3 August 1997
At the recent Asean conference in Subang Jaya, a good example occurred of the power
of humour in the furthering of diplomatic relations.
Humour can give perspective to an issue, enhance free discussion of the topic and
encourage more creative analysis and conclusions to a difficult problem or thorny
Like sugar or a bitter pill, humour can make the discussion and review of delicate
and controversial issues more palatable. Individuals or parties who otherwise might
not listen to or respect a different point of view often times with humour as the
vehicle will move easily to understand, accept and appreciate another opinion.
I had met Madeleine Albright US Secretary of State, twice when she was
her country"s ambassador to the United Nations. I know she can talk well, indeed
very forcefully, but I do not necessarily agree with what she says. I do however
admire the way she presents her country"s point of view even though at times
she borders on being a bully.
Her singing talents were not known to me until she performed her "socko"
routine at the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference farewell dinner. According
to those who were there, Albright was America"s new Madonna for the senior set.
A Malaysian diplomat told me: "She is able to carry an idea with fluency and
vigour, however, that night she could not carry a tune." A wife of a foreign
minister told the Herald Tribune (July 30) that "Madeleine was
very sassy, the new Madonna even though she can"t sing to save her life."
She seemed to have tackled all the thorny issues via the adaptation of the theme
song from Evita. She also took a dig at various personalities. She even bought a
batik scarf to help the Malaysian economy and boost the ringgit which is under attack
from foreign and local speculators.
Albright said she came here to talk to Asean leaders, but found them all on the golf
course - just as Asean leaders in Washington, D.C. often find Clinton jogging in
Foggy Bottom or in a McDonalds having a cup of coffee and a Big Mac.
Albright crooned that Madonna would play Madeleine Albright and Jackie Chan, Dr Mahathir.
But I believe any good casting director would not cast Madonna as Albright, more
probably Phyllis Diller, Bob Hope"s partner, would be chosen or Whoopi Goldberg!
She also crooned "some countries might sue me for libel, in others I would risk
house arrest." She may be right on both points, but in the United States she
would risk having an independent prosecutor examine her past. In Malaysia she would
only be charged for khalwat (being in close proximity to a Muslim man).
Don"t cry for me Madeleine. The truth is I always envy you even when you are
walking hand in hand with Jessie Helms. I love you for being part liberal as a speaker
at the Harvard Commencement. I was there, mesmerized by your message and rationale.
I was never moved by Henry Kissenger partly because of his heavy German accent, while
you have no Czech or Brooklyn accent. Above all I admire your superb ability for
double speak and double standards in words, songs, and deeds.
You made a nod, Madeleine, to the Chinese Foreign Minister, Qian Qichen, and said,
"you tried to buy our election." I did not know a night in Lincoln"s
bedroom was so cheap otherwise each Malaysian parvenu would have lined up for the
It was fun according to those who were at the dinner. There was so much humour, song,
and dance amid hilarity from the audience as the leaders of the world"s most
powerful or soon-to-be-powerful-nations including the US, EU Russia, China, Japan,
South Korea, Indonesia, Philippines, Myanmar, Brunei, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, and
Malaysia clowned, mimicked, sang, and danced, even if clumsily!
I wish I had been invited to observe and enjoy the fun as not often do top ministers
enjoy themselves even in privacy. I understand that journalists like me were barred
from the dinner and performance.
It was by all accounts a rare occasion where issues were presented with humour and
lampooning without malice.
Dato' Abdullah Ahmad is Malaysia's Special Envoy to the United Nations
(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun