"I won't insult your intelligence by suggesting that you really believe what you just said." - William F Buckley Jr.
Kuala Lumpur: On the other hand, maybe the implication of ‘intelligence' when it comes to the former information minister and ex-Utusan Malaysia editor is suspect itself.
Zainuddin Maidin's rant against former Indonesian president BJ Habibie has all the hallmarks of Umno public relations ineptitude; collateral damage of allies accrued when demonising political opponents coupled with friendly fire on your own governmental policies.
For instance, Zainuddin's conclusion that opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim and Habibie were "dogs of imperialism" could be reflected back on the current regime.
After all, doesn't the whole Lynas fiasco demonstrate that the Umno regime is beholden to western corporate interests that are in reality the new imperialism? Or when an American nuclear vessel docks in our port (when Malaysia is a signatory to Zopfan, Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality) for "economic" purposes.
And Zainuddin's allegation that Habibie is a "traitor to his race" is ridiculous from an Indonesian ethnic (sic) standpoint but more importantly (and Zainuddin should know this), from the perspective of ethnic relations, which always becomes an issue every time there is an election or when Umno is uncertain of its domination.
Speaking of race, when I was doing my Naval Command and Staff course (Sesko Abri Laut) in Cipulir, Jakarta, being a young naval officer with an indifferent temperament, I had the good fortune of becoming friends with the late great novelist and activist Mochtar Lubis. This was during his post-Indonesia Raya (the newspaper he co-founded) days and we talked long into the nights of his beloved Indonesia.
One of our conversations centred on race and nationality concerning Malaysia and Indonesia. He said, "I am an Indonesian of Suku Batak. I have many close Javanese friends and comrades. But even I will never know how the Javanese think, in particular the East Javanese, so do not make the mistake of thinking of us as Indonesians.
"But this does not mean we are not brothers. Maybe all Malaysians should think of themselves as brothers and sisters, too. This way, Thaya, blood is thicker than politics."
After all, it was Habibie, post-Suharto's New Order programme of cultural assimilation of the Chinese Indonesian community, who issued a ‘presidential decree' to abolish the terms "pribumi" and "non-pribumi".
All of which led to further reforms by successive presidents. What is extremely disturbing of Zainuddin's questioning of Habibie's "racial credentials" is that the same rhetoric used against the Chinese Indonesian - that of their supposed economic domination - is usually spewed by Malay supremacist groups here.
Furthermore, the real politick of the Suharto regime system of patronage involving influential power players within the Chinese community bears many similarities with what has been going on in this country for some time now.
Zam's disdain for historical facts
There is this romanticised view of Indonesian ethnic relations and although Habibie's social policies and rhetoric could be rightly questioned, there is no doubt that he introduced reforms (some would argue as symbolic) that greatly repaired inter-ethnic relations in Indonesia.
So all Zainuddin's talk of Anwar "provoking" the Chinese community and his attack on Habibie who started the complex process of reconciliation between the Chinese and the so-called pribumi community in Indonesia smacks of the usual Umno arrogance and disdain for historical fact.
Perhaps what Zainuddin and his ilk fear that the same impulses of genuine national unity that the Habibie administration attempted to engineer (in problematic ways) would somehow seep into the Malaysian polity through the former Indonesian president's meetings with oppositional forces.
Zainuddin may have no problem with Habibie's meeting with opposition personalities like Lim Kit Siang and Abdul Hadi Awang but like any good Umnoputra, he realises that the charismatic Anwar sings a siren song to those who have lost faith in the Umno regime.
Furthermore, he understands that for the first time in Malaysian politics, Umno cannot rely on racial and religious divisions tearing up the opposition. Anwar is a big part of this.
So, while Umno and its running dogs continue to demonise the Chinese community, operatives like Zainuddin continue raising the spectre of racial riots, never realising that by attacking former presidents like Habibie, their own policies and racial politics are called into question. And Indonesian commenters and public intellectuals are doing just that.
Getting someone like former inspector-general of police (IGP) Abdul Rahim Noor to carry his water for him further adds to the perception that Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak is on the outs as far as Umno power players (those real hidden hands) that are involved in a vicious power struggle within Umno are concerned.
The former IGP has the temerity to proclaim that Indonesian leaders had "sketchy backgrounds", this coming from a thug in uniform who had assaulted Anwar and in one fell swoop destroyed any shred of credibility the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) had left.
Furthermore, when Rahim Noor goes on about Anwar being "mentored" by Indonesians to bring a culture of violent street protest here in Malaysia, has he forgotten that it Umno who has demonstrated that it is willing to engage in violent disruption to achieve its end.
A relevant example of this is when BN Youth violently disrupted the Asia-Pacific Conference on East Timor II (Apcet II) in Kuala Lumpur in 1996.
According to now reformed PKR operative, Saifuddin Nasition (former Umno Youth secretary), he was under instructions from former deputy home minister Megat Junid Megat Ayob (to show support for Indonesia's policies). By any means necessary was the former deputy minister's challenge, failure meant that Umno Youth was "balls-less".
Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein and Defence Minister Zahid Hamidi, both of whom were bigwigs in Umno Youth at that time, gave their blessings.
Therefore, what we can draw from this is that it is Umno who have a history of resorting to street violence if their agendas are threatened. This is the Umno way of life that Rahim Noor wants us to defend.
Another thing we can draw from this, is that former Umno members who join the opposition have shown remarkable restraint when it comes to "violent street" demonstrations.
Think about it. Coming from a culture where violence against political opponents is sanctioned by the Umno state, the level of violence BN has been subject to by the opposition is practically nil.
Therefore, I would argue that the best way to rehabilitate the violent impulses of Umno members is if they join the opposition and participate in street demonstrations where the violence is dished out by the authorities. I can subscribe to this kind real politick "ubah".
Umno already a ‘violent regime'
Or, maybe to people like Zainuddin and Rahim Noor, his (BJ Habibie) social programmes where indeed a "betrayal" to the pribumi community. In that case, this would fit in nicely with all the other supremacist rhetoric emanating from Utusan Malaysia.
However, I think it is just ignorance or maybe just a disdain for Indonesian culture, history and political reality.
Although one may argue that Umno is already a violent regime, what with all the deaths in custody, the police brutality against legitimate civil disobedience, the coddling of racist extremist groups and rhetoric of Umno warlords of election as "war", it would be disingenuous and ignorant to make such claims when we have Indonesia as a neighbour and considering the violent history of Indonesia. Whatever Indonesia has achieved, they have earned with blood and the horrible lessons of extremely violent racial riots.
To claim that Pakatan Rakyat has said or done anything, which would lead to the violent overthrow of the current regime is perhaps the most mendacious propaganda that Umno has come up with. To raise this in connection with the Habibie visit considering the violent political strife in Indonesian history makes Zainuddin (a former high-ranking Umno official) look like a child ignorant of the history of the Indonesia, on the nature of diplomacy or cultural sensitivity.
Umno propagandists are extremely flippant when it comes to their usage of "violent regime" imagery. Perhaps comfort and a cowed electorate have given them the delusion of being ‘masters' of their domain and a false sense of bravado with comes with said thinking. When you have not really had to ‘fight' for anything, you slip into the belief that you could rise to the challenge when the time comes.
I had the honour of forming a friendship of kind with (former defence minister and one-time Suharto ally) the late Jenderal Besar Abdul Haris Nasution through a retired senior military officer who was a part-time lecturer at the staff college.
As usual our talk revolved around current and domestic issues, but one visit I had with him brought home how violent the political scene in Indonesia was and how I prayed that Malaysia would not ever have to go through something like that.
On that particular visit, he recounted his falling out with Suharto (and said things that I cannot reveal for obvious reasons) and after a while took me to a room in his house. There were bloodstains on the wall, which he had never repainted. Those bloodstains were that of his five-year-old daughter killed when 30 September Movement (G30S) in an attempt to mount a military coup tried to kidnap him in 1965.
Don't expect any apology
Indonesians have actually gone through the ‘violent regimes' that an unstable democracy gives birth to. They understand how fragile ‘peace' and ‘stability' is and have had to endure a slow difficult crawl to that which many Malaysians take for granted.
The rise of Islamic extremism in Indonesia is a growing concern and there are very real tensions between the forces of moderation and extremism. The present administration is cognisant of the fact that these extremists' forces cannot be controlled and the report card is mixed on the measures taken to halt the influence of these forces detrimental to the concept of democracy and the secular tanged spirit of religious plurality in Indonesia.
It is bad enough when this regime refers to Malaysian racial riots whenever it fears that it hegemony is in peril. It is worse when a former high-ranking Umno official shoots his mouth of smearing the history and culture of a powerful complex neighbour in the hopes of tarnishing the reputation of a local opposition politician.
All Umno's attempts at distancing themselves from Zainuddin's statements ring hollow. The fact that the offending comment piece has been removed by Utusan from its website is just salt on the wound. The fact is that an Umno propaganda organ disseminated this piece at a time when relations between Malaysia and Indonesia are tense.
The fact remains that a former high-ranking Umno official who still maintains ties and advocates for the regime made the comments. The fact is that a former IGP has claimed that former Indonesian presidents and current serving Indonesian leaders are proxies to American interests, in essence claiming that they are seditious.
In the end, Zainuddin and Rahim Noor owe not only Habibie, Gus Dur (Abdurrahman Wahid) and Pakatan an apology, he also owes the people of Indonesia and Malaysia an apology.
None will be forthcoming though because what this regime prides itself on is that sycophancy, ignorance, hubris and ineptitude is rewarded, and humility in the face of history and a respect of culture beyond Umno is often met with disdain.--Courtesy of Malaysiakini