Only three men? — U-En Ng
JULY 13 — I trust that Dina Zaman did not mean that there are only three senior men of the Royal Houses capable of “articulate and intelligent opinions”, or that the capacity for such presents a sufficient qualification for a “good” Ruler.
For example, I can think immediately of at least one woman, Raja Zarith Idris of Johor, who has shown an acute awareness that the privileges of birth entail (and, in my view, are sometimes outweighed by) a lifetime of service.
She routinely commits herself to the kind of social work that somehow fails to get much attention or support in middle-class circles. Why? Is aid so very uninteresting to the middle-class unless it aids the middle class itself?
I believe that we like to impose on royalty our own expectations of what constitutes virtuous conduct (such as the ability to articulate intelligent opinions) without regard for anyone else, and these days, we like younger royals to be ideal-type politicians — divine oratorical exemplars in the New Age of 140-character bite-sized pieces of meaningless rubbish.
We expect charity (or “public service”) to be a humdrum fact of daily royal routine whereas we find exactly the same thing praiseworthy, noteworthy, and even occasionally orgasmic if we see it in politicians.
We fall over ourselves when a celebrity soundbiter makes a daft statement about religious inclusiveness, but few care a damn what people like Raja Zarith have done in the cause of greater religious understanding whether at the Ditchley Roundtable and an Oxford College, or in a Malaysian public university or conference.
We fall into paroxysms of ecstasy when some political fellow says something positive about the English language, but we ignore Raja Zarith’s work in the difficult task of changing the minds of monolingual nationalists of whatever stripe in schools and universities outside the Anglophone pockets of our cities.
I’m sure we are mostly aware of how difficult it is for, say, a Chinese Malaysian to be pro-English. I’m sure one can also imagine how much more difficult it is to have that opinion as a Malay. But as a Malay royal?
Worst of all, we forget too easily and quickly the emergency relief services that Raja Zarith and her husband — and every crowned head, for that matter — provide whenever there is a disaster. We expect it of them. And we don’t care because it affects only poor people.
I speak of Raja Zarith by way of an obvious and public example but there are others, such as Tuanku Bainun the Raja Permaisuri of Perak and Tuanku Syed Sirajuddin the Raja of Perlis, who have gone about their work in public welfare and education very quietly with the knowledge that they do not, unlike us, have the luxury of trumpeting their own achievements — but we care not a jot for “privileged royals” who see more value in food for the starving, shelter for the homeless, and hope for the desperate, than in pandering to the intellectual delights of a minority of Malaysians. We care only for their faults or when they happen to agree with us.
Of course I do not mean that there is no room for the aforesaid pandering of intellectual interests. It is wonderful when it happens, but I should hesitate to equate an articulate and intelligent ability with any kind of infallibility or exemption from question.
Raja Nazrin Shah, for example, once advocated a view that might have been interpreted to mean returning our government closer to the brink of absolutism.
Likewise, Tuanku Abidin Muhriz recently made a similar argument as well as a curious statement about our history, which I believe to be entirely at odds with Dina’s own report that most Malaysians view “the royals of yesteryears” as having “sold their souls to the colonials, at the expense of the people.”
Our monarchs are, like us, human. Perhaps we should entertain slightly more human expectations of them and give them credit where it is due, just as we are duty-bound to point out their failures.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.