Understanding Wahhabism

July 31, 2011

Understanding Wahhabism

by Abdar Rahman Koya@www.malaysiakini.com

Recent news reports about the ‘Wahhabi’ terror cell in the country have brought into open some level of ignorance among the so-called Malaysian intelligentsia about Islamic movement.

On one hand such accusations reveal again the legendary close-mindedness of our government ulama; on the other hand, analysts and observers have been quick to condemn the accusations with some even coming to the defence of Wahhabism, little knowing about the historical and political issues underlying the subject.

wahabbismThankfully, as much as such a controversy somewhat reveals our intellectual isolation from any present debate in the Muslim world, it also provides an opportunity to do our homework.

Towards that end, this little book on Wahhabism, ‘Wahhabism: A Critical Essay’, written by British-American professor Hamid Algar of the University of Berkeley in California, who is one of the most well-known contemporary Muslim academics in the West, can serve as a good launchpad .

‘Wahhabism’ and ‘Wahhabis’ are names, often used derogatorily by those outside its fold, given to the doctrine and followers of Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahab, who, annoyed by practices which he claimed were bordering on kufr (disbelief of Islam), launched a campaign to ‘purify’ the Islamic faith. Many have compared the Wahhabi campaign to Islamic ‘reformation’ and ‘revivalist’ movements in various parts of the Muslim world.

Professor Algar’s study of the Wahhabi phenomenon was published in 2002. It was considered timely then, coming after the rise and fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, whose ‘Islamic’ rule few would deny was a carbon copy of the Wahhabi-Saudi rule in the Arabian peninsula.

The difference between them is mainly that the former was destroyed because of its resistance to Western bullying, and the latter survives because of America’s interest in the region’s petroleum resources.

The western media have labelled as ‘Wahhabis’ any jihad groups in Central Asia, and conveniently used phrases such as “strict Sunni Islam” or “puritan Islam” to describe the Saudi and the Taliban governments.

But Wahhabism is not Sunni Islam; in fact many Sunni traditions have been attacked by the Wahhabis as shirk (polytheism) and bid’ah (un-Islamic innovations), the most common example of which is the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday.

Delight in polemics

Most non-Wahhabis already have a general idea of Wahhabism even if they have not experienced it personally. Generally speaking, Wahhabis delight in polemics, have no patience with a second opinion, are often chauvinist in their interpretations, and usually peripheral in their approach.

Anyone with a Wahhabi tendency is generally liberal in the use of strong terms such as bid’ah, kufr, aqidah, shirk and khurafat.

Yet a tendency to label and condemn is not exclusive to Wahhabis. Numerous other pseudo-intellectual movements to “purify” Islam have emerged later, often claiming that Muslims have deviated for “hundreds of years”, only to be offered salvation by these ‘purified’ understandings of theirs, as if Islam’s built-in system of deviation and correction is inadequate.

One can safely name in this category the ‘gold dinar’ advocates and the anti-Hadith followers, both from opposite extremes but identical in their approach and thinking method: one obsessed with monetary issues, the other with weak hadiths (traditions of Prophet Muhammad).

Any movement that does not have an intellectual foundation may be doomed to fail, especially when it seeks to interpret and offer guidelines for a revealed paradigm. One may be forgiven for thinking that the movement of Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab emerged out of a scholastic tradition, from the fact that Wahhabism has grown from its small localised beginnings to encroach into the minds of many Muslim individuals and groups from Indonesia to Europe.

Historical honesty demands that we admit that this in itself is some success. True, Wahhabism may not be pursued with the same vigour today as it was during its early days, yet its influence on the Muslim world is undeniable.

Idealistic youngsters

In the West Muslims may have encountered Wahhabi tendencies among the more idealistic youngsters, who are influenced through Saudi-sponsored Muslim fraternities such as the Muslim Student Associations, the Muslim World League, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), and an array of academic institutes and publication houses. In the East the Wahhabi success story is much shorter, although the Saudis have funded Muslim youth organisations in the Indian subcontinent and south-east Asia.

The Jamaat Muslimin group in India and the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (ABIM) are examples.However, it would be grossly unfair to dismiss these organisations as Wahhabi set-ups. Social, cultural and financial circumstances have made these unsuspecting groups embrace Saudi-Wahhabi assistance.

In much of India and the Malay world it is admitted even by the most anti-Wahhabi that many unIslamic beliefs and practices have penetrated local Muslim traditions; various forms of Wahhabism have offered that radical ‘cleaning up’ drive that local ulama have not been able to provide.

Some even try to justify the Wahhabis’ ‘historical terrorism’ in the Arabian peninsula, destroying places of historical importance, such as libraries and graves of the Companions of the Prophet.

Whether all this is done with sincere Wahhabi sentiment is highly doubtful, as Algar notes: the palaces of the Saudi monarchs have somehow escaped the Wahhabis’ ‘purification’.

The Saudis’ Islamic programmes are conducted in the hope of acquiring political legitimacy within the Ummah by propagation of Islamic tenets, albeit with questionable interpretations. The end-products of such programmes are at best an intellectual exercise for Islamic studies graduates.

One example is the so-called revised version of Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s famous translation of the Quran. Years of effort by Wahhabi-minded scholars have resulted in a distorted version of the original work , with all commentaries or terms bordering on tasawwuf (Islamic mysticism)- which is ‘innovation’ according to the Wahhabis – omitted.

One interesting comment by Algar is his rejection of the theory that Wahhabism had a scholarly origin. He points out that Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab had no foundation, intellectually or spiritually. A cursory glance at some of the Wahhabi writings and reference materials does show a lack of research and intellectual honesty.

Collections of hadiths

Many of these books, as he observes, are merely collections of hadiths on different subjects. Perhaps in jest, Algar argues that the birthplace of Wahhabism is enough for us to view its doctrines with suspicion, mentioning an “apocalyptic hadith” about Najd in central Arab peninsula being unfavourable compared with other regions in terms of divine blessings.

He adds: “Correlating apocalyptic hadith with observable historical phenomena is a hazardous task, best left unattempted, and this particular hadith, if indeed authentic, may ultimately be seen to have a sense entirely unconnected with Wahhabism” (pp. 5-6).

Using the works of Orientalists and Arab Muslims, Wahhabis as well as non-Wahhabis, he argues that the final feather in Wahhabism’s cap was the founding of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Algar’s explanation of the early rise of Wahhabism is also useful to understand the rise of the Saudi dynasty in the Arabian peninsula and how the colonial powers, namely the British in this case, used such groups in order to remain effectively entrenched in territories long after they ‘leave’.

These are historical facts, but what the writer seems to have missed is the fact that the Wahhabis even in their early days were not very different from their modern counterparts, such as the Taliban.

Followers of Wahhabism may have been unprepared for, and ill-equipped to deal with, the intricate and devious manoeuvres of the British. Could it not be that these unsuspecting followers were used by Britain because of this lack of sophistication on their part?

Having given an overview of Wahhabism, Algar explains the various activities of the Saudis, using their oil wealth, to propagate the Wahhabi creed to the rest of the Muslim world, through the organisations mentioned above.

While not much success can be conceded to Wahhabis in Muslim countries, the fact is that the Wahhabi ‘ideology’ has been spread vigorously among Muslims in the West. In the meantime, he also dismisses the Western propaganda of the Wahhabis’ so-called influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Shi’ah response

The last part of the book deals with the Shi’ah response to Wahhabism. Were it not for the fact that the Shi’ite Muslims have been at the receiving end of the Wahhabi onslaught, the subject would have been better ignored.

One of the Wahhabis’ primary targets were the Shi’ahs in the Holy Lands, and fatwas were issued by Wahhabi scholars condemning them and saying that their blood may be shed.

Algar then fast-forwards to the contemporary Wahhabi position on Shi’ism, and how those opposed to the Saudi dynasty continue to echo Wahhabi sentiments despite their criticism of Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab because of his alliance with the Saudis.

Other Wahhabi-minded dissidents have been more accommodating, and prefer to be among the more ‘diplomatic’ (by Wahhabi standards) cousins of Wahhabis, called Salafis, so called after the generation of ‘Salafs': the generation of the Prophet and the four Caliphs after his death.

Algar, however, warns us of the tendency of the people whom he calls “professional anti-Wahhabis” to accuse of Wahhabism any who do not subscribe to their own political and religious views.

The Salafis, and those for whom the cause of Palestine is a high priority, for example, are some of their victims in America. He writes: “No doubt the Salafi mode of thought has many adherents, and no doubt it has many points in common with Wahhabism… however, it is inaccurate, irresponsible, and dangerous-particularly in the climate of the post-September 11 America-to conflate ‘Salafi’ with ‘Wahhabi’ and paint a picture of American Muslims as being in their majority Wahhabi” (pp 67-68).

The book ends with some selected writings by Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab and his followers, and a Shi’ah response to Wahhabism in the form of a letter by Shaykh Ja’far Kashif al-Ghita to Abdul Aziz bin Muhammad bin Saud, refuting the Wahhabis’ many accusations of shirk and kufr against Shi’ism.

Algar’s essay on Wahhabism is perhaps the strongest indictment of the divisive sect by a contemporary Muslim academic in the West, one who is highly respected for his depth of scholarship.

Yet it would be unwise to brand such groups as being outside the fold of Islam, and Professor Algar is careful not to do so. It is imperative that Muslims be warned of such a dangerous creed within Islam.

Yet it is more productive to seek common ground with such groups and engage them within the Islamic movement, instead of wasting energy on countering their claims.

The truth is that supporters and opponents of Algar’s views on Wahhabism may be surprised to find their differences made irrelevant by the common enemies of Islam.

Najib’s Papal Ties

July 31, 2011

Netto comments on Najib’s Papal Ties

by Terence Netto@http://www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT After weeks of silence during which he took a lot of flak for what was perceived as undue coziness with the powers-that-be, the Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, Reverend Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam has issued a statement on the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Malaysia.

Couched in the platitudes for which men of the cloth are renowned, the statement by Reverend Murphy Pakiam, given front-page play in today’s edition of the Catholic weekly Herald, sets out six steps that he hopes would be facilitated by the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Holy See and Malaysia.

There is a lack of realism about the majority of the steps the Archbishop spelt out that is either a commentary on the dangers posed by thinking that revels in platitudes, or it simply reflects imperviousness to what the environment is telling him.

Take, for example, hopes for the establishment of an Inter Religious Council that would include key leaders and representatives of all religious groups.

The operative word here is “key”. Muslim supremacy is not going to abide the notion of implied parity to other religions that membership of an inter-faith panel by key Muslim leaders would grant.

This fact ought to have been plain to non-Muslims a long time ago when Muslim religious leaders declined invitations to join the Christian-mooted Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism formed in the early 1980s.

If it didn’t get through in earlier decades, this fact should have last year after no less than the Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin dismissed the composition of the inter-faith panel that the late Ilani Ishak tried to form as “small fry”, in an apparent attempt to placate Muslim supremacists who were upset at Muslim participation.

In Muslim-dominated Malaysia, Islamic propriety towards The Other does not disbar cordiality, but it stops short of countenancing the notion of equality.

A Ministry on non-Muslim affairs?

Similarly unrealistic is the second step outlined by the Archbishop: the establishment of a ministry and the appointment of a full minister to look into non-Muslim affairs.

Again, this measure would grant parity to other religions and so would be insupportable in a Muslim-run polity. In its favour, one may argue that there exists such a portfolio in other Muslim dominant countries like Pakistan, for example.

But the powers are severely circumscribed and what’s left only serves to emphasise the ‘dhimmi’ status of the non-Muslims. (Dhimmi are the non-Muslim subjects under Muslim governance.)

NONEThe third step is one that is the most feasible because it does not have any negative repercussions on the special status of Islam in Malaysia.

This step concerns the establishment of dialogue and links between Islamic institutions in Malaysia and the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies.

But the fourth and fifth steps deepen the unrealism that drapes the whole project of what ties between the Vatican and Malaysia should achieve from the standpoint of the church in Malaysia.

These measures concern education and training. The Archbishop hopes that the government would permit seminaries to resume the training of priests from the region, and that it would promote Christian-Catholic education and training of teachers.

It is not hard to envisage that a Muslim-run government would respond with a flat ‘no’ to the first request and a nuanced ‘yes’ to the second.

A Muslim government, zealous about its Islamic credentials, would be averse to the idea of Malaysia being a hub for the training of priests from the region.

However, the same government would not be unfriendly to the proposal that Christian principals be appointed to Christian-owned but government-aided educational institutions.

Defence of Democratic Values

The sixth step concerns the promotion and defence of democratic values and protection of minority groups in Malaysia. This step is neither here nor there. Its feasibility depends on who makes the government in Malaysia.

The best way to ensure the realisation of the sixth step is to abet the development of political perspectives in Malaysia that aim to restore the country to the values enshrined in the Merdeka Constitution.

Restoration would foster a climate where the less unrealistic goals outlined by the Archbishop are certain to be realised. Absent restoration, those goals would be subject to the vagaries of rulers who will treat the Christian vote as a thing to be courted only when their tenancy is imperiled.

From Malott to Prime Minister Najib

July 31, 2011

From Former US Ambassador to Malaysia John Malott to Prime Minister Najib

Dear PM Najib,

As a result of the developments on July 9, the world is now paying increased attention to Malaysia.

In particular, we now wonder how free and fair your nation’s elections are. We have learned that some of your country’s citizens believe that Malaysia needs electoral reform. On July 9, they marched with a coalition called Bersih 2.0, and they called for free and fair elections.

You responded by declaring Bersih illegal and suppressing the ‘Walk for Democracy’ with overwhelming Police force. The world noticed your heavy-handed reaction, and it wondered why a peaceful demonstration calling for fair elections bothered you so much – so much so that you were willing to risk Malaysia’s international reputation – and give your country and yourself a major black eye.

When you returned from your visit to Europe, you declared that Malaysia’s elections truly are free and fair, and that UMNO has never cheated in any election.

I am glad to hear that. Because it means that in Malaysia’s next general elections, you have nothing to hide.

Governments that manipulate elections have lots to cover up. But you say that your elections are free and fair, so that means you have nothing to be afraid of showing to all of us in the outside world, not to mention your own people.

Therefore, I am sure that you are willing to readily agree to the following proposals:

1) Allow international groups to observe your elections. Based on your assertions, they will find nothing amiss, and their reports will give credibility to Malaysia’s election results.

2) Allow observers from all political parties to witness the postal balloting that takes place on military bases. For years, the opposition has said that something is amiss. But since you say that UMNO never cheats, I am sure that they will find nothing wrong, and you will be vindicated.

3) Let’s put an end to all the accusations about phantom voters by using a simple, effective and cheap solution – indelible ink.

Your Elections Commission wants a super-sophisticated biometric system, but there is no way it can be in place by then – and many people worry that it can be manipulated. Indelible ink works – just ask the world’s largest democracy, India. I don’t think anyone has ever disputed the results of India’s elections in over 60 years.

4) Finally, let RTM be truly independent, like the BBC and NHK and the public broadcasting systems in Australia, France, Germany, and elsewhere in the world. RTM does not belong to UMNO. It belongs to the people.

As long as RTM – funded by all the people of Malaysia – acts as the propaganda arm of the 25 percent of Malaysians who voted for UMNO, no one can believe that Malaysia’s elections are fair and free.

So, my dear Prime Minister, it’s all very simple. You say that Malaysia’s elections are free and fair. Now you have a chance to prove it to the outside world and remove all doubts. And if your party wins, then the Malaysian people – and the world – might finally be convinced.

If you refuse these suggestions, then the doubts will linger, and your assertions about the honesty of Malaysia’s election will continue to be questioned.

John Malott*

*John Malott was former Ambassador of the United States of America to Malaysia

The Passing of Dato’ Syed Ahmad Jamal

July 31, 2011

The Passing of Our Dear Friend, Dato’ Syed Ahmad Jamal

Dr. Kamsiah and I are saddened to learn early this morning of the passing of a dear friend, Dato’ Syed Ahmad Jamal. We wish to express our most profound condolences to Y.Bhg Datin Hamidah Md Noor and family.

We had looked forward to meeting Dato’ Syed Ahmad Jamal and Datin Hamidah again on August 18, 2011 at the KL Lifestyle Gallery, Jalan Ma’arof, Bangsar Baru, Kuala Lumpur. 

It has been quite a while since we met this loving and devoted couple at Balai Seni Lukis Negara (see picture above). He was a dear friend to us, and a respected intellectual with a number of books on Art and Art History to his credit.

For all his many achievements and contributions to the development of Malaysian Art and the welfare of local artists, Dato’ Syed Ahmad Jamal remains an unassuming renaissance man. He will be sadly missed by all of us who have been blessed and privileged to know him. Al-Fatihah–Dr Kamsiah and Din Merican

National Art Laureate Dato’ Syed Ahmad Jamal passes on

BERNAMA reports:

National Art Laureate 1995 Dato’ Syed Ahmad Syed Jamal died at his residence in Gombak here at about 10pm tonight. He was 82. He is survived by his wife, Datin Hamidah Mohd Noor and two sons.

His death was confirmed by the National Art Gallery’s Public Relations Unit when contacted by Bernama.

Born in Muar, Johor, Syed Ahmad received his early education at Sultan Abu Bakar English College, Johor Bahru. His higher education was gained abroad – Birmingham School of Architecture (1950-1951), Chelsea School of Arts, London (1951-1955), Institute of Education, University of London (1955-1956), School of Art Institute, Chicago (1963-1964), a masters degree from University of Hawaii (1973-1975).

Syed Ahmad had served as Universiti Malaya director of cultural centre (1979-1982, a lecturer at the Malayan Teachers Training College, Kirkby, England (1958-1959) and director of the National Art Gallery (1983-1991). He had won accolades and art prizes locally and internationally.

Syed Ahmad will be buried at the Kampung Pusu Muslim Cemetery, Gombak before Zohor prayer tomorrow (July 31, 2011).

In Retrospect


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Melihat Karya Seniman Negara SYED AHMAD JAMAL

 Dalam memperkatakan dan melihat hasil karya SAJamal, kita terpesona akan kehebatan beliau dalam mengolah serta memainkan warna dan bentuk-bentuk tiga segi yang berpaksikan semangat ‘fiction’ kisah lagenda puteri gunung Ledang, Gunung Fujiyama dan sebagainya. Disamping memaparkan unsur jiwa keislaman dalam tampak wadah ‘contemporary’, sebagaimana kenyataan beliau “My works have an Islamic soul and a contemporary form.” – Syed Ahmad Jamal – (Ooi Kok Chuen, 2009 Sunday Times).

Antaranya juga, Syed Ahmad’s landscape and (early) portrait paintings were stamped with his personal input and style, with traces of analytical Cubism and Abstract Expressionism, before his art matured into a kind of sublimal Symbolism.

Terutama semasa beliau memulakan langkah awal sebagai ‘Specialist Teachers Training Institute as principal (1965-73) before he did his master’s in Art History at the University of Hawaii, Honolulu, in 1973. He studied Philosophy in Islamic Art at Harvard in 1974 and that led to the subtle infusion of Islamic elements in his art, helped in part by the resurgence sparked by Ayatollah Khomeini in the early 1980s. Examples of such works are Tawaf (1986), Ruang Qiblat (2004) and Arafah (1999). (Ooi Kok Chuen, dalam SundayTimes Oct 4, 2009).

Beliau telah didedahkan dengan pendidikan dari dunia barat iaitu di Britain, at the Birmingham School of Architecture (1950) and the Chelsea School of Art (1951-55) dan di Amerika Utara “where he studied sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, from 1963 to 1964. There, he was struck by the works of Clyfford Still (1904-80), Mark Rothko (1903-70) and Hans Hoffmann (1884-1966) (Ooi Kok Chuen dalam Sunday Times, October 4, 2009).

Berlandaskan akan latarbelakang tersebut sudah pasti beliau mempunyai pengalaman luas dalam selok belok senilukis samada pada peringkat negara dan antarabangsa. Retrospektif beliau kali ini merupakan kemuncak kerjaya senilukisnya sebagai seorang seniman yang begitu komited mengenai visi seninya.

Walaubagaimanapun, apa yang tertariknya di sini, saya ingin mengambil akan ungkapan Ismail Abdullah bahwa jika melihat karya SAJ adakah kita menikmati kepuasan daripada bentuk dan warnanya yang garang dan berseri sahaja? Sebagai contoh, sebuah karya lukisan SAJ Gunung Ledang, walaupun dalam bentuk abstrak. Namun memiliki simbol melalui warna dan bentuk geometri yang cuba dikaitkan dengan legenda puteri gunung ledang di Melaka. Lukisan abstrak ini mempunyai elemen visual yang menyatakan pandangan pelukisnya melalui aspek tampakan yang diadun secara halus dan bijaksana.

Karya lukisan abstrak expressionisme ini berjaya membayangkan perasaan seseorang yang hendak meminang puteri berkenaan dalam kisah lagenda sultan Melaka. Lukisan ini memaparkan mesej yang berfokus kepada kisah berkenaan. Namun pembacaan terhadap mesej ini amat sukar difahami memandangkan karya ini adalah sebuah karya abstrak yang rupa bentuk visualnya amat arbitrari dan kabur, tidak jelas ikon dan simbolnya. Lukisan ini tidak memaparkan kod atau indeks visual yang mempunyai rujukan yang jelas dalam sistem perlambangan budaya Melayu. – (Ismail Abdullah 2009 – Seni Budaya Media dan Konflik JatiDiri)

Kenyataan Ismail Abdullah (IA) membawa kepada persoalan yang jelas mengenai penggunaan kodifikasi serta pemaparan representasi SA Jamal mengenai seni yang ingin dibawanya. Mengikut SAJamal, “As a painter, I want to capture the essence and immortalize it in painting.” Soalannya, bagaimana beliau membina permasalahan ‘the essence’ dalam suatu permukaan catan yang terhad, daripada suatu lagenda melayu yang besar. Adakah ‘the essence’ yang diucapkan oleh beliau hanya sekadar membina fakta-fakta teks yang berlambangkan bentuk tiga segi (gunung) yang diimaginasikan dapat membina sebuah naratif visual yang tepat? Benarkah fakta-fakta teks visual tersebut bersifat begitu? Kalau benar, bagaimana fakta teks dari filem Puteri Gunung Ledang, karya Tiara Jacquelina dengan simbol visual yang dimainkan oleh SAJamal. Apa lebih dan apa kurangnya, sebagai suatu karya visual?

Adakah karya maha agong SAJamal berupaya membina sejarah seninya berbanding cereka Tiara dalam wadah visual yang lebih efektif? Adakah sudah cukup lambang-lambang yang digunakan SAJamal sebagai suatu essence bagi keseluruhan penceritaan teks melayu yang besar itu?

Jendela diAngkasa (1969)

Tetapi apa yang dapat dilihat dari rencana visualnya, SAJamal begitu mahir dalam memercikan lapisan pelbagai warna-warni dalam dimensi formasi visual yang boleh dianggap sebagai ‘immortalize’ pada setiap karyanya. Mungkin dalam kaedah ini beliau berjaya, terutama dalam karya beliau yang awal, kerana pengaruh Rothko.M, Clyfford Still dan Hans Hoffmann begitu jelas diadaptasinya sebagai suatu perencanaan visual seperti catan Jendela di Angkasa (1969).

Warna sebagai subjek yang meliputi seluruh ruang kanvas berjaya menangkap perspeksi dalam formasi kotak empat segi melintang, lantas membentuk perimbangan visual serta dilorek dengan fragmen-fragmen yang terapong memberi ‘myth’ dan tanda tanya secara saikologikal, seperti Rothko dan kawan-kawanya dalam aliran abstrak ekspressionisme.

Mungkin dalam kontek ini SAJamal berupaya membawa aliran tersebut kedalam jiwanya dan mampu diterjemahkan sebagai seorang melayu! Tetapi dalam bahasa yang lebih universal. Sebagaimana kenyataan beliau, “I found American paintings bolder and of a larger scale, and they have no reference to any discernible objects, like a tree. It was ground-breaking, not only in terms of size, but I was able to handle the space. I managed to overcome the fear of (big) space, and juggled to find a balance between forms and space,” (Ooi Kok Chuen, 2009).

Namun apa yang kita dapati daripada kenyataan nya, beliau seolah masih berpegang kepada aturan bentuk mujarad yang diadunkan secara formal. Kejelasan beliau mengenai kodifikasi fragmen-fragmen mujarad tersebut masih tidak jelas samada dalam konteks abstrak ekspressionismenya atau jiwa melayunya, terutama nada islam yang dijelaskan. “My works have an Islamic soul and a contemporary form.” (Ooi Kok Chuen, 2009).

Bagaimana beliau menterjemahkan tanda-tanda tersebut, lebih-lebih lagi dalam cerekarama visualnya melalui siri-siri Gunung Ledangnya? Bagaimana pula semangat beliau dalam teks Rupa dan Jiwa dalam hal ini? Adakah teks tersebut hanya sekadar sebagai suatu dokumentasi objek sejarah yang mengagongkan rupa bendanya sahaja atau daripada rupa jiwanya? Lebih lagi dalam kaitan beliau pada aliran Abstrak Ekspressionism?

Bagaimana SAJamal melihat akan perkara tersebut? Terutama dalam nada kontemporari yang diucapkan? Apa bezanya karya beliau yang dahulu kepada yang terkini. Adakah SAJamal masih mahu meretrospektif dalam gaya yang serupa?

BERSIH2.0 hijacked ?

July 31, 2011

BERSIH2.0 hijacked ?

Lee Way Loon@http://www.malaysiakini.com
Jul 30, 11

Almost three weeks after the Bersih 2.0 rally, the debate continues unabated with a key member of royal family claiming today that the electoral reform movement “had in some way been hijacked” by other groups and individuals.

Johor Sultanah Raja Zarith Sofia Sultan Idris Shah (left), said though the original cause of Bersih rally was genuine, the movement had been taken over by others. “They had in some way been hijacked by other groups and individuals… the original idea about general elections and the transparency of general elections were lost,” she said.

She was fielding a question from a student after officiating the 5th Annual Malaysian Student Leaders Summit at the Kuala Lumpur Hilton this morning. Raja Zarith Sofia, who is also the chancellor of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, advised the students against completely believing in media reports on the Bersih rally.

Instead, she said they should decide on their own on what is right or wrong and try to grasp as much as they can on current events in the country.

“Of course, you can see from the mainstream media that perhaps Bersih is founded by wrong people and the bad guys, and other groups are the good guys.

“It maybe or may not be, there is no right or wrong answer, but it may indicate that the country is heading for some kind of maturity.”

She also said the Bersih rally organisers may have been influenced by the Arab Spring in the Middle East but claimed that the scenarios are different between the two events.

“We must realise that in Middle East, what they were reacting – especially in Egypt – was against the rule of one person,” she said, referring to the Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak. “The fact that there was so much poverty and they don’t really have a big middle class like we do.”

‘Get rid of vernacular schools’

To another question on the nation’s education system, the Johor Sultanah commented that Malaysia should abolish the vernacular school system. This, she explained, is because Chinese and Tamil school students do not possess a good command of the English language to communicate with foreigners.

“Ideally, ridding vernacular schools would be a very forward-looking move,” she said, adding that this was her personal view.

Earlier in her speech, she said she has noticed that mainstream media reports, as well as responses of readers of blogs and news portals, have become worryingly provocative. “It is quite apparent that we need to communicate more with each other in order to avoid conflict, whoever and wherever we are, and perhaps one of the best ways is through dialogue.”

Book Review: Perplexities of Consciousness

July 31, 2011



Know Thyself: Easier Said Than Done
(Saya Mudah Lupa/Saya Tak Nampak)

by Nicholas Humphrey
Published: July 29, 2011

A few days before a review of my latest book appeared in these pages, I wrote to my editor, saying I had seen an advance copy and how much I liked the color illustration of the yellow moon. He replied that I must be mistaken, since the Book Review doesn’t use color. The next weekend he wrote to say he couldn’t think what had come over him — he reads the Book Review every week, and had somehow not noticed the color. Odd. And yet these lapses can happen to the best of us. Ask yourself what the Roman number four on the face of the church clock looks like. Most people will answer it looks like IV, but almost certainly the truth is it looks like IIII.

Why are we so bad at knowing — in this case remembering — what passes through our own minds? The philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel, in “Perplexities of Consciousness,” contends that our minds, rather than being open-access, are largely hidden territory. Despite what we believe about our powers of introspection, the reality is that we know awfully little about what our conscious experience amounts to. Even when reporting current experience, we make divergent, confused and even contradictory claims about what it’s like to be on the inside.

Consider binocular double vision, for example. Hold your index finger a foot in front of your nose, and look to the horizon. Some will say they see two “ghostly” fingers, but others will be sure they see just one. Note that people don’t disagree about the external facts — none of us think there’s really more than one finger out there — rather, we disagree at a level one step back: our private sensory experiences. And Schwitzgebel finds further examples across the range of mental life. “Is joy sometimes in the head, sometimes more visceral, sometimes a thrill, and sometimes an expansiveness, or, instead, does joy have a single, consistent core — a distinctive, identifiable, unique experiential character?” We can’t give a straight answer. “What exactly is my sensory experience as I stare at a penny?” Even in such a simple case, we can’t agree.

Now, you might suppose that a likely explanation for these disagreements is that different individuals have differently constituted brains, so they are not having the same experience to begin with. Indeed it has been discovered recently that some humans have three times as much brain cortex assigned to receiving information from the eyes as others do. And this must surely be influencing the quality of their experience somehow. Yet Schwitzgebel (right) argues that brain differences, even if they exist, are probably beside the point. For there is plenty of evidence that people will give different interpretations of the very same events inside their heads.

He begins with the curious case of color in dreams. When people today are asked whether they regularly dream in color, most say they do. But it was not always so. Back in the 1950s most said they dreamed in black and white. Presumably it can hardly be true that our grandparents had different brains that systematically left out the color we put in today. So this must be a matter of interpretation. Yet why such freedom about assigning color? Well, try this for an answer. Suppose that, not knowing quite what dreams are like, we tend to assume they must be like photographs or movies — pictures in the head. Then, when asked whether we dream in color we reach for the most readily available pictorial analogy. Understandably, 60 years ago this might have been black-and-white movies, while for most of us today it is the color version. But, here’s the thing: Neither analogy is necessarily the “right” one. Dreams don’t have to be pictures of any kind at all. They could be simply thoughts — and thoughts, even thoughts about color, are neither colored nor non-colored in themselves.

This explanation is of a piece with Schwitzgebel’s general line. We are fantasists about our own mental experiences because we have little other choice. When we are probed by questions beyond our introspective competence, we have to make the answers up as best we can. Schwitz­gebel’s message is very much in keeping with much writing in contemporary psychology that aims to knock us from our pedestals of Delphic self-assurance: to prove that we are, as Timothy Wilson says, “strangers to ourselves.”

This could all be true. We often do have trouble telling what’s going on inside our minds. But still I can’t say this is always because of feeble introspection. I suspect the real problem may be not that we know too little about our mental states but that we know too much. We are asked to say “what it’s like” — to dream, to imagine, to feel — as if there ought to be a simple answer: colored or not, single or double, in the head or in the heart. But, when it comes to it, the rich totality of our experience will not fit the Procrustean bed that philosophy, and everyday discourse also, tries to impose on it.

In the 1780s, Thomas Reid, a leading figure of the Scottish Enlightenment, chided his colleagues on just this score: for not appreciating the complex multilayered character of sensory experience. Reid argued that there are always two parallel threads to our experience: “The external senses have a double province; to make us feel, and to make us perceive.” Sensation is how we represent sensory stimuli at the surface of our bodies — the mental representation of “what’s happening to me”; perception, by contrast, is how we represent the outside world, “what’s happening out there.” And these two processes have dissimilar characteristics: sensation is raw and immediate, perception more categorical and slow.

Question, then (it’s one of Schwitzgebel’s examples): When the lights go up on a complex scene, do we immediately “see” the whole scene? The answer can only be yes, and no. At the level of visual sensation, yes, it’s all there, every part of the field, every stitch of the tapestry, seems to be filled in at once. But at the level of perception, no, our picture of what’s out there in the world gets built up over seconds. “What exactly is my experience?” If exactly means simply, this question is one to which there’s no good answer.

Reid complained that the habit of confounding sensation and perception “has been the occasion of most of the errors and false theories of philosophers with regard to the senses.” While Schwitz­gebel fails to pick up on the sensation-perception distinction where he should do, I’d say there is one consequence of it that could play right into his hands. For, remarkably enough, research has shown we don’t actually need sensation to perceive. There is a clinical syndrome known as “blindsight,” resulting from brain damage, where the subject — to his own astonishment — finds he can “see” the properties of things he’s looking at, even though all visual sensation has been lost. He may indeed be able to guess what color an object is, without, as it were, seeing the color in color. Could the existence of blindsight help resolve the paradox of the color — or lack of it — in dreams? Do we indeed “see blindly” in dreams? I think we may. We dream of Joseph, and weave him an amazing technicolor coat; yet, like the emperor, he is really wearing nothing but ideas.

Nicholas Humphrey is school professor emeritus of psychology at the London School of Economics. His most recent book is “Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness.”

When in doubt, Blame the Jews

July 30, 2011


In Malaysia, When in Doubt, Blame the Jews

by Rabbi Abraham Cooper (July 22, 2011)

On July 9, 20,000 Malaysians gathered in Kuala Lumpur to demand more transparency in electoral laws in connection with next year’s national elections.

The Police unleashed tear gas and chemical-laced water on the demonstrators and temporarily detained nearly 1,700 of them. According to reports, authorities also detained six opposition activists without trial and accused them of trying to use the rally to spread communism. The Police said they found T-shirts and other materials linked to communist figures.

Apparently, these measures didn’t suffice for some of Malaysia’s nervous ruling elite. The editors of Utusan Malaysia, owned by Prime Minister Najib Razak’s United Malays National Organization ruling party (UMNO), defaulted to a time-tested maneuver: When in doubt, blame the Jews!

The Jews? Most citizens of the overwhelmingly Asian economic giant have never and will likely never meet a Jew in their lifetime. And yet the folks at Utusan Malaysia, which is influential among Muslims in rural areas who rely on government-linked media to shape their worldview, are apparently confident warnings about a “Jewish plot” would resonate in a land without Jews.

To understand why, you need only look at the track record of the man who dominated his nation for a quarter of a century, Malaysia’s fourth Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad.

Mahathir was credited with engineering Malaysia’s rapid modernization and spectacular economic growth. He was a dominant political figure, winning five consecutive general elections. He also used his political clout and controversial laws to detain activists and political opponents.

And Mahathir is an anti-Semite. Back in 1970, in his treatise on Malay identity, “The Malay Dilemma,” he wrote: “The Jews are not only hooked-nosed … but understand money instinctively. … Jewish stinginess and financial wizardry gained them the economic control of Europe and provoked antisemitism which waxed and waned throughout Europe through the ages.”

In August 1984, a visit by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra was canceled when his Information Minister demanded that music by composer Ernst Bloch be deleted from the program. His crime? He was a Jew and the selection chosen was based on Hebrew melodies.

In 1986, Mahathir charged “Zionists” and Jews with attempting to destabilize the country through allegedly Jewish-controlled media. He subsequently banned The Asia Wall Street Journal for three months describing the publication as “Jewish owned.” In the 1990s, Mahathir used the Malaysian news agency, Bernama, to accuse Australian Jewry of conspiring to topple him.

Mahathir, who made Islam a central component of Malaysian identity, made this chilling charge in 1997: “We are Moslems, and the Jews are not happy to see Moslems progress.”

Perhaps that would help explain the resounding ovation which greeted his screed at a Islamic Leadership Conference in 2003: “The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million … but today, the Jews rule the world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them.”

And just last year the elder statesman of anti-Semites said this at a conference: “Jews had always been a problem in European countries. They had been confined in ghettos and periodically massacred. But they still remained and still thrived and held whole governments to ransom. … Even after their massacre by the Nazis in Germany, they survived to be a source of even greater problems to the world.”

All this may help explain why Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and the infamous “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” are on prominent display at the Malaysian capital’s International Airport.

But there are some signs that in 2011 not everyone is drinking Mahathir’s toxic Kool-Aid. Maria Chin Abdullah (left), one of the organizers of the mass rally that sought to prevent electoral fraud, charged that Utusan Malaysia‘s warning of an alleged Jewish conspiracy was “nonsense that is being spread in very bad taste,” adding, “To rely on this claim of Jewish support is to insult the people’s good intentions of seeking important reforms.”

Perhaps Kuala Lumpur hasn’t paid much attention to the Arab Spring. Maybe its time they did, especially since it was inspired by Muslims demanding more freedom and democracy. It isn’t world Jewry that is driving members of minorities to the streets of Kuala Lumpur, but the failure of a democratic government to provide equal rights and opportunities to all their citizens. It’s time for Malaysian leaders to grow up. Relying on big-lie Jewish conspiracies is no substitute for honest and transparent governance.

Netto on PSM EO-6

July 30, 2011

Netto on PSM EO-6

by Terence Netto@http://www.malaysiakini.com

Ever Onward to Victory–Hasta La Victoria Siempre

COMMENT For three weeks now, appalled observers of the train wreck of the Bersih disaster may have assumed that at some point someone within the Najib Razak administration would have the presence of mind to pull one damsel, at least, off the track of the onrushing train.

That happened yesterday when the PSM 6, or the EO 6, were released by the Police after nearly a month’s detention on charges that shifted from the farcical (rebellion against the king) to the incredible (threats to national security) to the manifestly false (they were central planners of the Bersih 2.0 march).

NONEBy arresting the PSM 6 for no good reason and then continuing to hold them on successively unsustainable grounds, the government had gratuitously deepened the mess of its handling of the Bersih-organised march for electoral reform on July 9.

While it lasted, the detention of the six was an abscess on the wound of the government’s mishandling of the entire Bersih issue.

The terseness of the Inspector-General of Police’s explanation yesterday that further action on the released detainees will be determined by the A-G’s Chambers only served to underscore the implausibility of the case for the detention of the six.

Those familiar with the temperament of the PSM cohort know that they are just about the most pacific of activists: about the only danger the party’s activists would pose to the public is that one of them might be moved, on occasion, to smack somebody with a poster of Che Guevara.

If that were to happen, the victim may well feel complimented by the evidence that someone from the party could get ruffled enough to do something as mildly aggressive as brandishing a poster.

Socialist panaceas

But don’t get this minuscule bunch of mainly social workers masquerading as politicians – led by the amiable trio of PSM chairman Dr Mohd Nasir Hashim, secretary general S Arutchelvam and MP Dr Jeyakumar Deveraj (right) – wrong.

They are only mild in temperament; in person, they are unwavering in their belief that socialism is panacea for the ills of the national and world economy.

Sometimes when you chat with them, it is as if they have not heard of the world’s history between the time of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Or rather, they subscribe to a wholly different narrative as to what really happened to the socialist theory that you can build a society on the basis that each member would contribute according to his ability and take according to his need. This is essentially the core of socialist ideology.

The contrary theory holds that human beings are essentially self-interested who can only be enticed by incentives to give according to their ability and take according to their economic worth.

Proponents of socialist ideology would criticise this theory as furnishing the basis for the exploitation of the many by the few. No matter what you tell the PSM crowd about the history of the world since October 1917, you are not likely to dent their enthusiasm for socialist panaceas.

Fostering separatism

From 1999, they have been trying to get their party recognised as a legal body by the Registrar of Societies, resorting to the courts for remedy when the ROS spurned them. Only in 2009 did PSM succeed in gaining ROS recognition. And that recognition, as everyone knows, owed more to the desire of the powers-that-be to cause division among the opposition.

An unrecognised PSM would tend to contest elections under the banner of PKR rather than any other opposition party. The powers-that-be would rather foster separatism among the opposition rather than allow a situation where the use of proxies by PKR might promote eventual solidarity between it and PSM, daunting as it is to bridge the divide between the two, on economic matters at least.

Even as a separate entity, PSM are not likely to garner more than a small corner of the political market for votes.But, from one standpoint, that small corner is worthwhile if it succeeds in creating the impression that the opposition is an ideologically disparate lot, not worth the public’s attention or support.

Public sympathy

However, public perceptions have changed rather much since June 25 when a bunch of PSM activists were detained in Penang while on a campaign swing through Kedah and neighbouring states.

The Police decision to hold six senior officials of the party – the PSM 6 who later became the EO 6 – on inherently incredible grounds only served to boost the public profile of this hitherto little-known party into a force that is bigger than its actual size would warrant.

NONEThe party’s membership is about 500 but in recent days it has been deluged with inquiries from the public about membership.

The Police action has given the party an unprecedented boost. This is not likely to boost its membership figures to rival those of its comparatively gigantic allies in Pakatan Rakyat, but it has made it that much harder to render PSM susceptible to the argument that their socio-economic agenda is attainable through the egalitarian goals of Pakatan.

In sum, by myopically, albeit briefly, incarcerating the PSM 6, the authorities have aroused public sympathy for the party and, by extension, for the opposition and its aim of supplanting UMNO-BN in Purtajaya.

But it has made the larger goal of opposition solidarity on a common socio-economic agenda more difficult to achieve.

Prime Minister Najib is faltering(?)

July 30, 2011


Prime Minister Najib is faltering (?)

Written by  Dana Kay, Malaysia Chronicle

Talk of Prime Minister Najib Razak faltering is buzzing all round the coffee-shops that dot the nation, with all eyes wide open to catch a glimpse of who will succeeed him.

The feelings for Prime Minister Najib Razak are mixed. There were some people who believed that Najib should continue as president of UMNO while many more see his career as “finished”.

It is surprising to see that a hawker, a lecturer, a lawyer, a teacher and an IT analysis shared the same idea that Najib has to go, while a Malay professional and a BN leader think Najib is still the best man amongst the lot to continue as UMNO president and PM of Malaysia.

Change is necessary

With so much turbulence going on in the country, a lot of which is due to leadership mismanagement, many people are resigned to the fact that if the leadership of the country is not changed in the next general election, Malaysia will stand to lose big in terms of democracy and economy. It will also affect the growth of the nation, with more brain-drain bringing the reality of bankruptcy to the country’s door steps sooner than the officially predicted 2019.

Janet Edwin, a lecture from a college said Najib’s future as a leader in the country is gone, judging him from the way he handled the current crisis facing the country. She felt that he had failed in his role as a husband to the country’s top post. Janet said that Najib should gracefully step down instead of being booted out to ‘save face’. Seriously, she felt, he should go as he has made the country look like it’s being run by an amateur, and the nation has become a laughing stock to the world, she added.

“I felt sorry for him as he appeared to be ‘controlled’ in the home ground and he should give his wife a talking down, not the other way round,” she pointed out.

Muhyiddin and Mukhriz

Lau, an IT man, shared Janet ‘sidea about Najib and agreed that Muhyiddin should not be the next as he does not care much for racial integrity. “And he makes a mess of the education system being the top guy there, what with Interlok and all that. On Pak Lah who might make a comeback, Lau yawns and said, next,” When Mukhriz Mahathir was mentioned, Lau said he was too green in politics and too dependent on Daddy, Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Ah Lung who sells chicken rice ranted about Najib being born with a silver spoon. Ah Lung who praised to the skies the second Prime Minister said it is sad that a son seldom takes after his father, especially one born with a silver spoon. “No lah, not his deputy, if he runs this country, there will be more people migrating especially the non Muslims,” said Ah Lung.

He believed that the best PM would be someone from Pakatan Rakyat.“I don’t care who, just change the government. Let whoever wants to be the president of UMNO take over, but the government, we need to change. Just like SUPP, whoever takes over as president is also going to go down like UMNO. They have all been too arrogant in the past,” he added.

Showed his real colours

Voon Shiak Ni, a PKR Women’s leader who is also a lawyer, said if Najib had been firm and did as he preached especially on his 1 Malaysia: People First, Performance Now concept, he would have been a great leader.

“Alas, he turned out to be the opposite, not wanting to hear what the masses said, relying on his ill-informed people around him and took a hard stand on issues that affected the people. That is not how a good PM acts,” Voon told Malaysia Chronicle.

She said although Najib has the look of a kind person, his action said otherwise. “I think he won’t be the president again, too much internal rift in UMNO. And Mudyiddin is too racial to make a good president or PM.  People will never forget his statement of Malay first, Malaysian next. Ku Li will not make it as he looks too ancient and Pak Lah would be too sleepy to do the job. I think there is no more capable leader who has a firm hand after Dr M but unfortunately he has turned too racial after stepping down,” she reasoned.

Voon felt that Mukhriz would be too green to go for the post. “Whatever it is, let them fight it out as whoever is the next President will face the lack of confidence like that of Najib. Pakatan Rakyat will get a PM ready to fill the post in the next general election,” she stated.

Muhyiddin also not popular

A teacher who declined to be named said he would pick Muhyiddin as the last person to be the country’s leader. The teacher said Muhyiddin proved to be a failure as an Education minister and the ministry was in a big mess. His racial tone certainly would not warm him to the Chinese and non-Muslims. “Even I, a Malay, am worried of the damage that would be caused if a country become too racial in nature.” he said. As far as he is concerned, Najib is the lesser devil of the two.

Azim, a professor from Semenanjung based in one of the institutes of higher learning here, believed Najib will make it and continue to be the president and PM.“There is a deep respect for leadership amongst the Malays,” he said, adding that he does not think the DPM will challenge Najib. “And Ku Li has passed his time” too.

For the first timer voters, Azim said they tended to vote for Opposition but once they mature, they will realize that there is no need to oppose just for the sake of opposing.

“I am talking not only Malay but the younger ones, who are more gullible as a whole. When we were young, we were more rebellious but as we mature, we look at things in a broader manner,” he said. However, Azim admitted that Kelantan youngsters will still think PAS is the best in the world.

Azim said in any country, no leader is perfect. And when the going gets tough, the people have to display a more mature outlook instead of worsening the situation. Bersih, he added, will not affect Najib in any way except for the young and internet savvy. “The conservative will still pick Najib over Muhyiddin,” he said. On Mukhriz, the academic thinks he is still young politically, despite the father’s ambition for him to be the PM in waiting.

Anxious to see change

A Dayak BN leader likes Najib because he has the “maturity”.  Najib, said the BN leader, wants to do good but unfortunately, his cabinet is not with him. Let him win in the next general election, and then he can pick his own cabinet and win the people back. At the moment, his own cabinet are creating problem for him, he added.

Najib, Muhyiddin or whoever takes over, Malaysians are wary after over 50 years of BN’s regime which has worsen since the last few years. The people are more anxious to see a change in the government to get the country out of the gutter to at least on a level as the neighbouring countries.

“Freeing Us was a smart Political Move”, says Dr. Michael Jeyakumar

July 30, 2011

“Freeing Us was a smart Political Move”, says Dr. Michael Jeyakumar

Parti Sosialis Malaysia leader Dr Michael D Jeyakumar today called the release of the six PSM members as a “smart political move” by Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak in face of diminishing public support.

“It’s definitely due to public pressure that we were released. He was losing popularity and realized that it too politically costly to keep holding us,” he told reporters just hours after the six PSM leaders were released from their Emergency Ordinance 28-day detention.

The Prime Minister, however, today said that release of the PSM members was a decision made by the Police “based on their own observation”.

“We accept the decision made by the Police, it is up to the attorney-general to decide on the next course of action. As a sovereign country we uphold the rule of law,” said Najib to reporters today.

However Jeyakumar, the Sungai Siput MP, noted that it was the pressure imposed by the people that had forced the government to release him and his party colleagues. He said that there were strong movements by the people in holding candlelight vigils, peace marches and hunger strikes nationwide to call for the release of the six.

“It’s not because the Police were being sensible. They were out to get us to use us as an example.”

He also said that PSM’s next step would be to gauge the situation and perhaps file a case as they had been wrongly detained under the Emergency Ordinance.

“It’s a huge step forward for democracy, a victory for all of us.” Apart from the Sungai Siput MP, the others who had been detained were PSM deputy president M Sarasvathy, central committee members Choo Chon Kai and M Sukumaran, Youth chief R Saratbabu and Sungai Siput branch secretary A Letchumanan.

They were released today evening (July 29). They were arrested in Kepala Batas on June 26 while distributing leaflets calling on the public to support Bersih 2.0′s demands for free and fair elections. The authorities later accused them of waging war against the King.

They were then re-arrested on July 2 under the Emergency Ordinance which allowed the police to detain suspects for up to 60 days without trial. It was later revealed that they were detained for allegedly being “movers” for the July 9 rally organised by the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih 2.0).

Jeyakumar’s hunger strike

During a triumphant victory celebration-cum-press conference this evening, the EO6 recounted their experiences in jail. Sukumaran revealed how the interrogators from Special Branch had forced him to sing as they had seen him holding a microphone on the PSM website.

“I told them I could only sing Tamil songs, and I sang one about being questioned and giving answers. When he asked me what it meant I told him that I was saying ‘my mother is sitting there, but I am sitting here so I am sad’.”

Sugu had also sung a popular Tamil movie song about bringing people together. Jeyakumar also joked about his hunger strike, saying that he had fasted for two days before being released.

“I was thinking, how long will I be continuing this? But I’ve already told the press about it, malu (embarrassed) if I break it.”

He also brushed off claims that the Police had been professional. “It was not because the Police came to their senses or they became honest and professional. They were not,” he said.

“By the first week they should have known that we weren’t a threat – waging war against the King is more than t-shirts and a few people in a bus. If you look at records since 1998 when we became a party, there is zero indication we’ve used violence, religion, communist rhetoric. In 13 years, what have we done against the constitution?”

Engaged the Home Minister

PSM secretary-general S Arutchelvan revealed that PSM had engaged with Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein to push for the six’s release.

“We were willing to accept any kind of release, even conditional,” said Arutchelvan, adding that he’d welcome a court case.He claimed that upon the release of the six, Hishammuddin had text messaged him saying “Over to you Aru.”

“We’ll work with Pakatan to topple Barisan Nasional next election,” he promised.

Sheila Jayakumar, Dr Jeyakumar’s sister, told FMT that she was relieved her brother and the other five members had been released.

“The emergency ordinance must go!” Jeyakumar claimed that their detention had been in order to scare the Malaysian people into silence. “But it did not work. The people were brave and it was because of them that I am free today,” he said

New MAS Chairman Appointed

July 30, 2011

New MAS Chairman is Tan Sri Dato’ Md Nor Yusof

Malaysia Airlines System Bhd (MAS) has appointed Tan Sri Md Nor Yusof as chairman, effective Aug 1. He would replace Tan Sri Dr Mohd Munir Majid, who will retire as chairman on July 31, MAS said in a statement today (July 29).

“I am happy to be back at Malaysia Airlines, this time as its chairman. There are tremendous challenges facing the company which must be addressed swiftly. “I look forward to the full cooperation of board members and staff at Malaysia Airlines, many of whom I already know, in taking the company on the path of sustainable profitability,” Md Nor was quoted as saying in the statement.

- Bernama

Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj and Associates released from detention

July 29, 2011


Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj and Associates released from detention

by Shannon Teoh@http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

Six PSM (Parti Sosialis Malaysia) members, including Sungai Siput MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj were released at 5.30pm this evening from their detention under the Emergency Ordinance (EO).

The MP’s brother, Selangor state executive councillor Xavier Jeyakumar, confirmed the news when contacted by The Malaysian Insider.“Yes, his wife has spoken to him. We are trying to confirm the details now,” the PKR leader said.

PKR vice president N. Surendran also said related paperwork was being processed at the Jinjang police station.

According to The Star, the Attorney-General will decide on the next course of action for the six who were initially held on June 25 with 24 others in the run-up to the July 9 Bersih rally for allegedly attempting to revive communism and waging war against the Agong.

Reimaging Najib ahead of UMNO polls in 2012

July 29, 2011


Reimaging Najib ahead of UMNO polls in 2012

Written by  Wong Choon Mei, Malaysia Chronicle

As anticipated, a massive clean-up has begun for Prime Minister Najib Razak, starting with his wife Rosmah Mansor and her alleged RM24.4 million diamond ring. The main purpose – to defend his very shaky UMNO presidency ahead of party polls due next year.

Although the country is also headed for snap elections widely expected to be held in October or November 2011, Najib appears more concerned about his personal power as more leaders from both within UMNO and BN turn to his deputy Muhyiddin Yassin for guidance after a series of governance and political blunders by his administration.

Meanwhile, pundits expressed disappointment that Najib would again revert to Jew-bashing in a bid to get Rosmah and himself off the hook. Although news of the gargantuan diamond ring had shocked everyday Malaysians, not many have doubts that the first couple had more than enough money to make such a purchase, which in US terms is worth $8 million.

What the pundits are alluding to is of course, the Scorpene corruption scandal, in which Najib has been accused of benefiting through his close friend, Razak Baginda, a commission allegedly paid by vendor DCN in the form of a maintenance deal worth 114 million euros or RM570 million. Against such an amount, $8million is but a drop in the ocean, and critics remind us that the Scorpene deal was just of the many deals Najib has been doubted over since taking to politics at the age of 22.

How does Jacob’s criminal record prove Najib’s and Rosmah’s innocence?

However, what is distasteful this time around was the way the UMNO media wrapped themselves around the owner of Jacob & Co, Jacob Arabo (right). Arabo is a Uzbekistan-born Jew, who has been to jail before.

In 1998, Arabo was arrested by the FBI for alleged criminal possession of stolen property. The charges were later dropped. He was arrested by the FBI again in 2006, this time for allegedly laundering US$270 million (RM810 million) for the notorious Detroit-based Black Mafia Family (BMF) drug gang and failing to report large cash purchases to the Internal Revenue Service.

However, to critics of the Malaysian first couple’s lavish lifestyle, Arabo’s criminal record does not in anyway clear either Rosmah or Najib. How can Arabo’s guilt prove their innocence? In fact, Pakatan Rakyat leaders are confident that should the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission be allowed to do an independent investigation into the Scorpene and Altantuya Shaariibuu scandals, the first couple might well find themselves behind bars too.

It must be pointed out that Najib has denied any involvement in the Scorpene corruption scandal and says he has never never met Altantuya before. However, French lawyer William Bourdon(right) was just last week deported from Malaysia when he came to brief his client, top NGO Suaram,  and various citizen-groups about the French investigators’ progress in the case. The Parisian authorities are due to begin open court hearings some time in September.

Rosmah herself said “there is nothing I want to say because I have no time to address such things. Let (the blogger) say what he wants.” She was responding to a query put to her in Kedah a day ago on whether the ring was hers, as alleged. She sidestepped giving any direct denial, and moved on to grab some sympathy from the public by saying, “this is slander but what have I not experienced? I have experienced it all. So, rather than address this, it is better I pay attention to public issues as these are more important.”

In Malaysia, when all else fails, blame the Jews

Gauging by the tack the UMNO media are moving towards, a plot is now in place to clear Rosmah by claiming that her name was falsely used and without her knowledge. This means that screenshots of the Malaysian Custioms Department computer system may well be authentic. One of the screenshots clearly show her name under the importer column.

This ties in with a stridently anti-Semtic article that came out in the UMNO-owned Utusan newspaper, which takes its editorial lead directly from Najib. So offensive did the Jewish diaspora find the July 18 editorial, that the B’nai B’rith International issued a stinging rebuke. The Utusan had blamed “foreign Jews” for instigating the July 9 Bersih rally for free and fair elections.

It also sparked another influential US media, the Huffington Post, to run a commentary entitled In Malaysia, when in doubt, blame the Jews.

“The Jews? Most citizens of the overwhelmingly Asian economic giant have never and will likely never meet a Jew in their lifetime. And yet the folks at Utusan Malaysia, which is influential among Muslims in rural areas who rely on government-linked media to shape their worldview, are apparently confident warnings about a “Jewish plot” would resonate in a land without Jews,” wrote Rabbi Abraham Cooper.

Jacob the Jeweller, Fagin the thief

Indeed, the time may well have come to draw the curtains on the Najib administration lest it causes further harm to the country’s image. Even now, the UMNO media under his charge are making free with Arabo’s nickname of Jacob the Jeweller, imputing the same derogatory connotation as in Fagin the thief – the villian in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.

As former US ambassador to Malaysia John Malott commented recently, the Najib administration kept “shooting itself in the foot”. To the First World community, perhaps most telling is the way Najib tried to suppress the Scorpene details from surfacing last week. William Bourdon’s deportation travelled far and wide, much further than from Kuala Lumpur to Paris.

“This is a government – even though they have spent millions on Public Relations firms and management consultants – that keeps shooting itself in the foot. The deportation of the French lawyer is only the latest example. Now, for the first time, all the juicy details of that scandal – including the model who was murdered by the PM’s bodyguards – have appeared in the Washington Post. It just adds to the confusion among people here – what kind of a country is Malaysia, anyhow? And is Najib really the person that he has portrayed himself to be?” Malott had told Malaysia Chronicle in a recent interview.

A Clean Sweep for Bersih: Grim and Uncertain Future for the Cousins

July 29, 2011


A Clean Sweep for Bersih: Grim and Uncertain Future for the Cousins

by Clive Kessler (July 16, 2011)

It was quite a day.

Last Saturday (July 9) Kuala Lumpur saw two foolish men destroy not only themselves, the government that they lead and their remaining reputation for political sagacity and moderation. They also ended what was left of the indispensable myth of a benign Malaysia.

Unhappily for Malaysia, its fate and future these last two weeks have been largely in the hands of two weak, brittle men who wish to be seen as strong and act tough — and who were always susceptible to the insinuations, challenges and “helpful” advice of the genuine “hard men” around them.

The Cousins and the King

Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and the Home Affairs Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein are cousins. Their fathers, married to two well-placed sisters, were the nation’s second and third Prime Ministers. Najib is now the sixth, and Hishammuddin, it is assumed, would like to follow him some time.

Both were born to want, and from early in life sought, to emulate their redoubtable fathers, and were probably destined to fail. Their moment of truth came this week.

From the moment that Bersih (“Clean”), the Coalition for Free and Fair Elections, in its “second edition” began to campaign, the two cousins have responded with a losing amalgam of bravado, fear and intimidation. As Saturday’s day of protest drew near, they sought by all means to frustrate and then block that expression of widespread popular dissatisfaction with the compromised electoral system that has served as the mechanism of their rise to power and their party’s grip upon national leadership.

In a remarkable intervention, the Malaysian King as head of state the previous weekend had urged both sides to “climb down” and start talking. Bersih responded with alacrity to this gesture of royal recognition, so different from the government’s branding them as wreckers of the nation. Najib signaled that he too would do as the King suggested, but then, under pressure from his more adamant cabinet colleagues whom he could not control or win over, began to weasel out of his agreement.

And then it happened

As he did, the great “shutdown”, mainly of Kuala Lumpur and its environs but with it in lesser degree of the whole country, began. Roadblocks, police inspections, and targeted but legally dubious arrests grew in intensity in the days leading up to Saturday. The city was by now under siege by the government — one that wants to be seen internationally an exemplar of “moderation”.

Ironically, the government whose leaders chose to defy the King’s principled and widely welcomed intervention instead arrested the members of a small opposition party on charges of “making war against the king” — not by force of arms, but by wearing and distributing yellow Bersih T-shirts! Wearing the colour yellow was prohibited nation-wide as subversive; anyone wearing yellow could be arrested, by Policemen identified by their yellow vests!

On the day, some 50,000 Malaysian citizens made their way peacefully to the blockaded city centre to join the protest march. Had the rally been permitted, the attendance would clearly have been several hundred thousand. Those who did head to the city were intimidated, tear-gassed, blasted with water cannon, and subjected to random brutalization. Over 1,400 people were arrested.

The city fell into an uneasy quiet on Saturday evening, the government sulking, the police denying wrongdoing, and the Bersih people seeking balm for their wounded bodies but rejoicing in the spirit that so many ordinary citizens had displayed.

Clinging on

But the trouble is not over yet.

No sooner had the protesters dispersed than the Islamic party PAS issued an ultimatum: unless the government released all those arrested within 24 hours, they would put a million people onto the streets, to surround the national police headquarters. The Police heard. All those detained, they announced, would be released before the day was over.

Yet instead of now tapering off, heavy policing will continue, and resentment will grow. The two cousins face a grim and uncertain future. The outlook for the government they lead is now bleaker than ever.

There is just one bright spot for them. They had hoped to go to the polls in the next year, allowing Najib to secure for himself a personal mandate by winning back some of the political ground lost at the 2008 elections.

He was never likely to succeed. Now, after the mayhem of last weekend, there is no way his government can face an election soon. So they will manage, and hope to continue governing, without having one. Using last weekend as their reason, some way will be found, if they remain in power and have their way. The authoritarian, Police-based regime will simply be entrenched. Electoral reform? Who needs elections anyway!

Through its foolish response to Bersih — by its complete and remorseless strangling of ordinary, everyday social life, its assault upon routine civil order — Najib’s government has begun burying itself. Worse, in their deep, unrelieved insensitivity, its two key leaders would not see that this outcome was the inexorable effect of what they were doing.

Instead, they managed genuinely to convince themselves that they and they alone could govern the country — and now might save it from the chaotic mess that they themselves had brought about. So anything and everything that arguably might need to be done to save their own leadership was — in their honest if deluded opinion — justified on the highest moral grounds of national and public interest.

Making Badawi look good

It is hard to believe. We need not speak of the now widespread nostalgia for the Mahathir era. Today people here are looking back on the undistinguished era of Najib’s predecessor, and Dr. Mahathir’s successor, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi — a deadlocked and becalmed, though hardly calm, interlude — as a glorious age in Malaysian political life.

Yet, to understand what happened last weekend and its far-reaching implications for Malaysia, it is wrong to focus on individuals: on the two bungling cousins and, even more so, on the internationally beloved opposition icon, Anwar Ibrahim.

The situation, now more than ever, is far greater — the problem is far deeper, more worrying and intractable — than the fate and prospects of that one individual, Anwar Ibrahim (appalling though his legal treatment has been). The drama and “passion” of Anwar Ibrahim is at best a symbol or symptom of, but more accurately and ever more evidently a diversion or distraction from, that the nation’s underlying crisis.

That is why, over recent weeks, the government (and its strident Malay-language press) have so assiduously and unrelentingly sought to portray and stigmatize, and in that way dismiss, Bersih as “not genuine or sincere”, but simply a stratagem to rescue Anwar Ibrahim’s career by distracting attention from his latest (and officially confected) “scandals”.

Indefinite deferment of elections

Now, more than ever, the situation here is what it has been: at least, and quite evidently, since the March 2008 elections whose results blasted away the underlying scaffolding and enabling mechanisms of the political domination of Najib and Hishammuddin’s party, the UMNO and the Barisan Nasional coalition that it heads.

Now, and since 2008, there has been in Malaysia a basic “regime crisis”. This crisis is not a division or split within the “ruling group” but a basic “disarticulation” (or “disconnect” as people now like to say) between state and society; a malfunction or disorder of the key connection that is made between those two via the “ruling group” or party by means of its proper identification and selection, then its duly ensuing formation and shaping, via a credible electoral system.

This is where the challenge of Bersih is made and why it has been so effective.It is powerful because from beginning to end — from the delineation of boundaries to the conduct of elections and the counting of votes — the existing Malaysian electoral system, as a succession of scholarly studies have shown, is now fundamentally, undeniably and irreparably broken, discredited. It is distorted, politically suborned, and manipulated.

Had last weekend’s events not occurred, and its rally instead been allowed to proceed, Bersih’s demands would likely have developed a momentum that would have made them irresistible.

The result? The government might then have been able to go to the polls over the next year, but under new rules of the electoral game that would have precluded Najib’s party from gaining any kind of convincing win.

So the indefinite deferring of elections, on grounds of Bersih’s unacceptable challenge, may be just what the currently beleaguered lords of the land really want.

“I hope what happened today,” Najib soon said, “will be a lesson to the citizens of Malaysia”. He will draw his preferred lessons. Many Malaysian citizens will draw theirs, and they will be rather different.

-  Clive Kessler is Emeritus Professor, Sociology & Anthropology, School of Social Sciences & International Studies, The University of New South Wales

John R.Malott: Malaysian Democracy and Bersih2.0

July 29, 2011


Teach us to fish, don’t give us the fish

Written by  Maclean Patrick, Malaysia Chronicle (July 28, 2011)

John R. Malott, a former US Ambassador to Malaysia, in his article Malaysia’s Political Awakening: A Call for US Leadership has brought to the attention of law-makers in America, the plight of democracy in Malaysia. It is a call for the US leadership to pay more attention and be more vocal during a time when Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government seems to be reneging on democratic practices.

In an interview with Malaysia Chronicle, Malott had explained what he meant by “US leadership” and stressed that US concerns did not lie in who formed the government of Malaysia but about the continuation of and support for democracy in the Southeast Asian nation.

“I called for US leadership. By that I mean, we need to be more visible and vocal in expressing our concerns about developments in Malaysia. We need to be more supportive – moral support and encouragement – of those members of civil society in Malaysia who want Malaysia to become a true democracy and have the same freedom that we and others have. We should support the call for electoral reform. It is not up to America who forms the government in Malaysia. But we should be concerned whether the playing field is level,” Malott had said.

Help civil society, pressure the Najib Administration

Yes, the US should not take it upon themselves to be the mastermind of change in Malaysia, but rather stand by the Malaysian people in supporting the drive for reform and a better Malaysia. Teach us to fish, don’t give us the fish.

Help the civil movement in Malaysia by being the partner that highlights our plight on the international scene. And continue to exert pressure on the current administration to push for reforms in every aspect of government.

Pressure on the Najib administration has been stiff in the aftermath of the high-handed tactics employed to disperse the Bersih marchers, the blatant demonizing of a coalition of NGOs calling for free and fair elections and the abuse of authority in the police and judiciary in the days leading to and after the July 9th rally.

Yet, despite the scare-mongering, everyday Malaysians still turned out in droves to support a cause they believe in. 50,000 people did not get it wrong when they sent a message that reforms are needed to clean up the elections process in Malaysia. And though the Najib administration and the Election Commission continue to deny the truth, Malaysians know better and the time for change has come.

“I don’t believe that the situation is near the boiling point. Malaysians don’t boil. They are a very patient people. That is why July 9 was such a remarkable event. The temperature went up, but it is nowhere near the boiling point. But if people don’t follow through – if the leaders of civil society, the opposition and others don’t follow through, the temperature will go down. If the government carves out more space for those who don’t agree with them, they also could lower the temperature,” said Malott.

Greatest Resistance to come from UMNO

Mr Malott is right in his assessment here. Malaysia’s civil societies need to keep the pressure on. The follow-through has to be strong and decisive. It still remains the prerogative of the everyday Malaysian to engineer and strive for democratic reforms in Malaysia.

However, there is bound to be resistance against Mr Malott’s call for more attention from the US administration – firstly from Barisan Nasional and specifically from UMNO.

Barisan Nasional will never be receptive to outsiders telling it how to go about its business. Thus, any show of support would be jumped upon as grounds for further arrests, repression and oppression within the civil rights movement in Malaysia. This was evident in the demonisation of Bersih when everything from Christians, Jews, Indonesians, the Opposition and Communists were used to build a skewed perception of Bersih in the minds of everyday Malaysians.

Indeed, the greatest resistance would come from the present day government that is not afraid to place the blame on its people first than its own poor administration.

The detention of opposition leaders in the 1987 Ops Lalang accomplished more than just arresting vocal and critical politicians under ISA. The incident provided Mahathir’s government with the excuse to further tighten the executive branch of the government’s stranglehold on politics. In the following year, the Printing Presses and Publications Act was amended so that it would be more difficult for printers and publishers to retain printing licenses eliminating the renewal process. They would have to annually re-apply. In addition if any license is revoked, it could not be challenged in court. A prison term was added for publication of false news, jail sentence for up to three years.

Amendments were also made to the Police Act making it practically impossible to hold any political meeting, including a party’s annual general meeting, without a police permit. A conviction could mean a fine of RM10,000 and a jail term of one year. Even an assembly of more than five people in a public area is considered an “illegal assembly” and could not be held without a police permit. This law was intentionally made to be so restrictive in order to give the police arbitrary rights to detain any group in public by citing it is an illegal assembly.

Awakened Generation

Such restrictions on civil liberties contravene the rights of the citizens as stated in the Federal Constitution, yet this does not seem to bother those who are only interested in remaining in power.

Against this backdrop, Bersih has awakened a generation that has long been conditioned to believe that they cannot make a difference. It is an intelligent generation that sees beyond the smokescreen and intimidation tactics of the establishment, and realises their true potential as Malaysians.

“The actions of the government, before and after July 9, backfired against them. Matthias Chang wrote that they acted with sheer stupidity. The Government still has a chance to turn this around, but that would require them to give more political “space” to those who don’t agree with them, and to make sure that the people get to enjoy the rights that the constitution guarantees them. Will they? I have my doubts. This is a government – even though they have spent millions on PR firms and management consultants – that keeps shooting itself in the foot. The deportation of the French lawyer is only the latest example. Now, for the first time, all the juicy details of that scandal – including the model who was murdered by the PM’s bodyguards – have appeared in the Washington Post. It just adds to the confusion among people here – what kind of a country is Malaysia, anyhow? And is Najib really the person that he has portrayed himself to be?” Malott added.

A call for concern and support from the US government towards the civil movement in Malaysia is indeed much welcome. However, we should also be aware that Malaysians are more than capable of standing on their own two feet and dictate the process of change at their own pace. We cannot be a tool for another government to resell their brand of democracy, but it sure is nice and extra comforting to have a solid and reliable friend watching our backs. - Malaysia Chronicle

Interview with Ambassador John. Malott:

The US and Malaysia’s Political Awakening

Malaysia Chronicle appends below the unedited full-text of the interview with John R. Malott, US Ambassador to Malaysia from 1995 to 1998 and is currently the President of the Japan-America Society of Washington DC

Chronicle: In your article, you mentioned that the Malaysian people showed they would no longer be intimidated by their government. Given the severity of the pre-rally crackdown and the Police scare-mongering and yet tens of thousands defied the ban, would you say this feeling of ‘defiance’ so to speak is deep-seated, has been growing and is reaching boiling point? And why?

Malott: I think that this discontent has been growing for sometime. But the heavy hand of the government in the days leading up to the July 9 rally, and their strange statements and actions – like saying that Bersih was trying to overthrow the government and banning the color yellow – caused many more Malaysians to wake up and pay attention.

Chronicle: If you agree that the feelings of ‘discontent’ or ‘unhappiness’ so to speak are deep-seated, does this imply that the political or living conditions in Malaysia have been and are repressive and do not encourage the truth to be openly raised or discussed. And why?

Malott: I don’t know how deep-seated or widespread these feelings are in Malaysia. That’s why I wrote in my analysis that the question for the future is whether the momentum can be sustained. Will an increasing number of Malaysians wake up and understand the status of democracy and political freedom in their country, or will it go back to business as usual, where it is just activists in civil society and the opposition who are vocal. As I said, the actions of the government, before and after July 9, backfired against them.

Matthias Chang wrote that they acted with sheer stupidity. The Government still has a chance to turn this around, but that would require them to give more political “space” to those who don’t agree with them, and to make sure that the people get to enjoy the rights that the constitution guarantees them. Will they? I have my doubts. This is a government – even though they have spent millions on PR firms and management consultants – that keeps shooting itself in the foot.

The deportation of the French lawyer is only the latest example. Now, for the first time, all the juicy details of that scandal – including the model who was murdered by the PM’s bodyguards – have appeared in the Washington Post. It just adds to the confusion among people here – what kind of a country is Malaysia, anyhow? And is Najib really the person that he has portrayed himself to be?

Chronicle: If you agree that the ‘defiance’ so to speak is not an overnight or sudden swell-up but has been building up through the years, does this imply the policies – both social and economic – adopted by the BN federal government have not been appropriate, in the sense that they did not treat the wants and needs of the people? And why?

Malott: When I was Ambassador, we always believed that as long as the economy was booming, a lot of the underlying racial and social tensions could be contained. Plus people were willing to grant Mahathir the right to wield his political iron hand in exchange for the economic benefits that the country was getting. Despite the occasional scandals and the cronyism, the Malaysian “man in the street” thought that he had benefited greatly from Malaysia’s growth, and he was right. But now for over a decade the economy has slowed, and investment is down. Many college grads are unemployed. And the Government has removed subsidies on everyday items. So I think the man in the street – the Malaysian middle class, the people who live in the cities — don’t have the same feeling they had before. They don’t see the same level of economic progress for themselves. They don’t see the government delivering on all the promises it has made. Meanwhile, they read about diamond rings and fancy yachts and $27 million condos in New York. It seems like it is business as usual at the top. One of the articles in your website today (Sunday) said something like ‘Malaysia is now being run not for the benefit of the people or even the Malays. It is being run for the benefit of the UMNO elite.’

Chronicle: Do you think these feelings of resentment so to speak are anywhere near boling point, close to boiling point or have already boiled over and what are the implications for the ruling BN coalition, the opposition, long-term investors and the people? And why? For example, is this a wake-up call for the BN, opportunity knocking at the door for the Pakatan, a stay-away call for investors? As for the people, do you foresee the start of a new trend for peaceful assemblies, protests ala Thailand? Or in your words – a political awakening – but in what shape and form will this likely take?

Malott: I don’t believe that the situation is near the boiling point. Malaysians don’t boil. They are a very patient people. That is why July 9 was such a remarkable event. The temperature went up, but it is nowhere near the boiling point. But if people don’t follow through – if the leaders of civil society, the opposition and others don’t follow through, the temperature will go down. If the government carves out more space for those who don’t agree with them, they also could lower the temperature.

On foreign investment, I think that foreign businessmen are smart. They will not be scared away from Malaysia because of one demonstration. What concerns them most is corruption, the lack of transparency in awarding government contracts, the ease and cost of doing business in Malaysia compared to other locations, whether Malaysia’s market is growing fast, its competitiveness, the independence of its courts, the availability of skilled employees, and so on. It is those kinds of practical questions that mean the most to them. As the statistics show, over the last decade or so, Malaysia’s share of all the foreign investment coming into ASEAN has been declining. From the point of view of a foreign investor, they have many choices. There are many countries they can invest in. So the question for the Malaysian government is, what do we need to do to increase our attractiveness to foreign investors, compared to our neighbors?

Chronicle: You quoted another expert who used the term “most fluid and dangerous” to describe the situation in Malaysia today. How extreme can the situation become, for example is it possible for Malaysia to regress to a non-democratic state where elections may even be discarded, military or police rule the new order, a ‘closing of doors’ so to speak? And why? In such a case, who would be the prime-movers – PM Najib Razak and his cousin Hishammuddin Hussein, other factions led by DPM Muhyiddin Yassin or ex-PMs Mahathir Mohamad and Abdullah Badawi or UMNO, the party as a whole? I do not mention the other parties in BN because it is clear they do not have the clout, do you agree? What would happen to the opposition in the country then? And for how long could an extreme situation last?

You also mentioned in your article, the Economist Intelligence Unit says Malaysia is a “flawed democracy”. If this is so, then if in the swing towards a ‘full democracy’, Malaysia collapses into a police regime – to many who have been following the situation closely, this would not be surprising or be an unlikly possibility at all. But for those who still see the country as per its postcards of sunny skies and ideal racial harmony, this would come as a rude shock. Do you agree and what sort of odds would you give to the worst scenario happening? And why? What other scenarios do you seen? And why?

Malott: Clive Kessler (left), who knows infinitely more about Malaysia than I do, wrote an analysis recently (which you had on your website) in which he raised the prospect that rather than lose an election, UMNO would declare an emergency and not hold elections. As a former State Department official, I don’t want to comment on Wikileaks. But when I read the latest leaked cable, in which our Embassy said three years ago, in effect, that UMNO would do “whatever it takes” to remain in power, including subverting the institutions of state power to its own purposes, including the police and the courts.

Malaysia has seen Operasi Lalang, it has seen the Sedition Act and ISA used liberally, and more recently it has seen denial of service attacks on the alternative media to keep people from reading what the Government doesn’t want them to know. I hope it doesn’t come to that. I am not Clive Kessler, and I don’t want to make a prediction. But I would not rule out the possibility that something like that might happen. What is the probability of it happening? I don’t know. But if it does happen, then as you said, it will come as a great shock to everyone who has been holding a very different image of Malaysia. That is why I wrote my piece. I think the American people need to wake up and understand what is happening in Malaysia today, and to express our concern.

Chronicle: From your article, it looks like the United States is still in the postcards-and-sunny-skies group? Is this view still very entrenched or have there been significant shifts of late? Given the very sizeable investments the US has in Malaysia, should not American foreign policy makers make better efforts to assess the situation? Should they not take some action or send stronger signals to help keep democracy alive in Malaysia? In other words, has not the time come to take sides? What are the things that US bodies could do?

Malott: I think to the extent American think or know about Malaysia, most of them are still in the picture postcard stage of awareness. So that is why I sent my wake-up call. Let’s see what happens. Some of us – all friends of Malaysia — will continue to do everything we can to keep up awareness. Amnesty International said America “should not be a spectator,” and I agree. I called for US leadership. By that I mean, we need to be more visible and vocal in expressing our concerns about developments in Malaysia. We need to be more supportive – moral support and encouragement – of those members of civil society in Malaysia who want Malaysia to become a true democracy and have the same freedom that we and others have. We should support the call for electoral reform. It is not up to America who forms the government in Malaysia. But we should be concerned whether the playing field is level, and whether all the parties have an equal chance to access the media, and so on.

RTM and Bernama belong to all the people of Malaysia, not to UMNO. They are paid for by all the people of Malaysia, not just those who voted for UMNO. Bersih’s demands all seemed quite reasonable to me. When Najib arrived home from Rome the other day, he held an airport press conference and said that Malaysia’s elections already are free and fair, and that UMNO has never cheated in an election. Does he really believe that? That is not what all the independent academic studies have to say. And then he went out to meet the people, and according to an article in Malaysiakini, he proceeded to pass out white envelopes with 200 ringgit inside to the people who were there.

Chronicle: Cleaning the Malaysian electoral system and making sure it reflects accurately the wishes the majority seems to be the best way or one the best ways to ensure human rights, cvil liberties and democratic practises prevail. Do you agree and how can the US help to promote such a practice in Malaysia given that the existing BN federal government is insistent that nothing is wrong and is likely to resist efforts to revamp?

Malott: I read that the European Union Office in KL is going to recommend that the EU send observer missions to the next election. That is good. That is leadership. I think that some of our organizations – the National Democratic Institute, the International Republic Institute, the Carter Center – should prepare to do the same. The Vice Chair of the Elections Commission said that foreigners would never understand Malaysia’s election laws. That was an offensive statement. And it also was strange, since his boss the EC chairman was at that very moment in Bangkok, monitoring the Thai elections.

We should be very visible in our support of Bersih and its goals. I hope that our Embassy and the academic and think tank communities in the US will help our policy makers and opinion leaders understand what the true status of democracy and elections in Malaysia is. For example, an American think tank could invite Ambiga (left) to the US so she can explain directly to us what Bersih is all about.

It would be useful to benchmark Malaysia’s electoral laws and rules against those elsewhere in the world. For example, how many countries allow their citizens living overseas to vote? What is the minimum age for voters in most countries? How do other countries handle postal ballots – who is allowed to use them? In other countries with publicly-owned television and radio networks – Japan, Britain, America, Australia, Taiwan, Singapore, etc. – how do they ensure that political and election reporting is balanced? How do they provide access to opposition candidates? How do other countries ensure that their election commission is independent? Malaysia needs to make sure that what it does matches the prevailing international standards in other democracies.

I am sure that the Government will resist this. But we should not give in. They can resist, and we should insist.

Chronicle: Do you see any similarity between what is happening in Malaysia and the so-called Arab Spring?

Malott: Well, Malaysia is certainly not Libya or Syria or Yemen. Najib is not a Qaddafi. But still, I was surprised to see that Najib is still saying that the Bersih movement is a veiled attempt to topple his administration through street demonstrations, like those that are now claiming Middle Eastern despots. He said, “It’s not so much about electoral reform. They want to show us as though we’re like the Arab Spring governments in the Middle East.”

Well, if that is Bersih’s goal, then why did Najib act like an Arab Spring government? It’s only a question of degree. The Malaysian Police did not use lethal force, but the mentality is the same. Suppress whoever disagrees with you. Maybe you don’t use tanks, but you use water cannon. It’s not bullets, it’s tear gas. But the authoritarian mindset is exactly the same as the leaders of the Arab Spring governments. Just because you use non-lethal force doesn’t mean it’s OK. – ENDS

Fiscal Isolationism: Bad News for US Diplomacy

July 29, 2011

Fiscal Isolationism: Bad News for US Diplomacy

by Christopher Hill

DENVER – Patience might be a virtue, but not necessarily when it comes to American foreign policy.

Consider “the long war,” a bold concept embraced a few years ago to describe the continuing struggle against terrorism, the grudging progress that could realistically be achieved, and the enormous financial burden that it would impose for years to come. It was also a realpolitik acknowledgement of the setbacks to be expected along the way (the “slog,” as then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put it).

Above all, the term was an effort to communicate to Americans, accustomed to waging war with speed and decisiveness (and insistent on it since Vietnam), the long-term sacrifice and commitment needed to win a war of survival. Its proponents also understood that the war would not be limited to weapons, but would need to be a sustained effort, involving, as they put it, the “whole of government,” with civilian agencies marshaled behind military – or paramilitary – objectives.

Daunting as the effort would be, its advocates assumed a sustainable political consensus to support it. After all, the United States had been attacked. Today, that consensus is unraveling as America’s politicians wrestle with a federal budget that is itself turning into a long war – one with its own casualties. The battle lines in this struggle suggest that there is little accord among political elites for any spending, let alone for a long war with far-flung commitments.

As a result, basic assumptions are being questioned at every turn. Indeed, the current budget war seems to be reopening old divisions about America’s view of itself and the world. The outcome is far from certain, but even isolationism, a perennial American malady, seems to be making a comeback.

Isolationism is a familiar refrain in US foreign policy among those elements of the right that consider the US too good for the world, as well as among those on the left who consider America a destructive global force. But this time, as perhaps never before, a bipartisan isolationist impulse is being driven by the budget.

America’s fiscal crisis is profound, and it is not just about numbers. As the emotions in Washington today suggest, the aversion to tax increases runs far deeper than concern about their effect on current economic performance and job growth. In part, it represents a fundamental – some would say fundamentalist – view that taxes are to government what a bottle of whisky is to an alcoholic. Government, as Ronald Reagan told us, is the problem, not the solution.

That message is bad news for American diplomacy. The linkage between politicians’ unwillingness to fund domestic programs and the imperiled commitment to “the long war” might elude those in US foreign-policy circles, but it is not lost on the rest of the country. Opinion surveys suggest that Americans want to maintain many of the “discretionary” domestic programs – schools, hospitals, transportation infrastructure, recreational parks, etc. – that are now on the chopping block in budget negotiations.

In places like rural El Paso County, on the eastern plains of Colorado, far from the federal budget debate’s epicenter, spending cuts are the order of the day. School districts are increasing class sizes as they shed teachers, as well as deferring maintenance projects and curtailing the school-bus service. These cuts are having a very real and immediate impact on El Paso County’s residents. Can they, and other Americans who are losing vital services, really be expected to rise above it all and support funding to build new schools in Afghanistan?

Not only are America’s public schools starting to look second-rate, but so is its infrastructure, which had long been a source of national pride. How many travelers nowadays can fail to note the difference between Asia’s new, efficient airports and the aging, clogged antiques in some major US cities?

The budget war is not producing any consensus on fixing America’s infrastructure, but it is beginning to produce a view that Afghanistan and Pakistan are far from being core US national interests. Why, people ask, are schools and roads in Afghanistan and Iraq more important than those in Colorado or California? At one point in 2008, the US military picked up the cost of transporting a tiger for the Baghdad zoo. When was the last time the US government did that for a US zoo (outside of Washington, of course)?

How this debate sorts itself out will have profound consequences for how America conducts itself in the world. But it might also take a toll on how the world reacts to America’s fastest-growing export: unsolicited advice.

Countries take others’ advice for many reasons. Sometimes they respect the adviser’s wisdom and insights (fairly rare in diplomacy). Or they might fear the consequences of not taking the advice (an offer one cannot refuse, so to speak). Or, as is true of many of America’s diplomatic transactions, accepting advice could open the way to a better relationship and to additional assistance. In short, diplomacy – and US diplomacy, in particular – often involves money.

But what if there is no money to offer? What if Americans, tired of the budget cuts in their neighborhoods, refuse to support funds even for “the long war”? At that point, senior US officials might well arrive in a country, offer advice, and find that nobody is bothering to listen.

Christopher R. Hill, a former US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia, was US Ambassador to Iraq, South Korea, Macedonia, and Poland, US special envoy for Kosovo, a negotiator of the Dayton Peace Accords, and chief US negotiator with North Korea from 2005-2009. He is now Dean of the Korbel School of International Studies, University of Denver.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.