Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim has faithfully served his nation and his government for very nearly four decades. He is the longest-serving Minister in Government, and has undoubtedly been instrumental in Malaysia’s rise in what surely seems like a whirlwind tour of duty.
As a nation, we owe him our sincere thanks for his decades of public service.
The times, however, may have passed him by, and it may be time for Dr Rais to take a well-deserved rest from public service, secure in his legacy, to assist and advise as an elder statesman the next generation of 21st century national leaders.
Our belief in the value of a well-deserved retirement does not stem merely from Dr Rais’s particular view of the internet as a challenging wilderness into which Malaysia’s young men and women dare not tread without responsible hand-holding from their elders. Nor do we refer to Dr Rais’s decision to sue a blogger for defamation — given the vileness of the allegations, an understandable impulse — which had the unfortunate effect of elevating the vile fellow’s public profile. Dr Rais apparently does not share our view that in the modern world of social networking, the proper response to online stupidity is to ignore it or mock it; bringing down a sanction is a fast route to backlash.
Instead, our concern is that Dr Rais is too enamoured of a world long past, a world in which old-fashioned reflexes and top-down control of the Rakyat used to prevail. That is, a world in which a concern for civil rights is actually all but a form of apostasy against Islam:
Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim warned today that the Western concept of human rights could be seen to be taking root in the country and being turned into a new religion by some Malaysians.
He said the people including the Malays should be careful about this concept which is being championed in the West according to their own interpretation. “When have these people (proponents of the concept) ever talked about Islam or culture? Never.”
This puts the cart quite before the horse. Putting everything else to the side, the Holy Qu’ran teaches that men have the right and duty to speak when they perceive injustice, and the right and duty to peacefully assemble to that end; the restriction on these is that men may not abuse these rights to propagate evil. This ignores, too, the fact that in our multi-racial country a majority, but not all of us, are Muslim.
More importantly, as Parliament recently recognized, these are rights that must be positively reinforced at law. They are already recognized in our constitution; enabling law from Parliament completes that legal reinforcement. That is why the Government recently passed the Peaceful Assembly Act, an attempt at easing restrictions on assembly and speech while weighing concerns about public safety and order. While the bill is not perfect, it is certainly an improvement over the old legal regime. His own Prime Minister and party President recently called on Umno politicians to be persuaders, and not commanders, of the Rakyat, another recognition of the value of free expression as a human right. Thus, to his critics, and we are not siding with them but merely recording what is public record, Dr Rais is seen as being out of step with his own Government.
We believe that Dr Rais sincerely, if misguidedly, harkens back to a day when Malay interests needed greater special protections, because the other races were perceived as positioned to do well where Malays were not. The Prime Minister’s 1Malaysia concept, which elegantly ties the advancement of all races together, recognizes the current and future realities of our multi-racial country. Again, it is curious that in such an elementary aspect of his own Government’s policy, the Information, Communications and Culture Minister is apparently speaking outside of the chorus.
It bears repeating that nothing we have said is intended to denigrate Dr Rais’s years of service to the nation. Even where he is divergent from the times and the Government in which he serves, we do not doubt where his heart lies. He has served our nation well, and with sincerity and honesty. With so much to offer, and such a dwindling connection to the day-to-day mood of the youth, Dr Rais should continue to serve his country by retiring and helping advance those who come after him, men and women with a better connection to the people, lacking in Dr Rais’s experience and hard-earned wisdom.
A noble warrior should know when he has seen enough battles to honorably retire to train the next generation. Dr Rais is such a warrior, and soon it may be gracious to leave the battlefield with honour and dignity. By doing this he would not only be serving his party and his prime minister by doing the most honourable thing one can to reflect the new demographics of GE 13. By retiring he would also set a noble example following the Umno General Assembly by becoming the first serving Minister to do so, and he would therefore make it easier for others from the front bench to follow suit. That would be a profound service indeed to this Prime Minister, and a fitting capstone to a long and distinguished career.