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MGG: The Raging Fire of Youthful Anger [DTC]
By M.G.G. Pillai

4/7/2001 6:33 am Wed

[Kebakaran DTC adalah sesuatu yang amat luarbiasa kerana ia memerlukan kepakaran yang luarbiasa yang tentunya dimilikki oleh orang-orang tertentu sahaja. Siapakah yang amat sukakan tragedi yang luarbiasa ini?

Memang banyak luarbiasanya kerana Menteri Pelajaran seperti tiada dan bisu sahaja setelah teraib 'tersilap angka' dalam isu kuota dan isu SRJKC Damansara. Sepatutnya menteri pelajaranlah yang memberi ucapan 'tema' atau pembukaan kepada pelajar.
- Editor

The Raging Fire of Youthful Anger

Arsonists gutted the Dewan Tunku Canselor at the Universiti Malaya over the weekend. Police warned Malaysians not to speculate what or who caused it. There is no need for that: UMNO Youth and Puteri UMNO blame anti-national (read anti-Mahathir) undergraduates. The latter wanted the vice chancellor, Anuar Zaini Mohd Zain, to resign, and he, as one has come to expect of public officials, would not.

Five hours after the fire at 3 am, the campus was awash with posters demanding his removal, and blaming the university authorities for it. Curiously, residents in the neighbourhood did not know of the fire, which razed the building to the ground, until they heard it on the radio and television in the morning.

No one, not the police, has denied this account. Indeed, official panic is writ in the rush to rebuild the gutted auditorium. The New Straits Times opens a fund to rebuild it, the prime minister, Mahathir Mohamed, throws in a RM600 donation; few ministers have followed his example. Every attempt is made to divert what caused it: undergraduate anger at the Prime Minister himself.

Is that why Dewan Tunku Canselor was gutted? While not impossible, it requires more than youthful anger and idealism to pull down a massive concrete building as the Dewan Tunku Canselor. In 1933, shortly after Adolf Hitler became the German Chancellor, the Reichstag, Parliament, was gutted in an unexplained fire. It gave Hitler the raison d'etre to crack down on those who opposed him, the socialists and the communists, with a Dutch communist, blamed for it. It became clear, after the war, the Nazi party was behind it.

The prime minister, Mahathir Mohamed's most vehement critics now are in the universities. He was to deliver the closing speech at a Malaysian conference of undergraduates, one to show he is Malaysia's belowed leader who has the trust of her future leaders.

Its organisers, who include the former Malacca chief minister, Rahim Tamby Chik, could find no better venue to reflect it, but would have had their noses tweaked and worse if he had been badgered, hectored or insulted en route to the hall. The gutting of the Dewan Tunku Canselor diverted attention away from students, and he gave his speech without opposition.

Since agent provacateurs are seen in reformasi gatherings, and other areas of opposition discussions and action, it is not fanciful to reflect on their role in this fire. Especially when Mahathir now faces as intractible an opposition as Hitler then. No doubt "culprits" would be arrested, jailed and expelled. It would not resolve his irrelevance to his opponents, but if handled well, as it was not, it could have been pulled off.

Whoever set to gut this building needed more than a working technical knowledge of pyrotechnics, and planned it meticulously. Both are beyond the capacity of the still disorganised undergraduates and reformasi elements. This, of course, does not mean the students could not have been involved, only that they would have had to overcome hurdles they normally could not.

Especially when when you take into account the speed with which it was condemned, and everyone rushing hither and thither to get the country incensed at this horrifying spectacle of a national monument (so I am led to believe it is and now was) burned down by miscreants, something clearly is amiss. When the police quickly blame the burning down of a computer room at the Universiti Putra Malaysia, not to arson but something else, that must be more than coincidence.

Mahathir's own response is pathetic: he says he is free as any to come to the university. No one can stop him. By so saying, he admits offhandedly that he is at the centre of why Dewan Tunku Canselor burned down. The education minister, Musa Ahmad, who should take ultimate responsibility, is silent, except to call to build an audoitorium double that of the burnt building. None apart from high UMNO officials ventured to comment on this huge slap on Mahathir within a week of the UMNO general assembly, where he arrogantly told UMNO members that theirs is to obey him or die.

The Mahathir government deliberately ignores what ails the undergraduates, insisting they should study and let it worry about their concerns. Indeed, it is elected by the people, and once elected, they should shut up and let it do what it wants to do. Malaysians, as a rule, cannot be involved in politics, except as a member of a political party or political body, more so if against the official position. But the undergraduates demand a right to hold him to account, which he denies them.

UMNO is caught in a trap of its own making. The Malay Dominance, as a political philosophy, in place after the May 1969 racial riots, cannot be sustained. More than that, in a further twist to Malaysia's tangled politics, the Chinese business man is no more prepared to guarantee Malay Dominance on his, or UMNO's terms. He would have if it had been nurtured and fine-tuned. But Mahathir left it to rot after he became UMNO president the country's fourth prime minister.

He went on to stamp his image on the country and party, ignoring criticism and insisting his is the only way. He rode roughshod over his cabinet, government and country, insisting that the only way to move forward into the first rank of nations is to frogmarch the Malay into the 21st century when he is most comfortably living in the 18th century. He brooked no opposition. It could work only if he could keep the political fire burning.

That he could not, nor would he, except on his terms. He ignored the political prime pumping to keep UMNO in control. When UMNO was declared illegal in a court action in 1987, Malay Dominance was on notice. He thought economic success would overcome that. It could not. The New Economic Policy was more than economics, it was to nudge the Malay to the modern world. It gave him a fresh worldview, allowed him to think for himself, and, what is more, did.

UMNO and Mahathir branded them ungrateful when they opposed him, and made them pay for it. When Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah challenged Mahathir for the UMNO presidency in 1987, his aides and backers were harassed by the banks. Anyone who challenges the UMNO president's view of Malay Dominance is so treated. When Mahathir's first deputy prime minister, Musa Hitam, resigned, his people went through the same hassles as those of Anwar Ibrahim and, now, Daim Zainuddin.

But with Anwar it did not work. The Malay, fed up with being told what to do, rose in revolt. The reformasi movement was fuelled by the youngsters, many of whom undergraduates. In the 1970s, Anwar rose in revolt, with Ibrahim Ali and others, over a famine in Grik in Kedah, and spent two years in detention under the Internal Security Act. But that was minor compared to the current upheaval in the universities.

Few UMNO politicians and cabinet ministers would address undergraduates in Malaysian or overseas campuses. They cannot stand close questioning of issues they would rather hope would disappear into the woodwork. When the deputy prime minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, came to the University of Malaya campus (EDITOR: CDST CHECK DATE FOR THIS, THINK IT WAS IN 1999, BUT NOT SURE), he was forced to talk to the undergraduates who heckled him and other government ministers. They would not have been as accommodating with Mahathir.

The government will be hard put to rid itself out of this mess. Let us also see how many people would contribute to this New Straits Times fund to rebuild Dewan Tunku Canselor. One should expect all the cronies, even if they were lorry drivers or insurance agents in their early life, to contribute handsomely. But would they?

For however hard UMNO tried to keep its problems with the Malay community to itself, it is now out in the open. This clash is more serious than the one it has over Anwar Ibrahim. It is an open challenge to the Malay community that it should return to the fold. But it can no more threaten any more.

In a sense, the Dewan Tunku Canselor fire became a convenient deux et machina to sidestep an expected local problem. It would take a lot more convincing to blame it on the students. And it needs more incontrovertible evidence than we have been offered so far. Until that is forthcoming, the fires at the Reichstag in 1933 and the Dewan Tunku Canselor in 2001 have more in common than would seem at the surface.

M.G.G. Pillai