Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ethics, Medical Confidentiality vs. Political Pressures

Some of you would have already known that many people especially some cantankerous bloggers and some doctors are wondering why the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) has so far not spoken ("not a squeak from them"). See Malaysiakini 'Not sodomy-related? Let's not be anal'

Until now, I have remained silent on this issue, as my liberal and passionate views of social justice may not be acceptable to many who feel that we should be cautious in accommodating the powers that be.

As a concerned doctor, I too wish that more can be done and perhaps even more can be said. I respect the stance that the MMA should be cautious and circumspect in heavily-tinged political affairs.

At the same time however, I do believe that we have to allow for differences in approach which ultimately must be consonant with the current leadership's style and position of any society, as well as respecting the demands and aspirations of our medical membership.

So it is imperative that the MMA President and his elected Council members should be comfortable, as he would be the spokesperson and quotable person when all else matters--the buck stops with him, so to speak.

Thus, the medical profession is indeed in some quandary as to how to address this issue, in as fair a manner as possible.

My personal view on this is that we have to be objective yet firm in affirming fairness and justice to all parties concerned, notwithstanding our earnest misgivings and personal bias.

Being a medical practitioner for nearly 30 years, and now as an elected member of the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) I would like to suggest the following (as a personal opinion):

1. Medical reports are confidential and private, and breaching this is a serious infringement of our Code of Ethics for all medical doctors without exception.

However, with regards Dr Osman Hamid's purported leaked report, we have to establish that this leaking of the report is indeed perpetrated by the doctor himself or his agents, or the hospital. This can only be ascertained after a full and comprehensive inquiry--we should not jump the gun and accuse him or the hospital of any wrong-doing until then.

Under the current climate of accusations and counter-accusations (disclosures and counter-declarations), isn't it possible or more likely, that this is the work of another unknown person, sympathetic to whoever he/she has felt duty-bound enough to be a whistle-blower? (Whatever the motives, unfortunately, this act is still wrong from an ethical and legal viewpoint).

2. Whatever the circumstances however, the onus is on the doctor and the hospital authorities to be responsible for ensuring that every medical report or record be securely protected of its privacy and confidentiality.

They must take all possible measures to safeguard such information, especially when high-profile personalities are involved--there should be no compromise on this duty and legal requirement.

Health care workers including ancillary and support clerical staff must understand that they cannot simply access and distribute any medical record as he or she chooses--they must remember and abide by the consequences and the rules.

We cannot have just any Tom, Dick and Harry gain access to whatever medical or health records at their whim and fancy. Aside from the prying gossipy intentions, other more serious motives include blackmail or other illicit ill-intent which can result from such unwitting exposure and unsanctioned disclosure. Those who violate such a law, should be answerable to the law.

3. However, many doctors are alarmed to hear that alleged pressure has been brought to bear on medical professionals to coerce them into modifying and/or to altering medical reports, to the dictates of certain personalities, authorities or even the police.

4. Our medical professionalism demands that we treat every medical examination seriously. Doctors have to treat each patient singularly as unique individuals who can expect no lesser respect, attention and empathetic care, regardless of whoever he or she is, without any bias or fraternal considerations.

We wish to reiterate that any medical record/report is a professional and legal document, which should always be truthfully and accurately certified. Such a prescribed duty should broach no untoward coercion by anyone, to persuade them to do otherwise.

5. If any such coercion or illegal attempts have been made to subvert and/or obstruct such duties, then the medical professional involved must inform the relevant authorities such as the MMA, the MMC, and even lodge a police report to protect his professional duty and self. He or she should also seek legal advice either through his/her medical protection/defense society, or other independent legal or judicial means.

Seeking recourse through political parties is a double-edged sword which can sometimes undermine the objectivity of the complaint. Unfortunately, making police reports or statutory declarations are now also fraught with disquieting uncertainty and chary dubiety; esp
ecially under the highly-politicised climate that we are in today.

Many are genuinely wary of the police and their perceived lack of total transparency and trustworthiness. As one of the highest social institutions of the country, this is a terribly desperate state of affairs. As one of the rakyat, it saddens me to be leery of the police, and we all wish that this were not the case.

Clearly, not all police personnel should be lumped together as untrustworthy, and I daresay that most are genuinely sincere and incorruptible professionals. I would like to place on record that I've had some very professional interactions with the police on many occasions, in the past.

Alas, the prevailing perception toward the police and our battered institutions, is for many, quite unfavorable to say to least. A Merdeka Centre survey recently highlights the rakyat's severe concerns: Many worried country going downhill. Only some 30% of those polled are confident in the institutions to handle these recent issues fairly.

"Disappearances" after having made some controversial reports, are now worrying even the bravest armchair critic or blogger, can an individual's safety be assured? Latterly, even the dissenting doctor in question has taken "extended leave", whose motives are understandable, under the circumstances. We all hope that he is safe and not in any harm's way.

6. Our medical fraternity must reaffirm a strong united stand, and we wish to reassure all medical doctors that collectively we will stand by and support any medical professional member who should be threatened or pressured in anyway by whichever party.

7. We wish to state that we are not taking sides in this controversy, but we wish to put on record that social justice and fairness must always be maintained especially in political or even criminal proceedings or contentions.

8. Doctors have an unbending ethical code to conform with, and honesty and accuracy in medical recording and reporting must be at the forefront of such professional practices, without fear or favour--the judgement and sanctity of our moral underpinnings are not and should never be for sale!

We urge all doctors to be true to their profession and their Hippocratic oath and training. We urge the authorities, police and political parties to refrain from using or coercing doctors to serve as tools to further their devious means and ends.

Let's keep that one last-respected bastion of public institutions safe and free, from falling under the oppressive crumbling weight of despair and failure of almost all others!

A slightly shortened version appears in malaysiakini's as
Ethics, medical confidentiality vs political pressures

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Obama's Audacity of Improbable Hope

4 years ago, when Barack Obama was given the podium to address the Democrat convention, it raised many an eyebrow. Mainly because, as an African American, he had been given such an accolade, and at such a tender age at that.

At that time I remembered downloading his speech, and comparing it with others including Al Sharpton, John Kerry, John Edwards and Al Gore. Even then, he had shown remarkable talent in rhetoric in an evangelical, inspiring, rabble-rousing, exhortation sort of way...

Since then, I must confess that I have become one of the religiously-converted hordes of Obama-manic fans.

His historical perspective as one who was born into a mixed-race marriage, forms the basis of his contention that for the American dream, his was one of unimaginable "improbable hope." And he has been declaiming this point relentlessly to inspire legions of people who hanker for change, betterment and hope. "This is our moment," exhorts Obama.

I watched him during his recent Berlin address (25 July, 2008). Undoubtedly, although he admitted wryly that he did not look like any of his predecessors before him (he being the first African American or man of colour), he stood shoulder to shoulder with the best and the exceptionally brilliant--200,000 Berliners were on hand to experience his charismatic aura, and to cheer him on.

Obama is certainly captivating and personable. He is without doubt a great orator who effuses with goose-pimpling inspiring rhetoric, but at the same time enunciating many bold expansive ideas which I hope he will be able to implement once he becomes the President.

It is true that many of his rally-calls border on generalities rather than specifics, as some have criticised, but in this world of nebulous moral confusion, 'them-and-us' American exceptionalism and tired battle-weary politics, it is refreshing to have someone like him to continue to offer us hope!

Most importantly, he comes across as a supremely confident statesman, one who is not shy of confronting controversies head-on, one who dares to admit his nation's faults--warts and all, while acknowledging that he still loved America very much, that he can still hope to evoke and provoke change, a rallying-cry to remake the world even...

One of my pet issues on nuclear disarmament received a rare attention boost in his Berlin speech, and gives global citizens the hope that one day our children and our chidren's children can live free from the spectre of nuclear arms and war, forever:

"This is the moment when we must renew the goal of a world without nuclear weapons. The two superpowers that faced each other across the wall of this city came too close too often to destroying all we have built and all that we love. With that wall gone, we need not stand idly by and watch the further spread of the deadly atom. It is time to secure all loose nuclear materials; to stop the spread of nuclear weapons; and to reduce the arsenals from another era. This is the moment to begin the work of seeking the peace of a world without nuclear weapons."

In many ways, the American story is one which is singular and unmatchable in history, even as it continues to metamorphose today. Barack Obama must represent the newest incarnation of an evolving mindset of progressive enlightened Americans.

The many contradictions: the self-serving politics, the gross excesses of mass consumerism, pop culture, the entrepreneurial energies and innovative productivity are quintessential of the American experience. Yet despite it all, it has always put on the forefront, the inalienable and ineradicable right of the individual.

Most importantly, there is always that indisputable possibility for political change that is inbuilt into its rigidly upheld Constitution. Every American demands and acknowledges this right, and would fiercely fight to keep this flame alight.

It is true that the USA is also replete with its occasional gridlock politics of the executive, i.e. the President, the Senate and the Congress, but these partisan vested interests are tempered and safeguarded by a truly independent Judiciary (the Supreme Court). America allows an unprecedented capacity to question itself, to reinvent itself.

It is true that often enough, America tends to overreach itself and its influence, much to the dismay and anger of the watching world. Yet, its near sole superpower status means that it must continue to engage itself in the affairs of other nations.

Sometimes, America's interference is rejected outright especially when these strike too close to the loutish antics and extremes of some autocratic and despotic regimes.

At other times, the world angrily demands that a cautious and isolationist America engages more rapidly and responsibly to prevent further genocidal collapse and catastrophic abuse of humanity, especially of the marginalised and dispossessed minorities such as in Bosnia, Darfur, Liberia, etc.

Some are very grudgingly accepted, but most times American brazenness is rejected because of jingoistic claims of national sovereignty and independence. Sadly, Malaysia has even now sounded such 'nationalistic' clarion calls to stop the US of A from interfering with our laws, our interpretation of it or worse, how we choose to enact these for overtly political purposes... See Malaysiakini's Gov't demands US stop 'interfering'

As the world's sole-surviving (but certainly not flawless) Leviathan, it has an unenviable task to make some sense of this truly multifarious world of precariously perched balance of good and evil: to curb mankind's dalliance with widely disparate and fissiparous destinies, and to temper and deter our insuppressibly innate tribalism and brutishness...

Notwithstanding this, I remain hopeful that our political leadership can rise above itself amidst such a quagmire of floundering and directionless political uncertainty.

At this current juncture of political stalemate, can any Malaysian truly feel optimistic that good and truth will prevail over so much mucky political dissimulations, prevarications, propaganda and outright lies?

Will heart-warming unalloyed ideas and durable ideals once again emerge to uplift the Malaysian spirit to wonder again with hope, and to rekindle that daring to dream for change for the better?

Will we ever be so lucky to see another Malaysian leader of calibre to lead us out of this horrendous mess, with even half the vision and charisma of Obama?

Will this be 'our moment', soon?

I can dream, can't I?

Vero Possumus! (“Yes, we can!”)

“I know my country has not perfected itself. We’ve made our share of mistakes, and there are times when our actions around the world have not lived up to our best intentions."
“People of Berlin, and people of the world, the scale of our challenge is great. The road ahead will be long. But I come before you to say that we are heirs to a struggle for freedom. We are a people of improbable hope. With an eye toward the future, with resolve in our hearts, let us remember this history, and answer our destiny, and remake the world once again.”

A shorter version is published in malaysiakini

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Liberal Political Leanings...

I have often considered myself a liberal socialist rather than a conservative.
"...the idea of a polity administered with regard to equal rights and equal freedom of speech, and the idea of a kingly government which respects most of all the freedom of the governed..." ~ Marcus Aurelius in Meditations
Even when I was a young student during my formative years, I had always been partial to individual thinking and independent thoughts.

But I've always adhered to the principle that one must always be free to think and to speak out loud, and everyone's rights must be respected...

We are all entitled to differences of opinions and ideas, but we must be mature enough to share these openly as well as respect other viewpoints which may be diametrically opposed to ours.

Most importantly, we must be able to discourse and debate whatever ideas without fear of repercussions and undue censorship or ad hominem attacks.

I've also always cherished individuals who possess new and fresh ideas, and who are creative, even if somewhat outlandish. This is in spite of the relatively disciplined period of my life, when I was somewhat shape-shifted down a narrow path...

Coming from a modest working class background meant that I had to adopt a tenacious attitude towards working and getting the goals that I aim for. It also meant that I simply had to apply my focus squarely on each goal at hand, and direct towards this singular effort, at full attention.

Discipline and perseverance was my motivating force then, and I was very much in tune with my school's (St. Joseph's, Johor Bahru) motto of "Courage, Will and Perseverance".

But perhaps, more importantly, we also had some very dedicated and motivational teachers and a Canadian principal, Gabrielite Brother John Bordeleau, who would painstakingly push us to the limits of our sometimes latent talents, which he and others seemed somehow to unleash and unravel...

Yes, they could be quite disciplinarian, but I can remember very few instances when any one student had to be corporally punished during my tenure as prefect and later head prefect from 1969 to 1971.

Then as discipline teacher and headmaster, Brother John believed in stern warnings, but more importantly quiet intimate personal counselling and one-to-one heart talk behind closed doors. These served the bases for 'punishment' and occasional detention. That these worked for the ultimate betterment of a maturing adolescent cannot be denied.

Few students ever did drop out, and then only because of dismal academic failures. There was
however, one precocious boy who was finally remanded to the then mental institution at Tampoi, Johor, because of schizophrenia.

This extreme behavioural dislocation manifested itself in a blistering torrent of pornographic scribblings on paper and classroom walls, which shocked the school due to its extreme and graphic explicitness, while at the same time educating many a closeted few! Many students learnt their first exposure to such lewd lexicon from this one chap alone!

But otherwise, I cannot honestly remember any other student becoming a thug or gangster, after completing high school... In reminiscent moments, I sometimes wonder if such enduring and benevolent legacies can ever result from today's
breed of dispassionate, coldly impersonal schools.

Are there still selfless and irreplaceable teachers, principals left, who would rise above themselves, their narrowly defined roles and their meeting-cluttered, exam-focussed responsibilities? Would our younger minds ever be exposed and nurtured with such tender touches of talent-spotting or simply, attentive caring?

Whatever the influence, the pedagogy, I believe, many of us did benefit in more incalculable ways than can be imagined. I believe that my early positive experiences helped shape my character to what it is today.

I have been conditioned ('educated') to believe very much in personal achievement and that everything is possible with hard work and dedicated practice. I'm convinced that everyone can rise above themselves and their station, if and when he or she puts in sufficient effort and determination.

At the same time, as a group no matter how disparate, people can collectively achieve social and political progress amidst the most dire of circumstances and hardship. If only they can put the greater good before their own parochial individual interests, many things can be achieved.

As part of the then young Christian students' (YCS) society, we had begun some voluntary social services, which included offering weekend tuition classes to the underprivileged children who lived behind the railway lines. These were rewarding if sometimes frustrating times.

With so little family support, it was demanding to instill the spirit of inquiry and personal industry into some of these children--we ended up essentially getting them to learn to read and grasp some basic arithmetic...

Thus began my initiation into volunteerism. It also exposed me to the presence and reality of even poorer segments of society more in need than my own.

Despite having possessed of a slight cynical bent, I have always believed deep down that everything is nearly always possible, although sometimes grudgingly so--even long before I had read Vaclav Havel's The Art of the Impossible: Politics as Morality in Practice, many years later.
"...To awaken in people a new sense of responsibility for the world, or to convince them to conduct themselves as if they were to live on this earth forever and be answerable for its condition one day. Who knows how many cataclysms humanity may have to experience before such a sense of responsibility is generally accepted? But this does not mean that those who wish to work for it cannot begin at once."
Thus, it is somewhat surprising to hear that of late, perhaps liberalism is taking a backseat in this modern era. It is true that for the past 30 to 40 years, sociopolitical liberal education has flourished and permeated the highest echelons of academia, especially in the West. This has thrived in spite of the rise and rise of free market capitalism and intense globalisation.

On Campus, Liberal Professors Retire

'“Self-described liberals are most common within the ranks of those professors aged 50-64, who were teenagers or young adults in the 1960s,” they wrote, making up just under 50 percent.

When it comes to those who consider themselves “liberal activists,” 17.2 percent of the 50-64 age group take up the banner compared with only 1.3 percent of professors 35 and younger.' ~ Jennifer Cohen, New York Times, 3 July 2008

I suppose I belong to this generation of 'liberal activists' who would in certain circumstances feel passionately enough to take up a banner, to protest, and to articulate our concerns for social justice more readily. More frequently than not, liberal activists could be prodded into acting out, while suppressing fears of possible consequences from undermining our occasionally impetuous or even reckless courage.

But it appears that one generation on, those that followed, were somehow less inclined to feel as intensely, to be sufficiently moved to act, to speak out... More conservative mindsets and more placid contentment appear to moderate down one's fervour for activism.

Neo-conservative and modern economically-savvy thinkers are now extending their reach into academia and influencing large swathes of younger graduates as to the unbridled virtues of mass market consumerism and unrestrained 'Friedmanesque' economics, where laissez faire free market is allowed free reign, with as much governmental deregulation as possible.

Milton Friedman considered his own political philosophy as classically liberal and consequentialist libertarian, and stressed the advantages of the marketplace and the disadvantages of government intervention. Over the past 30-odd years, his free market ideas have greatly influenced both conservatives and libertarians.

However, many economists have criticised his extreme ideas of completely deregulated free market, i.e. that free markets always work (Orlando Letelier).

Many are now pointing out that completely free markets are fraught with social failures, and have called for timely governmental interventions which can provide social safety nets and therefore serve stabilising and useful purposes (Paul Krugman).

Thus, with all these confusing trends and blends of contrasting yet overlapping ideas, it is difficult to identify with whichever brand of liberalism, that one believes in.

There has been too much graying of margins and criss-crossing of permissive yet indulgent libertarian ideas, which because of its extreme forms can be confusing. This is especially so with economic liberalism, that free market diehards will attach the most neo-conservative tags.

Therefore, from my own perspective, will my concept of socially aware liberalism see its demise soon?

Will our Social Contract be too archaic to matter in time to come?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Are we living in a police state? Who's protecting who?

An abridged version appears in malaysiakini as Edging towards a possible police/military state

The past few years have seen an intensifying presence of police around the country, particularly around our capital city, Kuala Lumpur.

This has become even more rampant of late, such that one begins to wonder if their ubiquitous presence is for the sake of the citizens or to protect the interests of certain politician-personalities. It boggles the mind as to who's protecting who? See Gridlock in KL as police mount roadblocks

Sadly, this increased police presence is not in vicinities of need, i.e. at the many known hotspots to discourage criminals from playing a cat and mouse game with law enforcement officers, and their escalating petty but violent crimes.

Snatch thieves are blatantly targetting hapless and helpless ladies and even arms-full men, with sometimes very awful consequences. Cars are hijacked in bright daylight, outside one's homes even! Not all these are benign, and many fall prey to senseless gratuitous violence. A few victims have died, and many others have suffered grievous injuries including paralysis. Handbags of pedestrians have to be clutched so tightly as if every passerby is a potential snatch thief! Yet, where are the police when you most desperately need their presence and assistance?

Few can truly feel safe even when walking around the vicinity of their own home or neighbourhood, so much so, that residents have banded together to employ their own security detail to protect their homes.

Gated communities and closed housing estates are now de rigeuer. Perhaps it would not be too long now, before we approach the level of armed auxiliary soldiers to guard almost all middle class homes, such as in Manila, Philippines! It certainly makes a mockery of our safe neighbourhood concept, even more ironic for what has previously been touted as a peaceful country such as ours.

It appears that no one is safe. Recently one of my expatriate patients, a South American woman was molested as she went on her morning walk with a female friend! It appeared that a couple of full-helmeted men astride a motorbike circled around them a couple of times before attacking her. The women managed to escape by running towards a group of construction workers nearby. However, the two molesters had the gall and audacity to come around again to taunt them despite the presence of other people!

You can imagine the emotional and psychological trauma suffered by these women! They were even too afraid to report to the police because sadly, they had residual fears of the police and military from their own country, which had for long decades been under military rule...

There, the police and the military are not recognised by most of the citizens as respected law enforcers--rather they are feared as intimidating thugs associated with corrupt right-wing dictatorships. Tens of thousands of suspected anti-government citizens had 'disappeared' during the previous military regimes of Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay.

Are we in danger of approaching such a state of despair? As Malaysians, we must pray and hope not, but we must also jealously guard against the soaring use of rule by law to execute and prosecute selective interpretations of the nation's statutes in a biased discriminatory manner!

Example: an accuser of sexual deviancy ('liwat") is police-protected, whereas the accused is investigated, harassed and possibly to be charged soon; when such consensual mutual acts (even if true) are illegal for both. Skeptics now openly challenge the notion that justice is seen to be done, the way this issue is being conducted by our law enforcement agencies--See Sodomy claim: Let's see the hard evidence. See also Cops explore options as Anwar defies order.

The more enlightened and modern amongst us would always feel piqued that such intimate bedroom affairs are the business of anyone but themselves. Worst of all, it appears conveniently timely, to resurrect the antiquated laws of homosexuality, just when the country's political stakes are reaching its most stridently plangent peak...

If history is meant to be learnt, then clearly it has not succeeded in Malaysia, with our political mavericks. Ten years ago, such a political ploy failed miserably to convince not just the judiciary but the rakyat as well, that this tawdry accusation was anything but political assassination. True, the fallout from the easier charge of abuse of power was made to stick, to ensure that the challenger was incarcerated and left in political wilderness for an appropriate tenure--6 long years...

Thus, for the current crisis of faith, many Malaysians, and I dare say not just bloggers, are extremely skeptical that this is simply a serendipitous echo brought upon by a "serial sexually irrepressible deviant", and not a Machiavellian game of political brinkmanship.

One can only hope that common sense will prevail, and that those involved will not push many exasperated Malaysians to the limits of tolerance, although recent unfolding events seem to be imply that the final denouement is still not yet played out.

Why Malaysians are asking, are such public displays of police-military collaboration and joint exercises taking place at this time? Why are even such joint exercises at public security control even contemplated? See Malaysiakini's Parliament turns into a 'war zone'

Why indeed, if these are not in preparation for something more sinister? Could there be some devious plans being hatched, as preparation for some potential worst case scenarios?

What indeed lies underneath such a camouflage of shadow play, so much a part of political 'talkshop' in Malaysia. Because there is so much that cannot be articulated out loud, whispering campaigns, juicy gossips and sexual innuendoes, abound via sms, emails, blogs and even youtube amateur videos! Our wayang kulit appears to be more than its surreal shadows, and often it is embodied with some elements of disconnected 'truths' rather than total fiction...

Hence, the worrisome rumours of emergency rule are being bandied about in the blogosphere. Clearly in this instance, I hope that this is all purely shadow play... Perhaps, the chief dalang master is trying to warn us to restrain ourselves. Perhaps we are not too subtly being forewarned not to test the limits and patience of the authorities, perhaps...

Thus, people are rightfully worried. Of course, we are concerned and do not hanker for such a terrible catastrophe to happen. But the signs do not augur well for peaceful resolution of the intense politicking that has erupted thus far.

Political instability has engulfed the nation, whether we like it or not. Our leadership seems to have been floundering about after the unprecedented loss of its two-third's majority to rule without challenge. Crisis after crisis appears to be dogging the leadership, right from the moment of the 5-state loss on March 8th, to the pathetically announced subsidy withdrawal and unprecedented sharp fuel price hike.

The 'shock doctrine' was perhaps planned by the economically-savvy 'Ox-bridge' boys of the PM's coterie of preferred advisers. Perhaps this was the handiwork of some Chicago-trained Friedman-indoctrinated economists who have for a full generation believed that a severe shock is better tolerated that several smaller ones.

This is predicated by the teaching that free enterprise can be imploded into a system only when some catastrophic crisis has been thrust into a suddenly bewildered and harassed populace, thereby eliciting an expected, confused, disoriented response, which can then be quickly and aggressively exploited for further shocks to totally revamp a political or economic system. Sometimes, this is so drastic that an immutable revolution has taken place, before it is finally recognised, and by then it is just too late to reverse!

Using the military putsch to achieve this objective, has already many precedents. Political scientist and author, Naomi Klein argues that it started with the Chilean experiment of General Pinochet when he and his army toppled the then elected but socialist president Allende, with the connivance of the United States' CIA.

Once any military dictatorship takes hold, it can continue with gross authoritarian excesses and abuse for decades... Chile, then Argentina, Uruguay in South America; in Asia, we have hermetically sealed autocratic Myanmar, the occasional sporadic coups in Thailand, Philippines; and the previous Indonesian era under General-President Suharto...

Naomi Klein's recent book The Shock Doctrine (The Rise of Disaster Capitalism), makes engrossing but enlightening reading--we must not let this take place in Malaysia.

Azly Rahman's timely discourse on this militarisation danger in Malaysiakini's column is also well-worth contemplating (With whom will the army stroll?). He has passionately averred that the army and the police must respect their roles and not exceed their constitutional limits: "Soldiers fight to protect external enemies of the people, not to protect corrupt politicians against their own people... The police are supposed to be maintaining justice in a world of irrationalities and unjust behaviour. The police need no extra protection if they are true to their conscience and always available and reliable to protect the citizens, even against elected representatives who abuse power."

As concerned citizens, we urge our more enlightened leaders to recognise that we are edging towards a possible police and/or military state. That it would be a folly to accede to this for political expediency.

Some of our embattled leaders are already rationalising that the increased police presence and blockades are to protect public peace and deny illegal demonstrations from disrupting businesses, etc. They argue defensively that the inconvenience caused cannot be helped because they, the police are just simply doing their job. If only we can be more understanding, perhaps we can believe this explanation more...

But Pak Lah seems not to understand still, that we the rakyat do have a crisis of faith in the authorities! Many among the public find that the police, the judiciary, the government agencies, and whichever politicians who try to explicate their take on law and order, shallow and without the moral authority to do so anymore--in short, we are painfully disbelieving of whatever they say.

We are suspicious if they can be trusted again to do the right thing or whether they are simply pandering minions to the demands of their political masters, or worse for other purposes and self-gratification.

Yes, it is unfair, but our institutions have lost so much of their credibility, that many people are simply questioning the veracity of everything and anything!

Yes, the perception war appears to have been lost, and the rakyat seems no longer willing to tolerate further displays of dissembling from these people anymore...

So whither can we go forward? Let's get back on track.

Our police, our institutions must find its way back to regain the people's faith, by being scrupulously fair, neutral and transparent in all its proceedings henceforth.

Politics must be left by the wayside in every police interaction with the public and/or partisan politicians. Only then can some semblance of justice be seen to be taking place, without fear or favour...

Only then, can perhaps the rakyat's perception be swayed to a more even keel of belief in our beleaguered and discredited institutions...

Do we dare to be hopeful?

(Photos above are from sin chew jit poh and malaysiakini websites)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Awakening the Political Genie in Us...

"Mankind's moral sense is not a strong beacon light, radiating outward to illuminate in sharp outline all that it touches. It is, rather, a small candle flame, casting vague and multiple shadows, flickering and sputtering in the strong winds of power and passion, greed and ideology. But brought close to the heart and cupped in one's hands, it dispels the darkness and warms the soul."~ James Q Wilson, in The Moral Sense, 1997, p251. Free Press Paperbacks, NY.
Ten years ago, I ventured into the unfamiliar arena of vocalising my usually submerged self-censored political thoughts and started to open up discussions and discourse on our then unsettling sociopolitical situation in Malaysia, among doctors.

While many physicians felt that this was a refreshing and sensible engagement, others felt otherwise. It was not met with universal acceptance and I was accused to politicising the medical profession's news magazine.

But I argued then and as I do now, that we simply cannot absolve ourselves from things political just because we wish to remain apolitical and neutral. Many felt then as I am sure some continue to feel now, that we should not ruffle whatever goodwill and rapport we might have had with the incumbent authorities that be... Perhaps we should let these "alien" and sensitive subjects alone, for another more appropriate forum than our finely cloistered 'health' niche.

But I just couldn't remain silent, nor could I remove myself from that heartfelt disquietude that gross injustice and blatant abuses are threatening to tyrannise a pliant citizenry. See Malaysiakini's. Not because I am a foolhardy adventurist or opportunist, but because I just couldn't stomach much more of what has become of our nation and its leadership. Over the past ten years, we have deteriorated further, and today we are at its nadir of directionless shame. See Malaysiakini's Malaysia's Culture of Shamelessness.

More specifically, I have become more thoroughly disenchanted with the scale of our sociopolitical disintegration. Blatant power play seems to have superseded all our more human and humane spheres of life. As a thinking person and a patriot who loves Malaysia for its huge potential and its multi-ethnic uniqueness, I just cannot look away.

I have always believed in more open dialogue and debate, transparency and accountability. I believe in the ultimate power of the people. I believe that constructive criticisms by an increasingly vocal and more engaged rakyat are legitimate exercises of need and concern.

We should also listen to and respect opposing or minority viewpoints because these are counterpoints to help temper the exuberance of majoritarian excesses and abuse. True democracies look after every citizen including the rights and interests of minorities, and are not instruments of rough-shot power-plays of the triumphant victors...

However, the past 2 weeks have seen an unprecedented barrage of senseless politicking, accusations and counter-accusations which can only be described as tawdry and tasteless. Such an excessive bombardment of the blogosphere with endless streams of vehemently partisan invectives cannot but put a damper on our Malaysian sociopolitical scene.

Even the MSM has been drawn into this cynical game of one-upmanship, each trying to paint a different slant on what can only be extremely damaging to our nation's reputation. That is not to say anything about our current crop of leaders--is there any left, who is untainted and capable of getting us out of this quagmire?

How ironic that we've been talking about national branding! Clearly, we are now not the best example of of how to showcase, much less to brand our nation!

There appears to be an extremely high-stakes game being played out in full public view. This is not simply one of political survival, but perhaps even of surviving legal recriminations.

Perhaps, as I have earlier stated (Should We Tame the Political Genie in Us?), the ugly truth of the matter may sound jarringly disquieting and unpalatable, especially when it seems to undermine the cozy status quo that we have become so inured with.

Disturbingly, we are becoming more and more myopic and fraternal, preferring immediate and short-term gains, but appearing not to be interested in the larger picture or the longer-term consequences. In the aftermath of these ugly public spats, the nation's interests have been dragged through the mud and beyond...

Wasn’t it Confucius who exhorted millennia ago, that “to see what is right, and not to do it, is want of courage, or of principle”? Is it not time to act?

We all have a right to our own political belief and/or attachment to certain personalities/leaders. But I dare say we all have to learn to be able to see beyond the horizon of simplistic yet parochial niceties and our all-consuming self- or partisan- interests. We must be able to initiate or push for change for the better, whenever there is some other greater and more paramount “truth” out there.

Why should any man be satisfied with the oppressive weight of “more of the same”, no matter how fantastically well our society has been perceived as stably humming along? Is the fear of the unknown so terrifying that we dare not venture out of our shell?

I believe we are emerging in fits and starts, from our too-long pupated phase. But our newfound freedom to express ourselves without any constraints, are floundering on lies, innuendos and make-belief, which have yet to attain a maturity of enlightened nationhood...

Perhaps, all these are the teething problems of a fledgling democracy trying to temper the zeal of having one's say without a thought as to the possible consequences...

Perhaps, our growing distrust and disrespect for our embattled institutions such as the police, the judiciary, and especially our politicians are so warped and so overwhelming that we no longer have any moral anchor to to brace ourselves with... See Bring law and order back to the judiciary.

Nevertheless, many Malaysians are now asking more pertinent and bolder questions as to our nationhood, half a century on, and wish to articulate their input as to the rakyat's role. See Malik Imtiaz's Rule by Law.

We no longer are prepared to accept the known status quo as cast in concrete where no change or improvement can be allowed to take place. We are no longer content to allow ourselves to be set in the fossilized past for ever more.

At long last Malaysians have learnt to look more closely at our society and are now daring to say that while material wealth and well-being are fine, other less tangible, less obvious executive transgressions are not, and that these have severely gotten out of hand. Karim Raslan's Power, Power, Power in Malaysia Today gives a balanced appraisal of the sad state of our political affairs of late...

The genie is out of the lamp, and it is wreaking unthinkable turmoil in our society’s sanity and sociopolitical well-being. We are no longer in closeted denial that everything thus far has been hunky-dory. We must rise up and take charge and work hard towards a better Malaysia.

We can no longer accept our chanting shibboleth of Malaysia Boleh which has threatened to blindside us, so that we have become impervious to any contrarian criticism, except for sycophantic praises.

We must climb up the rungs of our hierarchy of needs, which Abram Maslow have eschewed, and work for a greater good for all.

We must incorporate our much-vaunted Asian values, so that we can accept greater tolerance for individual freedom and fervently fight for human rights aspirations of each and every citizen.

We must not abdicate or vacate our conscience simply for political or personal expediency.

I do believe that ultimately some semblance of sanity and poetic justice will prevail, and that the growing destructive forces of Machiavellian sectarianism, unbridled power-plays and petty interests will be contained and returned into the genie’s bottle, for keeps.

That said, whatever happens, whichever victory would have been a Pyrrhic and hollow one. Our Greek-like tragedian dramas have yet to fully reach their final denouement.

Somehow, as helpless as we are, we still owe this to ourselves to want and to help make some good happen, and shape the outcome of our collective choice––one way or the other...

As concerned citizens, we must continue to speak out, so that the deafening silence can be broken, for the betterment of the society at large, sans political repercussions, sans public censure. We must escape our penchant for self-interest, and overcome that overpowering fearful, intimidated, cowering and insular mindset.

We can no longer simply stifle the political genie within us from escaping...

To quote Tagore, "Let My Country Awake"!

"Lead me from the unreal to the real!
Lead me from darkness to light!
Lead me from death to immortality!"
~ Brihadharanyaka, Upanishad 1.3.28


Where the mind is without fear
and the head is held high;

Where knowledge is free;

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
by narrow domestic walls;
Where the words come out from the depth of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms
towards perfection;

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost
its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by thee
into ever-widening thought and action --

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father,
let my country awake.

~ Rabindranath Tagore

A shortened version appears in malaysiakini as Revisiting the political genie in us...

(Part of this article is paraphrased from my previous MMA News editorial of 25 Nov 1999]

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Political Uncertainty, Credibility Crisis: Deja Vu?

Nearly ten years ago, I wrote a controversial commentary (reproduced in full below) in the MMA News, where I trenchantly belabored the fact that we were undergoing a severe credibility crisis, institutional collapse and gross dereliction of sanity amidst a mind-boggling series of exercise in political farce sweeping the nation, orchestrated by our then arrogant political masters.

It appears that once again these uncanny forces of mischief and mayhem are at it again... In an eerie remake of Machiavellian deja vu, Pakatan Rakyat de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim has once again been smeared with a sex scandal. This is one not much different from that falsely engineered in 1998, and which was thrown out in court--"expunged" from
its tainted records...

From several independent polls (see Sex scandal could backfire on gov't: analysts and Poll: Almost everyone thinks Anwar's innocent) this time round, more than 90% don't believe this new allegation, with as many pointing to a conspiracy by certain powers that be.

Cynicism is at an all time high, and many among the rakyat are deeply angered and dismayed that this has come to pass again. Will they never learn? How much more battering can our badly tarnished national image take?

Or are our political machinations so cynical and desperate that every possible last gasp perfidious measure has to be taken, to stay in power at all cost, regardless of the Pyrrhic victory and the collateral damage all around...

"When a state legitimates itself successfully the costs of achieving its goals will be low; if it fails to persuade others, it has to resort to costly force or bribes. If it fails to persuade itself, it soon crumbles. All power ... and ... all leaders are vulnerable to the trap of confusing fictions and truths--believing that if only they can find the right turn of phrase or explanation they will solve the real-life problem that lies behind it."~ Geoff Mulgan, in Good and Bad Power: The Ideals and Betrayals of Government, Penguin Books, London, 2007, pp105.

May God Save Malaysia!

Political Uncertainty, Credibility Crisis and the Malaysian Dilemma

“Every country has the duty to safeguard its peace and internal security. But it must in some sense merit that peace by ensuring the welfare of all and respect for their rights. Where justice is lacking, society is threatened from within. This does not mean that the changes required should be realized through violence, for violence merely paves the way for a violent society, to which, we cannot subscribe. What it does mean is that there are social changes, sometimes very profound ones, that must be brought about ... by peaceful reforms.” ~ Pope John Paul II

"The past month or so (this was written in October 1998) has witnessed an unprecedented barrage of events, which have left many Malaysians, numbed and bewildered.

Never before have there been so many provocative happenings; that have stirred the imaginations or the talking points of so many Malaysians: from taxi drivers, office workers, kampung folks, to students, academics and professionals from every walk of life.

As medical practitioners, we have not been spared the conflicting tensions, which have divided our ranks. Pro- and anti-establishment opinions have emerged: one favoring stability and the status quo, and the other defending righteousness, openness and justice.

Despite the political underpinnings inherent in these intriguing debates and discussions, the looming threat that “politics be best left to politicians” is clearly considered inappropriate.

These issues, which have developed from day to day, have proven far too important and significant for every man in the street to ignore or to remain silent.
Thus every peace-loving but fair-minded citizen should become interested, and perhaps take a stand, although not necessarily publicly, but at least to appease one’s own conscience and sanity of mind.

Every Malaysian must necessarily be interested in our own political development, because politics ultimately affect every one of us.
More importantly perhaps, is the growing perception that good governance of any nation should be open to fair criticism or appraisal from its own citizens. Elected leaders can no longer expect their every action or conduct to be embraced as absolute truths or without faults.

Human mistakes or unforeseen errors of judgment will inevitably occur. As such, it is appropriate and a sign of enlightened leadership to accept that these should be pointed out by concerned citizens. A paternalistic and authoritarian approach is no longer acceptable or apropos with the times.

One important sign of our rakyat’s burgeoning maturity and malaise is the increasingly powerful feeling that loyalty to our country and sovereignty does not equate with blind loyalty or allegiance to political leaders.

If anything, more and more people are beginning to question the actions and excesses of some of our elected leaders. They can no longer count on unquestioning loyalty or trust from the ordinary people, as their right, if they, the elected representatives choose to carry out arbitrary and repugnant actions which run counter to the sense of justice or aspirations of the rakyat.

Moreover, there is an expanding belief that our local media have been too blatantly biased, and are fast losing much of their credibility. Repetitious and relentless one-sided propaganda can only harden the public’s sense of outrage and incredulity with the press, especially when the sense of fair play is felt to be lost in the growing power play among our political leaders.

It is worthwhile pondering on what Rose Ismail, a newspaper editor has to say:
“The accusations hurled at some of us have been hurtful. Even my father no longer reads my newspaper because he has chosen to believe what he finds in the Internet.” She admitted that some had accused the media of being biased (NST, Oct 22, 1998, page 5).

Something must be grossly amiss when ordinary people no longer feel they can trust the usual mainstream newspapers. Something must be wrong, when even our previously taciturn yet steadfastly supportive neighbours begin to raise their eyebrows and question the sudden about-turn in our much-vaunted and much-respected democratic principles and practices.

Once, these were the envy of many, particularly in the third world. Once, we were the de facto Asian voice of reason and leadership, much respected, and held high in esteem for many.

Now we appear to be the butt of international rebuke.
We appear to be sliding into a self-defensive outcast mentality. We begin to decry the perceived foreigners’ interference and loudly denounce every contrarian opinion from within and without. We appear to be testy, paranoid, and enshrouded under the mushrooming cloud of a siege mentality.

In this age of all-consuming globalization, it is certainly not in Malaysia’s interest to hunker down in the trenches, and hope for the economic holocaust to blow over. We must take every prudent step to stay connected and make the necessary structural and socio-economic reforms, to prevent us from being totally sidetracked by the world's rapidly transforming economic and market re-adjustments.

Media editors and journalists must take cognizance of the fact that unless they show greater objectivity and sensitivity, and not play along one-sided, offensively crude but judgmental slants, they will be rendered irrelevant as purveyors of the truth or facts of any nature.
Just as we rightly condemn distorted news reporting from the foreign press, can we not expect that our local media resist and desist from such diametrically opposite malpractices?

In this harrowing climate, can the discerning Malaysian be blamed for wanting to seek a different viewpoint? Never before has any one person in Malaysian history been so publicly vilified, and condemned, (perhaps even mentally and physically brutalized?), in such a tawdry trial by sanctioned media, without due process of the law, without giving the accused the equal opportunity of right of reply, or to defend himself.

No one questions the prerogative of any national leader to dismiss any or even all of his ministers, but must the media be party to the vile and quasi-pornographic depictions on the front-pages, to justify support for those purported crimes?
Surely, everyone deserves some semblance of respect for the law, to allow natural justice to be carried out, by due process.

Even in Malaysia, any accused must be regarded as not guilty until proven otherwise in the court of law. Are we entering a new political era where we can now summarily accuse, judge and then sentence anyone in the courtroom of the mass media? Are we not edging perilously close to a totalitarian, a fascist or a police state?

Lopsided news with suppression or censorship of legitimate dissenting views appear to be the new order of the day, particularly conspicuous, after the sudden resignations of the editors of two major newspapers, and the CEO of a TV station. In their places have sprung sycophantic and jaundiced justifications and diatribes, which further strain the press’ objectivity and belie their underlying motives.

Taken together, this smacks of a concerted yet preemptive strike by the authorities that be, to stifle or restrict possible voices of dissent. This augurs poorly and alarmingly for constitutional freedom of expression, so jealously guarded by all modern Malaysians.

Thus, we as ordinary citizens and as concerned professionals should be aware that, the shape of our society, now and in the future, would depend upon our acceptance or resistance of the rapidly changing sociopolitical landscape that we have been thrust into.

While all of us eschew social and political unrest and uncertainty, and renounce violence of all sorts, we must not fear change or reform for the better. For sure it is safer and far more comfortable to adhere to the status quo: “better the devil you know than the one you don’t.”

However, we should also realize that ultimately our children and we would have to inherit whatever legacy the present quandary leaves behind.
We might be saddled with an immense but fossilized yoke of outmoded autocracy – one that might be impossible to crack, henceforth.

We could be retreating several decades back in time in terms of sociopolitical development, where all our hard-fought civil liberty becomes consumed in the fires of authoritarian might and dictates. Our way of life and freedom to choose, might become the ossified relics of autocratic decrees of potential neo-colonialists and despots.

In discussing revitalization of society, philosopher Dr Alfred North Whitehead, had said that
“the art of free society consists first in the maintenance of the symbolic code, and secondly, in the fearlessness of revision... Those societies, which cannot combine reverence to their symbols with freedom of revision, must ultimately decay...”

As concerned citizens and as part of the caring profession, we as doctors urge the powers that be to re-examine their individual conscience vis-à-vis their own political agendas and temper these with that of the nation.
We hope that we will not slowly slip into the quicksand of “Might is Right” mindset.

We urge the authorities to reconsider their progressively heavy-handed approach in trying to stifle legitimate expressions of dissent, through peaceful but visible means.
While all of us do not wish for mob rule or political unrest which could undermine our peace-loving yet fragile multicultural society, we must explore the reasons why, such spontaneous expressions of dissent as demonstrations, are sprouting up, again and again, in defiance of our usual love for law and order. Could it be because, there are no other legitimate avenues for popular dissent?

When a restless populace becomes frustrated and disenchanted with the establishment, can it not justifiably resort to some other form of protest, where they can make their views be heard or seen? While we do not condone any violence, can we not respect the right of the people to assemble peacefully, despite the inconvenience this might bring about to some of us?

Do we need to constantly harp on the potential dangers of unintentional racial flare-ups, when there is no such ethnic tension to begin with? Should the spectre of remote ethnic unrest forever deter us from fair or rational thinking in supporting a just course, in wanting a more liberal and open society?

Or do we subsume to a climate of insidious yet not-too-subtle intimidation and repression? Are we to be forever ruled by circumstances and fear of the bogeyman May13, 1969?

We are pained that peaceful and orderly demonstrations have been routed into running street battles with the police, who should be the logical safeguards and not the heavy-handed enforcers of the law. Violent repression of unarmed and otherwise peaceful people cannot be justified, under any circumstances.

Brutality and torture of whatever form exercised in the apprehension of non-resisting law-breakers or those already in custody is never acceptable in today’s civil society.
The right of anyone in captivity or under detention to be treated humanely, without arbitrary excesses of either physical or mental torture, and to be legally represented, is a treasured universal human right, which we should never compromise with.

Similarly, Malaysians who feel strongly that they want to protest or demonstrate must remember that they should never resort to violence – as violence begets more violence. They should consider that it is far more worthwhile and effective to espouse the great philosophy of passive non-violent resistance (satyagraha), as so passionately championed by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Therefore, we plead with the authorities to temperate their exuberance of law enforcement with a touch of humanity, in trying to tame down a restless yet peaceful if vociferous crowd. They must exercise the greatest restraint when carrying out their difficult tasks of enforcing the law particularly on an unarmed but passionate people, even if they believed them to be misguided.

We hope and pray for a return to sanity and dialogue, so that the painful events that have erupted thus far be made a thing of the past. We urge that justice and reform be allowed to showcase our political maturity in tackling sociopolitical differences.

Malaysians must resist the temptation to allow the looming spectre of absolutist repression or violent social upheaval from changing our social and political landscape, forever."

[Editorial Commentary in Berita MMA (MMA News), October 1998]