Speech by Mohamed Tawfik bin Tun Dr Ismail — Launch of Paradise Lost: Mahathir & The End of Hope

[Note: This speech is reproduced verbatim with permission from Tawfik Ismail.]

Tawfik Ismail wrote the foreword of the book and also launched it.

Assalamu Alaikum Warahmatullahitaallah Wabarakatuh

Peace be unto you and so may the mercy of Allah and his blessings

Ladies and Gentlemen, Malaysian friends, forgive me if I do not mention all the honorifics which you all so richly deserve,

When Dennis asked me to launch this wonderfully written and thought-provoking book, I suggested there were other more illustrious personalities who could add more prestige to the event, he was adamant it had to be me, so here I am to honour the wishes of this articulate Malaysian patriot, and I hope I do him the credit he richly deserves, and give the book the reach it hopes to achieve.

In my Foreword, I suggested that Mahathir was a Machiavellian Bomoh, and I take the opportunity here to elaborate on what I mean. In Malay Culture, a Bomoh is a person one looks to for a solution to all problems, be it matters of the heart, to counter an enemy, for enrichment, to solve a mystery, to cure an illness. The Bomoh precedes Islam in Malay culture, yet incorporates Arabic sounding incantations to fit in with the Muslim psyche, and give credence to his cures and solutions. A crucial element in the Bomoh's Raison D'etre is the community's belief in his powers and the willingness of the "patient" to pay him for his services. If how I describe a Bomoh fits the image you have of our Members of Parliament, the coincidence is ruthlessly intentional, and given the present political scenario where Prime Ministers appear out of nowhere, Bomohs are facing stiff competition for their services. Internationally, the world's image of a Bomoh was when one showed his technique of trying to find MH370 with coconuts and bamboos on television, to the amazement of all who watched. Domestically, the bloody side of the Bomoh was the Mona Fandy episode in Pahang where a state assemblyman literally lost his head in pursuit of power. Something about Pahang intrigues me but I will leave it for another occassion. Politically, governments have disappeared over the last few years, and which Bomoh caused these disappearances, I will leave you to finish the train of thought whether it was the one named in the foreword.

How Mahathir lasted more than 20 years as Chief Bomoh and regained it in 2018 is where the Machiavellian part comes in. Machiavelli's The Prince has been described as a treatise known for detached ruthlessness, and has been described by Bertrand Russell as a handbook for gangsters, and its cardinal principle is the ends justifies the means. Mahathir put to practical use Machiavelli's precepts, by first discarding the West and embracing what he thought were Eastern Values. The gangster tactics was evident in a General Assembly of UMNO after Tun Musa resigned as Deputy Prime Minister and Commandos were used to intimidate delegates. I was a delegate and can bear witness to this. One of his first acts as Prime Minister was to turn the nation's clock backwards one hour, but who could have foreseen that over 22 years and a bit, he turned the nation backwards many years. One of his most cherished skills taken from Japanese culture must have been the art of Bonsai, which he applied with devastating effect on the Judiciary and the Royalty, but it was his act of HaraKiri in 2020 that made us all cheer but left a nation bankrupt of men of worth because in all his years expounding Eastern values, he failed in planning a succession and in Kintsugi, the Japanese art of putting broken pieces back together. If only he had done that with UMNO in 1987, instead of killing it and dismembering and mutilating its corpse in a most UnIslamic way.

To me the most significant damage to the country are the cracks caused by Race and Religion. The demise of UMNO and the rise of Ultra-Malayism under Mahathir worsened race relations, the usurpation of Religion by the federal government from the Rulers of the States and the rise of Wahabhism through overreach by JAKIM diminished Malay progress economically and socially by creating an Apartheid system of thinking in a multi racial, multi cultural country. UMNO's effectiveness as an adhesive to hold the parts together diminished when its leadership under Mahathir steered the party to a Malay First tack, leaving other races out of the opportunities in education and commerce. Dennis has illuminated these points succinctly in the Book, and readers will find much to think about and discuss. What upsets me is UMNO became an unprincipled party under Mahathir, pandering to ultra right wing interests while having a moderate, liberal facade. There must be a debate amongst progressive Malays on whether they need to band together to revive moderation and inclusiveness, either through a movement or a party to represent those interests. There is to be a discussion on something like this after the launch but it must be a national debate amongst Malays as the major population on how to harness the future for current problems. The past is useful as a guide, but not as a template for the years ahead.

Although Dennis has painted a picture of gloom, of a Paradise Lost, allow me to provide some light ahead, by re quoting Milton again, "Awake, Arise, Or Be Forever Fallen" and how Paradise can be regained: first, we have seen the failure of an All-Malay Government in tackling a nationwide pandemic despite an Emergency being declared. This is due to the split among the Malays caused by economic imbalance within the community, as witnessed by the obscene wealth exposed by the ongoing corruption trials, which has evoked a sense we have been betrayed by our leaders; second, internationally there is a change happening in the Arab world which would impact the Arabists among the Malays who imitate and propagate Arab culture at the expense of Malay culture, which may see a revival as nostalgia for things Malay subsume the youth in search of an identity and a heritage, and globally the rise of young leaders is not lost among Malaysians with their dynamism and novel ideas that propel their nations to greater heights, Indonesia being the closest example; third, Mahathir and his ideas are aging and will have a limited shelf life, as his legacy is being diminished by the Sheraton move, and everyone should be reminded as Malaysia Day approaches, what we have seen as the best years of our Nation's history pre-Mahathir, the Machiavellian Bomoh, was when the age of our leaders was in their 40's: in 1963 Tunku was the oldest at exactly 60 years old, Tun Razak was 41 years old, my father was 48, Tun Fuad Stephens was 43, Stephen Kalong Ningkan also 43. Our current leaders are dinosaurs in comparison and should be made similarly extinct. Earlier in my speech I mentioned the Japanese art of Kintsugi let me end by saying like Kintsugi let us honour our imperfections: the golden cracks make the pieces more precious and valuable. It's beautiful to think of this practice as a metaphor for our nation, to see the broken, difficult, painful parts radiating light, gold and beauty. Kintsugi teaches you that your broken places make you stronger and better than ever before. When you think you are broken, you can pick up the pieces, put them back together, and learn to embrace the cracks. Perhaps we are blessed by Allah to have these difficulties upon us Merdeka/Malaysia day babies now so that we can show our children and grandchildren how to be the golden glue to bind our nation together post the Machiavellian Bomoh and Regain Paradise.

Dennis' book gives us much to think and speculate about, and some of it touches raw nerves and shame, particularly his 10th chapter "The Unpatriotic Non-Malay" where he details the names and sacrifices and contributions made by non-Malays to nation building. Where is our MultiRacial National Heroes Cemetery where we can honour the passing of our Heroes? We are moved by his account of his family's struggle to survive and sacrifice to give us the Dennis we now know and respect and are thankful that he has sired a line of grandchildren to carry to the future his genes, and his hopes, and his dreams. He dedicates his book to his parents and his parents in law and we give thanks to them for gifting us with Dennis and his family as our friend and guide, and it is with pleasure and delight that I officially present and launch "Paradise Lost: Mahathir and The End Of Hope".

299 views0 comments