There is a scene in the Tamil movie “Nayagan”- which is listed in TIME magazine’s 100 best movies since 1923 – where the protagonist, an orphan, asks the man who adopted and raised him a question: “Isn’t this wrong?” He was referring to the older man’s smuggling activities.
The older man says: “Nothing is wrong if it can help others.” That included him and his family, of course. The young man went on to become a kingpin of crime.
I have often pondered over the reply of the adoptive father, from the first time I saw the movie in 1987 on the big screen. It disturbed me then and it disturbs me now.
I was reminded of this when I read the explanation by PAS central committee member Nik Abduh Nik Aziz as to why, last April, he had denied that it was his voice in a leaked audio recording where the speaker tells his audience that PAS received money from Umno. He then claimed the audio had been fabricated to tarnish his image.
The audio recording was cited as evidence by Sarawak Report editor Clare Rewcastle-Brown in defending herself against a defamation suit brought by PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang. Hadi had sued her for alleging, in Aug 2016, that “RM90 million is widely reckoned to have flowed into the top echelons of PAS in recent months” as part of efforts by then Umno president Najib Razak to woo PAS away from the opposition coalition.
When Hadi dropped his suit on Feb 1, the issue of the alleged millions in bribes and that of the audio recording surfaced again.
On Feb 13, in a Facebook post, Nik Abduh not only admitted to having lied, he also said that he had lied to safeguard the party. He claimed he was torn about admitting the truth or denying it as even though the recording was “leaked to mar my reputation, it was also to cause the downfall of PAS”..
He said all PAS leaders he had spoken to had asked him to deny it was his voice, as the general election rhetoric was heating up and Pakatan Harapan was attacking PAS “viciously.”
He then approached Hadi for advice. “The president quickly gave me his blessings to deny it. I was happy to follow the mandate. Slander was shut off and PAS bravely entered GE14 and managed to retain its strength in parliamentary and state assembly seats,” said Nik Abduh.
Later, he said, even his late father, the revered “Tok Guru” Nik Aziz Nik Mat who served as Kelantan menteri besar, had also lied in the past to protect PAS. Is this even a defence?
Asked about the audio, Hadi reportedly said he had yet to hear the recording and could not comment. Rewcastle-Brown pounced on this yesterday to ask if Hadi had not listened to the recording, how is it that he had explained in his suit against her that the words attributed to Nik Abduh did not mean PAS had received large sums of money from Umno.
There are at least two important elements here if what Nik Abduh says is true: One, the Bachok MP lied to save the party from embarrassment and from being adversely affected in the general election, and two, he had the blessings of top party leaders including its president to go ahead and lie to the public.
My “Nayagan” dilemma arises here again: Is it right to deceive the people who elected you to save your party? Is it proper for leaders of a party standing on a foundation of religion to tell a lie? Would we be wrong in thinking that PAS would go to any extent to ensure it wins power? Would we be wrong in assuming that the pious PAS president is not averse to lying to achieve his or his party’s goals?
If Umno had lied, if the DAP had lied, if the MIC had lied, it would be bad but it may not be seen as seriously because, as a religious party, PAS claims to represent Islamic tenets and goals. Anything it does will, therefore, reflect on Islam.
The alarming thing is that, according to reports, most PAS supporters don’t view it as a serious infraction.
This is the very same attitude that led to the 1MDB scandal, described as “the world’s biggest heist” in which billions are alleged to have been siphoned off from 1Malaysia Development Bhd set up by former prime minister Najib Razak.
When Najib and Umno leaders denied anything was amiss at 1MDB, most, if not all, supporters believed it. When the Najib administration and the 1MDB management kept insisting that no money was missing from 1MDB, the party faithful accepted it. When Najib accused the Wall Street Journal, which carried numerous breaking stories on 1MDB, of having “malicious intent” and being in cahoots with certain groups in Malaysia to bring him down, it was lapped up by many.
Today, we know better.
Najib, who is awaiting trial for several offences that can be linked to 1MDB-related transactions, has denied any wrongdoing. To be fair, we must keep in mind that being charged does not mean being guilty.
But why did almost all Umno leaders and members remain silent even as evidence mounted that something could be terribly wrong with 1MDB? Why is it that other Barisan Nasional components acted as if it was a non-issue? It would seem that they wanted to protect their party. They wanted their party to retain power. Some did this because they would then be able to continue enjoying the contracts and money flowing to them from the party; others did this because they had bought into the lie that only Umno would protect Islam and the Malays.
What I find worrying is the willful blindness of supporters of, in these cases, Umno and PAS. They either seem to think that their leaders can do no wrong or that even if their leaders’ commit errors or have been accused of crimes, it is all right as they did it for the betterment of the community or their religion or their parties.
It appears that their support for a cause overrides the need for truth or fairness or morality. Now this is a dangerous attitude. It can cause a breakdown in society and the nation.
Among those most vociferous in the attacks against Nik Abduh and PAS are PH politicians and their sympathisers. That is somewhat farcical. Should we forget that PH lied when it promised heaps of reforms to win the election and then, after winning, said it had promised too much because it had not expected to win?
Politicians, and leaders of some NGOs with vested interests, are known to tell lies, half-truths and distort the truth to get power or stay in power or bring down opponents; they may also do it to protect their ill-gotten wealth, their party, or their image.
That’s a problem, of course. But the bigger problem is that we the citizens accept it.
You may say that we all tell lies. Sure, but the lies that political leaders or people in authority tell are more dangerous because it will erode confidence in the political leadership, in the government and in the system, leading to instability. If politicians resort to blatant lies, could it be because they know that often we don’t want to hear the truth and that we prefer to hear that which soothes or satisfies us and our preconceived notions?
By being tolerant of such blatant lies, it appears to me, most of us have accepted the stance of the adoptive father in “Nayagan”: Nothing is wrong if it helps others (and us). It’s time we – and that includes politicians – looked at ourselves in the mirror again.
A Kathirasen is executive editor at FMT.
The views expressed by the writer do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.