Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The GE 2011 Political Demise of Lee Kuan Yew: A Supreme Irony... By Catherine Lim

The GE 2011 Political Demise of Lee Kuan Yew: A Supreme Irony

By Catherine Lim, 17 May 2011

One of the greatest surprises of GE 2011 was the people’s unequivocal rejection of the PAP style of government. But none could have imagined that the biggest casualty would be Lee Kuan Yew, one of the founders of the PAP, Singapore’s first prime minister and subsequently, de facto Chief despite holding only an advisory role as Minister Mentor.

Indeed, the nations’ shock on 14 May, just a week after the election, at the resignation of MM from the cabinet (together with Mr Goh Chok Tong, Senior Minister) could only be described as seismic in the Singapore political landscape. It reflected the uniquely powerful position of the father of modern Singapore, presumably the only political leader in the world whose name was synonymous with the party he founded, whose name, in turn, was synonymous with the country it rules. The equation Lee Kuan Yew = PAP = Singapore had scrolled across the collective consciousness of the society for nearly half a century.

He was once compared to the immense banyan tree in whose shade only puny little saplings could grow. He was once the mighty Colossus in whose shadow little people cowered.

Was. Had scrolled. Once. Cowered.

It gives one a feeling of surreality to write about Lee Kuan Yew’s influence in the past tense. But that is exactly how it is going to be from now onwards, judging from the various public statements made by the prime minister, MM himself, Mr Goh and other PAP leaders, following the announcement of the resignation. Almost in one voice, they spoke about the need for the party to move on, to respond to the needs and aspirations of the people, so painfully made clear to them in GE 2011. The courteous, deferential tone called for by the occasion masked the urgency of the message: the prime minister must be free to act on his own without any interference from the overpowering MM who is also his father.

Perhaps the announcement of MM’s exit should not have been so unexpected, as it had been preceded by a clear harbinger. For midway through the campaigning, when the PAP had already sensed an impending loss of the Aljunied GRC whom earlier MM had offended with his ‘live and repent’ threat, PM had hurriedly called a press interview in which he gently, but firmly, dissociated himself from MM, and assured the people that he was the one in charge. The necessary follow-up action for this public repudiation had obviously been part of the promised post-election ‘soul-searching’, which must have concluded that indeed MM must go.

Despite MM’s assertion, in the joint statement with Mr Goh, that the resignation was voluntary, in order ‘to give PM and his team the room to break from the past,’ doubts about his willingness will be around for a while. For right through the election campaigning he was in upbeat mood, declaring his fitness at age 87, his readiness to serve the people for another 5 years, and roundly scolding the younger generation for forgetting where they came from. Moreover, he had, amidst the gloom of the PAP campaign, confidently stated that the loss of the one Aljunied GRC would be no big deal, and contended, a day after the election, that his blunt, controversial remarks about the Malay-Muslim community, had not really affected the votes. In short, he was expecting to stay on, his accustomed ways of dealing with people, unchanged.

And then came the shock announcement of his resignation from the cabinet, and an uncharacteristic affirmation of the need for change.

That Lee Kuan Yew was prepared to do a drastic about-turn, so at odds with a lifetime’s habit of acting on his convictions, must have been due to one of two causes—either he had been driven into a corner and simply had no choice, or he had a genuine commitment to the well-being of the society, that was above self-interest. In either case, the decision to go into the obscurity of virtual retirement after decades of high political visibility both at home and abroad, must have been most wrenching.

The extent of the personal sacrifice can be gauged by the single fact that politics was his one overriding, exclusive passion upon which he had brought to bear all his special resources of intellect, temperament and personality. He had made himself the ultimate conviction politician with an unrelentingly logical and rationalistic approach to dealing with problems, dismissing all that stood in its way, especially sentiment and emotion. He had developed a purely quantitative paradigm where the only things that mattered were those that were measurable, calculable, easily reduced to digits and hardware, whether they had to do with getting Singaporeans to have fewer or more babies, getting people to keep the streets litter-free, getting children in school to learn the mother tongue. It prescribed a mode of governance that relied heavily on the use of the stick.

The supreme irony of Lee Kuan Yew’s political demise was that the paradigm which had resulted in his most spectacular achievements as a leader taking his tiny resource-scarce country into the ranks of the world’s most successful economies, was the very one that caused his downfall. The related irony of course was that a man of admirable sharpness of mind, keenness of foresight and strength of purpose had failed to understand, until it was too late, the irrelevance of this paradigm to a new generation of better-educated, more exposed and sophisticated Singaporeans.

There is no simple explanation for such a paradoxical disconnect between a man’s massive intellectual powers on the one hand and his poor understanding of reality, on the other (complacency perhaps? political blindsight? political sclerosis?) A detailed analysis of the irony, substantiated with examples over more than four decades of Lee Kuan Yew’s leadership of Singapore will be instructive for understanding this unique personage.

Even a cursory review of the history of Singapore will show that it was Lee’s actions, driven by the passion of his convictions, that had saved the nation, at various stages in its struggle for survival in a volatile, unpredictable, often unfriendly world. With his characteristic strongman’s ruthlessness, he cleaned up the mess caused by Communists, communalists, unruly trade unionists, defiant students and secret society gangsters plaguing the young Singapore. Within a generation, he had created an environment where Singaporeans could live safely, earn a living, live in government-subsidised flats with modern sanitation. Ever conscious of Singapore’s vulnerability, he was ever on the alert to smack down its enemies and, even more importantly, to seize opportunities to raise its standard of living.

A special achievement showing Lee Kuan Yew’s foresight, boldness and determination in his espousal of the economic imperative deserves more detailed treatment. In the 60s, he foresaw the dominant role of the English language for international trade, business, scientific technology and research, and made an all-out effort to promote the language in the schools, as well as make it the language of public administration. This meant in effect distancing Singapore from the other newly independent nations such as India, Malaysia and some African nations which, in their nationalistic fervour, were kicking out the English language together with the British flag.

Even when Singapore joined Malaysia and Malay became the official language, Lee Kuan Yew quietly continued the promotion of English, so that after separation in 1965, it re-emerged, as strong as ever. The result was the creation of an English-speaking environment that was very conducive to international business, attracting huge corporations such as Shell and Esso. Through the decades that followed, the economic success of his policies was replicated, to put Singapore on a rising trajectory of stunning development.

Singapore’s remarkable development under Lee Kuan Yew, using the hard indicators of home ownership, level of education, degree of technological advancement, extent of foreign investments, etc, has seen few parallels, making it a poster child for economic progress in the developing world. Consistently ranked among the top three in international surveys on best-performing airports, sea-ports, world’s most livable cities, best infrastructure, etc, Singapore receives the most enthusiastic accolades from foreign visitors instantly impressed by the cleanliness, orderliness and gleaming appearance of the city state.

How could such a brilliant paradigm, a model of classic realpolitik, be the cause of the GE 2011 political demise of Lee Kuan Yew? The answer: mainly because it had no place for human values. It was a model of governance where, if there had ever been a conflict of Head vs Heart, IQ vs EQ, Hardware vs Heartware, it had been resolved long ago in the defeat of presumably worthless human emotions.

Once I was giving a talk to a group of British businessmen, on my favourite subject of civic liberties – or lack of them – in Singapore. During question and answer time, one of the businessmen raised his hand and said politely, ‘I have a question or rather, a suggestion. Could we please have your Lee Kuan Yew, and we’ll give you our Tony Blair, with Cherie Blair thrown in?’ Amidst laughter, I said, ‘Our Mr Lee won’t like your noisy, messy, rambunctious democracy,’ and he replied, ‘No matter,’ and went on to pay MM the ultimate compliment. He said, ‘You know, if there were but five Lee Kuan Yews scattered throughout Africa, the continent wouldn’t be in such a direful state today!’

This light-hearted little anecdote is meant to provide a probable reason, though in a rather circuitous manner, for MM’s ironic downfall: the material prosperity that he had given Singapore, which many world leaders could never match, was no longer enough compensation to Singaporeans for the soullessness that was beginning to show in the society. For the fear that his strongman approach had instilled in them for so long, denying them the fundamental democratic liberties of open debate, public criticism and an independent media, that are taken for granted in practising democracies, had made them mere cogs in the machinery of a vast capitalist enterprise.

There are enough examples, going back to the early years of Lee Kuan Yew’s rule, of draconian measures of control, that had created this fear and its inevitable product, resentment. The most egregious instances include the higher accouchement hospital fees for a woman having a third child in defiance of the ‘stop at two’ population control measures, and the sterilisation policy, which had a particularly vile moral odour , for it required the woman wanting to get her child into the school of her choice, to produce a sterilisation certificate.

Years later when the demographic trend reversed, and more births were necessary to form the necessary future pool of expertise for the country’s industrial needs, the PAP government started a matchmaking unit, called The Social Development Unit, to enable single Singaporeans to meet, fall in love, get married and produce children. It singled out graduate women for favoured treatment, because Lee Kuan Yew believed that only highly educated mothers produced the quality offspring he wanted for the society, alienating many with the noxious eugenics.

By the 70s and into the 80s, Singaporeans were already waking up to the hard truth of the high human cost, in terms of the need for self-respect, identity and dignity, that they were paying for the material prosperity, and worrying about the creation of a society in complete and fearful subjugation to the powerful PAP government. Over the years, it became increasingly clear that the leaders, flushed with success and confidence, and following Lee Kuan Yew’s example, were developing an arrogant, highhanded, peremptory style that had zero tolerance for political dissidents, publicly castigating them or, worse, incarcerating them for years, bankrupting them through defamation suits or forcing them to flee into exile. Lee Kuan Yew had consistently maintained that the fact that the PAP was regularly and convincingly returned to power at each election over forty years meant that the people acknowledged the government was doing the right thing.

By the time of GE 2011, it would appear that the PAP leaders had reached the peak of hubris, making decisions with little regard for the people’s needs and sensitivities—increasing ministerial salaries, bringing in world-class casinos to attract tourists, engaging in blatant gerrymandering prior to elections. Then there were the policies that had created special hardships for the struggling wage earner, such as the increasing cost of living, the unaffordability of housing, the competition for jobs with a large number of foreign workers who, moreover, caused overcrowding in public transport.

The decision that had created most resentment was the one which enabled the PAP ministers to pay themselves incredibly high salaries, Lee Kuan Yew’s argument being that this was the only way to get quality people into government. (Resentful Singaporeans invariably point out that the Prime Minister of tiny Singapore gets about five times the salary of the most powerful man in the world, the President of the United States) Priding themselves on their intelligence, competence and efficiency, the PAP leadership nevertheless made huge losses on investments with public money, and glossed over the scandalous prison escape of a top terrorist, made possible by an unbelievably lax security system. In the eyes of the people, they had lost the moral authority to govern.

That the people’s anger broke out only in GE 2011 and not earlier was due to a confluence of forces, interacting with and reinforcing each other, to provide the most unexpected momentum and impact. These included the rise of a younger, more articulate electorate, the power of the Internet and the social media, which allowed free discussion on usually censored topics, and perhaps, most significantly, the emergence of a newly strengthened opposition who were able to present candidates matching the best in the PAP team. Or it was a simple case of the people waking up one morning and saying, ‘Enough is enough.’ The PAP were caught off guard.
While they were prepared to make conciliatory gestures and promises to stem the rising hostility during the election campaign, Lee Kuan Yew stood firm on his convictions till the very end, clearly preferring to resign rather than to say ‘Sorry’. That word had never been in his vocabulary. When he had to apologise to the Muslim-Malay community for disparaging remarks made months earlier, clearly because of some pressure from his PAP colleagues alarmed by the community’s rising anger, he could only manage a terse ‘I stand corrected.’

He is likely to carry this stance to his grave, believing till the end in his own misfortune of having an ungrateful people incapable of understanding him and appreciating all that he had done for them.

Outwardly chastened but inwardly disillusioned, he must be particularly disappointed with his own PAP colleagues, for their failure to share his passionate belief that his was the right and proven way to achieve the well-being of the society. It is not so much megalomania as the sheer inflexibility that convictions sometimes harden into, something that will probably continue to give him a completely different interpretation of the devastation of GE 2011.

This kind of intransigence, for all its reprehensibility, can, rather oddly, have a commendable side. Years ago, on an official visit to Australia and taken on a sightseeing tour, he suddenly fell into a mood of somber introspection, turned to his Australian host and said, ‘Your country will be around in 100 years, but I’m not sure of mine.’ The same absolutism that had produced the unshakeable sense of his infallibility, had also produced an unqualified purity, selflessness and strength of his dedication to the well-being of Singapore, well beyond his earthly life, investing it with the touching anxiety of a caring parent.

When he made the famous pronouncement that even when lying inside his coffin, he would rise to meet any threat to Singapore’s security, he meant every word of it. In political limbo now, will he ever feel that need? I can think of three possible events, when he will experience that Coffin Moment, each posing a threat to what seems to be his greatest concerns for Singapore: 
  1. when the strong ties between the government and the unions that he had assiduously helped to build for nearly fifty years, are in danger of being broken 
  2. when the nation’s vast reserves, protected by a law he had carefully devised to allow only the president of Singapore to unlock, are about to be foolishly squandered 
  3. when the PAP leadership is in danger of being dominated by those same young Singaporeans whom he had regularly chastised for being selfish, thoughtless and heedless and for whom he had specially written his last book on hard truths about Singapore’s future. In the event of a threat to any of these concerns, his old passion is likely to be fired up once more to make him come out of the coffin to do battle.

Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy is so mixed that even his greatest detractor must acknowledge his very substantial achievements for Singapore, and even his greatest admirer must admit that along the way, alas, he lost touch with the ground. He puts one in mind of the great hero of epic tragedy, who is caught in a maelstrom of forces beyond his control, that destroy him in the end by working, ironically, upon a single tragic flaw in his character. Alone and lost, unbowed and defiant, he still cuts an impressive figure, still able to tell the world, ‘I am me.’

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Stand Up, Speak Up for Peace... By Lim Guan Eng

Stand Up, Speak Up for Peace
By Lim Guan Eng, Chief Minister of Penang
Even though Christians and not Buddhists are targeted by UMNO and Utusan Malaysia this time, what is there to stop Budhhists and Hindus from being the next targets in future. 
Wesak Day is celebrated by wishing blessings not just for Buddhists but for all mankind including Muslims, Christians and Hindus.
Praying for peace and harmony, prosperity and justice, public accountability and good governance is not enough. Malaysians must also act by speaking up together that as we see each other as Malaysian brothers and sisters who firmly reject hatred, unequivocally abhor extremists and universally condemn violence.

Penangites are very concerned at the specific targeting of the Christian community with dangerous lies by the UMNO-owned newspaper Utusan Malaysia that DAP and Christian priests want to set up a Christian state and appoint a Christian Prime Minister.
Instead of taking action against Utusan Malaysia for spreading such dangerous lies, the BN government and Home Ministry has allowed these dangerous lies to continue until Perkasa’s Ibrahim Ali is launching a crusade against Christians.

This threat of violence and war is anathema to all peace-loving Malaysians. By failing to take firm action against Ibrahim Ali for his threats of a crusade, the 1 Malaysia slogan of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak is empty and meaningless to be used only to mislead Malaysians for votes.

The time has come for Malaysians to stand up for peace and step out with each other on the common principle that no one should be discriminated based on race or religion. Just because of the colour of his skin, everything he does is wrong. Just because of the gods she pray, every lie said against her is justified. This is not only unacceptable to all moral and religious teachings, it is inhumane as well.

Even though Christians and not Buddhists are targeted by UMNO and Utusan Malaysia this time, what is there to stop Budhhists and Hindus from being the next targets in future. Remember the famous quotation by the anti-Nazi and prominent Protestant pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984) who said:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out -- 
Because I was not a Socialist. 
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out -- 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist. 
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out -- 
Because I was not a Jew. 
Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me

DAP calls on all peace-loving Malaysian regardless of race and religion to unite against such extremists who dare to use the language of violence because of inaction or even tacit support by the BN government. All of us should pray regardless of our faith that truth will prevail and peace maintained in our beloved country.


By NAJIB RAZAK, at Oxford university, 15 May 2011


Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.

Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good evening.

1. Let me first thank the Rt. Hon. Jack Straw for his kind words of introduction; Dr Farhan Nizami, a respected scholar, whom I have known for many years; and all of the representatives from the academia, business and diplomatic communities who are present here today.

2. I am immensely pleased to join you as a guest of Oxford University, where earlier this afternoon I had the chance to meet some very talented young students and to visit the future OCIS building, an inspirational environment, which blends Islamic and Malay traditions with your own rich Oxford heritage.

3. It is an enormous honour to be here in the renowned Sheldonian Theatre, which has echoed with the words of so many luminaries over the years. Every year dozens of Malaysians travel to Oxford to study, finding a home away from home in the Oxford University Malaysia Club. The Khazanah-OCIS Merdeka Scholarship, established in 2006 to mark the 50th anniversary of Malaysian independence, have boosted the numbers. And with the Malaysian Securities Commission and OCIS now collaborating on the study of emerging issues in Islamic finance, the bonds between our two countries will be further strengthened.

4. Diversity, dialogue and peaceful co-existence are important themes in Islam. In the holy Quran, Allah SWT expounds that, the very reason He creates human beings into distinct nations and tribes is as a blessing so that humanity may embrace and celebrate their diversity. When then, did Islam and extremism become synonymous? When then, did perpetrators of hate and terror hijack the religion of peace and compassion? How did acts of extremism by a few minorities of Muslims come to be seen as a reflection of Islam and its followers? Such vile misrepresentations are a source of great anguish to me and to the vast majority of Muslims.

5. When four young men headed south from Yorkshire one morning in July, six years ago, maybe they thought the home-made bombs they carried in their backpacks made them “real Muslims”. Maybe they thought that by blowing themselves up they were acting in accordance with the will of Allah, that they were following the teachings of the Quran. How wrong they were.

6. I would like to emphatically state that, those who strap explosives on their bodies and blow themselves up are not martyrs. They do not represent Islam. Unknowingly, they are misguided into committing a grievous sin. So do, all those who preach hate and stoke the fire of intolerance in leading to this most blasphemous act, they too are as guilty as the perpetrators. Our heart goes out to their victims who are innocent, defenceless civilians going about their daily life. Islam never condones such a vile act. Neither is it part of the teachings of Islam.

7. In fact, Islam abhors suicide; as stated clearly in the Holy Quran, Chapter 2 verse 195 which reads: “do not throw yourselves with your own hands into destruction”. Therefore, suicide is impermissible under any circumstances. Life in Islam is a sacred trust from the Almighty whose fate shall be determined by His will alone. It is pertinent to note that under the five higher objectives of Islamic law or “maqasid syariah” the first and foremost concern is the protection and preservation of life.

8. A world free from terrorism is possible. It is not beyond our reach. It needs men and women of goodwill among the faithful of all creeds; it requires a vanguard of the moderates, it demands us to stop being a silent majority and to start reflecting the courage of our conviction. We must address the underlying causes of global violence. Merely going after specific individuals, dismantling their organizations, disrupting their finances and discrediting their ideologies is far from enough. We must be able to differentiate between the symptoms and the root causes. Only then, can we achieve a lasting solution.

9. It would be too easy to say that the solution to Islamic extremism is simply for more Muslims to speak up and to speak out. Yes, it is our responsibility, but it is not ours alone. Just as Muslims need to make their voices heard, so do the Christians, the Jews, the Buddhists, the Hindus and the Atheists who are sickened by intolerance, violence and terror and need to make their voices heard. We need to hear the concerted voices from moderates in all countries and from all walks of life. And when we do, the prize of peace is there for all to see.

10. But while one man standing in the road is a nuisance, a mere distraction, ten men standing together are far harder to ignore. And if those ten become a hundred, a thousand, a million, a billion even, they become a force so big, so strong and so united in their common cause that those who espouse hatred will face a very simple choice. They can join us, or they can remain where they are and be crushed by the force of our collective will.

11. So it is for people who cherish moderation, dignity and justice everywhere to stand firm, and stand proud, to dissipate the pull of terror and to deny those at the margins a foothold in the middle ground – ensuring that frustrations, wherever they are felt, are heeded and that voices, wherever they speak out, are heard.

12. Quite simply, we cannot allow this moment to be overtaken by extremists, with those who shout loudest gaining the most.

13. That is why we are all here this evening to foster not a clash of civilisations but to further an understanding, and perhaps even a celebration of our difference and, at the same time, of everything we share. Modernisation and moderation must go hand in hand. Our dialogue must continue.

14. Allow me to relate the Malaysian experience. Providence and history has endowed us with a nation-state that epitomises the very essence of diversity. Malaysia is blessed not only with ethnic diversity but also of culture, language and religion. Since independence in 1957, with the exception of the May 13 tragedy, Malaysians have lived in relative peace and stability.

15. In Malaysia, Islam is synonymous with moderation, inclusiveness and good governance. Sixty percent of Malaysians are Muslims, the other forty percent profess a variety of faiths i.e. Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and others. Although, the Malaysian Constitution provides for Islam as the religion of the Federation, it protects the right of all Malaysians to practise their religion in peace and harmony.

16. In light of this diversity, national unity continues to be the overriding objective. Since assuming the office of Prime Minister in April 2009, I have continued to make this overarching goal the top priority of my administration through the guiding philosophy of 1Malaysia, emphasising People First, Performance Now.

17. In managing our plurality, we have decided on integration as opposed to assimilation. Malaysians accept their diversity. We do not merely tolerate each other but we also embrace and celebrate. By leveraging the robustness and dynamism of our diversity, we have created a foundation for our national resilience.

18. In the short span of fifty years, Malaysians have managed to transform from a low-income agricultural economy dependent on a few commodities into a diversified modern industrial upper middle-income nation. The United Nations Development Programme currently classifies Malaysia as a high Human Development Index nation.

19. Islam is practised as a way of life in Malaysia. The government advocates a path of Wasatiyah or justly balanced moderation whether in formulating and executing domestic policies or in conducting international relations. Let me put this in perspective so that there will be no room for confusion or misinterpretation.

20. I would like to stress that the principle of moderation is not new in Islam. Wasatiyah, is a recurring theme in the Quran. Verse 143 Chapter 2 states:

“We have made you into a community that is justly balanced”.

The Quran goes further that with moderation, there must be justice and justice presupposes knowledge and freedom. It is therefore important to remember that education, coupled with democratic principles of freedom, allows us to choose what is good and virtuous. It is only logical that moderates choose a path that is true and right. Moderates must defend and promote these ideals. What is false or misleading should be rejected and expunged.

21. Moderation is also advocated in Christianity. If I may quote from the Bible, Philippians Chapter 4 verse 5 which says:

“Let your moderation be known unto all men…”

This essentially calls for all Christians to live their daily lives in moderation and not do anything in excess. Judaism also calls for the middle road. The Torah teaches that moderation in life and etiquette, in character and traits, as well as in one’s lifestyle is a ‘way of life’ in the truest sense of Jewish customs. In Taoism, the principle of moderation is considered a critical component of one’s personal development and forms part of the three pillars of its teaching.

22. There is no such thing as a liberal Islam or an extremist Islam, a conservative Islam or an enlightened Islam, a jihadist Islam or an appeasing Islam, a modern Islam or a medieval Islam. There is only Islam, a complete way of life. Being moderate cannot in any way be equated to a wimp, unprincipled, weak or appeasing.

23. In following the best Islamic tradition, Malaysia shall not waver from supporting what is right and just notwithstanding whether the cause is championed by the Islamic world or beyond. We shall not retreat in the defence of the weak and the oppressed whatever their creed or colour. We will not be silenced from speaking the truth.

24. We are now all too aware of the dangers of terrorism and violent extremism. From the 9/11 attacks, to the Madrid and Bali bombings, to the destruction caused here in London, many live in continuous fear of losing their lives at any given moment.

25. As chapters of the history of terrorism and extreme violence are still being written, its plot pivots around a single question - Why do people take such extreme measures to the extent of taking another’s life or even their own? I am sure that many here are aware of some of the more common factors that lead people to commit such atrocities. It has often been cited that lack of economic development and education has led some people to turn to extreme measures like terrorism. In other cases, it is despair and a sense of utter hopelessness. Humiliation is another wellspring. While most have acknowledged these factors, if we observe more carefully, we will find that some terrorists come from well-off families and are very much educated.

26. In most cases, it is a combination of these factors that terrorism continues to persist. For them, terrorism is the pursuit of political goals through other means. They also hide behind the mask of religion in pursuit of their goals. Some really believe that other religions and civilisations represent the enemy and that there is no place for peaceful coexistence. For them, the world is a zero sum game where one side can win only at the expense of the other. They propagate this to get others to fight and die for their cause. Thus, in a peculiar way, the role of religion has ironically, increased the scale and lethality of the terrorist threat considerably.

27. Terrorism and extremism are serious challenges. Overcoming them requires clear thinking based on an objective assessment of the situation. One real and symbolic cause looming large as a rallying cry for global extremism is the unresolved Middle East problem, the plight of the Palestinian people. It has haunted the global conscience for far too long. Every peace-loving nation which seeks a better world must work towards an everlasting resolution based on the principles of a viable two state solution and equitable justice for all involved.

28. Malaysia unequivocally supports the struggle of the Palestinian people for an independent, sovereign and viable homeland of their own under the umbrella of the United Nations Security Council Resolutions. The world owes the Palestinian people a debt of honour; the people of Palestine have suffered for far too long. The Palestinian people have been expelled from their land, their homes destroyed before their very eyes; they have been humiliated and subjugated while the world watched. Oppressed and denied their most fundamental right to life and liberty with dignity and hope have led to tragic and heart wrenching consequences. It is time to put real action in place of grandstanding and mere rhetoric.

29. In supporting the Palestinian and other righteous causes, Malaysia will not support violence against non-combatants, civilians, women, children, the aged and infirm. In short, those who cannot defend themselves whatever the justification. Some argue that desperation has led to unorthodox methods of warfare. To them I would urge to heed to principle of Islam that the end never justifies the means.

30. That is why, at the United Nations in September last year, I called for a Global Movement of the Moderates that would see government, intellectuals, religious scholars and business leaders across the world take a united stand. For it is the spirit of Wasatiyah – ‘moderation’ or ‘balance’ – that must now prevail all around the globe.

31. There is no doubt that the scale and speed of the events unfolding across the Arab world in recent months has at times felt almost overwhelming. But amidst the chaos and the confusion we should not lose sight of the fact that these countries and peoples now face a fateful choice – the choice between extremism and intolerance that closes in to fill the void and a peaceful, democratic moderation that will grant them more freedom of expression, not less.

32. In the words of Samuel Johnson, society cannot subsist “but by reciprocal concessions”, and that is how modern, multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural Malaysia not only subsists but develops and grows. Far from encouraging “different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream” Malaysia’s integration and inclusivity has always been the key formula for success.

33. But if my stance is idealistic, it is hard-headedly realistic. Many great Islamic scholars have been concerned with how Islam with its religious, cultural, political, ethical and economic worldview can help solve some of the biggest challenges we face today. These are questions that interest me – how moderation can solve the problem of extremism but also, in more unexpected ways, how it can help us through the global economic crisis.

34. It is no coincidence that institutions working to Islamic principles survived the worst of the economic crisis. Islamic finance puts the public good ahead of individual gain. And it is perhaps worthy to note that Islamic bank would not have been permitted to spend and lend so much more money than it actually possessed.

35. The Islamic world is already showing that it can be an economic force. Malaysia is the world leader in Islamic finance. Malaysia is also the world leader in the issuance of sukuk or Islamic bond with 60 per cent of it originating from Malaysia.

36. The great potential of Islamic finance is not hard to see. There are more than one and a half billion Muslims living in countries around the world. There are more than 400 Islamic banks in over 50 countries, including right here in the United Kingdom.

37. In this regard, I believe we should look closely at how the structures of Islamic finance can support the new global economic architecture that is emerging. Indeed, in place of excess Islamic finance offers moderation and transparency. In place of greed, Islamic finance offers fairness.

38. Moderation is not an alien concept to mankind. Neither is it only theoretical in nature. It is a real living principle that can be gleaned from the exemplary conduct of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) that after years of being persecuted, harassed and oppressed by the pagan Quraishites, he started his reign of Mecca later, with dignity, forgiveness and compassion.

39. Moderation can also be seen from the conduct of Nelson Mandela who after being incarcerated for 27 years, 18 of those spent in an eight by eight foot cell, allowed only one letter and one visitor every six months. After he was released and when asked by journalist Sir David Frost “how is it that you got through 28 years, you were wrongly incarcerated, and you’re not bitter?” Mandela answered, “David, I would like to be bitter, but there is no time to be bitter. There is work to be done…”.

40. In his inaugural address as President in 1994, Nelson Mandela eloquently put forth the ringing clarion call:

“Let there be justice for all.
Let there be peace for all.
Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all.
Let each know that for each body, the mind and the soul have been freed to fulfil themselves.”

41. It is testimony to his sense of moderation and his leadership that there was no bloody retribution in South Africa for all the evils and injustices perpetrated against the black majority during the apartheid regime.

42. Again, moderation was manifested in the works of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of non-violent struggle, who freed a nation through his faith in the inherent goodness of man.

43. Moderation is also reflected in the struggle of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. In his dream for a more equal America, he appealed to its highest ideals of using non violent means following in the footsteps of Gandhi rather than debasing his struggle by stooping to the low of his opponents.

44. In the case of the United Kingdom, cast your mind back, if you will, to the darker days in Northern Ireland. In the wake of the Good Friday Agreement, extremists on both sides of the sectarian divide tried to plunge the country back into violence. But the massed ranks of the moderates, from both the nationalist and loyalist communities, stood up as one and uttered with a single voice a firm, resounding “no”:

No, they did not want to be cast back into the shadow of the bullet and the bomb.

No, they were not prepared to sacrifice the new prosperity that came with peace.

No, they would not let the vicious actions of a few dictate life for the many.

45. Edmund Burke, the philosopher, was quoted to have said, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

46. Our choice is clear. Come together in action for a future of justice, freedom, hope, compassion and goodwill for our children or it will be replaced by a future of injustice, tyranny, hopelessness, cruelty and hate. Because the real divide is not between East and West or between the developed and developing worlds or even between Muslims and non-Muslims. It is between moderates and extremists of all religions. Together, let us embrace moderation as the best course of action and for the best way forward.

Thank you.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Malaysian human capital outflow... By Michael Lee

Malaysian human capital outflow

By Michael Lee
May 14, 2011 | The Malaysian Insider

MAY 14 — Once, on the way to the airport in the cold dead of night, I had a heated discussion with an acquaintance of my father from the US about having a life outside of Malaysia.

I was in my teens then, fresh from the Malaysian public education system and was a staunch supporter of our government’s policies. The man who initiated the discussion, on the other hand, was a successful overseas Malaysian himself and was going on about the many merits of leaving Malaysia for a better life abroad. He himself had left Malaysia decades ago after getting his degree and has since found success in an auto-parts business he founded.

Throughout the drive, he cherry picked on the rampant corruption and injustices, particularly against non-Bumiputeras, like us, deep set in the Malaysian social, economic and political system.

While I believed most of what he said to be true, it was not something I haven’t heard before.

Again and again, my defence was that Malaysia was young in being independent compared with the US and needed more time to mature before the inequalities and inefficiencies fade away. The conversation ended in, what I believe, a stalemate, with his detailed reasoning unable to pierce the wall that was my youthful optimism. This took place about 18 years ago.

Fast forward another 6-7 years, in a mamak stall somewhere south of the Klang Valley, with my two friends, both many years my senior. One of them raised his decision to move to Taiwan and to start a life there with his Taiwanese wife. Coincidentally, he had just a few months previously returned from Taiwan after his privately-funded tertiary education there ended. Despite our suggestion, he did not believe that bringing his new Taiwanese wife to Malaysia instead would be an alternative worth considering.

Again, as with my father’s friend, I attempted to sway him home, albeit unsuccessfully. Halfway into the drinks, his reasons for leaving unmasked into, again, the injustices, perceived or real, that plagued the non-Bumis in Malaysia. He saw no agreeable future for him in Malaysia. There was nothing we could have said to convince him otherwise. He moved to Taiwan later that year and has since worked hard to start a small food shop that sustained his family’s life there.

By far the most poignant experience I have on the matter was with my distant cousin in Ireland. He was there working part time as a small-time cook for a former Malaysian in a two-man operated neighbourhood curry shop to finance his culinary studies in a nearby town. He studied during the morning and worked in the afternoon and late into the night. On weekends, he worked all day and well into the night. All the while, he stayed in the cramp and dusty attic of the curry shop by himself, sleeping on an old mattress on the floor.

It was during my visit in the middle of winter that I experienced for myself first hand just how lonely and bitter that type of living arrangement was. Unlike the previous two, it was obvious, even to me, that the man did not need any convincing Malaysia is good, because evidently, his willingness to go through what he had been going through daily was conviction enough for all to see. As it worked out, a handful of years of perseverance later, he is now residing in UK as a successful chef and, the last I heard, had since succeeded in his own pastry business there.

On a related note, and I’m not sure if it’s still the going trend these days, but back when I was a secondary student at my Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan (SMK), I have watched many of my better-than-average secondary classmates whisked away to Singapore via the Asean scholarship and, to my knowledge, none have returned back to Malaysia. Our southern neighbour was so keen on Malaysian academic achievers that some of those who failed to apply for the Asean scholarship programme were approached individually after their STPM exam.

A close friend of mine attests to this as she herself has experienced this. In her first few months in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Nanyang Technology University of Singapore (NTU) contacted her directly at her house to offer her a full scholarship for a degree course in information technology. Ironically, the course offered has always been her first choice but the course she was studying at UKM at the time was the last on her list of choices.

Due to family obligations at that point in time of her life, she was forced to decline the offer. But this was not the end to it. Further to this, NTU called her again days later to ask her reasons for declining their offer and gave her the opportunity to reconsider again.

After much thought and consultation with her friends and family which was unanimous in their bias, she took up NTU’s offer and left for Singapore. She is now working with a multinational corporation there and has since taken up permanent residence in Singapore.

The above are just an inkling of some of the real cases that I have personally come across. I don’t think it’s necessary to point out other examples as I’m pretty sure a lot of Malaysians may be already intimately acquainted with this phenomenon. Given the very recent World Bank statistics on Malaysia’s human capital outflow, the above, unfortunately, are but a scratch on the surface.

The fact was not lost on me, of course, that the Malaysian government throughout the years has had more than its fair share of unflattering news, deserved or otherwise. But I always held on to the hope that all the corruption, inefficiencies and misdirection would be scraped away eventually in due time. Not so because of some inner sense of righteousness or of my own naive optimism in the conscience from our leaders but from a more practical and realistic standpoint — that being, because we live in among an increasingly competitive global economy and we are quickly running out of excuses and options.

But that did not happen.

As a nation, we have been steadily but surely reaching an impasse. The fact that we are overlooked by foreign and even domestic investors nowadays shows that Malaysia is no longer the “Asian tiger” it once was.

The rise of the opposition political parties after the 2008 “tsunami” elections intensified the in-fighting among our leaders and stirred the incumbent BN leaders to become more preoccupied in staying in power rather than to govern the country properly for once.

The news we read in the media grew more and more unbelievable and outrageous. From unsinkable submarines to RM25,000 laptops purchased by civil servants, from the provocative act of dragging of a cow’s head in public to the Molotov cocktail attacks on churches, from the rise of Perkasa/Pembela to the Allah debacle in east Malaysia, from calling for the abandonment of English in our education system to the recent import of 300 American teachers, etc, etc. The list goes on, even today.

And while those sensationalistic news peppered itself regularly all over the local media, boiling beneath the surface are the bread-and-butter issues that have been increasingly plaguing the day-to-day lives of the average working Malaysian.

From the price of homes to the price of food, the rapid rise in the cost of living is now more prominent than ever. For an ordinary salaryman like myself, even as a degree holder, I foresee that my meagre income will no longer be able to meet my young family’s future financial needs.

I found myself starting to apply for a job overseas since a year ago, just to chance the possibility that some company outside of Malaysia might want to consider hiring me. In the beginning, my family, I especially, had been very reluctant to even consider leaving as I have a very rewarding career in Malaysia. Also, Malaysia is my home. I was born and raised in Malaysia and has always felt that Malaysia is a wonderful place to call live. This is not solely because I’ve been told this repeatedly by the government-sponsored media since I was young, or because I grew up well integrated with our public national school system philosophies.

To cut a long story short, and to my surprise, a job did find me months later, and following in my predecessor’s footsteps, my wife and I, together with our three-year old son have recently moved to Hong Kong. To be honest, the overall package offered was only slightly more lucrative than my job in Malaysia when one factors in the cost of living. Even so, it did not affect our eventual decision to take the job because that was not the sole reason for applying for an overseas job in the first place.

I do not think it’s necessary to go through the faults of Malaysia, or more specifically, its government, just to prove that it has faults. Perfection is not something to be expected from an individual let alone from a collection of provincial populists strung loosely together by bureaucracy. Understandably, no government is perfect. But that’s not really the point.

Even as I type this, I am watching the headline news on HK local television network talking about the effects of the recent minimum wage implementation. I believe that this is a newsworthy issue that directly affects the majority of HK residents. Now contrast this with the headline news in Malaysia two days ago about a major Malaysian newspaper inciting fear against the Christians for allegedly wanting a Christian Malaysian prime minister?

I cannot speak for others who had left the country as to their reasons or their motivations for doing so. I can only speak for myself and, to an extent, my wife. I came to seek our fortunes overseas because I feel that the opportunity cost of just staying put is far too high. Furthermore, in my line of work, I may soon find it difficult to get work in the future due to the shrinking pool of my potential employers.

With regards to the human capital outflow, it is my humble opinion that the government should take steps to build up the country properly first before even considering setting up ad hoc agencies like Talent Corp.

If Malaysians like me who has only recently left Malaysia would not consider moving back to Malaysia solely based upon any temporary and half-hearted measures by our Talent Corp, what are the chances of enticing Malaysians that have been overseas for much longer than I and more entrenched in their lives abroad?

If anything, I believe that, at the moment, the government would be better focused in creating reasons and opportunities for Malaysians living in Malaysia now to prevent them from leaving rather than waste money and effort trying to lure overseas Malaysians to come back.

No one really wants to go through the difficult decision of leaving home, away from family and friends for an extended amount of time if they felt that they had a reasonable choice in the first place.

* Michael Lee reads The Malaysian Insider.