Monday, September 24, 2012

TMI: A call for a more constructive media ― By Bridget Welsh

A call for a more constructive media ― Bridget Welsh

TMI: September 24, 2012

SEPT 24 ― Too much of the reporting on political events within Malaysia is based on fabrications, rather than analysis anchored in research and responsible journalism. There has been noticeable decay in the professionalism of journalists, either from selling out their principles to engage in partisanship, or through the lack of proper mentorship or training.
Some of this is a product of the growing competitive political environment, where formerly more reliable mainstream papers have compromised their integrity for their political masters, while in other cases, the drive to publish the story first and make it the most sensational has comprised the due diligence of proper reporting.
Simple things, such as checking facts and quotes, have gone by the wayside. Worse yet, it has become acceptable for some to publish shoddy work, and rather than be chided for this practice, it is openly encouraged and financially rewarded.
Readers sometimes take what is published at face value, rather than adopting a more discerning approach to what they are reading. Too much of the discussion of politics is tied to misrepresentation and misunderstanding.
It is a time of political transition in Malaysia. The incumbent party that has held onto power since 1957 ― 55 years ― is facing the most competitive polls in history. At a public forum on Monday September 17th in Kuala Lumpur, I explained why based on polling trajectories and fieldwork, the Barisan Nasional (BN) has not regained significant ground since March 2008.
I suggested, however, that voters alone will not decide the electoral outcome. Concerns involve the fairness of the elections. The impact of a widening unlevel electoral playing field is not yet known. We have also seen over the last three years since the March 2008 polls that the situation is very fluid, as Najib Razak’s administration reached a high in support last November and has been declining in popularity since the April Bersih rally, although at varied levels among different communities.
While most Malaysians have decided how they will vote, the middle ground is in flux and has the potential to move again as the campaign evolves.
As such, the election is difficult to call. My own analysis indicates that a third of the seats are extremely close. I pointed to the states of Sabah, Pahang, Perak, Johor and Selangor as the states with highly competitive seats, but argued that every seat will matter in the upcoming General Elections.
The campaign, candidate selection and use of state resources will also shape the final outcome. The majority of my other remarks focused on new trends in voting behaviour, issues that will be presented in future articles.
The quality of the media coverage of the forum raises concerns and provokes a call for greater constructive and responsible dialogue as Malaysia enters new uncertain political terrain. When the forum began, we asked the media to check quotes with speakers and to operate with professionalism.
Instead, a reporter from The Malaysian Insider (TMI) and subsequent media reports by journalists who were not at the event, have distorted the discussion, misquoted remarks and acted irresponsibly. None of the reports on the event have followed the request to check their facts and most of the reports of the event are second- and third-hand reports made from the original flawed report TMI report.
Initially, there were two areas of concern. First of all, the TMI media report of the event focused on the response to the last question of the night in the two-and-a-half hours of discussions, rather than covering the discussion in the meeting as a whole.
The mischaracterization of the forum as a discussion of “casting doubts about Pakatan” was from the onset a distortion. The article’s headline was misleading and not reflective of the proceedings. This is a troubling trend in Malaysian reporting ― a focus on sensationalism rather than substance.
The issues that were discussed covered a range from human rights concerns and Sabah politics to the rising environmental movement and the role of morality in voting.
Second, the TMI report had a number of factual errors. For example, my position to the question whether “Can Pakatan Rule?” was not reported. I clearly stated that “Malaysians voters should decide.” Subsequent interpretations of this inaccurate reporting of my response have been misconstrued to imply that I support one side or another.
My remarks in the forum highlighted the challenges both sides will face in governing. I noted that whoever won the election would face a trust deficit among a share of voters, as Malaysian voters are polarized.
In another example of error, the TMI reporting completely misconstrued the discussion of Dr Mahathir’s legacy on Malaysian politics. My remarks discussed the challenges Umno as a party faced to reform, pointing out that it has not reformed since 2008, and arguing that this had to do in part with the legacy Mahathir left on the party.
I argued that both Tun Abdullah Badawi and Datuk Seri Najib Razak faced difficulties in carrying out reforms due to pressures from this legacy of constraint. The overall context of the discussion was left out of the report and mistakenly interpreted as praise for either Mahathir or Najib. The irony of the errors in the report by TMI is that they completely missed the key points of analysis.
To compound the original problems in the reporting of the forum, other journalists who were not at the event and also did not check their facts used it for their stories. In one column for The Star newspaper by columnist Baradan Kuppusamy, elements in the original article were embellished with such partisan gusto and mischief that it had evolved away from misconstrued reality to fantasy.
To suggest, for example, that the speakers buttressed “Najib’s reformist credentials” is factually incorrect. This is a complete fabrication. My own remarks centred on public concerns with corruption and public perceptions of the lack of substantive reforms. I never used the word “reformist” or “reformer”.
The focus of my remarks was on factors affecting voting behaviour and their possible impact on the next polls. The column is embarrassingly riddled with multiple factual errors, as the columnist was not present at the forum nor did he follow due diligence in checking the facts. It is a sad day when this sort of reporting is paid for.
In the initial TMI report, the reporter was inexperienced, and my original tack was to have a quiet word to encourage better practice. Also some of the original report did accurately account some of the issues that were raised, even if the context was not provided and the headline misleading.
The situation became even more egregious when reporters who did not bother to do any homework opted to use a flawed report as the basis of a story or in at least one case a fable. I understand that in the Malaysian context misreporting is common. It is unfortunately clear that fabrications are also becoming more common as well.
This does not take away from the reality that these practices are wrong and destructive. Media integrity and low standards of professionalism are serious problems and those that are hurt by them are ordinary readers. They are undermining the constructive discussion that is needed to strengthen Malaysia as it moves toward a better future. Malaysians deserve better.
* Editor’s Note: The Malaysian Insider apologises for misrepresentation and errors made in its report of the forum after checking with the reporter’s notes and recording. The news report has been corrected with the full quotes made by Dr Bridget Welsh in the forum to the question that was asked. Once again, our apologies to the speakers in the forum. Thank you.
* Dr Welsh asked that this comment be appended following the publication of her piece. “Thank you, TMI, for your professionalism, graciousness and constructive response.”

malaysiakini: Why this rage over 'The Innocence of Muslims'?.... by Ahmad Farouk Musa

Why this rage over 'The Innocence of Muslims'?
  • Ahmad Farouk Musa
  • 12:23PM Sep 23, 2012


COMMENT The Islamic Renaissance Front views the recent murders and uproar over the film ‘The Innocence of Muslims' with much sadness and bafflement.

All available facts suggest that The ‘Innocence of Muslims' is not even a film. What is currently known about it was available in the widely circulated YouTube clip which ran for a total of some 13 odd minutes.

What is worse, most critics are in agreement on the film's utterly poor quality - cheap sets, mediocre actors, bad voiceovers and incomprehensible narrative- all of which explains why no one had even heard of the so-called film until Muslims decided to make a fuss about it.
Indeed, the added tragedy is not so much that the film is Islamophobic, which it clearly is, but that the unnecessary attention given to it by angry Muslims eventually gave the film far more publicity than it deserves.

Confront and suppress
The question is why. What is behind the apparent trend of Muslim hypersensitivity?

For the protests is just one occurrence out of countless others before, whereby masses of Muslims occupy public space to pressure some form of censure, punishment or banning of some product for insulting Islam.

Rather than to reflect, negotiate or dialogue, the tenor has often been to confront and suppress.

The most well-known case to date was the furore over Salman Rushdie's book ‘The Satanic Verses'.

More recently there were the Danish cartoons. Even the rather well produced movie ‘The Message' directed by Moustafa Akkad in 1976 with Anthony Quinn in the main role, which did not portray the Prophet at all, was deemed by many Muslims to be offensive.

A Muslim group staged a seige against the Washington DC chapter of B'nai B'rith threatening to blow up the building and its inhabitants under the false belief that Anthony Quinn portrayed the Prophet.

We now have witnessed the needless deaths of dozens of innocent civilians as a result of violent protests that only reinforced the distorted image of Islam as a religion of violence and intolerance.

It portrays the vicious face of a religion that was supposed to be a religion of peace and compassion.

Sense of defeat and insecurity
When one observes the discourse closely, one will find that what underlies the narrative is a sense of defeat and insecurity upon being overwhelmed by what is often broadly termed as 'the West'.

This sentiment is an obvious continuation of an earlier resentment against western colonialism, which almost all Muslim majority countries today has experienced in one form or another.

Daily life in the age of globalisation too, has seen an increase of presence by western products as well as political and cultural values.

Geopolitically, the presence of western military forces in Muslim countries is all too apparent and overwhelming.

All this has somehow been viewed by Muslims as a sign that Islam is left behind, in one way or another, as a civilisation.

That in turn further reinforces the anxiety of powerlessness before fearful imaginations of a monolithic behemoth called 'the West'.

From there, everything Islamic is juxtaposed against it, giving rise to a mood of scepticism against anything and everything that comes from the so called 'West'.

Towards openness and dialogue
But the situation is not that simple. While there has been much decline in science and learning in the Muslim world, which is undeniably tied to a history of colonial exploitation, Muslims must learn to take responsibility for the course of their own progress.

Thus, rather than to recoil in defensiveness against everything western or offensive, there must be instead, an attitude of critical reflection and openness to ideas.

Progress requires freedom, for no genuine learning can proceed when power is imposed from without on what can be said and heard. To embrace this is not to embrace or justify Islamophobic or racist sentiments.

It is rather, to affirm that racist or Islamophobic sentiments are best dealt with through dialogue, learning and empathy rather than brute force or coercion.

Hate must be combated. Oppression must end. But Muslims will only fail themselves if they proceed in a stupor of insecurity and anger.

There is nothing in Islam that says hate must be combated with more hate. Recall, when the Prophet Muhammad was just beginning his mission, a woman placed faeces at his door in hatred of Islam.

Muhammad endured the humiliation peacefully, neither choosing to retaliate in anger or violence, to exemplify that ethos of calm and compassion that defined the eventual success of Islam in Mecca.

Conservative Muslims tend to regard such instances as inevitable given that Muslims did not get in power until Madinah, but they forget the historical fact that it was Muhammad's exemplary character as a clear headed leader in Mecca that compelled the Medinans to turn to him as an arbiter and leader for their fragmented city in the first place.

Calm and compassion needed in M'sia 
On Friday, thousands gathered outside Masjid Jamek Kampung Baru and the US Embassy to protest ‘The Innocence of Muslims'.
Interestingly this saw members of Islamic party PAS and the main ruling Malay party (Umno) marching for a similar cause for once, even prompting the Umno Youth chief to invite PAS to join the ruling coalition.

It is too early to say if this will lead to anything but it does reveal again an age old fact about Malay politics, namely in how the vagueness of "Malay and Muslim unity" is used as a pretext to overlook other more concerned issues, such as socio-economic justice and multiracial solidarity.

Emotion and passion reign ahead of clear headed rationale and human values.

The Islamic Renaissance Front once again calls for all Muslims to focus on the central agenda of Islam and that is, to end oppression and the establishment of a just society whereby all citizens irrespective of race and creed, are treated equally.

Enough lives, time and effort have been wasted over this film. It is time to move on and wake up.

Authorship of the above statement is shared by Ahmad Farouk Musa, Ahmad Fuad Rahmad, Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, Rizqi Mukhriz and Ehsan Shahwahid of the Islamic Renaissance Front.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

TMI: Ignoring ‘Innocence’ — by A. Lin Neumann

Ignoring ‘Innocence’

— A. Lin Neumann
The Malaysian Insider
Sep 23, 2012
SEPT 23 — The “Innocence of Muslims” film controversy, which resulted in riots in the Middle East and the death of the US ambassador to Libya, seemingly exposed the many fault lines between the West and Islam. But that story line has quickly unravelled.
In Indonesia, fortunately, the reaction has been pretty calm. Apart from about a thousand people throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at the US Embassy in Jakarta and small mobs elsewhere looking to attack McDonald’s and KFC franchises — where no doubt the customers were fellow Muslims — the nation has absorbed “Innocence of Muslims” and wisely decided to let it go. In another week or so it should be forgotten.
In Libya, where Ambassador Chris Stevens died during a riot, a video surfaced showing Libyans entering the smouldering consulate building and trying to rescue Stevens, who was then barely alive. US security people had apparently evacuated the facility and lost track of their own ambassador. So much for us against them and the idea that all of Libya was on a rampage.
In the United States, one of the actresses who appeared in the film is suing the filmmaker for fraud, saying she signed up for something called “Desert Warrior” that had nothing to do with Islam, did not mention the Prophet Muhammad and was later redubbed into “Innocence of Muslims” by the producer, Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a native Egyptian and Coptic Christian. There goes the vast conspiracy theory.
That the film is beyond trashy and has the production values one might expect from an underfunded high school drama department has been well established. Indeed, I watched parts of the film — here in Indonesia on YouTube, after it was supposedly blocked on the local Internet — and it does not take long to see what a mess it is. It is laughably awful and offensive on many levels, but it is not concerted propaganda from the West or a centralised attack on Islam. It is “hate speech,” not unlike similar efforts from idiotic neo-Nazis or the loony racist fringe in the United States. It is not worth getting worked up about.
I even found myself in the unusual position of nodding in agreement with the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI), which said that Muslims should calm down following the violent protests in Jakarta on Monday.
“Muslims should not respond to the movie emotionally. Even if it humiliates and assaults [Islam], we shouldn’t be provoked by other parties and should keep protecting the public interest,” MUI’s Muhyiddin Junaidi said. Which makes me wonder why President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has put his name behind the idea of a UN protocol banning blasphemy and defamation of religion? Quite apart from the fact that such a protocol would be unenforceable, Indonesia has seen the damage that trying to ban blasphemy can do when it is used to bolster the arguments of extremists who want to impose their view of Islam on others.
No doubt the president has good intentions, but the notion that an international protocol could prevent insults against religion and keep passions in check is an illusion. Like that loony American preacher who wanted to burn the Quran last year, the efforts of this half-baked filmmaker should be roundly denounced as hate-filled and dangerous but protocols would only embolden such behaviour.
It is hard to legislate against stupidity and taking the actions of some renegade American idiots as a justification to impose greater orthodoxy here or anywhere else would be a “cure” that would be worse than the disease. Given the sheer number of competing and contradictory religious views in the world, the last thing we need is anyone trying to prevent hurt feelings through international treaties.
In a vast country like Indonesia, the reaction to the film was by and large muted. Life went on with few incidents, which is how it should be. We get up, we go to work or school, we live our lives — and people like Nakoula Basseley Nakoula should barely matter. By paying attention to a marginal fool like that, we risk putting the court jester on the throne. — Jakarta Globe
* A. Lin Neumann, founding editor of the Jakarta Globe, hosts the “Insight Indonesia” talk show on BeritaSatu TV.

malaysiakini: Umno's nation of traitors..... by S Thayaparan

Umno's nation of traitors
  • S Thayaparan
  • malaysiakini: 7:48AM Sep 23, 2012


"Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under." - HL Mencken

COMMENT Apparently by writing for Malaysiakini, I am part of a plot to destabilise the government. Truth be told, Umno has been doing a good of job of destabilising the institution(s) of government for the past 55 years. To Umno, anyone who disagrees with them are traitors.

Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim is a traitor to his race. The DAP are communist traitors to the country. PAS are traitors to Islam. People who march demanding free and fair elections or march against state-sponsored racism are traitors to the constitution. There are only patriots and traitors in 1Malaysia and if you do not support Umno, you are the latter. Also, you are most probably gay.

Under the vomit-inducing headline of 'Plot to destabilise the government', the New Straits Times (who I believe are propagators of a plot to destabilise rational thinking) outlined a chilling scenario of a motley group of new media types (which includes Malaysiakini) and social activist organisations who are apparently being funded by a nebulous American entity to destabilise the government and the implication being, to create chaos ... CHAOS, I tell you, in Malaysia.

You know they are scrapping the bottom of the credibility barrel when they quote Just World president Chandra Muzaffar who gravely intones that NED (National Endowment for Democracy, the nebulous American entity in question) is responsible for funding NGOs in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria "in the name of democratic freedom with the objective of making people rise up against leaders who were allegedly deemed to be cruel."

The "allegedly deemed to be cruel" part is funny considering the well-documented cruelty of the regimes in question by their own citizens but the howler is when Chandra questions the credibility of NED because it "could threaten global security".

This should give you the kind of ideas Chandra's Just World is promulgating. Of course, we don't have to imagine what kind of ‘just world' he envisions because we here in Malaysia having been living through it for the past 55 years.

And of course the usual, there's that added anti-Semitism when he reminded us that Zionist groups who maintain good relations with the Jewish government are behind NED - as if bigots ever made the distinction between Zionism and Jews. I mean really, the gays and Jews; one could imply that we are slipping into some kind of ... wait for it ... Nazi state.

Thank God, Kita president Zaid Ibrahim gets the joke with his ‘Any Jews want to donate to my party" tweet.

Same narrative

Meanwhile, I caught vocal independent (sic) MP Zulkifli Noordin (whenever Zulkifli spouts his nonsense I picture Tweety that Looney Tunes character rambling on. "I tawt I taw a Pakadan rakical." "I did, I did see a Pakadan rakical") on TV9 claiming insider knowledge of how Anwar was training his supporters to "take to the streets" because there is no possibility of Pakatan ever gaining the Putrajaya crown.

Chandra has been peddling this same narrative, which is kind of funny because even during the height of the reformasi movement (where I was milling about with my PAS comrades) there was never even the slightest inclination for the crowds to be violent in any way.

Indeed in every subsequent protest, the greatest anxiety caused was by the presence of the police, who everyone - Malay, Indian and Chinese - viewed as an impediment to free assembly and not facilitators of it.

hindraf british petition rally 251107 plaza ampang hosedEven in that dark day of the Hindraf protest when I felt the true malice of the state, nobody in the crowds meant to overthrow the government. The thought never crossed our minds. Whenever we go out to the streets, we go with the belief that our cause is just, that our means legitimate and without malice in our hearts.

There is always a genuine sense of brotherhood amongst the people who march, especially when it is a racially-diverse crowd. This is not a forced brotherhood; this is not a manufactured sense of belonging but rather a spontaneous eruption of "we are all in this together" vibe that no amount of Rukun Tetangga-ing can indoctrinate.

Do we want a change of government? Yes. Do we want it at the cost of blood? Absolutely, not.

By continuing to pursue this narrative, Umno only makes it seem that we have no other avenue for change, which is certainly not the case. We want to make our decision known in the ballot box, but it is Umno who is shy to pull the election trigger.

After all, the only people who have been violent are those who support the dogma of the current regime. And when we have a home minister who will not guarantee the safety of the opposition parties in this country, it just reminds us that the Umno regime is like a cornered animal bearing its fangs at those who it perceives as a threat.

We were traitors

Perkasa information chief Ruslan Kassim may blame the Jews for pitting Muslims against Christians, but it has always been Umno who has stirred the racial and religious pot.

Some still make the claim that there is a Christian conspiracy here in Malaysia but the reality is that for years there has been appeasement for the sake of living with ‘Umno's peace' but all that it has got us is the radical shrinking of our religious rights.

And now Christians, Hindus, Buddhists (did I leave out anyone?) are being radicalised by a sense of purpose not cultivated by the opposition but rather by the unjust treatment of Umno.
The horrifying fact for Umno is that there are Christians, Hindus and Buddhists in the opposition and all, if not most, of them are very firmly entrenched in their beliefs but yet they make it work. They demonstrate that no matter how difficult and contentious it gets, there is another way besides the Umno way of doing business here in Malaysia.

NONEThese are some of the traitors that Umno would have the world believe are attempting to destabilise the government and make every Malaysian wear V-neck T-shirts.

And as I have said before, every country in the world has elements that would want to violently overthrow their governments. What Umno has done is ruin the credibility of those institutions entrusted to weed out and destroy those elements. What Umno is doing is crying wolf against the very citizens who are doing what would benefit the country most, exercising their democratic rights.

I have been around. I know that there are many so-called organisations out there, mostly American, who under the guise of democracy promotes their own agendas. This is a fact.

But even if NED is one of those, what the government needs to do, is prove that an organisation like Malaysiakini is attempting through propaganda to destabilise the government. They could do this by pointing out where Malaysiakini has lied or invented stories that would create mischief and chaos in this country.

This is perhaps difficult to do when your own propaganda organs have admitted to spinning stories and engaging in outright falsehoods just to "support the government". These fabrications and spinning, which if the laws of the land were applied fairly, would be considered seditious and created to sow distrust and hate amongst the citizens of Malaysia.

But in the end, we were traitors. For 55 years, we were traitors to the principles of democracy. We were traitors to ideas that would have moved this country beyond what Umno had envisioned for us. But not anymore. Not anymore.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

malaysiakini: Speaking up for Suaram..... by Rom Nain

Speaking up for Suaram
  • Rom Nain
  • malaysiakini: 3:33PM Sep 20, 2012

When there is no transparency, when everything is evidently opaque, when regime credibility is at all-time low, perception - often based on rumour, kopitiam gossip and the alternative media -   becomes all.

Just look at crime. At a time when the people started feeling terribly anxious about their personal welfare and security, the regime started to boast about record crime prevention statistics and the purported reduction in crime.
When these statistics were questioned, when contradictory figures were highlighted, excuses rather than valid explanations were offered.

And then, quickly, the matter was dropped, certainly by the sycophantic mainstream media, in the hope that the people will forget.

But, of course, they haven’t. Their daily experiences of increasing crime make them view official explanations with scepticism.

It’s been the same, too, with the recent detention of young Malaysians for, at worst, petulant, impertinent acts, like the mooning of photographs and for stamping on these photographs. And then being threatened, without much explanation, with charges under the odious Sedition Act.

When it is pointed out that no such actions were taken for earlier, much worse deeds, similar in manner but executed instead on the opposition by the regime’s minions, very quickly, almost as an afterthought, action is taken against them.

NONEOr at least we are told so, although we haven’t yet seen anyone being arrested, handcuffed and dragged to the balai for peeing on banners of Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat and torching posters of Lim Guan Eng and Bersih head, Ambiga Sreenevasan.

So, yet again, there is no transparency. And yet again, scepticism mounts.
And now, there's this all-out attack on Suaram.

As has been suggested, perhaps this is, after all, a set-up by groups within the regime, conspiring to dislodge their top man.

Or maybe, more likely, it’s simply various individuals and parties in high places within the regime getting terribly desperate because they feel the Scorpene noose tightening around their necks as the general election looms.

Hence the need to lash out blindly, unthinkingly. To cover up perhaps.

Whatever it is, the ongoing attacks on Suaram, while predictable, nonetheless are downright annoying, indicating how moronic and devoid of intelligent ideas this pathetic regime continues to be.

Battering ram approach
No less than six federal agencies - Bank Negara, the Home Ministry, the police, the Registrar of Societies (ROS), the Companies Commission of Malaysia (CCM) and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) - reportedly have been brought together to investigate Suaram.

Evidently, this is the regime’s battering ram approach. Yet, despite the heavy-duty machinery, there’s been no earth-shattering revelation.

Apart from the vague assertions about ‘suspected transactions’ reported in the Internet media, the boldest accusation has been that Suaram received  funds from foreign organisations from Germany and from that bogeyman, George Soros.

But so what if they have?

The organisations reported, including the one linked to George Soros, are not criminal organisations and, indeed, share Suaram’s primary concern for human rights.

They have admirable track records of funding civil society organisations involved in doing good work all around the world.

And, in any case, this bogey of ‘foreign funders’ needs to stop. 
The myth being purveyed is that everything that’s ‘foreign’ (especially foreign funding) is bad.
If that were the case, more than half of the research conducted in our universities, for example, would really have to go.

Fact is, international, intergovernment and non-government agencies provide a lot of the funding for much exemplary work to be carried out in so many areas in Malaysia. This has been the case for as long as some of these universities, think-tanks and NGOs have been in existence.

Indeed, without foreign funding, many  of my colleagues would be on the next plane back to England.

Also, daily examples of foreign investment in this country indicate how much we as a country depend on foreign funding.

Like it or not, this is what globalisation is all about. So, unless, firstly, the country has the necessary funds and the expertise required, there will be a need for foreign collaboration.
Unfortunately, over many years this country has been bled quite dry of much-needed funds, making such self-sufficiency a pipe dream.

‘Coconut shell’ belief
Of course, secondly, you may talk about ketuanan and all that crap, refuse all this funding, and  relegate us to the backwaters of civilisation, with minimal contact with the big, bad world out there, safe in the ‘coconut shell’ belief that we are, indeed, the world.
suaram scorpene case fundraising dinner 160612 cynthia gabriel 2
So, to cut to the chase, foreign funding is a reality. And until now, it’s  been a legitimate reality.

And anyone who’s been following Suaram all this time will appreciate the good work that it has done. The numerous research and publications the organisation produces continue to be used by academics and commentators in and outside Malaysia.

At home and abroad, Suaram has established a reputation as being a fiercely independent and brave critic of human rights abuses, institutional corruption and abuse of power.

Indeed, issues which the regime - certainly through its ‘transformation’ programmes, its Rakyat didahulukan, pencapaian diutamakan (People first, performance now) slogan - has said it will address... although perhaps they mean to do this in another lifetime.

So, really, do they think that persecuting Suaram will silence them... or the many other NGOs waiting in the wings to take up Suaram’s causes?

Do they think intimidating and harassing Suaram will discredit Suaram, at a time when many already perceive that something is not quite kosher?

azlanDo they not realise that many Malaysians are asking why, of all the organisations out there that have been exposed as being really shady, including, of course, the much-exposed-but-hardly-questioned National Feedlot Corporation (NFC), it is Suaram that is being targeted?

Yes, Suaram, oh-so-coincidentally the very organisation whose revelations about the Scorpene scandal could shake the very foundations of this regime.

If the regime’s ‘solution’ to all this is intimidation and persecution, it is bound to fail.

Many Malaysians have simply grown so tired of this bullying.
They - we - have clear, and negative, perceptions of a regime that once again is out to silence a small, independent outfit.

An outfit whose ongoing revelations evidently are scaring the living daylights out of major political stakeholders in the regime. An outfit that, really, is but one out of so many others.

ROM NAIN is a media analyst and academic who is weary of incompetent, unethical leaders and their apologists and spin doctors in the media who try to get away with murder while professing to rub shoulders with God’s angels.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Aliran: Whither the voice of reason? ... By Henry Loh

Whither the voice of reason?

By Henry Loh | September 13, 2012
The Malaysian Insider
SEPT 13 — Of late we only need to scan news sites and local dailies and we are likely to come across news items that highlight that “men have lost their reason”. To express unhappiness over the organisation of Bersih 3.0, we had grown men (ex-army veterans) performing “butt exercises” outside the front gate of Bersih co-chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan’s residence. Their crude and unbecoming behaviour only serves to highlight their level of maturity (or lack of) and remains but a sad reflection of their character.
We have also read about individuals going to the residence of the chief minister of Penang to conduct “funeral rites” while placing a garlanded framed photograph of the CM on the gate of his house. Other examples of such behaviour — the sending of a faeces-shaped “chocolate cake” and the disruption of ceramahs (the throwing of stones and water bottles) — all point towards this unwelcome and alarming increase in irrational, violent and unreasonable behaviour.

Harassment, intimidation
The perpetrators of such crude and unbecoming activities have clear intention to harass and intimidate the recipients of their antics. The trend continues and is likely to worsen. The Star (June 21, 2012) reported that Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) has served a letter of demand to Ambiga and Bersih steering committee member Maria Chin Abdullah seeking compensation of RM351,200 for losses and costs incurred during the Bersih 3.0 demonstration in the city centre on April 28, 2012. The letter, signed by DBKL director-general Salleh Yusup, said that Bersih should submit the compensation within two weeks or face legal action. The letter of demand from DBKL is in addition to an earlier suit filed by the government of Malaysia against Ambiga and nine others for RM122,000 over damage to vehicles during the rally.
These acts of harassment will only serve to strengthen the resolve of Bersih leaders such as Ambiga and Maria Chin to continue their struggle for free and fair elections in the country. They and the other Bersih leaders can take comfort in the fact that thousands upon thousands of people came out of their own free will to march on the streets of KL and many other cities in the world to demand free and fair elections. Damage to property could in all likelihood be attributed to the actions of the police, when they used their water cannons and fired tear gas to disperse the Bersih participants, who by many accounts were already making their way home.
To a question raised in Parliament, the Home Ministry replied that a total of 967 tear gas canisters and grenades were fired during the rally. Was it necessary for such an excessive use of tear gas canisters and grenades? According to the Home Ministry, the government spent a total of RM1.8 million as a result of Bersih 3.0. Much money could have been saved if the police force had shown more restraint and stuck to their objective of ensuring that protesters did not enter Dataran Merdeka instead of chasing down protesters who were already far away from Dataran. Indeed if there had been more restraint, damage to property would also have been minimal.
In the case of the Bersih 3.0 gathering in Penang, people came out in the thousands and gathered at the Esplanade. They listened to some speeches, chanted their demands for free and fair elections and then dispersed peacefully — and that too after ensuring that the field was properly cleaned up and free of litter!
Growing awareness
The powers-that-be ought to realise that Malaysians are generally peace-loving, caring and concerned individuals. Time and again we have proven that we are mature enough to gather in peace to make a stand on any issue and to behave in a responsible and non-violent manner. Of course, there will be a small minority such as the Perkasa types, who will not hesitate to provoke and cause trouble at gatherings — but they certainly do not represent the majority of civil society.
In the past, the ruling government was fond of referring to the “silent majority” — those who are not members of any NGO or political party. It claimed that the “silent majority” only desired stability and was not prepared to rock the boat. Indeed, this may well explain why the ruling Barisan has been able to dominate the last 11 general elections.
At the 12th general election in 2008, the winds of change started to blow at a much higher velocity and as many as five states fell into the hands of the opposition. (One state, Perak, fell back into the hands of the Barisan when three state assembly members switched their allegiance and supported Barisan instead of Pakatan Rakyat.) The political arena and landscape has changed considerably since the 2008 watershed general election.
With the dawn of the Internet age and the easy availability of information, scandals such as the Scorpenes deal, the National Feedlot Corporation and PKFZ are no longer under wraps and are now public knowledge. Blatant corrupt practices that seemed to go unpunished are now making the Malaysian public sit up and take notice. Malaysians are now more informed, knowledgeable and aware of significant political, social and economic events. Politicians can no longer pull wool over our eyes and expect us to believe that all is well.
The success of Bersih 3.0 is a testament to the power of civil society forces at work. Politicians on both sides of the divide should sit up and take note that their every move, decision and position taken on all significant issues are being monitored and evaluated. Voters will then know how and what to decide when the next general election comes around.
Not surprisingly, many politicians who have for years enjoyed the position, privileges and perks that political power provided are doing their best to maintain their current stranglehold. They fail to see and cannot accept the fact that the electorate has reached a level of sophistication and developed a discerning attitude to stand by what is right and just and speak out against greed, corruption and abuse of power.
Acts of harassment and intimidation are done by those who refuse to see the light. Instead, they hope for the status quo to continue. They certainly do not represent the majority. While they may have allowed their good judgment to lapse and dissipate, I am hopeful and confident that others — the majority of peace-loving, discerning and concerned Malaysians — will nurture and continue to treasure their “voice of reason”. As Ambiga said recently, no one should underestimate Malaysians. Hidup Malaysia! Hidup Rakyat! —
Henry Loh is an Aliran executive committee member.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Entering into Politics - The Story Behind.... by Yeo Bee Yin

Entering into Politics - The Story Behind

by Yeo Bee Yin

"Why are you involved in politics?" I think this is the question my family members, friends, and many others will ask. 
It's a long story. I am writing this story today to make sure that, if ever, I forget what I am in politics for, it will serve as a reminder. 
Part I: The Beginning - Seed of Love
It all started in 2001 with a prayer movement - 40-day Fast and Pray for Malaysia, organized by NECF (National Evangelical Christian Fellowship). I was a first year student in University Technology Petronas (UTP) when I came across this movement. Not knowing why, I felt the urgency to pray for our nation. Since fasting alone for 40 days is no joke, I managed to persuade my best friend (Thin Thin) to fast and pray with me. So that's the beginning of the story - I sowed the seed of deep love for the country and fellow Malaysians. Of course, as I grew in seniority in the university, I managed to persuade more and more campus students to join us to fast and pray for Malaysia every year during the Merdeka season. 
One of the prayer items in NECF booklet has always been this: that God will raise more righteous politicians in Malaysia. Being a very practical person, beside prayer, I also tried to persuade some of my righteous male friends to join politics. Well, I have to admit that I was a conservative person then, so to me, politics was the ground of men. I thought my role is to pray and to serve the underprivileged community in NGO works. 
I remember I was only 18 years old when I did my first 40-day Fast and Pray for Malaysia. Looking back now, I realized, I too, can be a part of the answered prayer. How marvelous.
Part II: Years on Distant Shores 
No, I am not a super patriotic person that nothing else matters to me beside Malaysia. Being a 'kampung' girl, I dreamed of going overseas - to study, to work and to see the world. 
Part II (a): Eyes Opened
My dream finally came true in my fourth year in UTP.  I was offered a 6-month internship placement in BASF world biggest chemical site in Ludwigshafen, Germany. As a chemical engineering student, and being the first student in UTP to get the offer, it was indeed was a great blessing to me. So I went. 
These photos show the entrance to BASF Ludwigshafen site, which housed about 38,500 staffs. I don't remember the size of the site, what I remember is, you need a bus to go from the entrance to your department building, and of course from one department to another. In 2005, I was a little tiny intern there. :) 
Internship in Germany was my first taste of international exposure as they take interns from all over the world to Germany. Here are the pictures of some of my friends there. I spent countless of hours with some of these friends here discussing about socialism, welfare state, capitalism, democracy, war, revolution, religion, and just about anything under the sun. 
Due to language barrier (I know little German), I needed an English-speaking church and I finally found one and  attended Rhein River Baptist Church (RRBC). RRBC is a church established to serve the spiritual needs of the American army who are based in Mannheim (a city near to Ludwigshafen). I was one of the few non-military church member there. Through my interaction with the American armies in RRBC, I began to understand what "Democracy", "Liberty" and "Patriotism" really mean. Below is a picture of me and some of my church mates in RRBC. 
During my stay in Germany, I also took the opportunity to travel to neighboring countries like France, Italy, Luxembourg and England. It was in these trips that I foster my love for arts and architectures, which remain till today.

Before coming to Germany, as a top student, I thought I knew a lot. After I came here, I realized how little I knew about the world. I began to question why in Malaysia we did not learn a more complete world history, different political systems, different ideologies, arts and culture? Neither have we been taught to think critically and objectively. I began to realize that what we've been taught in the schools have been crafted in such a way that we can be easily manipulated if we are not careful. Our syllabus was (and still is) flawed and politically biased. 
I have to admit that before coming to Germany, I was an ardent supporter of Dr Mahathir and his legacy. I read his book, watched his documentary, supported the blind protection of GLCs  and race-based affirmative action, thinking that it's true 'patriotism'. (You can see how brain-washed I was then.)

Six months of internship in Germany has completely changed my world view , my eyes began to open, my previous perceptions shattered and I began to see things very differently. There is actually a much BETTER way for Malaysia. 

I was 22 years old then.

Part II (b): A Disheartened Young Malaysian
After the internship, I came back to Malaysia to finish my study in UTP and graduated in 2006. Before I finished my study in UTP, I received offer from my dream university, Cambridge University, for a program called MPhil in Advanced Chemical Engineering. I was so happy! So I started to apply for funding. I wrote to Petronas Education Unit (I was Petronas scholar), JPA, Khazanah, MCA  and many other governmental and non-governmental organizations. I didn't get any. Although disappointed, I wasn't blaming anybody as I understood that nobody was obliged to fund me. Despite financial difficulties in his business in 2006, my dad agreed to fund my study in Cambridge. 
However, I still had one problem. I was bonded to Petronas for 10 years and was supposed to serve my bond after I finished my study in UTP. So I wrote to  Petronas again to ask for deferment of service until after I finished my master degree in Cambridge. A few weeks later, I was called to come to the education unit. I really thought things will be settled quickly and I might even had a chance to persuade them to fund my study. 
So I went with high hope. There, I saw a nice guy, he told me that the program was great etc and he really wanted to help, but it was in the policy that they couldn't allow any deferment for the bond or I would have to pay up my bond in lump-sump. Hearing that made me realized that I had no way out. My dream had crashed. I did not blame Petronas for that, as they were just following the contract and it would be a havoc if every scholar would come and ask for deferment or for more funding. I understood that. 
However, it was a small incidence in the education unit that made me utterly disappointed with how things work in Malaysia. While waiting at the lounge, I met two returning scholars from Nottingham University, UK. I started to talk to them. To my very surprise, they couldn't even speak proper English! After a while, an education unit guy came and met them, I accidentally saw their results - one of them get second class lower and the another one a third class. That blasted my mind. Here I was, with a CGPA of 3.95/4.00 (if it's in 100% scale, it would be a 98%) 'begging' only for 1 year of deferment, not even a scholarship, but was denied. Here they were, spent 4 years in the UK fully sponsored and yet spoke broken English and graduated with at most, mediocre results.

Am I not as much a Malaysian as them? Being a 23 years old, I was utterly disheartened and disappointed. 

Part II (c): The Only Way out
It was just a few days after I came back from Petronas education unit that I received a call from an American oil and gas company informing me that I was recruited. How did I get the job? While searching for scholarships to Cambridge, I casually attended 5 stages of job interviews with this company as my mom adviced me to go for job interview experience. I really couldn't remember what I did during the interview. So being able to get the job, I would say that it's God's open door, or some may say that it is by 'accident'.  
Anyway, going back to the story, I was given 2 options from the recruiter: one is to be a local staff and another one is international staff. Of course, there's a huge difference in term of compensation between these 2 options. If I were to choose the latter, I'd have to go to a country called "Turkmenistan", and the salary would allow me to pay up my Petronas bond in just a few months! Turkmenistan might sound scary to many, but I was so excited! I really wanted to see and know more about this part of the world! Since the offer was great and there was no way that I could attend Cambridge anyway, I decided to take up the international assignment. 
Turkmenistan was where I spent most of my next 2 years. I was 24 years old when I left home for Turkmenistan.

Part II (c): When Money Rules

My life in Turkmenistan was summarized here.

Not only in Turkmenistan, I also spent 3 months in Alexandria, Egypt and some time in Baku, Azerbajian for work related assignment during my 2 years in oil and gas industry.

Being paid in a salary comparable to at least the general manager in Malaysia, I managed to settle my bond with Petronas very quickly and saved some for myself. With the traveling allowances from the company, I traveled to many other countries too during the holidays. Life was great, I worked hard, played hard. Because of the good compensation scheme, I did not really think much about what I really want to do in life, my dream or my passion for the country. What I went after were money, bonus and performance. I became terribly self-centered. I just didn't care anymore.

It was until 9th Mar 2008, when I opened The Star online and saw the news on the political tsunami that I realized how I still love and care about my country. They were just buried very deeply under my frustration and disappointment. How I wished I would be able to contribute to the change no matter how small the contribution was, instead of just seeing it as an outsider.

I began to question, why am I here? Is this really what I want to pursue? Do I do this because there's no more option? Do I do this just because of money? If I were born in the US with many other opportunities, would I still do what I am doing now? How many more Malaysians out there left Malaysia because they went for better opportunities, just like myself and many other Malaysians abroad I've met throughout the years?

My dream for a better Malaysia has re-ignited, click 
here to see what wrote back in 2008. After more than half a year of consideration, I quit the job just months before my second promotion (when I still could resist the temptation). I wanted to be back to make a change to my nation, so that our next generation do not need to wander around the world for a better future, because the better future IS in Malaysia. I knew that I am a nobody and of me coming back would not help much, but I thought I should just do my part as a Malaysian, to serve our nation, regardless.

However, before I was back for good, I wanted to fulfill my childhood dream first, that was, to study in Cambridge University. I did not need to worry about my finance anymore now as I could afford to pay for everything. So I re-applied and got the admission offer within a month.  A double blessing to me was that Cambridge Gates Scholarship, the most prestigious post-graduate scholarship in Cambridge University, also offered me a full scholarship! Everything was paid for including air tickets, living expenses and school fees! I was and always will be grateful for Bill and Merlinda Gates Foundation.

With that, I went to Cambridge University at the age of 27 years old, a long-delayed dream finally came true.

Part II (d): Living Cambridge Dream 
I had a great and fruitful year in Cambridge. It was an intellectual challenging year and I had countless of sleepless nights to finish up my writings etc. I enjoyed most of the lectures, which were usually delivered by the professors who are top in their respective fields in the world. Many of the lectures had greatly inspired me especially in the field of sustainable development and renewable energy. I just so enjoyed the abundance of knowledge there.Here is a picture of my friends and I in my college (Corpus Christi College) in Cambridge.
Putting personal development aside, what I had experienced in Cambridge continued to make my burden for Malaysia even stronger. Throughout the year, I've met with many brilliant Malaysian students or working adults from top universities in the UK. I usually asked if they will one day be back to Malaysia. For those with JPA or Petronas bond, they said yes because no choice, whereas for those who are not bonded, almost 80% said No or they'll only be back to Malaysia if they can't find a job in UK, Europe or US. Malaysia has become the last resort.  For the Gates scholars, it's even more dismal. Out of the 10 who have received the scholarships from 2001 to 2010 (unfortunately none received the scholarship in 2011 and 2012), I am the ONLY 1 who is back. Where do these people go? There are all at the foreign land seeking for better opportunities and a better future. Can we blame them for not coming back? NO, absolutely NOT. Malaysia has just too little to offer them. 

Part III: Hello Malaysian Politics
After pursuing my personal dream, as I've promised myself, I was finally back to Malaysia to pursue my dream for the country. Even with a strong burden for the country, it hadn't crossed my mind that I should be in politics, mainly because to me, being a politician was too far-fetch. I had no idea as in where to start, what to do, and which party to join. Also, I had been bipartisan all my life. What I thought I would do to make a change was probably community works and joining NGOs. 

Until my company did a project with Democratic Action Party (DAP) in their general election social media campaign that I was exposed to politics first hand. I finally came to realization that if I want to make a good impact in this nation, with the limited things I have, it can only be done effectively through politics. 
So joining politics? It was a tough decision, especially this year, only 1 year plus after I started my own business. I am not a person that go after fame and power, why bother to join politics? In addition, I am already 29 years old, isn't that better for me to find a husband and start a family? (God knows, when I was young I wanted to get married at 25!). Why waste time fighting for a job, of which I'll risk losing every 5 years and getting a pay that is not even half of what I used to get? Will I be able to survive in politics in the long run?  As my mom has so rightly put it, "you can have a decent and comfortable life now already, why choose such a hard life?". 
However, what my mom did not know, is my love for this nation since I was 18 years old, and my desire to see a better Malaysia. 
As I look back my life, by the grace of God, I was blessed with good (and free) education, MNC job training as well as so many different opportunities of exposure. What I want to do now is really to be a faithful steward to the gifts of God and use them to bless more people, especially fellow Malaysians. 
"For everyone to whom much given, of him shall much be required" Luke 12:48

So I've made up my mind to join politics. 

Even after I've decided that I should join politics, I wasn't quite sure of which party to join. I was still a bipartisan by then, although I did hope that DAP will win more seats in the GE. So I examined through the ideology, history and leadership of different parties, and had finally come to a conclusion that DAP is the best choice for me. 
Ideologically, I have always been a democratic socialist, so it fits just well.  Historically, DAP stood the test of time and never wavered in its principle. Thirdly, I think I can follow the leadership of DAP without worry for 2 reasons: 
1. they usually make decision based on number and facts and not rhetoric, so most of the time they make sense to me
2. they uphold integrity and righteousness
One setback of DAP to me was the party ethnicity-mix. It is still made-up of mostly Chinese and I am definitely not very into a race-based party. However, as I was involved in the Roketkini (DAP Malay news portal) Facebook page promotion, I could see the effort of DAP to reach out to Malay population and a genuine intention top down to make DAP a multiracial party. No party is perfect anyway. So I decided to join DAP and believe that through hard-work and time, we can build a true multiracial party together. 
Part IV: Hope for the Future 
So now, I am in politics and volunteering in DAP. What am I going to do for the next 20-30 years in politics? 
Firstly, my heart is to use my gifts to serve the people regardless of income, race and religion. I believe politician is in fact public servant, we should always work towards maximizing the interest of the public. 
For the long run, my hope for Malaysia is very simple. I hope that through the hard work of our generation, we'll make sure that Malaysia can be a land of opportunities and equality for our children.  I hope that Malaysia can be a land where, no matter how big and what your dreams are, they can be fulfilled here; and no matter what your potential are, they can be reached here. I hope that our children, no matter where they study outside of Malaysia, they will so look forward to come back to Malaysia, not because of the scholarship bond, not because of other considerations, but because this is the best place for them to be. I hope for a Malaysia that is free from corruption, united regardless or race and religion as well as competitive in the global economy. 
And now, I shall work hard for it. May God bless the works of our hands.