Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Curse of the New Broom

A new regime always wishes to start afresh. It will herald its era with new symbolism, pronouncement and declaration. With this it hopes to distant itself from past liabilities or historical burden. In this respect, it has some parallels with the rituals of ‘exorcism’, ‘mandi bunga’ or‘ tolak bala’. It may share some elements in common with the use of talismans or ‘tangkal’ in warding off or keeping at bay evils and misfortunes.

With the new direction and resolve, it also hopes to make a mark, leave a stamp in history, to testify to its accomplishment and contribution. This is true of the new CEO who launches a new logo and corporate image, or the high-ranking bureaucrat who launches a new slogan and a public campaign, or even the new president of a NGO who introduces one of those vision and mission statements.

I suppose politicians and new regimes are no exempt. Perhaps in their case, the pressure and temptation to unload historical burden, and to make a mark of their own, is far greater for the simple reason the stakes are much higher.

To herald a new era or ethos with new slogan and campaign demands much discretion, judgment and wisdom. Without these, the loftiness of ideals alone cannot carry them through minefields along the way. Far from shedding historical burden of the past, a new symbolism or campaign creates and accumulates more. Though it may leave a mark of its own, a stamp in history, it is not of that intended. It may then be stigmatized as ‘new broom sweeps clean’ or as the Malays would have it ‘hangat-hangat tahi ayam’.

This is precisely what happened to Islam Hadhari heralded by the former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi. Firstly it was launched at a time of contentious issues concerning religion. Hence it raised the guards of many non-Muslims, breeding suspicion. Neither did it win over the Muslims, who saw nothing much in it since in their reasoning Islam is sufficient to sustain their lives without a ‘new religion’ or version of it. Hence, in terms of simple credit and debit, Islam Hadhari did not gain much converts or support, but only alienated many people. Secondly, there was the matter of substance. It was so poorly conceived that people were at a loss. Few knew what Islam Hadhari was, many had their own version of it, and even more were confused by it. The confusion and haziness then allowed the opposition to have a field day picking at it, undermining and discrediting it.

The confusion was such, it was a common ridicule then that no one knew what Islam Hadhari meant because there were at least 40 versions of it circulating. This necessitated more explanation from leaders and officials, but the more they tried, the more versions of Islam Hadhari we had. In the end, Islam Hadhari simply fizzled away.

To me the tragedy of Islam Hadhari lies in this. If we care to see what the former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi meant by it, according to the documents, it was simply some good values like integrity in the civil service, ideal of excellence, ideal of service, value of knowledge and innovation and many other laudable values( I have problems listing these because I must confess I was myself confused by Islam Hadhari , and find it hard to remember now) Now isn’t it tragic that Abdullah Badawi had to use a new slogan just for this, one that was equally contentious as it was befogging? His regime could have just implemented these ideals effectively without attracting all the liabilities for his regime. The values and ideals he sought to subsume under Islam Hadhari were universal values already existing in Islam and in all the great religions and traditions of Malaysians.

Now PM Datuk Sri Najib Abdul Razak had heralded his own regime with the new slogan of 1Malaysia. I sincerely hope the PM would avail himself of good advice in doing so. The paths of sloganeering and launching public campaigns are perilous. It is in cognizance of this truism that emperors and leaders of the past surrounded themselves with wise men, as well as magicians. These were supposed to guide their patrons safely by means of wise counsels, as well as efficacious rituals, help them dissociate from the past and make a mark of their own, not foundering on the way as the proverbial ‘new broom sweeps clean’.

Personally may I give an advice? Beware of the curse of a new broom. It makes the sweep short lived, sloppy, and even worse in the wrong direction!


  1. time to make some money for new signboards!

  2. "It may share some elements in common with the use of talismans or ‘tangkal’ in warding off or keeping at bay evils and misfortunes."

    As with talismans or tangkals, whose strength does not and never ever lies within itself .. which many foolish minds are deluded into believing otherwise ... this baggage of sloganeering and symbolizing by these "new brooms" too has no real strength intrinsic of itself but banking on borrowed or imagined strength of the opposite banks that always look greener.

    Whatever is the targeted outcome from such presumptions, its effects are never lasting.

    But then what on earth is "lasting" anyway.