The Myth of Religious Violence


October 31, 2014

The popular belief that religion is the cause of the world’s bloodiest conflicts is central to our modern conviction that faith and politics should never mix. But the messy history of their separation suggests it was never so simple.

Karen ArmstrongAs we watch the fighters of the Islamic State (Isis) rampaging through the Middle East, tearing apart the modern nation-states of Syria and Iraq created by departing European colonialists, it may be difficult to believe we are living in the 21st century.

The sight of throngs of terrified refugees and the savage and indiscriminate violence is all too reminiscent of barbarian tribes sweeping away the Roman empire, or the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan cutting a swath through China, Anatolia, Russia and eastern Europe, devastating entire cities and massacring their inhabitants.

Only the wearily familiar pictures of bombs falling yet again on Middle Eastern cities and towns – this time dropped by the United States and a few Arab allies – and the gloomy predictions that this may become another Vietnam, remind us that this is indeed a very modern war.

Sam Harris- We should have a conversation

The ferocious cruelty of these jihadist fighters, quoting the Qur’an as they behead their hapless victims, raises another distinctly modern concern: the connection between religion and violence.The atrocities of Isis would seem to prove that Sam Harris, one of the loudest voices of the “New Atheism”, was right to claim that “most Muslims are utterly deranged by their religious faith”, and to conclude that “religion itself produces a perverse solidarity that we must find some way to undercut”.

Many will agree with Richard Dawkins, who wrote in The God Delusion that “only religious faith is a strong enough force to motivate such utter madness in otherwise sane and decent people”. Even those who find these statements too extreme may still believe, instinctively, that there is a violent essence inherent in religion, which inevitably radicalises any conflict – because once combatants are convinced that God is on their side, compromise becomes impossible and cruelty knows no bounds.

Despite the valiant attempts by Barack Obama and David Cameron to insist that the lawless violence of Isis has nothing to do with Islam, many will disagree. They may also feel exasperated. In the west, we learned from bitter experience that the fanatical bigotry which religion seems always to unleash can only be contained by the creation of a liberal state that separates politics and religion.

Never again, we believed, would these intolerant passions be allowed to intrude on political life. But why, oh why, have Muslims found it impossible to arrive at this logical solution to their current problems? Why do they cling with perverse obstinacy to the obviously bad idea of theocracy? Why, in short, have they been unable to enter the modern world? The answer must surely lie in their primitive and atavistic religion. But perhaps we should ask, instead, how it came about that we in the west developed our view of religion as a purely private pursuit, essentially separate from all other human activities, and especially distinct from politics.

After all, warfare and violence have always been a feature of political life, and yet we alone drew the conclusion that separating the church from the state was a prerequisite for peace. Secularism has become so natural to us that we assume it emerged organically, as a necessary condition of any society’s progress into modernity. Yet it was in fact a distinct creation, which arose as a result of a peculiar concatenation of historical circumstances; we may be mistaken to assume that it would evolve in the same fashion in every culture in every part of the world.

We now take the secular state so much for granted that it is hard for us to appreciate its novelty, since before the modern period, there were no “secular” institutions and no “secular” states in our sense of the word. Their creation required the development of an entirely different understanding of religion, one that was unique to the modern west. No other culture has had anything remotely like it, and before the 18th century, it would have been incomprehensible even to European Catholics. The words in other languages that we translate as “religion” invariably refer to something vaguer, larger and more inclusive.

The Arabic word din signifies an entire way of life, and the Sanskrit dharma covers law, politics, and social institutions as well as piety. The Hebrew Bible has no abstract concept of “religion”; and the Talmudic rabbis would have found it impossible to define faith in a single word or formula, because the Talmud was expressly designed to bring the whole of human life into the ambit of the sacred. The Oxford Classical Dictionary firmly states: “No word in either Greek or Latin corresponds to the English ‘religion’ or ‘religious’.” In fact, the only tradition that satisfies the modern western criterion of religion as a purely private pursuit is Protestant Christianity, which, like our western view of “religion”, was also a creation of the early modern period.

Traditional spirituality did not urge people to retreat from political activity. The prophets of Israel had harsh words for those who assiduously observed the temple rituals but neglected the plight of the poor and oppressed. Jesus’s famous maxim to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” was not a plea for the separation of religion and politics. Nearly all the uprisings against Rome in first-century Palestine were inspired by the conviction that the Land of Israel and its produce belonged to God, so that there was, therefore, precious little to “give back” to Caesar.

When Jesus overturned the money-changers’ tables in the temple, he was not demanding a more spiritualised religion. For 500 years, the temple had been an instrument of imperial control and the tribute for Rome was stored there. Hence for Jesus it was a “den of thieves”. The bedrock message of the Qur’an is that it is wrong to build a private fortune but good to share your wealth in order to create a just, egalitarian and decent society. Gandhi would have agreed that these were matters of sacred import: “Those who say that religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion means.”

The Myth of Religious Violence

Karen Armstrong Latest Book

Before the modern period, religion was not a separate activity, hermetically sealed off from all others; rather, it permeated all human undertakings, including economics, state-building, politics and warfare. Before 1700, it would have been impossible for people to say where, for example, “politics” ended and “religion” began. The Crusades were certainly inspired by religious passion but they were also deeply political: Pope Urban II let the knights of Christendom loose on the Muslim world to extend the power of the church eastwards and create a papal monarchy that would control Christian Europe.

The Spanish inquisition was a deeply flawed attempt to secure the internal order of Spain after a divisive civil war, at a time when the nation feared an imminent attack by the Ottoman empire. Similarly, the European wars of religion and the thirty years war were certainly exacerbated by the sectarian quarrels of Protestants and Catholics, but their violence reflected the birth pangs of the modern nation-state.

It was these European wars, in the 16th and 17th centuries, that helped create what has been called “the myth of religious violence”. It was said that Protestants and Catholics were so inflamed by the theological passions of the Reformation that they butchered one another in senseless battles that killed 35% of the population of central Europe. Yet while there is no doubt that the participants certainly experienced these wars as a life-and-death religious struggle, this was also a conflict between two sets of state-builders: the princes of Germany and the other kings of Europe were battling against the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and his ambition to establish a trans-European hegemony modelled after the Ottoman empire.

If the wars of religion had been solely motivated by sectarian bigotry, we should not expect to have found Protestants and Catholics fighting on the same side, yet in fact they often did so. Thus Catholic France repeatedly fought the Catholic Habsburgs, who were regularly supported by some of the Protestant princes.

In the French wars of religion (1562–98) and the thirty years war, combatants crossed confessional lines so often that it was impossible to talk about solidly “Catholic” or “Protestant” populations. These wars were neither “all about religion” nor “all about politics”. Nor was it a question of the state simply “using” religion for political ends. There was as yet no coherent way to divide religious causes from social causes.

People were fighting for different visions of society, but they would not, and could not, have distinguished between religious and temporal factors in these conflicts. Until the 18th century, dissociating the two would have been like trying to take the gin out of a cocktail.

These developments required a new understanding of religion. It was provided by Martin Luther, who was the first European to propose the separation of church and state. Medieval Catholicism had been an essentially communal faith; most people experienced the sacred by living in community. But for Luther, the Christian stood alone before his God, relying only upon his Bible.

Luther’s acute sense of human sinfulness led him, in the early 16th century, to advocate the absolute states that would not become a political reality for another hundred years. For Luther, the state’s prime duty was to restrain its wicked subjects by force, “in the same way as a savage wild beast is bound with chains and ropes”. The sovereign, independent state reflected this vision of the independent and sovereign individual. Luther’s view of religion, as an essentially subjective and private quest over which the state had no jurisdiction, would be the foundation of the modern secular ideal.

But Luther’s response to the peasants’ war in Germany in 1525, during the early stages of the wars of religion, suggested that a secularised political theory would not necessarily be a force for peace or democracy. The peasants, who were resisting the centralising policies of the German princes – which deprived them of their traditional rights – were mercilessly slaughtered by the state. Luther believed that they had committed the cardinal sin of mixing religion and politics: suffering was their lot, and they should have turned the other cheek, and accepted the loss of their lives and property.

“A worldly kingdom,” he insisted, “cannot exist without an inequality of persons, some being free, some imprisoned, some lords, some subjects.” So, Luther commanded the princes, “Let everyone who can, smite, slay and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisoned, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel.”

Dawn of the liberal state

By the late 17th century, philosophers had devised a more urbane version of the secular ideal. For John Locke it had become self-evident that “the church itself is a thing absolutely separate and distinct from the commonwealth. The boundaries on both sides are fixed and immovable.” The separation of religion and politics – “perfectly and infinitely different from each other” – was, for Locke, written into the very nature of things. But the liberal state was a radical innovation, just as revolutionary as the market economy that was developing in the west and would shortly transform the world. Because of the violent passions it aroused, Locke insisted that the segregation of “religion” from government was “above all things necessary” for the creation of a peaceful society.

Hence Locke was adamant that the liberal state could tolerate neither Catholics nor Muslims, condemning their confusion of politics and religion as dangerously perverse. Locke was a major advocate of the theory of natural human rights, originally pioneered by the Renaissance humanists and given definition in the first draft of the American Declaration of Independence as life, liberty and property. But secularisation emerged at a time when Europe was beginning to colonise the New World, and it would come to exert considerable influence on the way the west viewed those it had colonised – much as in our own time, the prevailing secular ideology perceives Muslim societies that seem incapable of separating faith from politics to be irredeemably flawed.

This introduced an inconsistency, since for the Renaissance humanists there could be no question of extending these natural rights to the indigenous inhabitants of the New World. Indeed, these peoples could justly be penalised for failing to conform to European norms. In the 16th century, Alberico Gentili, a professor of civil law at Oxford, argued that land that had not been exploited agriculturally, as it was in Europe, was “empty” and that “the seizure of [such] vacant places” should be “regarded as law of nature”.

Locke agreed that the native peoples had no right to life, liberty or property. The “kings” of America, he decreed, had no legal right of ownership to their territory. He also endorsed a master’s “Absolute, arbitrary, despotical power” over a slave, which included “the power to kill him at any time”. The pioneers of secularism seemed to be falling into the same old habits as their religious predecessors.

Secularism was designed to create a peaceful world order, but the church was so intricately involved in the economic, political and cultural structures of society that the secular order could only be established with a measure of violence. In North America, where there was no entrenched aristocratic government, the disestablishment of the various churches could be accomplished with relative ease. But in France, the church could be dismantled only by an outright assault; far from being experienced as a natural and essentially normative arrangement, the separation of religion and politics could be experienced as traumatic and terrifying.

During the French revolution, one of the first acts of the new national assembly on November 2, 1789, was to confiscate all church property to pay off the national debt: secularisation involved dispossession, humiliation and marginalisation. This segued into outright violence during the September massacres of 1792, when the mob fell upon the jails of Paris and slaughtered between two and three thousand prisoners, many of them priests.

Early in 1794, four revolutionary armies were dispatched from Paris to quell an uprising in the Vendée against the anti-Catholic policies of the regime. Their instructions were to spare no one. At the end of the campaign, General François-Joseph Westermann reportedly wrote to his superiors: “The Vendée no longer exists. I have crushed children beneath the hooves of our horses, and massacred the women … The roads are littered with corpses.”

Ironically, no sooner had the revolutionaries rid themselves of one religion, than they invented another. Their new gods were liberty, nature and the French nation, which they worshipped in elaborate festivals choreographed by the artist Jacques Louis David. The same year that the goddess of reason was enthroned on the high altar of Notre Dame cathedral, the reign of terror plunged the new nation into an irrational bloodbath, in which some 17,000 men, women and children were executed by the state.

To die for one’s country

When Napoleon’s armies invaded Prussia in 1807, the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte similarly urged his countrymen to lay down their lives for the Fatherland – a manifestation of the divine and the repository of the spiritual essence of the Volk. If we define the sacred as that for which we are prepared to die, what Benedict Anderson called the “imagined community” of the nation had come to replace God. It is now considered admirable to die for your country, but not for your religion.

As the nation-state came into its own in the 19th century along with the industrial revolution, its citizens had to be bound tightly together and mobilised for industry. Modern communications enabled governments to create and propagate a national ethos, and allowed states to intrude into the lives of their citizens more than had ever been possible. Even if they spoke a different language from their rulers, subjects now belonged to the “nation,” whether they liked it or not.

John Stuart Mill regarded this forcible integration as progress; it was surely better for a Breton, “the half-savage remnant of past times”, to become a French citizen than “sulk on his own rocks”. But in the late 19th century, the British historian Lord Acton feared that the adulation of the national spirit that laid such emphasis on ethnicity, culture and language, would penalise those who did not fit the national norm: “According, therefore, to the degree of humanity and civilisation in that dominant body which claims all the rights of the community, the inferior races are exterminated or reduced to servitude, or put in a condition of dependence.”

The Enlightenment philosophers had tried to counter the intolerance and bigotry that they associated with “religion” by promoting the equality of all human beings, together with democracy, human rights, and intellectual and political liberty, modern secular versions of ideals which had been promoted in a religious idiom in the past. The structural injustice of the agrarian state, however, had made it impossible to implement these ideals fully. The nation-state made these noble aspirations practical necessities.

More and more people had to be drawn into the productive process and needed at least a modicum of education. Eventually they would demand the right to participate in the decisions of government. It was found by trial and error that those nations that democratised forged ahead economically, while those that confined the benefits of modernity to an elite fell behind.

Innovation was essential to progress, so people had to be allowed to think freely, unconstrained by the constraints of their class, guild or church. Governments needed to exploit all their human resources, so outsiders, such as Jews in Europe and Catholics in England and America, were brought into the mainstream.

Yet this toleration was only skin-deep, and as Lord Acton had predicted, an intolerance of ethnic and cultural minorities would become the achilles heel of the nation-state. Indeed, the ethnic minority would replace the heretic (who had usually been protesting against the social order) as the object of resentment in the new nation-state.

Thomas Jefferson, one of the leading proponents of the Enlightenment in the United States, instructed his secretary of war in 1807 that Native Americans were “backward peoples” who must either be “exterminated” or driven “beyond our reach” to the other side of the Mississippi “with the beasts of the forest”. The following year, Napoleon issued the “infamous decrees”, ordering the Jews of France to take French names, privatise their faith, and ensure that at least one in three marriages per family was with a gentile.

Increasingly, as national feeling became a supreme value, Jews would come to be seen as rootless and cosmopolitan. In the late 19th century, there was an explosion of antisemitism in Europe, which undoubtedly drew upon centuries of Christian prejudice, but gave it a scientific rationale, claiming that Jews did not fit the biological and genetic profile of the Volk, and should be eliminated from the body politic as modern medicine cut out a cancer.

When secularisation was implemented in the developing world, it was experienced as a profound disruption – just as it had originally been in Europe. Because it usually came with colonial rule, it was seen as a foreign import and rejected as profoundly unnatural. In almost every region of the world where secular governments have been established with a goal of separating religion and politics, a counter-cultural movement has developed in response, determined to bring religion back into public life.

What we call “fundamentalism” has always existed in a symbiotic relationship with a secularisation that is experienced as cruel, violent and invasive. All too often an aggressive secularism has pushed religion into a violent riposte. Every fundamentalist movement that I have studied in Judaism, Christianity and Islam is rooted in a profound fear of annihilation, convinced that the liberal or secular establishment is determined to destroy their way of life. This has been tragically apparent in the Middle East.

Kemal AturturkVery often modernising rulers have embodied secularism at its very worst and have made it unpalatable to their subjects. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who founded the secular republic of Turkey in 1918, is often admired in the west as an enlightened Muslim leader, but for many in the Middle East he epitomised the cruelty of secular nationalism.

He hated Islam, describing it as a “putrefied corpse”, and suppressed it in Turkey by outlawing the Sufi orders and seizing their properties, closing down the madrasas and appropriating their income. He also abolished the beloved institution of the caliphate, which had long been a dead-letter politically but which symbolised a link with the Prophet. For groups such as al-Qaida and Isis, reversing this decision has become a paramount goal.

Ataturk also continued the policy of ethnic cleansing that had been initiated by the last Ottoman sultans; in an attempt to control the rising commercial classes, they systematically deported the Armenian and Greek-speaking Christians, who comprised 90% of the bourgeoisie. The Young Turks, who seized power in 1909, espoused the antireligious positivism associated with August Comte and were also determined to create a purely Turkic state.

During the first world war, approximately one million Armenians were slaughtered in the first genocide of the 20th century: men and youths were killed where they stood, while women, children and the elderly were driven into the desert where they were raped, shot, starved, poisoned, suffocated or burned to death.

Clearly inspired by the new scientific racism, Mehmet Resid, known as the “execution governor”, regarded the Armenians as “dangerous microbes” in “the bosom of the Fatherland”. Ataturk completed this racial purge. For centuries Muslims and Christians had lived together on both sides of the Aegean; Ataturk partitioned the region, deporting Greek Christians living in what is now Turkey to Greece, while Turkish-speaking Muslims in Greece were sent the other way.

The Fundamentalist Reaction

Secularising rulers such as Ataturk often wanted their countries to look modern, thatShah_of_iran is, European. In Iran in 1928, Reza Shah Pahlavi issued the laws of uniformity of dress: his soldiers tore off women’s veils with bayonets and ripped them to pieces in the street. In 1935, the police were ordered to open fire on a crowd who had staged a peaceful demonstration against the dress laws in one of the holiest shrines of Iran, killing hundreds of unarmed civilians. Policies like this made veiling, which has no Qur’anic endorsement, an emblem of Islamic authenticity in many parts of the Muslim world.

Following the example of the French, Egyptian rulers secularised by disempowering and impoverishing the clergy. Modernisation had begun in the Ottoman period under the governor Muhammad Ali, who starved the Islamic clergy financially, taking away their tax-exempt status, confiscating the religiously endowed properties that were their principal source of income, and systematically robbing them of any shred of power. When the reforming army officer Gamal Abdul Nasser came to power in 1952, he changed tack and turned the clergy into state officials.

For centuries, they had acted as a protective bulwark between the people and the systemic violence of the state. Now Egyptians came to despise them as government lackeys. This policy would ultimately backfire, because it deprived the general population of learned guidance that was aware of the complexity of the Islamic tradition. Self-appointed freelancers, whose knowledge of Islam was limited, would step into the breach, often to disastrous effect.

If some Muslims today fight shy of secularism, it is not because they have been brainwashed by their faith but because they have often experienced efforts at secularisation in a particularly virulent form. Many regard the west’s devotion to the separation of religion and politics as incompatible with admired western ideals such as democracy and freedom. In 1992, a military coup in Algeria ousted a president who had promised democratic reforms, and imprisoned the leaders of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which seemed certain to gain a majority in the forthcoming elections.

Had the democratic process been thwarted in such an unconstitutional manner in Iran or Pakistan, there would have been worldwide outrage. But because an Islamic government had been blocked by the coup, there was jubilation in some quarters of the western press – as if this undemocratic action had instead made Algeria safe for democracy. In rather the same way, there was an almost audible sigh of relief in the west when the Muslim Brotherhood was ousted from power in Egypt last year. But there has been less attention to the violence of the secular military dictatorship that has replaced it, which has exceeded the abuses of the Mubarak regime.

After a bumpy beginning, secularism has undoubtedly been valuable to the west, but we would be wrong to regard it as a universal law. It emerged as a particular and unique feature of the historical process in Europe; it was an evolutionary adaptation to a very specific set of circumstances. In a different environment, modernity may well take other forms.

Many secular thinkers now regard “religion” as inherently belligerent and intolerant, and an irrational, backward and violent “other” to the peaceable and humane liberal state – an attitude with an unfortunate echo of the colonialist view of indigenous peoples as hopelessly “primitive”, mired in their benighted religious beliefs.

There are consequences to our failure to understand that our secularism, and its understanding of the role of religion, is exceptional. When secularisation has been applied by force, it has provoked a fundamentalist reaction – and history shows that fundamentalist movements which come under attack invariably grow even more extreme. The fruits of this error are on display across the Middle East: when we look with horror upon the travesty of Isis, we would be wise to acknowledge that its barbaric violence may be, at least in part, the offspring of policies guided by our disdain.

Karen Armstrong’s Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence is published today by Bodley Head.

Middle East Violence: Mr. Obama, Don’t Bark at the Wrong Tree, it is not Islam


October 31, 2014

Middle East Violence: Mr. Obama, Don’t Bark at the Wrong Tree, it is not Islam

by BA Hamzah

Islam is not at risk in the Middle East. At risk are theDr BA Hamzah repressive Arab regimes under the protection of the external powers. The threat to the stability of the political regimes will come from those who have been deprived of their human rights and dignity.

The women who are not allowed to drive and those who cannot find jobs in their own countries are likely to rebel for freedom and political gains. Those who cannot be accommodated by the regimes are likely to join the ranks of alternative military and political movements like ISIL or the Muslim Brotherhood.–BA Hamzah

Terrorism has been associated with different faiths at different historical times.There is no empirical evidence to suggest that violence is embedded, ingrained or inherent in any religion, certainly not in the case of Islam.

Karen Armstrong Latest BookKaren Armstrong reminds readers in her recent book (Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, Bodley Head, 2014) that it is incorrect to blame religion as the cause of world’s many bloody conflicts.

Karen Armstrong makes a persuasive argument that is likely to enrage many neo-cons: the root cause of the “carnage” in the Muslim world (by extension the current political crisis in the Middle East) is “politics” rather than faith.

Many analysts have long pointed to the disputed colonial-drawn boundaries in the Middle East as a major political-cum-security problem. Abu Bakar Al-Bagdadi has reportedly promised his flock he would demolish the Skyes-Picot Treaty of 1916, which partitioned the Arab land into imperial enclaves. He wants to redraw the political map of the Middle East, to undo, the wrongs of the Imperial powers, presumably to restore Arabs’ dignity. Bagdadis’ promise borders retribution by Arab nationalists and not about Islam.

The Arab land is likely to implode further with Israel’s decision last week to expand its illegal settlements on Palestine land. By now, the world has come to realise that the Arab-Israeli conflict is not about religion but about territory, suppression, human right violations and the denial of a homeland for Palestine.

The fault-lines over the territorial conflict in the Middle East are blurred but hardlyObama's Mid East Policy religious in nature. It is true that the current conflict involves some radicals who call themselves Muslims but it is NOT over Islam per se. Do not confuse Islam with the angry actions of some extremists. There is a fine distinction between Islam as faith and its use as an operating ideology by extremists.

The Islam world comprises some 1.6 billion adherents, only a small number hate peace. Unfortunately, the Western media has stigmatised and stereotyped the entire Muslim community for the actions of the few hard-core extremists.

Violence often accompanies conflicts. For example, the Thirty Years War in Europe (1618-1648). Contrary to popular belief, the cause of the Thirty Years War was not religion per se; it was due to sectarian violence, nationalism and the fight for territory as well as the continuation of rivalry for political pre-eminence between the Habsburg of Bohemia and the French Bourbon aristocracies.

The Thirty Years War also saw the involvement of external major powers, (Sweden, Spain, France and Austria) waging wars on the German soil. As history reminds us, the fall-out from this quagmire led to the Peace of Westphalia (1648), a series of peace treaties between the warring factions that gave Europe its current political boundaries and the concept of State in international relations.

The US-led coalition forces and their local Arab partners in the Middle East are obama-clueless-on-middle-east-foreign-policydefending the present political boundaries that Mark Sykes and Francois Georges-Picot drew in 1916 and their geo-political interests there. The political divisions of the Arab world resulted from politics and big powers rivalries. Islam played no role in the political division of the Middle East.

This rivalry between big powers for the control of the Middle East is being re-enacted with ISIL as the cannon fodder. The current contest for power has to do primarily with access to strategic resources and control of the strategic waterways. At the local level, the conflict is about sectarianism, Arab nationalism and the quest for territories, identity and a revolt against suppressive regimes as well as a desire to rewrite the political history of the Middle East.

Social-cultural and economic considerations are equally important in understanding the current conflict in the Middle East. Arab nationalists masquerading as radical Muslims are also rebelling against external powers propping- up unpopular regimes. The Arab  revolutionary reawakening is about politics along a historical fault-line.

Abu Bakar Al-BagdadiThe story of ISIL is also a story of proxy wars between regional powers. On one side, we have Iran jockeying for greater eminence beyond Iraq and Syria. The Saudis are teaming up with the Qataris with help from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt to expand influence in Syria and Libya. Turkey is bidding for more time before jumping into the political quagmire.

According to authority, the five Arab states in the US-led coalition against ISIL need the US as a cover their “increasingly repressive policies.” This is not about Islam. On the contrary, it is about regime preservation. The governing elites fear for their lives after what they saw in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring.

The involvement of the US, UK, France, Australia and Canada in the Middle East proxy wars is likely to embolden their internal home- grown dissidents. Read Amnesty International “Report Choice and Prejudice: Discriminations against Muslims in Europe (2012)” for a glimpse of racial profiling and discriminations against Muslims.) The solution to their citizens taking up arms in the Middle East is to provide them jobs at home and eliminate the religious stereotyping and stigma.

The current spate of the regional proxy wars commenced with the failed US policy in Iraq, followed by Sunnis frustration with a pro- Shia Al-Maliki regime. Lighting the bonfires of counter movements in the current political turmoil, apart from the US invasion of Iraq (2003), were the 2011 internal uprisings among Arabs (dubbed as the Arab Spring).

The Arab Spring has exposed the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of many Arab political regimes. The collapse of Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt at the hands of their own citizens (of course, with help from some Western powers) was unprecedented in the post 1945 Arab world.

Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Iraq are on the danger list. The richer Gulf States and Saudi Arabia are also feeling the heat from the unresolved Syrian conflict. Their military intervention in the Syrian conflict will have long-term strategic impact including expediting their downfall.

The small Potentates suffer from massive internal problems like unemployment, corruption and human right abuses. Those who can no longer suppress the rising expectations of their people are turning to America for help.

The political regimes in Lebanon and Jordan may not last very long without outside help as they find it difficult to cope up with refugees inside their borders. The threat from ISIL/ISIS posed on their sovereignty and territorial integrity must be their regimes nightmare.

Repressive Arab regimes are at risk not Islam

Saudi prince announces defection from royal familySaudi Arabia’s Elite

Islam is not at risk in the Middle East. At risk are the repressive Arab regimes under the protection of the external powers. The threat to the stability of the political regimes will come from those who have been deprived of their human rights and dignity. The women who are not allowed to drive and those who cannot find jobs in their own countries are likely to rebel for freedom and political gains. Those who cannot be accommodated by the regimes are likely to join the ranks of alternative military and political movements like ISIL or the Muslim Brotherhood.

There are other political permutations, too. A strong Kurdistan with backing from Western States may rattle Turkey and Iraq. The thought of the Kurdish-Peshmerga forces controlling Kobane, a town on Turkey’s border, will not bode well for Istanbul that has been fighting the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) forces for the last thirty years.

With Turkey drawn in the conflict, the scenario will change the strategic calculations and political landscape on the ground. Iran and its allies (e.g., the Hezbollah in Lebanon) are not likely to remain quiet. So does Russia, which has a naval facility at Tartus, Syria.

Finally, bombing the ISIL is not the solution; it was proven during the strategic bombardment of Dresden, Germany during WW 11. The idea that the US could roll back the ISIL/ISIS with air strikes is just simply preposterous. On the contrary, the airstrikes will further radicalise the fence- sitters whose families and property were destroyed.

Also Read: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Obama_and_the_Middle_East_Two_Speeches_Three_Challenges.htm

Ulamaks and Malay-Muslim Politicians Vs The Thinking Malay


October 24, 2014

MY COMMENT: Prolific commenter, Mariam Mohktar, has raised an age-old issuemariam-mokhtar of the partnership between the ruling Malay political elite, and the ulamas and conservative religious functionaries. It is a marriage of convenience between them. They need each other to maintain their hold on power. It is a case of “Gu tolong Lu, Lu tolong Gua” (with apologies to the Prime Minister).

They are bound to feel threatened by intellectuals like Kassim Ahmad, Azmi Sharom and  poet laureate and novelist A. Samad Said, by an outstanding and public-spirited lawyer like Rosli Dahlan, by civil society activists like Ambiga Sreenevasan, Haris Ibrahim, Adam Adli  and Hishamuddin Rais, among others and now by an individual like Syed Azmi who was merely trying to eliminate the fear of dogs among Muslims.

They perceive their hold on the Malay Muslim community is being eroded with globalization and the social media. Their reaction is not discourse, but threat of punishment in the here and now and the hereafter. The Malay mind is, therefore, being mummified  by ignorance and dogma.

mullah-harussani-and-najibMullah Harussani of Perak and PM Najib

In his book, Concept of A Hero in Malay Society*, Dr. Shaharuddin Maaruf, when commenting on this partnership, has this to say: “…the Malay elite is encouraging many misplaced ideas and trends in thinking which are incompatible with progress…Important Islamic values that are conducive and harmonious to progress are not emphasised by the Malay elite; the Islamic conception of leadership is relegated into the background while feudal ideas concerning leadership are encouraged and propagated”. (page 2)

Dr. Maaruf goes on to say that “Intellectual interests and values are not nourished while irrationality and superstition are strengthened and accorded importance…The development of moral character that is sensitive to injustice is thwarted while the servile and morally numb human type is propagated”. For this purpose, the Malay elite makes use of the presumed superior knowledge of Islam of the ulamas. In that way, the ruling elite and the ulamas work in common purpose, that is, to legitimatise their hold on power over the Malays and their thought processes.

Today, their partnership has grown in importance in terms of politics. How long thisDin MericanY partnership can last is a matter of conjecture. But at this time we can acknowledge that it serves the political interest of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak who must pander to the ulamas and religious functionaries in the Prime Minister’s Department. After all, his position as Prime Minister is under threat.–Din Merican

*Concept of a Hero in Malay Society  ( 2014, SIRD, First Published in 1984 by Eastern Universities Press (M) Sdn. Bhd). Also read Malay Ideas on Development by the same author and publisher.

Ulamas and Malay-Muslim Politicians Vs The Thinking Malay

by Mariam Mokhtar@http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

The most dangerous threat to the Malaysian government is not an invading army, a contagious disease, or a nuclear threat. It is the thinking Malay.

syed_azmi_alhabshi_organiser_dogs_191014

When young pharmacist Syed Azmi Alhabshi (above right in pic) decided to organise the “I Want to Touch a Dog” event at Bandar Utama on October 19, he didn’t expect such a huge response. More than 1,000 people –Muslims and non-Muslims – turned up.

Whilst man and beast were having lots of fun, in other parts of the country temperatures were raised. Syed Azmi was perceived as a threat. Syed Azmi may have united Malaysians but he was alienating some conservative Muslims in Malaysia. His innocent “dog touching event” is a defining moment in 21st Century Malaysian history.

Muslim Girls and the DogThe Internet was awash with photos of tudung-clad girls smiling with their favourite dogs, Malay toddlers chasing German Shepherds, elderly Muslim couples stroking contented looking Labradors and Malay teenagers playing with Cocker Spaniels. Malays and non-Malays were getting to know one another, through another of God’s creatures. The people learned to bond – not just dog with humans, but Muslims and non-Muslims.

Malaysians, including the political leaders, should have been pleased to see harmony in action. People forgot their inhibitions. They did not see themselves as people of different faiths or races. They got on with one another, with help from the dogs.

Society’s party pooper, JAKIM, waded in to spoil all the fun. Its Director-General, Othman Mustapha, was furious and said that the programme should not have taken place to begin with. He barked that JAKIM would investigate the matter immediately.

He was followed by a Kelantan ulama who cried “Repent. Repent. Repent.” Other conservative Muslims claimed that the ulamas were being insulted. If anyone needs their heads examined, it is these people. This is not a political issue; so why were the ulamas angry? They were furious because they saw their power being eroded. The 3Rs – race, religion and royalty – keep us in check, and safely divided.

For years, Muslims have been told what to do by the ulamas. The political leaders, together with their cronies and religious authorities carve up Malaysia for themselves.

One political cynic said, “To keep them in power, the leaders manipulate laws. To control dissent, they bully us with draconian laws. We are threatened with sedition. We are told that women leaders will lead us to hell. We are told that God approves of the GST. We are told that voting for UMNO-Baru is a one-way ticket to heaven. The sad thing is that many Malays believe this.”

His colleague said, “After last Sunday’s dog touching event, more Malays are finally seeing the light. The Malay mind is being freed from its mental slavery. That explains why the authorities and the conservative ulamas are working at breakneck speed to find Syed Azmi guilty, but he has done nothing wrong.”

Fear of being irrelevant

Syed Azmi only wanted Malaysians to be compassionate towards animals and overcome their fear of dogs. He was not insulting the ulamas. The ulamas did not even bother to ask him why he organised the event.

ANJING

The ulamas and conservative Muslims see their power base eroding. They are afraid that they will no longer be of relevance in a modern world which does not believe in the 3Rs.

Many Muslims nationwide observed the event on the Internet and saw no issue with dog touching. The ulamas are afraid that the thinking Malay will start to ask questions about their other edicts, handed down, in the past, to control Muslim behaviour. The ulamas, like the political leaders, are obsessed with power. The rakyat is at their mercy. However, a thinking Malay can see past their warped thinking.

Touching dogs is not going to lead to touching pigs or eating non-halal food. It will not lead to free sex. It is the ulamas and their obsession with sex which makes the thinking Malay question why the ulama are stupid and shallow. The ulamas use sex as a crowd puller.

The ulamas must realise that in Saudi Arabia, the Bedouin tribesmen hunt with dogs (the Salukis), as in Afghanistan (the Afghan hounds). Dogs are used in search and rescue, for drug detection, hunting, and to assist the blind, the deaf and those with epilepsy. The dog is man’s best friend.

The thinking Malays wonder why things like chocolates, dogs, the word “Allah” and beer take prominence in the national debate. They wonder why the ulamas keep silent about the rising cost of living, petrol price hikes, the collapsing infrastructure, corruption, the abuse of power by the leaders, incest, drug taking by Malays and the high crime rate.

Today, the ulamas are against us touching dogs. Knowing how their minds work, it won’t be long before Muslims will be banned from eating hot-dogs, and using English idioms like “dog in the manger” or complaining that a book is “dog eared”, or that Malaysia has “gone to the dogs”.

Anything that flies on anything that moves


October 20, 2014

Anything that flies on anything that moves

By John Pilger

In transmitting President Richard Nixon’s orders for a “massive” bombing ofHenry A.Kissinger Cambodia in 1969, Henry Kissinger (left)  said, “Anything that flies on everything that moves”. As Barack Obama ignites his seventh war against the Muslim world since he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the orchestrated hysteria and lies make one almost nostalgic for Kissinger’s murderous honesty.

As a witness to the human consequences of aerial savagery – including the beheading of victims, their parts festooning trees and fields – I am not surprised by the disregard of memory and history, yet again. A telling example is the rise to power of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, who had much in common with today’s Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). They, too, were ruthless medievalists who began as a small sect. They, too, were the product of an American-made apocalypse, this time in Asia.

According to Pol Pot, his movement had consisted of “fewer than 5,000 poorly armed guerrillas uncertain about their strategy, tactics, loyalty and leaders”. Once Nixon’s and Kissinger’s B52 bombers had gone to work as part of “Operation Menu”, the west’s ultimate demon could not believe his luck.

The Americans dropped the equivalent of five Hiroshimas on rural Cambodia during 1969-73. They leveled village after village, returning to bomb the rubble and corpses. The craters left monstrous necklaces of carnage, still visible from the air. The terror was unimaginable. A former Khmer Rouge official described how the survivors “froze up and they would wander around mute for three or four days. Terrified and half-crazy, the people were ready to believe what they were told … That was what made it so easy for the Khmer Rouge to win the people over.”

A Finnish Government Commission of Enquiry estimated that 600,000 Cambodians RM Nixondied in the ensuing civil war and described the bombing as the “first stage in a decade of genocide”. What Nixon and Kissinger began, Pol Pot, their beneficiary, completed. Under their bombs, the Khmer Rouge grew to a formidable army of 200,000.

ISIS has a similar past and present. By most scholarly measure, Bush and Blair’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to the deaths of some 700,000 people – in a country that had no history of jihadism. The Kurds had done territorial and political deals; Sunni and Shia had class and sectarian differences, but they were at peace; intermarriage was common. Three years before the invasion, I drove the length of Iraq without fear. On the way I met people proud, above all, to be Iraqis, the heirs of a civilization that seemed, for them, a presence.

Bush and Blair blew all this to bits. Iraq is now a nest of jihadism. Al-Qaeda – like Pol Pot’s “jihadists” – seized the opportunity provided by the onslaught of Shock and Awe and the civil war that followed. “Rebel” Syria offered even greater rewards, with CIA and Gulf state ratlines of weapons, logistics and money running through Turkey. The arrival of foreign recruits was inevitable. A former British ambassador, Oliver Miles, wrote recently, “The [Cameron] government seems to be following the example of Tony Blair, who ignored consistent advice from the Foreign Office, MI5 and MI6 that our Middle East policy – and in particular our Middle East wars – had been a principal driver in the recruitment of Muslims in Britain for terrorism here.”

ISIS is the progeny of those in Washington and London who, in destroying Iraq as both a state and a society, conspired to commit an epic crime against humanity. Like Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, ISIS are the mutations of a western state terror dispensed by a venal imperial elite undeterred by the consequences of actions taken at great remove in distance and culture. Their culpability is unmentionable in “our” societies.

It is 23 years since this holocaust enveloped Iraq, immediately after the first Gulf War, when the US and Britain hijacked the United Nations Security Council and imposed punitive “sanctions” on the Iraqi population – ironically, reinforcing the domestic authority of Saddam Hussein. It was like a medieval siege. Almost everything that sustained a modern state was, in the jargon, “blocked” – from chlorine for making the water supply safe to school pencils, parts for X-ray machines, common painkillers and drugs to combat previously unknown cancers carried in the dust from the southern battlefields contaminated with Depleted Uranium.

Just before Christmas 1999, the Department of Trade and Industry in London restricted the export of vaccines meant to protect Iraqi children against diphtheria and yellow fever. Kim Howells, a medical doctor and parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Blair government, explained why. “The children’s vaccines”, he said, “were capable of being used in weapons of mass destruction”. The British Government could get away with such an outrage because media reporting of Iraq – much of it manipulated by the Foreign Office – blamed Saddam Hussein for everything.

Under a bogus “humanitarian” Oil for Food Programme, $100 was allotted for each Iraqi to live on for a year. This figure had to pay for the entire society’s infrastructure and essential services, such as power and water. “Imagine,” the UN Assistant Secretary General, Hans Von Sponeck, told me, “setting that pittance against the lack of clean water, and the fact that the majority of sick people cannot afford treatment, and the sheer trauma of getting from day to day, and you have a glimpse of the nightmare. And make no mistake, this is deliberate. I have not in the past wanted to use the word genocide, but now it is unavoidable.”

Disgusted, Von Sponeck resigned as UN Humanitarian Co-Ordinator in Iraq. His predecessor, Denis Halliday, an equally distinguished senior UN official, had also resigned. “I was instructed,” Halliday said, “to implement a policy that satisfies the definition of genocide: a deliberate policy that has effectively killed well over a million individuals, children and adults.”

AlbrightA study by the United Nations Children’s Fund, Unicef, found that between 1991 and 1998, the height of the blockade, there were 500,000 “excess” deaths of Iraqi infants under the age of five. An American TV reporter put this to Madeleine Albright, US Ambassador to the United Nations, asking her, “Is the price worth it?” Albright replied, “We think the price is worth it.”

In 2007, the senior British official responsible for the sanctions, Carne Ross, known as “Mr. Iraq”, told a parliamentary selection committee, “[The US and UK governments] effectively denied the entire population a means to live.” When I interviewed Carne Ross three years later, he was consumed by regret and contrition. “I feel ashamed,” he said. He is today a rare truth-teller of how governments deceive and how a compliant media plays a critical role in disseminating and maintaining the deception. “We would feed [journalists] factoids of sanitised intelligence,” he said, “or we’d freeze them out.”

On 25 September, a headline in the Guardian read: “Faced with the horror of Isis we must act.” The “we must act” is a ghost risen, a warning of the suppression of informed memory, facts, lessons learned and regrets or shame. The author of the article was Peter Hain, the former Foreign Office minister responsible for Iraq under Blair. In 1998, when Denis Halliday revealed the extent of the suffering in Iraq for which the Blair Government shared primary responsibility, Hain abused him on the BBC’s Newsnight as an “apologist for Saddam”. In 2003, Hain backed Blair’s invasion of stricken Iraq on the basis of transparent lies. At a subsequent Labour Party conference, he dismissed the invasion as a “fringe issue”.

Now Hain is demanding “air strikes, drones, military equipment and other support” for those “facing genocide” in Iraq and Syria. This will further “the imperative of a political solution”. Obama has the same in mind as he lifts what he calls the “restrictions” on US bombing and drone attacks. This means that missiles and 500-pound bombs can smash the homes of peasant people, as they are doing without restriction in Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia – as they did in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. On 23 September, a Tomahawk cruise missile hit a village in Idlib Province in Syria, killing as many as a dozen civilians, including women and children. None waved a black flag.

HansThe day Hain’s article appeared, Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck happened to be in London and came to visit me. They were not shocked by the lethal hypocrisy of a politician, but lamented the enduring, almost inexplicable absence of intelligent diplomacy in negotiating a semblance of truce. Across the world, from Northern Ireland to Nepal, those regarding each other as terrorists and heretics have faced each other across a table. Why not now in Iraq and Syria.

Like Ebola from West Africa, a bacteria called “perpetual war” has crossed the Atlantic. Lord Richards, until recently head of the British military, wants “boots on the ground” now. There is a vapid, almost sociopathic verboseness from Cameron, Obama and their “coalition of the willing” – notably Australia’s aggressively weird Tony Abbott – as they prescribe more violence delivered from 30,000 feet on places where the blood of previous adventures never dried. They have never seen bombing and they apparently love it so much they want it to overthrow their one potentially valuable ally, Syria. This is nothing new, as the following leaked UK-US intelligence file illustrates:

“In order to facilitate the action of liberative [sic] forces … a special effort should be made to eliminate certain key individuals [and] to proceed with internal disturbances in Syria. CIA is prepared, and SIS (MI6) will attempt to mount minor sabotage and coup de main [sic] incidents within Syria, working through contacts with individuals… a necessary degree of fear… frontier and [staged] border clashes [will] provide a pretext for intervention… the CIA and SIS should use… capabilities in both psychological and action fields to augment tension.”

That was written in 1957, though it could have been written yesterday. In the imperial world, nothing essentially changes. Last year, the former French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas revealed that “two years before the Arab spring”, he was told in London that a war on Syria was planned. “I am going to tell you something,” he said in an interview with the French TV channel LPC, “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business. I met top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria … Britain was organising an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer Minister for Foreign Affairs, if I would like to participate … This operation goes way back. It was prepared, preconceived and planned.”

The only effective opponents of ISIS are accredited demons of the west – Syria, Iran, Hezbollah. The obstacle is Turkey, an “ally” and a member of NATO, which has conspired with the CIA, MI6 and the Gulf medievalists to channel support to the Syrian “rebels”, including those now calling themselves ISIS. Supporting Turkey in its long-held ambition for regional dominance by overthrowing the Assad government beckons a major conventional war and the horrific dismemberment of the most ethnically diverse state in the Middle East.

A truce – however difficult to achieve – is the only way out of this imperial maze; otherwise, the beheadings will continue. That genuine negotiations with Syria should be seen as “morally questionable” (the Guardian) suggests that the assumptions of moral superiority among those who supported the war criminal Blair remain not only absurd, but dangerous.

Together with a truce, there should be an immediate cessation of all shipments of war materials to Israel and recognition of the State of Palestine. The issue of Palestine is the region’s most festering open wound, and the oft-stated justification for the rise of Islamic extremism. Osama bin Laden made that clear. Palestine also offers hope. Give justice to the Palestinians and you begin to change the world around them.

More than 40 years ago, the Nixon-Kissinger bombing of Cambodia unleashed aBlair and Bush torrent of suffering from which that country has never recovered. The same is true of the Blair-Bush crime in Iraq. With impeccable timing, Henry Kissinger’s latest self-serving tome has just been released with its satirical title, “World Order”. In one fawning review, Kissinger is described as a “key shaper of a world order that remained stable for a quarter of a century”. Tell that to the people of Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Chile, East Timor and all the other victims of his “statecraft”. Only when “we” recognise the war criminals in our midst will the blood begin to dry.

Posted with permission www.johnpilger.com

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/World/WOR-01-091014.html

Post NEP Malay Anxiety Induced Exclusivism


October 20, 2014

Post NEP Malay Anxiety Induced Exclusivism (Part 1)

by Dr. Wong Chin Huat (10-19-14)@www.themalaysianinsider.com

The rise of communal exclusivism among the Malay-Muslims may not be so much because of ideational shifts than because of the deeply-rooted anxiety over the uncertainty in the post-New Economic Policy Malaysia.

And this calls for an alternative to “state partiality” as a solution to “socio-economic inequality”, a core idea in Malaya/Malaysia’s nation-building.

NEP

The inevitable rise of communal exclusivism

It’s heartening to read about a Muslim organising a “I want to touch a dog” programme for Muslims to overcome their fear of dog and, in a larger context, to bring down one of the many barriers that segregates Malaysians. It’s heartening because otherwise what we read in the news are more often about the rise of communal exclusivism, from more restrictions demanded in the name of “sensitivity” to the outright claim that Malaysia is a “Bumi Melayu Islam” (the Land of Malay-Muslims). I avoid using the term “extremism”, which should be reserved for advocacy of violence.

For many, this rise of communal exclusivism is a sad departure from a moreNajib inclusive Malaysia in earlier decades, some would say before Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s government. I hold a crueler view. It is simply as inevitable as the collapse of Soviet Union after its tremendous success in transforming Russia into a global super power.

State partiality to overcome socio-economic inequality

Think of it this way. Malaya/Malaysia, as the main successor state of British Southeast Asia, not only had a population that was diverse in origin, faith, language and culture.

Its cultural diversity largely overlaps with socio-economic inequality – with the ethnic minorities over-represented in modern economy and education than the ethnic majority, creating reinforcing cleavages. Such a situation posed a big challenge in decolonisation – will independence lead to the dominance of the ethnic minorities and the further marginalisation of the ethnic majority?

If so, prolonged colonisation could buy time for the backward majorities to build themselves up.This was not only the argument raised by many Bornean leaders against the hasty Project Malaysia, for fear of dominance by Malayans and Singaporeans.

The call for Malaya’s independence was first made by the communists and leftists – including the Malays – before it was adopted by UMNO and the Alliance.

One way to avoid the marginalisation of ethnic majority after decolonisation is simply denying the ethnic minorities franchise, which was basically why the Malayan Union introduced in 1946 – a multi-ethnic unitary state – was staunchly opposed by the Malays and eventually replaced by the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu in 1948 – a more ethnocratic federation.

The argument for excluding the ethnic minorities was based on their refusal to be assimilated linguistically and religiously. One may phrase the debate as one on the 1946 Question – “can the citizens be different yet equal?” and see its centrality in Malaya/Malaysia’s political history.

The communist insurgency broke out in 1948 however denied the British and the Malay elite the luxury of delaying decolonisation.The pragmatic solution was “state partiality” in favour of the Malays as a response to their collective disadvantage in “social inequality”.

The Malays were given constitutionally enshrined “special status” in exchange of citizenship and economic freedom for the non-Malays. The non-Malays were given qualified religious and linguistic freedom – they can practise their faiths but any conversion has to be one-way street in favour of Islam, and they can keep their mother-tongue schools but these schools are to be gradually phased out through purposeful marginalisation and negligence.

This was the so-called Merdeka Compromise – minimum disruption to the status quo to satisfy everyone with a gradualist soft assimilation goal to pacify the Malay nationalists.

Rise of the NEP state 

Of course, the Merdeka Compromise failed to make everyone happy. Much to the chagrin of UMNO’s leadership, while Chinese-based opposition parties picked up more seats by avoiding multi-cornered contests, the Malay voters deserted UMNO in large numbers.

In 1964, PAS won two votes for every five votes won by UMNO. In 1969, PAS won two votes for every three by UMNO. The Merdeka Compromise was too slow to lift the Malays economically or culturally. The May 13 riot and the subsequent Emergency Rule provided the convenient and necessary juncture for UMNO under Tun Razak to reorganise Malaysia.

Officially, the New Economic Policy (NEP) was an economic policy to eliminate poverty and to restructure society. Unofficially, it represented a completely different policy paradigm. It was to affirm the Malays politically, economically, linguistically, religiously and culturally so that they could feel the benefit of independence – that they are the master of this country. The non-Malays can be on board to share power but they shall never dictate or have real veto power.

In that sense, the first Malaya/Malaysian state born on 1957 ended in 1969. The NEP was more than a policy for Malaysia. Rather, Malaysia was a state for the NEP. The policy officially ended in 1990, but its spirit lives on in other names, earning it the moniker “Never-Ending Policy”.

The “Malayanisation” of the Malaysian state and society has certainly alienated the non-Malays, who responded with brain drain and capital flight.This was the expected cost – and it may not be undesirable if the voids would be filled up quickly with Malay talents and Malay capitals.

Politically, up until 2008, the non-Malays – more precisely – alternated their response by dividing their votes between the ruling coalition and the opposition, with pendulum shifts between the two camps in response to UMNO’s restrictive or reconciliatory moves.

It frustrated the UMNO elite that the Chinese refused to be subjugated but the Chinese support for the opposition was at most a nuisance except for the 1990 and 2008 elections. Constituency delineation ensured that their political weight – on solo– is insignificant.

Post NEP Malay Anxiety Induced Exclusivism (Part 2)

Long and painful decline of the NEP State

The Achilles’ heel for the NEP state was, in management’s term, the agency problem. The person mandated to do something – the agent – does not act in the best interest of the person who places the mandate – the principal – but rather pursues his/her own interest.

If the NEP state elite – from politicians, bureaucrats to state enterprise managers – have no private interests but only pursue the Malay agenda, then 20 years would be enough for the state to empower all marginalised Malays and groom all talented Malays.

And the lifting of the Malays would induce pluralism and open up the political space for the NEP state to be phased out. But the NEP state is virtually a one-party state. State partiality to the Malays (vis-à-vis the non-Malays) does not mean state impartiality to all Malays. Rather, it means partiality to UMNO Malays, more precisely, those with the right connection and family ties.

To benefit maximally from the NEP state, a Malay needs not only to support UMNO in the general election, but also to support the right factions in UMNO elections. Family ties matters. Old boy fraternity matters. Business partnership matters.

Like in China’s one-party state, “guanxi” (connection) is an important currency for charting political and economic fortunes in UMNO.This leads to three inherent problems threatening the long-term survival of the NEP state.

First, it weakens the nation’s competitiveness with its failure in promoting meritocracy and curbing rent-seeking. Plagued by cronyism, the Malays simply cannot build up their strength to fill up the void left by the non-Malays.

Second, it replaces inter-ethnic inequality between the Malays and the non-Malays with intra-ethnic inequality within the Malays, providing the social basis for the political division of Malays.

Third, the factionalism in UMNO leads to schism at times of economic crisis, producing new parties like Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah’s Parti Semangat 46 (S46) in 1990 and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Nasional/Rakyat in 1999. These parties then helped bring together PAS and DAP, the two grand opposition parties with rather opposite programmes.

Combining these three factors, the NEP state has been rigorously challenged in 1990, 1999, 2008 and 2013 in the span of six elections. If Pakatan Rakyat is not broken before GE14, it would be the fifth challenge.

new-economic-model

It would be wishful thinking for anyone to think that UMNO will rule forever and Dr Mahathir can be the father of a future Prime Minister like Tun Razak. But the ending of the NEP state puts too much at stake. It does not just trouble UMNO elite and dynasties. Many ordinary Malays – middle class and working class – conditioned and convinced by the NEP state that they cannot live without it are also worried.

If more than four decades of NEP state cannot lift the Malays effectively, what will happen if the non-Malays are treated more fairly once Pakatan Rakyat comes into power? Will Malays not be worse off?

Putting the foot down that Malay-Muslims control this country hence becomes important for the Malays. The rise of Perkasa and now more powerful Isma is a reflection of this mentality. UMNO’s stern stand on the “Allah” issue can be understood in this light.

By harping on the Malays’ sense of insecurity, the ultra-right outsourced agents of UMNO’s ethno-nationalism has been successfully pushing PAS – more precisely, its conservative action – to outdo Umno in playing to the gallery.

This explains the revival of the hudud agenda and the obsession to try to ban everything from Valentine’s Day to Oktoberfest. The backlash against DAP and PKR leaders joining the fest has less to do with morality than the frustration of seeing the non-Malays’ defiance of PAS.

Hadi3If it had been driven by morality, why did PAS invite three Chinese supporters to drink cans of beers in its operation room in Wakaf Tapai in Marang (Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang’s constituency) during the 2008 elections? Where were today’s protesters then?

It’s time we face the elephant in the room. Until the Malays can overcome their anxiety on how they may fare in a post-NEP Malaysia, the non-Malays will see more protests in the name of “sensitivity”. It’s time we think deep on an alternative to a flawed solution – state partiality – to a real problem – socio-economic inequality.

Part I (above)

Remembering Foreign Secretary Robin Cook


October 8, 2014

Remembering Foreign Secretary Robin Cook

by John Kampfner

The Guardian, Friday 3 October 2014 17.00 BST

Robin Cook2A Rare Voice of Principle in British Politics

Only the credulous or the craven might consider a British politician their hero. I plead guilty, but only on one count. It is nearly a decade since Robin Cook’s sudden death. Parliament was robbed of a rare voice of principle, a man who combined erudition and acerbic wit with a forensic ability to assimilate and distil information to devastating effect.

Cook’s political career was punctuated by great moments, from the demolition of John Major over the Scott inquiry in 1996 to the demolition of his own Labour government, again over Iraq, in 2003. His intolerance of Whitehall deceit was matched by impatience towards those who couldn’t keep up with him. Cook’s refusal to schmooze – he would much rather go to the horse-racing – prevented him from getting to the very top, but he left his mark in a way that many of his colleagues and time-servers have not.

He may be best remembered for leading the opposition to Tony Blair’s great foreign misadventure, but Cook was actually an advocate of military action in defence of human rights, while trying (and largely failing) to curb arms sales. A fierce advocate of centre-left values, he was at the same time rarely tribal, and embraced the unfashionable cause of electoral reform.

I remember a trip we made not long after he’d been made foreign secretary. Fresh from giving a public dressing-down to Croatia’s nationalist President, he flew back to Scotland and straight to a constituency surgery.

He spent a couple of hours listening to a long line of concerns ranging from domestic violence to leaky roofs to housing benefit, writing down various points long-hand in his notebook. He was painstaking in the detail, but he saw in these examples a bigger picture. Even during this so-called time of plenty, long before the financial crash, he warned of the dangers of society’s stratification. He was always very aware of inequality.

I was thinking of Cook while putting the finishing touches to my study of 2,000 years of the global super-rich. Having been immersed in acquisitiveness, narcissism and the odd show of noblesse oblige, it is worth remembering that it doesn’t have to be this way.

• John Kampfner’s The Rich is published by Little, Brown.