Lament for the Fall of Saville – an analysis of UMNO’s undoing


I am writing this because I have not forsaken my friends, some of whom are within the inner circles of power in UMNO. I shall not name them. They know who they are. We have known each other before their UMNO days. To me, they are human beings first and politicians second.

We are all subjects of a set of higher moral laws, which, unlike man made laws, cannot be changed or altered. Which, unlike man made laws, reside somewhere within the recesses of our mind and will not go away, no matter how hard we try to ignore them, no matter how many times we have walked away from them. Although to a certain extent we cannot deny that we are what we are because of UMNO, I would prefer to say that I am what I am in spite of UMNO. This post is dedicated to them.

The fall from grace

Everything declines after reaching perfection, therefore let no man be beguiled by the sweetness of a pleasant life…

Where is Cordoba, the home of the sciences, and many a scholar whose rank was once lofty in it?

Where is Seville and the pleasures it contains, as well as its sweet river overflowing and brimming full?

[They are] capitals which were the pillars of the land, yet when the pillars are gone, it may no longer endure!

The tap of the white ablution fount weeps in despair, like a passionate lover weeping at the departure of the beloved,

Over dwellings emptied of Islam that were first vacated and are now inhabited by unbelief;

In which the mosques have become churches wherein only bells and crosses may be found.

Even the mihrabs weep though they are solid; even the pulpits mourn though they are wooden!

0 you who remain heedless though you have a warning in Fate: if you are asleep, Fate is always awake!

For half a millennium after the passing of the Prophet (peace be upon him), Islamic history was a story of military, political and cultural dominance. The first four Caliphs worked towards the unity of the “ummah” (the Muslim community) and later embarked on expansionist programs which were then deemed necessary to consolidate the position of Islam (although the expansionist moves were necessitated more by political rather than religious reasons).

The later Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates continued in the same vein. At the peak of the Islamic expansionist programs, the Abbasid ruled part of North Africa, stretching its rule to the East, over Damascus, the Arabian Peninsula, Persia and Khurasan in the Near East. At the same time, the remnants of the Umayyad Caliphate continued to rule Spain (the Muslim Andalus region), with Cordoba as the centre of its rule.

By the end of the 11th century however, the Abbasid Caliphate in the Near East and the Umayyad’s rule in Spain slowly descended into decay and chaos. While the various clashes between the Muslims and the Byzantine armies were only to be expected, though it did nothing to weaken the Muslim rulers, the fighting between and among Muslims themselves did much to weaken the Muslim rulers and did in fact precipitate the demise of the Muslim rulers.

With each passing century, the animosity between the Shi’ite Fatimid empire in Egypt and the Sunni majority of the Near East worsened. The Fatimid forged an alliance with the North African tribe and swept across Tunisia and into power in Egypt. Its leader proclaimed himself as the Caliph, resulting in no less than the Muslim world having at least 3 Caliphs at the same time!

Hakim, the Fatimid Caliph of the 11th century even proclaimed himself as the Messiah and persecuted those who did not treat him as such. Later, the Muslims saw the rise of the Turkish Seljuk dynasty in the Near East giving rose to more infighting. Unity, which was the bedrock of the Muslims’ expansionist success, became a thing of the past.

With all the divisiveness, it was only a matter of time that the Muslim rulers decimated and almost obliterated.

It started in 1095 with Pope Urban’s call for a crusade. In 1099, Jerusalem fell to the Christians. The Muslim rulers and what was then known as the Muslim world would never ever be the same again.

Though the rise of Sala-ad-Din ensured the return of Jerusalem to the Muslims in 1187 and managed to restore a semblance of normalcy to Muslim reign, reprieve from the Christian assault was only temporary. The end of Muslim dominance was written on the wall.

However, nothing, except for some small measures of unity achieved during the reign of Sala-ad-Din, was accomplished by the Muslims to permanently repel the Christian assault and restore the former glory of Islamic rule.

The disintegration of the Muslim rulers was finally complete with the fall of Muslim Spain in the 13th century. This coincided with the rise of the Christian kings of Castille, Aragon and Portugal.

By 1236, King Fernando III had taken over Cordoba, the administrative centre of the Muslim Andalus rule. Valencia, which earlier saw the Muslims and Christians fighting together in an army, fell in 1238. In November 1248, Seville fell. That left the small enclave of Granada to be the one and only Muslim state left in the Andalus.

Two hundred years later and after the completion of the Alhambra, Granada too was taken by the Christians. The Muslim rule over Persia and Khurasan was, by then, also diminishing. Finally, the Mongolians walked into Khurasan and Persia and chipped away Muslim rule over the two vast Near East states.

Further to the west, Tamerlane wreaked havoc with his conquest. Muslim dominance, by this time, was consigned to mere memory, finding its way into vast archives as historical facts and nothing more.

Why, the Muslim world cannot even deal with a belligerent little dot on the world map called Israel now!

The above is an excerpt from a poem, Lament for the Fall of Saville, written by Abu al-Baqa’ al-Rundi in 1267, after the fall of Cordoba, Valencia and Saville, in the hope of gaining help from Muslims in North Africa as several cities were surrendered to Alfonso X.

“Everything declines after reaching perfection, therefore let no man be beguiled by the sweetness of a pleasant life”

If we let ourselves be beguiled by the sweetness of a pleasant life after what we perceive as having attained perfection, decline would set in. With the sweetness of a pleasant life, we lose all perspective. Our initial aims and motivations are forgotten. Complacency sets in. With that we become arrogant. We drown in our pride thinking only of our achievements and strengths. Our surroundings become irrelevant.

We however need to maintain what we have achieved. And so we set out to obtain more, without giving more. We would perfect the art of maximising our “taking” with the minimum of “giving”. We then become greedy. And our methodology of taking more than we give would result in corruption. Material corruption is one thing.

But corruption of the mind is more insidious and long lasting. It leaves marks everywhere within our soul. With that, we would slowly decay into oblivion.

If 1957 could be regarded as UMNO’s greatest victory and the beginning of a great political dynasty in Malaysia, March 8, 2008 must have been UMNO’s version of the fall of Jerusalem to the motley crew of crusaders in 1099.

If UMNO is the Abbasid of Malaysia for 50 years since independence, then in 2008 the majority of Malaysians are the Frankish knights who rose to claim what they believed belonged and were owed to them.

And this is democracy – the right to be heard, to be treated as equals, to ask questions and be provided answers, to demand accountability and responsibility. Last but not least, the right to be treated as a part of a civilised society to which a government’s sole purpose is to serve society for its betterment as a whole, and not in parts and bits as deemed fit by it.

In March 2008, the Malaysian crusaders laid siege on UMNO’s wall of “perceived perfection” and rendered blow after blow of democratic assaults, tearing it apart and bringing it down. The Permatang Pauh and Kuala Terengganu by-elections destroyed the remnants of the wall.

The three by-elections in Bukit Selambau, Bukit Gantang and Batang Ai soon would, in the normal course of history, be the fall of isolated enclaves of rebels and splinter groups. The Cordoba, Valencia and Saville of UMNO would soon come. That if UMNO does not change. And change fast.

Within UMNO, the “Lament for the Fall of UMNO” has been composed and recited by many. Mahathir Mohammad himself has lamented. Muhyiddin Yassin said UMNO has to change. Najib Razak agreed too. But the true poetic “Lament for the Fall of UMNO” has been written by Zaid Ibrahim and Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah. They are UMNO’s version of Abu al-Baqa’ al-Rundi. They lamented. They coaxed. They appealed. But to no avail. Nobody listened. Nobody seemed to care.

UMNO has in fact been drowned in self-importance and by perceived perfection. Its leaders have got carried away. They let themselves be beguiled by the sweetness of a pleasant life. Slowly but surely they are more concerned with the preservation of all that is sweet. They forget what they were there for. In their pursuit of a pleasant life, they decayed, and are filled with corruption and greed.

Change is the only option.

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Posted on 4 March 2009. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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