Najib Waffles Over MH17 Disaster

The global criticism that Malaysia and particularly Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and Defense Minister Hishamuddin Hussein received four months ago for their handling of the disappearance of MH 370 appears to have frightened them into near silence.

It would have been expected that, like the Dutch, Australians and others, they would have been boiling over with anger at the shooting down of MH 17 over eastern Ukraine. But instead of outrage, instead of joining the global chorus of condemnation of what the Dutch, like the whole of Europe, know to have been the responsibility at least indirectly, of Russia through its arming of the Ukraine rebels with sophisticated weapons, there has been almost complete silence from Malaysia’s leaders.

In a July 21 statement, Najib appeared to try to defend himself from allegations of inaction by saying that the silence was necessary to try to secure a deal with the rebels for the return of the bodies before the end of Ramadan and of the “black box” flight recorders, and the entry of independent international inspectors who could establish more precisely the causes of the disaster and hence assign blame more precisely.

In fact, Malaysia’s involvement in behind-the-scenes bargaining with the rebels was very much second fiddle to the Dutch, who not only suffered the most deaths in the crash but were also better equipped to examine the evidence. Yet the Dutch showed no signs of letting their desire to negotiate the return of bodies get in the way of strong backing for European Union sanctions against Russia, predicated on the belief by all the EU members that Russia was ultimately responsible via its surrogates in eastern Ukraine, and perhaps more directly.

The failure of Najib to criticize Russia demands explanation. He has hidden behind the fiction that only independent international experts can assign responsibility. In doing so the Malaysian leader has given some credence to the Russian claim that Ukraine itself was responsible. That almost no one else, other than the usual gang of anti-western conspiracy theorists, believes that makes Najib seem at best a weak leader fearful of causing offense to Russia despite the huge blow to the nation as well as to the families of the Malaysian bereaved caused by the destruction of MH 17. It is a weakness that since the 2013 general elections has telegraphed through a wide range of Malaysian domestic politics including his refusal to take on the Sultan of Johor, who is busy taking over the state despite constitutional limitations that theoretically render him a ceremonial leader.

It is not as though Malaysia has strong links either of trade, investment, history or ideology with Russia. Indeed, the oppression suffered by Muslims in Russian states in the Caucasus (notably Chechnya) and central Asia should be of some concern. But even so the ministers who took so much abuse for their handling of what remains a mystery remain silent in the face of a Russia-inspired outrage, the mass murder of nearly 300 people including many Malaysians.

Lurking in the background of all this is Najib’s fear of the Mahathir faction within UMNO which would like to unseat him. Following the old man, these believe, or purport to believe, all kinds of theories. Thus the fact that President Obama has condemned the Russians and the US produced strong evidence of the missile attack becomes a reason to disbelieve this story.

The Americans are always wrong so the Russians must be right. The current brutality being visited by a US-backed racist Israel on the people of Gaza, becomes an excuse for not criticizing Russia. Najib would be justified in condemning Israel in the strongest terms if he also took on the Russians.

Najib certainly has reason to fear a Mahathir who has long fed Malay paranoia. Just as some supposedly educated Malays – including Mahathir, writing on his blog Che Det, believe that the disappearance of MH370 was some kind of a CIA plot, so the destruction of MH 17 was a western-backed effort by Ukraine to denigrate Moscow.

But while Najib is no believer in such theories, he lacks the guts to speak up, to lead Malaysia into the real world, not the make-believe world inhabited by many Malays long protected from reality by racial preferences.