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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Zunar and the sultan of Perak

Congratulations to Harith Iskander for winning the title of world’s funniest man. He has brought fame to the country.
That fame is well-deserved seeing that we have few homegrown comedians. One of the main reasons for the scarcity of comedians is our culture of repression, double standards and hypocrisy so that those who try to make us laugh at our foibles and sins are at risk; whilst those engaging in double-speak or other forms of political chicanery can get away unpunished and sometimes emerge with even greater ‘honour’.
Especially at great risk are those that engage in black humour, in particular political black humour that touches on what the nation’s Big Brother labels as ‘illegal’ or impermissible satire touching on ‘taboo’ topics.
The best exponent of politically incorrect black humour for a long time has been Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, or Zunar as he is popularly known, not only because of his irreverent and piercing wit but also because of his courage and perseverance in standing up to what Umno and its handmaidens of police and other official authorities have fabricated to kill his pen and political cartoon art.
Earlier this year, the Society of Illustrators in New York, celebrating a decade of Cartooning For Peace, made the following statement:
1. We, cartoonists, are proud to support our colleague Zunar, a courageous and recognised cartoonist of Malaysia who has received the 2016 Cartooning for Peace Award of the City of Geneva on May 3 in Switzerland, to mark World Press Freedom Day.
2. By drawing and commenting on current affairs with talent, impertinence and humor, cartoonists fully and beautifully exercise freedom of expression, and thereby, extend our own freedom. Zunar, like other editorial cartoonists who are threatened, imprisoned or forced to flee into exile because of their drawings, deserves the full support of the international community.
3. We urge the Malaysian authorities to immediately end the continued harassment of cartoonist Zunar. Zunar’s fundamental rights to freedom of expression and freedom of movement must be respected, according to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights signed by Malaysia.
4. We join International and Human Rights NGOs and urge the Malaysian authorities to lift the travel ban on Zunar with immediate effect and to drop the numerous sedition charges against him.
Is the sultan of Perak a fan of Zunar?
Unprecedented speech
Many Malaysians - though not those from the political establishment elite - have long supported and spoken up for Zunar. This lack of concern and see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil attitude among our high and mighty appears to be changing.
In an unprecedented breaking of ranks among members of royalty, Perak’s Sultan Nazrin Shah recently expressed his concern over corruption and criminal breach of trust committed openly by highly-educated and high-ranking individuals.
He said that based on media reports, corrupt practices and criminal breach of trust were not only rampant, but also even occurring on a very large scale.
According to him, history has shown that criminal breach of trust and corrupt practices, and abuse of power were factors that had caused the downfall of governments and the collapse of civilizations.
“In the history of Islamic governments, many among the leaders of the Bain Umayyad (Umayyad Caliphate) and Bain Abbes (Abbasid Caliphate), due to their preoccupation with worldly pleasures, were willing to use their wealth to remain in power... When power was regarded as an opportunity to fulfill personal interest and not as a trust, the functioning of the government would be impaired and ultimately resulted in its downfall and collapse of a civilization,” the sultan said at the state-level Malodor Result 1438H celebration in Tanjung Malim.
Sultan Nazrin also said that wealth acquired through means forbidden by Islamic law was a form of abuse and cruelty towards the rightful people.
It is noteworthy that the sultan was addressing a completely different constituency from that which Zunar has been pitching his work at. His was a high-powered audience of over 2,000 including other members of royalty, Menteri Besar Zambry Abd Kadir and state executive councillors gathering to celebrate the birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammad.
It was a speech which would have been difficult to censor and which would have reached the heartland of Umno’s support among the rural masses.
But who was the Perak sultan pitching his speech against? Who were the ignoble, ignorant and untrustworthy that he had in mind? And what was his intention? Was it aimed at his state’s or at the nation’s elite? And why did he pick such an auspicious day in the Muslim calendar to convey his thoughts and concerns on what was taking place in the state or nation?
Critics, of which there are many, have dismissed his speech.
One reader commented on it in four letters: “NATO”. Some readers see it as coming from a newly-minted platitudinous moralist whilst others more cynical and looking at the record of royalty have pointed out that people in glass houses should not throw stones.

Clearly the sultan’s unexpected speech has perplexed many. Could it indicate a change of heart and strategy among the country’s royal houses in responding to the serial corruption and abuse of power in the country which has made honest people such as Zunar put their careers and lives on the line to fight for reform?
Or is this speech, in view of what is already known about the state of the country’s mis-governance, besides being written and analysed to death an example of someone - even if he is at the loftiest heights of the nation - trying to rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic?

LIM TECK GHEE is a former World Bank senior social scientist, whose report on bumiputera equity when he was director of Asli's Centre for Public Policy Studies sparked controversy in 2006. He is now CEO of the Centre for Policy Initiatives.- Mkini

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