Thinking Malaysian Muslims Needed, says Dr. A.Farouk Musa


October 26, 2014

Thinking Malaysian Muslims Needed, says IRF’s Dr. A. Farouk Musa

by Elizabeth Zachariah@www.themalaysianinsider.com

Seen as one of the brighter prospects in the Muslim world, Malaysia is now at the crossroads of either being a progressive Islamic country or regressing into a world where clerics rule without any question.

An unprecedented “touch-a-dog” day over the weekend seemed to have touched off more than a bark in a country of 30 million where three out of five are Muslims. Liberal and progressive Muslims voices are being drowned out even as Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak talks about moderation.

dr-ahmad-farouk-and-din-mericanOne such voice is the founder of the Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF) group, Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa, who was never perturbed with the criticism thrown at him nor the numerous police reports lodged against him.

But when he began receiving threatening emails from unknown people, the vocal activist considered throwing in the towel once and for all – mostly out of concern for his family – whom he guards closely, never discussing them with journalists.

His “sin” was his struggle to see a progressive Islam in Malaysia, but this did not go down well with certain quarters.

“They were trying to intimidate me, to stop me from expressing my views.This wasAzmi Sharom after I spoke at two forums on the hudud issue earlier this year. I began thinking it was not worth it as I was afraid for my family,” he told The Malaysian Insider. However, after confiding his fears in a friend – Law Professor Dr Azmi Sharom, who was recently charged with sedition– Dr Farouk changed his mind.

“He (Azmi) told me not to give up, to fight on. He said I was their voice and that I could not give up.”

Banning other voices

Months later, the academic cardiothoracic surgeon found himself at the receiving end of more brickbats and flak after inviting Indonesian Muslim scholar Dr Ulil Abshar Abdalla for a roundtable discussion in Kuala Lumpur.

Ulil-Abshar-AbdhalaUlil, well known for his liberal views, was barred from entering Malaysia after the Immigration Department put him on its blacklist, with the Home Minister claiming that the former would “mislead Muslims in the country if he is allowed to spread his brand of liberalism here”.

The Malaysian Islamic Development Department (JAKIM) also said forum should be stopped as it would contravene the teachings of the Shafie school of Islam and “threaten the faith of Muslims in Malaysia”.

Critics, including Dr Farouk, slammed Putrajaya over Ulil’s ban, saying the government was showing its “fundamentalist” stripes and insulting the intelligence of Malaysian Muslims.

However, last week, Ulil appeared to defy the ban on his teachings after he addressed an audience of about 100 people in Kuala Lumpur at the 3rd International Conference on Human Rights and Peace and Conflict in Southeast Asia, via Skype.

“That was a slap in the government’s face. In this age of technology, it is impossible for you to prevent ideas from being disseminated,” Dr Farouk said, adding that the idea of using Skype came from his friend, Azmi.

“Although I expected some resistance from the government over the forum, I did not expect that it would be to the extent of banning Ulil from entering Malaysia.”

This, the 51-year-old said, was Putrajaya’s way of stamping out the spread of progressive ideas on Islam to control the people, especially Muslims.

“They ban certain books written in Malay that were translated from English. Only the Malay books are banned. Why? Banning them from reading such literature which promotes progressive ideas is because they want to control how people should think.

“Nowadays when you listen or read the Friday sermons by JAKIM (Department of Islamic Development Malaysia), it seems as if they are trying to vilify certain terminologies, such as liberalism, democracy and secularism. According to them, these are dirty words and if a Muslim speaks about it, they are bad.

“If liberal means you are fighting against injustice, inequality, then I am a liberal,” he said, quoting a Tunisian activist.

“It is not to detach yourself from religion or religious values but to ensure that you will fight for the oppressed, the minorities and justice.”

Islamic Renaissance

It is with this determination that Dr Farouk, who is currently attached with Monash University, decided to set up the IRF in 2007 while working in Australia but only officially launched it two years later when he returned to the country after his stint Down Under.

Ten months after launching the IRF, Dr Farouk was struck with meningitis and was hospitalised for six months, spending two months in a coma. “And that is why I am now in a wheelchair. After that, it took me a while to get back to my work in IRF,” he added.

Dr Farouk had earlier moved to Kuala Lumpur in 2002 from Kota Baru and began working at the National Heart Institute (IJN) which was when he and some friends co-founded the Muslim Professionals Forum (MPF).

“I used to be a lecturer in Universiti Sains Malaysia in Kota Baru, Kelantan. My friends were telling me that my place was in KL, where I can actually share my ideas and thoughts, which, they said, were far ahead.

“And in Kelantan, if you are an ustaz, anything you say will be considered the Biblical truth. But if you are not, people are more sceptical of the ideas you promote.”

He left the MPF three years later after the issue of Lina Joy, the woman who had converted to Christianity from Islam, had cropped up and left him and his friends in odds over the matter.

“It seemed that they (his friends) predominantly decided to go against Lina for leaving the faith and I was against the idea, as I believed that there must be freedom of conscience. As the Quran says, ‘there shall be no coercion on religion’, meaning that you cannot force other people to embrace your faith as much as you cannot prevent a believer from leaving his faith.”

Critical thinking required

Asad The Message of the QuranThe idea of IRF, he said, was to rejuvenate the spirit and understanding of Islam, which was based on “The Message of the Quran” by Muhammad Asad, an Austrian Jew who converted to Islam in 1926.

“To me, this commentary is the most important work in the modern Islamic world. Asad MHe (Asad) was influenced by Muhammad Abduh (an Egyptian reformer and key founding figure of Islamic Modernism). Their thinking was so modern and that is what we need now in Malaysia.” He said that the country was in dire need of critical thinking, noting that the dogmatic way of thinking here has led to Malaysia lagging behind other societies in the world.

“If you look at our tagline, it reads ‘for people who think’. So thinking is the most important part that we are trying to promote. And this is what is lacking in Malaysian society. What we need now also is to ensure that there is justice, good governance, economic equality, transparency and accountability. These are the values we should strive for, not the ideal of Islamism where we set up an Islamic state for the state to impose upon its citizens.” – October 21, 2014.

Day of Final Reckoning has come for Anwar Ibrahim


October 26, 2014

Day of Final Reckoning has come for Anwar Ibrahim

by Jocelyn Tan@www.thestar.com.my

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is approaching another critical moment in his career as the apex court readies to hear his sodomy case appeal. But there is a different mood in his party this time around.

DSAI2IT had been raining cats and dogs since dusk and, for a while, it seemed like the first leg of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s roadshow would be washed out. But the rain tapered off after 9pm and then it was showtime. It was only natural that Anwar picked Permatang Pauh to begin his ceramah series as he approaches judgment day for the sodomy trial.

This once sleepy enclave in Seberang Prai was where it all began for him and the people of Permatang Pauh have stood by him through all his ups and downs.But the last few months have not been an up period for Anwar. His reputation is at its lowest ebb in years, ruined by the Kajang Move fiasco. A strategy his advisers thought would propel him forward had instead sent him crashing down.

This Prime Minister aspirant had once walked on water but his aura has been dented and the signs were all there that night – a rather passive atmosphere and a crowd of barely 1,500 despite the presence of some big guns.

Rakyat Hakim Negara CampaignIt was a muted start to his “Rakyat Hakim Negara” campaign, a clarion call to the people to be the judge in this final stage of his sodomy trial. It is his way of subjecting the trial to the court of public opinion rather than the court of law.Blame it on the rain but it is undeniable that there has been some sort of shift in voter sentiment about politics and issues.

Anwar is a political virtuoso and he can smell it in the air. But the thing about Anwar is his ability to control his emotions. He is still an incomparable orator, the soaring rhetoric is still there, and he came down from the stage and spoke standing on the steps so as to bridge the gap with his audience.

Even his attempt to remind them of the black eye incident was presented as a joke: “I don’t want to be shocked again… suddenly ba-da-boom… a black eye.” It was only towards the final part that he assumed a more serious note, saying that he is mentally prepared for the worst on October 28 and 29, when the Federal Court will hear and decide on his final appeal against the sodomy charges.

One year ago, at the height of his popularity, he would have urged the crowd to come out to protest and they would have done so. But he can sense the change and, this time, he asked for their prayers.

A news portal described the Permatang Pauh ceramah as Anwar’s “farewell speech”. There is a sense of doom and gloom about the coming week. Many in PKR are thinking the worst case scenario – they think Anwar will be found guilty rather than innocent. They have always maintained that this is a political trial aimed at stopping the party and to deprive Pakatan Rakyat of a prime minister candidate.

Kit SiangThe stakes, said a Penang lawyer, are very high this time. If Anwar is found guilty, his political life will end there and then.“There is no one with his skills to hold the three political animals (PKR, DAP and PAS) in one cage. Whether you like him or not, there is only one Anwar. No one can replace him,” said the lawyer.If Anwar is not there, PAS and DAP will separate like oil and water.

PKR leaders are working to organise a protest rally at the Palace of Justice where the federal judges will preside.The new Youth chief, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, is under pressure to pull off a big rally but he is said to be struggling because the party is quite badly divided after the PKR election earlier this year. For instance, when Nik Nazmi called a press conference to announce the arrangements for the rally, only two Youth leaders turned up alongside him.

The internal split was further aggravated when 90% of the appointed party posts Rafiziwere given to those aligned to Kajang Move architect Rafizi Ramli. The onus is now on Nik Nazmi and Rafizi, who is the new Secretary-General, to get a mammoth crowd to show everyone that Anwar is still loved and needed.  This is their first major assignment and all eyes are going to be on whether they can bring the party out on the big day.

Lack of support

But supporters of former Selangor Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim will not be turning out in big numbers. They are still bitter about the way their man was pushed off the stage.

Neither will all of Azmin Ali’s supporters come out in full force. They are still fed-up at the way the group around Istana Segambut, the term for the powerful Anwar family, tried to undermine Azmin during the party polls and how they had tried to block his ascent to the Selangor Menteri Besar post.

But Khalid’s former special officer Khairul Anuar Ahmad Zainudin will be there. “People are still nursing their wounds. It is not easy to forget the election – flying chairs, people punching each other. It has affected the mood. But I’m going because Anwar is still the best person to fight Barisan Nasional,” said Khairul who is also the PJU division chief.

A former Youth branch chief who was less enthusiastic said: “I will go if I wake up early.” It is little wonder that Anwar had wanted his wife to be Selangor Menteri Besar. If that had happened, the Selangor administration would likely have been involved in one way or another in focusing on the Anwar cause.

Azmin AliAzmin has indicated that he will be there to show his support. The new Menteri Besar said he had never missed important court dates for Anwar and he does not intend to make an exception now.But a lot of the passion, the fire and even the anger have been replaced by political fatigue.

The centre of gravity in PKR has started to shift to Azmin. Many in the party can see that he has what it takes for the complex job of Menteri Besar.The transition from Khalid to Azmin has been smoother than many had dared hope for. Azmin has shown leadership and ability, and that has helped the coalition pull back from the brink of the political crisis.

Many people, especially the intelligentsia, feel let down by Anwar. The Kajang Move was a tipping point for the thinking class. They had put so much hope on him but he fluffed it. First, he made a sitting assemblyman resign so that he could contest a by-election. Then he put his wife as the candidate. Next, he pushed down a sitting Mentri Besar and tried to put his wife as the next Mentri Besar.

“People have been able to relook and rethink their views about the party and the man. They had to take a hard look at whether they have looked up to the wrong man to be the next PM,” said the above lawyer.

But there is still a lot of sympathy for him and his family.“It is not that people wish him ill but I don’t see them pouring into the streets again,” said Rita Sim of the CENSE think-tank.

Support AnwarThe big numbers at Pakatan rallies have often come from PAS supporters and that has thinned off (?). The Arab Spring inspired many Muslims but the outcome has left a bad taste in their mouth. The Egypt protests brought down an unpopular dictator but it resulted in unrest and instability and the void has been filled by another strongman. Likewise, the Hong Kong protests have drawn mixed reaction from Chinese Malaysians.

The reality is that the average Malaysian is currently more concerned about rice-bowl issues than politics.A great deal of Anwar’s clout back when he was hit with the second sodomy charges was the way the leading ulama in PAS rallied to his cause. They defended him at ceramah, at Friday lectures and in their conversations with friends and family.

The ulama support carried tremendous moral weight for the average Malay. But the Hadi3ulama from PAS seem to have disappeared. They are more concerned about implementing hudud in Kelantan and commenting on issues like petting dogs and beer guzzling.

Life, as they like to say, has its cycles. At the start of the sodomy issue in 2008, the most vilified man was Anwar’s accuser, the sweet-faced Mohd Saiful Bukhari Azlan. Today, six years later, Saiful has grown up. He got married last year and in July, he became the father of a cute baby boy.

He is now a handsome 30-year-old, the dimpled smile is still there and he looks like a natural father from the way he holds and carries his infant son. There is also the romantic in him going by his Facebook posting of him and his wife, Sue Megat Deraman, holding hands over a candlelight dinner on their wedding anniversary.

Saiful has kept a low profile through the years. He looks contented and happy although he is probably as nervous and anxious about the impending court verdict as the man he accused of sodomising him.Saiful’s life today is poles apart from that of his former boss Anwar.But their lives will be impacted again whichever way the court decides next week.

A Difficult Question for PM Najib: To Convict Anwar Ibrahim or Not ?


October 25, 2014

A Difficult Question for PM Najib: To Convict Anwar Ibrahim or Not ?

by Kim Quek@www.malaysiakini.com

http://www.malaysiakini.com/news/278560

Support AnwarMassive Support for Anwar: A Factor?

Few would doubt that the outcome of the final appeal of Anwar Ibrahim on October 28 and 29 against his sodomy conviction will be decided by politics, not by law. More specifically, the court’s verdict will likely be determined by UMNO’s political considerations on the impact of such final judgment.

Two main factors will decide Anwar’s fate. The first is UMNO’s answer to this question: Will the jailing of Anwar be a net gain for UMNO’s political survival? The second is the outcome of the competitive influence on the Judiciary between Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and the conservative faction led by former Premier Mahathir Mohamad.

Imprisoning Anwar will save UMNO?

Will UMNO be safe after Anwar is put away to prison? It is the popular believe that once Anwar is jailed, the alliance of Pakatan Rakyat will disintegrate. Many in UMNO think that without the cementing factor of Anwar, DAP and PAS will part company due to their ideological differences over mainly religious issues. Such common notion is strengthened by the errant conduct of PAS in the recent Selangor crisis.

However, a closer look into that event will reveal that the trouble created by PAS was mainly caused by PAS President Hadi Awang and the conservative ulama, who seemed bent on going loggerheads with  PKR and DAP in the choice of MB for Selangor, despite being opposed by the party’s progressive and pro-Pakatan faction.

Though Hadi had managed to overrule the progressives in that episode, the latter were clearly in the majority in the central committee which is the party’s highest body for political decision making and implementation.

It is plain to all that Hadi’s (left)) extremist and reactionary stance on religion and politics, which has alienated both PKR and DAP and rejected by all non-Muslims and the moderate Muslims, is sheer political suicide for his party.  Unless Hadi changes his stance or is removed from power, PAS will be heading for obliteration in coming elections.

For this reason, I think even the conservatives will realise this unpalatable reality, given time and persuasion to chew over the fatal consequences of so decisively alienating such large and important sectors of the electorate; and the progressives who fervently believe and support the common cause of good governance and social justice of Pakatan Rakyat will surely prevail in the current power tussle and gain clear power by the next party election the latest.

When that happens, PAS will emerge stronger, so will Pakatan Rakyat, considering the excellent rapport existing between PAS’s progressive leaders and their counterparts in PKR and DAP.

The torch of Reformasi will be passed on

pakatan300Can PR hang together?

Anwar’s departure to prison will not leave a vacuum, as the Reformasi ideals are already firmly implanted into the leadership of all the component parties of Pakatan Rakyat. Neither would Anwar’s PKR party suffer a leadership deficit, as its youthful leaders are already groomed to carry on the torch of reforms without Anwar’s physical presence.

If there is any difference, Anwar in prison will only inspire and strengthen their political conviction that, come what come may, they must save the country from the seemingly unending crutches of an evil regime.

To those UMNO hardliners gleefully looking forward to what they think is the political annihilation of Anwar, I advise them to take a trip down memory lane. The last time Anwar was jailed on such sodomy charge in 1998, it caused such a torrential backlash that UMNO, for the only time in history, lost the support of the majority of Malays.  And Barisan Nasional (BN) would have been defeated in that 1999 elections, if not for the massive and unprecedented swing of Chinese support to BN.

That swing was a result of BN’s campaign of deception through a blitzkrieg on street violence against Chinese in Jakarta in the aftermath of the toppling of dictator Suharto, Mahathir’s constant warning of a May 13 style racial riot and the concocted imminence of an Islamic state under PAS.

Fifteen years on, the political scenario has much changed.  The sound and fury of the Malay masses that greeted the previous sodomy trial of Anwar is no more found in the current trial.  But, equally if not more important, is the virtual permanent alienation of Chinese electoral support for BN.

Taking the 2013 election as benchmark, where Pakatan’s 52 percent share of the popular votes is estimated to comprise 40 percent of Malays and 75-80 percent Chinese, and there were dozens of seats lost to BN on thin margins, BN can ill afford to lose even a small swath of Malay votes, keeping in mind that the massive swing of Chinese support to Pakatan in the last two general elections in 2013 and 2008 is virtually irreversible.

Is UMNO so sure that the second-time jailing of Anwar on sodomy will not incur a backlash among Malays, though understandably less sweeping than the previous occasion? The rapid advance of the social media has made our people much better informed now. If UMNO couldn’t hide the injustice against Anwar fifteen years ago, it is even less able to do the same this time.

Take it that the majority know what is going on, and it is certainly not to the credit of Najib’s leadership and government to so savagely maul Anwar yet again, with a trial which is manifestly void of merits in fact and in law. Keeping silent does not mean ignorance or approval. Beneath the calm on the surface, hazardous undercurrents could be running that may cause fatal consequences to the perpetrators of such injustice.  UMNO is hence advised to look before it leaps.

Mahathir vs Najib

Mahathir-Vs-NajibThe Games They Play

The other main factor that may impact the court verdict is the current power tussle between Najib and Mahathir. For Mahathir, it is a relatively simple decision.  Eliminate what is to him UMNO’s enemy No1 would safeguard UMNO’s hegemony, as well as dodging the day of reckoning for him personally if Anwar were to become the prime minister.

Besides, with Anwar removed from the scene, Mahathir would feel free to unleash his fury to unseat Najib without the worry of the dreaded Anwar to take advantage of UMNO’s open rift. However, Najib may have quite a different view.  Knowing that Mahathir sees Anwar as his most-feared enemy, the continued presence of Anwar in the political arena may serve as a counterweight to Mahathir’s reactionary influence to restrain him from all-out attacks against Najib’s premiership.

Another important consideration for Najib is his concern for his international image. For years, he has been painstakingly cultivating his image as a moderate leader in the international stage (at great costs to the public of course) and even launched his pet Global Movement of Moderates to buttress such credentials.

Now, what will the world make of Najib, if an internationally respected leader like Anwar is sent to prison in a notorious trial that has already been universally condemned as a great travesty of justice, transgression of human rights and democracy?  Where would Najib and his wife Rosmah (more so the latter) hide their faces at distinguished international gatherings during their frequent overseas trips?

Hence, it is not entirely impossible that Najib would prefer to see Anwar freed, or perhaps, as a compromise to UMNO’s hardliners, penalised with a fine that would bar him from election or appointment to party post for many years to come.

To sum up, Anwar’s fate at his final appeal hinges on the outcome of cross currents of UMNO’s party interests and conflicting personal interests of feuding leaders.

Will the Federal Court rule according to law?

The Federal Court--PutrajayaThe Federal Court-Putrajaya

Perhaps at this point, questions may be asked about our judges, whether they may exercise their judicial judgment strictly according to law and constitution, free of political influences. This is unlikely to happen, as the record of recent years has shown that the Federal Court has ruled in favour of the powers that be in every case where vital interest of  the latter is at stake, irrespective of whether the judgment is in conformity with the constitution and law. Such pattern of judgment was most glaringly demonstrated in the series of Federal Court decisions where the constitution was thrown to the wind to ensure BN succeeded in it’s power grab in Perak.

Having said that, miracles do happen.  Who knows the majority of judges may at the end decide to allow their judicial conscience to overrule their personal political loyalty or political bidding of others.

Malaysia brings its Tradition of Multilateral Diplomacy to UNSC


October 25,2014

Malaysia brings its Tradition of Multilateral Diplomacy to UNSC

by Dr W.Scott Thompson@www.nst.com.my

MALAYSIA has made it again, amid fierce competition, for one of theRazali Ismail with Kofi Annan and Boutros Boutros Ghali at the UNGA non-permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Why all the fuss?

Everybody knows that the veto power held by the five permanent members, China, Britain, France, Russia, and the United States, or the victors of World War 2, is what, in the end, determines whether the UN can function.

Ziaton_IbrahimWell, think again. Although the war ended 69 years ago, and world power has been substantially redistributed in the meantime, the permanent members are still five of the 10 most vital players in world affairs. But the absence of Japan, Germany and India is glaring. India has lobbied for years for a seat, as has Japan.

But it’s typical of every organisation with a hierarchy for the top group to draw a line just below them and is seldom likely to wish to diffuse their privileged position.

When I was an Assistant Secretary in the US government, we always saw ourselves as the true decision-makers, and tried to keep Deputy Assistant Secretaries in their place. But smart deputies were needed often, and so, of course, we had to act accordingly to get things done. Exclusivity is often trumped by survival needs. Trade-offs are made.

Of course, in the first instance, holding one of the non-permanent (NPM) seats, sinceZainal_Abidin_Sulong they rotate basically by region, is prestigious. Bad state performance is not a plus in these campaigns. Turkey campaigned relentlessly for the European seat, but is seen as a little heartless in the current anti-Islamic State (IS) struggle. Though it is sheltering more refugees than any country, its underlying concern is all too evidently preventing Turkish Kurds from linking up with their brethren in Syria, Iraq, and Iran (the Kurds, being the largest ethnic group in the world without a state embracing a preponderance of their number).

Malaysia has the advantage that it is not antagonising anybody, but even more importantly, it has a high-quality diplomatic tradition that brings results. The first ever book written about Third World diplomacy is by an Australian, who traced the roots of Malaysian skills back through their willingness to learn from the British, but, more importantly, to the traditions of intra-state diplomacy going way back. Everything counts: Kuala Lumpur always sends a superb diplomat to Washington, to live in the mansion where Jackie Kennedy grew up. Living next door, I watched the constant flow of VIPs.

Tun Dr.Ismail at the UNTun Dr. Ismail Abdul Rahman at the UN

In fact, NPM members have often played key roles in world affairs. In the 1980s, when the issue of Cambodia was front and centre, the Thai permanent representative, Dr M.L. Birabhongse Kasemsri, turned out to be the central player in resolving the basic issues. His expertise in law of the sea, along with that of Tommy Koh of Singapore, was instrumental in getting the new rules drawn up in a way that protected the needs of Southeast Asian states. Had it been otherwise, China would be having a much easier time bullying in the sea that they claim to own, and consider a core foreign-policy interest.

I had a smart student, Dr Darmp Sukontasap, now a successful Thai businessman, who wrote his PhD on the Thai role at the UNSC. He makes a point, which I cite from his letter, with thanks.

Zakaria_Ali“In May 1985, during one of the heights of the bipolar world, Ambassador Birabhongse was the chairman of the Security Council, considering a very sensitive issue of Nicaragua’s complaint against act of aggression by the US. Ambassador Birabhongse handled his role very well, focusing on consultations in an inclusive manner. In the end, although the issue was not resolved to the satisfaction of either of the parties involved, the credibility of the Security Council and its president remained intact and the practice of inclusive consultations, continued.”

It’s also the case that a diplomatic event that doesn’t happen is sometimes more important than what does. In 1950, when North Korea invaded the South, the Soviet Union was so exasperated by American dominance at the UN (and its willingness to use its veto power more often than the rest combined, all to protect Israel) that it played hooky from the UNSC, and the General Assembly was able to vote a “resolution for peace” authorising a UN force to repel the North Koreans and their great communist allies. This was more than a veneer for the central role the US played; had a large number of other states not participated, the Americans would have lacked legitimacy. The UNSC did nothing.

By far, the most important accomplishment of NPMs is making the “rule of law” central to the UN agenda. As always, the big boys don’t want to be constrained by laws while the weak ones seek their protection. And it is no longer a bipolar world, and consequently, there is much more room for trade-offs among the five and the NPMs.

On a non-core issue for a permanent member, it might be flexible and court NPMsZain_Azraai with UN Secretary-General for the legitimacy of whatever issue it is advancing. Too many new NPMs need their full term just to familiarise themselves with the processes of the UNSC. Malaysia knows its way around the UN, and its envoys will, from the start, bring credit to Malaysia while advancing the rule of law.

Malaysia’s Growing Climate of Repression Gets Ignored


October 24, 2014

Malaysia’s Growing Climate of Repression gets Ignored

by Joshua Kurlantzick

http://blogs.cfr.org/asia/author/jkurlantzick/

malaysia lawyer protest march

Malaysian lawyers march during a protest calling for the repeal of the Sedition Act in Kuala Lumpur on October 16, 2014. The Sedition Act has been used to arrest at least 30 people since last March, local media reported (Olivia Harris/Courtesy: Reuters).

Amidst the gushing over the inauguration of new Indonesian President Joko Widodo, the first outsider, non-elite President in Indonesia’s democratic era, there is a significant void of international interest in neighboring Malaysia, where the climate for freedom of expression and assembly has deteriorated badly in the past year. Over the past year, the government of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, which in Najib’s first term had promised to improve the climate for civil liberties and abolish long-hated laws that allowed detention without trial, has shifted course. The government has pursued a sodomy case against opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim that, next week, almost surely will end with Anwar being sentenced to jail, though the case was a comedy of ridiculous “evidence” and coached witnesses. (To be clear—I don’t think sodomy should be a crime, but it is in Malaysia; even so, there was no verifiable evidence Anwar actually engaged in this “crime.”)

In addition, over the past year the Malaysian government has investigated and/or charged at least thirty people with sedition, under an archaic law it had promised to eliminate, according to the Malaysian Bar Council. Most of those investigated and charged have been journalists, opposition politicians, and prominent civil society activists. The situation has gotten so dangerous for Malaysian civil society that last week hundreds of Malaysian lawyers, who normally are relatively passive in the political arena, marched through the capital to protest the government’s use of sedition laws to stifle dissent.

Why has this crackdown occurred? Najib has had to satisfy hard-line voices within his ruling coalition, and to fend off increasingly public criticism from former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. To satisfy hard-liners and Mahathir supporters—often the same people within the ruling coalition—Najib apparently has acceded to this harder-line policy against civil society and opposition politicians, whether or not he actually supports the crackdown.

In many ways, Najib seems increasingly divorced from the business of governing at all, taking long overseas trips while the country stagnates economically, state carrier Malaysian Airlines faces severe trouble, and the political environment becomes increasingly partisan and dangerous.

Although the Obama administration made improving relations with Malaysia aanwar-ibrahim-recent policy priority, it has mostly ignored the deteriorating climate for human rights and democracy in the country. When President Obama visited Malaysia earlier this year, he declined to meet with opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim (right) and held a brief grip-and-grin with a few Malaysian civil society activists. Other than that, Obama spent most of his time praising the Najib government. The White House has released just a perfunctory statement about Anwar’s trial and likely sentencing next week.

Ignoring the crackdown in Malaysia will eventually have long-term repercussions for the United States. Young Malaysians overwhelmingly support Anwar’s opposition PKR coalition, which won the popular vote in national parliamentary elections in 2013 but did not take control of parliament due to fraud and massive gerrymandering. They also tend to voice support for the civil society activists and journalists who have recently been targeted by the government in Kuala Lumpur.

Many reform-minded young Malaysians have been mystified when the United States, which a decade ago had been so vocal about democracy in Southeast Asia, and which still has significant influence in the region, has said almost nothing about the regression from freedom in Malaysia. In previous eras, American rhetorical support for democracy, American pressure against authoritarian leaders, and American linkage of aid and investment to political change had played a critical role in fostering democratization in East Asia.

In the 1980s, concerted American pressure on the governments of the Philippines and South Korea—after years of American tolerance of Ferdinand Marcos and a series of South Korean dictators—was a major reason why democracy prevailed in Manila and Seoul. A decade after Marcos gave way to the original “People Power” movement, sustained foreign pressure on governments in Cambodia and Indonesia and Thailand, in addition to many other domestic factors within these countries, helped precipitate political reform in these nations. Unfortunately, that type of pressure is absent today.

Ulamaks and Malay-Muslim Politicians Vs The Thinking Malay


October 24, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ulamas and Malay-Muslim Politicians Vs The Thinking Malay

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

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

syed_azmi_alhabshi_organiser_dogs_191014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear of being irrelevant

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

ANJING

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

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

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

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

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

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