Only a decade or so ago people were looking forward to a great future - no matter what their outlook or worldview. Rich folk believed they were going to get even richer. Poor folk felt they had a fair chance of at least getting a bit of furniture in their homes and maybe their kids would be geniuses at school and be given full scholarships all the way. Industrialists eagerly anticipated taking over the action from flagging western economies; social activists and environmentalists formed themselves into energetic little NGOs and found their opinions gaining some ground. 1996 was a jolly time to be a Malaisean! People were buying computers for their kids and everyone was getting on the Internet.
True, some of us knew a lot of stupid, ugly stuff was going on in business and politics - like everywhere else - and that the government was in the hands of highly sophisticated hoodlums descended from the great space pirate lineages. But we thought that sooner or later enough citizens would awaken from their consumerist trance and restore a measure of accountability and democracy in government. All it would take is a sizeable middle-class with access to good information and proper education - and we were definitely getting there.
AND THEN WHAT HAPPENED?
The Asian Tigers suffered a collective stroke in July 1997. Overnight, currencies like the Thai Baht, the Malaysian Ringgit, and the Indonesian Rupiah were devalued by approximately 40%. The Icarus Effect kicked in: from being among the highest flyers in the Asia-Pacific Area, the wings of the Malaisean economy suddenly melted and we plummeted feetfirst towards terra firma and almost broke our spines when we landed on hard reality. But what was really badly bruised were the inflated egos of Malaisean prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and his wheeling-dealing Wild Bunch of Umnoputras (UMNO = United Malay Nationalist Organisation; Umnoputras = the swaggering political party leadership).
As long as the economic bubble was visibly expanding, nobody wanted to look too closely at the shenanigans and shady businesses underpinning the Malaisean success story. Nobody wanted to know how much had been borrowed from which banks by whom and how in hell they hoped to ever repay their astronomical debts. Nobody wanted to cut the administrative body open and figure out how many cans would be needed to hold the wriggling worms that had gorged themselves off the fat of the land for decades.
Suddenly finding his megalomanic dream of building his very own Evil Empire and turning Malaisea into his personal Death Star project thwarted, Mahathir's paranoia took a turn for the worse. He knew his hand-picked successor to the throne, the charismatic but enigmatic Anwar Ibrahim, was more than ready to take over his job. Anwar had the support of most of the younger generation and was already holding two important posts: deputy prime minister and finance minister.
Former finance minister Daim Zainuddin - Mahathir's invisible Grand Vizier, Undisputed Godfather of the Malaisean Mafia and Master Manipulator - saw the end of the Mahathir era rapidly approaching. With his entrepreneurial protégés all facing bankruptcy proceedings, Daim couldn't survive a sea change in party leadership. So he came up with a plan to discredit Anwar and stop him from cracking down on corrupt party members with heavy business connections. They would circulate rumours that Anwar was a freestyle fornicator with a penchant for anal sex and thereby force his resignation.
The plan backfired (pun unintended) when Anwar refused to take the money and run. Instead, he turned around and openly challenged Mahathir for the nation's top job. On September 2nd 1998, Mahathir sacked Anwar. Thousands of sympathizers flocked to Anwar's residence pledging their support. In less than three weeks, Anwar was leading protest processions through the streets of Kuala L'impure, the national capital. Some say the crowds reached as high as 80,000; others estimate the numbers at no more than 40,000. In any case, Anwar Ibrahim's unceremonious dismissal inspired the largest gatherings of dissenters in Malaisean history. The velvet glove was removed and Mahathir ordered Anwar's arrest on the evening of September 20th 1998.
Since that shameful night the entire country has been plunged into moral darkness. All the excesses and weaknesses of the system have been grossly magnified; all the leaks are letting in water like crazy (and even the pipes are leaking!). There's no more pretense at democracy. The well-behaved press has been further intimidated into serving as mere conduits for government propaganda.
Over the 22 years of his beady-eyed and heavy-handed rule, Mahathir quietly castrated the royals, offering them a handsome share of the Big Business ball game as compensation while securing his own financial dynasty through his children á la Suharto of Indonesia.
By now Mahathir was the uncrowned Emperor of Malaisea - dubbed Mahafiraun (Great Pharaoh) by his detractors in Umno. When the people demonstrated, a snarling Mahathir (as home minister) greeted them with water cannons and tear gas. His specially trained goons infiltrated street marches and sparked off rioting, thereby giving the police an excuse to crack down hard on the young hotheads calling for the prime minister's resignation.
On the night of his arrest Anwar Ibrahim was brutally assaulted by the Inspector General of Police. Anwar's associates were picked up and tortured into signing affidavits claiming they had been sodomized by the erstwhile deputy prime minister. Highly paid, well-dressed witnesses came forth and denounced Anwar as a profligate. The trial judge declared all evidence of a political conspiracy irrelevant - and pressed on relentlessly for a guilty verdict on a ludicrous charge of corruption which was delivered on April 14th 1999. Anwar was given a 6-year prison term after having been held in custody for nearly 7 months without bail. The whole thing stank.
[On August 8th 2000, Anwar Ibrahim was found guilty of sodomy by another kangaroo court and sentenced to an additional 9 years behind bars! If he had been charged in a Syariah or Islamic Court, Anwar would most likely have been acquitted, as Syariah Law states that accusations of sexual indiscretion must be corroborated by four male witnesses of indisputable integrity who must swear that they saw the deed with their own eyes!]
And this reek of evil has permeated every facet of Malaisean society. Indeed we are in grave danger of getting inured to abuse of power and moral indecency in high office. It's truly a wonder that one wicked uncle and his gang of trained hyenas could have systematically corrupted the police force, the judiciary - indeed, the entire machinery of governance, including the mass media. The only avenue of dissent left open is the Internet. To win a victory in the streets we'd need 250,000 assembled in Freedom Square. They'd have to call out the army - and, hopefully, the troops will join the people in demanding a whole new government founded on decency, justice, freedom, and truth.
The key to power has long been Divide & Rule. Mahathir is a past master at the game, pitting different ethnic interests against each other, stirring up petty quarrels within each faction, capitalizing on the base human emotions of fear and greed. Without access to the mass media, opposition groups find themselves preaching to the converted. When it comes down to it, most Malaysians still vote with their bellies, not their conscience. By banning 680,000 newly registered voters from the general election on November 29 1999 (in addition to the usual bribery and fraud) Mahathir managed to steer his regime to a narrow victory with a mere 105,000 vote margin. But that was enough to buy him and his business associates a little more time.
Time in which to cover their financial backsides and wear down all political opponents. "We're bullish on bouncing back!" screamed the press advertisements. "Economic recovery expected with 6 months!" boasted the well-connected pundits. Well, wander around KL and see how many public phones you can find that actually work. Check out the public transport system and see how many sweaty commuters can fit into a single overworked bus. Find out how many factory workers and construction crews have been retrenched and repatriated to Bangladesh and Indonesia. How many Filipina maids have been harassed and sent packing. These are the real indicators of the Malaisean economy - and they don't look too good. All the energy and power is concentrated within a tiny segment of society; less and less of it trickles down to the masses these days. Essential services like electricity, water, and telecommunications have all been privatized (more precisely, piratized) - and even education and health care are headed that way.
When Pak Lah stepped in as prime minister after Mahathir's compulsory retirement (Umno stalwarts could see that Dr M, like G.W. Bush today, had become a liability to his own political party), it appeared that we had underestimated the man. It was refreshing to see a PM with less of an ego problem who seemed a great deal more open to public opinion and learned advice. Indeed, by releasing Anwar Ibrahim from Sungei Buloh Prison, Pak Lah effectively took the wind out of Opposition sails. People had little anger left to discharge and gladly returned to business-as-usual.
Now, a little more than three years after Pak Lah took over, we are seeing age-old problems re-emerge - problems that have never been courageously faced and resolved once and for all. The notorious ISA and OSA remain in place to prevent hardnosed investigators from unmasking corruption and abuse of power at its source. Samy Vellu is still in cahoots with corporate highwaymen and threatening to jail anybody who reveals his secret deals with greedy concessionaires. Sensational scandals have raised many unanswered questions, and rumors implicating prominent ministers are rife. In an era when presidents and prime ministers find themselves charged with war crimes, genocide, corruption, deceit, and rape - cold-blooded murder would be just another high-profile scandal. But, unless justice is seen to be done, it could cause the ruin of an entire country. Intimidating bloggers and whistle-blowers can only postpone the inevitable.
Socially, Malaiseans are fast becoming a bunch of self-serving ruffians. We have the ethical integrity of a gnu in heat. Nobody trusts the police. Everyone has at least one cousin or uncle who's turned to crime just so he can support his family. Or drug habit. Young people with ideas are forced underground, linking up with international anarcho-punk networks. Older artists and theatre practitioners have sold out - or dropped out. The best writers in the country have a hard time finding publishers who can offer a straight deal. Nobody has the money to fund a feature film - unless the plot is absolutely banal and the script insults human intelligence. True, a few adventurous souls have recently begun making powerful personal statements with low-budget digicam movies. But mediocrity and malice continue to rule with an iron hand in poor, benighted Malaisea. All it takes is one evil-minded nincompoop with access to the Malay press to get adventurous films banned, and a popular film club shut down.
Indeed we seem to be in the cultural and spiritual doldrums. The mental atmosphere is stagnant, and everywhere you turn there's a toxic stench of putrefaction and industrial pollution. The rainforests are almost non-existent now and so is the political will to conserve the environment. Indigenous tribes are being driven off their traditional lands and forced to take their place as society's lowest stratum. Their dignity and freedom - which is all they own - is being confiscated. The rest of us lost ours ages ago.
IS THERE REALLY NO HOPE FOR US?
To answer this we have to sit back, relax, and look at the Big Picture. The deadly drama playing out in Malaisea is a hologram of the spiritual crisis facing all humanity. No system of governance exists today that can stand up to thorough scrutiny; all of it ultimately leads to Big Brotherism or one of its many permutations - despotism, totalitarianism, fascism, nazism. In short, the New World Odor - yup, the familiar stench of the old feudal hierarchies, thinly concealed as the Corporate Superstate.
The only way to deflect this life-denying reality from taking complete possession of our destinies as autonomously evolving individuals with free wills is to reconnect with our inner selves and scan our deep memories for corrupted files. Clear out our neural circuits and regain our youthful innocence, so we can once again look at the twinkling stars and wonder what they are - if not our true origins. That's right, folks. We have to get cosmic and quit rolling around in our own mental excrement, trapped in our claustrophobic pigpen 3D realities. We have to get multidimensional and stay heart-centred - because our heads are too dead to appreciate the awesome mystery of life.
But first things first: we have to remove reactionary politicians from high office; yank them all out like rotten teeth. Or their poison will go to our brains and kill us in our prime.
[Written April 15 2001, updated February 8 2007]
Thursday, February 8, 2007
Monday, February 5, 2007
|8-min promo for an 80-min documentary on the phenomenal RAINFOREST WORLD MUSIC FESTIVAL held every July in Sarawak, Malaysia. Produced and directed by Antares. Feature-length doco plus 44 extra minutes of bonus features available on DVD.|