Lies, the Devalued Currency of Politics

Lies, the Devalued Currency of Politics

We expect our friends to tell the truth, because it forms the core of trust. We are disappointed if they deceive us and betray that trust. We expect a little less of big business, knowing that the “truth” for them is sometimes a malleable commodity. But we can still accept those semi-truths, as long as they are wrapped in a warm fuzzy cloak of integrity.

And then we have our politicians, many of whom regard the truth as a chimera that can shape-shift at will. For them, integrity merely a word in the dictionary, and not one they have to look up often. There are people who base their lives around “whatever is right,” but they are rarely politicians, whose creed is “whatever works.” We trust our friends; we tolerate our corporations, but we rarely, if ever, trust our politicians.

When our politicians lie, they do it with vigour and panache. They like the big lie, because it is bold, and addresses the reptile brain, not rational thought. Consciously or unconsciously, they follow the precepts of Adolf Hitler, who described lies in Mein Kampf thus: “… in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily.”

That’s a mouthful, so his words from are often paraphrased as: “The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed.” You don’t have to look far for examples of outrageous big lies from Indonesia’s own beloved leaders.

Suryadharma Ali, head of Indonesia’s Religious Affairs Ministry, which was described by the Corruption Eradication Commission as the most corrupt ministry of all (which takes some doing), came out with a whopper recently. After several years of violent and deadly marginalisation of minorities, religious hate crimes and murders, a government edict that allows only six approved religions, and an absolute ban on atheism, blasphemy and apostasy, he blithely stated that Indonesia was “the most tolerant country in the world.” As if to reinforce the lie, he went on to say, “We treat equally the minority and the majority. Indonesia’s religious harmony is the best in the world.”

Right, Ali, I’ll give that priceless jewel of mendacity and denial 10 out of 10.

Not be outdone, Mahfud MD, chief justice of the Constitutional Court, came up with a gem last week while entertaining Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel. In response to her stated concerns about the freedom of religion and democracy in Indonesia, he lied shamelessly, asserting that “…the Constitutional Court has guaranteed the freedom of atheists and communists in this country, as long as they do not disturb the freedom of people of other religions. Freedom is equality,” he declared.

Meanwhile, Alex Aan, a 32-year-old civil servant incarcerated in June for 30 months for declaring that he was an atheist, is probably sitting in his cell wondering what Mahfud is on about. The producers of a television program about Tan Malaka, a well-known Indonesian nationalist and communist, are also probably bemused as to why army chiefs banned the show from going to air last year if there is constitutionally protected tolerance in the country.

Mahfud, for this one, you are just behind Ali. Nine out of 10.

Politicians’ lies, of course, are to gain political advantage, or to make individuals or the state look good on the world stage. For Muslims, such as the two worthies mentioned above, lying is not only permitted by the Qur’an; it is encouraged under certain circumstances, such as any anticipated harm (in the broadest sense) to one’s self, fellow Muslims, or to Islam. This principle of Taqiyya is well-documented and widely used. If describing taqiyya as lying is too harsh for you, just call it “dissimulation” if it makes you feel more politically correct.

Lest the accusation be levelled that I’m engaging in Islam-bashing, or selectively using Indonesian politicians as examples of big-ticket lying, let’s look at some other luminaries on the world stage. Truth came a distant second to diplomacy and commercial interests for two recent visitors to these shores.

US President Barack Obama waxed lyrical about Indonesia being “a model for the world,” heaping praise on its “religious tolerance” while pointedly ignoring the widely documented increase in religious bigotry, violence and intolerance. His “praise” came, not surprisingly, during his efforts to flog US$21.7-billion worth of Boeing planes to Lion Air. It makes the lie understandable, but it doesn’t make it believable. Nine out of 10, Obama.

Five months later, British Prime Minister David Cameron, in an astonishing display of “me-too-ism” spouted an equally fatuous homily. Without even blushing, he intoned, “Indonesia’s respect for democracy and minority religious groups should serve as an example for other Muslim nations.” By the most amazing coincidence, he too was there to flog planes; in this case 11 Airbus A330 aircraft which he wanted Garuda Indonesia to buy for $505.5 million. I give Cameron 9.5 out of 10, just edging out Obama and Mahfud, but still running behind Ali’s perfect score.

Of course, all these prevaricators would be uneasy if you came straight out and called them liars. They would claim that it’s just spin, or a sales pitch, or diplomacy, or it’s for the greater good, or a legitimate way of gaining and consolidating power. After all, you know – it’s all just politics in the end.

Well, no, Ali, Mahfud, Obama and Cameron – it’s lying. And it diminishes both you and the institutions that you lie about. Nietzsche put his finger on it when he said, “I’m not upset that you lied to me; I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.” Small wonder that no one, but no one, trusts politicians.

When you politicos brazenly lie for your own purposes, whatever those may be, what does it do to you? Do you know in your hearts that you are lying? If so, you are unfit for office. Or do you rationalise your thoughts and words to the extent that you believe you are actually telling the truth?

If that’s the case, the writer Dostoyevsky has an insight into the terrible thing that has happened to you. He says, “Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others.”

And of course, any politician whose internal integrity compass is malfunctioning to this extent is unfit for office too.

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