New Dean for The George Washington School of Business


July 15, 2013

New Dean for The George Washington School of Business, The George Washington University, w.e.f  August 1, 2014

June 01, 2014
Dean Linda LivingstoneDean Dr. Linda Livingstone

The university announced in May that Linda A. Livingstone has been selected as the next dean of the GW School of Business. For the past 12 years Dr. Livingstone has served as dean of the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University, and is the incoming chair of the board of directors of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the leading international accreditation body for business schools.

She begins her service at GW on August 1, 2014.

“Linda Livingstone has been a highly successful dean, respected not only within her current institution but also by her peers in business schools around the world, who have elected her to lead their accrediting body,” GW President Steven Knapp says. “Her proven skill in managing a complex organization and recognized leadership in business education will make her a tremendous asset to our School of Business and our university as a whole.”

At Pepperdine, in California, Dr. Livingstone led a business school with approximately 1,600 students on six campuses and more than 35,000 alumni worldwide. She oversaw a $200 million expansion of the business school’s regional campuses, increased the school’s international partnerships to 40 business schools around the world, and led the school to membership in the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative and as a signatory to the Principles for Responsible Management Education.

Under her leadership, the Graziadio School established the Education to Business Live Case Program, which was recognized by U.S. News & World Report as “one of the top 10 college courses in the country that will pay off at work.” She also launched the Dean’s Executive Leadership Series, a high-profile lecture program that brings to campus leading business innovators; introduced a student business plan competition; and added new degree programs in management and leadership, applied finance, and global business.

“I look forward, with enthusiasm, to the opportunity to serve as dean of the School of Business at the George Washington University,” she says. “Working with the faculty and staff to build on a strong foundation of programs and research to continue to enhance the quality and reputation of the school will be a privilege.”

Dr. Livingstone earned a Bachelor of Science in economics and management, a Master of Business Administration, and a PhD in management, with an emphasis in organizational behavior, all from Oklahoma State University.

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Gotta’ keep on learning


July 13, 2014

Schumpeternomics: Gotta’ keep on learning

by (Tan Sri) Dr. Lin See-Yan@www.thestar.com.my (07-12-14)

Lin See-YanI JUST returned from the summer meeting of the board of governors (on which I am a long-standing member) and the board of trustees of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) in Makati, Manila. It celebrated its 45th anniversary…

To mark the occasion, AIM held its second Asian Business Conference against the backdrop of an emerging ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) by 2015. It was well attended by a wide cross-section of Asian businesses, research institutes and universities, under the banner: “2015 Approaching: Priming for ASEAN Integration.”

I spoke at the strategic session on banking and finance with particular focus on the need for Asia (and indeed ASEAN) to keep on innovating to create a truly learning society, in order to maintain its competitive edge and remain relevant in an increasingly hostile and uncertain world. To survive, we just gotta’ keep on learning!

Technological progress

I learned early as a Harvard graduate student in the 1970s from no less than Nobel laureate Robert Solow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) down the Charles, that rising output and incomes can only come about in a sustained way from technological progress (TP), not from mere capital accumulation. Put simply, Solow repeatedly emphasised that TP comes from learning how to do things better; indeed, there’s always a better way.

As a practising banker and economist at Bank Negara after my PhD, I quickly undertstood that much of the productivity increases we see come from small incremental changes – they all add-up, other than the lumpy gains arising from dramatic discoveries or from unpredictable phenomena. It all starts with nurturing our education system and the process of its development to ensure youths are properly educated, not just in terms of literary, quantitative and scientific skills, but also with the right moral values and civic outlook.

Broadly, along what Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz (pic) has been advocating – it always makes goodJ Stiglitz sense “to focus attention on how societies learn, and what can be done to promote learning, including learning how to learn.”

Innovation and creative destruction

The seeds of the critical role of innovation in economic growth were first planted about a century ago by Harvard economist and political and social scientist Joseph Schumpeter, a contemporary of John M. Keynes. His economics (hence, Schumpeternomics) is based on the ability and capability of the market economy to innovate on its own.

I recall reading his 1939 book Business Cycle: A Theoretical, Historical and Statistical analysis of the Capitalist Process, where he wrote “Without innovations, no entrepreneurs; without entrepreneurial achievement, no capitalist returns and no capitalist propulsion. The atmosphere of industrial revolutions – of “progress” – is the only one in which capitalism can survive.”

So, Schumpeter went about challenging conventional wisdom in three areas: (i) misplaced focus on competitive markets. He contended that what matters was “competition for the markets, not competition in the markets,” as rightly pointed out by Stiglitz. It is competition for the markets that drives innovation. Sure, this can (and do) result in the rise of monopolies; still this would lead to improved living standards over the long haul (eg. Microsoft, Nokia – acquired in 2013 by Microsoft). (ii) undue focus on short-run efficiency which can be detrimental to innovation over the long-term – classic example is helping “infant industries” learn.

But governments should not be in the game of picking winners; the market can do this better (witness Obama’s failed “clean energy” projects or Malaysia’s wasteful car-maker Proton). Sure, there are exceptions where government invests in research that has since led to development of the Internet and discovery of DNA with enormous social benefits.

Schumpeter

(iii) Innovation leads to creative destruction – it can (and do) wipe out inefficient industries and jobs. The Internet has turned businesses from newspapers to music to book retailing upside down. In their place, more efficient businesses have popped up. In his biography of Schumpeter – Prophet of Innovation, Thomas McCraw wrote: “Schumpeter’s signature legacy is his insight that innovation in the form of creative destruction is the driving force not only of capitalism but of material progress in general. Almost all businesses, no matter how strong they seem to be at a given moment, ultimately fail – and almost always because they failed to innovate. Competitors are relentlessly striving to overtake the leader, no matter how big the lead. Responsible business people know that they ignore this lesson at their peril.”

In 1983, the 100th anniversary of the birth of Schumpeter and Keynes, Peter F. Drucker proclaimed at Forbes that it was Schumpeter, not Keynes, who provided the best guide to the rapid economic changes engulfing the world, according to McCraw.

Higher education

The business of higher education has changed little since Plato and Aristotle taught at the Athenian Lyceum. With government patronage and support, close to 4 million Americans and 5 million Europeans will graduate this summer. Emerging nations’ universities are expanding even faster. I was told in Shanghai last month that China has added 30 million university places in the past 20 years.

Indeed, I do see a revolution coming for three main disruptive reasons:

  •  Rising costs – Baumol’s disease has set in, i.e. soaring costs reflecting high labour intensity with stagnant productivity; for the past two decades, costs have risen 1.6 percentage points above inflation annually.
  •  Changing demand – a recent Oxford study contended that 47% of occupations are now at risk of being automated and as innovation wipes out jobs and drastically change others, vast numbers will be needing continuing education.
  • Fast moving TP will change the way education is packaged, taught and delivered. MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) today offers university students a chance to learn from the world’s best and get a degree for a fraction of today’s cost. Harvard Business School will soon offer an online “pre-MBA” for US$1,500 (RM4,778)! The reinvention of universities will certainly benefit many more than it hurts. Elites like Harvard, MIT and Stanford will gain from this creative destruction process. Education is now a global digital market.

What then, are we to do

Corporate giants come and go in a competitive economy. Microsoft and Nokia used to rule the digital world. Now they don’t. No monopoly is permanent, unless enforced by government, which as everyone knows hardly changes, even as the rest of the world passes it by. In the United States, it is reported that the administration wants to prevent Apple’s iTunes and AppStore from abusing the network “lock-in” created by Apple’s tech ecosystem. But the judge has since ruled that “I want Apple to have the flexibility to innovate.” That’s something, isn’t it?

economics-poster-smallMy professor at Harvard, Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow, used to extol about the importance of learning by doing. So, those who want to innovate, let them just do it – hopefully with no government intervention even though there is a compelling “infant” argument for industrial protection, which can be a double-edged sword when it comes to learning and innovating.

Most of the time, the infant seldom grows up. But reinventing the ancient institution of higher learning will not be easy. EdX, a non-profit MOOC founded (and funded) in May 2012 by Harvard and MIT, is now a consortium of 28 institutions worldwide. No one knows how big the online market will eventually be. It’s more akin to online airline-booking services – expanding the market by improving the customer experience.

Still, innovation at MOOC will definitely reduce the cost of higher education, grow market size but with widespread creative destruction collateral damage, and turn inefficient universities on their heads. MOOC estimates that university employment can fall by as much as 30% and 700-800 institutions can shut-down. The rest have to reinvent themselves to survive. Our learning society will change forever, whether we like it or not.

Former banker, Dr. Lin See-Yan is a Harvard educated economist and a British chartered scientist who writes on economic and financial issues. Feedback is most welcome; email: starbizweek@thestar.com.my. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Leave US alone, says UM Academic Staff Association


June 30, 2014

Leave US alone, says UM Academic Staff Association

BY JAMILAH KAMARUDIN–The Malaysian Insider
Published: 30 June 2014

Academic staff of the University of Malaya today hit out at the Education Ministry over its role in the removal of Professor Datuk Dr Mohammad Redzuan Othman, saying it was clear Putrajaya did not rate academic freedom highly.

Associate Professor Dr Azmi Sharom (pic), who heads University of Malaya Academic Staff Associationazmi s (PKAUM), said if the ministry had leaned on Redzuan, then it is clear that decisions are made based on political importance and not academic reasons or interests.

“This is one of the reasons why Malaysian universities find it difficult to develop because there is political interference,” he said.

“Leave the academicians alone, our studies and methodology are done according to academic standards. If the government is facing problems or has issues, it is not our problem.”

The Malaysian Insider reported today that the Education Ministry had told Redzuan to quit as director of Universiti Malaya’s Centre for Democracy and Elections (UMcedel), while his tenure as dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in the university was also not renewed.

Azmi said Putrajaya should stop mouthing platitudes about academic excellence. “Close your mouth and keep quiet. Do not dream of delusions of academic grandeur and Malaysian universities making the Top 100 institutions of higher learning in the world rankings,” he said, adding that academic freedom was the basis of a top university.

Dr Amin Jalaludin“The top universities are free of political interference, especially in matters concerning research. However, the Education Ministry appears to have failed to understand this particular point,” Azmi said. On the issue of Redzuan’s tenure not being renewed, Azmi said the UM’s Vice-Chancellor (left) had the full power to determine the most qualified individual to hold the position.

“Even if the votes are in Redzuan’s favour, the V-C has the final say. The academic staff can only propose who they like. We do not know how many of the faculty staff supported Redzuan.Even if Redzuan wins the popular vote, the final decision lies with the V-C. However, if it is true that Redzuan won the popular vote but failed to retain his position, then it will be another example of Putrajaya’s interference at play,” he said.

The Malaysian Insider also reported that Putrajaya was uncomfortable with UMcedel’s research which was seen as favouring Pakatan Rakyat during last year’s 13th general election.One such research was a survey which indicated greater support for PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, compared to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

The research conducted by UMcedel was later proven accurate when PR won the popular vote during the 13th general election.

Attempts by The Malaysian Insider to meet Redzuan was in vain as he was said to be busy in meetings and refused to speak to the media. Following Redzuan’s removal, former higher education deputy minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said he was quitting his post as a senior research fellow in the university.

Time for the Deputy Prime Minister to Give Up his Education Portfolio


June 30, 2014

Time for the Deputy Prime Minister to Give Up his Education Portfolio and Go Fishing

http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/267236

imageLe Goons de Malaisie

It is Education Minister Muhyiddin Yassin (above with his Boss) who should resign from his post and not Universiti Malaya Centre for Democracy and Elections (Umcedel) director Redzuan Othman or the university’s senior research fellow Saifuddin Abdullah, the DAP says.

Lim Kit Siang in a statement today said Muhyiddin has had nothing to show in his portfolio, apart from the “disgraceful” interference of the Education Ministry officers that led to the resignation of Redzuan .

datuk saifuddin abdullah“What has Muhyiddin to show in more than a year as the powerful education minister, gobbling up  the former Ministry of Higher Education in the field of tertiary education, apart from the latest disgraceful episode of interference with and violation of academic freedom, resulting in the resignations of Redzuan and Saifuddin (left) from the Universiti Malaya?” Lim asked.

In a separate statement, DAP’s Serdang MP Ong Kian Ming said it was unfair to target Redzuan just because the survey results in the past are not seen to be favourable to BN. Among others, Redzuan and his team accurately predicted that Pakatan would win the popular vote in the 13th general election.

“Academicians should not be punished for pursuing legitimate academic research, including in the field of politics and political science, even if the results do not seem to be favourable to the ruling party,” Ong said.

DAP’s Mengkibol assemblyperson Tan Hong Pin also showed support for Redzuan, saying that the move by the Education Ministry was “proof” that BN had “killed off academic freedom altogether.” “Even though the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) has been amended, I see that the principle and policy that stifles the intellectuality of students and academicians in universities have not changed,” Tan said.

____________________________

University of Malaya Political Scientist loses his job for displeasing PUTRAJAYA

 By Zukkifli Sulong, FEATURES AND ANALYSIS EDITOR –The Malaysian Insider

Prominent political scientist Professor Datuk Dr Mohamad Redzuan Othman has paid a heavy price for conducting independent surveys and polls on Malaysian politics – he has been directed to quit as director of Universiti Malaya’s Centre for Democracy and Elections (UMcedel) by the Education Ministry.

Dr Redzuan of UMSources told The Malaysian Insider that not only was he ordered to leave as director of UMcedel, Redzuan’s tenure as dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in the university was also not renewed.

In UM, though deans are elected by the academic staff, it is still subject to endorsement by the university’s management. Sources said although Redzuan is said to have been given the thumbs up by his colleagues for the dean’s post, political pressure compelled the university not to endorse his election.

“The university has given the excuse that Redzuan will retire next year and that is why his tenure as the dean would not be renewed,” a source told The Malaysian Insider.

Profesor Dr Md Sidin Ishak will take over from Redzuan as the new dean.However, it is Redzuan’s work at UMcedel which appears to have sealed his fate at the university. It was learnt that over the last few years, UMcedel had irked Putrajaya with its various survey findings on Malaysian politics which had shown the ruling Barisan Nasional in a bad light.

One survey which was said to have rattled the Barisan Nasional was conducted during the run-up to the 2013 general election where the findings had showed that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak trailed his political foe Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

The UMcedel poll showed that more than 60% of voters surveyed favoured Pakatan Rakyat’s (PR) manifesto, compared to just 50% for BN’s election pledges.The UMcedel survey also showed that 43% of respondents believed that Anwar was qualified to be prime minister, pipping Najib by four percentage points.

Najib had rubbished the findings and many BN supporters questioned the methodology used.UMcedel in its reply noted that Najib had been pleased with its earlier surveys after he had assumed office which painted a positive picure of him and the BN.

However, despite the projections, BN won the 13th general election but with a reduced majority. It captured 133 parliamentary seats. Pakatan only clinched 89 out of the 222 parliamentary seats.

Within the academic circles, it is common knowledge that Redzuan, a history professor, had often faced pressure‎ from the Education Ministry over the centre’s findings.The Malaysian Insider learnt that Putrajaya was also unhappy with Redzuan for purportedly being opposition-friendly, although he had on many occasions explained it by saying, “where would I be without politicians”.

Apart from surveys on the BN and Najib’s popularity, UMcedel had also conducted a study on Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and the UMNO elections. Pressure against Redzuan included interference in his university programmes that involved PR leaders – which the academic had repeatedly resisted.

One such programme which was said to have displeased the Education Ministry was held on February 19, 2013, where Lembah Pantai MP Nurul Izzah Anwar was given a hero’s welcome at a ‎forum at the university after Putrajaya had pressured UMcedel to drop her from the list of speakers for the event.

‎According to UM’s website, Redzuan was to serve as director from February 26, 2012, to December 31, 2014. His deputy, Dr Amir Saifude Ghazali, will take over as director.

“He appears to be facing pressure from his old friend from Abim (Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia), who is now with the Education Ministry,” said a source close to UM, referring to the Chief Secretary II of the Education Ministry, Datuk Dr Zaini Ujang‎, who was with Redzuan in Abim.

Datuk Dr de Vries–A Pioneer in Physical Education


June 29, 2014

Datuk Dr de Vries–A Pioneer in Physical Education

by Terence Netto@www.malaymailonline.com

It’s just as well Datuk Dr Leonard Andrew de Vries does not know when he’s beaten. From the time of the Japanese Occupation when his father died in prison, Lenny, as he is fondly referred to by friends and even detractors alike, has had to make the best of circumstances which he faced.

LennyDr.De Vries holding a photograph of fellow STTI graduates from the class of 1962 taken  in 2002.

It’s rather like the opening batsman’s role he played in his cricketing days of youth. You have to face any ball that’s pitched to you, on any wicket your captain elects to play, even if the weather conditions happen to be unfavourable. You ask no quarter, and though your convictions prompt you — away from the field of play — to render others more than a few, you are unfazed when these go unrequited.

To be sure, circumstances have not always been adverse in Lenny’s life as it played out over the past 76 years. True, the death of his father, Roy, in wartime must have been traumatic to him, his mother and siblings. But with Uncle Cyril and Aunty Gladys deputising, Lenny did not lack for filial succour.

Just as war clouds were gathering over East Asia as the 1940s dawned, Lenny’s dad, Roy de Vries, was made a captain in the Volunteer Corps, a uniformed unit composed of locals and trained by British colonials to help in the defence of the country against a threatened Japanese invasion. After the Japanese had arrived and subjugated the country, an informer let the new overlords know of Roy’s prewar affiliations which resulted in Lenny’s father being imprisoned. Death followed soon after. His mother, too, sickened and died a short time thereafter.

Perhaps that was Lenny’s initial lesson in making the best of what life offers at any one time. When the daily journey from where he stayed with his guardians in Alor Gajah to school at the St. Francis Institution in Malacca became too dangerous in the early 1950s because of intermittent attacks by communist terrorists in the ongoing Emergency, Lenny was packed off to Perth for his secondary schooling.

After that, he was off to Brinsford Lodge in Britain for teacher training, followed by postings to schools in Negri Sembilan before arriving at Victoria Institution in Kuala Lumpur in 1965, when that school was in what came to be regarded as the height of its fame as a spawning ground for students out to excel in academics and in sport.

Under redoubtable headmaster V. Murugesu, the school set standards rivals sought to emulate. Lenny was in charge of the students’ hostel and of physical education. Murugesu demanded and got the best, with Lenny, already primed from attending a seminal PE course at the Specialist Teacher Training Institute (STTI) in Cheras in 1962 under the tutelage of the legendary Datuk Teoh Teik Lee, to give as if it were off the meat of his cricket bat.

“That course virtually began the era of awareness of how physical education and fitness could play its vital role in the preparation of not only our top performers in sport but also ordinary citizens that they may keep minimum standards of fitness,” recalled Lenny in Penang, where he resides.

As an index of its importance, the ceremonial opening of the course was officiated by then Deputy Prime Minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein. Course participants would go on to become a who’s who of renowned coaches in their respective fields — Mohamed Noh Che Noh, Peter Lee Guan Chye, C. Ramanathan, M.P. Haridas, and Lionel Rajamoney.

“In those days, the best coaches were all from the teaching profession,” Lenny need hardly have emphasised, considering the professions of the abovementioned quintet.

Lenny made special mention of Teoh Teck Lee, who was in charge of physical education in the ministry of education. “It was he who gave impetus to physical education in this country. He set up an association devoted to it in 1962,” said Lenny.

Lenny became president of the association in the early 1980s, by which time the concept of physical education became more holistic so that the national body’s name had to reflect the idea’s expansiveness. It is was now called the Malaysian Association of Physical Education, Sports Science and Fitness.

The wider ambit was partly a reflection of what has transpired in Lenny’s career. Friendship with Sam Edwards, an American Peace Corps volunteer teaching chemistry in Victoria Institution in the mid-1960s, saw Lenny apply for tertiary qualifications in America, culminating in his gaining a doctorate — the first by a Malaysian — in physical education at Columbia University in New York in 1975.

The fledgling Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang financed the final year of his studies for a doctorate at Columbia so that they could get him to join their faculty of education which Lenny did upon completion of his studies.

North America would prove to be a happy hunting ground for Lenny for while on sabbatical at the University of Ottawa in 1980, he witnessed the success of a programme called ‘Participation’. This programme grew out of an initiative mooted by then Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who was embarrassed by an observation made by England’s Prince Phillip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II. While on a visit to Canada in the late 1970s, Philip, infamous for verbal indiscretions, observed that Canadians were “fat” and flabby. Using television and other media, Trudeau launched a programme to get Canadians to trim the fat.

Lenny was impressed by the success of the Canadian programme. When then Sports Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak tapped him in 1988 to formulate a plan to counter secessionist tendencies in Sarawak and Sabah, Lenny came up with a scheme modelled on the ‘Participation’ venture in Canada. The programme was called ‘Malaysia Bergerak Bersama’. According to Lenny, the programme succeeded to abating the secessionist tendencies which was then welling up in the Borneo states.

“I think this was where Datuk Seri Najib Razak got his 1Malaysia idea when he took office as PM,” suggested Lenny, now an indomitable septuagenarian who five years ago overcame pancreatic cancer. Fortune favours the ever striving such that de Vries, at a weather beaten 76 years, is ready for another innings in a life where even half chances are taken like they are the full thing.

We Allow Thugs to set the National Agenda


June 25, 2014

Brave New World

Published: Wednesday June 25, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday June 25, 2014 MYT 7:14:57 AM

We Allow Thugs to set the National Agenda

by Dr. Azmi Sharom@http://www.the star.com.my

Azmi SharomMALAYSIA is turning into a hateful country. Hate; it is such an ugly word. Yet I can’t think of anything else to describe what is happening here, the land where I am to spill my blood.But then, why should I care? I am after all an intruder and immigrant.

Yes, I realise that when the racists speak about intruders and immigrants, they mean non-Malay intruders and immigrants; this despite the fact that many so-called Malays are actually of foreign origin. But I am not a hypocrite like them.

 I know my roots and they spread to Yemen, to Medan, to Singapore. I wasn’t even born here. Yet I believe that I have as much right to be here as anyone else and my fellow Malaysians have just as much right as me. And still the question remains: why should I care? I don’t have the answer to that question because I am not a very philosophical man. Yet I know this; I have no desire to live in the Yemen, or Medan or Singapore. And as much as I loved my significant time in England, I always knew that I would come home. And home is here, Malaysia.

Forgive the overly sentimental tangent this article is taking, but I am trying to make sense of my world as I write. It is hard to be purely analytical when one’s home is being slowly destroyed by the bigoted, small-minded, cruel and vicious.

This place is my home because I grew up here. My memories and therefore my identity are tied up to this place.My tastes, my relationships, my way of thinking, in short everything that makes me the individual that I am, are due to this place. But what kind of place is it now? It looks to me like the kind of place where the vicious can threaten to behead people, where those who are meant to be the final arbiters are unwilling or incapable of making judgments based on the principles they have sworn to uphold.

It is a place where cowardly leaders think only of their votes and not of making a stand against vile people and their vile deeds.There is so much going on which is going to affect our basic needs of hearth and security. While the wheels of capitalism turn, we the ordinary folk are going to find it harder and harder to just make ends meet. Yet we allow thugs to set the agenda. We allow non-issues to become national debating points. We allow the vicious to go on screaming malicious words with God on their lips and hatred in their hearts.

ayn-rand-We have lost our capacity to Reason

All this when we are living in a country with so much potential and wealth. If we can ensure that the truly needy, regardless of their creed or colour are protected and helped; if we can move our education system towards one where we produce thinking people and not well-educated automatons; if we can create a government in all its guises which is dedicated to honesty and the rule of law.If we can do all these things, then the future will be more secure for all of us. It is there, within reach.

Instead there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel and all I see is a darkness populated by the shrill screeching of the hatemongers.It does not need to be like this. If the face of this country is as twisted and ugly to you as it is to me, we can still do something.

We can challenge our elected representatives into a corner. Force them to tell us where they stand.We can support the downtrodden. We can gather together in huge numbers to make a stand not for any political reason, but to show the bigots that they are not the only ones in this land and that their cruel philosophies are not welcome.

We can think for ourselves and not simply allow those with so-called authority to dictate our thoughts for us. We can be fearless in deed, words and thoughts to uphold the values that surely any country needs to hang on to – fairness, compassion, kindness, freedom and justice.This country is becoming so hateful; that is true. But I am not yet ready to hate it. Are you?

http://www.thestar.com.my/Opinion/Columnists/Brave-New-World/Profile/Articles/2014/06/25/Thugs-allowed-to-set-agenda/

 

Malaysia is in Ostrich Mode over University Rankings


June 20 2014

Taipei, Taiwan

Malaysia in Ostrich mode over University Rankings

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

By KT Maran

The Times Higher Education Asia University Rankings 2014 has shown that for the second consecutive year, Malaysia’s public universities have failed to make it to the top    100.

image

Malaysia’s PM Najib and his Deputy take Education Lightly

However our Education Minister is making good progress on thinking up a perfect excuse for it. In his response to the failure of local public universities to make the list, Education Minister II Idris Jusoh said the decline did not reflect the local tertiary education levels in the country.

He said emphasis should be placed on the entire learning process rather than rankings alone. “Rankings don’t mean everything, although we can improve (our performance). We must be realistic when aiming for a position,” he said.

The nation’s continuous failure to feature in any university ranking despite a huge education budget every year has not gone down well with the public. The Education Ministry received RM38.7 billion in 2013 and has been allocated RM54 billion this year, the biggest allocation yet. However we keep making excuses for the deplorable academic performance of our Malaysian Universities. Our neighbour Singapore is ranked second.

First class infrastructure alone is not enough to pull us out of this rut. What about the mentality of our students? What has happened to striving hard and putting in the effort to achieve academic excellence?

It does seem we are good in giving excuses year in and year out for our dismal academic performance. The world is laughing at us and our ministers are doing us no favours with their rationale either.

Malaysia not a secular state : says who ?


Malaysia not secular state, gov’t says
By Ram Anand

posted from Taipei, Taiwan

Jun 17, 2014

PARLIAMENT The government has stressed that Malaysia is not a secular state due to the special position of Islam in the framework of the federal constitution.

Article 3(1) and 50.4 percent of the 30 million population in Malaysia being Muslim do not make the Federation an Islamic state.

Article 3(1) and 50.4 percent of the 30 million population in Malaysia being Muslim do not make the Federation an Islamic state.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Jamil Khir Baharom said so in a written answer to Oscar Ling Chai Yew (DAP-Sibu) in Parliament last week.

Jamil Khir also stressed that the constitution does not provide for the civil court to have jurisdiction over matters under the purview of the Syariah Court.

“Regarding the question as to whether Malaysia is a secular state or an Islamic country, it is stressed here that Malaysia is not a secular country,” Jamil Khir said in his answer.

He said that this was based on “history” where Malaysia was established based an Islamic sultanate government and Malay sultans are heads of Islam for the respective states.

“This is further strenghtened by Article 3 of the federal constitution, which clearly states that Islam is the religion for the federation,” Jamil Khir further said.

Jamir Khir said that secular countries do not have a religion as the country’s religion.

Ling had asked Jamil Khir about the implementation of hudud and and whether Malaysia is a secular or Islamic state.

However, Jamil Khir stressed that the government is still studying the feasibility of implementing hudud in Malaysia.

 

Literature moving into obscurity


June 15, 2014

Literature moving into obscurity

by Bhavani Krishna Iyer*@www.thesundaily.com

http://www.thesundaily.my/node/256005

E Literature

I HAVE vivid recollections of receiving brickbats from family members and friends when I made the announcement one eventful day that I was planning to pursue a doctoral degree in English Literature.

Many thought that such a degree would not earn me a living and yet others thought literature was out of vogue. I would say both these groups were neither completely right nor wrong, but the point is I have no regrets having pursued my passion.

It was uphill all the way getting material, and my search to support my thesis often ended in futility. I remember scouring bookshops in India where the assistants would send me to the deepest, darkest and most obscure corners in the shop to look for books related to literature. I often felt small but never any less important.

IT and engineering references were hot sellers and the bookshop owners used to tell me that literature books don’t sell because there was no demand.

There is also this common complaint that studying literature will not be of any use for a working adult unless one is teaching the subject. Not forgetting the acidulous remark we get that literature will not teach anyone how to make a sandwich or build a bridge, hence, why bother?

A course mate said she was almost coaxed into doing something “more marketable” when she was about to embark on the PhD. Such were the harsh realities when all things related to science and technology appeared to have elevated status at work and outside work, due to their perceived importance.

English writersWhen I stood in front of my boss years ago, asking for time off to attend classes, I was not surprised that he asked “how is it going to be of any benefit to you and the company.” I simply said, “I will be a better person to say the least, and of course as an employee, I will have a more enlightened view of my surrounding, the environment and the people around me.

“People with a literature background have better written and other communication skills and it has been widely accepted that understanding complex ideas and theories and doing research come easy,” I explained. He did not say anything further.

The zeal for literature is very much a personal preference, either you like it or you don’t and for those who are consumed in it for reasons other than academic, they will know the many-pronged benefits. I am a staunch believer that the interest can be developed.

Exposure to literature keeps one afloat in a conversation about the life and times of people which would appeal to just about anyone. Additionally, one’s vocabulary increases by reading literature and last but not least, literature serves as momentary escapism from the harsh realities of life. It serves to de-stress people who are overcome by the stress of modern living. People who read literary works will know the power and pleasure of using the language with all its quirks.

Personally, I think, literature adorns one with the ability to appreciate the enriching array of human characters and experiences.”But literature is difficult,” is often the lament from many, but let me tell you it need not be so if you get into the groove of it and start with the right material.

The Ministry of Education has incorporated a component called Language Arts in its English Language syllabus where pupils from Year 1 study rhymes, short stories and others to “activate pupils’ imagination and interest”.

I am told by a friend who is a teacher trainer that the English language teachers are exposed to teaching literature in the classrooms, in a small way from the way I see it but this is a good move and I hope we get this going without high-handed interference.

Having said that we seem to be in transition most times from quick-fixes in as far as learning English is concerned and perhaps a revolutionary policy in teaching and learning English might be just the answer to arrest the decay.

*The writer was a language teacher and now teaches part-time in public universities, apart from having a full-time job. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Malaysia–A Paradise Lost


June 7, 2014

Malaysia–A Paradise Lost

by Cogito Ergo Sum@http://www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT: Superficially, Malaysia, for all and sundry, is a nation that is not onlyhype_najib1 doing well, but even thriving in all its endeavours. Foreigners and locals are told that we are a model of tolerance and harmony in a plural society and that others must emulate our ways if they want to succeed.

Unfortunately, even a cursory look at the state of things will give away this lie, so lyrically waxed in the mainstream media. And unless one has access to news portals like Malaysiakini, we would be blissfully ignorant under the onslaught and media blitz of the government controlled media machinery.

For one, we seem to be on a runaway train towards an Islamic state, when the Federal Constitution has overtly stated that we are secular nation.

So-called defenders of the faith and race like ISMA and PDRKASA have become not only very vocal, but also dangerously influential. They promote laws and legal systems that are in opposition to a multi-ethnic and plural society, and is deemed inappropriate for a modern economic system that can compete on an equal footing with our neighbours.

These so-called NGOs, considered to be on the fringes, seem to be getting theirIsma President funding and encore from a benign government that that is even seen as fanning these inciting and seditious pronouncement by its very silence and inaction.

And yet, we have an official propaganda that is portraying our ‘moderation’ and moderate ways to foreigners and foreign investors. But walking the talk is futile as the antics of such official ‘guardians of the faith’ like JAIS, are a stumbling block to this false mirage we are trying to project in a desert of what used to be an oasis of goodwill.

And as if to prepare us for the inevitable, the government has even set up a ‘hudud implementation committee’ for the day when the shariah system becomes law of the land. And if this carries on, we are well on track to go the way of Brunei, Sudan and several other failed states which have adopted hudud laws. And we are a ‘moderate’ nation with moderate policies and people?

Intruders beware

But we are indeed a nation of tolerance. Pushed to the limits of accommodating preferential treatment and affirmative action, Chinese and Indians are declared ‘intruders’ who have no business to have any business or rights as equal human beings.

And despite these provocative and obviously false, seditious accusations by radicals and self-proclaimed ‘fundamentalists’, we have either a mute BN which distinguishes itself  as a multi-racial coalition, or one that is too stupefied to respond decisively.

Newspapers that are unofficial mouthpieces of the authorities like Utusan Malaysia have a penchant of publishing rubbish and peddling it as sacrosanct news. Racial and religious slurs are printed and sold as if it is bread butter of the nation. Yet, the authorities are impotent or choose to be, against such slurs and often given official sanction by remaining dumb and unresponsive to such blatant lies. The tolerance and moderation, unfortunately is from the victims of such hate-filled messages.

Our Education system sucks

Bakri Musa's BookA serious flaw in the fundamentals of this nation is the education system. Our school system and education promotes learning by rote and regurgitating facts for examinations. No attempt is made to foster critical thinking and questioning of subject matter. Facts of history, and now even geography, are being manipulated to fit a distinct political agenda.Well accepted historical facts have been altered and even changed to leave out pertinent points of history that made this nation once great.

The roles of our forefathers like the late Tan Cheng Lock and VT Sambanthan are either missing or dealt with in passing. These men (and many women) played an integral part in getting the British to give us independence.And it was the Malay, Chinese and Indian Police officers whot beat the communists in a urban and guerrilla warfare.

No one race could have achieved this as Malaysia became the only nation to beat the BRAIN DRAINmovement in open combat. No other country has achieved this in the history of warfare.By the time students reach universities, their language skills in English can only be described as atrocious. Research papers and standard texts are written in the English language.

An erstwhile student in at a university is required to not only know the current trends in whatever fields he or she is pursing, but also critically evaluate such studies. That ability to valuate studies by others is a critical component in the pursuit of higher learning. Learning by rote and spewing out wrong facts at public exams are of no use in evaluating research papers because it does not require thinking. And the vicious cycle goes on when these graduates become teachers themselves. Results have shown that our students performance in science and mathematics is among the poorest in Asia.

We need a revolutionary education system to set thing right. A system that will ‘uneducate’ our children from the current ‘copy and paste’ mentality so prevalent that the word plagiarism is as alien as the concept of unity in diversity.

Economic descent

From a house of plenty, we have now become a nation of borrowers. Our household debt is at its peak at 80 percent. Families in urban areas find it impossible to meet ends and unless you are a favoured despot, you will find yourself drowning in a sea of personal debt.

Poverty cuts across racial and religious barriers. Despite government efforts to prop up the rural population, the urban Malays are finding it hard to meet the expenses of daily city life.

The sheer weight of managing and balancing a domestic budget is actually a microcosm of the national economy.Our current account (money received from imports minus the money that goes out for exports) has fallen.

Malaysia's Current Acc to GDP RatioAnd the figure has been steadily falling according to numbers released by the Department of Statistics, Malaysia since the year 2004 (see chart above).

John Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, is an epic poem of the fall of man. Like the Garden of Eden, Malaysia was once an advanced and prosperous nation in not just Southeast Asia, but Asia. But sin crept into Paradise and it all was lost. And like Eden, we have allowed corruption, decay and prejudice to destroy the once paradisiacal state we were in.

In his poem, Milton painted the devil in such colourful language, that some haveMilton's epic poems even argued that Satan was the hero in ‘Paradise Lost’! And, much like Milton’s Eden, we seem to have fallen to the devilish ways of religious and racial bigotry that is transforming us, from the proverbial paradise, to a living hell on earth … for the average person.

One is left to contemplate if there is a way out of this runaway train that we have seemingly boarded. Will sanity, in the end prevail and will there be economic, social and political salvation? Milton pointed to a new future with his second epic poem entitled ‘Paradise Regained’.

As Malaysians, we have a duty to regain that lost paradise. We owe it to the next generation and the generations to come so that the story of Malaysia will be remembered as one of victory over darkness, of good over evil, of sanity over insanity and of one of moderation over extremism.

Let us not end up as an epic tragedy.

The Muslim World’s Challenges (Part 2)


May 29, 2014

The Muslim World’s Challenges (Part 2) : Islam and Moderation

By Dr Farhan Ahmad Nizami@www.nst.com.my

Dr Farhan Ahmad NizamiTHE ideal of government as service cannot be realised without tackling corruption. Ultimately, this depends on personal integrity. However, much can be achieved by strict implementation of accountability procedures.

People’s everyday transactions — like getting a passport, a telephone connection, a licence to start a business or being free to travel — can be needlessly complicated by discriminatory application of regulations, or by having to pay bribes. As part of the commitment to justice and fairness, it is essential that Muslim identity is detached from crude forms of tribal and sectarian politics.

The Quran censures those among the Israelites who claimed salvation on the basis of tribal belonging. A central feature of Islamic civilisation was its understanding that values — like knowledge and skill and virtue — are by no means a monopoly of the Muslims.

Islam was a learning and teaching civilisation, and for that reason, a force for good. Between communities, there is need for both fences and bridges. Muslims must recover their talent for managing the shared and separate spaces.

If they do not, their sectarian and ethnic divisions will always be vulnerable to cynical exploitation.

The Quran describes the Muslim community as ummatan wasatan: the middle or moderate community, the anti-extreme or mainstream. The community of Muslims must not cut itself off; it must be inclusive and assimilative, go east and west, learning as well as teaching. That is an ideal worthy of presentation to all the peoples of the world.

In the end, people must have good reasons to prefer life in societies identified as Muslim, if they are to give their hearts to making those societies successful. Therefore, among the general objectives we pursue, some are bound to be specific to Muslims. Others may see the sense in them or they may not. But Muslims have a commitment to them from faith.

Human beings must expect to be questioned about the ends they pursue and the means they engage to realise them. For Muslims, there are issues of haram and halal in both means and ends.

With that in mind, Muslims should strive for a resetting of the international financial system and its regulation. They can draw upon their wealth of past and recent experience with Islamic financing.

A 100 per cent reserve ratio may be an impossible target, but significantly raising it is not impossible. Muslims can also demand much stricter regulation and more transparency in the relations between banks and regulators.

Islamic banking must practise what it preaches. To promote research and analysis in the general field of Islamic finance, a small positive step is the annual roundtable jointly organised by the Securities Commission of Malaysia and the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies.

Muslims can and should intervene, more strongly than they do, to limit dependence on commercial and industrial processes that are life-threatening. Harm that happens far away is called an “external cost of business”. This is morally repugnant and, sooner or later, self-destructive.

Muslims can make common cause with non-Muslims to build the will to sacrifice present comfort for future wellbeing. Muslim states have contiguous borders, large populations and considerable financial weight. There is no reason why they cannot lead efforts to preserve natural resources and environments.

In many Muslim societies, the lives of women are diminished by ingrained social and economic injustices. Men and women have aspirations and duties for which they have equal capacity and equal need. Therefore, they have an equal right to be prepared for those duties. This means education and the freedom to test that education in appropriate occupations.

Any policy oriented to human values, if not expressed in local cultural idioms, will not have local buy-in. Granted that Muslims have much to learn from the West, their first and last responsibility as Muslims is to embody the teaching of God and His Messenger. It is not permissible for them, where they have a choice, not to discharge that responsibility.

Within the debate among Muslims about political and human rights, there is broad agreement on the need for reform of attitudes and institutions. But political models imposed from above will not lead to open, accountable government sensitive to human rights. Such models, in practice, exclude the society they are claiming to serve.

Effective, stable representative government can only evolve from the collective will of the whole society. It will realise broad and enduring legitimacy only when it adapts the full resources of the society’s history and culture.

That is a good reason for beginning with reflection on past achievements. We do that to identify the general objectives that are desirable now. But we also need to identify actual, present commitment to those objectives, and to recognise and celebrate the progress that has been made. In this respect, Malaysia is the right place to be doing that.

Malaysia is an example of the political wisdom of which Muslims in the modern world are capable. It has demonstrated that, where social and historical circumstances permit and outside influences do not prevent, Muslims can build a stable society alongside non-Muslims.

Malaysia is a thriving nation whose Muslims remain, through their embrace of modernity, true to what is universal in their cultural and religious values.

I know there are tensions. But ways have been learnt to contain the tensions, and they are ways of peace. Differences intelligently managed have been converted into the advantages of diversity and moderation.

It is appropriate that the call for a Global Movement of Moderates has come from Malaysia. Since it is active in various international forums, and is the next chair of  ASEAN, it can project that message to many others.

The message is listened to because it is supported by a lived, achieved example.Within the struggle for political independence, there had also been a struggle for Malay/Muslim rights and identity.But that struggle did not, despite imbalances in educational opportunity and economic leverage, decay into sustained ethnic conflict.

Such conflict was viewed as an aberration from the norm, and Malaysia’s different communities learnt to co-exist and cooperate for the benefit of all.

Some of the reasons for this success are local, peculiar to the situation in this country. But the deeper reasons have to do with an Islamic tradition of tolerance and neighbourliness with peoples of different religion and ethnicity.

I would argue that, even in circumstances that differ markedly from the situation in Malaysia, the most promising basis for initiating and sustaining such a political settlement is religious conviction. It is a responsibility of those who believe in and value their faith to engage religious conviction as a means of promoting tolerance and peace within and between nation-states.

Malaysia’s political stability has been accompanied by equally impressive economic development. Malaysia took the lead in setting up the World Islamic Economic Forum. This initiative carries forward years of effort to improve economic cooperation between Muslim countries.

I mentioned earlier the lack of cultural contact among Muslim countries. Again, Malaysia is at the forefront of putting this right. It attracted some 73,000 visitors last year from Saudi Arabia alone. Its universities offer high-quality advanced education and training to students from the developing world. Many Muslims are taking up the opportunity.

Malaysia’s policymakers have identified a long-term need and committed resources to scholarship programmes that will encourage students of all backgrounds to take part.

Perhaps consideration could be given to the establishment of a National Endowment for the Humanities in Malaysia. Aside from the enrichment in perspectives, this policy will also, over time, contribute to reducing the flow of cultural product from the West into the Islamic world.

Muslims in the past, when confident of their religion and of themselves, were not intimidated by the ancient prestige of the learned traditions of the Greeks, Persians and Indians.

They were sure that Islam could absorb them, since whatever is truly of value to human life is, ultimately, compatible with the compassion and beneficence embodied in the teachings of the Quran and God’s Messenger. Muslims have a responsibility to contribute to the mainstream of world civilisation. There are several areas in which Muslim history and experience have something to teach:

The Muslims’ experience of pluralist societies could enrich contemporary constitutional debates which express individual rights but have no language for community rights. Their experience of the tension between scientific and religious thinking could shape a philosophy of science to reconcile belief in a Creator with rigorous scientific study.

Their experience of economics is relevant to ethical business, the balance between market freedom and state intervention, between private profit and public welfare, the cost of money. All these topics require the commitment of resources for the long term.

That commitment must come alongside a confidence in the ability of Muslims to find answers to the concerns that preoccupy all of us: the fight against the expulsion of religious authority from the public domain, and its growing irrelevance in the domain of individual lifestyles; the fight against consumerism and the widening gulf between those who have and those who do not have buying power; the fight against scales and patterns of economic activity which are pitilessly indifferent to their consequences for human lives and the natural systems we depend on; the fight against a near-autonomous technology answerable only to the economic interests that finance it; the fight against injustices, some located in particular persons or regimes, others anonymous and inaccessible behind the visible structures of power.

Alongside this fight against, there is a fight for — for the recovery of habits of worship (ibadat) and religious reflection; for the self-discipline which enables disinterested service of others; for the alleviation of poverty through healthcare and education; for effective conservation and environmental protection; for the preservation of family life which, however imperfectly, is still the most tested way to raise adults capable of moral autonomy.

Ultimately, the quality of commitment to a goal is dependent upon the quality of human resources carrying it. It is in the domain of education which builds human resources that Muslims need to work the most.

They need to learn how to organise and manage effective faith-based schools (pondok). They need to relearn how to devise and balance curricula to equip students for an effective life as believers in the contemporary world.

They need to teach students not only the externals of their faith, but also how to understand and carry their faith within themselves and translate it into self-transcending service of others.

This Muslims cannot do until and unless they appreciate that other traditions of learning have also achieved worthwhile progress in advancing human knowledge and know-how, and challenged received wisdom with sound arguments from human reason, observation and experience.

Muslims need to inculcate that mental and moral discipline which stops believers from bringing into the zone of the sacrosanct narrow issues of custom and practice that pertain, not to belief as such, but to local identities and local manners.

It is not an easy discipline; if practised properly and sustained, its fruit is tolerance and peaceful co-existence with others of the same and other faiths.

All of that can be summed up as an effort to teach values that are authentically derived from religious commitment. I have explained that this effort needs to be, for Muslims, commensurate with the legacy of their past. It needs to be forward-looking and outward-looking. It needs to be comfortably multi-cultural, willing to learn, to go abroad. And it has to be confidently Islamic.

The Muslim World’s Challenges–Part 1


May 28, 2014

The Muslim World’s Challenges

By Dr Farhan Ahmad Nizami

ISLAMIC PAST: Legacy was built on Muslims’ confidence in Islam, sustained by material prosperity, combined with political and legal stability

Dr Farhan Ahmad NizamiFOR about a thousand years, roughly from the 7th century onwards, the people under Islamic rule made striking advances in their material and intellectual culture.

The contribution of those advances to modern Western philosophy, sciences and technology has been extensively studied. But I want to speak about their distinctively Islamic qualities.

The area under Islamic influence stretched overland from the Atlantic in the west to the borders of China, and across the Indian Ocean to the islands of the Malay archipelago.

This vast area was commercially interconnected with much continuous and profitable exchange of goods. It was also culturally interconnected, with prodigious traffic in books and ideas, scholars and travellers.

Its people busied themselves in seeking knowledge and writing it down. So much so was this that, to this day, there remain huge quantities of manuscripts, from different ends of the Islamic world, yet to be catalogued and studied.

The regional diversity and assimilative embrace of Islam as a civilisation is manifest in the names by which great figures in Islamic scholarship are best known: al-Qurtubi, al-Fasi, al-Iskandari, al-Dimashaqi, al-Baghdadi, al-Isfahani, al-Bukhari, al-Dihlawi and al-Jawi.

The language of communication among scholars was mostly Arabic, with Persian and Turkish becoming important later in the east. This dominance of Arabic was not the result of any policy to diminish local languages. It was simply a gradual extension of the authority of the language of the Quran and its teachings.

Muslims believed that the way of life defined by the Quran summed up the best of the teachings of the past. They expected that non-Muslims, too, would have knowledge, skills and virtues. They expected to learn from them and to fit that learning with Islam.

Islamic civilisation thus self-consciously set out to co-exist with and absorb the cultures of others. It did so from a position of political strength.

The House of Wisdom (Bayt al-Hikma) in Baghdad, funded by the Caliph, is the best-known example of this attitude. Translations were commissioned of works in every branch of learning, from metaphysics to the science of making poisons. Once translated, these works were studied critically, then improved and extended.

The dominant streams in this flood of knowledge were Hellenic, Persian and Indian. The Chinese script proved too severe an obstacle to the absorption of Chinese philosophy and science. However, Chinese influences are found everywhere in the material culture of the Islamic world, in decorative motifs, and in the skills of making paper, ceramics, glass, metal-ware, textiles, dyes and drugs.

The Quran presented the teaching of all God’s messengers as a unified legacy. Muslims set out to harmonise older traditions of learning with that legacy. This effort was not universally admired.

In particular, the presentation of Islamic teachings in the style of Greek philosophy remained controversial for centuries. In the end, it had a more enduring influence on the medieval Christian world than on Islam.

Such controversies did not dampen Muslims’ self-confidence. In general, Islamic norms continued to encourage intellectual adventure and achievement. Muslims were aware of living in prosperous, stable societies, and comfortable with non-Muslim communities among them. They considered themselves forward-looking, inventive and multi-cultured.

Their best scholars made innovations of lasting importance in mathematics and experimental science, and applied them in technical instruments, manufacture, and engineering. And the wealthiest royal courts competed to own and display the results.

Al-Jazari’s famous water-clock illustrates this well. Its water-raising technology is Greek; the elephant, inside which the great vat of water is hidden, represents India, the rugs on its back are Persian; on top of the howdah sits an Egyptian phoenix; on its sides are conspicuously Chinese red dragons. This deliberately multicultural device was constructed shortly after the Crusades.

All that said, while Muslim societies were stable, their governments were often not: regime change was usually violent and disruptive. Politically, the Muslims became ever weaker and more divided.

Little now survives of their cultural self-confidence; even less remains of the personal and political skills they had developed to manage life alongside different communities and confessions.

Their ways of organising long-distance commerce and regulating free markets have vanished completely. The material remains of the rest — all the thinking in all the books, colleges, libraries and hospitals — interest only medievalists, museums, and tourists.

The past still has presence in the public spaces; you still hear the call to prayer, even in secularised city centres. There is still a feel of Islam in private homes and personal manners.

We can objectively map the movements of books, ideas and scholars from one end of the Islamic world to the other in every century until the modern period.

The recovery following the Crusades and Mongol conquests included the building of madrasa and colleges that taught a rich, varied curriculum.

There is little evidence of that during European colonial rule. The madrasa of that era were not well funded. They could afford to focus only on Islamic sciences narrowly defined.

For the rest of their education, Muslims had to leave the cultural space of Islam. A division became established between religious and secular education, between old and modern, with Islam on the side of the old. That division is at the heart of the present challenges facing Muslims in every part of the world.

When we memorialise the legacy of the Islamic past — when naming public institutions, or presenting past glories in books and museums — we should remember that this legacy was built on Muslims’ confidence in Islam.

This confidence was sustained by material prosperity, combined with a sufficient degree of political and legal stability. Without prosperity and stability, the constraints on political and economic decisions are too strong for people to make their own choices for their future.

We need only look at the difficulties in post-recession Europe to know that feeling powerless to shape the future is not special to Muslim societies. It is not related to their being Muslim but to the material conditions in which they are Muslim.

The end-goal is hardly a matter of dispute among the vast majority of Muslims. It is to re-establish connections between Islamic upbringing and education and modern secular, technical education.

The latter provides the means for individuals to make their way in the world, to have things to do in it and to enjoy doing them successfully. The former provides them with their religious orientation and identity.

Religious orientation is not itself the goal. The aim is not to have people identify as Muslims; the vast majority already do that. Rather, the aim is to enable them to prosper in the world in ways that express and test, inform and improve, their identity as Muslims.

As the Chinese saying puts it, the journey of a thousand miles begins from where your feet are. We in the Muslim world can only set out from where we stand in reality. That reality needs to be stated bluntly.

Today, Muslim identity is not sufficiently relevant to how things are done in the world, especially in the collective spheres of life.

Muslim identity is not the engine of prosperity, of either the production or the distribution of wealth. Muslim identity is not the engine of knowledge, of collecting it, or adding to it, or disseminating it. (This is true, rather unexpectedly, even of knowledge about the past legacy of Islam.)

Muslim identity is not the engine of political and legal order. Or rather, it is not so in a positive way. Instead, we see mainly negative expressions of it. We see it in a despairing withdrawal from the evils of power: in the attitude that the status quo, however bad, is still better than chaos.

We see it also in despairing violence intended to erase the status quo, without any labour of understanding and analysis about what will follow.

The end-goal is to make being Muslim relevant and effective in the quest for knowledge, in the quest for prosperity and in the quest for political order. Except in the sphere of personal courtesies and private concerns, being Muslim is no longer the currency of exchange neither among Muslims themselves, nor between them and non-Muslims.

To make it so again is a task of huge scale and complexity. Our first priority must be to establish institutions and forums so that the present challenges are properly identified, and then try to guide expectations towards realistic, achievable goals.

The hurdles in the way are real and substantial.First, there is the hurdle, as I said, of determining what is do-able and specifying it intelligently, in the light of local realities; in the way that sustains momentum towards the next objective; and without losing sight of the end-goal.

Second, there is the hurdle of co-ordinating effort with other societies and states. Priorities can vary sharply with local conditions. Therefore, there will be a need for trust among policymakers, with tolerance for variable levels of competence and energy.

Thirdly, there is the hurdle of rejection by those who oppose any attempt to bring religious concerns into the public sphere. The response will sometimes be concession, compromise and conciliation. At other times, it will take the form of steadfastly holding one’s ground. In either case, alert flexibility — the readiness to adjust to different circumstances — is essential.

Among general objectives, the most inclusive is to build up the commercial, financial, trade and cultural ties between Muslim societies.One measure of the need is the low values and volumes of bilateral trade between Muslim-majority countries, compared with their trade with non-Muslim countries.

Another measure is the low values and volumes of trade outside the dollar-dominated banking system.

Another is the low numbers of Muslims travelling for higher education from one Muslim country to another; the general preference, for those who can afford it, remains Europe or America.

Yet another measure is the massive inflow of cultural product from the non-Muslim into the Muslim world — the information and imagery people get from their televisions and computers; the advertising that influences the things they want to own; the time they give to sports and other entertainments.

All of this shapes people’s horizons, and their understanding of what is important and what is possible.

For the states that make up the Islamic world, the need to work together is clear. Modern technologies make it much easier to do that than it used to be. The sacrifices needed for cooperation to succeed are widely understood. But we should also highlight the benefits of a strengthened economic base in Muslim states, through increase in trade and long-term investments in human development.

The distribution of resources favours Muslim nations, but they lack the will and confidence to manage them to best advantage. If only because they are Muslim nations, their leaders have a special responsibility to nurture that will and confidence.

Their aspirations and policies should be consciously linked to the history, culture and faith that Muslims share. If enough far-sighted individuals have the courage of their Islamic convictions, what seems desirable but unrealistic can become a realistic and achievable goal.

Muslims are commanded to “bid to the good and forbid from the evil” (amr bi-l-ma`ruf wa-nahy `ani l-munkar). This entails commitment to the direction and quality of the whole social ethos. Not just traditional forms of family life and neighbourliness but also religiously valid ways of earning a living, co-operatively with others and with the natural environment.

As I mentioned, in the past, Muslims traded globally. The expansion of Islam’s influence followed the trade routes out of its Arabian heartland. For Muslims, economic effort is an integral part of responsible living.

We have a reliable record of how the Prophet and his companions went about discharging that responsibility. Muslims may not engage in practices that deliberately and systematically deprive others of their livelihood, and then, in response to a separate impulse, give charitably to relieve the distress their economic practice has generated.

Rather, the effort to do good works and the effort to create wealth must be sustained as a single endeavour. Both means and ends must be halal.

More Muslims need to join, with each other and with non-Muslims, in the urgent need to balance the creation and distribution of wealth so that a good life is available to all, including future generations.

Muslims’ efforts to develop techniques of financing and investment that are free of usury and uncertainty (speculation) are pertinent to the wider concerns about ethical investment, fair and genuinely free trade, and abolishing the export, through debt-slavery, of poverty, instability and pollution to the poorest and weakest on this earth.

We have seen over the last forty years massive growth in the stocks of Islamic financial capital. But these stocks are not being deployed to develop the economic capacity of Muslim countries. It seems that the wealthiest Muslims, individually or as sovereign powers, prefer the safe, quick returns from investment in the non-Muslim world.

In many Muslim states, economic infrastructure and activity remain linked to servicing the economies of former colonial powers. Those linkages are not sustained only by fear, but by individual and institutional inertia — by lack of will and imagination on the part of officials to take the necessary steps to put in place the needed skills and systems.

One reason that Muslims do not invest their wealth and talents in Muslim countries is that those countries are unstable, unsafe and unproductive to work in.

This vicious circle is not a function of those countries being Muslim: similar socio-economic conditions elsewhere have similar effects — an exodus of energy, talent and money.

Many Muslim states inherited their political boundaries from the colonial era. Those boundaries increased dependence on the colonial power to keep order. The anti-colonial struggle provided a shared history for communities separated by ethnic and religious differences. In the post-colonial era they have not been able to find common ground. Solidarity is not a precondition, but an outcome, of the effort to identify common purposes. It is something that has to be, and can be, constructed.

To make Muslim identity effective in the world, a major policy commitment must be to make justice and fairness the decisive value for all modes and levels of governance.

This means allowing independent centres of authority to emerge and recognising their concerns and aspirations. It means a redistribution of opportunities to acquire wealth and influence, so that decision-making is not concentrated in the same few hands.

This must be a process, not a gesture. It must be given the time it needs, according to local conditions, to happen gradually.

In this way all parties learn to trust and work with each other to mutual benefit. If government is seen to be in the service of the people as a whole, its security is guaranteed by them.

Tomorrow: Part II

Dr Farhan Ahmad Nizami presenting the Perdana Putrajaya Lecture at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre yesterday. Bernama pic

A Critic Returns to Malaysia


A Critic Returns to Malaysia

by John R. Malott

27 MAY 2014

After the long journey from Washington, DC, I approached the immigration officer at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. It was Friday, May 16, 2014, and the moment of truth was at hand. Would they let me, a former US Ambassador to Malaysia, into the country? Or was I – someone who Asia Sentinel calls one of the Malaysian Government’s severest foreign critics – going to be barred from entering, when all I wanted to do was attend a wedding?

Despite concerns, former US Ambassador allowed past KL immigration to attend an Anwar family wedding

Despite concerns, former US Ambassador allowed past KL immigration to attend an Anwar family wedding

In February 2011, I wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal-Asia (here).The basic theme was that the international image of Malaysia as a harmonious, multi-racial, multi-religious society was no longer valid. Instead, the Malaysian government was condoning and sometimes even provoking racial and religious tensions in order to shore up its political base among the Malay population.

I explained that many Malaysians, and especially the Chinese minority, were tired of being treated like second-class citizens in their own country and were leaving for better opportunities abroad. In fact, according to government statistics I cited, almost 500,000 Malaysians left the country between 2007 and 2009, more than doubling the number of Malaysian professionals who live overseas.

I thought it was important to tell the world to wake up and pay attention. Things were changing in Malaysia, and not necessarily for the better. The Journal editors attached the headline, “The Price of Malaysia’s Racism.” I knew that the article would be controversial, because it ran counter to the government’s carefully cultivated image promoted by a multi-million dollar public relations campaign in America and Europe. So the op-ed was well-documented.

Then all hell broke loose. While I was accustomed to being attacked by the so-called UMNO cybertroopers who stalk the internet, this time the comments were especially vile and even obscene. A few days later I read that Nazri Aziz, then a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, said he would propose to the cabinet that I be banned from entering Malaysia. Nazri said that because I had not visited Malaysia in years (actually I had been there just a few months before), I did not know the true situation. So his cure for my ignorance was to prevent me from ever visiting Malaysia again.

Two months later, the World Bank published a major 150-page report on Malaysia’s brain drain. It confirmed in great detail what I had said about Malaysian migration and its consequences. The Bank said that one million Malaysians (over 3 percent of the country’s population) were living overseas, including two out of every ten college graduates.

These people had the skills that Malaysia needs to escape the so-called middle income trap and take their country to a new level of development. The World Bank survey showed that the migrants still felt a strong personal attachment to their country, but their talents were no longer available to Malaysia.

When the Bank asked members of the Malaysian diaspora why they were working overseas, 66 percent cited career prospects and 54 percent said compensation. But the second most cited reason was social injustice (60 percent). When asked what might entice them to return to Malaysia, the No. 1 answer, cited by 87 percent of the respondents, was there would have to be a change in Malaysia’s affirmative action policies from a race-based to a needs-based approach.

Three years later, racial and religious tensions continue to rise in Malaysia. If I were to update my Wall Street Journal op-ed today, there would be even more examples, which the Asia Sentinel has reported so well. There is the ban on the word “Allah” and the confiscation of Bibles. There is Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’sreference to the “Chinese Tsunami” that voted against his party in the last general elections, and his party newspaper’s screaming headline, “What More Do the Chinese Want?”

The government has admitted that it has provided funds to the Malay chauvinist group Perkasa. While it has charged a Chinese-Malaysian Member of Parliament with sedition over a satirical video, the government has done nothing about the far more serious (and dangerous) anti-Chinese, anti-Indian, and anti-Christian remarks of ISMA, a Malay Muslim organization.

After Nazri said in 2011 that I should be barred from Malaysia, I sometimes wondered whether he carried through on his threat. But because I had no intention to travel there, it did not matter.

But a month ago Dr. Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, the wife of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim, emailed me to say that one of her daughters would be getting married, and that I was invited to the wedding. Over the past 15 years, after I retired from the US Department of State, my wife Hiroko and I grew close to Anwar, Azizah, and their family, especially during the time that they lived here in Washington, DC. Their six children called us Uncle and Auntie, and they were frequent visitors at our home. Hiroko wrote a biography of Wan Azizah, and the two women – a Malaysian and a Japanese – grew very fond of each other. When Hiroko died in 2012, Azizah flew to Washington to speak at her funeral.

Hiroko wrote a biography of Wan Azizah, and the two women – a Malaysian and a Japanese – grew very fond of each other. When Hiroko died in 2012, Azizah flew to Washington to speak at her funeral.

Hiroko wrote a biography of Wan Azizah, and the two women – a Malaysian and a Japanese – grew very fond of each other. When Hiroko died in 2012, Azizah flew to Washington to speak at her funeral.

I knew it was a long way to go for a wedding, but Azizah had travelled those thousands of miles for Hiroko. I thought of Nurul Iman, the beautiful bride-to-be, and how she had studied Japanese in high school here, due to Hiroko’s influence. I thought it might be my last chance to see Anwar before the government locked him up again, this time for five years. There were many things going through my mind, but overriding everything was one basic concern: if I travel halfway around the world to Kuala Lumpur, will the government let me in the door?

I called the Malaysian Embassy in Washington and informed them that I was going and why. In the interest of total transparency, I gave them my flight details and told them where I would be staying. I said I would do “nothing political” during my time in KL. The officer said he would check with KL to see if there was a problem. I then made a comment for the record: “I hope they understand that if they bar a former American Ambassador, who only wants to go to a wedding and visit with friends, it will be very bad publicity for Malaysia around the world.”

Meanwhile, American friends in Malaysia also were making inquiries, but they never got a straight answer whether I was on a blacklist or would be admitted. They were told, however, that if the decision were made to bar me, “We will not put him in a cell. We will put him in a nice room until we can arrange for a flight to take him out of the country.” I thought what a remarkable commentary that was – they would not lock up a former US Ambassador in a jail cell.

I told my children and friends about my decision to go, and the risk that the trip involved. I explained that this was not some paranoid fantasy on my part; in 2013, the Malaysian government had banned an Australian senator, Nick Xenophon, from entering, detaining him for eight hours at the airport. Later that same year the Sarawak government deported Clare Rewcastle Brown, the sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and an environmental activist, who had come to Malaysia to defend herself in a lawsuit.

Nevertheless, a common reaction among friends was that the Malaysian government would not be so foolish as to prohibit the entry of a former American Ambassador, especially just two weeks after the visit of US President Barcak Obama. In reply, I quoted a Malay proverb, katak bawah tempurong, about the frog who lives under a coconut shell and comes to believe that that his coconut shell is the entire world. There have been so many cases where the UMNO government gets a black eye internationally but doesn’t seem to care (although in reality they do). The most important thing for them is to assert their power and authority inside their own little world, their own coconut shell.

So on Friday, May 16, I approached the immigration officer and waited, looking like any other elderly foreign tourist. He scanned my passport, and then his eyes got big as something appeared on the computer screen. He started reading, and reading more, and then went to get his supervisor. So yes, I was in the system. After 5 or 10 minutes, the supervisor told his officer to write down my passport number, and then they stamped me into the country.

When I left Malaysia four days later, a similar incident took place at the immigration departure counter. After five minutes, I was permitted to leave the country.

I am grateful to the Malaysian government for letting me do what I said I wanted to do – go to a wedding and visit with friends. I was happy to see KL again and be reminded what a beautiful country Malaysia is, and how wonderful its people are.

I am grateful to the Malaysian government for letting me do what I said I wanted to do – go to a wedding and visit with friends. I was happy to see KL again and be reminded what a beautiful country Malaysia is, and how wonderful its people are.

But at the same time, to stand before a Malaysian immigration officer and realize that the UMNO regime has placed a red flag next to my name has only strengthened my resolve to carry on. If this is the kind of government it is, then the world needs to hear more about it.

John R. Malott was the US Ambassador to Malaysia from 1995 to 1998.

How about a little Poem for this Occasion–May 23, 2014


May 23, 2014

How about a little Poem for the Occasion–May 23, 2014

tennysonporI could have posted Milton’s Paradise Lost, an epic poem which I read at Sixth Form at the Penang Free School (1958). It was heavy stuff, way back then and too  long for my purpose here. Yet Milton’s is a must read for those who want to learn English seriously. Also try Chaucer’s Canterburry Tales and Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations.

But  for this occasion, let me revisit Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses, which I posted on my blog some years  ago. I think it is an appropriate piece of poetry for my special day. I dedicate it to the memory of my late mother, Hajjah Fatimah Merican, Christie Netto and the forgotten men and women of their generation.–Din Merican

Ulysses

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea:

I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honor’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life.  Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains:  But every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bounds of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachos,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle-
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.

Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone.  He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port, the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas.  My mariners,
Souls that have tol’d and wrought, and thought with me-
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads – you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all:  but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes:  the slow moon climbs:  the deep
Moans round with many voices.  Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be that we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved heaven and earth; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

     Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Fellow Malaysians, May The Force be with You Always

Birthday Greetings from my friend Terence Netto


May 22, 2014

Din and KamsiahI am deeply  moved by an e-mail message I received a few moments ago from a soulmate in literature, Terence Netto and thank him  warmly for his very kind wishes to mark my 75th Birthday, which falls tomorrow, May 23.

It is indeed a great honour to share the same date as his late father, Christie Netto, whose centenary it will be tomorrow. Two Germinians, a quarter of century apart, Christie and I share a common passion which is the love of reading and literature.

Terence had an excellent role model in his father, and I had an equally wonderful one in my late mother, Hajjah Fatimah Merican. Both he and I were indeed fortunate to have  such unselfish mentors.

Our parents –my mother and his father– did not leave behind great wealth.  But in their separate ways, they exposed us to great literature and taught us the value of reading.

Yes, I love to read history and literary works of antiquity through which I began to appreciate the nobility of a Hamlet and the idealism of a Brutus and despise  the toxic qualities of Iago, the greed of a Shylock and the machinations and temptations of a Lady Macbeth.

So my friend, Terence, allow me to post a poem by William Wordsworth in honour of the long departed Christie Netto. He did his duty for our country. And so did my beloved mother.You and I will now go on, never to quit because we still have plenty to do before we sleep.

My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold (Rainbow)

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

Let also us celebrate this auspicious day with this tune by Sammy Davies Jr.–Din Merican

Birthday Greetings from my friend, Terence Netto

Dear Din,

My fond greetings to you on attaining the milestone of three score and 15 years.Ever since I came to know you seven years ago and got to know that your birthday falls on May 23, I have felt a special kinship for you. It is because the date is also the birthday of my father whose centenary is today which makes this day extra special to me.

It is apposite that I should greet you on this day when I feel a deep sense of gratitude to my dad. For without his urging me to read from a young age I doubt I could have forged a friendship with you that I am certain would last for the duration of our remaining years, you being a ripe 75 and I, a mere 14 years to the rear.

You and I have had many occasions when we shared our delight in the stuff we had read in our days of youth and maturity. That reading may not have covered the compendium of what Matthew Arnold meant by the “best that has been said and thought” in this world, but any range that has within its compass a dollop of Shakespeare, a draught of Tolstoy and a distillate of Gibbon would suffice for  the delights that we have shared whenever we met.

 From my father, Christie Netto, I acquired the sheer joy of felicitous statement which led me to devour literary and political stuff, especially when these have been singingly rendered. Combined with the fortune of having a good English teacher in the late Bernard Khoo Teng Swee (whom your website commemorated last week) and the fortuitous friendship of (also departed) fellow journalist, Shaik Osman Majid (who like you had Penang Free School as his alma mater), I learned to read, remember and store my mind with the stuff that will always be a joy forever.

 So on this day when you mark your 75th birthday, I take a special delight in greeting you and in remembering my father to whom I owe such a lot. If in the “brief candle” of our life the knowledge of how this world works and of how human beings are constituted could be available to us, it is almost certain such powers would only be acquired through comprehension of the great works of literary and philosophic merit.

It has been no small pleasure that through the mentoring of Christie, a humble accounts clerk who knew Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Marx, Netto junior acquired some of the wherewithal that must have made him, I figure, a companion of some value to Din Merican to whom the Latin greeting – Ad multos annos – is most appropriate on this auspicious day.

 

 

 

Penindasan Ilmu membantutkan Perkembangan Bangsa


May 21, 2014

Penindasan Ilmu membantutkan Perkembangan Bangsa

oleh  Zairil Khir Johari

Zairil Khir JohariIzinkan saya bermula dengan memetik sebuah anekdot masyhur yang dikisahkan di dalam Al-Quran. Kisah seorang insan yang mencari siapa Tuhannya. Beliau bermula dengan mempersoalkan amalan tradisional masyarakatnya yang menyembah berhala.

Pada malam hari, beliau melihat kepada bintang yang menyinari pekat malam, lalu bertanya: apakah bintang ini Tuhan? Namun, ternyata bintang itu terbenam di ufuk dunia menjelang subuh.

Lalu beliau melihat pula kepada bulan, bulat dan bercahaya, dan mengajukan soalan yang sama: apakah bulan ini Tuhan? Namun, bulan juga menghilang setelah terbit fajar dan diganti pula oleh matahari yang bersinar dengan lebih terang.

Apakah matahari ini sebenarnya Tuhan? Setelah matahari terbenam tatkala senja menyingsing, beliau menyedari bahawa Tuhan tidak mungkin menjadi objek dan simbol-simbol semata-mata tetapi adalah kekuasaan yang mengaturkan objek dan simbol-simbol ini. Maka, beliau akhirnya berkata:

“Wahai kaumku, sesungguhnya aku berlepas diri (bersih) dari apa yang kamu sekutukan dengan Allah. Sesungguhnya aku hadapkan mukaku kepada Allah yang menciptakan langit dan bumi, dengan cenderung kepada agama yang benar, dan aku bukan dari orang-orang yang menyekutukan Allah.”

Demikianlah pengembaraan spiritual Nabi Ibrahim mencari Tuhannya, sebagaimana yang dicatatkan dalam Surah Al-An‘am, ayat 74-79.

Walaupun saya bukan pakar agama, saya percaya bahawa kisah Nabi Ibrahim ini jelas menggambarkan bagaimana Islam adalah agama yang berasaskan sisi rasional yang mampu dihujahkan dengan logik.

Pada saya, perkara yang paling menarik dalam kisah tersebut, adalah pada waktu Nabi Ibrahim sedang menghadapi persoalan epistemelogi yang paling besar dalam sejarah ketamadunan manusia – persoalan kewujudan manusia – tiada campur tangan yang berlaku daripada Yang Maha Esa. Bukankah mudah andainya sekiranya malaikat (atau setidaknya Ustaz Azhar Idrus) diutuskan untuk memberikan jawapan kepada Nabi Ibrahim?

Sebaliknya, Allah dalam kebijaksanaanNya telah menyerahkan kepada Nabi Ibrahim untuk mencerap alam dan mencari kebenaran melalui kaedah kognitif dan empirikal. Malah, kaedah ini telah mengukuhkan lagi keyakinan Nabi Ibrahim.

Ini membuktikan bahawa Islam adalah lebih daripada dogma semata-mata. Sesungguhnya, Allah telah mengurniakan manusia dengan magnum opus ciptaannya, kurniaan yang hatta tidak pernah diberikan kepada makhluk lain termasuk para malaikat, iaitu akal fikiran yang melayakkan kaum manusia diangkat menjadi khalifah di dunia ini.

Agama Islam adalah agama ilmu pengetahuan.

Agama Islam adalah agama ilmu pengetahuan.

Malangnya, di Malaysia, nikmat akal ini tidak benar-benar dihargai, apatah lagi disyukuri, sehingga terdapat kecenderungan para penguasa untuk melakukan apa yang Allah sendiri tidak lakukan terhadap Nabi Ibrahim, iaitu untuk berfikir dan membuat keputusan bagi pihak orang lain, khususnya dalam soal keimanan yang sangat peribadi.

Penindasan ilmu

Justeru, di negara kita, pemerintah akan menentukan untuk rakyat apa yang boleh atau tidak boleh dibaca, ditonton, dibicara, malah dipercayai. Sebagai contoh, bukan Muslim dilarang daripada menggunakan beberapa kalimah “Islam” seperti “Allah,” manakala terjemahan Bible dalam bahasa Melayu pula menjadi mangsa undang-undang.

Penapisan ini tidak hanya terhad kepada bahan-bahan agama. Filem adiwira Daredevil (2003) juga telah diharamkan kerana kononnya merosakkan akidah umat. Baru-baru ini, nasib yang sama telah menimpa buku komik berjudul Ultraman: The Ultra Power.

Dan sekiranya itu tidak cukup menghairankan, kerajaan telah mengambil langkah pelik mengharamkan sesetengah buku hanya dalam bahasa Melayu, manakala tiada sebarang halangan dalam versi bahasa Inggeris.

Satu contoh adalah buku penting dalam ilmu biologi, The Origin of Species karya Charles Darwin. Masuk sahaja ke mana-mana kedai buku atau perpustakaan utama di negara kita dan buku tersebut boleh dijumpai. Walau bagaimanapun, terjemahannya dalam bahasa Melayu, iaitu Asal-usul Spesies, disenaraikan sebagai buku terlarang.

Ada juga buku lain yang mengalami nasib yang menyedihkan ini, seperti karya Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History. Terjemahannya, Sepintas Sejarah Islam, diharamkan manakala versi asalnya boleh dibeli dan dipinjam di serata negara.

Apabila diminta untuk mewajarkan pengharaman buku Darwin, maklumbalas yang diterima daripada Kementerian Dalam Negeri adalah bahawa buku tersebut “memudaratkan ketenteraman awam” sambil bercanggah dengan ajaran Ahli Sunnah Wal Jamaah (hal ini pula menimbulkan persoalan lain berkenaan penguasaan pemerintah ke atas “jenis” Islam yang boleh diamalkan).

Pun begitu, jawapan kerajaan langsung tidak masuk akal. Bagaimanakah mungkin sesuatu buku itu dianggap sebagai ancaman kepada ketenteraman awam dan menyalahi ajaran Islam dalam satu bahasa, tetapi boleh diterima pula dalam bahasa lain?

Ataupun, adakah ini sebenarnya cara kerajaan untuk meletakkan batasan ilmu ke atas mereka yang hanya celik Bahasa Kebangsaan, seolah-olah orang Melayu Islam tidak cukup rasional dan cerdik untuk membaca karya besar dunia berbanding mereka yang mampu berbahasa Inggeris?

Pembantutan perkembangan bangsa

Hakikatnya, tindakan mengharamkan buku atas apa-apa alasan tidak mungkin diwajarkan, kerana ia bukan sahaja menindas ilmu dan minda, malah membantutkan perkembangan negara bangsa.

Sejarah dunia membuktikan bahawa pembangunan tamadun berlaku atas usaha memperluaskan ilmu, manakala kegagalan tamadun berlaku apabila ilmu disekat dan dihadkan.

Dalam hal ini, usaha penterjemahan adalah sangat kritikal. Ini kerana ia bukan sahaja soal penyalinan kata dalam bahasa yang berbeza, tetapi pengolahan ilmu, maklumat dan pengalaman sesuatu budaya.

Ketika zaman kegemilangan Islam semasa pemerintahan Khalifah Harun al-Rashid, Baitul Hikmah di Baghdad telah menjadi pusat penterjemahan yang masyhur, di mana karya-karya tamadun Greek telah diterjemahkan bagi tatapan umum.

Ini bukan sahaja tidak memudaratkan ketenteraman umat, malah telah menyumbang kepada perkembangan tamadun Islam sehingga terhasil karya-karya dunia yang sangat berpengaruh sehingga ke hari ini.

Malangnya di Malaysia, usaha penterjemahan buku ilmiah adalah amat kurang sekali. Maka, persoalan muncul, apakah fungsi Institut Terjemahan Negara Malaysia atau sekarang dikenali sebagai Institut Terjemahan dan Buku Malaysia (ITBM)? Institut ini bukan sahaja tidak giat dalam usaha penterjemahan, ia nampaknya lebih cenderung kepada menerbitkan buku-buku pemimpin kerajaan seperti Perkhidmatan Awam: Meneraju Perubahan, Melangkau Jangkaan oleh Dato’ Sri Najib Razak dan Sudut Pandangan Muhyiddin Yassin oleh Timbalan Perdana Menteri.

Cuba bayangkan sekiranya Khalifah Harun al-Rashid menggunakan Baitul Hikmah untuk menerbitkan buku sendiri – adakah zaman baginda akan dikenali serata dunia sebagai zaman kegemilangan Islam?

Bahasa milik penguasa?

Kita semua kenal dengan cogan kata “Bahasa Jiwa Bangsa.” Menurut Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, slogan ini adalah satu gagasan besar yang bermaksud bahawa bahasa mampu memainkan peranan dalam pembentukan identiti kebangsaan.

Di negara ini, bahasa Melayu telah diangkat menjadi Bahasa Kebangsaan. Ini bererti ia bukan lagi menjadi bahasa milik kaum Melayu semata-mata, tetapi telah menjadi bahasa kepunyaan setiap insan yang bergelar rakyat Malaysia.

Namun, tindakan kerajaan untuk memperkecilkan kemampuan bahasa Melayu sebagai bahasa kebangsaan dan bahasa keilmuan dengan mengharamkan terjemahan Melayu sesetengah buku serta keengganannya untuk melabur secara besar-besaran dalam usaha penterjemahan telah menjadikan gagasan ini sebagai slogan kosong yang menghiasi dinding-dinding sekolah semata-mata.

Dalam erti kata lain, para penguasa di Malaysia bukan sahaja tidak menghormati Bahasa Kebangsaan malah menindas penggunaannya. Justeru, nasib bahasa Melayu hanya boleh diselamatkan sekiranya belenggu kerajaan dirungkaikan dan ia diberi ruang dan sokongan yang mencukupi agar menjadi bahasa wacana ilmu sekali lagi.

Elok juga sekiranya iktibar dapat diambil daripada kisah Nabi Ibrahim dan sejarah tamadun Islam, iaitu tidak ada kuasa yang boleh kekal, sama ada kuasa ideologi, agama atau politik, sekiranya ia tidak dapat diwajarkan secara logik dan rasional. Pada masa yang sama, mana-mana kerajaan atau tamadun yang tidak membenarkan ruang bagi perkembangan ilmu dalam kalangan masyarakatnya akan akhirnya menemui kegagalan. Bak kata pepatah orang putih: Sesiapa yang gagal mengambil iktibar daripada sejarah akan mengulangi kesilapannya.

ZAIRIL ialah Ahli Parlimen Bukit Bendera, yang juga Pengarah Eksekutif Penang Institute (PI). Ucapan ini disampaikan sebagai pembukaan Forum Nusantara anjuran PI di Shah Alam pada 17 Mei 2014 bertajuk ‘Bahasa Jiwa Bangsa atau Bahasa Jiwa Kuasa?’

The Malay Phobia as typified by ISMA


May 17, 2013

The Malay Phobia as typified by ISMA

By Iskandar Fareez@www.themalaysianinsider.com

We are reduced to becoming a superficial society where we judge one another by how Islamic we portray ourselves to be. Muslims nowadays are satisfied to practise only the ritualistic part of the religion while abandoning the essence of Islam that preaches peace and acceptance.

The Silent One

I grew up listening to various Malay folklore and legends. Among them were the stories of Si Tanggang and Hang Jebat. Si Tanggang was a poor boy who grew up and ventured out to be the captain of his own ship and married a princess. As the legend goes, when Si Tanggang returned to his home village, he was ashamed of his humble origins and refused to recognise his elderly mother. Then, he was cursed by his mother to turn into stone.

Hang Jebat was the closest companion of the legendary Malaccan hero Hang Tuah. Hang Jebat turned against the Sultan of Malacca when he believed that Hang Tuah had been executed by the ruler. After learning that Hang Tuah was still alive, the Sultan ordered him to kill Hang Jebat. Hang Tuah managed to stab Hang Jebat after a long and challenging battle. Until today, the death of Hang Jebat is often cited as an example of the price one pays for disobeying a ruler.

Listening to these stories in school, we were made to study the lessons that we can learn from them. I realised that these folklore are merely stories passed down from one generation to the next and interpreted in a way to instil fear in the hearts of listeners so they will be in good behaviour.

Instilling Fear

They do not teach us to love our mothers. They teach us to fear the consequences of defying her. They do not teach us to respect our leaders. They teach us to fear the consequences of going against them. In the end, being conditioned from the beginning, fear motivates every single one of our thoughts. Fear becomes the guiding inspiration for every single one of our actions.

Isma PresidentI believe it is this fear or phobia that motivated the president of Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (ISMA), Ustaz Abdullah Zaik Abd Rahman, to label the Chinese as trespassers brought in by the British to Tanah Melayu to oppress and bully the Malays. He also went on to suggest that these “proxies to the Jewish Zionist evangelists” are seeking to dissolve Malays’ racial construct and bury Islam as the national identity.

Abdullah Zaik is not alone in his quest. Recently, Abdul Rahman Mat Dali, Vice President of ISMA, questioned the loyalty of non-Malays and suggested that when they came to Tanah Melayu, they could not even speak a word of Bahasa Malaysia.

These statements show that ISMA suffers from a major issue of inferiority complex. This issue evolved into a severe case of xenophobia, “an irrational or unreasoned fear of that which is perceived to be foreign or strange”. Unfortunately, this not only true for Isma but permeates within the majority of the Malay Muslim community in Malaysia.

Extreme paranoia has led us to believe that everything in the world is against us. All things foreign or different are considered as a conspiracy agenda of the Illuminati, Freemasons, Jewish Zionist Evangelist, Shiites, Wahhabi, communist, socialist, capitalist and Red Bean Army. It is more worrying when we start to justify these phobias along religious lines.

Mixing Religion with Race

Indeed, this is the danger when we mix religion with race. In Malaysia, a Malay person must be Muslim but a Muslim may not be Malay. In Isma’s struggle to defend Malay supremacy, they have overlooked this reality. They have portrayed a version of Islam that is racist and unjust. By taking the extremists’ view, they may be isolating those who want to learn more about Islam. How then can Islam thrive if we take this extreme approach?

Despite ISMA’s claim that Islam is under threat by foreign elements, it seems that it is Muslims themselves who are taking this narrow and extremist approach that are threatening the religion. It is unfortunate that those who are as well educated as ISMA, most of which are who Muslim professionals who pursued their studies abroad using taxpayers’ money mostly contributed by non-Muslims or non-Malays, are very regressive in their thinking.

Phobias like this motivate us to act reactively to issues that arise without discussing the crux of the matter. This approach causes us to resort to extreme measures such as the banning of Faisal Tehrani’s novels and Darwin’s translated works, out of fear that these materials will corrupt the mind of the community.

We are reduced to becoming a superficial society where we judge one another by how Islamic they portray themselves to be. Muslims nowadays are satisfied to practise only the ritualistic part of the religion while abandoning the essence of Islam that preaches peace and acceptance.

As much as I disagree with ISMA’s statement, I do not wish for them to be charged under any laws of the country. In a democratic society that aspires to practise freedom of speech, any idea, no matter how racist or idiotic, has to be given space. It is then up to us to provide constructive counter arguments so that a healthy discourse can flourish. We have to speak up and voice our concerns. If our voices are not heard, extremists like Isma and Perkasa will continue to speak on our behalf.

Embracing Knowledge

The western civilization achieved progress because they embraced knowledge. Knowledge is like a beacon of light that brought the western civilization out of the midst of the dark ages. When we choose to remain ignorant, we will forever dwell in the shadows of fear, suspicion and doubt. If Malay Muslims want to progress, we have to stop blaming others. Embrace knowledge and learn, as it will be a guiding light for a brighter future.

“I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but not Islam.” – Muhammad Abduh.