Oh no! Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has done it again.
At the top international circles, where understatement is de rigueur rather than bombast and self-aggrandizement, Najib's latest gaffe in presenting a book about himself to the Pope could not but raise a round of giggles and rude snorts.
It looks like the Malaysian leader could have taken a lesson or two in subtlety from the British Queen, who gave him a stunning snub last week. Elizabeth II wore the yellowest of yellow summer dresses during an audience with him and his wife Rosmah Manor during their 4-day official visit to the UK.
Just colour of Her Majesty's attire sent shockwaves through a red-faced Malaysian entourage, cascading down the diplomatic channels and all the way back home, where the Queen was cheered and blessed for remembering everyday Malaysians as they struggled to transform their society.
The royal disapproval was made clear to Najib for having ordered a violent crackdown on a peaceful civilians march, leaving thousands injured and one dead. What better way than to wear the colour of the Bersih rally T-shirt that Najib had outlawed in a bid to suppress the movement for free and fair elections?
Beginning or end of a legacy
Indeed, Malaysians are shuddering at their first couple's disastrous European outing.To them, it is obvious the world has moved on and civil liberties and social justice are now increasingly considered with equal if not greater importance than business and economic outlooks.
But not so to the 58-year old Najib, who preaches 'moderation' in his speeches abroad and rules by 'extremism' at home.
Hogging the limelight is not the news of his establishing diplomatic ties with the Vatican, but rather the thick coffee-table book with the letters 'N a j i b' prominently displayed on the front cover.
The book, after some help from Google, has been identified as the 2010 not-quite bestseller Najib: Beginning of a Legacy.
The MPH online description of the RM199 (US$66) book depicts the Prime Minister as an illustrious yet unpretentious leader, one who walks “alongside his people instead of ahead”. The irony of this statement with regards to the Bersih rally is one that isn’t easily missed.
Will Christian issues be resolved now?
Nonetheless, the meeting with the Pope concluded with Malaysia and the Vatican agreeing to establish formal ties, though exactly what this entails remains unclear.
Although boastfully described as a “multi-ethnic and multi-religious country” that “draws on the values of moderation to ensure continued harmony, stability and prosperity” by the Prime Minister, Malaysia is still reeling from many a religion-related uproar.
Malaysians, especially of the Christian faith, would ask how would this newly formed alliance with the ecclesiastical state align itself with Islam conversion cases such as that of Lina Joy, a Malay who was forced to go into hiding after she tried to get the courts to recognize her switch from Islam to Christianity.
What about the attempts to ban the Catholic Church of Sabah and Sarawak from using the word Allah in their newspaper, The Herald, and the more recent torching of churches in the peninsula?
And what about the extremist religious and racial rights groups endorsed by Najib's political party UMNO? How would they react to such zingers of issues?
Few Malaysians, let alone of the Christian faith, would believe UMNO would let go of its traditional political weapons just to please the Vatican. It is also hardly likely that the Vatican will not insist on greater human rights for their followers.
The Najib book - the greatest satire?
So it looks Najib's much-glorified foray into the Holy See will turn out to be another expensive public relations exercise to benefit himself.
What was agreed at the Vatican may not be inked yet, and what is expected to be finally formalized a mere 'exchange-of-smiles-and-handshakes' pact.
Deep-seated and entrenched religious rows will stay unresolved in Malaysia and Christian 'bashing' will continue as and when it suits Najib and UMNO to play up their political game.
In light of today’s political climate in Malaysia under Najib’s regime, one must wonder if the description of the PM in the book presented to the Pope as a “truly inspiring leader … one all Malaysians look up to for the future of their society” is really satirical. - Malaysia Chronicle