The doctor in the house apologises

MALAYSIANS were quick to respond to Olympic badminton silver medalist Datuk Lee Chong Wei’s “I’m sorry” tweet after he was denied the glittering gold by China’s Chen Long.

They all declared in accord that Chong Wei need not apologise. Indeed, the world No. 1’s unreserved “I’m sorry” had truly united the nation on those shimmering silver nights at Pavilion 4 of Riocentro in Samba country and (hopefully) will continue to foster national unity through sports on the days beyond the hero’s welcomes at the airport.

Probably riding on the “silver-medalled” goodwill of a forgiving and united people, the country’s longest serving Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad decided to apologise for amending the Federal Constitution that effectively made the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s approval and signature in legalising of an act of parliament no longer necessary.

In 1994, the Mahathir-led government made a constitutional amendment to allow any law, passed by the Parliament and the Senate, to become law within 30 days with or without the Agong’s consent.

Mahathir said this had allowed the National Security Council Act (NSC Act) to come into force without the Royal Assent.

“I sincerely apologise for making the amendment as it’s open to misinterpretation. It would seem that because of the amendment, the new National Security (Council Act) has become operational even though the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has not signed it,” Mahathir wrote in his blog this week.

The NSC Act, gazetted into law in June and enforced on August 1, gives the prime minister the power to declare security zones with the security forces taking charge.

Malaysians are united again but not in one accord to “forgive” Mahathir. Rather, they are united in recounting the misdeeds of the former prime minister.

The bigger “sins” mentioned are interference with the independence of the courts, Project IC, Operasi Lallang, bailing out of corporates, APs and licences being given out to cronies, rampant corruption in the country, the Sedition Act, ISA, jailing of Anwar Ibrahim and many other unjust and unfair policies, implemented during Mahathir’s tenure.

“Projek IC” is said to be responsible for the abnormal spike in Sabah’s population where foreigners comprise nearly 30 per cent of the state’s 3.12 million-strong populace.

Mahathir, who was in power from 1981 to 2003, has been repeatedly named as the man who spurred the initiative.

In the Sabah Royal Commission of Inquiry, Mahathir absolved himself from all blame over the controversial project by blaming “government officers” for illegally giving ICs to foreigners.

Probably, the other human rights abuse under his regime was Operasi Lallang in 1987 where Malaysians saw the arrests of 106 persons under ISA and the revoking of publication licences of two newspapers and two weeklies.

According to the White Paper, explaining the mass arrests and detentions, the various groups concerned had played up “sensitive issues,” thus creating “racial tension.”

Saying “I’m sorry” is one of the hardest things to do. For a person, who was once all powerful at the helm of government, the act of acknowledging his failures and seeking forgiveness is even harder to come by.

It takes a great deal of humility to subdue one’s aura of invulnerability – whether true or imagined – and go to another person to ask for forgiveness.

Mahathir appeared to have done just that.

But many Malaysians – after being pleasantly surprised by his latest action (or antic) – have begun to think and ask: “Is he truly remorseful? His sins are many – is he going to confess and seek forgiveness for each one of them? Is he truly repentant of his wrongful deeds?”

A genuine apology goes through with repenting to God, and repairs the relationship with our Creator, making the relationship right. Only then do we go to the person whom we have wronged and hurt, to seek forgiveness.

The most important part is changing. Is Mahathir changing and trying to right all the wrongs he has done such as racial politics, and institutionalised racism, to name the least?

To sum it up, seeking forgiveness means we are aware of how our actions have affected others. We accept responsibility and try to rectify the situation.

With the apology, the ball (to forgive) is now in the court of Malaysians. But has Mahathir put Malaysians and the parties he offended – aside from those opposition leaders who were his arch-enemies but have now decided party with him — in a position that makes forgiving his past transgressions untenable?

According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, to forgive means “to give up resentment of or claim to requital for; to grant relief from payment of, to cease to feel resentment against.”

It’s very, very hard to do but not optional. The Bible in Matthew 18:22 says we should be willing to forgive not up to seven times but “seventy times seven.”

This does not mean we count out 490 times and that there is no more room for forgiveness.

To offer forgiveness means we release the debt that someone else “owes” us. We work through the associated emotions – even multiple times, if necessary.

It’s hard to forgive or else two women in China would not have dedicated eight hours to arguing, and passed out after it was all said and done.

According to online People’s Daily online, two women in Northwest China fainted from exhaustion after quarrelling with each other for eight hours without eating or drinking over the settlement of a debt.

The women called the police at one point but rejected an officer’s suggestion they settle  the dispute in court. The women fainted on the street when the police returned to the scene eight hours later. Both were sent to a local hospital.

Apparently, forgiveness between two persons is already very difficult. Therefore, it’s logical to say forgiving a political wrong that has hurt generations is not a natural human reaction since such reaction is to harbour resentment and a hope to get even.

Will it make it easier if we believe forgiving does not mean injustice will go unpunished forever? God is the one who ultimately decides what is fair and when justice will be done.

There is a time to apologise and to forgive. But let’s put it in the right perspective. Is Mahathir seeking forgiveness from Malaysians or singly from the Agong?

Is Mahathir remorseful that he has put the nation in fear of the NSC Act or is he sorry he is now reaping what he has sown?

Whatever, here is a quote from the Mayo Clinic website about the destructiveness of harbouring anger and refusing to forgive: “If you’re unforgiving, you might pay the price repeatedly by bringing anger and bitterness into every relationship and new experience. Your life might become so wrapped up in the wrong that you can’t enjoy the present.”

All said and done, this burning question remains – how sincere is the old man’s apology?

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