The Punching Madeleine

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 issues.

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.

The consummate diplomat . . . US Secretary of State Madeleine AlbrightI 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 opportunity.

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 )