Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Nut Graph: Believing in Malaysia (An interview with Zainon Ahmad)... By Jacqueline Ann Surin

Believing in Malaysia

Zainon Ahmad
Zainon Ahmad (all pics below courtesy of Zainon Ahmad)
AWARD-winning journalist Zainon Ahmad is a story-teller. He has many stories because he has been reporting from the frontlines for more than 30 years. He joined the New Straits Times in 1978 and rose through the ranks to become the paper’s assistant group editor in 1997.
From the mid- to late 1980s, he was made the paper’s editor-at-large and travelled and covered assignments in southern Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, India, Afghanistan and Latin America. “I was really happy! They thought it was a punishment but I thought it was a reward,” Zainon remembers of the political manoeuvrings within the company. Eventually, it was the politics within the newsroom of the Umno-owned paper that led to his being sacked as editorial consultant in 2001.
In the following year, he was recruited by theSun to be its editor-in-chief and in 2008, he was made consultant and political editor, positions he holds up till today.
Zainon, 70, grew up with Tamils in an estate in Kedah and attended a mission school where he read the bible for a paper on religious knowledge.
“If…suddenly, all the Indians or the Chinese decide to leave Malaysia, I think it won’t be Malaysia,” he says in an 8 Feb 2012 interview at his office in Petaling Jaya. Zainon’s fortnightly column in theSun titled What They Say features a Mohan, Azman, Zain and Chong, usually in a teh tarik place discussing a current issue. These are often real conversations he overhears, he says.
Zainon has an MA in history from Universiti Malaya. When the personalities in his column tell their own stories about Malaysia, what the veteran journalist is doing is ensuring that Malaysia’s history, for better or for worse, continues to be recorded.
Press clippings of Zainon Ahmad receiving the 1986 Malaysian Press Institute's Journalist of the Year award for his series of reports on the insurgency in southern Philippines
TNG: When and where were you born?
Zainon Ahmad: I was born in 1942 in Semeling, a small village near Bidong, on the way to Lembah Bujang [in Kedah].
And did you grow up in Semeling?
My early childhood was in Semeling until after the Japanese occupation in 1945/1946 when my father moved to the Patani Para estate, about 12 miles from Semeling.
He was a mechanic at the then Penang Harbour Board. And he spoke English, Hokkien and Tamil. At the estate, his job was to bring Malays from the villages to work as labourers because the estate workers were predominantly Tamil.
When the British left before the war, they just blew up all the factories [so the Japanese could not use them]. So, one of my father’s jobs, as the [foreperson] and mechanic, was to restore some of these machines temporarily so that they could process the latex into rubber sheets.
Before we moved to the estate, he used to cycle 24 miles every day to go to the estate and back. Those days, we thought nothing of it lah.
I lived in the estate for much of my life until I was in Form 3. My grandmother used to send me to a Malay kindergarten in Semeling when I was about three or four years old. Those days we wrote on slates — a piece of soft stone with a wooden border. We wrote using a stick of this stone. And then you could wash it off with water.
I disliked school. So, whenever I lost my temper, I used to throw the slate on the road and it would break [laughs]. My father said, “Enough is enough”, and he took me to the estate and sent me to a nearby Malay school. For a while before going to the Malay school, I was also going to the Tamil school which was attached to a Tamil Hindu temple. I managed to learn the Tamil alphabet.
And then after the Malay school, I was sent to St Theresa School in Sungai Petani. In the estate, there were Chinese, mostly carpenters. Their children would go to the Chinese school in nearby Sungai Lallang. We were all friends. I actually had a very happy childhood.
And it was very mixed, wasn’t it?
Yes. My mother, whenever there was a Hindu wedding, she would be there making kuih and doing the décor and all that. I loved those days, you know. And there was this Chinese shopkeeper who had two beautiful daughters [laughs]. It was a great past time for the estate boys to flirt with them.
So all this was happening in Patani Para estate?
Yes, it was a big estate, and where I grew up for the most part. But my grandfather, my mother’s father, came from Kerala. Married a local woman in a fishing village we used to call Kuala, not far from Kota Kuala Muda town.
So, that was the village my grandmother was from. My grandfather, the mamak, worked those tongkang. There were a lot of tongkang in Penang which were all under the mamak bosses. So when my grandfather married my grandmother, he bought his own tongkang which he used to take Kuala villagers for deep-sea fishing.
Zainon Ahmad interviews Nur Misuari, the governor of the autonomous region of Muslim Mindanao, in Manila on 5 June 1996. Nur Misuari was a guerilla fighter and leader of the Moro National Liberation Front. Zainon covered the liberation war in the south in 1985.
Zainon Ahmad interviews Nur Misuari, the governor of the autonomous region of Muslim Mindanao, in Manila on 5 June 1996. Nur Misuari was a guerilla fighter and leader of the Moro National Liberation Front. Zainon covered the liberation war in the south in 1985
And what about your dad’s side?
His grandfather used to own a vast tract of land in Kampung Bukit Kecil. This is also not far from Kota Kuala Muda. I suppose that’s how my father met my mother. I think, I don’t know for sure, that the land was sold off. And when my father was born, there were just some orchards and padi fields. So, when I was a child, we used to go there during the fruit and harvesting seasons. It was quite exciting those days because there was no other entertainment [chuckles]. Running around in an empty padi field was the best.
I remember when news came that the Japanese had surrendered. I remember my father and his friends rode their bicycles in Semeling. Oh, hands-free and making all kinds of noises. I don’t know what word they used for “freedom” because we hadn’t yet heard of the word “merdeka”.
So, it sounds like you had a childhood that was culturally mixed and that really drew from the outdoors.
And it influenced my life. For instance, it doesn’t make me hesitate [around other cultures]. Because of so much indoctrination on radio and television, [some Muslims] are scared to go near a temple, much less to go near an idol.
But in those days at 9am and 7pm, the estate temple priest or poosari would do the pooja in praise of the deities when he sang and recited words in Sanskrit. So somebody had to ring the bell outside. And if the priest looked around and there was no Hindu around, anybody that passed by would be it. And I always made sure I was there!
You know why? I would ring the bell that was hanging from the roof until the priest finished his pooja. And the reward was that I would get half a coconut, boiled chickpeas, one or twovadai, and one or two pisang emas. I would take the food, give some to my friends and give the half coconut to my mother. The priest would take home the sireh leaves and some of the food offered to the deities.
And then I went to St Theresa School next to a Catholic church.
You mentioned once to me that it was in St Theresa School that you did bible studies, and you can recite quotes from the bible.
Ya, I did religious knowledge. For the LCE (Lower Certificate of Examination), I can’t remember if it was an A or a B I got for the paper [chuckles]. Until today, I can still recite the part about “thy prayer has been heard and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a child whom thou shall call John”.
In 1953, we celebrated [Queen Elizabeth II’s] coronation. We sang “God save the Queen” in school and in the town padang [laughs] where we listened to the speech by the High Commissioner, of course read by the DO (district officer). We were each given a 50 sen note – it wasn’t a coin, it was a note – one raisin bun, plus a bottle of Green Spot orange [laughs]. And one cinema ticket. There were two cinemas in Sungai Petani at that time. One was Queen’s. The other was Empire [chuckles].
At a Tuareg encampment just outside Timbuktu in Mali on 29 July 1998
At a Tuareg encampment just outside Timbuktu in Mali, 29 July 1998
So, what generation Malaysian are you? On your mum’s side, you would be second generation?
And what was the ancestry like on dad’s side?
I suppose it was the same like my mother.
And he was local?
Yes, he was a local Malay.
Not from southern Thailand?
Ah, that one we don’t know. Mostly the Malays from Kedah had all sorts of influence. Either from Thailand or from Penang. If Penang, means mamak lah. Or could be Arab. In the jargon of those days you are either DKK (darah keturunan Keling) or DKA (darah keturunan Arab).
What kind of stories from your family do you hold onto and that you would pass on or have passed on to your children?
I used to tell my children about myself. After my father and mother divorced, my mum, my five siblings and I continued to live in the estate until I was in Form 2 when my mother decided to go off to her kampung in Kuala. She said, “If you follow me, you can’t go to school. I can’t afford it.”
I had an Indian classmate and his father, an estate conductor, said, “Why don’t you come and stay with us?” There was a storeroom for the rubber scraps attached to his house and I stayed in that room. In that room, they had their Hindu altar. For a few nights, it was quite terrifying [laughs]. There was this deity, Durga, I think. In the dim light of the coconut oil lamp I could see it carried a pedang and a bloody head. I can still see it today. So, for a while, I couldn’t sleep. After a while, it was fine. So, I’m actually quite used to these images.
I stayed there till Form 5. I was separated from my mother and siblings. But I visited them whenever I could.
Standing by a lake of oil on 18 April 1991. The Iraqi army exploded several oil wells as they retreated at the end of the Persian Gulf War
Standing by a lake of oil on 18 April 1991. The Iraqi army exploded several oil wells as they retreated at the end of the Persian Gulf War
Staying with an Indian family was challenging because there were many Malay villages nearby. And the villagers said, “Why are you staying there?” And then some relative passed word around that, “This Indian man was going to go back to India, and Zainon will be taken with them.” I was sort of ostracised by some in my own community. I told myself, “I want to study.”
In St Theresa School, I did quite well in LCE and because only ten passed the exam, we were transferred to Ibrahim Secondary School. I continued to work in the estate but despite this I did quite well in my School Certificate of Examination. I got first grade and was praised at the school assembly.
All the teachers knew of my situation. So just before the first term ended a few of them came to me, “Eh, Zainon, can you pay your exam fees?” At that time, exam fees were RM60 or RM65. So, I said, “Yes, can.” Because during the first term school holiday, I had a contract to put fertiliser in one small estate.
And there was a teacher, Mrs Nair, who helped me a lot. Any opportunity to make money like when the science lab assistant was absent during weekend classes, “Zainon, you work for 50 sen an hour.” Sometimes, I was quite happy also because convent school girls would come to do their practical there, so I would be in my best of dress [chuckles].
So when the money came, I went to pay my fees. And Mrs Nair called me. “Zainon, all the teachers agreed that you use this money that you have to buy some new clothes for yourself. We have already paid your fees.”
What experience makes you feel most Malaysian?
First of all, I believe in Malaysia. I believe in multi-racial Malaysia and I think that there is a place for everybody here. If, for instance, all the Indians or the Chinese suddenly decide to leave Malaysia, I think it won’t be Malaysia.
I think the fact that we are all living together here [means] we could have more understanding. I see no reason why we can’t feel free to visit and eat in a non-Muslim’s home. I think it’s the way Islam is taught in this country.
Did you feel, for example, when you were studying the bible in school and when you were sleeping in this room that had Hindu deities, that your faith was in some way challenged? It didn’t stop you from continuing to be a Muslim, right?
I went to the mosque every Friday. I fasted. The Indian family had a kitchen that was attached to the house that had a different door which was always padlocked. I was given the key so that when I woke up before dawn, I could cook for my sahur. They helped me. They understood that I am a Muslim.
I took my grandchildren to Batu Caves last year for Thaipusam. I showed them the people carrying the kavadi, the food and the crush of the people. They enjoyed it! They want to go again next year [chuckles].
Zainon Ahmad interviewing Indian Finance Minister P Chidambaram on 27 March 1997 when he visited Kuala Lumpur
Interviewing Indian Finance Minister P Chidambaram on 27 March 1997 when he visited Kuala Lumpur
Do you struggle with any aspects of your identity as a Malaysian?
I’m still bothered when they say “bangsa” for the racial boxes we have to fill in. Why use “bangsa”? I thought “bangsa” refers to Malaysian. Even on TV, when they announce “bangsa India”, which are they referring to? Indian nationals? Or Indian Malaysians?
These kinds of things should be dealt with. The point is that nobody is honest enough to come forward especially with the likes of Perkasa around. And [I don't think] (Prime Minister Datuk Seri) Najib (Razak) feels strong enough to handle this whole thing about race, identity and privilege.
That’s why whenever I write my column on race, I never say it’s a “right”. It’s a “privilege”. The non-Malays have privileges. The Malays, too, have privileges. They are not rights. If you want to say “Malay rights”, then the Indians, too have rights.
Most of my columns are about race relations….I also wrote about fatwas. I think there are too many fatwas. You know, these fatwa councils, they are not legislative bodies. And you can’t say the fatwas don’t affect non-Muslims because some do. Just think of the problems caused by a husband who converts to Islam.
All the Middle Eastern countries, there’s no problem. It is here. They say Muslims here need to be protected. How many NGOs have come up to protect Muslims?
Do the Muslims need further protection when the state is already protecting them?
Many Muslims disagree with what is happening but they won’t speak up. I’m speaking up a bit. Because I feel that even some of these lectures on TV don’t propagate the Islam that the Prophet used to teach. You know, calling non-Muslims “kafir”. I think they shouldn’t use the word at all. “Kafir” is very derogatory. But they are using it liberally in their lectures.
Photographed on 15 Nov 1996 after interviewing South Korean President Kim Young-Sam at the presidential palace in Seoul
After interviewing South Korean President Kim Young-Sam at the presidential palace in Seoul, 15 Nov 1996
What kind of Malaysia would you like for yourself and future generations?
For me and my family, I want a Malaysia where everybody is safe. Where there is no suspicion of one another and there’s an ability to interact with each other without putting up walls.
You know, a while ago, my friend died. And my wife and I went to a church in Brickfields for his funeral service. My wife wears the tudung. We were standing outside with others while waiting for the service to be over. There were other people of other religions who didn’t want to go inside. But I told my wife, let’s go in to sit. So we sat in the pew. Hymns were being sung so I picked up the hymn book and flipped through the pages because the hymns were familiar from my school days [chuckles].
I held the book and sang along. And then one parishioner came and said, “Sir, you are a Muslim, I presume.” I said, “Yes, I am a Muslim. My wife is a Muslim.” “We are feeling very uncomfortable not because some Muslims might hammer you but because they might stone the church.” 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

CPI: Refsa on subsidies: Still off the mark... By Dr Lim Teck Ghee

Refsa on subsidies: Still off the mark

The response by Research for Social Advancement (Refsa) institute to my note is disappointing. It provides little value added to the current knowledge on subsidies in Malaysia; repeats various motherhood statements about the need to rein in subsidies and selectively focuses on so-called various ivory tower statements that they have detected in my note to triumphantly declare victory.
The major contention in my note is necessary to repeat:
It is necessary to remind the REFSA-IDEAS team that subsidies have an important role to play in providing a safety net for vulnerable groups. They help bring down the cost of living as well as enable access to health, education, transport and other necessities.
They are a necessary burden in a highly skewed capitalist economy such as Malaysia’s where the lower classes of labour do not get the fair remuneration that they are entitled to or deserve.
We already have one of the highest levels of income inequality in the region. In pushing for a free market system without due attention to the structural defects of our political economy, proponents of a neo-liberal ideology run the risk of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
For Refsa (and the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs / IDEAS) to be taken seriously, they need to address these concerns directly. They also need to buttress their stand on subsidies with some of the following:
1. Empirical verification for the major assertions made in their initial joint note
2. Details of the subsidies that need to be reduced or abolished (by sector, in ringgit and sen, etc)
3. Practical strategies to effectively implement phasing out of subsidies
4. Clear socio-economic justification for the cuts, and their effects to the economy and society
In the 1970s, Jacob Meerman produced a classic work on “Public Expenditure in Malaysia: Who Benefits and Why” (New York, Oxford University Press, 1979). His study utilized a sample survey to generate data on the household consumption of education, medical care agriculture, public utilities and welfare transfers – in other words on the entire range of subsidies. The results provided an estimate of government spending on households for the various services, particularly by income, region, ethnic community and other variables. His approach was not that simply of narrow income accounting. It also provided an analysis of the benefits of benefit incidence in terms of the locus of the benefits, their duration and their valuation.
Unfortunately Meerman’s work has not been replicated so that many are groping in the dark whilst pontificating about how the poor man on his motorcycle is really subsidizing the rich man in his BMW!
Meerman’s study can be a model for the work that Refsa/IDEAS should engage in, hopefully by way of a grant or subsidy from the government or other benefactors.
Should that work be deemed beyond their capabilities, I propose that Refsa/IDEAS go after various lower hanging fruit that have contributed more to our financial crisis. Should my initial proposal of a cutback in the civil service be seen as politically unpalatable or incorrect, then they may want to research on the capitalist and rentier captains who have adroitly manipulated the subsidy system to give it such an undeservedly bad name.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

malaysiakini: No Brave New Malaysia... by S Thayaparan

No Brave New Malaysia

  • S Thayaparan
  • 7:53AM Oct 21, 2012

Whatever we wish to achieve in the future, it must begin by knowing where we are in the present - not where we wish we were, or where we wish others to think we are, but where we are in fact." - Thomas Sowell (Economic Facts and Fallacies)

COMMENT The two most important lessons the long Umno watch has taught me. First, the federal government should not be entrusted to carry out policies based either on race or on need. The second, power should be decentralised.

Listening to the participants in the forum titled ‘Vision for Economic Development for Malaysia' organised by the Chevening Alumni of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur on Monday, what struck me was that there were no new ideas coming from either BN or Pakatan Rakyat.

NONEPSM's Sungai Siput MP Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj (who, as the DAP's Tony Pua accurately pointed out, set the bar extremely high) laid out a persuasive argument for a needs-based approach as opposed to the racial card game which is at present in play.

Jeyakumar, the only participant who has been in the grassroots trenches and been witness to Umno at the height of its power and the new reality where Pakatan has gained more influence, is a credible advocate of his socialist position. It is pity that he does not get (unlike the other two participants) mainstream (read: alternative) press coverage for his cause which he rightly deserves.

He has put in the hard work, unlike the other two politicians there who no doubt serve different roles but were, at the end of the day, regurgitating (way past its expiry date) political party talking points.

Khairy Jamaluddin, who famously used the euphemism "leakages" to describe the corruption endemic in the New Economic Policy (NEP), continued his disingenuous sermonising by conceding that a needs-based approach was acceptable, but Malaysians should consider the "grey areas" that did not involve those "bumiputera entrepreneurs who were not on the margins of society".

Khairy may justify it as "empowerment of certain ethnic groups within certain economic sectors..." but for most informed Malaysians it most definitely means a policy of crony capitalism. All this comes at a time when Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah is taking potshots at the"privatisation of power", which was never really about privatisation but rather about extending and legitimising Umno power beyond that of the state.

The Rembau MP was overflowing with political correct bromides that stand out, among them, "It is not just political parties that are made up of certain sectoral interests as far as ethnicity and religion is concerned. It is also how society looks at itself" - which is very true but which is something Umno-BN has never attempted to remedy.

The way Malaysian society looks at itself is exemplified by the precious "social contract" that is either vigorously defended or rejected by partisans with jaundiced interpretations of the constitution or the advocating of communal rights as a stand in for human rights.

Affirmation action fails

The fact that Pakatan partisans sometimes equate this "defence" with the civil rights movement in America makes a mockery of the road travelled by people who were far more committed to the ideals of a civilised and just society than the communal rights advocates and the crypto racists within their ranks.

This myopic narrative of Malaysian racial/economic politics continues in the proposed Social Inclusion Act drafted by Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM) and the National Human Rights Society (Hakam). Understand now that I am supportive of the aims of both these organisation and Pakatan, but neither of them is offering anything new beyond the idea that the "game" would be played more equitably.

Now, at first glance this may seem like an attractive proposition but the reality is that as long as we are bound by the racial shackles of our past and no new ideas ("new" does not necessarily mean "original") are injected into the political mainstream, we are doomed to commit the mistakes of our past.

Under the rather loaded title ‘Building a more just and caring nation', Azmi Sharom endorses (while also acknowledging that the proposed Act is in need of fine tuning) the proposed Act as a good first step in realising the ideal explicit in the title of his piece.

As always, there is that caveat to appease Malay communal fears when it comes to a needs-based approach, which is "I agree that the largest number of poor households is still largely Malay. This being the case, if we discard ethnic-based policy-making and focus purely on poverty alleviation, the largest group that would be receiving help will still be Malays", which at the end is merely the sleight-of-hand political speak of Pakatan (not that I am implying that Sharom is a partisan) to appease a certain ethnic voting base.

I am still unclear on the whole ‘Malay' deal. Are we talking about bumiputeras or constitutionally-created Malays, which include immigrants fast-tracked to citizenship and Malaydom, or people who self-identify themselves as Malays because of their religion of choice, Islam?

I don't see how it is ‘civilised' to endorse a supposed colour blind policy all the while reassuring a certain ethnic group that they would be taken care of solely based on their race because they (without serious unbiased holistic study) fulfil the ‘needs' criteria.

To my thinking the fact that the majority Malay community (and the rest of us Malaysians) have suffered from an affirmative action policy, perhaps the best course of action, at least as a temporary measure, is to abandon the idea of affirmative action.

Thomas Sowell in his provocative essay "Affirmative Action: A World Wide Disaster" (1989) tells of his research on countries where such policies, either race-based or needs-based, list several "patterns" that have a deleterious effect on any given society. I will list them here for convenience:

From the article:

1. Preferential programmes, even when explicitly and repeatedly defined as "temporary", have tended not only to persist but also to expand in scope, either embracing more groups or spreading to wider realms for the same groups or both. Even preferential programmes established with legally mandated cut-off dates in India and Pakistan have been continued past those dates by subsequent extensions.

2. Within these groups designated by government as recipients of preferential treatment, the benefits have disproportionately gone to those members already more fortunate.

3. Group polarisation has tended to increase in the wake of preferential treatment programmes, with non-preferred groups reacting adversely, in ways ranging from political backlash to mob violence and civil war.

4. Fraudulent claims of belonging to beneficiary groups have been widespread and taken many forms in various countries.

Superficial treatment

Readers are encouraged to slog through the 22 pages of Sowell's piece if only to remind them that there are alternatives to the current Malaysian discourse. Many Malaysian voices that advocate the same have been excluded for reasons ranging from political expediency, blind loyalty to party or Umno state-sanctioned reprisals, and of course the big one, disrupting the social contract and inflaming racial sentiment.

Of course, this piece should not be considered an attack against affirmative action (although by all means consider it such, especially if you see Sowell's "patterns" in the current Malaysian social and political climate) but rather a superficial treatment of an option that we as Malaysians should consider if we are to truly move forward.

We have a bloated civil service (and we have seen how well that worked out for Greece) and a corporate sector rife with racism as a mirror to the public sector. Our education system is in shambles with big business and fly-by-night operators colluding with the federal government to engineer an eco-system where public funds would be used to subsidise corporate interests. In this climate, do we really need an affirmative action policy?

Khairy in one of his more exuberant post-2008 tsunami moments wondered out aloud if the concept of "Ketuanan Melayu" could be reimagined as "Kepimpinan Melayu". If Kepimpinan Melayu had ever advocated abandoning its affirmative action policies after realising the futility of social engineering the Umno way, then perhaps Malay leadership would be something every Malaysian would subscribe to.

As it is, ‘Malay' leadership is accepted as a necessary consequence of the racial political reality in this land. To quote Sowell, "When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear." Unfortunately, the last bit does not apply solely to Umno.

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

Monday, October 15, 2012

malaysiakini: How to stop worrying about the Jews.... by S Thayaparan

How to stop worrying about the Jews
  • S Thayaparan
  • 10:28AM Oct 13, 2012
"One of my first reservations about Zionism was and is that, semiconsciously at least, it grants the anti-Semites first premise about the abnormality of the Jew." - Christopher Hitchens (Hitch-22: A Memoir)

COMMENT Here in Malaysia (and perhaps the rest of the world) the response to anti-Semitism nearly always includes that caveat of a reference to the natural resources dispute promoted as a religious conflict going on in Israel.

Why we should justify our condemnation of bigotry by portraying "objectivity" when it comes to a conflict which has nothing to do with the bigotry at hand merely to appease the bigot, is a worrying trend that has encouraged bigots to conflate issues all the while secure in the knowledge that it is they who will always control the narrative as long as they form the majority or have resort to victimhood.

Of course, here in Malaysia the most vocal of anti-Zionists (which let's face it, here it's code and an avenue to express some good old fashioned anti-Semitism) have more in common thematically with the ideology (Zionism) than they would have you believe.

Don't believe me? Check out some of the more conservative expressions of Zionism and you would be surprised (or maybe not) to discover how much such a concept has in common with something like ‘Ketuanan Melayu' for instance. Here is where both sides start accusing me of racism or maybe even sedition.

Jewish and Muslim propagandists work the conspiracy angle to lay the groundwork for the much hoped for clash of civilisations which would see one ideology reign supreme. On one side, we have Islam and on the other, some kind of Judeo-Christian-capitalist dogma masquerading as the Free World.

As Islam is the fastest growing religion in the West and secularism (the most potent tool for which to dismantle religious bigotry) chucked aside in favour of Christian sabre-rattling, it should surprise nobody that the religious bigots set the social and political agenda.

Here in Malaysia, state-sanctioned anti-Semitism due to the Arabisation creep (as I put forward in 'Fiddler's on Anwar's roof') has resulted in a toxic atmosphere where racial preoccupations are conflated with religious ones, to promote a narrative that the Malay/Islamic community will be forever under siege with Umno being the only sincere defenders of community and faith. Convenient, right?
Umno's indoctrination
All this fear of that Jew George Soros with his tainted Jewish money seeking to overthrow the rightful defenders of Islam through various non-governmental organisations and political parties is farcical if not for the very real concern of some Muslims of this fate because of the decades long indoctrination by the Umno.

Rationally speaking, which is more corrosive - Western interests groups who wish to set the agendas in countries by promoting free and fair elections, free speech and good governance (which is hypocritical in the context of American foreign policy) or Arab (whenever I hear this, I remember the great Anthony Quinn as Auda Abu Tayi in Lawrence of Arabia, mock the Englishman with "The Arabs? The Howitat, Ajili, Rala, Beni Saha; these I know, I have even heard of the Harif, but the Arabs? What tribe is that?) or should that be House of Saud petrodollars (thank you America) through their Wahhabis allies (thank you Great Britain) financing not only terrorism (or Islamic freedom fighting) but also the most virulent strain of bigoted Islam through thousands of madrasahs around the world (most damagingly in Western countries where political correctness has resulted in a retreat of traditional Western values in favour of multicultural (sic) appeasement)?

harakahI still get a kick when reading oldHarakah articles when Mahathir had allowed the Israeli cricket team to play in Malaysia because he wanted the Jews (Zionists?) to realise how a country of multiple faiths could co-exist peaceful. Stop laughing.

How the PAS boys mocked Anwar's Islamic credentials and his rationale - sports are apolitical - as evidence that he was not defending Islam by allowing the Zionists into the country. How times have changed, or has it?

As it is, the Jewish presence in Malaysia like every else which points to a rich cultural historical mix which seems anathema to Umno has been quietly erased. Jewish presence in Penang is forgotten when it could be used to highlight the historical diversity of the island and in a small quiet way the whole of Malaysia.

And how could we forget the work of Alexander Oppenheim, who was the first and founding vice-chancellor of Universiti Malaya.

In most countries in the world, diversity would be used as a tool to further the egalitarian perspective (which is easy to articulate but which is extremely difficult to realise) but here in Malaysia like many other countries where Islamic insecurities take precedence over everything else, nobody wants to consider that maybe the problem is, us not them.

Ethnic fear-mongering
It's pretty sick when you think of it, to play the lowest common denominator - which is something Umno cultivated - this regime and its agents spew out the most virulent of anti-Semitism in the hopes that the racial and ethnic fear-mongering, which has worked so well all these years, would pay dividends against an opposition block which has a real shot at the throne of Putrajaya.

What's more troubling is that Pakatan Rakyat has never addressed the prevailing anti-Semitism in this country. This of course is not surprising since PAS is supposed to bring in the Islamic sex appeal to the alliance.
As always is not the anti-Semitism which is the problem or how it has been brought upon by Umno but rather how Pakatan intends to solve this problem.

Now before Pakatan kool aid drinkers go on about how it is important to win the elections first and then worry about these small details, I'd just like to say that as someone who is currently working with young people whose minds have been calcified by Umno, voting for Pakatan does not necessarily mean they subscribe to the feel-good rhetoric coming out of the alternative alliance.

Deputy Higher Education Minister Saifuddin Abdullah (right) may worry that playing the Soros (and indirectly the Jew) card may backfire but this is not because he is worried that engaging in bigoted hate tactics is wrong, but it is because he realises that even in this Umno never practises what it preaches.

Don't worry. It's open season on minority groups in this country and anyone who can be demonised will be and as long as the alliance of change does not make principled stands against bigotries of any kind, all the while hoping it would back fire against their political foes, we should not expect that anything would change if a new alliance comes into power as far as these kinds of "issues" are concerned.

And this should make the anti-Semites happy, although a reshuffling of our racial deck of cards may be a bummer for the same.

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