All Honourable Men

“For Brutus is an honourable man; So are they all, all honourable men”
- From William Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’

A country’s universities are its seats of learning, its repository for the collective knowledge,
wisdom, ideas and thought of its best and brightest people - its thinkers, its intellectuals, its
elite. So it was not surprising to hear that a forum last weekend on “Public Intellectuals and
Contemporary Challenges” was to be held in the country’s oldest seat of learning, Universiti
Malaya. And being Malaysia, it was also not surprising to hear that the forum was banned by
the university authorities.

Fortunately, the organisers of the forum, the Malaysian Social Sciences Association, also
happened to be having their Annual General Meeting at the same date and venue - so they
quiet ingeniously included the forum into the agenda as a discussion item under “Any Other
Business”. But the gag order was certainly a graphic illustration of the rot that has infected
Malaysia’s elite and its honourable men.

Why - in the midst of Malaysia’s worst political crisis ever, in the face of the worst abuses in
its human rights record does there seem to be no sense of outrage at all among the country’s
elite - its intellectuals, its writers, its academics, its judges, its elected representatives? “Why
has there been no reaction?” Dr Chandra asked at the forum. “Why haven’t academics refused
to teach, in protest? Why haven’t politicians resigned? Why have even retired judges remained

Dr Chandra himself had recently been a direct victim of these outrages. The university
management last month refused to renew his contract at the university, citing ‘economic
factors’ as the reason. Of course, no one believes that Dr Chandra’s sharp criticism of the
country’s most powerful men played no part at all in the authorities’ decision. Honourable men
would not do that, would they?

In any other free nation, such a blatant blow to the individual freedom of thought and
expression of a leading intellectual would have erupted in a whirlwind of protest from other
intellectuals. Students and a few academic staff did protest. But the vast majority of the
country’s most respected and experienced academics decided that discretion was the better
part of valour and chose to remain silent on the issue. Such is the boldness and courage of
those honourable men who are to mould out future generations of leaders and thinkers.

And these academics seem ready to accept little inconveniences such as suppression of
freedom and are quite happy to continue, in Dr Chandra’s words, “living with a lie”.

And it is a Big Lie that they are living. The brutal beating of street demonstrators. The absurd
tragi-comedy of the Anwar trial. The indiscriminate arrests without trial. The torture and
‘turning over’ of detainees. The prostitution of the media. A chief of police who is more like a
chief of the Gestapo. The piratisation of the country’s wealth. These must be made
unimportant, not relevant, not to be mentioned in polite company, let alone publicly quoted.
That is the Big Lie.

You can talk in fuzzy, general terms of the importance freedom and democracy. But don’t you
dare question how, for five months, the Home Minister did not know that his Chief of Police
had beaten a man senseless - even when more than half of the country seemed to know
already. Don’t you dare ask why that Chief of Police has not been arrested yet. Don’t you

See no evil. Hear no evil. Say no evil. And you’ll keep your Volvo.

But it is quite unfair to just single out academics. Other honourable men continue to live with
the Lie. Not a single government Member of Parliament has expressed outrage and disgust. Not
a whisper of dissent has been heard from the UMNO Supreme Council. Senior civil servants
carry on ‘berkhidmat untuk negara’.

Have we all been so abused that we no longer have no sense of outrage or shame? My friend
Sheryll Stothard once likened us to abused wives - willingly and humbly accepting the
punishment and humiliation meted by our benevolent (if slightly psychopathic) spouse as fate
and for the greater good.

And the media, who were not long ago in a foaming frenzy for months about acts of sodomy,
seem strangely unmoved by a blindfolded, handcuffed man being nearly beaten to death.

Rustam Sani certainly had a few words to say about the media a few months ago - and he
didn’t mince his words. “During these times, they have become instruments of propaganda,
behaving unethically, immorally and shamelessly,” he said in article in Harakah last January.
“Their writings and analyses have shown that they don’t respect the intelligence of their
readers, whom they consider incapable of doing their own thinking.” I think the word ‘gila’ was
used somewhere in the article as well. Rustam Sani has always had a way with words.

The President of the Malay Journalists Association of Malaysia Yazid Othman whined that
Rustam’s remarks were an insult to the profession. I wondered if he realised that most people
already know that it is some of the editors and journalists themselves who were an insult to
their profession. Quite rightly in my opinion, Rustam Sani refused to recant - though he did
remind Yazid that he was not referring to journalists as a whole. “Just the ones who allow
themselves and their professions to be prostituted by certain parties.”

Yazid demanded Rustam retract his statements in the name of - wait for this - the dignity of
journalism. I suppose he was referring to the dignity of calling women demonstrators whores
(in the case of Utusan
Malaysia) , and the dignity of urging other journalists to be detained under the ISA (in the
case of the New Straits Times). I am glad Saudara Yazid knows about dignity - he is clearly an
honourable man.

I cannot write about all these honourable men without at least mentioning one more such
man. A man who saw honour in being dubbed a ‘chief of pirates’. A man who assured us that
Anwar Ibrahim was ‘safe and sound’. A man who was praised and lauded by our political
leaders when he resigned to take full responsibility for Anwar’s beating while in police custody.

A man who later admitted that it was in fact he who had beaten a blindfolded and handcuffed
Anwar Ibrahim in the inner sanctum of Police Headquarters. That honourable man is, of
course, our former Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Rahim Noor.

One can imagine the thoughts running through Anwar’s mind as he sat on that cold cement
slab in Bukit Aman - they could hardly have been very ‘aman’. Just hours before, he had seen
police storm into his house and level their submachine guns at his family. His hands were
handcuffed behind his back, he could not see and all he could do was to pray quietly to God.

They say that the loss of one’s sight acutely heightens other senses such as hearing and
feeling. In his blindfolded darkness, Anwar must have been acutely aware of the footsteps
coming into the cell. And he must have acutely felt the devastating punch that came
seconds later which landed above his left eye. He must have acutely felt the pain of that blow
and the pain of the fall as he fell backwards on the cement slab. Dragged up on his feet again,
the blows kept coming - a heavy blow on the top right of the head, then on the left, more
blows, a karate chop on the side of the neck, then hard strong slaps repeatedly across his

It is difficult to imagine how Anwar must have felt at the time. But what is even more difficult
to imagine is how a person could repeatedly punch, hit and slap a blindfolded and handcuffed
man, whose only reaction to the blows were a howl of pain, a plea to stop - and a cry to

As if this was not enough, Anwar was taken elsewhere, stripped naked and refused proper
medical attention for days. Rahim, meanwhile, had the ‘courage’ to tell the world that Anwar
was “safe and sound”. Our chief guardian of law and order waited five months before - his
back to the wall after days of incriminating testimonies from Anwar, medical experts and
Rahim’s own police officers - he had to finally admit his crime to the Royal Commission
investigating the beating.

And, to add insult to injury, the admission was first made not by Rahim himself, but through his
lawyer Teh Poh Teik.

It is hard to imagine that an honourable man could be capable of such cruelty. It is hard to
imagine that other honourable men could have known of the beating and kept silent - or even
lied. It is hard to imagine that honourable men would leave such a crime unpunished.

But what is most difficult, almost impossible, to imagine is that any honourable man would be
part of all of this and still continue to serve the public good. An honourable man would redeem
his honour by resigning in disgust and in shame.

And are they not all, all honourable men?

o o

Sabri Zain