Dennis Ignatius on Tommy Thomas’ book (The Vibes)…


THE recent publication of Tan Sri Tommy Thomas’ memoir, My Story: Justice in the Wilderness, appears to have ruffled many feathers.

He is being sued, police reports have been lodged against him, and angry denunciations have been made. And now, the Home Ministry is threatening to have the book banned.

Not since Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s The Malay Dilemma has a book stirred so much controversy.

Regardless of whether one agrees with Thomas’ take on events or his presentation of the facts as he saw it, the book has generated widespread debate and discussion about key events in our nation. This has not happened before, and is long overdue.

As a nation, we tend to avoid a frank discussion on issues, for fear of stoking tensions. The result is that people in power who act egregiously, even illegally, have been able to avoid accountability.

It may be argued that we are where we are today because we failed to hold these kinds of discussions in the past. In this sense, Thomas’ book should be welcomed by all Malaysians interested in transparency and accountability.

Thomas is also not the first senior official to write a memoir. The late Tun Mohamed Salleh Abas, for example, was just as forthright in his own memoir (May Day for Justice). Dr Mahathir, too, wrote a memoir (A Doctor in the House).

What these memoirs do is peel away the layers of official whitewash, and allow ordinary citizens an opportunity to make their own assessment of the people and politics that have shaped our nation.

In this sense, Thomas, like Salleh before him, has done the nation a great service, and I, for one, laud him for his courage in sharing his thoughts and perspectives of key events that continue to inform our politics.

I thought it instructive, as well, that while Dr Mahathir was clearly peeved by some of Thomas’ comments, he has not faulted the man’s professional conduct or the way he studiously sought to uphold the rule of law.

Can there be any doubt that some of the high-profile cases of corruption and malfeasance now before our courts would not have happened without Thomas’ commitment to justice on behalf of the people of Malaysia? That, in itself, speaks volumes of the man.

It is also worth noting that much of what he has revealed in his book is not entirely new, though his insider perspective lends greater credibility to earlier reports. The view that May 13 was a coup against Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, for example, was extensively covered in Kua Kia Soong’s 2007 book, May 13: Declassified Documents on the Malaysian Riots of 1969.

The events surrounding the surprise resignation of Dr Mahathir were also widely covered and dissected in the media for almost a whole year before Thomas’ book.

Furthermore, Thomas’ remark that “seldom in our nation’s history have so many million voters been let down by the actions of one man” is a view that is still widely held and shared. Thomas simply gave expression to what many of us already know or have long suspected. No doubt, many will thank him for it.

Of course, some of the people mentioned in his book have not come out smelling like roses. It is up to them to defend themselves and their actions. What they should not be allowed to do, however, is silence him or the conversation that has been started as a result of the publication of his book.

By all means, engage him on his facts, opinions and assertions, but do not seek to silence him by banning his book or hauling him up for interrogation. Our nation will be a darker place if dissenting or critical opinions and views are smothered.

I hope more Malaysians at every level of government and society will record their stories for posterity. It is, in fact, their patriotic duty. – The Vibes, February 5, 2021

Dennis Ignatius is former ambassador to Chile, and later, Argentina


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