In Anything But The Law, Tommy Thomas covers topics as diverse as past general elections, Malaysian icons, the Arab Spring and economics – in fact, anything but the law.
Some readers are aware that he is a lawyer, he notes in an e-mail interview, so he chose a title that would alert them to the fact that this book is about non-legal issues.
It was launched earlier this year together with Abuse Of Power, which focuses on the law and the Constitution. Both books collect essays he had written over 34 years and that had been published by online portals and by the Malaysian Bar.
A common theme in both volumes is the role of religion in public life. For example, a comment published in Anything But The Law touches on the violent attacks on places of worship in late 2009 and early 2010. The former Bar Council Secretary tried to remind readers of their Constitutional rights to religious freedom and gave historical examples of how the aftermath of the May 1969 race riots and the destruction of deities in Hindu temples in the 1978 Kerling incident were handled.
He called for “immediate condemnation of these acts and assurances of protection to members of the minority faiths” as well as “consultations among all the relevant stake-holders”.
In a 2014 essay in Abuse Of Power, the litigation lawyer noted Point 7 in the Prime Minister’s April 2011 letter with the “Ten Point Solution”, contemplating taking disciplinary action against civil servants who do not comply with directives requiring proper implementation of the Cabinet decision in that letter. “No disciplinary action was taken, to my knowledge,” he says.
In Sarawak, Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem has objected to categorising indigenous groups as “others”. In mid-April, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced that the Government will abolish the lain-lain race category in all official forms with immediate effect, allowing Sarawak bumiputras to use their respective ethnicities instead. Adenan also objected to referring to ethnic communities as pendatang.
“If truly implemented, it would result in separate policies in the Federation,” muses Thomas in a recent e-mail interview. “It’s a shame that Peninsular Malaysia will not emulate Sarawak, which has always been more tolerant and accepting of the plural nature of the nation’s population.”
One of the prominent Malaysians featured in Anything But The Law is former Deputy Prime Minister Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, whom Thomas describes as “The best Prime Minister Malaysia never had”. In an article published in 2007, the barrister wrote about how Tun Dr Ismail supported Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman’s call for the formation of Malaysia in 1961 and later defended Malaysia’s case at the United Nations during the Confrontation with Indonesia.
In Drifting Into Politics: The Unfinished Memoirs Of Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman which was published last year, Tun Dr Ismail wrote, “While I agreed to the notion that Malaysia should be formed by the Association of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, I had many reservations about the way it was formed and the conditions which Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak imposed for joining the new Federation.
“As Minister of Home Affairs, I objected to giving Sabah and Sarawak the control of immigration between themselves on one side and Malaya and Singapore on the other. I also opposed the Tunku’s generous offer of 40 seats in the Federal Parliament.”
Thomas sees that as a demonstration of Tun Dr Ismail’s independent thinking and how he was never content to simply accept his Prime Minister’s opinion.
“But whether Tun Ismail could have got a different bargain on these matters is questionable, having regard to the competing claims and interests of Britain (which aggressively pushed for the formation of Malaysia), Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak against the background of Indonesian Confrontation and the Cold War.”
Why is he publishing over three decades of essays now?
“To provide easy access to them,” responds Thomas, “so that they do not disappear into the archives.”