Thursday, November 25, 2010

Malaysian Insider: Unfair to deny Anwar’s defence access to documents, says Bar Council.... By Boo Su-Lyn

Unfair to deny Anwar’s defence access to documents, says Bar Council

Malaysian Insider, November 25, 2010

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 25 — The Bar Council has called the courts’ refusal to allow Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim access to documents in his Sodomy II trial a violation of his right to a fair trial.

Recently, the High Court here denied the Opposition Leader access to three Hospital Kuala Lumpur (HKL) doctors’ medical notes, although the court subsequently granted him access yesterday to a proforma report prepared by HKL forensic pathologist Dr Siew Sheue Feng.

A proforma report is a form or a list prepared by a doctor before performing an examination on a patient.

In January, the Federal Court had also denied Anwar access to key documents he sought to prepare his defence, and ruled that he was only entitled to documents and materials related to the charge that had already been provided to him.

“Some of these recent court decisions...have been myopic and regrettably regressive,” said Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan in a statement today.

“They have in fact whittled down the strength of this vital tenet, rendering it meaningless and subverting the accused person’s right to a fair trial,” he added, referring to section 51A of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) that covers the production of documents and information in a trial.

Ragunath pointed out that section 51A of the CPC was meant to reduce inequalities between the prosecution and the defence.

“We believe that, in enacting section 51A of the Criminal Procedure Code to expand and strengthen the principle governing production of documents, the government made plain its intention to level the playing field between the prosecution and the defence, and to increase transparency and fairness in the country’s criminal justice system,” he said.

Among the documents that the Federal Court had refused Anwar were chemist reports, medical notes, CCTV recordings, DNA samples, witness statements, and a witness list.

Ragunath pointed out that it was crucial for the prosecution to fully disclose information to all parties so that a judge could make an informed decision.

“It is the responsibility of all parties, including the judge, to ensure that the prosecution complies with full disclosure in terms of the information provided to the parties involved and produced in court,” he said.

“Only when all these elements are present can the judge make an informed decision on the credibility of the witnesses, and the weight to be given to their testimony,” he added.

Ragunath claimed that refusal to produce documents or information would mar public perception of the criminal justice system.

“Non-production of any documents and information merely gives rise to the perception, in the public mind, of a cover-up and would surely erode public confidence in the criminal justice system,” he added.

Anwar, the 62-year-old PKR de facto leader, is currently facing sodomy charges for the second time in his life.

The former deputy prime minister is charged with sodomising Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan at Unit 11-5-1 of the Desa Damansara Condominium in Jalan Setiakasih, Bukit Damansara here between 3.01pm and 4.30pm on June 26, 2008.

Anwar has denied the charge, describing it as “evil, frivolous lies by those in power” when the charge was read out to him. He is charged under section 377B of the Penal Code and can be sentenced to a maximum of 20 years’ jail and whipping upon conviction.

The trial is taking place 18 months after Anwar was charged in court in August 2008.

He was charged with sodomy and corruption in 1998 after he was sacked from the Cabinet and was later convicted and jailed for both offences.

He was freed in September 2004 and later resurrected his political career by winning back his Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat in a by-election in 2008, which had been held in the interim by his wife.

He had two years ago led the loose opposition pact of PKR, DAP and PAS to a historic sweep of five states and 82 parliamentary seats in Election 2008.

“The Malaysian Bar urges the court to exercise its preserve the rights of accused persons and in the interest of justice,” said Ragunath today.

“This concern is relevant not only to the Anwar Ibrahim case, but is applicable to the entire criminal justice system,” he added.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Royalty Extraordinaire (Raja Zarith Sofiah)... by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Royalty Extraordinaire

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee
CPI Asia

With their front page headlines highlighting developments on the massive Sime loss, readers of the country’s two main English papers may not have noticed the news report of the speech by Raja Zarith Sofiah Sultan Idris Shah, the consort of the Sultan of Johor, which was buried in the inner pages.

The occasion of the speech was a conference on ‘Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason’ held on Nov 16 in Kuala Lumpur. The prime mover of the meeting in which I participated as a panelist was PCORE, a group that is representative of Malaysians who embrace and share the notion of peace as the way forward to achieve unity and integration.

Credit must go to the PCORE leadership for bringing together a diverse mix of young and older people from different backgrounds to voice their frank concerns on current issues and developments in the country.

For me the real star of the conference was Raja Zarith Sofiah. Readers who missed the news item may be interested in the excerpt from the news report of her speech.

“In her keynote address at the Voices of Peace, Conscience and Reason conference, she described the use of ‘pendatang’ to describe non-Bumiputeras as “hurtful and ignorant”, and that more discussions were needed to address and resolve the gulf between ethnic and religious communities.

“Rather than simplify and shy away from sensitive issues, we should fight destructive rhetoric with constructive dialogue. It is shameful when apparently educated and mature individuals use such terms or suggest fellow Malaysians go back to where they came from.

Describing her own ancestral background as a mix between Sumatran and Peranakan Chinese, she said it was important to recognise the diversity of Malaysian society, brought about by centuries of interracial and interfaith marriages and communication.” (New Straits Times, Nov 17, 2010)

This open and proud acknowledgment of her mixed ancestral background is quite unprecedented. It puts to shame the way in which many of our leaders who have a similar mixed ancestry either try to hide or suppress the inconvenient truth, or engage in flaunting or agitating a mono-ethnic or religious stance as if this has been part of their, and the country’s DNA from time immemorial.

Raja Zarith Sofiah’s speech was much more than what was reported in the newspapers. It also covered her personal experience and thinking on religions and the importance for Muslims to learn about other cultures and religions and their heritage.

She spoke from the heart, simply and without the need for any convoluted intellectual argument or high sounding clichés to drive home the importance of cherishing and protecting the country that belongs to all of us — highly or lowly born; brown, yellow or black; and worshipping one, many or no god.

Leaders may not be aware of the wide ranging accomplishments and interests of Raja Zarith Sofiah. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and Master’s Degree from Oxford University (her BA is in Chinese Studies). Besides Malay and English, she is able to communicate in Mandarin, Italian and French. She is a patron of the arts, an artist and author who has written children’s books including Puteri Gunung Ledang. She is also the columnist of The Star’s ‘Mind Matters’ column, and let out that her articles are being put together in book form soon.

Although I am a republican at heart, logic tells me that we may need the type of monarchy she personifies more than ever to hold the country together and to remind us of our common humanity. With her and other royalty who care for the country in the way she does, there is greater hope that the nation can overcome the racial and religious demons that torment us.

Finally, I should point out that I was privileged to sit at her table where I and others — during the lunch chit-chat on topics ranging from how the handphone and Skype have transformed our lives to the inconvenience of sleep apnea – learnt that she has sleepless nights thinking about the predicament of our country and our people, and wondering how best she can be of service. The insomnia that troubles her, I am sure, also afflicts all of us concerned about the way ahead for the country.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

ANU Lecture: Social Justice and Political Change: The Malaysian Experience.... By Anwar Ibrahim

Social Justice and Political Change: The Malaysian Experience

Lecture by Anwar Ibrahim at the Australian National University, Canberra, Monday, 15th November 2010

I would like to take a moment to express our joy on the release of Aung San Su Kyi. As we all know, her right to political office was denied through the most repressive of means. But driven by her conviction for freedom and democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi soldiered on from strength to strength against all odds. This long overdue freedom will nevertheless give renewed hope for the people of Burma and she will continue to inspire freedom fighters and champions of democracy and justice throughout the world.

Speaking of democracy and justice, I see a clear nexus with the topic at hand. Here in Canberra, no doubt a shining symbol of democracy in Asia, it is apt that I begin my talk on social justice with a clear statement of what democracy entails. Apart from the fundamental requirements of freedom and the rule of law, democracy is also presumed to be defined by the conditions of a free market. And this is where the founding fathers of the French Revolution with their clarion call for liberty, equality and fraternity missed their mark.

This is because a free market is based on competition, and competition, being a zero-sum game has no truck with equality. On the contrary, free market engenders inequality so much so that even the bastions of capitalism such as America and Britain no longer ask whether states ought to intervene in order to reduce these inequities.

The question is to what extent? The invisible hand has remained invisible so often that governments in the free world have not only intervened but have in some cases staked out their territory in areas which were once considered totally off-limits.

Various explanations have been given. The most defensible at least in theory is social justice. According to one view, state intervention is advocated by a “soft-hearted majority” while a “hard-boiled minority” would willingly accept or even rejoice in the inequality.1 This seems to suggest that at least for a certain segment of society, inequality is not seen to be unjust. Defenders of the French Revolution claim that equality has less to do with wealth than with equal treatment before the law. But we all know that deprived of the basic necessities of living, the law is a luxury that the poor man cannot afford. Hence, the need for social justice.

But this begs the question: is there an objective standard of social justice? Philosophers have locked horns on this and I don’t intend to reinvent the wheel here. Nevertheless, to put the issue in proper perspective, from John Locke we are told that “every man has by nature the right to possess property as his own.” We may therefore reasonably deduce that social justice is not in the equation here. John Rawls talks about ‘justice as fairness’ and advocates the notion of distributive justice. Libertarians such as Robert Nozick contend that justice can only be attained through a minimalist state. In other words, there is no room for distributive justice let alone social justice.

In Christianity, particularly under Catholic social teaching, life and dignity of the human person is predicated on the belief that the state must play a moral role to ensure social justice. This is not far from the essence of Mencius’s teachings in advocating that actions are to be judged by their moral correctness, not mere economic benefit. And Islam enjoins that while society may pursue commerce to its fullest, justice and fairness in dealings must remain the chief criterion. Social justice is enjoined in order to establish a humane economy. The point is that advocates of social justice today are in good company and need not feel that they have to be unshaven Bohemian leftists or disgruntled anti-globalization activists to show that they are genuine.

However, you can’t be calling for social justice without expecting political change. Inequalities of wealth, power and status are certainly not the privilege of nations practicing free markets though it is true that in theory socialist states have more egalitarian policies. That’s only the theory because reality bites hard and we know the enormous price that people under socialist regimes have had to pay for the so-called egalitarian lifestyle. To be equally poor is of no consolation. As Martin Luther Jr. once said: “The curse of poverty has no justification.”

Political change is therefore a condition precedent to attaining social justice if it is shown that a society is heading down the road to greater social perdition under its present government. There must be political will to change its socio-economic policies. In this regard, the Economic Transformation Program that was recently unveiled by the Najib administration bears analysis. The numbers are impressive, if not altogether mindboggling. All told, we are looking at more than RM1 trillion in so-called expansionary development and projects calculated at transforming a middle-income economy to a high-income economy.

On closer analysis, however, we are unable to connect the dots to see that critical mass in poverty reduction programs that would be needed to narrow the current gap between the rich and the poor. To seriously address the growing GINI coefficient, general and vague expressions of targeting for higher per capita income simply won’t do. We don’t see concrete plans to address the housing problems of the poor and a blue print for universal free education. We don’t see any comprehensive health care for those who can’t afford private medication and hospitals.

What we see is a frenzied conviction to outdo the megalomaniacal visions of the Mahathir era. We see grandiose designs, humongous structures, buildings taller than the KLCC Twin Towers and other mega projects that are destined to make crony companies outperform others in the share market and the rich and powerful, richer and more powerful. On balance, we see monumental wastage at the expense of the people and the environment. We see the future of our children and the generations to come being sacrificed on the altar of greed and the illegitimate amassing of wealth.

The rent-seeking culture will continue with the manner in which multi-million ringgit contracts are doled out. The issues of governance, transparency and accountability are not addressed even as the indices on transparency and corruption continue to drive investors away. Transforming an economy cannot be done through mere theory –the litmus test is implementation. The condition precedent to passing this test is to put an end to the culture of corruption, rent-seeking, and power abuse.

Now, at this juncture one may well accuse me of being a socialist advocating a welfare state. The answer to that is simple: I make no apology for calling for a more equitable distribution of wealth in as much as I make no apology for maintaining that the safeguarding of fundamental liberties is also one of the main ends of political and social justice. These liberties are of paramount importance but as Amartya Sen has argued, other considerations including that of economic needs are just as vital.
To my mind, he has posed a stunningly simple but compelling question: “Why should the status of intense economic needs, which can be matters of life and death, be lower than that of personal liberties?”2

In my humble view, some basic formulations for the attainment of social justice may be advanced. Governments must be committed to the principle that a more equitable distribution of income is a fundamental precept for the realization of social justice. It is on this platform that I urge my government to undertake integrated plans for poverty reduction in the long run while ensuring a comprehensive support system for the poor and economically marginalized. Economic power must be checked by the principles of governance and accountability. Are we supposed to sit idly by as politicians in public office continue to renege on their promises of social justice while scandalizing the institutions of power with abuse and corrupt practices?

Finally, the discourse on social justice and political change in the context of Malaysia must also be seen in the light of our multi-cultural make up where communal tensions run the risk of being exploited by “sectarian demagoguery”.3 We must therefore reject ideological rigidity and the politics of hate and exclusiveness in all its forms. Politics of this kind engenders divisive barriers whether they are founded on ethnicity, language or religion.

When communal violence erupts and innocent lives are lost, a nation is jolted into the realization that peace and harmony among the people is always a transient phenomenon. One day, it’s there and the next day, it may just come tumbling down under the weight of sectarian strife, or religious conflict or class wars arising from social inequities and economic deprivation.

It is often only after the fact, when events of a cataclysmic nature unfold, that the policy makers and social pundits get jolted to the reality that freedom could be meaningless without food on the table or that the rule of law may still discriminate on grounds of caste, wealth and status.

This is the caveat, the mental construct we should bear in mind when we talk about social justice and political change in Malaysia. It is a stark reminder that peace in our time must be more important than just material progress. In a multi-cultural society like Malaysia’s it is therefore incumbent on leaders to shoulder the responsibility as protectors of this fragility.

In this regard we must condemn in the strongest terms the racist chanting of modern day demagogues. Playing to the gallery is well and good if all we’re looking for is just a good round of applause. But when you have at your disposal the organs of state power and the entire state controlled electronic and print media, the propagation of supremacist doctrines backed by the threat of violence is not only immoral and utterly irresponsible but blatantly criminal.

At the very least, we would expect such leaders to urge for inclusiveness and greater understanding and respect among the communities and not to stoke the fire of racial discord.

To paraphrase Macbeth, they should against the murderer shut the door, not bear the knife themselves.
Thank you.

Friday, November 12, 2010

malaysiakini: What it takes to be the Third Force... by Kua Kia Soong

What it takes to be the Third Force
Kua Kia Soong
malaysiakini, Nov 12, 2010, 5:24pm
The menagerie of Malaysian politics keeps getting bigger. We had toads, donkeys and moronic oxen. Now they have been joined by chameleons.

Zaid Ibrahim's recent tantrum against the PKR leadership has started the speculations about a Third Force again. Some bloggers are also sounding out the formation of a Third Force. But what exactly are they offering that's different from Pakatan Rakyat? That they are more 'principled' and more capable than Pakatan representatives? Is that enough?

If there is one thing all Malaysian democrats have in common, it is that we have a common aim of ridding the country of 53 years of Barisan Nasional's misrule and oppression. But let us first examine the so-called 'politicians of integrity'.

'Born again' democrats

Since the political tsunami of 2008, we have witnessed the sudden 'change of heart' of former BN politicians – Zaid Ibrahim, Chua Jui Meng, even my old opponent in Petaling Jaya, Soh Chee Wen, to name but a few.

How do we know these are truly 'born again' democrats?

I propose they should first demonstrate their sincerity to the rakyat by publicly giving their testimonies about that 'Aha!' moment when it finally dawned on them that their former association with the BN was 'oh! such foolish immaturity and misguided thinking'.

They should then give us their class analysis of the BN and what their vision and ideals are for the rakyat. Yes, I suggest they go around the country to try to convince the people that they have truly seen the light and now want to serve the people, not to further their careers.

Up to now, I still haven't heard what 'vision' these former BN politicians have in store for the people except that they had 'joined Pakatan'. After the Zaid episode, I wonder what transpires during the walk-in interview with the Pakatan leadership when these former BN leaders join the opposition pact.

I have tried to search for the substance of the 'visionary' Zaid Ibrahim, but I can't find it! I have only heard his hazy support of liberalism and democracy.

So how is this Third Force going to ensure that their leaders are not going to jump ship? If the answer is that the Third Force politicians have 'higher' political principles than those of Pakatan, how do you measure the level of 'principled-ness'? What guarantees can they give the rakyat?

Policies not personalities

Let's face it, if the Third Force is the same as, or on the political right of Pakatan, then forget it – we're doomed to repeat the same mistakes. Spare us.

The Third Force has to go beyond the populism and neo-liberalism of Pakatan and provide the substance of reform. At the last panel discussion on 'neo-liberalism' that I shared with Zaid, he said that he was not clear about what exactly 'neo-liberalism' is but that he was a liberal and a democrat!

The most fundamental reform has to go beyond Pakatan's 'The Peoples' Declaration':
  • to protect our public services from privatisation and to nationalise the already privatised essential services;
  • to defend the social right to employment, welfare provision, education;
  • to initiate popular participation and control, especially unionisation;
  • to initiate forms of democratic self-management in the nationalised industries to be run for the common good;
  • to implement a progressive tax system
Concrete reforms, not rhetoric

Apart from the concrete socio-economic reforms above, the Third Force must provide other specific tangible proposals for reform, for example:
  • How many Chinese and Tamil schools do they plan to build?
  • How much of the defence budget do they plan to cut?
  • What is their alternative defence policy?
  • How will they implement the demand management of water and energy?
  • What is their concrete plan to bring the poor out of poverty and raise the living standards of the East Malaysian masses?
  • What is their 'New Deal' for the indigenous peoples of Malaysia?
  • What is their 'transformation plan' for the 500 over New Villages in the country in which our small and medium enterprises are located?
  • When will they give land titles to all who have lived in/used their homes for a 'settled' length of time, such as those inhabiting New Villages for more than 50 years?
  • An affordable and efficient public transport system to serve the majority of the people as a priority;
  • An affordable sustainable peoples' public housing programme for the majority.
This list is certainly not exhaustive but from the foregoing, it is clear that there is no place in the Third Force for careerists no matter how 'principled' they claim they are.

A Third Force of substance has to be the political left of Pakatan, and it is meant to take our country beyond the neo-liberalism of BN and Pakatan toward a 'Peoples' Federation of Malaysia'.

KUA KIA SOONG, a former MP, was principal of the New Era College, Kajang. He is also a director of human rights group Suaram.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

malaysiakini: Last refuge of a scoundrel... By Kee Thuan Chye

Last refuge of a scoundrel

By Kee Thuan Chye | Nov 11, 10

COMMENT “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” So said Samuel Johnson, the famous British man of letters. He is believed to have said that to condemn the false use of the term “patriotism”.

The same can be applied to Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi. However, in the Malaysian context, it might be read as “When you want to malign some people, you call them unpatriotic”.

In Parliament recently, this minister said that among the reasons for the small number of Chinese and Indians joining the armed forces was their lack of patriotism. It was so sweeping, so unsupported by evidence, that it could amount to nothing more than a false claim. What was his real motive for saying what he said?

More than that, it is indeed false patriotism to say that if you don’t join the army, you are not patriotic. Nothing could be more ridiculous than that. It is the same kind of thinking that goes along these lines – “if you are not with me, then you are not patriotic”.

Extended further, it is the same kind of thinking that informs the BN propaganda – if you don’t vote for BN, you are not patriotic. This, of course, is the ultimate hogwash.

Patriotism can be expressed in many ways that people tend to overlook. Those who campaign against a government that is corrupt because they want to see reform and the emergence of a better country are patriots. Those who stand up in defence of our institutions and our freedoms are patriots. Those who uphold principles in the work they do daily are patriots. Those who go out daily to do a decent day’s work to earn an income to feed their family and pay their taxes are patriots.

Unfortunately, our government has a narrow definition of patriotism. Apart from joining the army, it’s flying the national flag on Merdeka Day. The latter preoccupation is mostly surface display. What counts more is the intrinsic feeling a Malaysian has for his country. I don’t believe in flag-waving but I can bet that I’m more of a patriot than corrupt politicians who seek to suck our riches dry.

Truth to be told
Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the US, has something significant to share on one of the meanings of patriotism:

“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country.

“It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”

In these volatile times and in the face of the many trials we are going through, these words should strike a chord among Malaysians. Now is the time to tell the truth – not to hide it, to manipulate it, or to dish out the ultimate hogwash.

Samuel Johnson was someone who valued true patriotism. For a poignant example of that in our own country, we need only look at the Second World War and ask who the true patriots were at the time.
Who fought the Japanese when the British army had surrendered and fled? To some Malaysians, it is taboo to consider the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) patriotic, but the evidence suggests the contrary.

How can the CPM not be considered patriotic when it refused to give in to the Japanese while other Malayans took the easy option of collaborating with the enemy? And although there were valiant Malays and Indians in the CPM, who were most of its members if not Chinese?

Of course, the fact that the CPM provided patriotic resistance against the Japanese is not known by many Malaysians. It has been expunged or distorted in our history books.

The current History syllabus at SPM level is clearly written by the victors, i.e. BN, mostly Umno. Just look at the Malaysian section of the textbook and you will see how the subjective selection of what goes into it serves to manipulate the truth.

Now that it has been decreed that History is to be a must-pass subject at SPM, you can bet the new syllabus will be constructed to further serve the victors’ cause. Malaysians would be naïve to believe that “history is history and we cannot concoct something that is not history”, as said by Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. While they may not concoct, they can nonetheless construct.

History is a construct. It is not objective; it can be manipulated. How it is told depends on who is writing it. If Muhyiddin does not know that – which is unlikely – we at least should be aware.

Yap Ah Loy and Co
MCA president Chua Soi Lek could have been more explicit and to-the-point when he responded to Ahmad Zahid’s statement.

He could have mentioned Chin Peng and the CPM.

He could have mentioned the sacrifices of Yap Ah Loy and his band of 87 miners who were the first to set up a mining camp at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak rivers, 17 of whom died within the first month from malaria. That became the base from which Kuala Lumpur grew.

He could have mentioned the late Tan Chee Khoon who worked tirelessly to promote non-communal politics in Malaysia, and who fought against attempts to pervert the Constitution.

It is not enough for Chua to make general statements saying that the Chinese remained loyal to the country during the Japanese Occupation and the Indonesian confrontation, to illustrate the patriotism of the Chinese. He needs to give concrete examples.

His party has expressed concern about what the content of the new SPM History syllabus will be. Will the MCA do all it can to ensure that the new construct will include truths from various sides? Will it do all it can to ensure that the new syllabus reflects the patriotism of Malaysians regardless of race?

M. Kulasegaran, the MP for Ipoh Barat, made an important and pertinent point when he reminded Malaysians that non-Malays had headed the armed forces before, citing the excellent example of Rear-Admiral K Thanabalasingam, who was appointed the first Malaysian chief of the Royal Malaysian Navy in 1967.

How many Malaysians knew that? Would that be reflected in the new History syllabus?

There was a time when an Indian could be the chief of the country’s navy. When will that ever happen again? Meanwhile, is there any wonder that non-Malays are not keen to join the armed forces?

Ahmad Zahid, why don’t you tell us the truth?

KEE THUAN CHYE is the author of ‘March 8: The Day Malaysia Woke Up’, which just won 3rd prize in the Popular Readers’ Choice Awards. It has also been translated into Chinese.

malaysiakini: Unpatriotic non-Malays: Gov't should ask why... Lim Teck Ghee

Unpatriotic non-Malays: Gov't should ask why
Lim Teck Ghee
malaysiakini, Nov 11, 10, 6:49pm
Defence Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi should be commended for stating in Parliament that the reason Chinese and Indians made up only a tiny proportion of Army recruits was because their "patriotism spirit is not high enough".

This is because he has inadvertently brought out into the open a perception which is shared by the majority of Malay leaders and also possibly by a very large proportion of the Malay population. It is a perception that should not be suppressed - on the contrary, it needs to be fully aired and dissected so that rational thinking and fact-based policy formulation shall prevail.

What has been criticised as a "racially biased, shallow and chauvinistic" statement questioning the loyalty of young Malaysians may in fact be correct.

Non-Malays may be much less patriotic than Malays which accounts for their low enrolment in the military and civil service, as well as for their lack of participation in other national activities when patriotism and loyalty to the country are showcased. But it could also be wrong as it ignores other factors that may be instrumental in explaining the low number of recruits.

In many countries of the world, it has been found that the main factor underlying military recruitment is the socio-economic class that recruits come from. This is likely to be a major explanation for the past and current trend of recruitment in Malaysia too. It is unlikely that we will find recruits coming from youths of the middle or upper class of Malaysian society - whatever their community or sense of patriotism - now or in the future.

The only way to find out whether this larger perception of the lack of loyalty and patriotism of non-Malays - as compared with other communities - is correct or wrong is to carry out rigorous studies on the disputed subject and not to silence the messenger. Following from these rigorous studies and the wide dissemination of their findings, a more rational discussion and analysis can take place in Parliament and in the public arena.

It is important that these studies on the subject of patriotism and loyalty amongst different communities in the country as well as on the related issues of the lack of non-Malay participation in the army and other sectors of the public service should be conducted by credible and independent researchers. In view of the sensitive and controversial nature of the topics, it may be too much to expect our local social scientists and researchers to conduct these studies without fear or favour.

Outsourcing the studies to reputable institutions from abroad which have a strong track record for carrying out ethnic perception research - in collaboration with local teams - may be a possible way forward in carrying out these urgently needed studies.

At the same time, there is a need to sustain the public space to explore, analyse, and arrive at a more informed, coherent, and sympathetic understanding of how our multi-ethnic society works and does not work. For that reason, we should not seek to silence these statements, baseless or shallow or insensitive as they may be.

If politicians in the country remain true to the facts and their views are based on the scrupulous adherence to evidence produced by researchers and more informed stakeholders, it can only benefit our nation by holding them to higher standards of knowledge, responsibility and governance.

Finally, if there is indeed a lack of loyalty and patriotism amongst young non-Malays, then clearly the country is in deep trouble and we should address the root causes immediately.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

LKS blog: Transformation starts with transition... By Thomas Lee

Transformation starts with transition

By Thomas Lee

In one of my recent postings on Facebook, I stated that my choice for Prime Minister is Nurul Izzah, the intellectual and independent-minded eldest daughter of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim.

My good old friend Chong Phow Yew asked why I opted for the unbranded maverick young lady, and not veteran DAP leader Lim Kit Siang or his popular luminous son Guan Eng.
True, either Kit Siang or Guan Eng will make a first-class PM, perhaps even better than Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore.

But the political reality in Malaysia is such that as long as the race factor is the major consideration in Malaysia, the pragmatism is that the time is not ripe yet for the acceptance of a non-Malay PM, even if the person is a Chinese Muslim. It took the US more than 200 years to finally accept and elect a Black American as its president. Even so, President Barrack Obama’s religious faith is a matter of controvery until now.

A period of transition is needed, during which liberal moderate and intelligent Malays like Nurul Izzah, Zaid Ibrahim, Khalid Ibrahim, Nizar Jammuludin, Khalid Samad, Harris Ibrahim, Raja Putra Kamarudin and many others, who have no racial inferiority complex, no intellectual insecurity, and no social inadequacy, could initiate a mental revolution among the new generation of Malaysians to have a broadened perspective in life and thoughts.

Hence, I strongly support the sending of our students overseas for further studies, hoping that the exposure, experience and education would help in broadening their worldview and transforming them to be more rational, inclusive and judicious in their life and thought, with a real discreet sense of values and wisdom.

Unfortunately, this is not happening, as most of them who are supposed to be “educated” nowadays seem to lack the intelligence and intellectual capacity, the sagacious discernment, good judgment, and astute ability to accurately assess situations or people. Some are downright dishonest to what they personally know and understand, and sell their souls and principles for the sake of money, positions and power. Take the case of one who calls himself an “intellectual” who wrote a doctorate thesis on the evil of the Internal Security Act (ISA), but who rebuts his own research findings by endorsing and supporting the oppressive law when offered a top government post.

Basically, what is woefully wrong in our nation is the fundamental lack of a clear and comprehensible education philosophy based on truth, honesty, scholarly orientation, and an objective worldview. What we are having now is a baffling perplexing education system premised upon racial and political expediency, with nary a concern for the real mental and intellectual development of the young minds. Even a very ingenuous matter like the learning of languages such as English or mother tongues has been turned into a controversial polemic dispute with an ugly racial overtone.

The recent proposal by the federal government to make History a must-pass subject in the SPM has, not surprisingly, elicited reactions and responses from various quarters, mostly concerned about the reinterpretation and reenactment of the local history based on racial factors.

History per se is a very subjective subject, involving the interpretation of events, facts and figures. The narration of historical events is generally coloured by the personal perception, bias, and skewed orientation of the interpreter. The fact that an event took place could not be disputed, but how and why it happened are subjected to interpretation by the historian. The May 13 incident, for example, did happen, but there are many versions of how and why it happened, depending on who is doing the interpretation and reporting of the incident.

Hence, the study of History in our schools is a highly contentious and querulous matter, especially with regards to the official textbooks which are perceived by many people to be tainted with twisted inferences to promote certain racial agenda or political objective.

What we need now is to work for a real transformation of our nation into a truly demoncratic liberal society with thriving and flourishing fundamental common universal values such as the acceptance and respect for each other, without the discriminative coloured considerations of racial, religious, cultural, linguistic, gender, and economic class status. The basic human, civil, and constitutional rights of all citizens must be preserved, protected and promoted.

The destiny of our nation and the fate of our children are in our own hands, and what we, as citizens of Malaysia, must do is to stand up and be counted, by doing our individual part in the promotion, persuasion, and performance of tranforming our nation into a place where everyone of us is proud to call home. Don’t allow the march to Putrajaya to turn from a virtual dream into a dreadful nightmare!

Monday, November 8, 2010

TMI: Beyond the economics of merit... By Kapil Sethi

Beyond the economics of merit

By Kapil Sethi

TMI: November 08, 2010

NOV 8 — A new Talent Corporation is to be set up to reverse brain drain. Lots of glitzy new infrastructure projects will be implemented under the ETP. A slew of performance benchmarks will ensure that there are no goof-ups at the implementation stage. All this and more is supposed to move us out of the middle-income trap into a high-growth, high-income trajectory to become developed by 2020.

Are these pipe dreams or an achievable vision of the future? Economic models and projections are just that — models and projections based on hard data. Life,on the other hand, has a peculiar habit of intervening at the most inopportune time to turn the so-called future on its head. It’s called the human factor.

In all kinds of collective human endeavour, for any project to succeed, clear ambition and an even clearer unity of purpose are prerequisites. We have to want to put up a theatre production, and everyone has to play their appointed parts in synchronicity for it to be a success. A corporation has to be hungry for new business, and the sales team has to play their parts to perfection in a pitch to the prospective client for the company to be successful. Even for wars to be prosecuted successfully, a clear enemy and a committed military operating as one are essential.

In our case, the ambition to be a developed nation by 2020 is clear and has been for a while now. Where it breaks down is in the unity of purpose. We all want to be rich, but insist that other races in the country are impeding our path.

Is following the NEP for another 10 years the way to do it? Is emphasising merit also racist, as implied by a senior statesman recently? Does the current government know best and should we give them a chance? Is throwing money after it the solution? Or is using predictive economics the way to go?

It might be worthwhile to step back and understand why we are unable to derive a consensus on how to approach the issue.

In front of a global audience, we are able to forget race. We claim ownership of Lee Chong Wei, Shalin Zulkifli and Nicol David equally proudly. When we visit a nasi lemak stall in London, we introduce it to Mat Sallehs as a Malaysian, not Malay dish. In business especially in the private sector, we treat each other as colleagues in task accomplishment. Love increasingly has no boundaries.

It is actually only in situations that we are surrounded primarily by people of our race that we play up the perceived differences between us. It is after all a very fundamental social characteristic to protect the ones closest to us and repel all others who are identified as the other.

But in the context of our economic ambitions, emphasis on race is a hindrance because it frames the definition of “us” very narrowly, and the “other” too widely. If we aggregate the strengths of all of us, Malaysia has to compete with the rest of the world. But if we emphasise the strengths of only a race, then we have to first compete with other races before competing with the rest of the world.

Whatever be their other shortcomings, the current crop of politicians have not been slow to recognise this. When it comes down to it, both coalitions before deciding which candidate to put up for elections look at “winnability” — a peculiar amalgam of the ethnic composition of the electorate, the loyalty of the candidate to the party, his personality and positions on issues, even her smile.

The appeal of the prospective candidate has to generally go beyond race today. The wider the definition of “us”, the greater the winnability of the candidate. As we have witnessed in several by-elections, once the decision is made and there is grassroots acceptance of the winnability of the candidate, there appears a unity of purpose in the ranks and momentum can be shifted, a no-hoper made a serious contender and vice versa.

This is not to say that we should just bury our racial differences, but in a hyper competitive world we need to widen our definition of “us” in our public lives to accommodate all Malaysians so we can achieve our economic ambitions. This is why the call for a merit- and needs-based model for the future is more in consonance with our ambition than a race-based model.

Expansion of educational and workplace opportunities on the basis of merit and/or economic needs does not need to diminish our racial identity, it just aligns our skillsets to the economic realities of the world. In today’s world, affirmative action needs to support every citizen’s right to opportunity, unhindered by a lack of means.

Race has its place in our private and social lives, but if we want to achieve our economic goals, it should not have any place in school, not in sport and certainly not in business. Race and merit need to co-exist, not compete. Our ambitions need to be aided with an even clearer unity of purpose.

At home though, surrounded by people of my own kind you can always find me with a bottle of whisky in my hand loudly denouncing all those who call us alcoholics.

Kapil is an advertising strategist turned brand consultant based in KL, who likes nothing better than to figure out why people behave the way they do. Naturally this forces him to spend most of his time lounging in coffeeshops and bars. He can be reached at 

malaysiakini: Upholding the nation’s origins... By Clive Kessler

Upholding the nation’s origins

By Clive Kessler

NOV 8 — Their royal highnesses, the Rulers of the Malay states, following their recent October meeting as the Conference of Rulers, have urged all Malaysians to heed the nation’s history. Citizens, they remind us, must recognise the obligation upon all Malaysians to share the land and its benefits equitably. Their highnesses accordingly call upon all Malaysians to respect and uphold “the social  contract”.

More recently, in his regular “Reflecting on the Law” column in The Star (“Unifying Role of the Rulers”, November 3), the nation’s leading constitutional scholar Prof Shad Saleem Faruqi voiced a similar plea. Again, he insists, history must be acknowledged, it cannot be denied. There is no skirting around its legacy. The land and its bounty are to be shared in a fashion that is mindful of and faithful to the nation’s historical foundations. All the nation’s citizens, both Malay and non-Malay in their various historically distinctive ways born of how they became incorporated into the one shared nation, are stakeholders in the nation, its present benefits and future destiny.

The same message of historical awareness and responsibility, according to a recent column by Dr Mohd Ridhuan Tee Abdullah in Utusan Malaysia (“Sifat Toleransi Kerana Islam”, October 31), has been voiced by two leading Malaysian scholars of Chinese origins, the eminent historian Prof Khoo Kay Kim and the linguist (and lively Berita Harian columnist) Prof Teo Kok Seong.

There is nothing particularly controversial in what all these various guardians of the national conscience and heritage declare. No responsible political actor or commentator seriously questions these basic ideas. They are widely held.

And yet … The nation is nonetheless still caught up in lively debate, and marked by serious political differences, over these issues.

Why? Because while there is little dissent over the essentials that the Rulers and national scholars have in common affirmed, there still remain some significant differences concerning what those commonly agreed essentials, what we might call the “national fundamentals”, mean and imply.

Eager to uphold national sovereignty and harmony, the Malay Rulers, in their recent statement following their October meeting, expressed the hope that “the people will not allow outside involvement and interference in the country’s affairs”. So I perhaps comment on these matters now, as in the past, at my peril. Not a Malaysian citizen, I may be one of those whom the leading journalist Datuk Kadir Jasin, in the volatile time leading to the 1999 national elections, branded in the New Straits Times as “clueless outsiders”. But one can only speak of the truth as one sees it. And a person of character not only can but must do so.

Shad urges everybody to heed the Malay Rulers’ call to honour the “social contract” that is the basis of the Constitution and through it the nation — a constitution in which their royal highnesses have a pivotal role, an acknowledged standing and in-built position.

What kind of a role, standing, and position these are — to what degree they are symbolic and in what measure politically instrumental, and, where instrumental or “effective”, to what extent their royal highnesses are to be seen as capable of autonomous political action on their own behalf and in what measure they are there more to “be” than to “do”, or simply to serve as the personified embodiments of constitutional principle and the Constitution itself — are significant questions. Matters of heated contestation in Malaysia over the last three decades, these are questions that will not be addressed here.

Setting those questions aside, let us return to the now central idea of the “social contract”. This is what their royal highnesses’ recent statement invokes. This is an idea or phrase that is also used by Shad and Ridhuan Tee as well as by many contemporary political actors especially from Umno and Perkasa.

They all use it to “telescope” together or summarise other things: namely and notably, their view of the nation’s foundations and the manner whereby those negotiated foundations of nationhood, patiently worked through in the “Merdeka process” of the years 1955-1957, were expressed in, and made effective by the promulgation of, the Merdeka Constitution.

The term “social contract” is now used as, and has become for some, a standard “portmanteau term” or summary label for that Merdeka process, for its terms and what the process of agreeing to them as the basis of modern national sovereignty involved.

But, it should be clear, it is a term not of that time but of this, of ours now.

The idea of a “social contract”, in those words or terms, is nowhere to be found in and is no part of the Constitution’s language. Nor was that expression at the time any part of the deliberations and negotiations (“the Merdeka process and agreements”) that made the adoption and promulgation of the Constitution, and hence the creation of nation upon which it stands, possible.

The term “social contract” is a later construction. It is not part of the Constitution but retrospectively offers a certain subsequent — a very partisan and contested — political interpretation of its meaning (namely, that which was famously articulated by Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad in his “Ketuanan Melayu” speech in Singapore in 1986).

Now inseparably associated with that much more recently created notion of “Ketuanan Melayu” which Abdullah promoted in that same address, the idea of “the Malaysian social contract” is a retrospective, partisan and revisionist notion (or “reading”) of the essence of national constitutional principle that some have wished to “read back into” the Constitution.

By recourse to this means, this conceptual manoeuvre, they seek to “read back” into the Constitution itself not only the idea of the “social contract” but also its associated companion notion of “Ketuanan Melayu”. In this way, with this stratagem, they are able “read out” these contested notions from the Constitution as if they were there. They pursue this recourse of contriving to find these notions already implicitly embedded there precisely because they are not, and never were, there in the first place.

The “social contract” and “Ketuanan Melayu” are “read back into” the Constitution and not, as this argumentative stratagem and those who employ it seek to suggest, “read off from it”. They must be “read back” into the Constitution, by means of a kind of after-the-event conceptual “smuggling” operation, by creative anachronism designed to serve the ends of a disguised revisionism.

All Malaysians need to be clear — fastidiously clear and precise — about this point. There is no comfort, no support, no entrenched precedental foundation in any of this for the creatively anachronistic, the retrospectively revisionist, the doctrinally expansionist notions that the “new Malaysian social contract theorists” and champions of the notion of “Ketuanan Melayu” seek to find — and happily imagine that they can see — in the foundational constitutional guarantees of modern Malaysian nationhood.

Ironically, the key protagonists on both sides of this centrally important question are agreed that both the spirit and the letter of the agreements reached as the basis for the nation’s founding moment in 1957 must be upheld and honoured.

There is no difference over that point. Both sides insist upon it. But the two sides disagree fundamentally about what those agreements and their implications, what their letter and animating spirit, were.

On the one side are those who for long spoke of, and affirmed their allegiance to, the “Merdeka agreements” that emerged from the “Merdeka process” and the “Merdeka negotiations”. They see those agreements as laying down, with clear and conscious intent, the foundations for an emerging democratic, progressive and secular multiethnic society and nation.

That was for long not only the “orthodox” or conventional view of the matter but the only one that could be given any credence — that had any support, any claim to be taken seriously. It was not just the “default” position but the only one on offer, the only one to be considered.

But from 1986, a different view began to be developed, voiced and promoted, one based upon Abdullah Ahmad’s radical reconceptualisation of the foundations and character of Malaysian nationhood. This view saw the national Constitution that emerged from the Merdeka process as having been advisedly designed and pre-adapted, from the outset, to serve certain subsequently advanced claims of Malay ascendancy in national life.

The Merdeka negotiations and process, in the view of these later thinkers, had solemnised — within what they retrospectively saw and named as a “Malaysian social contract” — their own more recently crafted ideas of “Ketuanan Melayu”.

For them, both the originating legitimation for the broad agenda of “Malay political ascendancy in perpetuity”, and also the crucial enabling mechanisms for asserting and implementing it institutionally, were somehow deeply embedded or powerfully “hard-wired” within the Constitution itself.

As part of a foundational “Malaysian social contract”, the new doctrine asserted, they had been implanted there, by common agreement of all parties including all member organisations of the Alliance Party, from the time of post-imperial national birth by those pre-independence negotiations. For them it was the joint legacy of Malaya’s “Midnight’s Children”.

“Ketuanan Melayu”, Malay social ascendancy and political domination, were accordingly, on this reading, part of the darah-daging, the very flesh and sinew, of the nation. Both explicit and implicit, stated and implied, spirit and letter, tersurat and tersirat, they were intertwined and integral parts of the Constitution itself.

Both sides see as politically “sacred” the nation’s founding moment, the Constitution promulgated at its founding moment, and the processes that made agreement to the adoption of that constitution possible. Both insist that the nation’s founding dispensation be upheld and honoured. They simply disagree — and disagree vehemently — over what that founding national covenant stated and now means, what its essential terms are.

The Constitution and the nationally focal “Merdeka moment” from which it emerged are what philosophers refer to as “essentially contested ideas”. They have become so as a result of the promotion, three decades after Merdeka itself, of a radical reinterpretation of modern nationhood. By its “rebranding” of the Merdeka agreements as the “social contract”, this new view reads the notion of Malay ascendancy, through its association with those new ideas of an originating “social contract”, into the fabric of the nation and the terms of the Constitution itself.

This latter process is circular, not unlike the children’s party game of a treasure hunt. You only end up finding what you have yourself placed there to be later found. Without your efforts to implant it there and make it conveniently available, it would not be there to find. But the illusion — the appearance that it has been there, waiting all the time and available to be found by those who seek it in sincere and truthful determination — is beguilingly created.

The country, notably its major political elements, are these days divided not between those who uphold the social contract and those who would prefer to repudiate it. All sides, all the main political actors and commentators want what they see the nation’s foundational covenant as they see it — labelled by some as the “social contract” and by others, for much longer, as the “Merdeka agreements” — honoured. The problem, theirs and the nation’s, is that they disagree fundamentally what those agreements are, what that “contract” is, what the nation’s foundational covenant says and means.

* Clive S. Kessler is Emeritus Professor, Sociology and Anthropology at the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Malaysiakini: Let Deepavali light illuminate Malaysian xenophobia... by David KL Quek

Let Deepavali light illuminate M'sian xenophobia
David KL Quek
malaysiakini, Nov 6, 2010, 6:47pm

COMMENT The wondrous thing about Malaysia is that we have so many celebrated festivals - both ethnic and religious - that provide for so much festive cheer, even if so many of these appear to be more and more socially-contrived and state-sanctioned goodwill and camaraderie.

NONESome of us lament the fact that many such events have lost their spontaneity and genuine warmth that used to showcase our 'Malaysianness'.

Many subscribe to these engineered social events out of sheer political affiliation or the availability of free lunches. But they do give that picturesque semblance of the Malaysian brand, even if they appear cheesy or superficial.

Nevertheless, public holidays also provide for some of us, sporadic commentators, the much-needed time to time-out and perhaps to reminisce and reflect.

Deepavali or Diwali, the Festival of Lights for Hindus, is one of those special celebrations that should offer us that opportune moment to contemplate where we are once again, in the post-election aftermath of March 2008, for the much-anticipated political awakening and our tottering attempts at social and political change for the better.

hindraf shah alam court 171207 gandhi 2Prior to this, the fearless Hindraf movement burst upon the Malaysian scene to spark the improbable impudence of people power, perhaps igniting for the very first time in a long while, the demand for empowerment of a long-suffering downtrodden people.

Light from darkness, which emboldened, perhaps, many other citizens to awaken from their long slumber of socio-political apathy.

More than five decades of nationhood should provide us with the experience and the audacity to establish and behave as a nation, which truly 'can do', mature in every aspect of human development and social egalitarianism.

We should already have a unifying national vision which empowers and incorporates every citizen to partake of our immense wealth, our consecutive good fortunes and our shared aspirations. Much remains to be done. It also means that we have to work more cohesively to garner greater momentum as a whole, to hopefully realize our collective goal toward becoming a fully developed nation by 2020.

Yet, truth be told, we are beset with greater social, political and religious divisiveness than ever before. The more ethnocentric and religious-minded shun inter-ethnic contacts for religious or other reasons.

Parochialism builds walls

Neighbourly cross-visitations and social interactions are also becoming fewer and shallower, because many worry about the political or peer-correctness of their actions. Worse, many are contemptuous of and disdain the other, fanned by parochial misinformation.

bn pandanmaran cny open house visit people 2Thus, there is that heightened sense of religiosity and/or ethnic superciliousness that breeds growing avoidance of others who are different from the self or group.
There is that comfort zone indulgence which generates even greater insularity, narrow-mindedness, and plain tribalist intolerance.

Most if not all are wary of sharing and eating “tainted” non-halal food from unclean crockery and utensils. There is the fear that cross visits might also be construed as pandering to politically-incorrect ideas, as condoning idolatry or worshipping of different Gods and deities, fear of labels of heresy (kafir-mengkafir), or insult to their religiousness, etc.

Let's be brutally honest about this: our tolerance towards one another has been wearing very thin, of late.

Still, our open houses are unique and should serve as auspicious opportunities to foster closer inter-ethnic and interreligious understanding and tolerance. Well, at least they are supposed to do so, for those who dare or who are brave and liberal enough to transcend their fears or prejudices of the ethno-religious uncertainty.

How is it that many years ago, such tensions never seemed to deter our natural inclinations, our sincere if inattentive cohesiveness, despite the broken 'pasar' Malay, the strongly accentuated stereotypes of ethnic peculiarities, which continue to evoke laughter and jest in a 'cosy' if crude and sometimes irreverent manner?

What has happened?

Why have we become so different and divided as we move through these 50-odd years of supposed maturity into a nearly-developed nation, to have become more and more separate and isolated within our own communities, that long a part of our Malaysian history and brand?

NONEAs we gather and celebrate our diversity and extraordinary relationships, we must learn to understand and delve deeper into our special circumstances, that make us Malaysians unique in the happenstance of history.

We must learn to celebrate our nurtured schema of multiculturalism, so much touted in this uncertain world of disparate and widening chasms. We must strive to eschew the so-called 'clash of civilisations'.

'Them and us society'

The isolated but intermittent incidents of ethnic and religious outbursts in Malaysia provide a microcosm of the possible civilisational tensions that exist in the world today. It is arguable if Malaysia and our authorities have handled our discords well, or evenhandedly at that.

NONEBut, there is no template the world over, of what is the right thing to do; we just have to do better. We must find better alternative approaches than mere confrontation and headstrong immovable tit for tats.

Our leadership must robustly and clearly guide the moral direction of where we want our nation and our Malaysia to go without wishy-washy flip-flopping pronouncements that only pander to opportunistic bigots and partisan groups.

But this is not to say that we should usher in a new era of authoritarian dictates; this should never be the case. Nor should there be intimidating and selective sanctions by the arguable applications of the rule of law.

NONESimmering tensions and subterranean anger continue to plague our cohesiveness, our unity - that increasingly appears fragile and sometimes ostensibly shattered by shameful acts of irrational bigotry and repeated hurtful rhetoric by aggressive chauvinistic politicians.

Slogans of progressive and moderate civilisational Islam or Islam Hadhari, notwithstanding, most non-Malay and non-Muslim Malaysians are increasingly feeling isolated and alienated.

Malaysian Indians and Chinese with their unflinching advocacy towards cultural and linguistic 'identity' and unrelenting demands for education in their mother tongues continue to rankle detractors who consider such a 'separate' system as divisive toward nation building.

But unfortunately, the ethnocentric fears of educational standards and opportunities of perceived biased religious or racial overtones (at the expense of the minority religions and cultures) are not readily understood by the authorities who are seen to have increasingly dispensed with wider multiethnic input or inclusiveness.

NONERecent exposures of BTN propagandist lecturers and racist outbursts by some school principals underscore the doctrine of inherent intolerance among even the most senior of civil servants. It is not unreasonable to expect that many more similar incidents might have gone unreported.

Schools and the civil service are therefore becoming more and more mono-ethnic and mono-religious in character.

In fact, our entire civil service is now so mono-ethnic that this doctrine of separateness has become so entrenched that it is now 'them and us'.

'Minority tolerated, not accepted'

There is that expected 'ketuanan' relationship of top-down approach (not necessarily of genuine respect and regard), but also a reciprocal, if insincere and begrudging obeisance.

This only begets even more divergent undercurrents of separateness, anger, envy, feeling of unfairness, snide contempt and possible abhorrence. Outwardly, there is that superficial acceptance, deference and unspoken tension.

This probably extends to their relationship with other authorities such as the police, the military and other agencies. Thus, non-Malays are more and more driven into a 'minority cluster' that is merely tolerated but not really accepted.

NONEOne surprising pronouncement of PM Najib Abdul Razak's during the Umno General Assembly only underscores the separateness of the Chinese and the Indians in Malaysia, when his concept of who is a Malay now encompasses literally everyone else who is bumiputera, and anyone who adopts Islam as a religion and practices customs and language of the Malays, or whoever is Muslim, notwithstanding their recent origins from within or outside the actual boundaries of the nation.

Unfortunately, such a declaration only serves to marginalise the non-Muslim non-Malay Malaysians even more. We may no longer be called 'pendatangs' but we are also not among the 'favoured' citizens as well. Such is the interpretation of the so-called 'social contract', based on but not explicitly stated in Article 153 of the federal constitution.

perkasa protest at chinese assembly hall 5Worse, we are now urged not to question or raise these concerns, that we must refrain from discussing this 'social contract' so that inter-communal harmony can be preserved in the nation.

This concept of differential citizen's rights runs counter to most nations around the world where full citizenship rights - apart from jus soli (citizenship acquired by birth within the territory of the state, regardless of parental citizenship) are based on one's economic or special contribution, and where one's preferred choice of nationality is based on the individual's special qualities or contributory worth and takes precedence over any religious or ethnic differences.

Once we become citizens or are born one, then shouldn't we all be equal before the law? How much one is willing to sacrifice to the greater good of any form of discriminatory citizenship would sorely test the resolve of a modern global citizen no matter the patriotism that one wishes to inculcate or even indoctrinate.

'Merit is not sacrosanct'

Such would be the dilemma of the Malaysian-born non-Malay in a globalised world, where one's professional or technical expertise, natural talent or financial worth would dictate preference and attraction in most countries around the globe. How can we now talk about talent retention and attraction to boost Malaysian intellectual property strength and power when the core principles of fairness and merit are not sacrosanct?

NONEHow then, can one find meaning and purpose in our individual and collective resolve to belong, to be an integral part of that Malaysian dream, especially if one is a born Malaysian but of 'wrong' ethnic origin? Should this really matter at all?

“Malaysian citizenship, at its very core, was not based on equality but it was made to fit the reality (of the country's) long-term goals and interests,” says PM Najib Abdul Razak.

So does this mean that one's interpretation of 'history' cannot be allowed to change with the times? How then, can we simply say that such is the inflexible and immutable quirk of fate and history that we are but unequal citizens, for all time?

Yet, we are exhorted to be selfless responsible citizens who will subsume ourselves for the greater good…

But like Lim Teck Ghee and others (see Malaysians ready to discuss 'social contract'), I believe that “the Malaysian public has reached a level of political maturity that we can have a rational and public debate on the way forward in terms of any inter-communal accord or understanding arrived at, and on what needs to be honoured and respected.”

Just gagging such discussions would cause the riptides of feelings of injustice and discrimination to slowly but surely corrode and destroy the so-called accord of working together as a united Malaysian team. Silencing rational debate would undermine the expected positive contribution that we hope for, from all the collective talent and entrepreneurial prowess of our citizens.

The highly competitive globalised economic climate would demand that every single citizen pull his/her own weight to productively contribute towards nation building if we wish to prosper, as we work towards 2020 and beyond.

There will be no free lunches, no stowaways, no tolerance or margins for errors or wastage…

Let's make every Malaysian count and be counted, and let's not shortchange or undermine his/her loyalty to become a full-fledged, fully committed citizen.

From the darkness of introverted ethnic communalism, let there be light.

Let the festive lights of Deepavali enlighten our cobwebbed mindsets and help illuminate a new bold path for all Malaysians.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

malaysiakini: Old racial concepts still in new Umno playbook.... by Kua Kia Soong

Old racial concepts still in new Umno playbook
Kua Kia Soong
malaysiakini, Nov 6, 2010, 2:07pm
COMMENT In their moment of exuberance, the fat cats in the recent Umno general assembly really “let the cat out of the bag” when they poked fun at each other's immigrant backgrounds. Umno's biggest champion of 'bumiputeraism' as we all know has mamak origins.

Other Umno bigwigs who were on stage were goaded for their Bugis, Achinese and other foreign origins.

But by some conceptual trick, they are strictly 'Malays' no matter where they come from (even Kerala or the Middle East) and therefore qualify as bumiputeras who are entitled to special “rights”.

It so happened that on the same week as the 2010 Umno general assembly, the Galas by-election was in full swing, and the papers had highlighted the amazing fact that in the historic Hakka Chinese Kampung Pulai, which is part of constituency, have been living there for 500 years and they still don't have titles to their land.

Why? Because they are “immigrants” and they have not assimilated, converted to Islam and therefore are not entitled to special “rights”. There are more than 500 Chinese new villages in the country with a population of some two million and they all face this problem. 

They have existed for more than 60 years ever since the Emergency. At every election, a few households will be dished out land titles in the same way that citizenship is dished out to a handful every once in a while when thousands of Chinese and Indians face this problem.

How can there be economic transformation when the small enterprises in the new villages do not have the security of tenure to effect investment on their land?

Are these Chinese and Indian Malaysians asking for special “rights”? No, they are only asking for that simple birth right for having been born in this country and having lived and contributed to this country for so many years.

Cooked up controversy

It is astounding that the bugbear that was thrown into the Independence struggle to put the anti-colonial forces on the defensive – viz who are the 'pribumi' (indigenous people) and who are the 'pendatang' (immigrants) and therefore not qualified for citizenship – continues to divide our society in 2010.

I have been monitoring this rather contrived controversy since the 1970s and never fail to be bemused by the antics of Umno leaders. On Nov 8, 1983, then Umno Culture Minister Anwar Ibrahim (left) referred to non-Malays in Parliament as the “new immigrants” (but he has since recanted his foolish past).

Dr Mahathir referred to non-Malays as immigrants on Aug 21, 1985. During the rather contrived controversy between Umno and MCA over this issue towards the end of 1986, an “eminent historian” even suggested that “Malaysian Chinese are still considered 'immigrants' but can become 'pribumis' (indigenous people) if they are able to assimilate Malay customs and religion (Islam)”.

The eminent historian overlooked an elementary point of logic – namely, how could a 'non-pribumi' become a 'pribumi' simply by assimilating when the latter is strictly a historical category?

He unwittingly exposed the fact that the 'pribumi/non-pribumi' distinction is rooted in political consideration and has nothing to do with historical justification!

Isn't it amazing that with all the hype about “1Malaysia” and “transformational this and that”, this reference to non-Malay Malaysians as immigrants continues unabated?

The obsession with 'race'

Umno politicians are obsessed with race. It is not surprising when there is so much at stake for them in terms of economic largesse. Mahathir's 'Malay Dilemma' is rooted in that paradigm. He can be forgiven for his inadequacy because he has not been schooled in the social sciences. I would be embarrassed to have these Umno leaders in any enlightened social science faculty.

This obsession with race has little currency in the anthropology or sociology disciplines, not to speak of human rights in the international community. Roland Braddel, former president of the council of the Malayan branch of the royal Asiatic society and once legal adviser to Umno has pointed out:

“There is, strictly speaking, no such thing as the Malay race; there are Malay people, the Malay culture and the Malay language, etc.” ('The Study of Ancient Times in the Malay Peninsula and Straits of Malacca', MBRAS, 1980:3)

Serious scholars of history, anthropology and ethnography are not concerned with the chauvinistic question of “who was here first?” in order to please racists and communalists.

They are more concerned with the humanistic and enquiring attitude. For example, RO Winstedt ('Malaya', 1923:86) states the theory by Kern that the home of the Malays is Champa, Cochin China and Cambodia. Braddell confirms this from pre- historical research.

If one is concerned with the strict definition of “race” (“a biological group based on a community of physical characters”), Elliot Smith ('Human History', 1930) differentiates between Indonesians and Malays racially.

Malays and Jakuns are generally considered to be of the Mongoloid race, while Indonesians and Polynesians belong to the Mediterranean race. But is one is talking about 'Malay culture', then the country where the earliest written specimen of the Malay language has been found, is Sumatra.

Even so, these theories by renowned scholars are by no means conclusive because of the lack of data, inadequate anthropological and ethnographic studies.

But such is the stuff of honest scholarship which puts to shame the obscurantist assertions of mindless chauvinists and racists.

The racists may like to know that the concept of race used by geneticists and the like has no relevance to the political differences between people. There is no concept of dominance (ketuanan) or subordinance (kehambaan?) as far as the rights of citizens are concerned in a democratic country.

Historical fact or conceptual trick?

The British poet laureate John Betjeman put it rather pithily when he said:

History must not be written with bias,
Both sides should be given,
Even if there is only one side…

As history is our witness and as the fat cats at the recent Umno general assembly also know, 'Malays' are also immigrants of sorts in this country, while the Orang Asli have the sole claim to the epithet 'original people'.

But alas, do the latter enjoy bumiputera special rights?

The non-Malays in this country are indeed sensitive to being referred to as “immigrants” or “pendatang” because their citizenship status in this country has been subject to manipulation ever since British colonialisation.

Thus despite the fact that the Chinese had settled in Kampung Pulai, Kelantan and Malacca for some 500 years while in Perak, Penang, and Singapore since the 19th century or longer, only 500,000 Chinese and 230,000 Indians held citizenship in 1950. (Federation of Malaya Annual Report, 1950:24)

This represented merely a fifth of the total Chinese population even though by 1947, more than three-fifths of the Chinese and half of the Indian population in Malaya were local born. (1947 Census, 1949:29)

A speech by Tan Cheng Lock, then senior Chinese representative on the legislative council of the Straits Settlements on Oct 19, 1932 is rather revealing: 

“I look in vain for any tangible sign or indication of any active interest, practical sympathy, and encouragement that has been shown by the government of late toward…the Straits-born Chinese who have formed a continuous colony in this country for more than 500 years, and the locally-born Chinese subjects of the Protected Malay States who have made this country their home.

“On the contrary, these loyal subjects of Malaya are, practically speaking, not to be allowed in future to own and cultivate rice lands in this country of their birth though foreigners from Sumatra and Java are granted that privilege...” (R Emerson, 'Malaysia', p.513)

At the time, according to 'A Report on the 1931 Census' compiled by CA Vlieland:

“Only a negligible fraction of the Malay population consists of descendants of pre-19th century immigrants…more than half of it has less than 50 years' prescriptive right to the title 'owners of the soil'. 

"The Malays are in fact merely immigrants of generally longer standing than the other migrant races represented in the peninsula and are in no sense an autochthonous population.”

British neo-colonial compromise

After the Second World War, with the birth of the United Nations and the Declaration of Human Rights as well as the part played by the non-Malays in the anti-Japanese resistance and the development of the country, the British proposed a five-year residential qualification for citizenship and equal rights for non-Malays in the Malayan Union proposals of 1946.

tunku abdul rahman merdeka declaration 261004Although it would mean little of significance in terms of democratic rights while under colonial rule, it would have enabled 83 percent of Malayan Chinese to become citizens.

Umno's opposition to the Malayan Union put paid to these British proposals to liberalise the citizenship rules and the British knew to whom political power would be handed upon Independence. When the Federation of Malaya proposals were subsequently drawn up, the new proposals required 15 years of residence before citizenship could be conferred.

Even so, as has been painfully emphasized by the minister of home affairs recently, citizenship is a “privilege” not a right.

Victor Purcell, who served as a colonial officer, wrote:

“But up to Independence, the fact remained that Malaysians (whether Malayan born or Muslim immigrants from Indonesia) were 'subjects of the rulers' and automatically Malayan citizens, whereas the Chinese, Indians, etc. had to satisfy certain conditions of the law in order to become citizens.”

Nevertheless, even in 1984, it was reported that there were still over 300,000 persons with red identity cards in the country.

Nationality is a right for all

The world community reaffirmed at the World Conference against Racism and Racial Discrimination at Durban in 2001 that “nationality” is a legal relationship denoting membership of a nation or sovereign state.
It implies duties of allegiance on the part of the individual as well as of protection on the part of the state. Nationality is regarded as an inalienable right of every person in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, 1948.

The status of nationality and citizenship has the crucial implication that every citizen is equal in the eyes of the law. It does not matter in the least whether citizens have been recently naturalised, or that their forefathers came here centuries ago.

This is provided for in our federal constitution (our “social contract”?) when we became independent in 1957. Further amendments to the constitution allowing for the so-called “quota system”, such as during the state of Emergency in 1971 after May 13, 1969 cannot be considered as part of the 1957 “social contract”.

This simple point of history has been subjected to gross manipulation.

This song, adapted from 'Natives' by Paul Doran says it all:

For all our languages, we can't communicate
For all our native tongues, we're all natives here
Sons of their fathers dream the same dream
The sound of forbidden words become a scream
Voices in anger, victims of history
Plundered and set aside
Grown fat on swallowed pride

With promises of paradise through quotas at a price
Champions and the warriors are racists in disguise
Ministers and their mistresses, they make us wait
Inherit the earth, they scream the enticing bait
With the touch of a young child's hand
Innocence turns to shame
The devil that dwelt within
It sleeps out in the rain

For all our languages, we can't communicate
For all our native tongues, we're all natives here
The scars of the past are slow to disappear
The cries of the dead are always in our ears
Only the innocent can talk of wrong and right
Of those who are forced to choose
Some will choose to fight

For all our languages, we still can't communicate…

TMI: Towards a golden age of discourse -- Ambiga Sreenevasan

Towards a golden age of discourse -- Ambiga Sreenevasan

The Malaysian Insider, October 17, 2009
OCT 17 — Fair but robust criticism of legal judgments and laws is a wholly acceptable practice. In every democratic State it is a frequent occurrence. It is what makes a system of justice and law-making stronger.

In the past it was largely lawyers at the forefront of such criticisms. However, with the information age and globalisation, there is a rising tide of awareness of such matters amongst the public in Malaysia. It is heartening to see the public join in the outcry against injustice and unjust laws. It is stimulating to read the arguments for and against a viewpoint, and with this comes the realisation that we should neither take the Malaysian public for granted nor should we underestimate their ability to reason and debate sensibly.

Which makes the lodging of the police reports against JAG (Joint Action Group for Gender Equality) on the Kartika caning issue so disappointing. I must at once disclose my interest. I am an Executive Committee member of Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), a JAG member, and I was not present at the press conference on 1 October only because I was overseas. Nevertheless I fully endorse JAG’s stand in relation to the Kartika caning. It was a stand taken after due consideration of all legal and human rights factors and this basis is set out in full in the JAG Memorandum of 25 August.

Those persuaded by these arguments will continue to support them until and unless they are persuaded otherwise, not by threats, but by sound and logical arguments.

The aim of those who lodge police reports alleging a range of offences including sedition is clearly to intimidate and to suppress views that do not accord with theirs. Unfortunately, in today’s Malaysia, that is no longer acceptable. Forcibly shutting down discussion does a disservice to one’s cause. It gives an impression of close-mindedness and an inability to argue a case on principle or merit. I would invite them to look at things differently.

We should also deal with the all too-familiar-statements that “these are God’s laws you are questioning” and “you are non-Muslim, why are you interfering?”

Firstly, no one is questioning God’s laws. What is sought is a discussion of the human interpretation of these laws. It appears that even each Syariah State Enactment differs. So where is the seditious tendency in asking for these laws to be looked at and reviewed?

The other point about non-Muslims being involved must also be confronted. I would do that by asking in turn what the role of society at large is in the face of what they perceive to be an injustice, regardless of the religious underpinnings. Recently in Aceh, laws have been proposed that call for death by stoning as a punishment for adultery and flogging for other offences. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has condemned these laws as constituting torture. It would be wholly inappropriate to say that the HRW should not interfere because they may not understand Islamic law. We must remember that in the case of Kartika’s caning, there was international condemnation apart from the outcry amongst members of the public in Malaysia. In this day and age, what we do in Malaysia or what anyone does in any part of the world will be open to comment and scrutiny by anyone in any part of the world. We should just get used to it.

There is a more compelling response. No one can, nor should they ever be permitted to, shield from scrutiny any action that impinges or imposes on the dignity and the physical and mental well-being of another. The dangers of allowing that are obvious. Just imagine if that had occurred in the case of the Internal Security Act (ISA) in Malaysia. We all fight the ISA together even if most of us are unlikely to ever be subjected to that legislation. We fight it on principle alone and because we do not believe any of our brothers and sisters should be subjected to it.

To me it is very clear. If we do not speak up for those who are afraid or reluctant or for those who are weak in the face of what we see as unfair treatment, then we betray our covenant to each other as a society of civilised peoples.

I lament the lack of leadership from the politicians on matters that touch upon religion. Few politicians (from either side of the divide) have shown the courage to take on the task of confronting the issues. To their credit, PAS has apparently said they are prepared to hold a dialogue with JAG on the Kartika caning, and we should take them up on this offer. Surely this is a preferred option to threats and intimidation.

Amartya Sen, a nobel prize winner in Economics in his book “The Idea of Justice” attributes the absence of a backlash on the Indian Muslim population in India after the Mumbai terrorist attacks in November 2008 to a great extent to “the public discussion that followed the attacks to which both Muslims and non-Muslims contributed richly”. A valuable lesson is to be learnt from this.

We must fight the urge to constantly shut down discussion. The temptation to do so as an easy way to avoid thorny issues may always be present. However, therein lies the road to misunderstanding and isolation. We must appreciate that the world is changing and that there is a clamour for dialogue as a means of fostering understanding.

Malaysia in all its multi-ethnic glory is well placed to set an example for the rest of the world in promoting peace and understanding, where people of various cultures and belief do not merely “tolerate” each other, but live in harmony. We must leave a legacy for the generations to come that when we had to face up to a difficult task in our history, we chose the path of openness and dialogue rather than force and suppression.

Let this be the start of our golden age of discourse. Let us all talk to one another. More importantly, let us listen.