Once a Upon Time: Malaysia was known for its Institutions


April 15, 2014

Once a Upon Time: Malaysia was known for its Institutions

Commentary

by The Malaysian Insider (http://www.themalaysianinsider.com)

There was a time when Malaysia was known for its institutions – a civil service that facilitated rapid development from an agrarian economy to an industrialised one, a judiciary that was held in high esteem of the Commonwealth, and a military that defeated a communist insurgency.

Today, more than 50 years as a nation spanning from Perlis to Sabah, we see ineptitude and incompetency, a complete meltdown of Malaysian institutions.

Gani PatailThe Attorney-General now farms out cases to an UMNO lawyer; the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) leads an organisation which does not act when a High Court rules; the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) suffers a credibility deficit; and the Air Force has not covered itself with any glory.

So who do Malaysians turn to in time of need? Not any of the above, it appears. Sad but true. The saga of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared with 239 people on board on March 8, has confirmed what Malaysians have suspected for a long time. That there is not much meritocracy and thinking going on in the civil service.

The authorities, from the Minister downwards, have yet to explain what happened in the crucial hours after MH370 was found missing. A CNN and BBC television report yesterday showed Defence Minister and Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein avoiding the question.

Tiga AbdulTiga Abdul (Abdul Muhyuddin, Abdul Najib, Abdul Hisham)

Can the civil aviation sector trust the DCA to do the right thing immediately after a flight vanishes from the radar screens? Why wasn’t the Air Force told that a jet was missing? Why wasn’t plane maker Boeing told immediately? Why didn’t the air traffic control respond to their Vietnamese counterparts when told that there was no contact with the Boeing 777-200ER that was on its way to Beijing?

Why the silence?

These days, Malaysia just has bad jokes passing off as the Civil Service, Police Force, Military and the Public Prosecutor. This is the meltdown of institutions that had shaped the country from its formative years to the Asian tiger that it once was.

The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) also has to explain how it defends the Chief of the RMAF, Rodzali Daudcountry’s airspace throughout the day. Yes, we have brave men and women in uniform keeping watch but a mysterious blip on the radar moving east to west was left unmolested.

Not even hailed by radio, let alone scrambling jets to check on the blip. Or even to ask the DCA and air traffic control if they were also seeing the blip.Does the RMAF have fighter jets on standby? How many can fly these days apart from those used for parades, air shows and F1 races?

The IGP has decided to play marriage counsellor to a divorced couple rather than enforce the law after the ex-husband forcibly took away his son from the ex-wife’s legal custody. Does the IGP or anyone else in the police force know the law and the offence that was committed, or do they assume there is a conflict in the civil and Shariah law that they cannot take any action?

Can anyone cite religion and get away with a crime? How can people trust the Khalid Abu Bakarpolice to enforce the law passed by lawmakers elected by the people?

Where is the Attorney-General in all of this? Is it more important for him to go to London to figure out who will have custody of the MH370 black box, once found, rather than stay back in the country and decide on whether to prosecute or take action against a man for abducting his child from his ex-wife’s legal custody?

Or just outsource some jobs to an UMNO lawyer – from defending the Registrar of Societies (RoS) in a judicial review brought by the  DAP to prosecuting Opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in his sodomy appeal. Is the Attorney-General’s decision to outsource some work a tacit confirmation and acknowledgment that there is no talent left in the A-G Chambers to do the work?

And is there any talent also left in the Civil Service, Police Force and Military? Malaysia’s Civil Service was the envy of many – from working on poverty eradication and affirmative action policies to industrialisation and a respected Judiciary and prosecution. They did more with fewer resources and lesser people then. But they had quality talent back then.

These days, Malaysia just has bad jokes passing off as the Civil Service, Police Force, Military and the Public Prosecutor. This is the meltdown of institutions that had shaped the country from its formative years to the Asian tiger that it once was.

It might take a generation to possibly set things right with these institutions. Or is that just a hope that is fading as fast as the chance of hearing another ping in the southern Indian Ocean?

 

Memali: Not late for truth and justice


April 6.2014

Memali: Not late for truth and justice

dr-kua-kia-soongBy Kua Kia Soong@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Early on November 19, 1985, the Malaysian Police under the direction of the Home Minister laid siege on a house in the Kedah village of Memali in which PAS leader Ibrahim Libya and his comrades were staying in a bid to resist arrest under the Internal Security Act.

There were no lengthy negotiations with the besieged and by noon 14 men, including Ibrahim Libya, lay dead. Four police personnel also died, apparently as a result of friendly fire and several of the survivors were arrested under the ISA.

Certainly this 1985 massacre at Memali shares the same moral shame as the 1948 Batang Kali massacre, when 24 innocent villagers were mowed down by British troops at Batang Kali.

Instead of a remorseful apology to Ibrahim Libya and the other deceased, the Barisan Nasional government has used the Memali massacre as a spectre to warn the electorate against involvement in extremist or “deviant” Muslim sects.In the same way, the May 13 pogrom is continually resurrected as a warning and threat to the Chinese electorate should they choose to vote for the Opposition.

Musa, Dr M, IGP collectively responsible

Musa HitamThe Home Minister at the time, Tun Musa Hitam has recently tried to shift the responsibility for the massacre to the then Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

In fact, what Musa asserts had been disclosed three years ago, by the then OCPD of Baling, YM Tunku Muszaffar Shah, in his book entitled ‘Memali: A Policeman Remembers’.

The ex-OCPD said that the poor decision-making at the time was the result of political interference and an underestimation of the tenacity of Ibrahim’s followers.

The fact that Mahathir was still in Malaysia when the Memali massacre took place TDMhad also surfaced during the launch of the book. But whether Mahathir was still in Malaysia at the time or already on a visit to China is immaterial – collective responsibility binds those in the relevant positions of power together.

Thus the Home Minister has to take full responsibility for such an executive action as well as Amin Osman, the then Acting Inspector General of Police at the time, for his role in executing the bloody plan.

As with Operation Lalang, May 13 and other historical tragedies in our country, the Government White Paper on Memali attempts to whitewash over the government’s responsibility for the crisis.

Next, the official propagandists dutifully echo the whitewashed rendition of these events, which then becomes immortalised in school textbooks and in officially sponsored films such as Tanda Putera.

In the case of the Memali massacre, The Star’s recent ‘fact box’ cited Ibrahim Libya and his followers among the list of “major violent cases involving deviant groups in the country.”

Defiance against detention without trial

The Memali massacre must also stand out as one of the bloodiest episode of defiance against detention without trial.

After my arrest under the ISA in the early hours of October 28, 1987, I have often pondered what would have happened if I had resisted the Special Branch that morning and decided to barricade myself in my house with a bunch of my supporters.

Would a similar massacre have taken place?In hindsight, I had no intention of providing the Malaysian Police with an excuse to take such drastic action!

Nonetheless, the indignation I felt as an innocent political activist against detention without trial is real and I can understand the emotions of the villagers in Memali when confronted with such a huge Police mobilisation to arrest and detain their leader Ibrahim Libya.

According to Federal territory PAS Youth Chief, Khairil Nizam Khirudin, the Alor Setar High Court had decided that the government should pay compensation to the families of those who were killed.The widows received a small compensation, which suggests culpability on the part of the government, in wrongfully attacking the victims.

And if the victims were “deviants”, why did the National Fatwa council not issue a fatwa against Ibrahim?

According to the White Paper tabled in Parliament in February 1986, the government justified attempts to arrest Ibrahim under the ISA by accusing him of establishing the “Islamic Revolutionary Movement” which aimed to topple the federal government by force.

Ibrahim was reported to have amassed an arsenal of dangerous weapons. That alleged stockpile remains hidden, to this day and it is the responsibility for a commission of inquiry to uncover the truth of this allegation.

Never too late for truth and justice

The 1985 Memali massacre is in our relatively recent past. The Dutch government has only just agreed to pay families from Indonesia reparations for a colonial-era massacre that occurred around the same time as Batang Kali, in 1947.

Talking of Indonesia, their government has still not accounted for the massacre of close to a million people in 1965.

A group of Kenyan survivors, mostly now in their 80s, won the right in 2011 to sue the British government for damages over claims of torture during the 1950s Mau Mau uprising.

A judicial review of the government’s repeated refusal to hold a public inquiry into the alleged massacre at Batang Kali was heard in 2012.

The Malaysian state must take responsibility for the Memali massacre. It has a moral responsibility to apologise to Ibrahim and the other deceased for the tragedy and to compensate the families adequately for the senseless loss of their loved ones.

For the sake of the families of the victims and our collective conscience, we also need to get to the bottom of what happened at Batang Kali in 1948, Kuala Lumpur in May 1969, Memali in 1985, Kampung Medan in 2001.Extrajudicial killings still go on with impunity today.

Pressing need for IPCMC

The report by the police on the events leading to the killing of Ibrahim reads like any of the reports of deaths through police shootings that you can read in Suaram’s annual Human Rights Reports:

“Attempts by a large Police delegation to arrest Ibrahim at his home in November 1985 saw supporters attacking the police with firearms and sharp weapons, before the charismatic preacher was killed…”

If we had had an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) in 1985, the standard operating procedure would have been for the IPCMC to step in to investigate how the casualties were inflicted and if the police could have avoided the killings.

Unfortunately, we can only surmise and conjecture about why the police did not do more to prevent the bloodshed, since they had the house surrounded with hundreds of police personnel.

At a time when our government is at pains to tell the world in regular press conferences that they are being open and transparent, it is fitting and long overdue to open a commission of inquiry on the Memali tragedy and to institute the long overdue IPCMC.

Kua Kia Soong is advisor to human rights watchdog Suaram.

Dr. M’s unbearably convenient memory


March 30, 2014

Dr. M’s unbearably convenient memory

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

Predictably,(Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamed cannot quite remember whether he was in the country when the Memali incident occurred in November 1985, four years and four months into his 22-year premiership.

His Deputy then, Tun Musa Hitam, said in Kota Baru last Thursday that Mahathir was in the country, not just when the incident occurred on November 19, but also up to four days after the episode in which 14 police personnel and four villagers were killed in Mukim Siong, Baling. At that time, the Malaysian public was given to understand that their Prime Minister was abroad – in China, to be sure.

Mahathir held the customary press conference at the airport upon his return from abroad. He took questions on the Memali incident in which Police opened fire on a house where religious cult leader Ibrahim Libya was holed up with several villagers. The ensuing shootout became a cause celebre.

Pressed for a response to what Musa had said about him being in the country during that incident and then affecting to show he was not, Mahathir (right) parried his former Deputy’s implied attack on his probity with, “I can’t remember.” Mahathir pleaded his advanced years (he will be 89 in July): “Since this happened a long time ago, I need to check back to see what he [Musa] said is true.”  Mahathir has a convenient sense of recall: he remembers what it is expedient for him to remember and trots out pleas of amnesia when it suits his purpose.

At the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Lingam videotape in January 2008, Mahathir not infrequently responded with “I don’t remember” to critical questions on his role in the matter in which a senior lawyer was captured on video attempting to fix the appointment of judges during the period of Mahathir’s tenure as Prime Minister (1981-2003).

At that time Mahathir’s infamous chiding of Malays – “Melayu mudah lupa” (The Malays easily forget) – for their supposed ingratitude came back to haunt him.

“Dr M mudah lupa,” (Dr M easily forgets) became his critics’ catch-phrase of raillery against him when it was seen that the former PM’s powers of recall were conveniently self-serving.

Musa’s motive

Musa HitamPolitical observers are wondering about the motive of Musa, a one-time ally-turned-opponent of Mahathir’s in raising a matter that took place almost 29 years ago. They ought to wonder no more.

Musa (left) is attempting a block. He knows Mahathir wants Prime Minister Najib Razak out as PM. The incumbent PM is beleaguered by the disappearance of flight MH370, now three weeks into the greatest mystery in civil aviation’s history.

The circumstances of the plane’s mysterious disappearance with 239 people on board places Najib, Home Minister Zahid Hamidi and Defense Minister Hishamuddin Hussein on notice of grave lack of fitness to hold office. Incidentally, all three of the abovementioned individuals are stalling points in the career path of Mukhriz, the Menteri Besar of Kedah, regarded as inheritor of the Mahathir mantle of national leadership.

In most countries in the world, North Korea excepting, an incident like MH370’s disappearance would have had the trio of Najib, Zahid and Hishamuddin with their necks on the chopping block. Not Malaysia where the 47 percent of the voters who endorsed the ruling BN coalition in the general election last May are embodiments of the validity of the philosopher George Santayana’s dictum: “Those who forget history are condemned to repeat.”

Command and control

Twice in the recent days Mahathir has talked about matters that bespeak a desire to return to a command and control role in Malaysian politics. First, he advised that the government should get ready to tackle a financial crisis and trotted out his expertise at prescribing for just such a malady.

Days after this advice, analysts toted up expected losses to the economy from the suspension of the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 because of flight MH370’s disappearance, and from the anticipated further bleeding of our already loss-hobbled national carrier, MAS. They said it would be RM4 billion at the very least.

The second alarm Mahathir sounded was even more unsettling. He said that if he were to return as PM, he would censor the internet which would be a clear violation of the bill of rights he vouchsafed cyber practitioners when inaugurating the Malaysian Multimedia Corridor in 1996.

Well, no prizes for guessing what the former PM would say if reminded of his promise of no restrictions on freedom to publish on the internet: “I can’t remember.”

It has become a mantra of the man who had ruled the country for 22 years (1981-2003) during which he built it up physically and emasculated it morally. The country’s problem is that it has enough masochists who may want more of the same. Not Musa Hitam, though.

 

Musa’s Memali Disclosure is of Reverberating Significance


March 29, 2014

Musa’s Memali Disclosure is of Reverberating Significance. But Why Now after 29 Years?

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

TDM--21 March

“Long time observers well know that there is a big difference between appearance and reality in Malaysian politics. In the wake of the disappearance of flight MH370, now three weeks in a vanishing act into the ether, they may come to realise that in the surreal world of Malaysian politics, reality is more fantastic than the imagination.”–Terence Netto

The claim by former Deputy Prime Minister  Tun Musa Hitam that his boss, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, was at the time of the Memali (in Baling) incident in November 1985 at home and not abroad is a matter of reverberating significance.

What Musa’s motives are for making such a claim – and that, too, almost 29 years after the incident – are not as important as the truth of the claim in itself. We can expect that the combative former Prime Minister will respond with alacrity to Musa’s claims which were made at a forum in Kota Bharu on Thursday night.

It would be interesting what Mahathir says in response to Musa’s claims because the latter is not someone given to irresponsible statement. Musa is not known to be inventive with the truth but he is not known to be elucidating either. He will be 80 next month, but there are only telltale signs of a memoir in the worksMusa though it has been 28 long years since his resignation as Deputy Prime Minister in February 1986.

Indirection is the mode in Malay political discourse, a motif that inhibits candid disclosure and, you could say, memoir-writing. That and the Islamic command to forgive combine to retard the work of historical reconstruction which is necessary for those who come after to make any sense of what had taken place in the past.

Without this coming to terms with history, citizens are at the mercy of demagogues and charlatans with an attitude towards history much like Humpty Dumpty’s towards language: “A word (read history) is anything I say it means.”

One of nation’s most violent incidents

Musa’s assertion that the then Prime Minister was in Malaysia and not in China during the time of the Memali incident, which occurred on November 19, 1985, is a momentous one. There were 18 deaths in the Memali incident, 14 of them incurred by Ibrahim Libya and his followers and four were to police personnel.Ibrahim (right) – the ‘Libya’ sobriquet was acquired from his tertiary education in that country – was a religious cult leader who had a following in Baling, Kedah.

On the morning of November 19, police surrounded the hamlet where he and followers had set up a commune.

Police wanted Ibrahim to surrender but a standoff resulted and when the cops charged the compound of his house, shooting broke out, leaving 18 dead in what was regarded as the most violent episode in our history since 16 Police Field Force personnel died in a single engagement with communist terrorists near the Malaysia-Thai border in 1976.

A stunned nation received the news of the Memali incident with the apprehension that comes from sudden awareness that barbarous currents were underfoot in the country of which a beguiled public were only dimly aware and a political leadership in denial were loath to tackle.

That feeling was fortified by the recall of the violent attack with swords and other crude weapons on a police station in Batu Pahat in 1980 by members of a religious cult.

Also uneasily recalled were the series of attacks on Hindu temples in 1978 perpetrated by young Islamic zealots on a deity-destroying campaign that culminated in several deaths when the marauders were interdicted by vigilantes on guard at a temple in Kerling, near Kalumpang on the Selangor-Perak border.

At the time of the Memali incident, the public were given to understand that Mahathir was in China.

When he returned, he fielded questions at the customary press conference at Subang airport where he was asked on the Memali incident.

Generally, in remarks to an expectant press, Mahathir defended Home Minister Musa’s decision to allow the Police to interdict the hamlet in Mukim Siong where Ibrahim Libya and his followers were holed up.

Days later when PAS proclaimed the deaths of Ibrahim and his followers as “mati syahid” (martyrs), Mahathir rubbished the pronouncement in the teeth of word, unreported in the mainstream media of course, that Malay villagers in Kedah and Kelantan were streaming to the Ibrahim’s burial site to pay their respects.

‘Musa ordered assault’

Mahathir’s support of Musa’s judgement call on Memali would take a perverse turn 18 months later, in the intense final week of the campaign for posts in the Umno elections of April 1987, when the then chief secretary to the government issued a statement that it was indeed Musa who gave police the order to open fire in the Memali incident.

Musa scrambled to contain the damage from that politically motivated disclosure.

Musa would go on to lose his UMNO Deputy President’s post by 45 votes to challenger Ghafar Baba while Musa’s teammate in the campaign, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, would be 43 votes adrift of incumbent Mahathir’s tally for the President’s post.

Thus ended a momentous chapter in the history of UMNO and the Malaysian nation but the argument between two of that contest’s principals, Mahathir and Musa, is set to continue, given Musa’s claims about Mahathir being in the country during the Memali incident when it was supposed he was abroad.

Long time observers well know that there is a big difference between appearance and reality in Malaysian politics. In the wake of the disappearance of flight MH370, now three weeks in a vanishing act into the ether, they may come to realise that in the surreal world of Malaysian politics, reality is more fantastic than the imagination.

Rich Guys Pay Taxes, says Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. Do You Agree?


March 22, 2014

Rich Guys Pay Taxes, says Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. Do You Agree?

by Lawrence Yong (March 20, 2014)

@http://www.malaysiakini.com

TDM--21 MarchFormer Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad today said that Malaysia needs rich people who can pay taxes, and this is not cronyism even if some of them are now his friends.

Mahathir said that since the British left in 1957, Malaysia has mostly taken a ‘pragmatic’ approach to its economy – neither free-market capitalist nor socialist – and he therefore shot down critics who said he enriched only an elite class of people during his 22 years as prime minister.

He said that while government borrowed some socialist ideas – backing affirmative action for Malays, created state enterprises and gave land away, it also gave businesses a free hand to profit
handsomely.

He was giving the primary lecture for the Centre of Poverty and Development Studies at the Universiti Malaya campus in Kuala Lumpur.

After his talk which was titled ‘Poverty issues in Malaysia’s economic development’, human rights activist and lawyer Haris Ibrahim stood up to grill Mahathir for letting Malaysia’s inequality get out of hand.

Haris (left) pointed out that some households now live on RM29 a day amidst Kuala Lumpur’s famous Twin Towers, while just one percent of the richest Malaysians control over 10 percent of the country’s wealth. This is despite Malaysia’s oil wealth which has flowed since 1974.

Haris then asked Mahathir to explain “What went wrong?” and insisted that the elder statesman apologise for failing to eradicate poverty.

The audience cheered and applauded before waiting in anticipation for Mahathir’s expected comeback.

“You will find that the rich people are useful people. We were a business-friendly government and I told these people, when you make money, 28 percent belongs to us (through taxes)… that’s why we were helping them.

“Now suppose these people are absent… who are you going to tax? You can’t tax the poor. We need the rich!” Mahathir said, reading from his little notebook which he used to busily take notes when Haris spoke.

Mahathir also then quickly answered Haris’ three questions: “Do I ever drive in KL? I drive every weekend because I love driving. In the past, I used to drive around the check the construction sites.

“What went wrong? You don’t expect every prime minister to follow what the previous prime ministers have done… that you will have to ask them.”

And then he finished off with: “As for apologising… I should expect the questioner to apologise to me!” The audience erupted in applause. Mahathir’s solution was modernisation. In his speech earlier, Mahathir noted that when Malaysia gained independence, more than half were living in poverty.

He added that this disparity, which was marked along racial lines, was one of the reasons for the May 1969 racial riots.

Multiracial and multireligious Malaysia could not survive with such instability, said Mahathir, whose most famous economic writing was the formerly banned book ‘The Malay Dilemma’.

“How do we solve that problem? Dole out money like BR1M (Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia)? But we didn’t have money back then,” Mahathir said, adding that his own solution was modernisation to expand the economic pie.

“In fact, we grew the economic cake so large that people who were poor at one time are now rather rich.”

Looking around at international students and undergraduates who were among the attendees at the lecture, the octogenarian medical doctor who became a politician ended his speech with this advice for fighting poverty.

“Reject ideologies. We are pragmatic people – do what we think will give results,” he said.

Later, a law undergraduate also stood up to ask the doctor for his solutions to the perceived crony capitalism and the middle-income trap problems.

He cited the recent study from The Economist which put Malaysia as one of the top three countries in the world for rent-seeking behaviour which let the rich get richer.

Mahathir again defended his past economic policies, saying that students who wanted income equality had no idea what they were really asking for.

“Who are these cronies? They were unknown people… for example, I didn’t know these people until they were successful. Now supposing I have a million dollars to give as capital and I give it to a trishaw rider – what does he do with the money? He will spend the money.

“But if I give it to someone who understands business, he will succeed – the moment he succeeds… ahh, he is a crony! So in order to avoid this accusation that there is cronyism, you must ensure that everyone in this country fails.”

Pointing to Malay entrepreneur Syed Mokhtar Al-Bukhary (right), who is said to be the government’s most preferred business partner, Mahathir applauded the billionaire for giving jobs to over 120,000 people through his huge chain of enterprises which spans from carmakers to post offices and book shops.

“But he wasn’t always that. He started off selling cows and sugar and rice and now he’s a billionaire. What’s wrong with that?

“You want him to be a rickshaw puller? That’s easy… just take away all the opportunities from him and he will become a rickshaw puller but what good does that do? You can’t tax a rickshaw puller and you will have no money,” Mahathir said.

On the middle income trap, Mahathir said that it isn’t so bad as it could be worse. Malaysia could be stuck in a “poor income trap”, and the audience laughed politely.

What’s Gone wrong with Democracy And how to revive it


March 5, 2014

What’s Gone wrong with Democracy And how to revive it

THE protesters who have overturned the politics of Ukraine have many aspirations for their country. Their placards called for closer relations with the European Union (EU), an end to Russian intervention in Ukraine’s politics and the establishment of a clean government to replace the kleptocracy of President Viktor Yanukovych. But their fundamental demand is one that has motivated people over many decades to take a stand against corrupt, abusive and autocratic governments. They want a rules-based democracy.--The The Economist

THE protesters who have overturned the politics of Ukraine have many aspirations for their country. Their placards called for closer relations with the European Union (EU), an end to Russian intervention in Ukraine’s politics and the establishment of a clean government to replace the kleptocracy of President Viktor Yanukovych. But their fundamental demand is one that has motivated people over many decades to take a stand against corrupt, abusive and autocratic governments. They want a rules-based democracy.

It is easy to understand why. Democracies are on average richer than non-democracies, are less likely to go to war and have a better record of fighting corruption. More fundamentally, democracy lets people speak their minds and shape their own and their children’s futures. That so many people in so many different parts of the world are prepared to risk so much for this idea is testimony to its enduring appeal.

Yet these days the exhilaration generated by events like those in Kiev is mixed with anxiety, for a troubling pattern has repeated itself in capital after capital. The people mass in the main square. Regime-sanctioned thugs try to fight back but lose their nerve in the face of popular intransigence and global news coverage. The world applauds the collapse of the regime and offers to help build a democracy. But turfing out an autocrat turns out to be much easier than setting up a viable democratic government. The new regime stumbles, the economy flounders and the country finds itself in a state at least as bad as it was before. This is what happened in much of the Arab spring, and also in Ukraine’s Orange revolution a decade ago. In 2004 Mr Yanukovych was ousted from office by vast street protests, only to be re-elected to the presidency (with the help of huge amounts of Russian money) in 2010, after the opposition politicians who replaced him turned out to be just as hopeless.

Democracy is going through a difficult time. Where autocrats have been driven out of office, their opponents have mostly failed to create viable democratic regimes. Even in established democracies, flaws in the system have become worryingly visible and disillusion with politics is rife. Yet just a few years ago democracy looked as though it would dominate the world.

In the second half of the 20th century, democracies had taken root in the most difficult circumstances possible—in Germany, which had been traumatised by Nazism, in India, which had the world’s largest population of poor people, and, in the 1990s, in South Africa, which had been disfigured by apartheid. Decolonialisation created a host of new democracies in Africa and Asia, and autocratic regimes gave way to democracy in Greece (1974), Spain (1975), Argentina (1983), Brazil (1985) and Chile (1989). The collapse of the Soviet Union created many fledgling democracies in central Europe. By 2000 Freedom House, an American think-tank, classified 120 countries, or 63% of the world total, as democracies.

Representatives of more than 100 countries gathered at the World Forum on Democracy in Warsaw that year to proclaim that “the will of the people” was “the basis of the authority of government”. A report issued by America’s State Department declared that having seen off “failed experiments” with authoritarian and totalitarian forms of government, “it seems that now, at long last, democracy is triumphant.”

Such hubris was surely understandable after such a run of successes. But stand farther back and the triumph of democracy looks rather less inevitable. After the fall of Athens, where it was first developed, the political model had lain dormant until the Enlightenment more than 2,000 years later. In the 18th century only the American revolution produced a sustainable democracy. During the 19th century monarchists fought a prolonged rearguard action against democratic forces. In the first half of the 20th century nascent democracies collapsed in Germany, Spain and Italy. By 1941 there were only 11 democracies left, and Franklin Roosevelt worried that it might not be possible to shield “the great flame of democracy from the blackout of barbarism”.

The progress seen in the late 20th century has stalled in the 21st. Even though around 40% of the world’s population, more people than ever before, live in countries that will hold free and fair elections this year, democracy’s global advance has come to a halt, and may even have gone into reverse. Freedom House reckons that 2013 was the eighth consecutive year in which global freedom declined, and that its forward march peaked around the beginning of the century. Between 1980 and 2000 the cause of democracy experienced only a few setbacks, but since 2000 there have been many. And democracy’s problems run deeper than mere numbers suggest. Many nominal democracies have slid towards autocracy, maintaining the outward appearance of democracy through elections, but without the rights and institutions that are equally important aspects of a functioning democratic system.

Faith in democracy flares up in moments of triumph, such as the overthrow of unpopular regimes in Cairo or Kiev, only to sputter out once again. Outside the West, democracy often advances only to collapse. And within the West, democracy has too often become associated with debt and dysfunction at home and overreach abroad. Democracy has always had its critics, but now old doubts are being treated with renewed respect as the weaknesses of democracy in its Western strongholds, and the fragility of its influence elsewhere, have become increasingly apparent. Why has democracy lost its forward momentum?

A statue of Stalin is carted away after the fall of the Soviet Union

The return of history

THE two main reasons are the financial crisis of 2007-08 and the rise of China. The damage the crisis did was psychological as well as financial. It revealed fundamental weaknesses in the West’s political systems, undermining the self-confidence that had been one of their great assets. Governments had steadily extended entitlements over decades, allowing dangerous levels of debt to develop, and politicians came to believe that they had abolished boom-bust cycles and tamed risk. Many people became disillusioned with the workings of their political systems—particularly when governments bailed out bankers with taxpayers’ money and then stood by impotently as financiers continued to pay themselves huge bonuses. The crisis turned the Washington consensus into a term of reproach across the emerging world.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Communist Party has broken the democratic world’s monopoly on economic progress. Larry Summers, of Harvard University, observes that when America was growing fastest, it doubled living standards roughly every 30 years. China has been doubling living standards roughly every decade for the past 30 years. The Chinese elite argue that their model—tight control by the Communist Party, coupled with a relentless effort to recruit talented people into its upper ranks—is more efficient than democracy and less susceptible to gridlock. The political leadership changes every decade or so, and there is a constant supply of fresh talent as party cadres are promoted based on their ability to hit targets.

China’s critics rightly condemn the government for controlling public opinion in all sorts of ways, from imprisoning dissidents to censoring internet discussions. Yet the regime’s obsession with control paradoxically means it pays close attention to public opinion. At the same time China’s leaders have been able to tackle some of the big problems of state-building that can take decades to deal with in a democracy. In just two years China has extended pension coverage to an extra 240m rural dwellers, for example—far more than the total number of people covered by America’s public-pension system.

Many Chinese are prepared to put up with their system if it delivers growth. The 2013 Pew Survey of Global Attitudes showed that 85% of Chinese were “very satisfied” with their country’s direction, compared with 31% of Americans. Some Chinese intellectuals have become positively boastful. Zhang Weiwei of Fudan University argues that democracy is destroying the West, and particularly America, because it institutionalises gridlock, trivialises decision-making and throws up second-rate presidents like George Bush junior. Yu Keping of Beijing University argues that democracy makes simple things “overly complicated and frivolous” and allows “certain sweet-talking politicians to mislead the people”. Wang Jisi, also of Beijing University, has observed that “many developing countries that have introduced Western values and political systems are experiencing disorder and chaos” and that China offers an alternative model. Countries from Africa (Rwanda) to the Middle East (Dubai) to South-East Asia (Vietnam) are taking this advice seriously.

Chart showing Russian opinion on democracy versus economy, 2002 to 2012

China’s advance is all the more potent in the context of a series of disappointments for democrats since 2000. The first great setback was in Russia. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 the democratisation of the old Soviet Union seemed inevitable. In the 1990s Russia took a few drunken steps in that direction under Boris Yeltsin. But at the end of 1999 he resigned and handed power to Vladimir Putin, a former KGB operative who has since been both prime minister and president twice. This postmodern tsar has destroyed the substance of democracy in Russia, muzzling the press and imprisoning his opponents, while preserving the show—everyone can vote, so long as Mr Putin wins. Autocratic leaders in Venezuela, Ukraine, Argentina and elsewhere have followed suit, perpetuating a perverted simulacrum of democracy rather than doing away with it altogether, and thus discrediting it further.

The next big setback was the Iraq war. When Saddam Hussein’s fabled weapons of mass destruction failed to materialise after the American-led invasion of 2003, Mr Bush switched instead to justifying the war as a fight for freedom and democracy. “The concerted effort of free nations to promote democracy is a prelude to our enemies’ defeat,” he argued in his second inaugural address. This was more than mere opportunism: Mr Bush sincerely believed that the Middle East would remain a breeding ground for terrorism so long as it was dominated by dictators. But it did the democratic cause great harm. Left-wingers regarded it as proof that democracy was just a figleaf for American imperialism. Foreign-policy realists took Iraq’s growing chaos as proof that American-led promotion of democratisation was a recipe for instability. And disillusioned neoconservatives such as Francis Fukuyama, an American political scientist, saw it as proof that democracy cannot put down roots in stony ground.

A third serious setback was Egypt. The collapse of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011, amid giant protests, raised hopes that democracy would spread in the Middle East. But the euphoria soon turned to despair. Egypt’s ensuing elections were won not by liberal activists (who were hopelessly divided into a myriad of Pythonesque parties) but by Muhammad Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood. Mr Morsi treated democracy as a winner-takes-all system, packing the state with Brothers, granting himself almost unlimited powers and creating an upper house with a permanent Islamic majority. In July 2013 the army stepped in, arresting Egypt’s first democratically elected president, imprisoning leading members of the Brotherhood and killing hundreds of demonstrators. Along with war in Syria and anarchy in Libya, this has dashed the hope that the Arab spring would lead to a flowering of democracy across the Middle East.

Chart showing American approval rating on congress, 1974 to 2014

Meanwhile some recent recruits to the democratic camp have lost their lustre. Since the introduction of democracy in 1994 South Africa has been ruled by the same party, the African National Congress, which has become progressively more self-serving. Turkey, which once seemed to combine moderate Islam with prosperity and democracy, is descending into corruption and autocracy. In Bangladesh, Thailand and Cambodia, opposition parties have boycotted recent elections or refused to accept their results.

All this has demonstrated that building the institutions needed to sustain democracy is very slow work indeed, and has dispelled the once-popular notion that democracy will blossom rapidly and spontaneously once the seed is planted. Although democracy may be a “universal aspiration”, as Mr Bush and Tony Blair insisted, it is a culturally rooted practice. Western countries almost all extended the right to vote long after the establishment of sophisticated political systems, with powerful civil services and entrenched constitutional rights, in societies that cherished the notions of individual rights and independent judiciaries.

Anti-austerity protests in Greece, October 2010

Protestors against austerity confront riot police in Greece, October 2010

“Nothing is more wonderful than the art of being free, but nothing is harder to learn how to use than freedom.”

Yet in recent years the very institutions that are meant to provide models for new democracies have come to seem outdated and dysfunctional in established ones. The United States has become a byword for gridlock, so obsessed with partisan point-scoring that it has come to the verge of defaulting on its debts twice in the past two years. Its democracy is also corrupted by gerrymandering, the practice of drawing constituency boundaries to entrench the power of incumbents. This encourages extremism, because politicians have to appeal only to the party faithful, and in effect disenfranchises large numbers of voters. And money talks louder than ever in American politics. Thousands of lobbyists (more than 20 for every member of Congress) add to the length and complexity of legislation, the better to smuggle in special privileges. All this creates the impression that American democracy is for sale and that the rich have more power than the poor, even as lobbyists and donors insist that political expenditure is an exercise in free speech. The result is that America’s image—and by extension that of democracy itself—has taken a terrible battering.

Nor is the EU a paragon of democracy. The decision to introduce the euro in 1999 was taken largely by technocrats; only two countries, Denmark and Sweden, held referendums on the matter (both said no). Efforts to win popular approval for the Lisbon Treaty, which consolidated power in Brussels, were abandoned when people started voting the wrong way. During the darkest days of the euro crisis the euro-elite forced Italy and Greece to replace democratically elected leaders with technocrats. The European Parliament, an unsuccessful attempt to fix Europe’s democratic deficit, is both ignored and despised. The EU has become a breeding ground for populist parties, such as Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France, which claim to defend ordinary people against an arrogant and incompetent elite. Greece’s Golden Dawn is testing how far democracies can tolerate Nazi-style parties. A project designed to tame the beast of European populism is instead poking it back.

And, democracy is clearly suffering from serious structural probems, rather than a few isolated ailments. Since the dawn of the modern democratic era in the late 19th century, democracy has expressed itself through nation-states and national parliaments. People elect representatives who pull the levers of national power for a fixed period. But this arrangement is now under assault from both above and below.

From above, globalisation has changed national politics profoundly. National politicians have surrendered ever more power, for example over trade and financial flows, to global markets and supranational bodies, and may thus find that they are unable to keep promises they have made to voters. International organisations such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organisation and the European Union have extended their influence. There is a compelling logic to much of this: how can a single country deal with problems like climate change or tax evasion? National politicians have also responded to globalisation by limiting their discretion and handing power to unelected technocrats in some areas. The number of countries with independent central banks, for example, has increased from about 20 in 1980 to more than 160 today.

From below come equally powerful challenges: from would-be breakaway nations, such as the Catalans and the Scots, from Indian states, from American city mayors. All are trying to reclaim power from national governments. There are also a host of what Moisés Naim, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, calls “micro-powers”, such as NGOs and lobbyists, which are disrupting traditional politics and making life harder for democratic and autocratic leaders alike. The internet makes it easier to organise and agitate; in a world where people can participate in reality-TV votes every week, or support a petition with the click of a mouse, the machinery and institutions of parliamentary democracy, where elections happen only every few years, look increasingly anachronistic. Douglas Carswell, a British member of parliament, likens traditional politics to HMV, a chain of British record shops that went bust, in a world where people are used to calling up whatever music they want whenever they want via Spotify, a popular digital music-streaming service.

Chart showing European political party memberships, 1970 to 2010Chart showing voter turnout by country at parliamentary elections, 1970 to 2013

The biggest challenge to democracy, however, comes neither from above nor below but from within—from the voters themselves. Plato’s great worry about democracy, that citizens would “live from day to day, indulging the pleasure of the moment”, has proved prescient. Democratic governments got into the habit of running big structural deficits as a matter of course, borrowing to give voters what they wanted in the short term, while neglecting long-term investment. France and Italy have not balanced their budgets for more than 30 years. The financial crisis starkly exposed the unsustainability of such debt-financed democracy.

With the post-crisis stimulus winding down, politicians must now confront the difficult trade-offs they avoided during years of steady growth and easy credit. But persuading voters to adapt to a new age of austerity will not prove popular at the ballot box. Slow growth and tight budgets will provoke conflict as interest groups compete for limited resources. To make matters worse, this competition is taking place as Western populations are ageing. Older people have always been better at getting their voices heard than younger ones, voting in greater numbers and organising pressure groups like America’s mighty AARP. They will increasingly have absolute numbers on their side. Many democracies now face a fight between past and future, between inherited entitlements and future investment.

Adjusting to hard times will be made even more difficult by a growing cynicism towards politics. Party membership is declining across the developed world: only 1% of Britons are now members of political parties compared with 20% in 1950. Voter turnout is falling, too: a study of 49 democracies found that it had declined by 10 percentage points between 1980-84 and 2007-13. A survey of seven European countries in 2012 found that more than half of voters “had no trust in government” whatsoever. A YouGov opinion poll of British voters in the same year found that 62% of those polled agreed that “politicians tell lies all the time”.

Meanwhile the border between poking fun and launching protest campaigns is fast eroding. In 2010 Iceland’s Best Party, promising to be openly corrupt, won enough votes to co-run Reykjavik’s city council. And in 2013 a quarter of Italians voted for a party founded by Beppe Grillo, a comedian. All this popular cynicism about politics might be healthy if people demanded little from their governments, but they continue to want a great deal. The result can be a toxic and unstable mixture: dependency on government on the one hand, and disdain for it on the other. The dependency forces government to overexpand and overburden itself, while the disdain robs it of its legitimacy. Democratic dysfunction goes hand in hand with democratic distemper.

Video

Spotifying politics

Spotifying politics

Democracy’s problems in its heartland help explain its setbacks elsewhere. Democracy did well in the 20th century in part because of American hegemony: other countries naturally wanted to emulate the world’s leading power. But as China’s influence has grown, America and Europe have lost their appeal as role models and their appetite for spreading democracy. The Obama administration now seems paralysed by the fear that democracy will produce rogue regimes or empower jihadists. And why should developing countries regard democracy as the ideal form of government when the American government cannot even pass a budget, let alone plan for the future? Why should autocrats listen to lectures on democracy from Europe, when the euro-elite sacks elected leaders who get in the way of fiscal orthodoxy?

At the same time, democracies in the emerging world have encountered the same problems as those in the rich world. They too have overindulged in short-term spending rather than long-term investment. Brazil allows public-sector workers to retire at 53 but has done little to create a modern airport system. India pays off vast numbers of client groups but invests too little in infrastructure. Political systems have been captured by interest groups and undermined by anti-democratic habits. Patrick French, a British historian, notes that every member of India’s lower house under the age of 30 is a member of a political dynasty. Even within the capitalist elite, support for democracy is fraying: Indian business moguls constantly complain that India’s chaotic democracy produces rotten infrastructure while China’s authoritarian system produces highways, gleaming airports and high-speed trains.

Democracy has been on the back foot before. In the 1920s and 1930s communism and fascism looked like the coming things: when Spain temporarily restored its parliamentary government in 1931, Benito Mussolini likened it to returning to oil lamps in the age of electricity. In the mid-1970s Willy Brandt, a former German chancellor, pronounced that “western Europe has only 20 or 30 more years of democracy left in it; after that it will slide, engineless and rudderless, under the surrounding sea of dictatorship”. Things are not that bad these days, but China poses a far more credible threat than communism ever did to the idea that democracy is inherently superior and will eventually prevail.

Yet China’s stunning advances conceal deeper problems. The elite is becoming a self-perpetuating and self-serving clique. The 50 richest members of the China’s National People’s Congress are collectively worth $94.7 billion—60 times as much as the 50 richest members of America’s Congress. China’s growth rate has slowed from 10% to below 8% and is expected to fall further—an enormous challenge for a regime whose legitimacy depends on its ability to deliver consistent growth.

At the same time, as Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out in the 19th century, democracies always look weaker than they really are: they are all confusion on the surface but have lots of hidden strengths. Being able to install alternative leaders offering alternative policies makes democracies better than autocracies at finding creative solutions to problems and rising to existential challenges, though they often take a while to zigzag to the right policies. But to succeed, both fledgling and established democracies must ensure they are built on firm foundations.

Several places are making progress towards getting this mixture right. The most encouraging example is California. Its system of direct democracy allowed its citizens to vote for contradictory policies, such as higher spending and lower taxes, while closed primaries and gerrymandered districts institutionalised extremism. But over the past five years California has introduced a series of reforms, thanks in part to the efforts of Nicolas Berggruen, a philanthropist and investor. The state has introduced a “Think Long” committee to counteract the short-term tendencies of ballot initiatives. It has introduced open primaries and handed power to redraw boundaries to an independent commission. And it has succeeded in balancing its budget—an achievement which Darrell Steinberg, the leader of the California Senate, described as “almost surreal”.

Similarly, the Finnish government has set up a non-partisan commission to produce proposals for the future of its pension system. At the same time it is trying to harness e-democracy: parliament is obliged to consider any citizens’ initiative that gains 50,000 signatures. But many more such experiments are needed—combining technocracy with direct democracy, and upward and downward delegation—if democracy is to zigzag its way back to health.

John Adams, America’s second president, once pronounced that “democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” He was clearly wrong. Democracy was the great victor of the ideological clashes of the 20th century. But if democracy is to remain as successful in the 21st century as it was in the 20th, it must be both assiduously nurtured when it is young—and carefully maintained when it is mature.

http://www.economist.com/news/essays/21596796-democracy-was-most-successful-political-idea-20th-century-why-has-it-run-trouble-and-what-can-be-do

1Malaysia: Najib’s Flight of Fancy


March 2, 2014

1Malaysia: Najib’s Flight of Fancy

by Kevin Soo@http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

najibm1So goes the narrative: We are an example of how a multiracial country can flourish. We find our strength in diversity. We are all Malaysians (or, at least, those from an older generation tell us stories about how race did not matter when they were children).

I ask myself daily how true this is. Do we simply happen to be citizens of the same state, or is there anything that truly binds us into a collective? Is national unity a reality that we are defending, or are we simply hoping that if we repeat it enough the narrative will turn into reality?

We tell each other and ourselves these stories, as if they are the truth, while extremism and discord are only aberrations caused by a vocal minority. “True Malaysians reject that,” we say. But on what basis do we lay claim to be true Malaysians? We need to at least consider possibility that our stories are becoming increasingly fictional for the real Malaysian.

 

There will always be moderates and those who reject the division – no one denies that good Malaysians will always step up with a sane voice. But let’s face it: we’re preaching to the choir here. The majority of people with online access and who will spend time reading letters to the editor like these in publications like TMI are already convinced.

The problem is not with seeds of disunity being sown amongst moderates, but with the widening gap between the moderates and everyone else. In political terms, this is the voting split across the rural-urban divide. In intellectual terms, this is the divide between those who have access to and seek out alternative media versus those who rely on state-owned media.

By and large, that’s what is shaping the reality of Malaysia, independent of the stories we tell. Malaysia can be a united nation if its citizens are made that way by the state – that was the noble purpose of nation-building policies of old (and at least the stated intention of 1Malaysia, which has become nothing more than an ironic gimmick).

The state can also, if it chooses, put in place policies that will put an end to a sense of collective destiny. Just think of what a few years of bad education policies can do to a whole generation of young Malaysians. It will produce an increasing number of people who are prone to (and in fact will be receptive to, or at least tolerant of) the provocations of disunity from extremists.

And therein lies the problem: what the state is able to accomplish in the hearts and minds of Malaysians who do not have the means to alternative ideas and the ability to question the economic, social and political realities they inhabit.

So the story we tell ourselves: that true Malaysians reject disunity and extremism, may just be a story. The real Malaysian may lie outside our narrative, exclusively within the state’s sphere of influence, unaware of a reality outside of that.

I doubt anyone wants to read something with no hope, but if the dream of unity is only a dream, then I think we need to wake up before pouring energy and creativity into restoring it by attacking it in a way that confronts the reality (rather than trying to convince ourselves of a reality we prefer).

Think about what our commiserating in our usual spheres accomplishes (on Facebook, alternative media, etc). It only serves to retell the story we have heard so many times. If this continues while the rest of Malaysia never gets to hear it, we’re passengers on the Titanic who keep praising its decor while ignoring the fact that it’s sinking.

The “ordinary Malaysian” cannot save this ship if the majority are taking part in a different narrative. The fate of this ship is determined by the spread of information and education. Until the state lives up to its call by reforming education and increasing internet penetration while reducing its vice-like grip on the mainstream media (which would take years, if it ever happened), only the privileged few will even know how to incorporate the unity narrative into their stories.

I’m hoping the truth is not as bleak as I think it is, and if I’m wrong I hope people will point it out and wake me up from the impending nightmare. But if we’re the delusional ones, then I’d rather we wake up and realise that unity is a sinking ship. – March 2, 2014.

The Allah Issue seen from afar


February 25, 2013

The Allah Issue seen from afar

by John R. Malott

http://www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT Like other friends of Malaysia overseas, I have followed themalott1 controversy over the use of the word ‘Allah’ with interest, but also with great concern. For I believe that this issue, if left unchecked, has the potential to tear Malaysia and the dream of ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ apart.

While there are racial and religious issues in every society, what makes the situation in Malaysia different is that it is the government that has condoned and even provoked these tensions for its own political purposes.

For years, UMNO justified its existence by saying that the Malays are under threat, and that only UMNO could defend “the Malay race”.

After the 13th general election, in which UMNO candidates received only 30 percent of the national vote – and in which BN as a whole got only 47 percent – it had two choices. It could broaden its appeal or it could narrow it by trying to appeal to the PAS voter base, for whom religion rather than race is a more important concern.

Unfortunately, UMNO chose the latter course and started to play the ‘Muslim’ card. Now, according to the government and UMNO, it is not just Malays, it is also Islam that is under threat.

As for the ‘Malay’ card, UMNO increasingly has gone to the extreme, pandering to extreme racist elements, starting with PERKASA.

The irony of the “Malays/Islam under threat” claim, of course, is that in Malaysia, both Malays and Muslims are the majority. And UMNO controls the government. So how can the Malay race and the Muslim religion in Malaysia be under threat?

To UMNO’s leadership, it doesn’t matter. There is no need to explain. They just speak and offer no evidence, and use their propaganda instruments - Bernama, RTM, Utusan Malaysia, the New Straits Times, etc – to spread the word.

From an international perspective, they also make assertions that are totally out of line with Islamic thinking and practice in the rest of the world.

Think about it – Malaysia is the only country in the world that ignores history and linguistics and dares to ban non-Muslims from uttering the word ‘Allah’. Like Humpty Dumpty, the Malaysian government stands alone – and claims for itself the right to decide what words mean and what words people may read, write, think, and speak.

How can Prime Minister Najib Razak, his government, and its supporters justify their actions, when no one else in the Islamic world agrees with them? When Islamic scholars like Reza Aslan say, “We are laughing at you,” how do they respond?

They don’t. Because they don’t know what to say. They seem to be living on their own planet.

Actions, not just words

But it is not just what Najib and his government say, it also is what they have done.

  • It is the government that seized more than 20,000 Bibles in 2009.
  • It is the government that banned the use of the word ‘Allah’ in Catholic weekly The Herald.
  • It is the government’s Police Force that joined the recent raid on the Bible Society of Malaysia, confiscating over 300 bibles without a search warrant.
  • It is the government’s religious affairs department, JAKIM, that directed mosques throughout Malaysia to say, without citing any evidence, that Islam is “under threat,” that Christians and Jews are “enemies of Islam,” and that Christians are responsible for turning Muslims against each other and tricking them into losing their rights.
  • It is Najib’s cabinet that stood silently by and decided not to enforce its 10-point plan to restore religious peace and harmony in the nation.
  • It is the government that refused to take any action after the leader of PERKASA called for the burning bibles.

There is no greater example of uniformed assertions than former PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s recent claim that Christians have “no right” to use the word ‘Allah’. Because he is Mahathir, he just says it, and he expects everyone to agree.

As the saying goes, everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts. In this case, history and the facts are not on Mahathir’s side. Mahathir is totally, 100 percent, wrong.

The word ‘Allah’ was used by Arabic-speaking Christians for centuries before the birth of the Prophet and the rise of Islam. Indeed, archaeologists have found an Arabic-language Christian Bible (the Mt Sinai Arabic Codex 151), that is nearly 1,300 years old, in which God is called ‘Allah’.

Indeed, someone might ask what right Muslims have to say the word ‘Allah’, when it was used first by Christians? Who is violating whose rights?

The answer is simple – even though Jews and Christians used it first, they would never deny Muslims the right to say the word ‘Allah’. Because while over the years, men and women have practiced and interpreted our religions in different ways, in the end we all worship the same God – the God of Abraham, the Creator of the Universe.

So here is the question. In the entire Islamic world, why is it only in Malaysia that people claim that uttering or writing the word ‘Allah’ is the exclusive right of Muslims?  Why is it only in Malaysia, and nowhere elsewhere in the world, that some Muslims say they will be “confused” if other people – Christians – use the word ‘Allah’ when they worship inside their own churches, or when they read the Bible in the privacy of their own homes?

What makes Muslim Malaysians different from the other 1.5 billion Muslims in the rest of the world?

I would like Malaysian advocates of the ‘Allah’ ban to explain this, not to me (a Christian), but to explain it to the rest of the Islamic world.

Dangers of ‘quick research’

The senior judge in the Allah appeal, Mohamed Apandi Ali, wrote in his opinion that through his “quick research” on the history of the language of the Bible, “it is clear that the word ‘Allah’ does not appear even once as the name of God or even of a man in the Hebrew scriptures. The name ‘Allah’ does not appear even once in either the Old or New Testament.

“There is no such word at all in the Greek New Testament. In the Bible world, God has always been known as ‘Yahweh’, or by the contraction ‘Yah’. That being the historical fact, it can be concluded that the word or name ‘Allah’ is not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christianity.”

Justice Apandi’s judgment clearly shows the dangers of “quick research.” He should have spent a little more time on the web. But because he refers to how the word ‘God’ is expressed in Hebrew, Greek, and Arabic, he has raised the important issue of language and the words that we use in different languages to refer to God.

How many languages are there in the world? The Christian Bible has been translated in whole or part into an astonishing 2,817 languages, according to the Wycliffe Bible Translator, a UK organisation. The complete Bible is available in 513 languages, including Arabic and Malay.

Both the Arabic and Malay Bibles use the word ‘Allah’ to refer to God. In the case of Arabic, it has been so for at least 1,300 years, and in the case of Malay, which “borrowed” the word ‘Allah’ from Arabic, for at least 300.

Even so, Justice Apandi ignored both history and language when he claimed that the Arabic and Malay language word for God – Allah – belongs exclusively to Muslims. That is because Jews and Christians used the word ‘Allah’ before the Prophet was even born.

Judge Apandi also was wrong when he said that the Jews have always referred to God as ‘Yahweh’. My own “quick research” on Wikipedia, which must have lasted 15 seconds longer than the learned judge’s, shows that the Hebrew Bible uses many names for God.

While Yahweh is indeed the most common expression, two others are ‘Elah’ and ‘Eloah’. They both sound very similar to ‘Allah’ and there is a reason for that. Just as Jews, Christians, and Muslims all believe in the God of Abraham, the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arab languages are all related to each other.

Most scholars say that Jesus spoke Aramaic, not Hebrew. And when Jesus spoke of God, he said, “Ellah.” That sounds remarkably very similar to the Arabic ‘Allah’. And it should, because Aramaic and Arab are what linguists call “cognates.”

As word of Judaism and Christianity spread into the Arabian Peninsula, ‘Allah’ became the Arabic language name for the God of Abraham. The word ‘Allah’ was used first by Arab Christians and Mizrahi Jews, and only later by the Prophet and Muslims.

Sorry, Justice Apandi. Sorry, Mahathir. Sorry, Najib and UMNO.

If anyone owns the “trademark” on the word ‘Allah’, it is the Christians, who first spread the word of the God of Abraham into the Arabian peninsula, and who first used the word ‘Allah’. But here is the point – no Christian Malaysian insists and no Arabic-speaking Christian insists that the word ‘Allah’ belongs exclusively to them.

So the burden of proof therefore is on any Malaysian who ignores history, language, and the facts – and who ignores what the rest of the Islamic world is doing – and simply asserts that only Muslim Malaysians may use the word ‘Allah’.

Prime Minister Najib: Malaysia must embrace middle power position in ASEAN


February 24, 2014

http://www.nst.com.my

Prime Minister Najib: Malaysia must embrace middle power position in ASEAN

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia must embrace its position as one of the region’s middle powers, in its path towards becoming a developed nation by 2020.

NAJIB_RAZAK_091213_TMINAJJUA_05_540_360_100Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib  Razak said as a middle power, the nation will be expected to play a greater part  in Asia and to help Asia play a greater part in the world.

“Come 2020, Malaysia will be a developed country with far-flung and expanding interests. The international community, as well as our own public, will expect that we assume our share of the burden of responsibility and leadership.

“As a Middle Power, that means playing a greater part in Asia, and helping Asia play a greater part in the world,” he said in his keynote address at the 8th Heads of Mission Conference here today, which was attended by among others, Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman and his deputy, Datuk Hamzah Zainuddin.

Najib said this meant Malaysia was continuing its commitment to ASEAN which groups 10 Southeast Asian countries.

“We swim or sink with our region. If we don’t have an influential voice here, we won’t have an influential voice anywhere,” he stressed.

Meanwhile Bernama reported, Najib said the most effective coalitions in the future will be those which involve both the developed and developing world.

In this regard, he said, Malaysia must be deft and nimble in building and participating in coalitions, seeking out those which shared its concerns. He said there was also a need at the same time to exercise leadership within the shared platforms which were needed to tackle multilateral problems.

“A stronger foreign policy establishment here in Malaysia, which brings together think-tanks, academic chairs and foundations will strengthen our hand when it comes to building coalitions for change,” Najib said.

Najib noted that Malaysia must react to the transformations around it with a transformation of its own, including having a foreign policy that would see the country through to 2020 when this country achieved a developed nation status, and beyond.

Najib also said Malaysia must devote adequate resources to strengthening its bilateral relations with neighbours and continue to value ASEAN as the fulcrum of peace, prosperity and stability in the region.

“Even as we undertake to do more, we must concentrate resources on initiatives that will generate the best returns, leading in areas that concern us the most, not aiming to be everything to everyone,” the Prime Minister said.

He said Kuala Lumpur must sharpen the way it conceived and executed the cooperation and assistance programmes it provided at the bilateral, regional and multilateral levels.

“And we must assess the impact of such programmes more systematically to ensure they are effective and efficient,” he said.

In the speech, Najib noted that the factors which shaped Malaysia’s diplomacy — its dependence on trade, strategic location and demographic change — were in turn shaped by external trends

“And here the grounds beneath our feet are shifting as old assumptions are being overturned and new ones emerging.

“These global and regional trends ask that we adapt our diplomacy to fit the pressures and opportunities of a new century,” he added.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak delivers keynotes address after opening conference on ‘Transforming Malaysia’s Diplomacy Towards 2020 and Beyond’ at the Institute of Diplomacy and Foreign Relations (IDFR). Auditorium in Kuala Lumpur. — NSTP/Yazit Razali

Malaysia in 2014–A Perspective from Singapore


February 22, 2014

Malaysia in 2014–A Perspective from Singapore

For Singapore, due to history, geography, demography, economy and recent political experiences, Malaysia has perpetually been its lynchpin concern and preoccupation. In the past, S Rajaratnam, the Republic’s first foreign minister, had described Singapore’s relations with Malaysia as ‘special’ and there is nothing to suggest that this has changed in anyway. If anything, the ‘specialness’ has been intensified and further reinforced due to a whole array of factors, not least being the imperatives of national, regional and international economics. A weakening United States, an assertive China, an unstable Thailand and a new nationalistic leader in Indonesia can change the political and security architecture in the region to the detriment of both states and hence, their bilateral ties.

MALAYSIA-SINGAPORE-DIPLOMACYIn the 1950s and 1960s, culminating in Singapore’s expulsion from Malaysia in August 1965, the emotive dimension of Singapore’s view of Malaysia was dominant. Even though this has largely dissipated, it is not totally absent. Still, the pragmatism with which both states have moved forward is definitely a milestone achievement in bilateral ties in Southeast Asia.

For Singapore, continuity rather than change remains its key perspective on Malaysia. This was especially true after the May 2013 general elections where the Barisan Nasional (BN: National Front) was returned to power albeit with a weaker majority. Still, Prime Minister Najib, the United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) and the BN are in power and that is what matters even though the winds of change must also be disconcerting. The disquiet would be more, not so much from the economic aspect as it would be from the rising racial and religious polarisation of Malaysia in the last few years that was brought to the forefront during the last general elections.

The ‘Allah’ issue has not been helpful and the recent firebombing of a church in Penang has merely raised the ante of what this will mean for Malaysia and possibly, even multiracial and multi-religious Singapore. All that aside, the single most important development of late has been the rising warmth in Singapore-Malaysia bilateral ties under Lee Hsien Loong and Najib Tun Razak. While past imperatives of history, geography and demography remain relevant, most dominant in the new narrative has been the personal warmth of the two Prime Ministers (Lee and Najib) and the strategic nature of their bilateral ties.

Most of the past issues have been addressed or settled such as relocation of Customs and Immigration Complex, land reclamation and even water. Most importantly, has been the breakthroughs that both leaders have made vis-à-vis two issues, namely, the resolution of the Tanjong Pagar Railway Station and the land exchange deal as well as Singapore’s support for the Iskandar Development Project in Johor. Other positive developments in ties include the holding of annual leader’s retreats, re-establishment of links between both countries’ stock exchanges, Malaysia’s agreement to sell electricity to Singapore, the agreement to build high speed train link from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore, the amicable post-Pedra Branca technical talks to resolve legacy issues over the islands’ dispute and finally, the establishment of a Singapore consulate in Johor Baru.

If there is one key factor that has brought bilateral ties to a new height, it is the cooperation in the Iskandar Project. Not only is the Singapore Government supporting investments in the project through Government-linked companies such as Temasek Holding but also playing an important role in encouraging the private sector to invest in the project. Additionally, thousands of Singaporeans are expected to be permanently based in the Iskandar region and Johor as a whole, bringing interdependence to a level that was never seen before. To that extent, Iskandar has been the key game changer in Singapore-Malaysia bilateral ties of late.

The breakthrough in bilateral ties was a function of a number of factors. First, the decision by both sides to adopt a new approach to bilateral ties in order to garner win-win results. Second, the personal warmth of the top leaders was extremely helpful. Third, the calculation of the mutual benefits that would be gained by both sides in view of the increasing regional and global competition. Fourth, over the years, there has also been increasing economic interdependence with Singapore as one of the top investors in Malaysia over the last two decades or so. Two-way trade and investments are among the highest between the two states. Fifth, there is also the realisation of increasing security indivisibility of both states. Finally, the ideological pragmatism of both sides has also helped in boosting bilateral ties.

While Singapore expects Malaysia in 2014 to have a largely ‘normal’ year barring any unexpected events – all the more to be the case as the UMNO annual assembly has opted for status quo – the Republic is also mindful of the many uncertainties that can unexpectedly crop up to affect bilateral ties. While 2014 can expect the warming of ties to continue, this cannot be taken for granted. First, the warm ties of two Prime Minister, both of whom are sons of two former prime ministers  who were not close, may not survive personalities if a more nationalistic prime minister takes over in Singapore or Malaysia. Second, tensions could surface if the promised cooperation proves futile or produces one-sided benefits, say in Iskandar Project. Finally, growing domestic tensions in Malaysia, especially among the Malay and Chinese communities in Johor or in Malaysia could spill over into Singapore-Malaysia relations.

Hence, for Singapore, while Malaysia in 2014 is expected to continue ‘good business as normal’, there are also potential minefields that might explode, and hence, the need for caution. ‘Special relations’ are important but can never be taken for granted, and this also holds true of Singapore’s view of Malaysia in 2014.

Bilveer Singh is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, National University of Singapore, adjunct senior fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies and President of the Political Science Association of Singapore.

Malaysia’s Anifah Aman on Foreign Policy: Promoting Peace and Moderation


February 22, 2014

Malaysia’s Foreign Policy: Promoting Peace and Moderation

by Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Dato’ Seri Anifah Aman

http://www.nst.com.my

FOREIGN POLICY GOALS: World acknowledging Malaysia’s role in promoting peace and moderation.

AnifahAmanA COUNTRY’S foreign policy consists of self-interest strategies chosen by the state to safeguard its national interests and to achieve its own goals through relations with other countries.

While interactions with other countries through bilateral means remain the core element of foreign policy, multilateralism is also an important facet in foreign policy when dealing with collective concerns and issues of common interests.

In today’s complex international environment with fast changing political realities in many countries, foreign policy imperatives have become equally complex, calling for a more flexible, pragmatic and accommodative stance.

Over the years, Malaysia’s foreign policy has come to encompass trade, finance, human rights, environment and culture apart from the political relations.

The Foreign Affairs Ministry has established a total of 107 missions (missions in Baghdad and Damascus are temporarily closed)  in 83 countries and appointed 53 Honorary Consuls who provide support and assistance in promoting Malaysia’s interests and safeguarding the country’s image abroad.

The objectives of Malaysia’s Foreign Policy are:

  • MAINTAINING peaceful relations with all countries regardless of their ideology and political system;
  • ADOPTING an independent, non-aligned, and principled stance in regional and international diplomatic affairs;
  • FORGING close relations and economic partnerships with all nations, particularly with ASEAN and other regional friends;
  • PROMOTING peace and stability in the region through capacity building and conflict resolution measures;
  • PLAYING an influential leadership role in ASEAN, the Non-aligned Movement (NAM) and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC);
  • PARTICIPATING actively and meaningfully in the United Nations, especially in the efforts to end injustice and oppression, and to uphold international law; and,
  • PROJECTING Malaysia as a leading example of a tolerant and progressive Islamic nation.

The evolution of Malaysia’s Foreign Policy

Malaysia’s Foreign Policy since Iindependence in 1957 has evolved and isasean1 characterised by the notable changes in political stewardship. It began with the nation’s emphasis on nation-building under Tunku Abdul Rahman, to non-alignment and an Islamic nation under Tun Abdul Razak, to consolidation and ASEAN as a cornerstone of Malaysia’s Foreign Policy under Tun Hussein Onn.

Malaysia saw greater economic orientation and advocacy for the rights of developing countries under Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the strengthening of ASEAN as a rule-based organisation under Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

Under Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, Malaysia’s Foreign Policy thrusts are the Global Movement of Moderates (GMM) and the transformation agendas towards making Malaysia a high income developed nation by the year 2020.

Fostering close bilateral relations with neighbouring countries remains a high priority. ASEAN is the cornerstone of Malaysia’s Foreign Policy. A strong and successful ASEAN is not only an economic necessity but also a strategic imperative. A prosperous, consolidated and stable ASEAN is a security deposit for Southeast Asia and Asia at large.

Building and deepening partnerships with other Asian countries including China, Japan, South Korea and India, US, Russia, European, African, Middle-Eastern and Latin American countries are continuously pursued.

At the multilateral level, Malaysia is a strong proponent of the United Nations (UN) Charter and the fundamental principles governing interstate relations. These refer to the sovereign and mutual respect for territorial integrity, non-aggression, non-interference in internal affairs of other nations, peaceful settlement of disputes and peaceful co-existence.

Malaysia’s engagement in other multilateral fora such as APEC, ASEM, OIC, Commonwealth, NAM and other organisations are equally important. These are available platforms to speak on issues of common concerns.

Wisma PutraThe Ministry of Foreign Affairs or Wisma Putra has been part and parcel of this evolution of the nation’s foreign affairs from the early days of Independence.

The pioneering diplomats of the day had laid a strong foundation in our international relations which over the years has been further fortified in pursuing our foreign policy imperatives.

We hold our former officers in high esteem for their service in raising the stature and prestige of Malaysia in the eyes of the international community just as we acknowledge the dedication and commitment of all those who came after them to the present day.

In today’s digital era, information flow is instantaneous, almost seamless and unstoppable compared to decades ago. With the dramatic transformation of the geo-political landscape over the decades and the emergence of a plethora of new and complex issues, such as those relating to the environment, energy security, war, terrorism, pandemics and other humanitarian crises, food security, climate change, piracy, among others, Wisma Putra has had to face new challenges that require new strategies and approaches and inevitably hiring of officers from an array of disciplines.

Coordination with ministries and agencies

Wisma Putra works closely with all relevant government departments in organising and managing international meetings or visits by foreign leaders and delegations. Similarly, Malaysian missions abroad work with other Malaysian agencies such as MIDA, MATRADE and Tourism Malaysia based in the host country in carrying out their activities. This cohesive platform also contributes to cost-effective promotion of Malaysian interests and conduct of foreign relations.

 ASEAN

The entry into force of Asean Charter on December 15 2008 was a turning point for ASEAN, where it transformed itself into a rule-based organisation, with legal personality. This Charter reiterates the common principles and collective commitments of ASEAN in enhancing regional peace, security and prosperity.

The Charter also sets a firm footing for achieving ASEAN Community in 2015, with a dedicated work plan, clear timelines and targets. Initiatives that have been realised include the adoption of the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, establishment of ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, ASEAN Institute of Peace and Reconciliation, as well as ASEAN Regional Mine Action Centre.

As the ASEAN Chair in 2015, Malaysia will play a key role in steering the work of ASEAN towards the establishment of one community and beyond 2015 Vision. Malaysia underlines five key elements as the basis of the Asean post-2015 vision namely:

THE Post-2015 vision should reflect the commonly-held aspirations of the ASEAN people. These include good governance, transparency, higher standards of living, sustainable development, empowerment of women and greater opportunity for all;

THE ASEAN integration process should be brought to a higher level;

THE capacity of ASEAN’s institutions must be strengthened;

THE coordination between the various ASEAN organs must be improved; and,

THE region must be free of internal conflicts which could be achieved by promoting moderation as one of the key ASEAN values.

UN Security Council

Malaysia is currently vying for the one non-permanent seat of the UNNajib@UNGA Security Council (UNSC) allocated to the Asia Pacific Group for the 2015-2016 term. The elections are scheduled in October 2014 in New York. Malaysia’s candidature carries the theme “Peace and Security through Moderation”.

If elected to the UNSC, Malaysia will continue to promote the moderation agenda and mediation approach, and contribute towards the enhancement of UN peacekeeping operations.

Malaysia was the facilitator of the Mindanao Peace Process which led to the signing of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro between the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Oct 15, 2013.

Membership in the UNSC would allow Malaysia to continue promoting mediation as an approach towards peaceful conflict resolution. Malaysia would also be able to share its experience, knowledge and expertise as a mediator in resolving conflicts and disputes peacefully.

Malaysia has participated actively in over 30 UN Peacekeeping Operations since 1960, with deployment of over 29,000 peacekeepers from the Malaysian Armed Forces and Royal Malaysian Police.

In addition, Malaysia, through its Malaysian Peacekeeping Training Centre (MPTC), also provides pre-deployment training courses to many local and international peacekeepers.

Malaysia remains committed to and supportive of comprehensive efforts in reforming the UNSC. Malaysia firmly believes that the reform of the Security Council should take place in a comprehensive manner, both in terms of its working methods and expansion of its membership.

Malaysia has trained over 4,000 participants from 14 post-conflict countries since the establishment of the Malaysian Technical Cooperation Programme (MTCP). Membership in the UNSC would allow Malaysia to continue advocating peaceful means in the prevention of conflicts.

Recent achievements in bilateral relations

John+Kerry+Najib+RazakIn 2013 alone, Malaysia achieved significant milestones in terms of intensifying our engagement with key players at the global scene. The recent exchanges of high-level visits with Japan, China, Russia, France, and the US have contributed to further boost our political relations with these countries and augmented bilateral cooperation for mutual benefit. Malaysia has benefited immensely from these engagements, as new commitments were pledged and agreements were inked to create a win-win situation for all.

For instance, relations between Malaysia and China have been elevated to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which marked new heights in bilateral relations.

Both countries have also embarked on a Five-Year-Programme for Economic and Trade Cooperation for the period of 2013-2017, with the aim of achieving an annual bilateral trade of US$160 billion by the year 2017.

As for Malaysia-Japan relations, both leaders agreed to expand theAbe-Najib enduring Look East Policy (LEP) to be more forward-looking. Thus, a Second Wave of the LEP will now embody a new focus on economic cooperation, particularly on investment, trade, technology, infrastructure, Islamic finance and promotion of the halal industry, in line with our economic transformation policies and priorities.

Even our traditional ties with the United Kingdom have received a recent boost and are currently at its best, driven by close personal relations and shared visions between our Prime Minister and Prime Minister David Cameron. We are immensely proud of the investment by a Malaysian consortium in the Battersea Project, which has breathed new life to the excellent bilateral relations.

Similarly, the recent US$5.1 billion acquisition by PETRONAS of a Canadian energy company — Progress Energy Resources Corporation — has made Malaysia the largest foreign direct investor in Canada. The project involves a US$35 billion plan to develop shale gas assets and build an LNG export terminal in British Columbia.

Ten years ago, who would have thought that Malaysia, a small developing country in Southeast Asia, could be the largest foreign direct investor in a Western developed country like Canada?

As for Malaysia-US relations, following the visit of our Prime Minister to the US in September 2013, both countries are exploring cooperation in strategic areas such as science and technology, information technology, and biotechnology.

Last year also saw several exchanges of visits between Russia and Malaysia at the ministerial level, including my official visit to the Russian Federation last July, which opened a new chapter in our bilateral relations. Russia, as one of the Permanent Members of the UNSC, has also given positive indication to Malaysia’s bid as the non-permanent member for the 2015-2016 term.

 Promoting moderation

 Testament to Malaysia’s success in its endeavour to promote GMM at the international level is the acceptance of the initiative by NAM, CHOGM, ASEM, D8 and OIC in their respective outcome documents.

Most significantly, moderation has been endorsed and accepted by ASEAN as a key ASEAN value. France has even expressed its hope that Malaysia could be the spokesperson on moderation at the UNSC, since Malaysia is vying for the UNSC Non-Permanent seat.

Malaysia will continue to propagate moderation as a useful tool in foreign policy, especially in dealing with conflicts. We believe that moderation can be practiced at the national level, it can direct regional policy and at the international level, moderation can guide our approach to the current global challenges.

The success of the approach was evident from Malaysia’s contribution as an honest broker in the peace process and national reconciliation of our neighbours in southern Philippines and southern Thailand.

Malaysia believes in a just, balanced and consistent approach in addressing the many issues affecting the regional and international community such as the Rohingya issue, situation in the Korean Peninsula, conflict in Syria, political turbulence in Egypt and the Palestinian cause. To this end, we steadfastly advocate a peaceful solution to end these crises through dialogue and negotiations.

At the national level, the moderation concept must also be practised by Malaysians in order to preserve unity and to avoid acts that would strain the diversity that is celebrated in Malaysia.

The special attribute of Malaysia as a microcosm of multiracial and multi-religious society means Malaysians should not lose sight of the importance of practising moderation at home. We need to end violence by rejecting extremism and instead, choosing mutual respect and inclusiveness, and strengthening the bonds between our different communities and faiths.

The Palestinian cause

Najid and AbbasFor more than four decades, Malaysia has been one of the staunchest supporters of the Palestinian cause at the bilateral, regional and international levels. Malaysia also supported Palestine’s bid to become a Non-Member Observer State of the UN on November 29, 2012.

We have been consistent in providing various forms of assistance to Palestine and its people, both in cash and in kind, bilaterally or via multilateral platforms such as the UN and the OIC.

Last year, Malaysia pledged a one-off contribution amounting to US$250,000 to UNRWA on top of our annual contribution of US$25,000 for the period of 2012-2017. Reflective of Malaysia’s long standing commitment and support for Palestine, Najib made the inaugural humanitarian visit to Gaza, Palestine on Jan 22, 2013. During the visit, Malaysia pledged to contribute US$6.5 million to finance the construction of four infrastructure projects namely a vocational school, a mosque, an office building as well as new wing at a children’s hospital.

Malaysia’s role in the international community

Malaysia has a role to play in contributing towards the well-being of the general society, especially of its neighbours as a responsible member of the international community. Wisma Putra has been quick and forthcoming in responding to the needs of countries faced with humanitarian crises and natural calamities.

We have contributed through the deployment of search and rescue teams, medical aid assistance, as well as contribution in kind and monetary terms, to help alleviate the pain and suffering during times of crisis.

The most recent was Malaysia’s humanitarian assistance to the Philippines, following the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan, where Malaysia contributed basic necessities such as food and water, as well as financial, logistical, and medical assistance to the victims.

 Service and assistance to Malaysians

The function of Wisma Putra is by no means limited to diplomacy. The ministry’s consular service, or known as “citizen service” has often received the limelight in the media since it directly touches people’s lives and welfare.

With the increasing number of Malaysians travelling abroad and foreign expatriates making Malaysia their temporary home, consular achievement has now become one of the benchmarks to evaluate the effectiveness of our foreign service delivery system.

In dealing with consular crises, the ministry has been providing assistance to Malaysians abroad who are in need of help within limits of local and international law as well as assistance related to death, detention and distressed and missing Malaysians overseas.

Malaysia’s future direction in the international arena

Malaysia will continue to play an active role in the international arena in the coming years, especially through its chairmanship of ASEAN in 2015 and its bid for the non-permanent seat of the UNSC for the 2015-2016 term.

On Malaysia’s upcoming chairmanship of ASEAN, the year 2015 is particularly significant for the regional organisation, since it is the year the ASEAN Community is to be realised.

During its chairmanship of ASEAN, Malaysia wishes to see further strengthening of rules and norms to govern inter-state relations in the region, progress in the resolution of the South China Sea issue, as well as greater utilisation of ASEAN-led mechanisms and instruments related to peace and security such as the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in Southeast Asia and the Asean Regional Forum (ARF).

Obama and NajibMalaysia is poised to project its prominent role in international diplomacy in 2014 when the country is scheduled to host several important world leaders, including US President Barack Obama, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and French President Francois Hollande. Such high-level visits are a clear endorsement of the importance of forging close bilateral ties with Malaysia and the Najib administration.

This year Malaysia and China are gearing up to celebrate our 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Both countries have agreed to adopt the theme “Malaysia and China Year of Friendly Exchanges”, which aptly reflects the direction in which both countries would collaborate further.

 Malaysia’s voice

Wisma Putra is entrusted to develop policy that is current, relevant and in step with evolving and changing political environments across the globe and present a clear and effective position in facing the exigencies in the region and farther afield.

Islam, Freedom and Salvation


February 20, 2014

Islam, Freedom and Salvation

by Zairil Khir Johari

http://themalaysianinsider.com/opinion/zairil-khir-johari/article/islam-freedom-and-salvation

Islam and freedom are two inseparable concepts, though one may not arrive at this conclusion based on the behaviour of many Muslims worldwide, particularly those claiming to carry the torch for the religion.

Zairil Khir JohariWhen the Prophet Muhammad introduced Islam in the 7th century, he not only brought with him a new deen (faith), but also through it delivered fundamental moral and social reform to the Arabian society. As it were, Islam brought light to end the darkness of slavery, female infanticide and social injustice.

At its height of glory during the Islamic Golden Age from the 8th to the 13th century, the Arab-Muslim world transformed from a warring, largely illiterate society to one characterised by major intellectual advancement in culture, mathematics, life sciences and philosophy.

It was an era of inclusiveness, symbolised by the establishment of the Baitul-Hikmat, or House of Wisdom, in Baghdad, where scholars both Muslim and non-Muslim converged to exchange and produce knowledge. Inspired by the call to ijtihad (independent reasoning), the goal was always to expand and include, and not to retreat and exclude.

There was no narrow-minded attempt to discard the works of other civilisations, or to brand certain knowledge as belonging solely to Islam and therefore unusable by non-Muslims. Instead, knowledge was cultivated, documented and shared with all.

Unfortunately, Muslim civilisation has suffered a sharp decline since then. Today, Muslim countries throughout the world are associated with authoritarian regimes, gaping income inequality and the suppression of civil liberties and human rights – ironic for a religion that promises the gift of freedom and enlightenment.

In our part of the world, contemporary Islamic discourse appears to beIbrahim-Ali-Zulkifli-Noordin-Ridhuan-Tee-Abdullah captured by the likes of the Harussanis and Ridhuan Tees. However, such belligerent parochialism actually masks the rich history of progressive thought by great local Muslim thinkers and advocates of freedom.

Take, for example, the raging polemic over the “ownership” of the name of Allah, and the constant fear-mongering of an apparent Christian threat in our country. There are very few of us who realise that Malay translations of the The New Testament are not new, and have been around since the 1800s.

In fact, probably the very first Malay translation of the Bible, or the Kitab Injil al-Kudus as the author terms it, was produced by the father of modern Malay literature himself, Abdullah Abdul Kadir, better known as Munshi Abdullah. Of course, if he were to publish it today, a fatwa would be declared branding him a deviant, rabid protests would be organised by Perkasa, he would somehow find himself labelled a DAP member, and the authorities would prosecute him for sedition.

Munshi Abdullah not only read the Bible, he translated it into Malay. Yet he neither converted out of Islam nor caused mass apostasy, as is so feared by our authorities today. In fact, in Munshi Abdullah we had a visionary Muslim thinker of unwavering faith, who dared to push the boundaries of what was then socially acceptable.

In his writings, he constantly appealed to Malay society to shake off their traditional reverence for their feudal lords – the bangsawan (nobility), whom he saw as self-serving and oppressive. In Hikayat Pelayaran Abdullah, for example, he writes: “Apabila seseorang itu dijadikan Allah ia Raja bukan untuk memuaskan nafsunya dan berbini sepuluh atau dua puluh atau mencari harta dan membunuh orang dengan aniayanya, melainkan disuruh Allah memelihara manusia….” (When God makes a man a king, it is not so that he may satisfy his lusts and to take 10 or 20 brides, or to seek fortune and to kill with his cruelty, but instead to do as God bids that is to protect his people…).

Munshi Abdullah was of the view that in order for Malay society to advance itself, it must embrace modern values while holding steadfastly to the true teachings of Islam (he did not see such an undertaking as contradictory), and even more importantly emancipate itself from the irrational grips of Malay feudalism, characterised by the kerajaan of the absolute monarch. In his day, he was considered ahead of his time. Two hundred years later in modern Malaysia, one could say he remains ahead of our time.

Another reformist-minded Malay thinker was the Pendeta Za’aba (real name Zainal Abidin Ahmad). Among the many treatises penned by Za’aba, one entitled Jalan Keselamatan Bagi Orang-orang Melayu (The Salvation of Malays) mentions that true emancipation can only be achieved through the pursuit of knowledge.

In this monograph, Za’aba states: “Bahawasanya keselamatan orang-orang Melayu ini pada pihak jalan kehidupannya (pencariannya) dan pada pihak perangai-perangai yang kekurangan itu hanyalah boleh didapati pada satu jalan sahaja, iaitu diubati kemiskinannya yang pada pihak otak itu – yakni kemiskinan pengetahuannya – dengan jalan diberi mereka itu pelajaran-pelajaran daripada jenis yang betul. Maka disitulah, dan disitulah sahaja boleh didapati keselamatan ini, tiada pada lainnya.” (Verily there is only one path towards the salvation of the Malays insofar it concerns their life (livelihood) and weaknesses in their attitude, that is to ameliorate their intellectual poverty – their lack of knowledge – through the right kind of education. This is the only way that salvation can be found, no other way.)

mullah-harussani-and-najibTo Za’aba, the high incidence of poverty among Malays corresponded directly to the society’s mental capacity. Therefore, the only salvation for the society was to free themselves from poverty through knowledge and the ability to think critically.

Meanwhile, there have also been a few progressive Malay-Muslim thinkers who were early champions of women’s rights. In the 1920s, writers such as Syed Sheikh al-Hadi and Ahmad Rashid Talu – both coincidentally Penang-based – brought to the forefront the debate on the emancipation of women and their right to education. In their hands, the female lead characters from Hikayat Faridah Hanum (al-Hadi) and Iakah Salmah? (Talu) were, unlike the societal norms of the time, dynamic, progressive and modern.

It is an inescapable fact that freedom has always been, and will always be, a key feature in Islamic and Muslim discourse, simply because it is an essential part of Islam. This is true even in our country, where, as the works of Abdullah, Za’aba, al-Hadi, Talu and many others clearly prove, progressive Malay-Muslim thought throughout the last two centuries have constantly pushed the envelope by placing great value on the pursuit of knowledge, the ability to reason, as well as the freedom of thought and conscience.

Today, these values are under threat. Extremism, bigotry and sexism now dominate, spurred on by an overzealous establishment bent at banning everything they cannot control or understand. As Martin Luther King Jr once said, “nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

Seen in this light, the real threat that we face is not the fools or the bigots, but the ignorance within our society. It is this ignorance that we need to challenge and overcome if we are to rise out of the abyss of doom and destruction.

Today, Za’aba’s advice is even more pertinent than it has ever been – our salvation lies in knowledge, enlightenment and freedom from ignorance. –The Malaysian Insider– February 19, 2014.

Kassim Ahmad speaks his mind on the state of Islam in Malaysia


February 18, 2014

Kassim Ahmad speaks his mind on the state of Islam in Malaysia

by Malaysiakini (02-1-14)

kassim-ahmadBack from a hiatus away from the public eye, controversial scholar Kassim Ahmad (left) has yet again created waves by questioning the grip of a class of ulama (religious scholars) on the country and its future.

Speaking at an event organised by the Perdana Leadership Foundation, he said that Islam in Malaysia has been abused through a “priesthood caste” system.

“This priesthood caste did not exist at the time of the Prophet or the four caliphs. They only emerged about 300 years later by appointing themselves as interpreter of religion for Muslims,” he said.

“They (Muslims) view their religious leaders like gods and goddesses, that these leaders are seen to be protected from maksum (protected from sin) and must decide on everything about their lives.”

Kassim, who was in Parti Sosialis Rakyat Malaysia (PSRM) before joining UMNO said this at a lecture entitled ‘The Thoughts of Kassim Ahmad: A Review’, officiated by former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in Putrajaya yesterday.

mullah-harussani-and-najib

Najib and the Notorious Mullah of Perak

He called on Muslims to return the Quran as the sole and highest source of information in Islam, and to reinterpret the Holy Book to suit modern times.

“I have said before that the Quran explains itself. The old method to use the hadith (Prophet’s saying and actions) to explain the Quran is not very good, as this means we are saying that the Prophet Muhammad knew everything. This is ridiculous, as he is just a Messenger of Allah,” he stressed.

Kassim was once accused of being anti-hadith, a charged he has denied. Referring to the first verse of the Quranic chapter al-Munafiqun, he said Muslims are wrong to beatify the prophet.

Tudung questioned

He also questioned the wearing of the tudung (headscarf) by Muslim women, arguing that hair is not part of the aurat (parts of the body which need to be covered).

Art activist Raja Ahmad Aminullah Raja Abdullah, who also spoke at a forum, urged for Kassim’s ideas to be discussed by academics and politicians.

He said that, while Kassim’s views are easily understood, terms like the “priesthood caste” may not be so easily acceptable and can be viewed as provocative in Malay society.

Raja Aminullah expressed disappointment with the absence of scheduled panelist and PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar, who had pulled out at the last minute.

“Politicians often view art and culture as marginal or peripheral matters that they can attend or not attend at will,” he said, adding that Nurul Izzah may have opted out to “avoid controversy”.

The two-day event ended yesterday.

Mahathir: Vote Anwar and Prompto Pro-US Government in Malaysia


February 17, 2014

MY COMMENT: I can’t believe that this can come from our former Prime Minister. It is true that during his premiership, our relations with the United States were contentious and sour. Ambassador John Malott who was the US Ambassador here could tell you horror stories about Tun Dr. Mahathir’s anti-US policies.

Mahathir US

He boycotted the first APEC meeting in Seattle, Washington State, only to host it a few years later. He attacked George Soros during the 1998 Asian Financial crisis, and later embraced the famed currency trader.  He condemned President George W. Bush’s pro-Israel policies in the Middle East and the War against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, only to pay substantial sums of money to visit the US President for a photo opportunity and a handshake in Washington D.C. It is sheer hypocrisy.

Fortunately, relations with the US under Najib have improved considerably. Can we say that the Najib Administration is pro-US when we also have excellent relations with Australia, China, Japan, Russia, France, Germany and the United Kingdom and other countries?  –Din Merican

Mahathir: Vote Anwar and Prompto A Pro-US Government in Malaysia

by MD Izwan@http://www.themalaysianinsider.com
February 17, 2014
Latest Update: February 17, 2014 02:57 pm

Mahathir at IDFRTun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today warned Malaysians not to put his former Deputy, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, in Putrajaya if they did not want a pro-US government.

“If you want a pro-American government, please vote for Anwar (in the Kajang by-election),” the country’s longest premier told reporters after delivering a keynote address at the Mahathir Global Peace School event at the Institute for Diplomacy and Foreign Relations.

Father of CorruptionIn his speech earlier, Dr Mahathir lambasted Washington’s policies which he said tried to impose conditions on democracy, including promoting the rights of the lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual (LGBT) community.

“Now, LGBT has become an additional condition for democracy. But don’t expect us to go around naked because that is your freedom (in western countries),” Dr Mahathir said.

Dr Mahathir’s remarks against Anwar were the second attack against his former protégé since the latter announced his intention to contest in the Kajang by-election.

Last week, Dr Mahathir suggested that Anwar, who was part of Dr Mahathir’s cabinet until he was sacked in 1998, had played a “key role” in the Ops Lalang security crackdown of 1987.

The PKR leader has been attracting large crowds at the various programmes he has attended in Kajang.

On Sunday, Anwar wowed a crowd of some 1,200 at the Holy Family church hall after Sunday services, the first such engagement with the Christian community in the state after the controversial seizure of Malay and Iban-language Bibles by the Selangor Islamic Department last month.

The Election Commission has set March 23 as the polling date for the Kajang by-election, the country’s third since the general election last May, while nomination is on March 11.

PKR”s Lee Chin Cheh won the Kajang state seat in Election 2013 with a 6,824-vote majority, defeating Barisan Nasional’s Lee Ban Seng, Berjasa’s Mohamad Ismail of Berjasa and three other candidates.

Yesterday, former minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, announced his intention to join the race, joining two others with former PKR links, Datuk S. Nallakarupan and Yuktes Vijay.

BN has yet to indicate its choice of candidate but MCA Vice-President Datuk Paduka Chew Mei Fun is widely tipped to be the party’s choice.

Sarawak: A powerful Chief Minister bows out—or does he?


February 17, 2014

Malaysia’s Sarawak

Last of the Rajahs

A powerful Chief Minister bows out—or does he?

Sararwak's CMFEW of Asia’s elected leaders have enjoyed the power of Abdul Taib Mahmud, the Chief Minister of Sarawak. For 33 years he lorded it over this Malaysian state on the island of Borneo, once densely forested and still rich in oil. Mr Taib was an appropriate successor to generations of the British Brooke family, who ran the territory as their own monarchy for a century from 1841. They were known as the White Rajahs. Their 77-year-old, white-haired modern equivalent, Mr Taib, will officially retire on February 28th, passing the job to a hand-picked successor, Adenan Satem. Mr Taib, though, will probably get another comfortable job himself, retaining much influence.

Few have contributed more, for better and for worse, to the course of modern Malaysian history. Mr Taib has played a crucial role in keeping the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition in power—it has ruled ever since Malaysia won independence from Britain in 1957. The two former British possessions on Borneo, Sabah and Sarawak, joined the new federation of Malaysia in 1963 (together with Singapore, which dropped out two years later). Ever since, East Malaysia has supplied the oil and votes that the BN needs.

Oil revenues have fuelled the country’s breakneck development, while the votes have kept the coalition’s stranglehold on federal power even as its share of the vote has dropped steeply over time in peninsular Malaysia. Gerrymandering by the BN means that Sabah and Sarawak, largely rural and sparsely inhabited, fill almost a quarter of the federal parliament’s seats, out of all proportion to their populations. Mr Taib has secured the vote every time. The 25 seats out of a possible 31 that his own political machine, allied to the BN, won in the general election last year was, with the seats that the BN’s allies won in Sabah, the difference between the coalition holding on to power and electoral humiliation.

His electoral muscle has given Mr Taib disproportionate political clout. He has run Sarawak single-handedly, with little accounting to anyone. His supporters credit him with presiding over an era of unparalleled development, transforming a disease-ridden backwater into a relatively modern state and well-known tourist destination. He has also used his clout with the central government to insist upon an impressive degree of local autonomy for Sarawak, thus preserving its special ethnic and religious make-up in the federation.

In Sarawak Malays are only the third-largest ethnic group. About 40Adenan Satem ethnic groups make up the largest proportion of the population, of which the indigenous Iban is the biggest. The second-biggest group are ethnic Chinese. Mr Taib himself comes from the Melanau, accounting for about 6% of the population. Sarawak also boasts a variety of religions, and there are more Christians than Muslims. While preserving this diversity, Mr Taib has also mastered and exploited ethnic divisions to build his political base, a process greased by cash at election time to persuade people to vote the right way.

But for all the Chief Minister’s insistence on Sarawak’s exceptionalism, legions of critics argue that it was a smokescreen for his administration and its friends to exploit the country. Mr Taib, who drives around in a Rolls-Royce and flies by private jet, has for several years been under investigation by the country’s anti-graft agency. Environmentalists say that under him Sarawak has lost nine-tenths of its virgin rainforest, most of it converted into lucrative palm-oil concessions. This has resulted in a huge loss in biodiversity.

Widespread deforestation has resulted in numerous battles over indigenous land rights. Local Iban have suffered from the bulldozing and development of their lands by state-backed logging companies and have sought redress in the courts. A Malaysian expert on indigenous land rights, Colin Nicholas, says at least 200 such cases are now working their way through the courts in Sarawak. Non-governmental organisations say that, in this regard, the Chief Minister has been more foe than friend to the Iban and other ethnic groups.

Some argue that, with Mr Taib stepping down, the BN might try to exert more direct control over politics in Sarawak, as they have in Sabah. But Mr Taib will probably become the state governor. This is a largely ceremonial role, like that of a royal sultan in peninsular Malay states. But from this position he will retain plenty of influence over Sarawak; it is unlikely that anything very much will change. What is more, in his new role Mr Taib could well enjoy immunity from prosecution, although the exact legal position is unclear. Either way, Tian Chua, of the opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), says that Mr Taib has become the “Vladimir Putin of Sarawak”.