Sunday, March 13, 2005

Herr Doktor

Dr Mahathir Mohammad is an enigma wrapped in a riddle ensconced in a mystery. Or is the other way round ? Whatever. The former Prime Minister of Malaysia is a sprightly 80 year old, with an expression that betrays nothing. He is articulate, outspoken and fearless. His views are controversial and often betray a lack of intellectual underpinning. Indeed it is his anti intellectualism which forms the basis of his popular appeal. He has a number on non-pc blots on his record (Anwar Ibrahim, the dismal state of human rights, political repression) but it would be unfair to classify him as just another tin pot dictator. What the heck.At least the 6.35 from Kuala Lumpur to Penang does run on time.
It was with thoughts such as these that I entered a university campus on saturday afternoon. I assumed that I had been invited as part of the business roundtable with Doctor M. "No sir" said the platoon of student organisers,"You are with the intellectuals." "The whats ?" say I incredulously. "In-te-llec-chuals" came the the polysyllabic retort as though there had been an awful mistake. Basking in my new found designation, I took a seat at the square table. ("Round" was just an allusion, I assumed.)
Some highlights follow. Be warned though. I never take notes. And these memories have been distilled by some heavy duty partying on Saturday night.
* Democracy is a wonderful system. However, in the wrong circumstances it can lead to the most awful abuse of power. Leaders lie habitually to get elected. To wit, "Bush the liar" was economical with the truth and managed to get elected. Blair is likely to follow suit.
* America has one of the most debt ridden economies. The shortcut to crippling it lies in doing away with the US Dollar as the currency of commerce. Check out the Euro instead. Or the Gold Dinar.
*Muslims are in the doldrums because- by an accident of history- they have misread Islam (and the injunction "iqra" (read/recite) to be limited to theology. The decline of the Muslims has its roots in their abandonment of the sciences and philosophy.
*You cannot have economic empowerment without the full participation of women in all spheres of life. This does not mean an abandonment of tradition values.
*The art of political survival lies in knowing when to exit. Dr M's mom reminded him that even if a host insists you stay on, he really wants you to leave so he can get on with his life. There are lessons to be learned from a bad dinner party.
*Islam is a simple religion. Sectarianism arrived on the scene much later and has played a significant part in its decline.
*The majority must accomodate the minority. In Malaysia this has meant some kind of adjustment among the major ethnic groups. (Not the most equitable adjustment, but it works in an odd manner.) In Pakistani terms this can only refer to provincial/sectarian accomodation.
*Bureaucrats must be told expressly what to do. No shortcuts here. And ministers have to meet with civil servants immediately after a cabinet meeting. The day after ain't good enough. Memories are short.
Interesting, though all too brief. The roundtable was structured around Pakistan so questions about Dr M's own track record in Malaysia were understandably absent. What did I make of it all ? Well, as a newly-discovered intellectual I found myself agreeing with some of the realpolitik while dismissing the populist stuff. And deep within I found a certain arrogance in references to the "people" - the Great Unwashed. The absence of reference to "rights"(let alone human rights) was disqueting as well. Still not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon.


Post a Comment

<< Home