Friday, June 12, 2015


By Mansor Puteh

The American embassy in Jalan Tun Razak in Kuala Lumpur flew the Star-Spangled Banner half-mask when a former Malaysian ambassador to Washington DC, Jamaluddin Jarjis died, in a helicopter crash, to mark their respect for him for having done something that the Americans thought had brought Malaysia and America closer to each other, the three years he was ambassador in Washington DC from 2009 to 2012.

But I do not know exactly what Jamaluddin had done the whole time he was ambassador to Washington DC.

To me, many Malaysian ambassadors are holiday-seekers, who are posted abroad but who did not do much to promote the country.

He was also a member of parliament for Rompin in Pahang until his death and he had to return to the country to attend parliament where he did not seem to have said anything at all or anything significant to cause the country to now establish better relations with America.

When American President Barack Obama paid Malaysia a visit, Jamaluddin was at the airport to welcome him, but one did not detect any special relationship that the two were supposed to have had, despite Barack having called him ‘JJ’.

But that was probably Barack would find it difficult to pronounce his name, Jamaluddin, a name which is not familiar to most Americans.

Malaysia and America have not enjoyed any special relations as far as many can tell; in fact one can say it had gone from normal to not so normal, meaning, that Malaysians who were able to get a visa for life and for free, now has to pay a lot to get one for ten years only.

This is one proof that the relationship between the two countries had not gone well; on the contrary it had gone the other way.

Malaysian visitors to America, despite having a valid visa, were still looked at with suspicion when they arrived at the airports in the country because of what happened on 11 September, 2001 in Lower Manhattan.

Some Malaysians were even asked to give the security officers their passwords for their email accounts for them to check if there are incriminating emails in them.

However, the situation has changed considerably. And there are reports which say that some Malaysians might even be able to go to America without a visa.

It would be good if the groups comprise of those who had lived and studied in America and also those who have business relations, so that their backgrounds are already there for the American authorities to see.

The Malaysians that would have to apply for visas, mostly are those whose backgrounds are suspicious, meaning that they have no real reason to visit the country but who want to remain in it in order to work illegally there mostly in the Chinatowns.

Jamaluddin studied at a university in New York state, and when he was appointed Malaysian ambassador to America, he said that he ‘knew the thinking of the Americans’ to be able to help promote better bilateral relations between our two countries.

But what exactly did he do as ambassador in Washington DC?

There is nothing that I can think of.

Now, let’s go to a former American ambassador to Kuala Lumpur, John R. Mallott. What can we say of him, as ambassador? Will the Malaysian embassy in Washington DC fly the Jalur Gemilang at half-mask if he dies? I doubt it.

John had become a critic of the Malaysian government after he ended his tenure as ambassador in Kuala Lumpur and when he was safely back in America.

He seemed to support Anwar Ibrahim and had even met the later’s wife, Wan Azizah who visited the country.

Worse, John had also written something which is not too diplomatic.

How could a former ambassador of a country do something like that?

He can do that because he was not given another posting to another country that would keep him busy, but because he returned to America and retired from foreign service so the last country where he was posted at, must and can become his target.

This led many in Malaysia to seriously wonder if he was in Malaysia as ambassador or spy?

It is ironic how John was perhaps the American ambassador who was the most active when he was here, because he was able to go anywhere even driving his own American-made car.

I once saw him as he was about to enter his car when I was inside the gas station that was beside the American embassy building.

I always stopped there to buy some snacks after I had donated blood at the National Blood Center further up Jalan Tun Razak beside the National Art Gallery.

And I stood inside the store in the gas station to check some newspapers and looked outside and saw him about to enter his car. He looked especially worried because he thought the Malaysian special branch officer was monitoring him, because I was wearing dark glasses as always and looked like I was staring at him.

John organized a special screening of ‘Amistad’ a film on African slaves who are brought to America in the ship bearing that name that was produced and directed by Steven Spielberg, which could not be show in the cinemas here as it has many scenes of nude African slaves.

So John or the American embassy organized a one-time screening for some local film enthusiasts which included me. It was a surprise to receive a letter signed by John inviting me to attend the screening, which I went.

Of course, Wan Azizah who was then wife of deputy prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, who was also invited to attend it could not come.

John and his Japanese wife also appeared on some programs on Malaysian television.

But no other American ambassadors who succeeded him managed to do something like what John had done, especially after 911 when the American embassy was fortified even more and they were forced to buy over the gas station because they feared that the station could be bombed and the fire could engulf the entire embassy building even when the asking price was very high, way above the market value, asked by the owners of the land where the station sat, which they had earlier rejected. 

It is too bad 911 had happened and John had become what he should not have been after his tenure as ambassador of America to Kuala Lumpur ended. For he could have done much to promote better bilateral relations between our two countries and be remembered for that.

And if he dies, I am sure the Malaysian embassy in Kuala Lumpur would want to fly the Jalur Gemilang at half-mask with the Malaysian foreign minister paying a tribute to him as did the American secretary of state John Kerry who paid a tribute when Jamaluddin Jarjis or JJ died.

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