Civilisational clash ‘not of our doing’


September 29, 2014

Civilisational clash ‘not of our doing’

by Dr. Farish M. Noor@www.nst.com,my

farish-a-noorTHE ongoing bombardment of Syria — ostensibly to remove the threat of the Islamic State (IS) — has sparked off a bout of serious questioning about the propriety of the campaign, and whether such a strategy would actually work.

Interestingly, many of these questions are also being raised in the Western press, where opinion makers have argued that such a strategy may well end up entrenching IS further and angering ordinary civilians, who will also be the victims of such attacks, for it is well-known that “smart weapons” are seldom truly smart, and that civilian casualties are bound to be incurred.

But more worrying still is the talk of a “war against evil” and the need to fight against IS in the defence of “civilisation”, “law and order”, and “justice”.The somewhat simplistic dialectics of such arguments are embarrassingly clear, where the insurgents of IS are being labelled as uncivilised and barbaric, while those who attack them have summarily assumed the mantle of a higher moral authority.

Under such circumstances, is it any wonder if critical thinkers the world over have opined that what we are seeing today is a nasty prelude to a larger conflict that will be fought along the fault-lines of culture and civilisation?

Lest it be forgotten, we need to remember that IS does not represent the civilisation of Arab-Muslims in any way. In their deeds and words IS does not represent the same grand civilisation that was the product of thinkers like al-Ghazali, Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd and Ibn Khaldun.

As many contemporary Muslim leaders have argued, what we see in the ranks of IS is a travesty of Arab civilisation that was once the fountainhead of science and rational thinking.  But equally worrisome is the language and vocabulary of IS’s opponents, who have applied to them a pathology that is general, sweeping and reductionist.

To argue, as some Western leaders and policymakers have, that IS is the result of blind hate and anger, would be to reduce the frustrations and anxieties of millions of Arabs to bare emotions and reactionary action, without any attempt to understand and recognise the very real political-economic underpinnings of such collective anxiety.

It is dumfounding that hardly any of these leaders have noted the obvious fact that IS has emerged in a region that has been torn apart for three decades, since the Iran-Iraq war, that was also supported by external states and other actors.

It is equally perplexing to note that none of these leaders have acknowledged their own culpability in their policy of intervening in that region — in the name of “regime change” — and by doing so, weakened the states of the Arab world to the point where none of them can really rein in radical movements and splinter groups like IS. Do we seriously expect a moderate society to emerge from a region that has been reduced to a war zone for so long?

It is for this reason that the term “Clash of Civilisations” is so misleading, and dangerously so. As a glib slogan that reduces and over-simplifies the complexity of the problems of the Arab world, it is a convenient by-word that allows external actors and players to absolve themselves of their own responsibility for the mess they have created.

The term is dangerous in the manner that it reduces the phenomenon of violent radical resistance to the level of primordial irrational sentiments, and reinforces the racist stereotype of Arabs as inherently violent and pathologically fatalistic.

In dealing with the real problem of groups like IS, a degree of honest, objective analysis is required that would also unveil the hidden hands at work, the connections with external agendas and interests.

What we do not need at the moment is some convenient slogan that white-washes the facts about intervention, regime change/manipulation and their monstrous outcomes.

And, we need to remember that the idea of the “Clash of Civilisations” itself is a concept that was never invented by us, but rather imposed upon us and other communities — perhaps in an effort to deny our genuine political-economic needs and aspirations, and to discard serious critical thinking for simplistic oppositional dialectics instead.

Najib: Moderation the way to check extremism


September 28, 2014

Najib: Moderation the way to check extremism

by Mergawati Zulfakar in New York

http://www.thestar.com.my

Najib in New York 2014Najib talks Moderation at UN ( but remains silent on Extremism at Home)

NEW YORK: Malaysia pushed further its moderation agenda on the global stage amid growing concern over increasing violent extremism, religious intolerance and threats of a self-declared Islamic State.

US welcome Najib to NYC.

US welcome Najib to NYC.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said the moderation agenda should involve all religions to pursue the path to peace.“The fight against extremism is not about Christians versus Muslims or Muslims versus Jews but mode­rates versus extremists of all religions.We therefore need to rally a coalition of moderates, those willing to reclaim their religion and pursue the path to peace,” Najib said in his address at the 69th United Nations General Assembly here.

The Prime Minister in his 20-minute speech on Friday welcomed Pope Francis’ visit to Palestine and his efforts to bring moderate Pales­tinians and Israelis together to pray for peace.

Malaysia's PM Razak and wife Rosmah Mansor arrive at the Bali Nusa Dua Convention Center before the opening ceremony of the ASEAN Summit in Nusa Dua, Bali“By demonstrating moderation in the political process, we can ensure no one is left outside society.By practising moderation in religion, we can marginalise the extremists,” he told the gathering of world leaders and dignitaries. His wife Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor was also present.

Najib said Malaysia rejected the so-called IS, which is defined by extremism, and condemned the violence being committed in the name of Islam.Muslims, he said, were watching in despair as Islam, a religion of peace, had been used to justify atrocities.“We know the threat to world peace and security is not Islam but extremism: intolerant, violent and militant extremism.”

It was time, he said, for the world to respond differently as previous wars against terror attacked one evil only to see a greater evil emerge.

“First, security and statehood must be returned to the people of Syria and Iraq and secondly, we must pursue a different kind of politics.We must break the cycle where one group gains power only to wield it against the other. We should commit to more inclusive politics.”

Malaysia, Najib said, was ready to share its moderation approach, which he believed could make a valuable contribution to fragile states and international affairs alike.The Prime Minister said countries must confront extremist pro­paganda and defeat the message that seduced the young into acts of violence.

“This is the work of a generation. To begin, we should focus on the real world conditions that allow disillusion to grow.That means building sustainable economies that bring opportunity for our people and addressing legi­timate concerns that drive radicalisim The fight against extremists must be won not just in Syria and Iraq but in Britain, Belgium, the United States and Malaysia,” he said.

“We must confront the myth that committing atrocities in the name of an Islamic State is an act of faith and that death brings martyrdom.Now is the time to advance a vision of peace and moderation. Let us show that Muslims, united in faith, can be a powerful force for progress, knowledge and justice, as we were in the greatest periods of our history,” he added.

Related:

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=46114&Cr=general+debate&Cr1=#.VCd4ZBb1KQL

 

Indonesia: Joko Widodo’s Cabinet of Technocrats


September 22, 2014

Indonesia: Joko Widodo’s Cabinet of Technocrats

source: http://www.nst.com.my

INDONESIA’S future President Joko Widodo has finally announced the likely composition and structure of his up-coming cabinet, and few seasoned Indonesia-watchers are surprised by the revelations thus far.

Jokowi-2

In what appears to be a compromise of sorts, the future president has stated that the upcoming government will consist of 34 ministries and departments, and that 18 of the future cabinet ministers will come from technocratic-professional backgrounds, while 16 will be politicians from parties that are part of the winning coalition.

That most of the future ministers and department heads will come from a professional, perhaps even non-political background, tells us something about the future president’s commitment to making the changes that are deemed necessary as part of his grand “mental revolution” plan.

And that 16 of the cabinet ministers come from political parties — including his own PDI-P — tells us about the need to forge a working compromise between the major political players in the country.

That Jokowi has taken this pragmatic approach and has appointed so many technocrats to his government is not a novel thing: those whose memories go back to the Suharto era will recall that the 32-year rule under President Suharto also witnessed the rise of the technocratic elite in the country, and that was a time when key non-party-political entities, such as research centres and think tanks, began to boom.

This was the period of the so-called “Berkeley elite”, where foreign-educated technocrats were invited back to the country to helm key industries, such as petroleum and gas mining, Indonesia’s tentative steps into higher-end industrial manufacturing.

It was also a period when the New Order under Suharto was keen to de-politicise Indonesian society and minimise the social friction that may arise from inter-party feuds and politicking. The net result was the emergence of a new Western-educated technocratic-professional class, who later planted the seeds of the rising middle classes that we see today.

But Jokowi’s decision to include so many technocrats and professionals in his cabinet may also be linked to new societal factors that were not prevalent in the past. Earlier this year, in the lead-up to the elections, numerous public polls and surveys were conducted by polling agencies in the country. Among the more startling results of these polls were the revelations that most Indonesians place more faith in the private sector and the media rather than political parties.

Political trust has eroded among many sections of Indonesian society, and it was interesting to note that the surveys found that many ordinary Indonesians felt that party politics was morally bereft, that corruption was normal, and public faith in political rhetoric was at an all-time low.

Having campaigned all year-long to bring about a radical change in the mindset and working culture among ordinary Indonesians across the country, the changes we see now are in keeping with the broad outlines of the “mental revolution” that Jokowi has been talking about: removing the post of deputy minister for all ministries is part and parcel of his effort to trim down unnecessary politicking, lobbying and paperwork, and may also go some way towards speeding up the process of policy making and implementation. Also note the focus on key departments and ministries such as education, which will be broken up into two entities: the Lower and Secondary School Education Ministry, and the Higher Education and Research Ministry.

Jokowi comes to power at a turning point in Indonesia’s history, and when external variable factors, ranging from the American “pivot” in Asia, to China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, the growing trade links and diplomacy between China and India, and all point to the rising importance of Southeast Asia in world affairs.

Many Indonesian politicians and policymakers are aware of this, and wish to capitalise on Indonesia’s obvious geostrategic importance, though this can only happen if and when Indonesia gets its act together and resolves its own internal domestic challenges that are equally complex, and which range from its crippling energy and logistics needs to the fear of rising religio-political violence as a result of citizens getting themselves involved in the violence in Syria and Iraq.

How all these issues are to be tackled at the same time, and in time to ensure that Indonesia continues to maintain healthy growth for the next two decades, is going to be the single biggest challenge for Jokowi and his government over the next five years. And the technocrats and professionals who will be part of that transformation process know that Indonesia’s challenges can only be met with pragmatic and realistic solutions, and not empty, though sweet, political rhetoric and promises.

In the weeks to come, the names of the future ministers will probably be released and the public will have a better idea of what this coming government is going to look like. In the meantime, Jokowi also has to ensure that by fore grounding professionals and technocrats as he is likely to do, he does not alienate the powerful politicians and kingmakers who may not be comfortable if their respective parties are marginalised and not given enough clout in the management of state affairs. Altogether, an interesting episode of Indonesian history is about to begin, and the challenge begins now.

 

Whither Malaysia, asks Balan Moses


September 19, 2014

Whither Malaysia, asks Balan Moses

http://news.abnxcess.com/2014/09/wither-malaysia/

Balan-Moses-ENG NEW-1The 51st Malaysia Day came and went, and life as we know it in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak continued without much change. It has been pretty much the same for decades with little achieved by way of emotional attachment between the two parts of the country separated by nearly 1,000 miles of sea.

While a large number of East Malaysians work and study in the peninsular, the same may not be said about Orang Semenanjung working and studying in Sabah or Sarawak. I know of students from the peninsular studying at universities in Sabah and Sarawak but am not sure of their overall numbers. I also know of members of the uniformed forces from Sabah and Sarawak stationed here.

I made my first acquaintance with Sarawakians in the mid-70s at Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang where they proved to be a friendly but sometimes rambunctious lot, especially after a few drinks. They generally wore their emotions on their sleeves and what you saw was what you got.

Malaysia2After learning about them in geography at school and from stamps in the early and mid 60s, it was refreshing to meet some of them in person and know more about their culture and traditions.Malaysians in the Peninsular in general still don’t know much about their brethren in Sabah and Sarawak and vice versa with the same ignorance and prejudice that existed decades ago still prevalent on both sides.

The Semenanjung Malaysians still at large look at Sabahans and Sarawakians as distant cousins best kept at arm’s length, a sentiment probably stronger in the two states across the South China Sea with the traditional suspicion of “Orang Malaya” still very much alive and kicking.

The fear that Peninsular folk will change the East Malaysian way of life due to their numerical superiority, stronger finances and an arguably better knowledge of the twists and turns of life still persists. The safeguards for Sabah and Sarawak contained in the points of agreement between Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak is testimony to the 51 year old fact that that Sabahans and Sarawakians have always felt the need to be protected from us across the pond.

I would like to talk about the possible reasons for the formation of Malaysia in 1963 by leaders from Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore.I will not go into Singapore’s exit from Malaysia in 1965 as that is a topic to be elaborated upon in a future column.

First Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, probably foresaw the advantages that Malaya would accrueTunku Abdul Rahman from a merger of North Borneo, Sarawak, Brunei and Singapore with their relative strengths in terms of population and natural resources.

Sabah and Sarawak would have been on the radar of both Indonesia and Philippines prior to the formation of Malaysia as later events would prove true.Tunku, the great statesman and visionary that he was, would have seen the possibility of the larger neighbours eyeing the huge tracts of land in Borneo at some point and pre-empted them with his Malaysia proposal.

That it was taken up by the majority of Sabahans and Sarawakians was proof that their sympathies lay with Malaysia with their common British heritage and not with the Philippines with its Spanish legacy or Indonesia with its Dutch colonial background.

Why then is there limited assimilation among West and East Malaysians? Is this by accident or design? The very fact that Sabahans and Sarawakians asked for and received special privileges at the formation of Malaysia is probably proof that they wanted safeguards for the long term to preserve their way of life and practices.

Can we expect this to remain for the foreseeable future?Yes. This is a distinct possibility as East Malaysian politicians by and large agree that they want to rule their land through home-grown political parties although UMNO has anchored itself in Sabah. Sarawak is a different kettle of fish as the people of the Land of the Hornbill have always jealously guarded their relative independence by supporting indigenous political parties. The exception would be the DAP which has won several seats in the state largely through Chinese support.

So where does this leave Malaysia in its 51st year? Probably where it has been for some time now with the cracks in the political and cultural mosaic intact for years to come. The large number of East Malaysians in the peninsular, however, engenders greater assimilation with the Orang Malaya with more intermarriage bringing both parts of Malaysia closer.

I, for one, would like to speed up the process with greater interaction despite the daunting distance between us. How shall we take this off?

The People of Scotland vote to stay in the United Kingdom


September 19, 2014

Congratulations:The People of Scotland vote to stay in the United Kingdom

Prime Minister David Cameron said devolution promises will be met. Now it is the time for the United Kingdom to come together, he added. The Scotland referendum shows that given goodwill and enlightened leadership, all problems, small and large, can be resolved peacefully through negotiations.  Please listen to Prime Minister Cameron’s speech at 10 Downing Street following the decision of the brave and proud people of Scotland to stay in the Union under Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

May we in Malaysia learn from this experience and stop all talk of Sabah and Sarawak leaving Malaysia. Let us stay united and focused on building a truly United and Free Malaysia under DYMM Seri Paduka Baginda Yang Di-Pertuan Agong in accordance with our National Constitution.–Din Merican

i love malaysia

BOOK REVIEW: Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Political Order and Political Decay’


September 16, 2014

Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Political Order and Political Decay’

From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy(Vol.2)

In 1989, Francis Fukuyama published an essay in The National Interest entitled “The End of History?” that thrust him into the center of public debate. Although often misunderstood and maligned, its central argument was straightforward and sensible: With the collapse of Communism, liberal democracy stood alone as the only form of government compatible with socio­-economic modernity. Over the years since, Fukuyama has continued to argue the case, and has now summed up his efforts with a two-­volume magnum opus that chronicles global political development from prehistory to the present. A quarter-century on, he remains convinced that no other political system is viable in the long run, but concludes his survey with a sobering twist: Liberal democracy’s future is cloudy, but that is because of its own internal problems, not competition from any external opponent.

Francis-Fukuyama

Fukuyama (above)began the first volume, “The Origins of Political Order,” which appeared in 2011, by stating that the challenge for contemporary developing countries was how to “get to Denmark” — that is, how to build prosperous, well-governed, liberal democracies. This, in turn, required understanding what “Denmark” — liberal democracy — actually involved.

Drawing on the insights of his mentor Samuel Huntington, Fukuyama argued that political order was all about institutions, and that liberal democracy in particular rested on a delicate balance of three distinct features — political accountability; a strong, effective state; and the rule of law. Accountability required mechanisms for making leaders responsive to their publics, which meant regular free and fair multiparty elections. But elections alone were not enough: A true liberal democracy needed to have its institutions of accountability supplemented by a central government that could get things done and by rules and regulations that applied equally to ­everyone.

Fukuyama showed how throughout human history these three factors had often emerged independently or in various combinations. China, for example, developed a state long before any existed in Europe, yet did not acquire either the rule of law or political accountability. India and much of the Muslim world, by contrast, developed something like the rule of law early on, but not strong states (or, in much of the Muslim world, political accountability). It was only in parts of Europe in the late 18th century, Fukuyama noted, that all three aspects started to come together simultaneously.

“Political Order and Political Decay” picks up the story at this point, taking the reader on a whirlwind tour of modern development from the French Revolution to the present. Fukuyama is nothing if not ambitious. He wants to do more than just describe what liberal democracy is; he wants to discover how and why it develops (or does not). So in this volume, as in the previous one, he covers a vast amount of ground, summarizing an extraordinary amount of research and putting forward a welter of arguments on an astonishing range of topics. Inevitably, some of these arguments are more convincing than others. And few hard generalizations or magic formulas emerge, since Fukuyama is too knowledgeable to force history into a Procrustean bed.

Thus he suggests that military competition can push states to modernize, citing ancient China and, more recently, Japan and Prussia. But he also notes many cases where military competition had no positive effect on state building (19th-century Latin America) and many where it had a negative effect (Papua New Guinea, as well as other parts of Melanesia). And he suggests that the sequencing of political development is important, arguing that “those countries in which democracy preceded modern state building have had much greater problems achieving high-quality governance than those that inherited modern states from absolutist times.” But the cases he gives as examples do not necessarily fit the argument well (since Prussia’s state eventually had trouble deferring to civilian authorities and the early weakness of the Italian state was probably caused more by a lack of democracy than a surfeit of it). In addition, he surely understands that authoritarianism is even more likely to generate state weakness than democracy since without free media, an active civil society and regular elections, authoritarianism has more opportunities to make use of corruption, clientelism and predation than democracies do.

Perhaps Fukuyama’s most interesting section is his discussion of the United States, which is used to illustrate the interaction of democracy and state building. Up through the 19th century, he notes, the United States had a weak, corrupt and patrimonial state. From the end of the 19th to the middle of the 20th century, however, the American state was transformed into a strong and effective independent actor, first by the Progressives and then by the New Deal. This change was driven by “a social revolution brought about by industrialization, which mobilized a host of new political actors with no interest in the old clientelist system.” The American example shows that democracies can indeed build strong states, but that doing so, Fukuyama argues, requires a lot of effort over a long time by powerful players not tied to the older order.

Yet if the United States illustrates how democratic states can develop, it also illustrates how they can decline. Drawing on Huntington again, Fukuyama reminds us that “all political systems — past and present — are liable to decay,” as older institutional structures fail to evolve to meet the needs of a changing world. “The fact that a system once was a successful and stable liberal democracy does not mean that it will remain so in perpetuity,” and he warns that even the United States has no permanent immunity from institutional decline.

Over the past few decades, American political development has gone into reverse, Fukuyama says, as itsFukuyama From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy state has become weaker, less efficient and more corrupt. One cause is growing economic inequality and concentration of wealth, which has allowed elites to purchase immense political power and manipulate the system to further their own interests. Another cause is the permeability of American political institutions to interest groups, allowing an array of factions that “are collectively unrepresentative of the public as a whole” to exercise disproportionate influence on government. The result is a vicious cycle in which the American state deals poorly with major challenges, which reinforces the public’s distrust of the state, which leads to the state’s being starved of resources and authority, which leads to even poorer performance.

Where this cycle leads even the vastly knowledgeable Fukuyama can’t predict, but suffice to say it is nowhere good. And he fears that America’s problems may increasingly come to characterize other liberal democracies as well, including those of Europe, where “the growth of the European Union and the shift of policy making away from national capitals to Brussels” has made “the European system as a whole . . . resemble that of the United States to an increasing degree.”

Fukuyama’s readers are thus left with a depressing paradox. Liberal democracy remains the best system for dealing with the challenges of modernity, and there is little reason to believe that Chinese, Russian or Islamist alternatives can provide the diverse range of economic, social and political goods that all humans crave. But unless liberal democracies can somehow manage to reform themselves and combat institutional decay, history will end not with a bang but with a resounding whimper.