The Truth Revealed

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Ezam Mohd Nor as many knew him

The Chameleon
By Khalid Jaafar

The Malaysian Insider, AUG 2 — "If you ask me what kind of image I want", he once told me at my office in Jalan Telawi, Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, "I want an image of a liberal."

He does not want to be a true liberal as the notions of spontaneous order, the virtue of the market and limited government are too strange for him. He just wanted a public perception that he wasn't an Islamic fundamentalist or a Malay ultra.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was still languishing in prison when I had this conversation with Ezam Mohd Nor and our party was dogged with an identity problem. I had yet to know then that he was already a mole, a Reformasi Lai Teck.

But today, as he turns away with vengeance against his former mentor, hurling vituperative against Anwar's cosmopolitanism and inclusive social and political philosophy, Ezam has re-embraced Umno's most decadent form of racial ideology. His return to his old party will only help plunge Umno into a deeper ideological crisis, alienating its power-sharing partners, and his strident Malay rhetoric will drive away idealistic youths in search for an integrated Malaysia in disgust.

He must be suffering from a lapse of memory that we are now living in the 21st century. There are the unstoppable and irreversible forces of globalisation affecting everybody and Umno’s exclusivist philosophy of Ketuanan Melayu is grossly out of key with time.

There is market still for Ezam's venom but a rapidly shrinking market. If Umno is really for the Malays there is still a political base to be consolidated. But the implementation of the NEP has been so corrupt in the last two decades only the naive would swallow government propaganda without being squeamish.

Many of us who know the internal problem he created within the party heaved a sigh of relief when he submitted his Umno form and it was a joke among us that his application was accepted but as a second-class member.

Still, I am often asked: "Why? What really happened?" Many find it difficult to comprehend why those who have found themselves estranged with the party for various reasons returned to the fold after Anwar was released but Ezam was at odds with everyone and finally left us.

The popular explanation was that it was the bitter personal rivalry between the two former secretaries for their boss's attention. As a person who has worked as Anwar’s press secretary for 10 years I found the explanation rather silly.

"The party has no discipline," he blurted out on the only occasion we had a heated argument. He wanted the party to take stern measures against his rivals who deliberately skipped party meetings. But in the years when I was a member of the supreme council he was known for his sparse attendance, and while present he was in the habit of being the last to come and the first to leave.

In the media he made innuendos on a particular person who was rich and comfortable while other Reformasi activists were slogging to make ends meet. But very few know that he received salaries from at least three companies, pocketing a salary equivalent to a CEO of a listed company. He was always being chauffeur-driven in fancy cars, and moved around with unproductive auxiliaries, reminiscent of the habits of Umno politicians.

His attacks have always been personal, spewing venom at Azmin Ali, and me on much lesser scale. Now he has upped the ante by mounting personal attacks against Anwar himself. A corporate person whose company provided Ezam with a fancy car told me recently: "All the time he tried to poison my mind on Anwar's character. He claimed to know Anwar inside out."

He created the impression that as political secretary he has opened Anwar's closet and found piles of stinking skeletons in there. The next prime minister has met his nemesis. I was more amused than alarmed at his threat.

Of the three of us — Azmin, Ezam and I — Ezam knows Anwar the least simply because he joined the office of the deputy prime minister — regrettably on my strongest recommendation — barely two years of the DPM's tragic sacking. I served as Anwar's press secretary for 10 years, and Azmin preceded me by a few months.

During the two years Ezam could not have seen much of Anwar Ibrahim. He only met him during weekly staff meetings of which he was mainly silent perhaps for being too young and too much in awe of the future prime minister or when he accompanied him in public political functions.

Azmin, being the private secretary, saw the boss the most in private. He was the gate keeper, arranging meetings and communicating messages to the corporate and political movers and shakers of Malaysia.

I had the singular honour of dealing with the most uncelebrated visitors, people whom other secretaries prefer to make themselves scarce when they knocked at the door of the DPM's office. They were intellectuals, genuine and occasionally pseudo, great scholars as well as deep thinkers. It was a real pleasure to open the door for Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Ali Mazrui, and it was a real treat to sit in and to listen to Anwar’s conversations with Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul and futurist Alvin Toffler.

Ezam, I suppose, must be the Special Branch's biggest success story in turning over. If he wasn't turned over how he could have written a letter to Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi while serving his prison term in Kajang. He was the most celebrated of the ISA detainees but upon his release he refused to be present with them at a press conference. He also avoided being on the same platform at any rally.

When Anwar was released and regained his health, leaders fought tooth and nail to have him speak at their constituency. But Ezam evaded offers by Anwar to speak in Shah Alam, his division, and asked Shamsul Iskandar to sit in for him as Anwar toured of the country.

Why Ezam failed the test while the rest continue to walk tall as Reformasi heroes? I think he suffered from a disease I call Alcibiades syndrome. Alcibiades was the most controversial Athenian politician during the Peloponnesian War and one of the disciples of Socrates. He was immortalised in Plato's dialogue called "The Symposium". Instead of trying to understand Socrates' philosophy he was enthralled with the personality of the philosopher.

His speech in the symposium was all encomia to his teacher. In his politics he betrayed Athens by joining the city's mortal enemy, Sparta, then rejoined Athens to fight against Sparta and later betrayed Athens to join the Persians.

I saw Ezam giving a similar speech in Jakarta, when we were in a short exile, at the launching of the Indonesian version of Anwar’s Asian Renaissance. He didn't say a sentence on the book, or about Tagore, or Iqbal, or Rizal and Okakura. He was saying "Anwar this, Anwar that" and I at the time was praying that lightning and thunder would strike so that he could end his dumb speech.

I saw him in Ipoh where I heard him say: "I joined Umno because of Anwar Ibrahim, and left Umno because of Anwar Ibrahim." Of which he received a standing ovation among the youth delegates.

I saw his character in the Romance of Three Kingdoms, in the personality of Lu Bu whose politics is marked with a series of betrayals. But both Lu Bu and Alcibiades ended in ignominious deaths.

About the Author: Khalid Jaafar is a Parti Keadilan Rakyat supreme council member and a close confidante of Anwar.
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