NY Times Book Review: ‘Thieves of State,’ by Sarah Chayes

February 23, 2015

Sunday Book Review


‘Thieves of State,’ by Sarah Chayes

Chayes’s “Thieves of State” makes a strong case that acute corruption causes not only social breakdown but also violent extremism. She calls this a “basic fact,” showing that where there is poor governance — specifically, no appeal to the rule of law and no protected right of property — people begin a search for spiritual purity that puts them on a path to radicalization.

Thieves of State_978-0-393-23946-1

Across much of the world, populations suffer daily shakedowns by the police. At roadblocks, market stalls and entrances to government buildings, thugs in uniform gather “like spear fishermen hunting trout in a narrows,” as Sarah Chayes writes. But that isn’t the half of it. Globally, the three most important desiderata of our age — security, resilience and poverty reduction — are consistently being hollowed out by structural theft on a much larger scale, operating across corporations, governments, military establishments and civil services.

One key reason the United States and its allies have struggled to establish sustainable democracies in Afghanistan and Iraq is that the governments of those countries are mired in graft, caught in a mafia-like system in which money flows upward. The same goes for parts of Africa and Asia, and most of the former Soviet Union. The tenure of the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, is being defined by his war on corruption, and in December President Hassan Rouhani of Iran spoke out against corruption there.

Chayes’s “Thieves of State” makes a strong case that acute corruption causes not only social breakdown but also violent extremism. She calls this a “basic fact,” showing that where there is poor governance — specifically, no appeal to the rule of law and no protected right of property — people begin a search for spiritual purity that puts them on a path to radicalization.

In a limited sense, this is Chayes’s own story too: A former reporter for NPR in AlgeriaSarah Chayes and Afghanistan, she abandoned journalism to work for a nongovernmental organization in Kandahar, then was a social entrepreneur there on her own account, finally becoming an adviser on corruption to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff. She (right) is now a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Her personal narrative is even more complicated than any summary might suggest. In 2001, Chayes helped found a charity “of unclear mission,” run by President Hamid Karzai’s Baltimore-based elder brother, Qayum, about whom she has this to say: “Not for years would I begin systematically comparing his seductively incisive words with his deeds. Welded to his brother’s interests, he behaved in ways that contradicted his language so starkly that for a long time I had difficulty processing the inconsistency.”

KarzaiElsewhere “those brothers” (there are six besides Hamid Karzai himself) are characterized as “self-serving,” with the younger half-brother Ahmed Wali singled out as someone “who stole land, imprisoned people for ransom, appointed key public officials, ran vast drug trafficking networks and private militias, and wielded ISAF like a weapon against people who stood up to him.” This, mind you, was also someone at whose house Chayes had dinner one night in 2003, in the course of which she watched C.I.A. officers “hand him a tinfoil-wrapped package of bills.”

Her experience corroborates an October 27, 2009, report in The New York Times,John Kerrry which stated that Ahmed Wali Karzai was on the C.I.A. payroll. It also prompts one to wonder at Senator John Kerry’s response at the time. “We should not condemn Ahmed Wali Karzai or damage our critical relations with his brother, President Karzai, on the basis of newspaper articles or rumors,” he said.

Ahmed Wali Karzai was assassinated by a police official and longtime confidant on July 12, 2011. About six years before that, Chayes severed her own relationship with the Karzais. After leaving for a few months, she returned to Kandahar in May 2005 with a project that, on the surface, could never smell of corruption and intrigue.

Armed with an oil press and $25,000 from Oprah Winfrey, she set up a cooperative producing scented soap and beauty products, taking advantage of Afghanistan’s horticultural riches. But she soon found that even this innocuous activity put her on the sharp end of corruption, as she tried to do simple things like deposit money in a bank without paying a bribe for the privilege of doing so. So she began, in an amateurish way, to develop ideas for limiting corruption in places like Afghanistan.

Very quickly, the amateur became professional. Chayes was soon called upon by NATO and ISAF to give expert briefings with a focus on anti-corruption measures. “ ‘Sally the Soap-Maker Gives an Ops Brief’ was how I jokingly came to refer to my main presentation,” she writes. This led to a job with ISAF, and then another as special assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, flitting between Washington and Kabul as the United States laboriously and somewhat unwillingly developed an anti-corruption strategy for Afghanistan.

Any such strategy was bound to conflict with political and military exigencies, which presumably explains Kerry’s response to the report in The Times. But Chayes’s Afghan interlocutors told her again and again that poor governance was actually what was perpetuating the conflict, with graft generating disenchantment and driving people toward the Taliban. “Western officials,” she writes, “habitually flipped the sequence: First let’s establish security, then we can worry about governance.”

Ordinary Afghans, meanwhile, took Western inaction on corruption as approval. Aid just added to the problem, in Chayes’s view: “Development resources passed through a corrupt system not only reinforced that system by helping to fund it but also inflamed the feelings of injustice that were driving people toward the insurgency.”

Chayes refers to the body of medieval and Renaissance advice literature known as “Mirrors for Princes” to contextualize current abuses of government. She begins with the most famous mirror of all, Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” but it is lesser-known figures like William of Pagula and John of Salisbury who give her the most ammunition. She also uses the “Siyasat Nameh” — the “Book of Politics” — of the 11th-century Persian administrator Nizam al-Mulk.

Among the counsels that Nizam al-Mulk gave his sultan was: Listen to the griev­ances of your subjects directly, without intermediaries. Chayes argues that the ­voices of a majority of Afghans are drowned out by the Taliban on one side and by the Karzai government on the other. ISAF, she says, listened only to the government.

Many of the other countries Chayes brings into this chatty study (“John of Salisbury, as usual, nailed it”) show similar patterns. In each case, there are slightly different “variations on a theme,” as she has it, ranging from the military-­kleptocratic complex (Egypt) to the bureaucratic kleptocracy (Tunisia), the post-Soviet kleptocratic autocracy (Uzbekistan) and the resource kleptocracy (Nigeria). In her epilogue, titled “Self-­Reflection,” Chayes also discusses Western countries and the global financial crisis of 2008.

This is an important book that should be required reading for officials in foreign service, and for those working in commerce or the military. The story will interest the nonspecialist reader too, though the balance of exciting narrative, academic discourse and policy-wonk-speak will unsettle some. Indeed, Chayes touches on how language itself becomes corrupt. The standard terminology of military and diplomatic engagement (and much corporate rhetoric) is often evasive, with usage reflecting differences in value systems — as when assassination by drone is described as “targeted killing.”

While I am in full agreement with what Chayes says, I found her own prose style raising my hackles on occasion, with its effortful interpolations of color (“the legendary but painfully dilapidated blue and white Mediterranean port city of Algiers”), verbs on steroids (“I wheeled and strode over to our battered red pickup truck, clambered aboard, and roared off to the bank”), and its chapters that begin with such sentences as “Wait a second.” I did, but I wish she had.

Giles Foden is the author of “The Last King of Scotland.”

Khairy Jamaluddin, Sports and Sodomy 2 Roadshow

February 23, 2015

Khairy Jamaluddin, Sports and Sodomy 2 Roadshow

by Mariam Mokhtar@www.malaysiakini.com

Khairy Jamaluddin, the UMNO Baru Youth Chief, is smarter than we credit him. The fiercely ambitious Oxford graduate is taking the initiative, showing UMNO Baru that he can lead.
Khairy Jamaluddin

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak is facing his worst nightmare. His spectre is a Malaysian in an Australian detention centre. Khairy needs to prove that he will be ‘prime minister material’ if the top post becomes vacant.

Khairy is showing signs of being bored with his day job as Youth and Sports Minister. After Malaysia’s dismal performance in the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, Khairy’s focus should be on promoting and improving our performance in sport. He should engage more young Malaysians.

The Ambitious Shafee Abdullah

Proving that he has too much time on his hands, the Minister has instead organised a roadshow. His co-star is the lead prosecutor in the Sodomy 2 trial, Muhammad Shafee Abdullah.  They are trying to convince the public that opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s guilty verdict was a just one.

There is probably an ulterior motive to the roadshow. Shafee has his sights set on being the next Attorney-General, whilst Khairy is taking pole position in the race to be the Prime Minister.

To most UMNO Baru members, Khairy shows promise and this will probably upset Najib’s cousin Hishammuddin Hussein, whom many consider to be another potential Malaysian Prime Minister.

Hishammuddin’s credentials? He spoke English better than any of the government officials who gave press conferences for MH370. His popularity received a boost after photos of him were circulated, sitting in a cramped economy-class seat en route to a meeting in Australia.

Nevertheless, Khairy has other endearing qualities. He has political pedigree by virtue of his father-in-law, former PM Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Khairy’s English is heavily accented, unlike most of his peers. He was educated in Singapore (United  World College South East Asia) and England (Oxford), and spent his childhood globe-trotting as the son of a diplomat.


Appearance counts – Khairy wears bespoke suits, because he knows that to look good is half the battle, especially when impressing his design-conscious supporters. Most important of all, Khairy is a “real man”. The reservist in the Territorial Army  (above) underwent commando style training, and has obtained his parachute wings. When some tudung-clad Malay girls were hugged on stage by K-Pop performers, Khairy was dismissive and tweeted, “…I hope Malaysian girls return to tall, dark and handsome men and not pale, skinny and pretty men. Those are not real men.”

To his credit, Khairy did not ask the girls to be investigated, unlike some of his party members.

Has Khairy done enough?

At UMNO Baru’s last General Assembly in November, Khairy proved his racist credentials with his outburst against non-Malays, warning them not to question Malay rights. Despite his image of a tough guy, Khairy has a sensitive side to him. The traditional practice is for the UMNO Baru Youth leader to be given a ministerial role, but in 2009, Najib snubbed him. Dejected, Khairy hinted to reporters that he might go on study leave and not stand for election in GE13. Pigs can fly!

So, has Khairy – the Youth and Sports Minister – done enough to upgrade sporting facilities in schools, universities and public areas? How has he promoted a more healthy and productive lifestyle in our youth?

Has his ministry successfully discovered and nurtured young, sporting talents? Current stars like world squash champion Nicol David will eventually retire, and Lee Chong Wei is embroiled in alleged abuse of drugs. These – and other ageing stars – will soon have to be replaced. They do not have the qualities of Peter Pan, like some who are still members of ‘UMNO Baru Youth’ although middle-aged.

Does Khairy possess the political will to clean up doping and corruption in sports, especially in football? We need new faces and an injection of fresh, creative ideas to promote sports. Is Khairy afraid of getting rid of the deadwood amongst sports officials?

When will he persuade his party that racism in sports is bad? Before racism crept into the sports arena, there were sporting heroes from all the communities. Competition is healthy, and racism should also be avoided when selecting sporting officials.

Najib’s future is looking bleak and his problems are not caused only by his fiscal measures, his 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), the goods and services tax (GST), or the Sodomy II fallout.

Perhaps, this roadshow is to make Khairy stand out from the crowd and prove his worth. Both Najib and Khairy know that in the dog-eat-dog world of UMNO Baru, there are enemies around them and it is difficult to distinguish friend from foe. Najib is aware that his adversaries are circling him, like hyenas waiting for the kill. The stakes are high. No one can be trusted and people are watching their backs.

Is Khairy trying to justify Anwar’s conviction or is he trying to promote himself?

For Permatang Pauh by-election, PKR should break mould

February 22, 2015

For Permatang Pauh by-election, PKR should break mould

by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT: A recall of the immediate prelude to the sixth general election in April 1982 should help bolster the point of what needs to be done by PKR for the upcoming Permatang Pauh by-election.

4th PM of MalaysiaThe then Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was shaping to dissolve Parliament, having been in office for nine months after succeeding retired Hussein Onn the previous July.

Requiring as a newly-installed PM a fresh mandate from the people, Mahathir caused a huge surprise by reaching across the political divide to induct Anwar Ibrahim, then ABIM President and nascent leader of the Malaysian opposition, into UMNO.

The sensation of that induction had barely time to recede when Anwar was announced as the party’s candidate to wrest the Permatang Pauh seat, held by PAS, in the polls scheduled for late April.

Until the announcement of his joining UMNO was made, Anwar had been more likely to become President of PAS upon incumbent Mohd Asri Muda’s retirement although he did not hold a position in the party and neither was he a member.

The year prior Anwar’s credentials as the fledgling leader of the opposition were highlighted by his leadership of an informal coalition of NGOs and political parties which protested the amendments to the Societies Act set for tabling in Parliament in its March sitting and viewed as detrimental to civil liberties.

No surprisingly, that effort did not succeed against the crushing majority commanded by the ruling BN though it garnered a lot of publicity against a backdrop of heightened public sensitivity to human rights issues.

What Anwar’s joining UMNO did was to remove a potential leader for the Malaysian opposition, it being axiomatic that no effort to supplant BN in the seat of government could succeed without it being led by a credible Malay leader.

With one surgical move, the astute Mahathir cut the ground from under the feet of an opposition which had begun to sense that BN’s lengthy incumbency was starting to erode its appeal among voters who had commenced, albeit belatedly, to appreciate the need for a denial of a two-third majority to the ruling coalition.

In sum, clever tactics and strategy, deployed in anticipation of looming trends, can obviate its detrimental effects to interests favored by the strategists. That move by Mahathir would delay by a good 16 years the rise of a credible Malay leader to steer the opposition and garner support for it.

Anwar IbrahimAnwar would yet become that leader, but only after he had supped for 16 years with the incumbents before being shunned by them in a most humiliating manner in 1998. Today that humiliation has not ceased and the methods of its stamping have not altered but it comes after a move akin to the one deployed by Mahathir in April 1982: subversion of the adversary through enticement.

It was Kelantan UMNO who told PAS after GE13 in May 2013 that it would support its plan to implement hudud. Almost two years later, the Islamist party is bent on the measure and is now ready to enact the preliminary legislative moves for the implementation of the Islamic penal code in Kelantan, to the acute dismay of its Pakatan Rakyat partner, DAP, and the quiet remonstrance of a third member of the coalition, PKR.

Trying to stop PAS, especially after a national meeting of ulama in Serdang this weekend, a body adamant for hudud in Kelantan, is like arguing with the deaf.

What then about the future of Pakatan, the opposition coalition on the cusp of something that was not imaginable in 1982 – the supplanting of UMNO-BN in the seat of power – hope for which glimmered in 1998 and now, a wearying 17 years later, is an imminent prospect, especially after Anwar’s renewed incarceration?

Frankly, it’s bleak if Pakatan, especially PKR and DAP, do not submit to the logic of one’s necessity which is to do something that will shore up the Pakatan ground and scythe it from under the feet of those within the coalition who are determined to row it into turbulent waters.

Right now, Pakatan is like a boat with oarsmen rowing in opposite directions – it will capsize. To prevent that calls for a move resembling Mahathir’s clever strategy in 1982 in turning Anwar from oppositionist to collaborator. The move was mould breaking, its panache stemming from the surprise of the gesture and its hint at promising possibilities.

Breaking new ground

PKR, with DAP support, can break new ground by loaning Permatang Pauh to PAS and fielding its Vice-President Husam Musa in the upcoming by-election for the seat vacated by a convicted Anwar.

Husam is under interdiction by the assertive ulamak wing of his party which seems determined to weed out progressives like him. This is a retrograde move by the ulamak, a move reflective of a mind-set that prefers ideology over reality, essence over existence.

If the blood-thirsty 20th century taught humankind anything it is that the irruption of ideology into political realities is the recipe for much political woe.

But the religious inebriates of PAS contend they are only going about God’s business which incidentally is what the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq say they are doing. Only a PKR move of panache and sensation akin to Mahathir’s 1982 move with respect to Anwar can waylay a PAS ulamak-driven gallop of Pakatan’s to the precipice.

PAS ulamak will doubtless not allow the move but what does that matter now that they are set to drive Pakatan apart while maintaining their fidelity to the coalition.

PKR can argue with more conviction that the move is not to drive a wedge between progressives and conservatives in PAS but to keep the party within the opposition coalition. One paradoxical argument begets another.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for more than four decades. A sobering discovery has been that those who protest the loudest tend to replicate the faults they revile in others.

Anwar Ibrahim’s Return to Sungei Buloh and its Implications

February 21, 2015

Anwar Ibrahim’s Return to Sungei Buloh and its Implications

Najib Razak, Rosmah MansorNajib needs Divine Help

The verdict is finally out. After months of speculations over Anwar Ibrahim’s fate, the Malaysian Federal Court has upheld the guilty verdict for the former Deputy Prime minister over the charge of sodomy. The verdict was particularly surprising for some within the Opposition circles who were confident that Anwar would be freed. The verdict has in theory sealed Anwar’s political fate given that he will be in prison for five years and be barred from assuming political office for another five years. This – at 77 – would render him too old to become the next leader of the country. The verdict is likely to have long term consequences for both Pakatan Rakyat (PR) and Malaysian politics.

Prosecuting Anwar Ibrahim

anwar_ibrahim2Anwar will not surrender

Anwar Ibrahim is a key figure in Malaysian politics. He will long be remembered for changing Malaysia’s political landscape. Dismissed as a spent force following his ouster from the ruling party – the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) – and subsequent jail term for sodomy and corruption, against all odds, he rose from the political doldrums to lead the PR to its best electoral performance in 2008. In 2013, the coalition bettered this performance by winning the popular votes.

Drawing a lesson from the old play book of former Prime minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamed, the Malaysian government appealed against his earlier acquittal for sodomy. The charge was first brought against him by a former aide, Saiful Bukhari. The court proceedings were viewed by many as clearly biased against the defence team. For instance, the court allowed DNA evidence obtained illegally to be admitted in the case.

The perception that Anwar has been unfairly treated by a corrupt government will once again galvanise support for the opposition leader especially amongst younger Malaysians. Hence, the guilty verdict has created a martyr out of Anwar and this could potentially be more threatening to the Malaysian government.

Can PR survive without Anwar?

While it was Anwar’s political savviness that initially brought the three opposition parties, the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), Democratic Action Party (DAP) and People’s Justice Party (PKR) together, he has in recent times been the source of contention between the three parties. Both PAS and DAP leaders have registered their displeasure in what they deem as Anwar’s unilateral style of decision-making.

Matters came to a head when Anwar initiated the controversial change of Selangor’s chief minister. Both DAP and PAS leaders were incensed by the failure of Anwar to consult them on the issue. However, it was the conservative PAS leaders including party president, Hadi Awang who refused to support the candidature of Anwar’s wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as the new chief minister. This tension was further exacerbated when PAS recently announced that the party will be tabling a hudud bill in the Kelantan state assembly, a move clearly rejected by its PR partner, the DAP.

While some have argued that these developments are clear signs that the PR is at a brink of collapse, the recent court verdict might be the instrumental factor that could reverse this trend. First, the jailing of Anwar could unite the opposition in the face of adversity. In a sign of solidarity with Anwar, all PR leaders attended the PR’s presidential council meeting in February. This was the first time that Hadi attended the meeting in more than a year. Second, this development will force PAS leaders to rethink their political strategy.

Even the most hard-core of the party’s supporters are likely to demand party leaders to focus on the bigger issue of justice and unseating the BN government in the next election knowing fully well that the political mileage that PAS is likely to gain. Most importantly, the younger leaders of PR who have had significant experience working within the PR framework are likely to come forth in charting the future direction of the party.

Privately both PAS and DAP leaders admit that members of the two parties work closely at the grassroots level. In other words, the opposition alliance can still survive without Anwar. Perhaps with Anwar being out of the picture, the argument can even be made that the PR has a better chance of surviving since all parties must now coalesce around the new opposition leader.

Azmin Ali–Key Contender for Parliamentary Opposition Leader

Azmin AliPerforming well as Selangor’s Chief Minister

There is little doubt that Azmin Ali will emerge as a key contender for the position of Opposition leader. Both the top leaders of PAS and DAP, Hadi Awang and Lim Kit Siang do not have a national appeal and are viewed as divisive figures. Wan Azizah, Anwar’s wife is likely to be rejected by PAS. The party had – earlier last year – rejected her candidature as chief minister of Selangor. This leaves Azmin as the most qualified candidate who is acceptable to both DAP and PAS. Like Anwar, Azmin possess the charisma and political savvy reflected in his current tenure as Chief Minister of Selangor.

Najib’s Political survival

Najib as 1MDB advisorHe’s looking Lost

The recent verdict has also discredited the current administration and Prime Minister Najib Razak even further. Regardless of whether the Malaysian judiciary has been impartial in this case, the Malaysian and international public perception is that the case and final verdict was politically motivated. Anwar’s conviction has been blamed on UMNO and Najib himself. Public sympathy for Anwar might trigger a bigger swing away from UMNO and BN especially amongst the younger voters. Anwar himself predicted that his imprisonment will result in an increase in popular votes for the opposition.

Some UMNO conservatives have applauded the verdict. Zainuddin Maidin, former information minister and a staunch ally of Dr Mahathir, praised the judges for placing the integrity and sovereignty of the country’s laws above everything else. This does not mean that attacks against Najib have ceased from this group. In the immediate aftermath of the verdict, Dr Mahathir seems to have upped his ante noting that there is “something rotten in the state of Malaysia”. In essence, he is suggesting that the Malaysian political system is in a state of decay.

The falling oil prices, plunging commodity prices and soaring household debt, suggests dire straits ahead for Malaysia and Malaysians. Increased public sympathy for Anwar, internal opposition and a looming economic crisis have left doubts as to whether Najib can survive as Prime Minister of Malaysia. Najib’s survival currently hinges on whether any senior UMNO leader is willing to mount a challenge against his leadership.

Anwar Ibrahim’s imprisonment has far-ranging consequences not only for the opposition and Malaysians, but also for the government. It could prove to be the Najib and UMNO’s Achilles heel.

Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman is assistant professor and coordinator of the Malaysia Program at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).


The Khairy Jamaluddin’s Roadshow

February 21, 2015

The Roadshow: Who are you trying to convince, Khairy Jamaluddin?

by Rom Nain@www.malaysiakini.com(02-21-15)

It would seem that we will never get used to the many harebrained, cockamamie schemes dreamt up by parties ranging from our pathetic, sex-obsessed moral guardians to our equally pathetic, sex-obsessed politicians.

Anwar and Shafee

Indeed, hard on the heels of the oft-criticised Anwar Ibrahim conviction comes the almost unreal, but certainly cheap, spectacle of a roadshow, apparently organised by UMNO Youth.

A roadshow helmed by the lead prosecutor in the Anwar trial, someone who really shouldn’t need to stoop this low. Equally, the ringmaster of this circus, the UMNO Youth Chief and Federal Minister surely couldn’t have learned all this in his much-publicised alma mater, Oxford.

It’s allegedly a roadshow designed to ‘explain’ to the people – by invitation only, of courseKhairy Jamaluddin2 – the reasons for the recent Federal Court sentencing of Anwar Ibrahim. It’s really as if an old tired script is being regurgitated. A script of `Drama-Minggu-Ini’ magnitude, with its fair share of cardboard characters, unconvincing storylines and, perhaps, even an awful wardrobe.

Everything seems absolutely wrong with this show. In the first place, judgment has already been passed, a verdict arrived at. The accused is now in prison, locked away for five years, with time off for good behaviour.

And the government had already released a statement, by courtesy of the PM’s Department, minutes after the Federal Court verdict, that stressed the fairness of the trial and that the case was brought about by an innocent individual/victim and NOT the government of the day.

That’s why, for many, this latest need for a ‘roadshow’ not only smacks of overkill, but clearly illustrates there’s something absolutely wrong with this script somehow. And that it’s time to get rid of the scriptwriter(s).

Let’s be candid about this. You hound a man for 17 years, initially imprisoning him for a couple of years despite the alleged miscarriage of justice, only to release him when it’s clear that his incarceration was frowned upon by the rakyat.

Then, when it is clear that his release and freedom could lead to your downfall, that a popular, peaceful and democratic uprising is on the cards, you come up with another oh-so-similar charge, and imprison him yet again.

Sure, there’s a need to be consistent. But, come on, there’s also a need to be a bit more creative in this age of digitisation. Or else, instead of looking consistent, you’ll end looking consistently dumb.

Indeed, now that the man has gone to jail, surely it’s time to give it a rest? What, really, is the point of this ‘roadshow’… beyond regaling the (selected) masses with sordid tales that may or may not be true?

We all know that the film 50 Shades of Grey has been banned in Malaysia. Going on a roadshow with untrained actors and storytellers to tell a similar story is equally tacky, don’t you think?

The last time this happened – in the late 1990s – we saw the birth of Reformasi, largely because the Malays especially were sickened by this public shaming of a leader without sufficient – if any – proof of his guilt.

Same old, same old

Almost two decades later, some – perhaps many even – believe that it’s the same old, same old. But many of us are also tired, especially given the fact that the country now faces even more immediate unresolved problems. Indeed, the immediate future seems bleak.

1MDB-The ScandalThe 1MDB Debacle

There’s the problem of resettling and rehoming the thousands made homeless by the recent floods, for one. Then there are the more expensive imports we have to pay for because of a weak currency, the fast-approaching goods and services tax (GST), the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) debacle, and, of course, seemingly unrelenting and untrammeled religious and racial extremism.

All fueled by a regime that doesn’t seem to be doing anything beyond sidestepping these issues. These are the issues – bread and butter indeed – that confront and worry most of us.

Whatever the justification (or otherwise) for sending the man to prison, surely there’s no need to waste your time – and ours – anymore trying to either explain yourselves or, worse, run the man down? Indeed, just as decent Malaysians (and there are quite a number of us) don’t believe in needlessly shaming a person in public, neither do we believe in kicking a man in the groin when he’s already down.

Not only are such actions tacky and the work of douchebags, they are also downright cowardly. So, yes, perhaps it’s time to grow up – especially when we have more or less reached the age that disqualifies us from being called youth – and stop all this nonsense.Before, that is, such a roadshow begins to stink of rotting road kill.

ROM NAIN is a media analyst and academic who is weary of incompetent, unethical leaders and their apologists and spin doctors in the media who try to get away with murder while professing to rub shoulders with God’s angels.

In Sungei Buloh, Anwar reacquaints with the Bard

February 21, 2015

In  Sungei Buloh, Anwar reacquaints with the Bard

by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com (02-20-15)

Sungei Buloh JailAnwar returns to jail

A reform-questing politician striving against great odds must allow the worst of what he has to face pass through his soul, as if he is grinding sausage. With Anwar Ibrahim, now in his third spell of incarceration in a near 50-year political career, the buffer against the shriveling effects of the grind is reading.

A peripatetic life on the hustings and at endless meetings the last eight years could not have afforded him much time for this solitary pursuit, save perhaps in cars and planes – provided he was not trying to catch up on sleep – that transported him to the events of a hectic and harried schedule.

Anwar will never surrender

But now, behind bars for five years on a sodomy conviction so shaky his adversaries have to go on a road show to make it stick, prison time can seem providential in reacquainting himself with the states that singer-songwriter Paul Simon limned in The Sound of Silence – that signature ode to angst.

Initially, Anwar wasn’t allowed reading material during his second spell in prison (1998- 2004, the first was in 1974, under the ISA). However, after letters of appeal from world leaders, including then United States President Bill Clinton, the philistine disposition of his jailers altered.

Reprieved, Anwar rifled through the Shakespearean corpus several times, a familiarity notable enough to draw an invitation from the organisers to present a paper, Shakespeare in Prison, at a conference on the Bard in Australia shortly after he was released and while undergoing a spell in decompression in the grooves of academia, at Georgetown University in the US and at Cambridge in England.

After the two-year sojourn in academia, his return to the hurly-burly of the political round in 2007 and to the rigours of incessant stumping for his party, Parti KeADILan Rakyat (PKR), and the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat – not to mention his recurrent legal tangles – meant that there was not only very little time for leisurely reading, there was also no space for a contemplated project.

This was a book of vignettes mined from his encounters with world leaders, ranging from Indira Gandhi to Nelson Mandela. The hypothetical project – the provisional title was Glimpses from a Political Life – would almost certainly have been finished had Anwar not been incommoded by the contretemps with Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan, his aide who turned out to be his accuser in his second trial for sodomy.

Anwar’s current reading-fueled spell in prison is not likely to be filled with lamentation for the loss of what Pope Gregory, who left the monastery for the Papacy, described as “borne onward by the disturbance of those endless billows”.

As Anwar’s Jesuit friends in Georgetown University would readily agree, a spell of immersion in the contemplative life – enforced by prison or self-willed matters little – is good preparation for a return plunge into political activism.

Analysts have predicted the end of Anwar’s career because at age 67, he cannot, they say, be expected to resurge after a five-year jail term and another five years, from the date of his release, of a ban from politics that convicted felons have to endure in Malaysia. This means a possible 10-year removal from the political fray from which a younger person can be expected to return but not, analysts say, a 67-year-old like Anwar.

But in political history, the wilderness of prison or of exile has been one of those romantic stretches from which the most triumphant of returns have been accomplished. For an inkling of the entelechy that drives his life, Anwar’s aides reveal that the next book from his home library he has requested is Robert Blake’s acclaimed 1966 biography of Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), the outsider who became Prime Minister of Britain.

Disraeli, a writer who aspired – and successfully made – the transition to the activism of the political arena, is owner of that luminous phrase, “the top of the greasy pole.” That was how he described his arrival at the post of PM of Britain.

Anwar’s climb up the “greasy pole” in his own country has stalled, now that he is in the Sungai Buloh Prison. But it is not certain that this halt is terminal.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for more than four decades. A sobering discovery has been that those who protest the loudest tend to replicate the faults they revile in others.