On Secularism

July 24, 2014

On Secularism

By Dr. Wong Chin Huat@www.themalaysianinsider.com (07-23-14)

Dr.Wong Chin HuatSecularism has been seen largely demonised amongst Muslims in Malaysia but widely embraced by Muslims from Indonesia in the east to Tunisia in the west. Does religion explain this stark difference?

While theologians may offer nuanced ideational explanations, allow me to offer a simple analysis from the perspective of group competition and power relations. Secularism is fundamentally about the impartiality of state in the religious sphere, and by derivation, full religious freedom for all. This could mean at least three things to different people.

First, it is about the relationship between the faithful and the atheists. Second, it is about the relationship between the faithfusl of different religions. Finally, it is about the faithfuls of different denominations within the same religions.

Secularism has been a dirty word for Malaysian Muslims largely because of the two legacies: the Kemalist legacy in Turkey and the British legacy in Malaya.

The Kemalist Legacy

Beyond Malaysia, hostility is the natural reaction of many Muslims to the militant secularism espoused by Kemal Atartuk. In Kemalist Turkey, generations of religious Muslims were suppressed and marginalised because of their faith, until the recent rise of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The state does not only refuse to be partial to practising Muslims but has become partial against them. Like atheist states, militantly or absolutely secular states see religion as a threat to their own existence. This is completely different from the past Muslim Empires – not unlike most polities with an established faith – which were explicitly partial to Muslims.

Perhaps more upsetting for many Muslims is that, in the making of Turkish nationalists, Kemal Atartuk denied Muslims both inside and outside of Turkey their political identity as Muslims protected and united by a Caliphate.

On the ruins of Ottoman Empire, the last Caliphate which met its end soon after its humiliating defeat in the First World War, Atartuk wanted to radically Westernise Turkey both politically and culturally so that it could cease to be the “Sick man of Europe”.

Not unlike what was advocated by some nationalists in China, then the “Sick man of Asia”, for Atartuk, modernisation required a thorough break with one’s own cultural root and imitating the enemies.This is of course emotionally traumatising and enraging for many Muslim nationalists, for whom Islam is the symbol of resistance and political unity.

Why secularism is seen as synonymous as atheism or anti-Islam by many Muslims is then perfectly comprehensible.

The indirect British Legacy

Interestingly, the negative image of secularism may have its second root in the British colonialisation, despite the British’s conscious efforts in grooming the Anglophile, conservative and secular Malay elites. Unintended consequence if you will.

What happened? If secularism essentially means state impartiality towards citizens of different faiths, then in the context of Malaya/Malaysia, it would have to mean impartiality between Muslims and non-Muslims, which is at the heart of the 1946 question.

This becomes clearer if we compare Malaya/Malaysia, with Indonesia. There, the Dutch colonisation not only did not create a religious majority as the communal core for the future nation. It led to the emergence of Christian communities, not just in remote islands like Ambon and Flores, but also in the main island of Java, fragmenting the indigenous communities.

Secularism became the rational choice of Indonesian nationalism both during and after the colonial era. Like multi-religious India, Indonesia may break up if secularism is replaced by the explicit dominance of any faith and religious assimilation creeps into the nation-building agenda.

In Malaya, the British moved beyond the port colonies of Straits Settlements to actively intervene in the inland Malay states only as late as 1874. Taking the lesson from the religiously-triggered Indian mutiny in 1857, the British decided to opt for indirect rule in the Malay states to minimise disturbance.

In doing so, the British not only strengthened the Malay states but, through affirming the Malay rulers’ power in religious affairs and Malay custom, also religion as the ethnic boundary of the Malays. That is the historical basis of why “Malays” are by definition Muslim, as stipulated in the Article 160 of the Federal Constitution.

With the Malays being all Muslims and the non-Malays being largely non-Muslims, secularism in the sense of state impartiality towards citizens of different faiths may basically reduce the differential in citizenship rights between the Malays and non-Malays.

In other words, secularism as religious equality is inherently contradictory to the logic of building a Malay-nation, an agenda crystallised in 1946 and established two years later.

Granted, UMNO’s Anglicised, Anglophile, conservative elites led by Tunku, Tun Razak and Tun Hussein and pre-Reformasi Mahathir never wanted an Islamic state.But they only upheld secularism as intra-Muslim religious freedom – in the sense of minimum penetration of the state by religious authorities, but not interfaith religious equality.

In fact, for Sabah and Sarawak, 51 years of Malaysia has been largely a process of erosion of secularism to serve the agenda of Malay nationalism, where non-Muslim Bumiputeras are to gradually become Muslim Bumiputeras and eventually Malays. Aggressive conversion of non-Muslims into Islam under Tun Mustapha’s USNO and Harris Salleh’s Berjaya was much despised by Christian Bumiputeras in Sabah.

Years before the word Allah became an issue, non-Muslim Bumiputeras had complained about religion-based discrimination in public sector employment and the enjoyment of Bumiputera privileges.

Many “liberal-lifestyled” Muslims supported UMNO in the past because it stood for intra-Muslim religious freedom, as compared to policing of Muslims advocated by hard-line Islamists in PAS. The question is: if secularism as interfaith equality must be weakened by the day to maintain the regime, how long can intra-Muslim religious freedom remain?

The intra-Christian origin of Secularism

Secularism has no future in Malaysia if it remains a dirty word and not a glorious cause for the Malay-Muslims. But should Malay-Muslims uphold secularism? Can secularism actually benefit the Malay-Muslims?

The answer is a clear “No” if secularism is still seen in the lens of Kemalist legacy, that it means de-Islamisation for the sake of modernisation. But why should secularism mean the denial of one’s civilisational root? Where the Arab Spring started, Tunisia under an Islamist government has just adopted a secular constitution and guaranteed religious freedom and equal citizenship.

From an ethno-nationalist perspective, the answer is also a clear “No” if this is all about giving the minorities equality.But this is where the history of secularism in Christian Europe should be revisited.

Secularism was not born out of the need of Christians to deal with the pagans, Jews or Muslims, or to grant these infidels religious freedom. Religious tolerance was not a virtue of Christians in the medieval Europe. The Jews were treated much better in the Muslim Empires than the Christian States. Neither was secularism established to advance atheism.

Secularism was much driven by faith. Rivalry between the kings and the Catholic Church and the growth of secular thought and capitalism did not turn Christian Europeans into atheists. These forces only divided Christians into Catholics and Protestants, many of whom died to defend and advance their faiths.

Today’s rigid view of secularism as absolute separation of state and religion is too much rooted in post-Revolution France, which influenced Kemalist Turkey.

Some one and a half centuries before that, the order of proto-secularism was actually laid by the 1648 Westphalia Treaty to end religious wars between Catholics and Protestants.

The treaty, on which today’s international system of sovereign nation-states are founded, affirmed the “religious freedom” of both the states and their subjects. The kings and princes were free to decide the official state of their polities, but their subjects were also free to choose their faith and entitled to equal treatment before the law. Religious disputes were resolved through secular procedures that excluded religious reasoning.

Secularism thus freed Christians of different denominations from unnecessarily deaths in the name of faith, and later by extension, provided for religious freedom for non-Christians including Muslims. While Christian Europeans later continued to die over nationalism and ideologies in the centuries to come, the Westphalian secularism removed religion from the list of reasons to kill.

One only needs to look at today’s European Union to see the benefit of secularism. Can the European Union simply be possible if the states need to choose between Catholicism, various denominations of Protestantism and Orthodoxy as her official religion?

Ever wonder what would happen to Palestine if the Arab League can be united like the EU? Ironically, the self-styled Caliphate of the Islamic State (formerly Islamic State of Iraq and Sham) actually hopes to unite the Muslims by slaughtering all who oppose their rule – the antithesis of secularism.

Hundreds more times of Muslims had to die in the wars in Syria and Iraq – hell will break loose if Saudi Arabia and Iran directly enter the battlefields – because these Muslim states were, are and can be partial either to Sunnis or Shias or Alawites. Muslims die and suffer, not so much over the theological differences as for each group’s survival.

Coming back to home, can Westphalian secularism benefit the Malay-Muslims? Yes, if the goal is to have the space to be both more pious and more united, as per the Amman Message, which recognises as valid all the main schools of Islamic thought – Sunni, Shia, Ibadhi, Ashari, Sufi and Salafi?

After all, spirituality is about what we can believe while dominance is about what others cannot believe, lest we get confused.


The Passing of James MacGregor Burns at 95

July 16, 2014

The Passing of  James MacGregor Burns at 95

by Bruce Webber–July 15 @www.nytimes.com



J M BurnsJames MacGregor Burns, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and political scientist who wrote voluminously about the nature of leadership in general and the presidency in particular, died on Tuesday at his home in Williamstown, Mass. He was 95. The historian Michael Beschloss, a friend and former student, confirmed the death.

Mr. Burns, who taught at Williams College for most of the last half of the 20th century, was the author of more than 20 books, most notably “Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom” (1970), a major study of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s stewardship of the country through World War II. It was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

An informal Adviser to Presidents, Mr. Burns was a liberal Democrat who once ran for Congress from the westernmost district of Massachusetts. Though he sometimes wrote prescriptively from — or for — the left, over all he managed the neat trick of neither hiding his political viewpoint in his work nor funneling his work through it.

The nature of leadership was his fundamental theme throughout his career. In his biographies of Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Edward M. Kennedy, among others, and in his works of political theory — including “Leadership,” a seminal 1978 work melding historical analysis and contemporary observation that became a foundation text for an academic discipline — Mr. Burns focused on parsing the relationship between the personalities of the powerful and the historical events they helped engender.

His award-winning Roosevelt biography, for example, was frank in its admiration of its subject. But the book nonetheless distilled, with equal frankness, Roosevelt’s failings and character flaws; it faulted him for not seizing the moment and cementing the good relations between the United States and the Soviet Union when war had made them allies. This lack of foresight, Mr. Burns argued, was a primary cause of the two nations’ drift into the Cold War.

Roosevelt “was a deeply divided man,” he wrote, “divided between the man of principle, of ideals, of faith, crusading for a distant vision, on the one hand; and, on the other, the man of Realpolitik, of prudence, of narrow, manageable, short-run goals, intent always on protecting his power and authority in a world of shifting moods and capricious fortune.”

This was typical of Mr. Burns, who wrote audaciously, for a historian, with an almost therapistlike interpretation of the historical characters under his scrutiny and saw conflict but no contradiction in the conflicting and sometimes contradictory impulses of great men. He could admire a president for his politics and his leadership skills, yet report on his inherent shortcomings, as he did with Roosevelt; or spot a lack of political courage that undermined a promising presidency, as he did with President Bill Clinton and his vice president, Al Gore, in “Dead Center: Clinton-Gore Leadership and the Perils of Moderation,” written with Georgia Jones Sorenson. In the book, he chastised both men for yielding their liberal instincts too easily.

In “The Power to Lead: The Crisis of the American Presidency,” his 1984 book about the dearth of transforming leaders, as opposed to transactional ones, in contemporary America, Mr. Burns was able to denounce the outlook of a staunch conservative like President Ronald Reagan but admire him for his instinctive leadership — his understanding of not just how to maneuver the levers of power but also how to muster party unity and effect an attitudinal shift in society.

This distinction between transforming and transactional leadership was central to Mr. Burns’s political theorizing. As he explained it in “Leadership,” the transactional leader is the more conventional politician, a horse trader with his followers, offering jobs for votes, say, or support of important legislation in exchange for campaign contributions.

The transforming leader, on the other hand, “looks for potential motives in followers, seeks to satisfy higher needs, and engages the full person of the follower,” Mr. Burns wrote.“The result of transforming leadership,” he went on, “is a relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents.”

If there was any way in which Mr. Burns’s personal views pierced his objectivity as a writer and researcher, it was in his understanding of the human elements of leadership. He had faith in the potential for human greatness, and though he often scolded presidents, congressmen and party officials for failing to strive for progress, one could discern in his writing a pleading for great men and women to lead with greatness.

“That people can be lifted into their better selves,” he wrote at the end of “Leadership,” “is the secret of transforming leadership and the moral and practical theme of this work.”

Mr. Burns was born on August 3, 1918, in Melrose, Mass., outside Boston. His father, Robert, a businessman, and his mother, the former Mildred Bunce, came from Republican families, though Mr. Burns described her as holding feminist principles. She largely raised him, in Burlington, Mass., after his parents’ divorce, and it was she, he said, who instilled in him the independence of mind to oppose the political views prevalent in his father’s family.

“I rebelled early,” Mr. Burns told the television interviewer Brian Lamb in 1989. “I got a lot of attention simply because I sat at the dinner table making these outrageous statements that they never heard anybody make face to face.” He added, “There was a lot of very strenuous and sometimes angry debate within the household.”

After graduating from Williams, Mr. Burns went to Washington and worked as a congressional aide. He served as an Army combat historian in the Pacific during World War II, receiving a Bronze Star, and afterward earned a Ph.D. from Harvard. He did postdoctoral work at the London School of Economics. His first book, “Congress on Trial: The Legislative Process and the Administrative State,” a critical appraisal of American lawmaking, was published in 1949.

After his second book, “Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox” (1956), a study of the president’s early years, Mr. Burns ran for Congress in 1958 from a western Massachusetts district that had not elected a Democrat since 1896 — and it did not again.

Burn's Books

During the campaign he became acquainted with John F. Kennedy, then running for his second term as senator from Massachusetts. After the election, with unrestricted access to Kennedy, his staff and his records, he wrote “John Kennedy: A Political Profile,” an assessment of him as a potential president. Though the book was largely favorable, it was not the hagiography the Kennedy family and presidential campaign had anticipated. (“I think you underestimate him,” Jacqueline Kennedy wrote to him after she read it, adding: “Can’t you see he is exceptional?”)

After Kennedy’s assassination, Mr. Burns said frequently that Kennedy had been a great leader and would have been even greater had he lived. But in his book he called Kennedy “a rationalist and an intellectual” and questioned whether he had the character strength to exert what he called “moral leadership.”

“What great idea does Kennedy personify?” he wrote. “In what way is he a leader of thought? How could he supply moral leadership at a time when new paths before the nation need discovering?”

in 1978, after a half-dozen more books, including the second Roosevelt volume and separate studies of the presidency and of state and local governments, Mr. Burns wrote “Leadership,” an amalgamation of a lifetime of thinking about the qualities shared and exemplified by world leaders throughout history. It became a standard academic text in the emerging discipline known as leadership studies, and Mr. Burns’s concept of transforming leadership itself became the subject of hundreds of doctoral theses.

President Reagan“It inspires our work,” Georgia Sorenson, who founded the Center for Political Leadership and Participation at the University of Maryland, said of “Leadership.” She persuaded Mr. Burns, who was on her dissertation committee, to teach there in 1993, and four years later the university renamed the center in his honor; it is now an independent nonprofit organization, the James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership.

Mr. Burns’s two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by three children and his companion, Susan Dunn, with whom he collaborated on “The Three Roosevelts” and a biography of George Washington, two of the half-dozen or so books Mr. Burns wrote or co-wrote after the age of 80. His last book, “Fire and Light: How the Enlightenment Transformed Our World,” was published in 2013.

Asked to describe Mr. Burns’s passions away from his writing, Ms. Sorenson named skiing; his two golden retrievers, Jefferson and Roosevelt; the blueberry patch in his yard; and his students.“He would never bump a student appointment to meet with someone more important,” Ms. Sorenson said. “I remember Hillary Clinton once inviting him to tea, and he wouldn’t go because he had to meet with a student. And he would never leave his place in Williamstown during blueberry season.”

Correction: July 15, 2014

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this obituary referred incorrectly to Mr. Burns’s book “Packing the Court: The Rise of Judicial Power and the Coming Crisis of the Supreme Court.” It was not his last book. (“Fire and Light: How the Enlightenment Transformed Our World,” published in 2013, was his last.)

 Correction: July 15, 2014

An earlier version of this obituary misstated the number of children who survive Mr. Burns. It is three, not four. The earlier version also contained an outdated description of the James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership. It is an independent nonprofit organization; it is no longer affiliated with the University of Maryland.

Brasil 2014, Football and Germany

July 14, 2014

Brasil 2014, Football and Germany

by Josh Hong@www.malaysiakini.com

Germany's players lifts the World Cup trophyI once saw a picture at the German National Museum of Contemporary History in Bonn, the capital of the former West Germany. Dated July 4, 1954, it depicted a group of men with broken teeth, crutches and in worn-out clothes shouting for joy over West Germany’s victory at the FIFA World Cup Final.

The West Germans had just barely recovered from the horrific World War II, and Hungary had been widely tipped to win the title. Still, West Germany went on to claim the crown as a dark horse, and the game is known historically as ‘Das Wunder von Bern’ (‘the Miracle of Bern’; Bern is the Swiss capital where the final was held).

The 1954 World Cup was particularly meaningful to West Germany for several reasons: it was the first time that Das Lied Der Deutschen (the Song of the Germans) was played at an international sporting event since the end of WWII, signifying the return of the country into the world community, while defeating the then communist-ruled Hungary was hailed as an ideological triumph.

Two decades later, West Germany was showered with greater global recognition when it hosted the 1974 World Cup and was crowned champion. If 1954 symbolised West Germany’s international acceptance, 1974 probably took on a greater significance in that the country demonstrated proudly to the world its reemergence as an economic power, rising from the ashes of the catastrophic Nazi regime (which hosted the 1936 Olympics in Berlin), preceded also by the 1972 Olympics.

It was most ironic that, while Britain and France, the two WWII victors, were mired in incessant labour strikes as industrial production came to a virtual halt, West Germany’s economic development and standard of living continued to improve by leaps and bounds.

Then came the eventful autumn of 1989, when the Eastern Blocs were on the verge of drastic revolution. Berlin Wall, 1989Many East Germans drove their Trabants right up to the Berlin Wall and demanded that the gates be opened.

When their calls went unanswered, they took out sledgehammers and chisels and started dismantling the wall themselves, and the (in)famous wall did come tumbling down within weeks. Welcoming the Ossis was not only the far advanced Volkswagen produced by the Wessis, but also the abundantly available commodities in the shops in West Berlin.

When West Germany beat Argentina to claim the World Cup title on  July 8, 1990, East German fans erupted in euphoria publicly for the first time. Three months later, East and West Germany became history.

Rebranding the country

When the reunified Germany hosted the 2006 World Cup, the German government at the time made use of the opportunity to rebrand the country as a Land of Ideas (Land der Ideen), seeking to promote to the world Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Beethoven, philosopher Jürgen Habermas and many other modern achievements alongside football.

It represented a conscious effort on the part of the Germans to remind the international community that, having faced up to historical issues squarely, it was time that Germany should be free to celebrate its achievements for and contributions to the world.

The reunified Germany failed to win the World Cup in 2006, but many a European country was impressed with a new Germany that was not only confident and forward-looking, but also warm and hospitable, so much so that the British tabloids, usually relishing in insulting Germany with WWII references, toned down their wording and English fans could be seen waving the German flag during the semi-final between Germany and Argentina.

Now that Germany has once again made it to the final, the question whether the reunified country will win a historic World Cup is again in the mind of many, for a win on this coming Sunday (Brazilian time) would go a long way in affirming Germany’s coming of age, and I wish them all the best.

After all, no other competition arouses one’s nationalistic sentiment and sharpens political differences more than football – with the exception of an actual war. Seen in this light, what Germany destroyed last Tuesday was not just Brazil’s world status as a land of football, but it’s very national identity as well.

For historical reasons, the Germans are not used to overt symbols of nationalism, but it does not mean they should tolerate idiotic insults such as Bung Mokhtar’s ‘Hitler tweet’ in the wake of Germany’s thumping victory over Brazil. It is outrageous because no other countries have demonstrated so much goodwill and sincerity in dealing with historical baggage as Germany, especially when the country has shown no signs of relenting in pursuing justice for the victims.

Bung Mokhtar’s brainless tweet is more than a personal gaffe because it exposes the quality (or the lack thereof) of UMNO politicians. The fact that he continues to be a wakil rakyat is an utter shame to Malaysia.

NOTE: Germany defeated Argentina 1-0 in extra time on Sunday July 13, 2014 in Rio . It was thriller. witnessed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and a strong contingent of German fans while the rest of the world witnessed a spectacle of great sportsmanship and fine football. –Din Merican
JOSH HONG studied politics at London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A keen watcher of domestic and international politics, he longs for a day when Malaysians will learn and master the art of self-mockery, and enjoy life to the full in spite of politicians.

A Poem for this Weekend

July 13, 2014

A Poem for this Weekend

William-Ernest-Henley2I am the Master of my Fate

I dedicate this Henley poem to  Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, Teoh Beng Hock, Bernard Zorro Khoo and Irene Fernandez, and fellow Malaysians who are in the forefront of our struggle for Democracy, Freedom and Justice. –Din Merican


( The Unconquerable Soul)

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.


China’s James Shoal Claim: Malaysia the Undisputed Owner

July 4, 2014

RSIS Commentaries

RSIS presents the following commentary China’s James Shoal Claim: Malaysia the Undisputed Owner by B.A.Hamzah.  Kindly forward any comments or feedback to the Editor RSIS Commentaries, at RSIS Publication@ntu.edu.sg.

No. 122/2014 dated 1 July 2014

China’s James Shoal Claim: Malaysia the Undisputed Owner

By B.A.Hamzah


Malaysia owns James Shoal, a submerged feature that is within its continental shelf. Being one thousand nautical miles from Hainan, James Shoal is outside the continental shelf of China; it is also outside the continental shelf of Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Indonesia.


James Shoal

JAMES SHOAL, a feature that is permanently 22 metres (66 feet) under water in the South China Sea, should not have attracted public attention regionally but for geopolitics and ignorance of international law. Malaysians have been alarmed by recent reports of vessels of the People’s Republic of China Liberation Army (Navy), gathering and celebrating above the feature on more than one occasion.

China cannot appropriate any submerged features that are not part of its continental shelf and in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). James Shoal is more than 1,000 nautical miles (nm) from Hainan, well outside China’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and not part of its continental shelf.

James Shoal and International Law

The whole affair could have been quietly resolved if the PLA Navy commanders acknowledged the international law governing a permanently submerged feature, embedded to the continental shelf of a coastal state. Unlike islands, rocks and low-tide elevations, permanently submerged features, cannot generate any maritime zone under international law.

Islands are entitled to a belt of territorial sea, continental shelf and EEZ. Low-tide Elevations (LTEs), on the other hand, belong to the state in whose territorial sea they are located. LTEs can be used to draw the state’s baseline if they are located within its 12 nm territorial sea.

Map 2--James ShoalMap showing the limit of proposed extended continental shelf of Vietnam and Malaysia jointly submitted to the United Nations Commission on Limits of Continental Shelf (CLCS) in May 2009.

International law defines continental shelf as a natural extension of a country’s landmass to a distance of 200 nm (maximum 350 nm). Drawn from the mainland or any of its islands in the South China Sea, the continental shelf of China is well short of James Shoal. Similarly, contrary to some suggestions, James Shoal is also not part of the extended continental shelf of Vietnam, the Philippines or Taiwan.

In May 2009, Vietnam and Malaysia put up a Joint submission on the Extended Continental Shelf to the UN Committee on the Limit of Continental Shelf (CLCS) whereby Vietnam acknowledged that James Shoal is not part of its extended continental shelf.

James Shoal is 500 nm from Pagasa Island in the Spratlys that the Philippines has occupied since 1971. The Shoal is more than 400 nm from Itu Aba, an island that Taiwan has occupied since 1956. James Shoal is also outside Brunei’s extended maritime zone which the 2009 Letter of Exchange Brunei had with Malaysia attested to. In 1969, Malaysia and Indonesia signed a Treaty on the continental shelf, off Tanjung Datu, Sarawak, which has placed James Shoal on the Malaysian side.

Contiguity not an issue

Map--James Shoal2Map showing limits of EEZ in the Spratlys

James Shoal, located 63 nm from the nearest base point (Batuan Likau) on Sarawak coast, is embedded in the continental shelf of Malaysia and within its EEZ. Although the feature is nearer to Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur’s ownership of James Shoal is not premised on geographical contiguity but on customary international law. In the Island of Palmas (or Miangas) (United States v. The Netherlands), Arbitral Award, 1928 Judge Huber stated, “it is impossible to show the existence of a rule of positive international law” on contiguity to “the effect that islands situated outside territorial waters should belong to the state”.

China claims James Shoal is within the disputed nine-dash line boundary which China has drawn, incorporating close to ninety percent of the South China Sea, and overlapping with the maritime domains of five other states (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam) as well as Taiwan.

Some experts believe China did not even know of the existence of James Shoal as a submerged feature when it drew the controversial nine-dash line maritime boundary over it in 1947/1948. After all, China was not the first state to conduct any physical survey of the maritime area. Besides, there is no evidence that China discovered and administered the feature.

The British discovered James Shoal

The British discovered the Shoal and its two nearby features (Parsons’ Shoal and Lydie Shoal) in the early 19th Century via many of its surveys. James Shoal first appeared on the British Admiralty Chart in the 1870s; China renamed the feature (as Tseng Mu Reef) circa 1947/1948 (1912 in some documents), when it published the nine-dash line.

The only possibility for China to “acquire” the feature, according to some experts, is via cut- and-paste method. While the international law recognises five traditional methods of territorial acquisition, the cut- and- paste method is not one of them.

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and 1958 Geneva Convention on the Continental Shelf (Malaysia and China subscribe to both Treaties) stipulate, “The rights of a costal state over the continental shelf do not depend on occupation, effective or notional, or in any express proclamation”. In other words, Malaysia does not have to do anything under UNCLOS to own the submerged feature that is embedded on its continental shelf.

Malaysia’s extensive activities on James Shoal

This notwithstanding, Malaysia has effectively asserted its jurisdiction over its continental shelf including the areas in and around James Shoal, Parson’s Shoal and the Lydie Shoal. As in nearby Laconia shoals, where currently a large chunk of Malaysia’s hydrocarbon resources comes from, the entire area has been explored for gas and oil.

The activities of the Malaysian authorities, which are extensive, peaceful, continuous and public in nature, include the construction and maintenance of a light-buoy on nearby Parsons Shoal on a 24/7 basis; daily patrolling and policing of the area by the Royal Malaysian Navy and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency; and undertaking economic activities like exploration for and production of hydrocarbon resources on a sustained basis.

Under international law, such display of peaceful and continuous activities over a long period is tantamount to establishing a titre de souverain (acts of the sovereign). This legal principle is critical in determining ownership of disputed islands, rocks and low tide elevations and by inference, submerged features on continental shelf.

Map 3-James Shoal Enlarged Map showing the location of James Shoal (Beting Serupai), Lydie Shoal (Beting Tugau) and Parson’s Shoal (Beting Mukah) (drawn by Vivian Forbes, 2014).

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) and International Arbitration have applied this principle on numerous occasions. Two recent ICJ Cases on territorial disputes, decided on this principle, involved Malaysia with Indonesia (Case concerning sovereignty over Pulau Ligitan and Pulau Sipadan) and Indonesia (2002) and Malaysia with Singapore (Case concerning sovereignty over Pedra Branca and Pulau Batu Putih (2008).

In sum, the activities of the Malaysian authorities (effectivité to some) are by themselves sufficient to demonstrate that Malaysia is the bona fide owner of James Shoal.

BA Hamzah is a lecturer at the Department of Strategic Studies, National Defence University, Malaysia. He contributed this specially to RSIS Commentaries.

Japan’s Cabinet Seeks Changes to Its Peace Constitution

July 2, 2014
Asia Pacific Bulletin
Number 270 | July 1, 2014

Japan’s Cabinet Seeks Changes to Its Peace Constitution – Issues New “Interpretation” of Article Nine

By Andrew L. Oros

AbeJapan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed his nation at a 6pm press conference on July 1 to announce a much-anticipated Cabinet decision to reinterpret a constitutional prohibition related to Japan’s military forces working together with other states, setting the stage for a series of changes to Japanese law when its parliament reconvenes in the fall.

Protestors opposing this effective change to Japan’s constitution–which has never been formally revised since its implementation in 1947–have gathered in front of the Prime Minister’s official residence all week. An estimated 5,000 protestors gathered outside the prime-time press conference where the prime minister argued that the reinterpretation did not represent a fundamental departure in nearly 70 years of Japanese security policy, but rather was a modest update to current policy in response to a changing international security environment.

He repeatedly touted Japan’s postwar identity as a “peace state” (heiwakoku), arguing that now is the time for Japan to make a greater international contribution to international peace–in line with the national security strategy released by his government in December 2013 that called for Japan to make “proactive contributions to peace” internationally.

The issue of “collective self-defense”–engaging in military action with allied states even if your state itself is not directly threatened–has been a topic of debate in Japan all year. Japanese government policy for over half a century has been that although all states have an inherent right to engage in collective self-defense, as rooted in long-standing practice of international law, Japan would refrain from exercising that right in deference to Article Nine of its postwar constitution, which forbids the use of force to settle international disputes.

Prime Minister Abe has long argued that Japan should engage in collective self-defense activities with like-minded states, both together with its alliance partner the United States as well as with other states and through United Nations peacekeeping operations. Abe’s coalition partner in government, the New Komei Party, has been opposed, however. As a result, the issue was set aside during the first year of Abe’s return to power in December 2012.

Critics of the Abe government argue that this decision is rushed, is taking place without debate in Japan’s parliament, and that no elected leader has the right to reinterpret the constitution. There is widespread misunderstanding about the power of this cabinet statement, however: it does not have the force of law.

Only legislation passed by Japan’s parliament has the force of law–and, indeed, this was one of the subjects of Abe’s 10-minute prepared statement to the nation: that his government would be creating a team to draft bills to establish the necessary legislation to submit to the Diet for its deliberation. Still, the cabinet statement does reflect unanimity among the cabinet, which includes one member from the New Komei Party. It took months of negotiation and substantial compromises by Abe to achieve this support, leading to a much watered-down mandate to exercise the right of collective self-defense only in highly constrained circumstances and even then only using the minimum necessary force to restore the peace.

The Abe government prepared 15 examples to share with the nation illustrating situations where it saw Japanese security at risk due to Japan’s decision not to exercise its right of collective self-defense, which Abe debuted in an earlier televised prime-time press conference in May. Famously pointing to a sketch of a mother holding a small child while fleeing hostilities, Abe explained cases such as the challenges of evacuating Japanese nationals from a war zone, or Japan’s need to cooperate in de-mining critical sea trade routes in the event an enemy were to lay such mines (as happened in the 1991 Gulf War). In fact, the most likely cases where Japan would exercise collective self-defense are together with its only formal military ally, the United States.

It was announced last October that the two states seek to formally revise their 17-year-old guidelines for defense cooperation by the end of 2014, making a decision on the issue of collective self-defense time sensitive. The two states’ goals of cooperating to combat cyber threats and to improve defenses against ballistic missiles both require a pre-commitment from Japan to work together with the militaries of other states, even in cases where it is not clear that Japan itself is being attacked. In addition, the long-standing fear of a new outbreak of hostilities on the Korean Peninsula would also put great pressure on Japan to offer assistance to US and South Korean military forces–even if Japan itself was not directly attacked, something prohibited under the prior cabinet interpretation of the Japanese constitution.

This new policy on collective self-defense should thus be seen, in part, as a way to show Japan’s commitment to the US-Japan military alliance–and to seek to secure US commitment to the alliance in the wake of growing Japanese concerns about China’s designs on the remote and uninhabited Senkaku Islands that Japan administers but China claims (and which China calls Diaoyu), and that Japan would need the United States military to help protect in the event of hostilities.

The new policy should also been seen as part of a set of initiatives of the Abe government to re-craft Japanese military activities as the sort of conduct any “normal” state engages in without suspicion. In this sense, it is part and parcel of his broader efforts to move beyond the criticism of Japan’s militarist past and to a new status quo where Japan’s “proactive contributions to peace” are welcomed on the contemporary international stage. The policy also should be understood at face value: as a way to address potential security contingencies Japan may face in the future.

The Abe government is correct about international law: that all states inherently possess the right of collective self-defense. But his public statements belie the substantial change in policy that Japan choosing to exercise this right would represent. Critics over-state the significance of the cabinet statement, however. Nothing has yet been changed in Japanese law, and even if new laws are passed in the fall based on this cabinet statement, the agreement within the ruling coalition places substantial barriers on Japan exercising this right in the years to come. Abe has thus not yet realized his dream of Japan becoming a “normal” state–and based on the scale of criticism both at home and abroad about this policy push, it will take many more years of policy evolution to achieve this goal.
About the Author

Dr. Andrew L. Oros is an Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies at Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland and Adjunct Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington. He is author of Normalizing Japan: Politics, Identity, and the Evolution of Security Practice and can be contacted via email at aoros2@washcoll.edu.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Damien Tomkins, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated. For comments/responses on APB issues or article submissions, please contact washington@eastwestcenter.org.

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The Constitution must be supreme

June 28, 2014


Published: Tuesday June 24, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday June 24, 2014 MYT 7:03:13 AM

The Constitution must be supreme

Karim RaslanBy Karim Raslan@www.thestar.com.my

“We are a polyglot nation. We cannot suddenly rid ourselves of our diversity and complexity. Yes, it is messy but it is also a fact of life and embedded in our national DNA.Until and unless we amend our Constitution – the fact remains that Malaysia is not completely secular, but neither does it allow one faith to run roughshod over the other.”–Karim Raslan

A FEW weeks ago, I wrote about my opposition to the implementation of hudud in Malaysia. Since then, it appears that the on-going debate about the role of religion in our country has become even more complicated, whether over child custody, raids on weddings and funerals as well as the issue of Malay-language Bibles.

To me, the challenge for Malaysians is simple enough.We must decide what kind of country we’re living in. Is it secular or religious? A constitutional monarchy which practises Westminster democracy or something else altogether?

Our leaders have shied away from answering these questions for far too long, allowing opportunists and extremists to dominate the discourse.This has left Malaysia in a permanent state of flux. We cannot become a developed nation when one group of citizens thinks the only way they can be protected is to relegate another into an inferior state.

That is at the heart of the various disputes: Malay versus non-Malay, Muslim versus non-Muslim and so on. At the same time, this dichotomy fails to acknowledge the many Malay-Muslims who feel uncomfortable with the idea of living under a theocracy.

Still, the fundamental question remains this: should people be treated equally in Malaysia? If not, why?If it is because this will somehow denigrate the position of Islam and the Malays – why is that so?The solution, I think, is to go back to Malaysia’s founding document – our Consti­tution.

Unlike Britain, Malaysia’s Constitution is written.This makes us a nation of laws, which gives us a framework for how we deal with each other. And what does the Constitution say? It is true Article 3(1) states that Islam is the religion of the Federation but also provides that other faiths may be practised in peace and harmony.

Every mainstream voice in Malaysia has accepted this.But does this article mean that the rights and values of non-Muslim Malaysians are completely irrelevant the moment Islam comes into any matter? Let us also not forget that Article 3(4) also states: “Nothing in this Article derogates from any other provision of this Constitution.”

I might be wrong here, but I think this also means that Islam’s special position does not abrogate the force of other provisions, like Article 8(1): “All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.” Malaysians – it seems – are being forced to choose between two very unpleasant extremes.

One is that we must remove religion from our public lives altogether.The other is that a certain understanding of Islam must take priority over everything else.But if people truly took the time to read the Constitution – they would realise that neither of these paths meet the spirit in which our nation was founded.

We are a polyglot nation. We cannot suddenly rid ourselves of our diversity and complexity. Yes, it is messy but it is also a fact of life and embedded in our national DNA.Until and unless we amend our Constitution – the fact remains that Malaysia is not completely secular, but neither does it allow one faith to run roughshod over the other.

Anyone who says that provisions of the Constitution or other laws can be ignored simply because they think Islam is under threat is going against the law of the land. Does believing this make someone a bad Muslim? I humbly submit that faith is better served through doing justice rather than by causing fear and ill-will. Our leaders must show collective wisdom and courage in these difficult times.

HRH The Sultan of Selangor is to be commended for stating that his state’s religious authorities should seek redress for their grievances only through legal means.However, we live in a democracy. As such, our elected officials should lead the way.

They must draw on the collective wisdom of our nation to find the path forward.Leadership is not about being silent in times of crisis. It is about decisiveness and courage.I am no fan of former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad but at least he always understood the need to lead.


The Prime Minister and his Cabinet must step forward. They must lead from the front.If they don’t have the guts to do so – Malaysians will turn elsewhere.

 Karim Raslan is a regional columnist and commentator. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own. His online documentaries can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/user/KRceritalah

The World Belongs to the Man who spends himself in a worthy Cause

June 15, 2014

The World Belongs to the Man who spends himself in a worthy Cause

Teddy RooseveltI remind myself from time to time of Theodore D Roosevelt’s most famous statement, which I quote:

 “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better.The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who errs and comes up short again, but who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”–Theodore D Roosevelt

The Confusion about ” Constitutional Monarchy” in Malaysia

June 13, 2014

The Confusion about ” Constitutional Monarchy” in Malaysia

by Clive Kessler–– 11 June 2014


C KesslerRecent developments in Johor have once more suddenly impelled the notion of “constitutional monarchy” to the centre of Malaysian national politics. In this encounter, both sides, all sides, invoke and affirm that idea — the idea that Malaysia is a “constitutional monarchy” — without ever really making clear what they mean by it. What are we to make of this strange spectacle? How is this issue to be understood and resolved?

Royal politics reaffirmed

It is undeniable. True, the “traditional Malay rulers”, as they are generally called, have long been active, and even in past times focal, in “Malay politics” in the peninsula. Ever since Merdeka, once they assented to its advent and said so in their own encomium to its arrival — known as the Wasiat Raja-Raja Melayu of early August 1957 — they have insisted on their continuing “political centrality”.

They have done so not only in deeds — by the forthright manner and emphatic style of many of their actions. They have also done so by means of their assiduous promotion of their own “istana-centric” vision of how Malay national politics should work.

Hence the main post-Merdeka story line, to be outlined in this discussion. The Malay state rulers had barely escaped elimination by the Malayan Union initiative of 1946 — until their position was saved as part, and as a by-product, of a more general rescue of what was popularly seen as “the Malay stake in the country” under a different Malay leadership: a new Malay leadership of non-royal notables that coalesced within and behind UMNO and successfully mobilized the rakyat in opposition to Britain’s post-war plans for what they intended as post-communal administrative reorganization, simplification and reform.

And then the Malay rulers had almost “missed the Merdeka bus” thereafter — until they “got on board” very late in the day and then, through the Wasiat Raja-Raja Melayu, signalled their assent in early August 1957, barely three weeks ahead of the great event itself, to a deal that had already been largely made by and among others.

But after that near fatal and then faltering start, the Malay rulers soon began to apply themselves to the consolidation and then expansion of their position within the new Merdeka dispensation, under the new political regime. That decision, and how its consequences have subsequently been played out, are the subject of this present commentary.

Its focus is upon the basis, the origin, and the “main line” of that story of the post-Merdeka entrenching of royal power in Malaysia as it is and works today.

It is the story of a royalist expansionism and more recently (especially since GE12 in 2008) of a new royal activism. It is the story of the development of a “new royalist” ideology and of a bid for political leadership in the post-Merdeka period.

In 1946 the Malay rulers had proved unable to save themselves. They faced institutional obliteration, or (to use the colloquial expression) they were then “as good as goners” — until they were saved by UMNO and the rakyat. Thereafter they took umbrage and held back disapprovingly from modern politics for many years.

They looked askance at UMNO, and for a while even toyed with the idea of openly aligning themselves with Dato Onn’s Party Negara in an attempt to delay the attainment of Merdeka.

But then, whether they might like it or not, came Merdeka, and, just in time, the Malay rulers’ rather belated, even grudging, assent to it under terms that had been largely negotiated by others, mainly between Britain and the Alliance partners, especially UMNO.

“Constitutional Monarchy”?

One can say some things about what the rulers sought to do, and also to prevent, in the years leading to 1957, and what they achieved (or what others on their behalf may think, and may now claim, that they achieved) by their eleventh-hour Wasiat Raja-Raja Melayu.

It can be argued both ways. The rulers, or more precisely the “new royalist” theorists, take a certain view. Some support for some of their claims may even be derived and contrived from a study of some of the “official papers” and unofficial transcripts of the time.

For the moment, let us put aside all those debates about what the specific archival materials may suggest, about those matters of detail and their at times contested interpretation.Let us shift our attention instead to the “big picture” historically.

Beyond what the archives may contain and suggest, serious discussion of this question has to come back to the inherent nature and character, as the culmination of the Merdeka process, of the Merdeka Constitution itself.

It was — it was explicitly framed as and still is — a constitution of and for a nation that was to be, and is, based ultimately on a modern notion of nationality. It was promulgated as the constitution of, and as the authoritative foundation for, a modern nation-state in a world of sovereign nation-states.

It is a constitution of and for a nation that is ultimately grounded in the popular sovereignty of its people, the citizens.That is the foundation upon which the Malaysian state today rests and upon which its governments are constitutionally to be formed.

Why else would one hold popular democratic elections? And why is it — what other possible reason might there be? — that the key to state and government legitimacy lies ultimately in those popular elections and in the plausibility of the results that they yield?

Is that the kind of state that Malaysia now is? Is that the defining jurisprudential context within which the role of the Agong and the Malay rulers is to be understood?The answer to that question is “yes”.

You cannot really see the modern Malaysian state and its foundations — in the Reid Commission and then the post-Reid evolution of its deliberations in the Merdeka agreements and after — in any other way.

Four boxes, four possibilities

The matter may be simply put and resolved as follows. In the end, in the final analysis, given four boxes, which one suits Malaysia and best accords with the history of its origins and foundation as an independent state in a world of nation-states? Into which one does it fit and is it to be placed?

1.  Traditional unlimited monarchy

This is a situation where rulers may, by tradition and ancient custom, do exactly as they please, without constraint.

2.  Constitutionally unlimited monarchy

This is a situation where the ruler is formally empowered to do as he pleases by, and based upon, a written royalist, absolutist constitution.

3.  Constitutionally limited monarchy

This term denotes a constitutional state within which a monarchy is allowed or accorded by the constitution certain powers that are beyond the constitution and external to it, that are beyond its reach and reproach, its supervision and control; it is a situation where the constitution itself recognizes explicitly that the ruler’s powers are more than those that the constitution creates, provides and establishes.


4.  Constitutional monarchy

This term denotes a state in which the powers of the ruler are grounded the constitution and are those of the constitution itself, one where the ruler symbolizes and embodies and personalizes the constitution and the underlying principles of constitutionalism: for example, the principle of popular sovereignty, of a nation grounded in its people and not otherwise or elsewhere.

Malaysia, if one sees and analyses it clearly and argues the matter consistently, can only be in box 4. There is a confusion that people play upon or, more often, unwittingly succumb to which can be explained in plain terms.

There is clearly “more” — much more historically and culturally and religiously — to the position of a Malay ruler than his constitutional role and the constitutional definition of his formal position.

This is obvious, a truism, to any student of Malay culture, society and politics.But does this mean that the Federal Constitution endows the ruler with, or recognizes a ruler as enjoying, any public, official political power that is wider and greater than the Constitution, that exceeds the specific and circumscribed political role which the Constitution provides, creates and sets out? The answer here is “no”.

The AgongUnder the constitution the Agong, as the representative of the rulers and their Council, lends his traditional aura and that of his royal “brothers” to the constitutional role that he plays and thereby to the entire modern constitutional order in which his position is grounded.

In that way he does two things: first, he embodies and personifies and symbolizes the Constitution and its core constitutional principles; and second, he has a specific role (or so it was intended) to act as a guarantor “in the last instance” to ensure that Islam is not sidelined, that the nation’s Malays citizens are not sidelined and so on, as well as to act upon, and at times to provide, certain kinds of specified formal advice and consent.

That is, in a system of checks and balances (which is what a system of “constitutional monarchy” pre-eminently is) the Agong is the “final balancer”, the balancing arbiter (when needed and not otherwise or before) of last resort. As the Constitution intended, his position was not to be anything substantially more than that.That is how his role was at the time envisaged and intended, formally worded and created.

“New royalist theory”

The “new royalism” seeks, improperly and — dare one say it? — implausibly, to expand that very limited notion yet crucial role of the Agong as the saving arbiter or guarantor of last resort at the last minute. It seeks to enlarge unduly, even extravagantly, what is his proper use of his royal discretion in certain limited, defined and circumscribed ways.

The position of the Agong was designed and created not to be a constant player and incessant, perennial activist in the routine unfolding of national political life. Nor to be a routine part of the state’s mundane, everyday administration and administrative bodies. He was to come in, when needed on occasion, as an ultimate guarantor of fundamentals and as an intermittently or rarely necessary deadlock-breaker.

His role was to be not quite, but almost, that of a deus ex machina. He was to serve as an external intervener and problem–solver from “on high”. He was to be a culturally authoritative, historically grounded, and also divinely empowered or connected sultan ex machina.

The “new royalists” seek to enlarge that constitutional role, to expand the proper scope of royal action, of legitimate royal political autonomy and initiative, into a role of constant and continuing involvement in current, or “ongoing”, political matters.

Not just “in the last instance”, when a ruler may enter a deadlocked situation still cloaked in some plausible garb of uninvolved impartiality — and hence with considerable moral authority and formal “clout” — and so seek constructively to help resolve the impasse; but “all along the way” leading up to, and well before, the final moment when “last resort” action or intervention by a hitherto uninvolved party may be appropriate and needed (and, because of his distance and detachment up to that point, also effective).

Accompanying the growing power and the readiness, even eagerness, to exercise it, there has been a second part to the story of post-Merdeka royal activism and expansionism.

Alongside the affirmation of growing royal prerogative in action, by deed, there has been an accompanying “expansionist” notion and articulated ideology of royal political autonomy and activism, of a continuing, intimately involved leadership.

The development of this view, or ideology, has been the task and work of the “new royalist” theorists. That is their view.But theirs is not what the Merdeka process and agreements were about.Theirs is a form of constitutional revisionism, a “royalist expansionist” revisionism. That is what the “new royalism” is about, and what it is doing, what it is seeking to achieve and entrench.

To say so is not just an arbitrary, idiosyncratic personal view. It is a view that can be anchored and grounded in the solid, serious, best legal and constitutional analysis.

New power, and the old

To make things clear, one may put the matter in this way. Of the four options or possibilities noted above, where does one place post-Merdeka Malaya and Malaysia”? Where does it properly belong? Only one option really makes sense, really accords with the historical facts and constitutional understandings of the nation’s 1957 Merdeka foundations.

That is the fourth box. That is what was decided, and solemnly resolved, and that was the Constitution that was promulgated and the nation that was created. That is what was going on at the time. That is what all the principal actors in the creation of the nation were then doing, and understood themselves to be doing.

The nature of the exercise in which they were involved was clear to all who were part of it. It was to establish independent Malaya as a modern democratic nation-state in the form of a constitutional monarchy, in the strictly understood sense of the term.

What, then, is the standing of the last-minute Wasiat Raja-Raja Melayu, what can now be said of it? In short, with it the old rulers may have entered a demurral, registered a caveat —— but only a unilateral one. But their Wasiat could not create, and so did not constitute, a set of conditions, or terms of recognition, that might be binding upon others and therefore constitutionally definitive.

It was a comment upon the proposed Merdeka Constitution, a response to its emergence.As such, it could in no way modify the Constitution or alter its meaning and import. It could not by its mere issuing reshape the negotiated terms of political agreement upon which the Constitution had been designed to rest.

So it is no part of the Constitution, nor is it an essential and authoritative basis for its interpretation. There is no jurisprudential requirement that the Constitution be “read against” the rulers’ Wasiat or in the light of its wording and claims.But the “new royalists” in effect — though they are not clear or explicit or “up-front” about the matter — opt for box 3.

By choosing to promote a “box 3 view” of Malaysia’s constitutional foundations, not a “box 4 view”, they are in effect arguing not for a “constitutional monarchy” but for something else: for a radically revisionist view of Malaysia as a “constitutionally limited monarchy”. That is their view, the “new royalist” view — and perhaps the view, too, of the Malay rulers themselves (of whom, for whom and about whom, I cannot, and therefore dare not presume, to speak), or of the decisive majority among them.

But even to say that that view is, and has been, their preferred position, originally a “rear-guard” position, since 1957 does not in itself make it the correct view overall, the authoritative and definitive and obligatory view. That is not the view that a clear historical account and properly-informed jurisprudential analysis of the matter, of the origins and once generally understood meaning of the nation’s constitution and of Malaysian constitutionalism, would recommend to us.

It may well be the preferred view, and, one may suggest, the retrospectively “confected” view, of the “new royalist” theorists.But is it really the view upon which the nation — that Malaya and Malaysia as a modern nation — in a world of modern nation-states was formed and therefore continues to stand?

As I have argued elsewhere, one may read the rulers’ Wasiat literally, in isolation. This view would imply that Merdeka could not have been achieved without the issuing of the Wasiat signifying the rulers’ consent. On this view, national sovereign independence exists only by virtue of royal grace, favour and beneficence.

Yet where its words correspond with those of the Constitution these matters were already decided, and where they may not do so the constitutional wording is authoritative. However, more than that, more than merely the words on a page, is involved here. The royal Wasiat cannot be read simply in its own terms, literally and out of context.

It came at the very end of, even after, a long process. Initially the rulers had been wary of Merdeka. They feared for their standing as heads of the Islamic religion that underpinned their position in their separate states. Very late in the process, they accepted assurances that their accustomed positions would not be diminished by the creation of an independent national federation with Islam as its official religion.

When finally satisfied that Merdeka would not encroach upon their prerogatives in their own domains as state heads of Islam, they agreed to the constitutional proposals that emerged from the Reid Commission and the ensuing negotiations upon its recommendations.

The British government was delighted (published documents note) that, late in the day, the old Malay rulers had “changed their tune” on these matters, ensuring a smooth process of political evolution.

The British government had made it clear to the Malay rulers (so the official records show) that power was shifting from them. Britain was now dealing with the popularly supported leaders of a new and prospectively modern nation. The rulers were given to understand that they had a clear choice: to go along with the creation of a new political order or to be sidelined.

The issuing of their Wasiat, once they had agreed to terms on the virtual eve of independence, was the proud action of dignified, tradition-conscious men in the face of the inevitable, of dramatic and far-reaching changes. Britain had no objection, nor any interest in preventing its declaration. Nor, from Britain’s standpoint, did it have any constitutional status. That view of theirs is one that holds, and one may suggest still holds, more widely.

Defending “constitutional monarchy”?

At the bottom of the disagreement is this simple question: “box 3” or “box 4”?In other words, is Malaysia a “constitutionally limited monarchy”, as the “new royalists” really suggest and seek to maintain, or a “constitutional monarchy”, as many others hold and have long believed?

One may simply note here that it is not only the impartial expert scholarly commentators who uniformly refer to Malaysia as a “constitutional monarchy” (and not as a “constitutionally limited monarchy”).Others do too, some quite surprisingly and even oddly.

This is an anomaly in the position of the “new royalists” themselves. It is a serious problem for them to address Like the impartial commentators, the royal apologists also refer constantly and exclusively to Malaysia as a “constitutional monarchy”.That is what they always claim to be upholding and defending.

The fact that they do so leads directly to the conclusion that they still pay tribute to this idea of “constitutional monarchy”, to its definitive “canonical” status, even as they seek to promote a different position.They pay tribute to it, that is, in the same way that hypocrisy is said to be the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

What I mean here by that is this. The fact that the royal apologists also use that same well-understood term “constitutional monarchy” (and one can be sure that the members of the Reid Commission and those who followed them and upon their lead were not in the least confused about the term’s meaning!) is itself recognition of the fact, and prima facie evidence of the “new royalist” theorists’ knowledge, that what they are and have been attempting to do is more than a little odd.

It suggests a recognition of the fact that they are trying to “smuggle in” and promote something else, namely the idea of a “constitutionally limited monarchy” (which is what they are in substance arguing for) under the guise and protection and cover of the familiar and widely-accepted term “constitutional monarchy”.

That is what they claim to be upholding and “protecting” — even as they argue for something else, for a different position and understanding of Malaysia’s constitutional situation and identity.

But note well: the fact that they proceed in that way, that they still prefer to use the term “constitutional monarchy”, seems to indicate that they know what they are up to. It indicates, even betrays, the nature of their intentions. It shows that the direction and true purpose of their endeavours must be well-understood — at least by some of them in that camp!

Their insistent preferential use of the term “constitutional monarchy” seems a tacit admission of a measure of unease, even shame, on their part about what they are in fact arguing and doing.

But let us be clear.Promoting constitutionally limited monarchy under the name of “constitutional monarchy” — to seek to smuggle the former into play and then to substitute it for the latter, and then purloin its “legitimacy” and authoritative standing — is just an up-market jurisprudential version of the old commercial “bait and switch” stratagem of unethical traders and retailers of dubious probity.

It is a form of trickery — and some of them in that camp, it would seem, the smarter among them, seem to understand and, by their confusing recourse to this otherwise unproblematic term, indirectly acknowledge that fact.

A final remark

The argument that I make in this commentary, the view that I put, I offer not with a partisan intent or for any polemical purpose.I say and mean what I say impartially, dispassionately and analytically — with the practised detachment of a scholar, not as a passionate actor in these dramatic developments.

I say what I have to say in a simple, straightforward attempt to clarify what in fact, at the formative moment in modern Malaya and Malaysia’s history, was decided, what in fact was done, and what in fact then happened. I say what I say respectfully: with full respect to Malaysia, to its culture and traditions and history as they are generally understood by many expert scholars, and to all of its citizens — and with respect for the truth of its origins as a modern nation within the world community of nations.

My purpose in offering this commentary has been not to question or criticise, still less to impugn, but simply to analyse the modern institution of Malay monarchy: to help enhance serious understanding of its origins, formal basis and constitutional character.

Book Review: Hillary Clinton’s Book ‘Hard Choices’

June 9, 2014

Bakri Musa reviews Dr. Syed Hussin Ali’s Memoirs

June 9, 2014


Malaysian Leaders’ First World Education, Third World Mentality
Review of Syed Husin Ali’s Memoirs of a Political Struggle.
Dr. Syed Husin Ali:  Memoirs of a Political Struggle. Strategic Information and Research Development Center, Petaling Jaya, 2013. 273 pp.

Reviewed by Dr. M.Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

bakri-musaThe deserved universal condemnation and merciless ridicule of the Malaysian authorities’ bungling of the MH370 tragedy did not arise in a vacuum.

From leaders’ refusing to entertain questions at their press briefings to radar operators ignoring intruding beeps on their screens, this unconcealed contempt for the public, and the accompanying lackadaisical attitude, is the norm.

Our leaders may have had First World education, alas their mentality remains stubbornly stuck in Third World mode. Their bebalism and tidak apaism make the Jamaican “It’s not my job, mon!” a valid excuse by contrast.

To readers of on-line news portals, I am not stating anything new here; likewise to ordinary citizens who have had to deal with governmental agencies. However, when these general inadequacies and gross incompetence in their infinite manifestations are put in print as in books, there is satisfaction, at least to their authors, that they are being documented for posterity. So when Malaysia degenerates (as surely it would) into another Nigeria with its endemic corruption, or Pakistan with religious fanaticism, scholars would have ample materials upon which to base their analyses. Until then these accounts serve as a much-needed antidote to the fluff and gloss that typify Malaysian official reports.

We owe these authors, from ordinary citizens to seasoned journalists, and opposition activists to members of the establishment, a huge debt of gratitude when they record their experiences. Dr. Syed Hussin Ali’s reflective autobiography, Memoirs of a Political Struggle, is one such valuable addition, tracing the nation’s social and political development, beginning with the decade before independence. Despite the title, the book is an autobiography more than a memoir.

Once pedantic readers get past the pedestrian I-was-born opening, the scholar in Syed Hussin gives us an unsentimental and detached view. As a politician, he details the many hypocritical ways of his peers. He relates an occasion when he was on a panel discussion with one Dr. Mahathir at the University of Malaya campus. Mahathir then was not yet prime minister but headed that way through his rising popularity as head of UMNO Youth.

Mahathir chided those “impure” Malay political activists. “Those of Arab descent,” Dr. Syed Hussin quoted Mahathir, “should not have any right to talk about political issues of this country.” His understated nonchalant riposte was, “I do not wish to talk about ancestry for otherwise I will have to talk about the rights of those of Indian descent.”

My purpose with this quote is not to showcase Mahathir’s hypocrisy (readers can readily find their own far more consequential examples) or highlight Dr. Syed Hussin’s not-widely recognized wit, rather to point out one significant observation. That is, you will never find such a panel discussion on today’s Malaysian campuses where contrasting positions would be presented. That is one the many destructive legacies of Mahathir.

Dr. Syed Hussin is, quoting Anwar Ibrahim, “in a category of his own, unique in terms of moral conviction, and not in the business of saying things to please people.” A sociologist, he gave up his productive academic career to turun padang and get involved in electoral politics. He is less successful in this second endeavor. Nonetheless with the victory of his party’s coalition in the last general election, he was appointed as a Senator from Selangor. A well-deserved appointment!

Dr. Syed Hussin Ali had a First World education (London School of Economics PhD), but unlike many in the country similarly blessed, he maintained those First World qualities. As an academic he was not content resting on his sterling academic qualification. His pioneering work on social stratification in traditional Malay society remains widely quoted.

In an enlightened administration, especially one that professes to champion the plight of poor rural folks, a man of Dr. Syed Hussin’s insight and talent would be co-opted to play a major role. Alas, UMNO is far from being enlightened, and its commitment to alleviating rural poverty is more an election gimmick, and a scheme to enrich its operatives through the many “development” schemes. Thus funds meant for poor livestock growers are siphoned to buy luxury condos in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

Three qualities struck me about Dr. Syed Hussin. One, his humility, integrity and piety; two, his early socio-political consciousness, beginning right at primary school; and three, his thoroughly Malaysian experience and outlook. His rural upbringing in Batu Pahat, Johore, has much to do with his humility; his religious parents, his piety; and, being a former King Scout, his integrity.

When Anwar underwent surgery in Germany, Syed Hussin visited him using his own funds. One of Anwar’s operatives tried to reimburse Syed by handing him a bundle of $100 US notes, but he would have none of it. Unable to stop the man, Syed gave the money to his party’s treasurer upon his return. On another occasion, when as a scholar he was given a UNESCO research grant, he returned to his Dean the unused portion. That’s integrity! Anyone else would finagle a way to present his paper at the University of Hawaii or Bali with those leftover funds.

Syed Hussin's Memoirs

Dr. Syed Hussin grew up in colonial Malaya. To today’s young accustomed to incompetence, cronyism, and influence peddling, that was an entirely different era. While he did not hide his nationalistic and anti-colonial streaks, nonetheless that did not stop the authorities from selecting him to attend a scouting jamboree in Australia.

The other aspect to Dr. Syed Hussin’s path is that his schooling, extracurricular activities and political activism all took place in an environment involving Malaysians of all races. That was why he was so offended by Mahathir’s remarks at that panel discussion. He embodies the values and aspirations of a truly modern Malaysian.

Dr. Syed Hussin’s leftwing leanings began early. In a society obsessed with labels, and where political sophistication was rudimentary, it was not wise to identify or be labeled as a socialist, especially when memories of the brutal communist insurgency were still fresh. Dispensing with labels, what is clear is that this LSE educated scholar-researcher is committed to social justice, economic equity, and equal opportunities. What he abhors is leaders betraying their followers’ trust. This betrayal comes in many guises – greed and its associated corruption, incompetence and its bebalism or tidak apaism, or just plain stupidity and ignorance.

I wonder what would be his fate had Dr. Syed Hussin dispensed with labels and joined UMNO like so many like-minded Malays. The Fabian socialists would surely approve of Tun Razak’s generous redistributionist policies and massive state interventions in the economy. After all there was a time when the term kaum kapitalis (capitalist hordes) was an epithet hurled by the likes of UMNO’s Syed Jaafar Albar and Syed Nasir Ismail. Today with the spoils of crony capitalism, socialism is a curse; likewise social justice.

Had Dr. Syed Hussin joined UMNO, would he be as corrupt as the rest or would he be like the snake that would not lose its venom despite crawling among vines, as per the Malay proverb? I believe he would the latter, and the nation would have been richer for his contributions.

I detect a tinge of regret as Syed Hussin recollects his struggles over these years. Being a former sociologist, he of course tried hard to conceal his own disappointments. There is however, no settling of old scores, not even with his old jailors. There is a touching picture of a smiling Syed greeting his old tormentor from the Special Branch. That’s class! Contrast that to the vile-filled memoirs of many recently-retired politicians.

Make no mistake. Dr. Syed Hussin is capable of penning moving prose and be passionate in his writings. I remember reading his Two Faces. Detention Without Trial, and slamming down the book in anger at the authorities’ brutal and inhumane treatment of this great intellect and patriotic Malaysian.

This was his poignant ending to the short opening paragraph in Two Faces:  “One minute I was a professor, the next I was a prisoner.” I suppose his fate could have been worse. Consider that for Egypt’s Morsi it would be, “One minute I was president; the next, a prisoner.”

A generation hence when dysfunctional countries like Egypt would be our peers, we can look back and realize that there were committed and courageous Malaysians like Syed Hussin who tried hard to stem the slime. And our descendents would glow in the reflected glory of his many heroic efforts.

Building on the Tun Razak Legacy

June 1, 2014

Malaysia and China: Building on the Tun Razak Legacy

by Prime Minister of Malaysia Dato’ Seri Najib Tun Razak@www.nst.com.my

JOURNEY OF GOODWILL: This is the full text of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s speech at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing yesterday

Tun Razak and Zhou EnlaiTun Abdul Razak and China’s Mandarin Premier Zhou En-Lai 40 Years ago

FORTY years ago, my father set out on what he called a ‘journey of goodwill, to sow the seeds of mutual understanding and trust’.

That journey led him here, to Beijing, and to this very hall. It was here that he signed an agreement with Premier Chou En-lai, formally establishing diplomatic ties between our countries.

It was here that we began a new chapter in our relations. And, it is here today that I feel not just the responsibility of government but the responsibility to my father — to continue his legacy and ensure the deepening of Malaysia-China ties.

Our nations are joined by a history that spans a thousand years. The friendship that began during the Song dynasty flourished under the Ming, as a relationship built on trade was strengthened by blood — as Chinese families made the Straits of Malacca their home. From Zheng He and the Peranakans to Sun Yat Sen in Penang, our nations’ stories share the same cast.

It should not have been a surprise, therefore, that Malaysia was the first Southeast Asian country to establish relations with China. Yet, some allies advised my father, prime minister Tun Abdul Razak, against the decision.

Alone among the members of ASEAN, he held firm, and extended a hand of friendship to the People’s Republic of China. As a university student in 1974, I asked my father why did you make that journey and establish diplomatic relations? He replied, and I quote, ‘because Chou En-lai is a man I can trust’. At a time of upheaval and uncertainty, Malaysia and China laid the foundations of trust for a relationship which has advanced and flourished.

Over the past four decades, as our nations have developed, we have grown closer together. China is Malaysia’s largest trading partner, and Malaysia is China’s largest trading partner in Asean. We formed a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership for prosperity and growth. And, last year, we signed a Five-Year Development Programme for Economic and Trade Cooperation.

najib_razak_xi_jinpingAs our economies grow, so, too, do the bonds between our people. Thousands of our students have made the journey to learn in a different culture, my own son included. The ties of family and language which were forged in the 15th century grow deeper with time. There is perhaps no better symbol of our friendship than the recent arrival from China of two giant pandas, which have become an instant hit with the Malaysian people.

Like all friendships, ours is sometimes tested. Malaysia was deeply saddened by the tragic disappearance of flight MH370, with 50 Malaysian passengers and crew, and 154 Chinese passengers on board. Facing a mystery without precedent, we were grateful for the support of the Chinese government, which has spared no expense in the search effort. We will not rest until the plane is found.

I believe that, with time, we will grow even closer together. Good relations are easy when times are good; but true friendship is forged in difficulty. In his speech four decades ago, my father stressed that ‘this goodwill that exists between us must be carefully nurtured’.

It is in this spirit that I come here to China. And, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the government of the People’s Republic of China for the hospitality and warmth extended to us on this visit, and particularly, to Premier Li Keqiang for attending today.

The joint communiqué we have signed further broadens and deepens cooperation in all areas of mutual benefit — economic, tourism, financial services, political, cultural and military.

We have agreed to increase our level of trade and investment, enhance people-to-people relations and to preserve peace and stability in the region.

Today, we renew the bonds of friendship that were established four decades ago. And, as Asia assumes a greater role in the world, we look forward to greater cooperation in the service of common goals.

In years to come, we will remain partners for prosperity; connected by history and firm in our commitment to peace. The ties that bind us will bring stability for our region and opportunity for our citizens.

For as the Chinese proverb says: ‘If people are of one heart, even the yellow earth can become gold’.”


On Hudud: Honour Our Constitution (Article 4)

May 31, 2014

On Hudud: Honour  Our Constitution (Article 4)

Dato’ Noor Farida Ariffin
Kuala Lumpur


Dato Noor FaridaIn light of Muhammad’s strict injunction to Muslims to honour the treaties that they have entered into, let me urge UMNO members to search their conscience and state whether they would be prepared to abandon the fundamental provisions of the Federal Constitution in favour of PAS’ hudud law, in clear violation of the Constitutional Agreement and the teachings of Islam.–Dato’ Noor Farida

MUCH has been said on hudud and Pas’ latest attempt to foist hudud law on Muslims in Malaysia. PAS, as usual, is using moral and religious blackmail to convince gullible Muslims with a shallow understanding of Islam, including some in UMNO, that support of hudud is the sacred duty of believers.

When the Kelantan State Assembly passed the Hudud Bill on Nov 25, 1993, the Deputy Mentri Besar, in answer to the question whether people had accepted the state Government’s plan to implement the hudud laws, made the incredible announcement that the question did not arise as Muslims in the State who rejected the laws would be considered murtad (apostate)!

And all this while we Muslims have been taught to believe that only Allah has the prerogative to determine who is a believer and who is not! This is a blatant example of a political party distorting religion to suit its political agenda.

As a believing, practising Muslim, after studying the writings of respected Muslim scholars on this subject, I am of the view that Muslims should reject PAS’ hudud law without fearing that they are going against Islamic teachings.  Hashim Kamali, a professor of law at the International Islamic University, has published a detailed analysis of the PAS Hudud Bill from the perspective of the Quran, the Hadith (traditions of Muhammad) and the opinions of the Companions of the Prophet.

The professor has concluded that “the Hudud Bill of Kelantan has failed to be reflective either of the balanced outlook of the Quran or of the social conditions and realities of contemporary Malaysian society”.

A case in point, which has given rise to concerns among women’s groups, is that the PAS Hudud Bill is totally silent over the problem of rape. While the Bill addressed the subject of zina (illicit sex), it did not mention rape at all.

To prove zina, the rape victim must produce four male witnesses. If she fails to provide the necessary proof, then she herself would be liable to the punishment of qadhf (slanderous accusation of zina). Obviously, this will result in victims of rape being punished and perpetrators being let off scot-free!

Notwithstanding the fact that this clause in the Hudud Bill has been the focus of public criticism and debate, Pas has stubbornly refused to amend it.

What is even more alarming is the much-criticised provision that “circumstantial evidence, though relevant, shall not be a valid ­method of proving a hudud offence”. Therefore, material and scientific evidence, like semen stains, vaginal swabs, blood samples, scratch marks, genetic fingerprinting, DNA samples, etc, are not admissible methods of proof in zina. This will clearly result in injustice to rape victims.

The reason for this inexplicable rejection of scientific, medical evidence may be that they were not available during the time of the Prophet. Yet Prophet Muhammad himself urged Muslims to seek knowledge “even if they have to travel to China to acquire know­ledge”. Yet Pas rejects medical and scientific advances which human civilisation has achieved since the ninth century.

Many prominent Muslim scholars have opined that the application of hudud as an isolated case without providing the necessary context and environment is not only unrealistic but is more likely to produce the opposite results and frustrate, ­rather than satisfy the Islamic vision of justice and fair play.

In addition, they emphasise that the Hadith which is also a legal maxim, provides that hudud must be suspended in doubtful situations.

For those UMNO members who have allowed themselves to be duped by PAS’ threat of apostasy, let me remind them of the Treaty of Hudaibiya which was contracted between the Muslims of Medina led by Prophet Muhammad and the non-Muslims of Mecca.

The last clause of the treaty was not in favour of the Muslims. Even before the treaty was signed, the Muslims wanted to breach this clause. The Prophet forbade them to do so because to him it was important to honour the terms of the treaty which they had agreed to, even though the treaty, as in this case, had a negative impact on the Muslims. This illustrates the importance the Prophet placed on ­honouring one’s word and, in particular, the terms of a treaty to which a Muslim is a party.

The Federal Constitution was agreed to by the Conference of Rulers, the Government of the Federation of Malaya comprising UMNO, the MCA and the MIC, and the British Government in 1957.

Article 4 of the Constitution provides that the Constitution is the supreme law of the Federation and any law passed after Merdeka Day which is inconsistent with the Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.

Therefore, should UMNO and PAS attempt to amend the Constitution to change its secular character to make way for the implementation of hudud, it will be in clear violation of the agreement reached between the members of the Alliance party.

In light of Muhammad’s strict injunction to Muslims to honour the treaties that they have entered into, let me urge UMNO members to search their conscience and state whether they would be prepared to abandon the fundamental provisions of the Federal Constitution in favour of PAS’ hudud law, in clear violation of the Constitutional Agreement and the teachings of Islam.

The Muslim World’s Challenges (Part 2)

May 29, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Muslim World’s Challenges–Part 1

May 28, 2014

The Muslim World’s Challenges

By Dr Farhan Ahmad Nizami

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tomorrow: Part II

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

The Malay Phobia as typified by ISMA

May 17, 2013

The Malay Phobia as typified by ISMA

By Iskandar Fareez@www.themalaysianinsider.com

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

The Silent One

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

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

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

Instilling Fear

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

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

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

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

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

Mixing Religion with Race

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

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

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

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

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

Embracing Knowledge

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

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


An Open Letter to Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad (and those in the Hudud Technical Committee)

May 14, 2014

Open Letter to Dr. Zulkefly Ahmad et.al on Hudud Technical Committee

Zaidby Dato Zaid Ibrahim


Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad is a member of the PAS Central Working Committee. He is an articulate and pleasant man whom PAS uses regularly to show that it is a moderate party.

He wrote an open letter a few days ago addressed to all Malaysians. This letter, which was carried on The Malaysian Insider, addressed the topic of why PAS has not fundamentally changed despite developments related to its Hudud Plan.

PAS conceived the Hudud Plan to overcome restrictions to the implementation of the Kelantan Syariah Criminal Code (II) Enactment 1993 by removing limitations imposed by Federal law—namely, the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965—which limit sentences that Shariah courts can legally impose on offences within its jurisdiction. The idea is that, with the removal of the limitations, PAS will be free to implement hudud, even including the amputation of limbs.

Dr Dzulkefly has taken pains to reassure Malaysians that PAS has not changed fromdr-dzul what he described as a political party full of ideals. He says that the party is still committed to the Islamic ideal of a “Benevolent State” and that PAS is a party for all Malaysians and is committed to justice for all, despite its attempt to implement the Hudud Plan.

The reason he has had to pen such a letter is because he realises that PAS has suffered a great deal in pushing for the Hudud Plan, and by withdrawing the Plan he thinks Malaysians will forgive his party.

Dr Dzulkefly is someone I know reasonably well because we used to be in forums together in the days when I was active in politics. I remember him telling an audience in Melbourne that he was convinced PAS was a reformist party and that he—not some extremist group within the party—presented the face of the “real” PAS. Of course I knew that this was untrue. He was not the face of the real PAS and I did not contradict him then, but I will do so now.

The real PAS wants an Islamic theocracy. It wants to implement Islamic laws and hudud. Indeed, the real PAS has not changed that aspiration since its inception. Dr Dzulkefly and others like him are the veneer of a “moderate” PAS but they are the minority in the party. They do not represent the real PAS.

Dr Dzulkefly and others like him are useful to the party when it comes to attracting urban voters with Islamic aspirations, but when PAS passed a unanimous resolution to implement hudud at its most recent Congress, where was Dr Dzulkefly and the other moderates?

Dr Dzulkefly clutches at straws to defend the introduction of the Hudud Bill. He makes reference to the party’s obligation to fulfil its “mandate” to the people of Kelantan. But there was no such mandate given to PAS. PAS did not explicitly make the introduction of hudud a principal platform in its manifesto for the last General Election.

So far, PAS has used hudud only as a way to differentiate its position from UMNO, to revitalise the party from time to time, and as an outlet for conservative elements to assert themselves. Please do not drag the people of Kelantan into this political game.

Dr Dzulkefly confesses that, because the full force of Islamic punishment like hudud cannot be imposed by the Shariah Court due to Federal legal limitations, he feels deprived. He suggests that Muslims are prevented from practising their faith simply because some aspects of hudud punishment can’t be carried out.

But if what he says is true, then hundreds of millions of Muslims all over the world must all feel similarly deprived because they too are practising their faith without hudud.

I’d have thought that a universal PAS man like Dr Dzulkefly would be gutted to impose Islamic laws in the country when there were also many others (Muslims and non-Muslims) in the country who were satisfied with the man-made laws promulgated during Merdeka and the formation of Malaysia.

Shouldn’t the universal man in him feel he should honour the Merdeka pact with other Malaysians, instead of just worrying about how his faith is somehow impaired without hudud?

Instead, Dr Dzulkefly says that hudud is a legitimate aspiration of PAS and its followers as part of the larger commitment to the Shariah. I have no issue with anyone having aspirations of any kind. However, the one thing that we must have in promoting our aspirations to the people is honesty in the idea itself.

If PAS is sincere in all aspects of implementing Islamic law and hudud, it should have had its Technical Committee formed 20 years ago when it first passed hudud into law. Despite its zeal, it should have thought about the effects and ramifications of hudud on the people before passing the law, instead of worrying about it now.

Does it make sense to the people of this country that PAS wanted to implement hudud in 1993 and passed a law to that effect—but then decided to form Technical Committee with UMNO to study its implementation only in 2014?

If PAS is sincere, it will tell Malaysians that the implementation of Islamic law will require fundamental Constitutional changes and a complete tearing down of our existing basic law—democracy, our freedoms and way of life as guaranteed by the Constitution will no longer be part of the system.

Dr Dzulkefly must tell us what the implications are for non-Muslims living in this Islamic state, and for Muslims too. PAS has to tell us the number of “moral enforcers” (the new Police Force) that will patrol and monitor our lives in every corner, waiting to arrest us for any possible offence (which will be many, since it will be a society free of all sin).

PAS will have to tell the people of this country that there will be a new legal system and that the civil courts (if they still exist) will be subservient to Islamic law. It must tell Malaysians that the Penal Code will be replaced with a new Islamic Code. It must tell Malaysians that even the judges, and the way we appoint them, will be different.

All judges must be Muslim. In other words, Malaysia will go back in time; from the 21st century to the 7th. We must tell the people the whole truth. It’s not being truthful if we hide the vision of this new country from the people by only using pretty phrases and slogans of justice.

I expect honesty from our leaders in whatever ideas they have. They must not hide their true plans for gaining power just by using sweet slogans. If Malaysians need a new system to replace the current one, whether legal or economic, they must be told in detail what the new system will be.

Do not couch things in vague concepts to sell political products. What is the Islamic concept of the Benevolent State in practical terms? If Islam is for all, as is always trumpeted, then why is hudud to be implemented only in Kelantan and only for Kelantanese Muslims?

Why is there a need for political calculations? Suddenly we have experts saying that even the Rulers are subject to hudud but the 1993 law did not say so. The people must know the details; and if, for whatever reason that I might not comprehend, they want to change and follow PAS in all these reforms, by all means go ahead.

Malay leaders are seldom forthright and candid in their views when dealing with the people. UMNO uses race and religion to put fear in the Malays, and in doing so it divides and polarises the country. PAS is no different, except it uses religion.

PAS sells concepts like the Islamic State, “Islam for All” and so forth, under the banner of Islamic justice and yet it conveniently excludes non-Muslims when it discusses the impact of such measures. The party touts ideas like the Benevolent State without even telling us in detail what it means in terms of governance.

Can PAS show how “Islamic governance” or “Islamic economics” (or Islamic law for that matter) in Kelantan is materially different from what was practised in the BN states for the past 23 years? How is the “Islamic version” a source of inspiration? I doubt if PAS has anything to show for this other than slogans and dress codes.

I take this opportunity to appeal to all Malaysians with this open letter. We live peacefully today because of the present system. Our economic development has been unimpeded because we have had the same system since 1957.

Our democracy, although flawed, and the principle of separation between religion and the affairs of state (a principle now under severe attack) forms the Constitutional and legal basis of our country. This must be protected at all costs.

The alternative, no matter how sweet the sound and how noble the principle, seems to be a stone’s throw from despotism and authoritarian rule.

The issue is not just a question of implementing a new criminal law. It involves the much wider question of whether we want to replace the current system, under which Muslims and non-Muslims agree by consensus to the laws that govern us all, with a new system where only Muslims decide the laws of this country.

That’s the real issue.