Deputy, but he may be constrained in many ways.

Prime Ministers are not all powerful. Bashir told his friends at the funeral of his father Hafiz Al Assad that Syria will repeal all the emergency laws and that the Baath party will not be the sole voice of the people. He promised democratic reforms for Syria. That was many years ago and nothing changed until the recent bloodshed. Many political experts in the Middle East believed Bashir genuinely wanted reforms but that his Baath party, the secret police, and the military were too powerful even for him to manage. He needed time. Overthrowing Bashir will only work if his successor isn’t worse. It shouldn’t be a case of jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

But back to Petra. To those who still care about him I am glad to tell you that he is well and still in high spirits. He has no plans to return to Malaysia and does not need “to do a deal.” They are happy where they are. Living in a free society is an experience they relish. They don't worry about secret police or the Special branch or the new Fatwas. They are not fugitives. They reside legally in the United Kingdom. They are not wealthy but live in their own house. They have a car and medical expenses are affordable. So he does not need the money. He does not need to sell his soul. I had the pleasure of buying him and Marina dinner last night. Northern Thai fried ayam kampung. Fantastic taste and great ambience.

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