American historian Henry Adams wrote that the American President "resembles the commander of a ship at sea. He must have a helm to grasp, a course to steer and a port to seek." Written more than a century ago, this is equally applicable to any national leader today.
Few in Malaysia are in doubt that our ship is in the eye of a severe storm, rudderless and in imminent danger of floundering. We have faced many squalls of differing severities in our short history as an independent nation but never have we been in such peril. We are on the verge of sinking into the depths of a failed state. It is no longer a safe haven that we proudly call home.
In our current predicament, it is not an external gale force wind that threatens us but an internal twister, namely, a failed captain of the ship who has lost his sea legs and our ship is now drifting aimlessly and dangerously.
That such a scandal is being attributed to the commander of the ship reflects a perception of weakness as a leader of men and that the trust deficit has plunged into deep waters. Our ship is in dire need of a new captain to chart a new course, to steer to a “port to seek” where we all seek to live harmoniously and desire that the bounty of the land be shared equitably among its people.
A national reconciliation and a rethinking of how this new “course to steer” is in order. Outdated practice of politics have to give way to the primacy of rebuilding our once esteemed institutions of the state. An admittedly tall order but one that we must undertake. Finally, the “helm to grasp”. It is a given that those who aspire to be leaders of men must have qualities that enable him/her to discharge his/her duties not only effectively but also with utmost integrity.
This has been the benchmark from the earliest human civilisations as can be gleaned from the literature of ancient Greece and Rome, the wisdom of the Chinese and Indian sages and up to our modern times.Within the context of Malaysia and the Malay-Muslim leadership in particular, we are not short of repositories of wisdom from whence guidance could be obtained.
The following is Abu Bakr’s address to the people of Medina when elected Caliph of the nascent Muslim state upon the death of Prophet Muhammad in 632 AD. It encapsulates the essential qualities of humility, truthfulness, sense of justice and accountability that are necessary for a leader of men, “I have been given the authority over you, and I am not the best of you. If I do well, help me, and if I do wrong, set me right. Sincere regard for truth is loyalty and disregard for truth is treachery. The weak amongst you shall be strong with me until I have secured his rights, if God wills, and the strong amongst you shall be weak with me until I have wrested from him the rights of others, if God wills”.
Al Ghazali wrote a short tract specifically addressed to how a ruler should conduct himself in running the affairs of the state. In “Nasihat Al-Muluk” (Counsel for Kings) he enumerated 10 principles, chief among these is the notion that authority is a heavy trust, that those who abuse it will face the wrath of God. The ruler should seek the counsel of the men of knowledge who are sincere and have no worldly ambitions. He must not only personally be content with refraining from injustice “but must discipline his slave-troops, servants and officers and never tolerate unjust conduct by them”.
Al Ghazali also placed emphasis on personal morality, that “the ruler should not form a habit of indulging the passions. He should be content with all that he has, for without contentment, just conduct will not be possible”. We are optimistic that we are united in working for that common good and at this critical juncture, we can pull ourselves back from the brink.
Unlike those already in the ranks of failed states, we have built the requisite physical and economic infrastructure, a large educated middle class and once functioning instruments of governance. This Malaysian ship must not be left floundering. We must find the man to “grasp the helm, steer a course and seek a port.” We owe it to our future generation. Failure is not an option!