The great composer, Leonard Bernstein, got his big break when his boss suddenly came down with the flu. As a result, Bernstein got the chance to conduct the New York Philharmonic Orchestra that evening. After that fateful event, his career took off like a rocket and the rest, as they say, is history. With this anecdote, Pepper Lim takes us again on another journey about people who unwittingly made history. (Read part 1 here.)
In my previous letter, I introduced you to the nitwits who threw Gandhi out of a train and had Rosa Parks arrested. Nitwits who no less, by their actions, brought change to the world we live in. Here are more funny stories of these ‘accidental heroes’ who have helped make things better even if they had no intention to in the first place.
Tunisia’s Nitwit: A Municipal Official
Once upon a time, there lived a municipal official named Faida Hamdi in a rural town in Tunisia.
Now, Tunisia is the smallest country in Africa. Yet, it had one of the fastest growing economies, fueled by diverse industries ranging from petroleum to tourism. Tunisia also attracted many foreign investors and visitors. Its democratically elected president often outwardly made speeches championing freedom of speech and human rights. In all manner of speaking, Tunisia, at one point in time, appeared to be a modern and progressive country headed for a bright future.
Inwardly, however, it was a very different story.
Tunisia was not only rife with corruption, high unemployment and inflation; it had a history of constantly violating the human rights of its people. The authorities harassed everyone for a bribe. No one was spared, not even the poor.
One morning, Faida and her officers went to the local market to ‘collect their takings’ from the vendors as they usually did. Their tactic was simple – harass them until they offered a bribe. A poor, unemployed man by the name of Mohamed Bouazizi became her victim. Like other vendors, Bouazizi usually paid a bribe for the harassment to stop, but as fate would have it, he did not have any money on him that particular morning.
Furious, Faida slapped him, overturned his wheelbarrow and confiscated his weighing scales, refusing to return his wares until he paid up. In desperation, Bouazizi set himself on fire.
His act of self-immolation sparked off the ready-to-explode fires of revolution, undercurrents of frustrations that had long been festering and waiting for release. Tunisians took to the streets and demanded for Ben Ali, their tyrannical president, to step down. He did. After ruling Tunisia with an iron-fist for 24 years, Ben Ali simply fled the country in the wake of public uproar. The Tunisian Revolution lasted just 3 weeks and 6 days.
If the nitwit, Faida, had not harassed Bouazizi, the latter would not have set himself on fire. The revolution that saw the collapse of Ben Ali’s regime would not have taken place. Perhaps, also, the now-infamous Arab Spring in the Middle-East that ousted Egypt’s Mubarak would not have born fruit. Fruit that includes the fall of Libya’s Gaddafi and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh. And fruit which has in turn given hope to Malaysia’s Opposition leaders who have dreams of forming the next government.
Faida and her colleagues played big shots in a small town until they picked on an unknown, unemployed man who turned everything upside down. I wonder if Ben Ali is hunting down Faida to exact revenge on her for ending his regime. After all, he was a man used to living in the lap of luxury. He was a king used to bossing people around. And he was a head of state used to commanding respect from other heads of states. All that ended with the folly of Faida.
Philippine’s Nitwit: A Gunman
Once upon a time, there lived a woman named Cory in the Philippines. She studied French and Mathematics in college. After her graduation, she married an aspiring politician named Ninoy and together, they had five children. Life seemed perfect for her. She enjoyed being a mother and housewife while her husband’s career in politics took flight. At that time, she had no desire to be involved in her husband’s career choice and remained in the background, contented to tend to her family.
It was the 1970s, however. A time when the Philippines was ruled by a dictator and one who stole billions from a struggling country with nary a conscience, too. While Filipinos barely eked out a living from a sluggish economy worsened by the glaringly huge income discrepancy between the rich and poor, he and his cronies fattened their Swiss bank accounts with whatever riches they could siphon off the country. He once entered the USA with 24 suitcases filled with gold bricks and jewellery. While it has become public knowledge that his wife once owned 2700 pairs of shoes.
Now, Cory’s husband was one of a handful of people who spoke out against this corrupted dictator. As a result, he was arrested and thrown into prison. It looked as though he would end his days there, too. After 7 years, he went into exile with his family, a period Cory enjoyed as her husband spent more time at home with the family, unlike the days when he was active in politics. However, after 3 years away, her husband decided to return to the Philippines despite the risks of re-arrest. Sure enough, Ninoy was promptly taken into custody once his plane landed. As he walked down the staircase, he was shot in the head by a gunman.
Filipinos everywhere were furious. Although they were afraid of the dictator, they came out by the millions to call for his resignation. Arrogantly, the dictator decided to call for snap elections in 1985 to prove that he was still the popular choice of the people. At the time, Filipinos who supported Ninoy’s campaign for a corruption-free and prosperous Philippines, asked Cory to run for President. It was clear to them that she could unite the bickering Opposition and finally topple the dictator but she declined. She felt she was a mere housewife and had little knowledge on how to be a politician, much more, a president of the country. With the people’s continued rallying and support, however, she eventually and reluctantly agreed to run for the post. She campaigned hard and urged Filipinos nationwide to vote for change.
During the 1986 elections, the dictator surprisingly won by a landslide. Election fraud was suspected. Cory challenged the results and urged Filipinos to protest peacefully, a move that resulted in the now-famous ‘People Power Revolution‘. The dictator fled the country and Cory replaced him as president. Yup! A housewife was installed as the Philippines’ first female president in 1986. And all because a nitwit shot her husband.
I wonder how the dictator felt about losing 21 years of power to a ‘mere’ housewife and amateur politician of only a few months. After all, he had beaten every political opponent who had challenged him during his tenure.
Potential Nitwits of Malaysia
I cannot think of any nitwit in our country whose actions have unwittingly changed our history. Nevertheless, there are plenty of candidates.
Like lawyer, VK “Correct-correct-correct” Lingam, for example. Who? In 2007, over 2000 thousand Malaysian lawyers – fed up of politicians appointing and manipulating judges in the judiciary - marched to Putrajaya in a ‘Walk for Justice’ to hand over a memorandum demanding a royal commission of inquiry into a video clip involving the lawyer. It was a damaging clip that caught him in a conversation with a former Chief Judge regarding his appointment into the Office of Chief Justice to the Federal Court.
Then there’s Rais Yatim, our country’s longest serving Cabinet minister, who once suggested that the usage of Facebook and Twitter by Malaysians could erode the country’s culture! His pronouncements on the subject matter caused an uproar among the netizens in our country. And they have since given recognition to his tendency for absurd claims by creating the hashtag #YoRais. The hashtag peaked at number 3 on Twitter‘s Top 10 Trending Topics Chart in 2010, making him the first Malaysian to achieve such a feat.
Meanwhile, Ling Leong Sik, the longest serving president of MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association) – one of the component political parties under Barisan Nasional – certainly displays the characteristics of a nitwit in the making. While in court for charges relating to the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) scandal, he announced that he had signed papers as the Minister of Transport for multi-million dollar projects without understanding what he had signed, implying innocence from wrongdoing.
Last but not least, we have a collective known as the PDRM (Polis DiRaja Malaysia). When the rakyat recently complained about escalating crime, the PDRM released statistics to prove otherwise. In fact, Home Minister Hishamuddin Hussein Onn went so far as to announce a drop of almost 40% in street crime in 2010 and again in 2012. Unconvinced, the rakyat began to video-record criminal activities with their mobile phones and write about their experiences with snatch thieves as well as kidnap attempts on their blogs, on Facebook and Twitter. And there were plenty. At least enough to show up the nitwits who tried to make nitwits out of the rakyat in the first place!
So far, none of these so-called nitwits have altered history as I know it. But the time is ripe for change. And so, your daddy and many other Malaysians like him, wait patiently for that one special one to pave the way for a better Malaysia. The one (or maybe few) who will elicit affirmative and effective action from all who dream of a better home.
Dear Paprika, the time we spend on Earth is but a fleeting moment when we compare it to the age of our planet. I hope you will leave a mark which you can look back at and be proud of. A mark made out of a conscious decision to do what is right. After all, while it may take a nitwit to spark off change, it is the wise and brave who own change. I will tell you more funny stories another time.
Your loving father,
(Featured image accompanying article on main page courtesy of OZinOh, source: http://bit.ly/QcZ0EP)