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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Surrounded by sycophants, has Taib become delusional?

By Pak Bui

Abdul Taib Mahmud is surrounded by sycophants. They hang on his every word and extol his every move. The media, controlled by the government and its affiliated logging firms, invariably report his policies and speeches as works of genius.

The Borneo Post reported that Taib had delivered a “keynote address” to the Said Business School in Oxford, quoting his rather banal and wordy speech extensively. Perhaps Taib’s speechwriters had something original to say, but if so, I found it indecipherable, even after reading the report twice.

The newspaper mentioned meekly at the end of the article that the conference was organised by the Said Business School together with Tanjung Manis Halal Hub, a component of the Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy (SCORE). This means the people of Sarawak, through SCORE and the government, paid for the conference and for the lavish holiday of Taib’s retinue of press and ministers.

I might point out that one meaning of “score” is to “cut, slash, mark or notch”. SCORE will definitely leave its mark, or scar, on Sarawak, long after Taib is dead and gone (and unmourned).

The theft of natural resources, the loss of taxpayers’ hard-earned money to the Sarawak Cronies’ Orgy of Relentless Embezzlement, and the environmental destruction wrought by the mega-projects and their associated corruption, will burden us for many years.

Pride and delusion

ISA detainees placed in solitary confinement for weeks on end often lose their minds. Perhaps the reverse is true: immersion in a sea of yes-men practised in inordinate flattery and ball-polishing may lead to a state of unnatural euphoria and pride, perhaps verging on delusion.

After 30 years of exposure to unremitting praise, Taib will have lost touch with reality. He may even believe his own cronies’ press releases.

“Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad” is an ancient saying.

Oxford was the home of Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, enchanting children’s books containing many metaphysical and logical riddles for adults. The absurd, distorted world of the books must bear some resemblance to Taib’s warped state of mind.

It must have been an unpleasant surprise for Taib to have been bundled through a service entrance into the Said Business School, without adequate photo opportunities in Oxford’s picturesque streets.

Officials of the Said Business School would have been more phlegmatic, and would have anticipated that he needed bodyguards and a furtive entrance.

These university officials must have found SCORE’s offer of free money too tempting to resist, given that the business school buildings would have been virtually empty during the summer vacation. The main thrust of the conference was Taib’s “branding” with the aura of Oxford, in advance of the Sarawak elections, and not Islamic, or any other branding.

These academics ought to feel shame at demeaning their proud history in this way. But money matters more than academic pride.

Money can certainly destroy the humility that a “believer” ought to have. A “believer” ought not to exploit his religion for marketing, and for worldly pleasures. Taib betrays a far greater love for ”Islamic” profit than for any number of Islamic prophets.

Taib and the Sad Business School cut quite a contrast to distinguished past students in Oxford, including Rodney Needham, Graham Greene, TS Eliot, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Johnson, VS Naipaul, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkein, and Alexander Fleming, to name a few.

Taib’s place in posterity

At this late juncture of Taib’s life, having lost his wife, his health and his reputation, he must be giving some thought to posterity. His sons are unable to take over his throne, because of congenital incompetence.

Taib must still hold out some hope that he can install a member of his family as Chief Minister after he becomes Chief Fertiliser. But Sulaiman is hopeless and Norah Abdul Rahman of Tanjung Manis is after all, just a cousin.

Will he build himself a pyramid and seal himself in with his horde of gold?

We cannot help but wonder why one of his rivals might not pluck up the courage to give him a little push as he stands tottering. But those next in line, Alfred Jabu and Abang Johari, have been emasculated and lack the killer instinct, not to mention the necessary wit.

James Masing has been striving to be seen in public with Taib as frequently as possible. He has even made stupid statements to the press in Sarawak that Penan rape victims or their NGO supporters might be liars and should be investigated by the police.

Putting on a less grotesque face in Oxford, Masing was heard telling the press that the Sarawak government is “always ready” to engage with NGOs to discuss the Penan issue. Perhaps he thinks threats are a form of engagement.

His statements are strewn with boasts that he is a trained anthropologist. I have no doubt the Angel of Death Josef Mengele would have insisted that his underlings address him as “Herr Doktor”, in the same vein. Masing too, brings shame to the great contributions of past anthropologists like Needham and Benedict Anderson.

Masing betrays a singular obsession with using “Us” and “Them” when he refers to the Penan, as if he is somehow able to draw clear borders between fellow human beings.

But Masing knows deep down that he cannot scrabble his way to the top, because he lacks the necessary business and political connections.

So Taib’s future looks set: struggling on as Chief Minister, desperately trying to elevate his son to power, despite Sulaiman’s obstinacy and fecklessness.

Taib is likely to die in office, causing a protracted power struggle among Jabu, Johari, Awang Tengah, Masing and hangers-on like Adenan Satem.

Taib’s legacy in Sarawak will be ongoing corruption and bad politics, as well as endemic poverty and ignorance, for many years to come.

And if Pakatan forms an alternative government in the future? Sarawakians will still have to pull together to draw the poison of money politics and ethnic division, spread throughout our beautiful state by Taib and his followers.

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