Obama’s Visit: Any Value and Is Anyone Listening?

Koon Yew Yin

President Obama has come and gone. His visit to KL has generated much feedback. Analysts concerned with the political direction of the country have been especially disappointed with his refusal to meet the opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim. It was like him visiting Myanmar and refusing to meet Aung San Suu Kyi.

One commentator, Dennis Ignatius, has called this decision “an astonishing betrayal by a country that has often portrayed itself as a world champion of democracy and human rights. It sends an unmistakable signal to corrupt and abusive governments everywhere that disrespect for human rights and the curtailing of democratic governance will be overlooked in exchange for pro-American policies.”

The critic noted that surely the US leader is not “unaware of what is going on in Malaysia – the corruption and abuse of power, the tainted elections, the harassment and jailing of opposition leaders, the racial and religious incitement, the intolerance of dissent, the narrowing of our democratic space.”

In one sense, I share the above view of the critic who incidentally is not any ordinary Malaysia.

He is a retired high ranking diplomat whose profession calls for him to weigh words carefully. In my opinion, if President Obama was truly concerned about human rights and civil liberties in Malaysia, he should have met with Anwar himself rather than send his security adviser, Susan Rice in his place. Such a meeting would have served to remind Najib and other BN leaders that the US takes a serious view of the political persecution of the country’s foremost opposition leader. It would also reassure that the US is prepared to use its clout to ensure that the cause of justice and freedom is not hijacked by the present occupants of Putrajaya which is clear in the way the current case against Anwar has been trumped up and pursued.

If Malaysians are disappointed by the failure of Obama to meet for a one to one with Anwar, his meeting with civil society leaders seems to be a proxy for Obama to listen to civil society on the democratic and human rights issues presently in play – religious and racial polarisation, divisive politics, free and fair elections, political persecution, rule of law, and media control by the government. This was a meeting which appears to have been scheduled for public relation reasons but the fact that it ran to over an hour shows that Obama must have realized that it is necessary for him to listen to other voices than Najib’s to arrive at the truth on developments in Malaysia..

Two Issues on Human Rights:

Two issues in the human rights area appear to stand out for Obama. The first which he personally spoke out against is the discrimination against the non-Muslim part of the population. His statement to his youth audience from the region that Malaysia will not be a successful country if non-Muslims are discriminated against is good advice to Najib and his UMNO colleagues who are trying to bluff the rest of the world that there is no discrimination against non-Muslims or that this discrimination is still necessary despite nearly 50 years of the NEP. Utusan Malaysia would be doing its civil service readers and other Malay readers a great service if they can reproduce just this statement for their attention.

The second issue is Islam’s increasingly political role in the country and the use of the religion to censure human rights activists and silence constructive criticism. I am sure Obama will have paid special attention to the assertion by Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa, chairman of the Islamic Renaissance Front, that ”there is a concerted effort by the government to silence the dissident and persecute minorities; and religious persecution remains rife and targets not only Christians but also minority groups within Islam including Shiahs and Ahmadis.” I am sure Obama knows that the way in which Islam in Malaysia is manipulated by UMNO to advance its political and religious agenda reveals the hypocrisy behind Malaysia’s so-called “moderate Islamic democracy”.

In the final analysis though, let us not pin too much hopes on Obama’s visit or the visit of any other foreign dignitary if there is to be change in the country. Let us recognize that President Obama has lacked resolve and commitment in keeping to the high principles and values that he claims to stand for. His compromises on many key issues in American domestic politics – health reform, carbon emission caps, Wall Street regulation, financial reform, immigration and a host of others – have led to disappointment among his Democrat supporters. His foreign policy has been a continuation rather than rejection of Bush’s disastrous and bloody US empire building programme which has alienated the rest of the world including American allies..

Obama’s visit to Malaysia is a part of his larger East Asian trip whose main priority is outflank China in this part of the world and to advance US commercial and strategic interests. Let us have no doubts that his position in Malaysia’s domestic affairs will ultimately be determined by American political expediency and the advancement of American political interests.

We have to fight for these Noble Principles:

Although the official final communique from the visit reiterates that “respect for diversity, respect for the freedom to express different views and practice different faiths, respect for all religions and respect for the rights of all in the populations are essential to healthy and prosperous democracies”, at the end of the day, it is up to us to fight for these noble principles.

Any movement for change in Malaysia – whether it is against discrimination of non-Malay minorities or for religious freedom – will have to come from within. The forces of change have to be home-grown; and the struggle for freedom and human rights will have to be fought by Malaysians determined to defeat the extremists and opportunists in our midst.

  1. #1 by Bigjoe on Wednesday, 30 April 2014 - 12:25 pm

    Its NOT the business of any other country to do what we must do for ourselves. In fact, if we are truly deserving of our dreams and pride, we MUST do these things that need to be done ourselves.

    Obama visit does not change anything immediately, but Najib did get a coat of paint to deny that he is everything except a card-carrying member of Perkasa – because if he is one, then UMNO/BN is goner because no one really want to be lead by Ibrahim Ali, even members Perkasa wish and think their leader is really someone else.

    But PR did get the some great lines to use – the best one – Malaysia will not succeed if it discriminate against non-Muslim – there is no one in UMNO/BN, including their ideological god, Mahathir is seen to be intellectually equal on the subject even by the heartland UMNO/BN command. Ask the makcik and pakcik to compare brains of cool, young, over-achiever POTUS and – grumbling, snide old hero of theirs, who they think know better?

    Still, its left to us to do what need to be done, to finish the job.

  2. #2 by boh-liao on Wednesday, 30 April 2014 - 4:46 pm

    WHO cares abt WHAT Obama said

    Maha-LIAR MMK continues his Bull Sh!t dat d Chinese n Indians are wealthy and successful in M’sia, ALL Chinese r rich n ALL Indians r lawyers

    WHAT a load of [email protected] n BS fr a shameless crook

  3. #3 by pwcheng on Wednesday, 30 April 2014 - 10:49 pm

    There is an UMNO minister who says there is no discrimination against the non Muslims in Malaysia and the Perkasa cockhead telling that the economy is controlled by the non-Muslims.
    Well the Minister must be wearing an invisible blinker to blind himself of the groundswell in the country. He has eyes that see not and ears that hear not but a mouth that talk cock and hands that take what should not.
    We should ignore the cockhead as its not worth our effort to dissent with him.

  4. #4 by waterfrontcoolie on Thursday, 1 May 2014 - 12:40 am

    I am beginning to believe all those critics in the Youtube concerning the role of any American presidents! With the largest debt of any nation in the short history of the human race and under him, practicably doubled under his terms; all the US cares now is its own survival as a super-power. Any more threatening words to Putin will only finally prove the point that US isn’t a real super-power! You think the Germans would want to risk all she has got? How many more Billions can they print? With China and Russia[?] starting to accumulate gold to back their own currencies, what else can the Federal reserves bank do, except print more green backs! If it is gold based; than the price of gold might hit us$50,000 per oz! as some claimed!!!

  5. #5 by Noble House on Thursday, 1 May 2014 - 12:41 am

    I think we can conclude from the expression in Najib’s face the meeting with Obama is anything but a DISAPPOINTMENT!

  6. #6 by narasimam on Thursday, 1 May 2014 - 5:13 am

    obama husin barrack was on his farewell tour but without his wife. hmmmm. or he was simply trying to settle some unfinished business: china

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