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.

Inspirations from Raja Aziz Addruse: Morality and the Rule of Law


October 3, 2014

Inspirations from Raja Aziz Addruse: Morality and the Rule of Law

Third Raja Aziz Addruse Memorial Lecture

International Malaysia Law Conference 2014

 by

Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin ibni Tuanku Muhriz

 September 24, 2014

Royale Chulan Kuala Lumpur

Introduction

I’m not a lawyer.  Thank God.   So how is it that I am able to speak after the Chief Justices of Malaysia and Hong Kong in one of the main events of this conference?

When Christopher and Brendan met me some months ago to invite me to deliver this lecture, I was stunned.  I asked them why they would invite me, and they said they wanted someone younger, a change from the typical luminary, and a civil society perspective.  Furthermore Aunty Catherine had already approved.  With that final bullet, I could hardly say no.

And so today I’m delivering the longest lecture of my life in front of an intimidating audience.  However I see many people from outside the legal profession in the audience, which gives me an excuse to omit ostentatious legalese.

Raja AzizMalaysia’s Champion of The Rule of Law

To most of you, Raja Aziz Addruse was an éminence grise.  His curriculum vitae would take up most of the lecture, but he is rightly best known for three things: for being elected thrice to the presidency of the Bar Council; for founding the country’s first human rights NGO; and for dealing with profound constitutional issues either through his cases, writing or speeches.

To me, Raja Aziz was first a family friend.  I saw him at open houses and dinners throughout my childhood, when I knew him as Uncle Aziz, with no inkling of the role he played in our nation’s democracy.  When researching Malaysian politics and law as a teenager I kept seeing this name “Raja Aziz Addruse”, and eventually I realised this was Uncle Aziz.  I capitalised on this by interviewing him for my dissertation on social stratification in Malaysia.  On the proliferation of Datukships he said: “You don’t need a title to ‘be someone’.  There are many people without titles who are doing alright.  But there are many people just flout their titles to get somewhere.  In the end they don’t get very far.”[1]

This was very pertinent because in his lifetime he rejected at least four Datukships.  According to his daughter Raja Azrine, “as he had rejected it for the first time, it was not proper for him to receive further offers.”[2]  Yet there was no one more genuinely qualified for such recognition.

Still, while many people are entirely worthy of honours – like those in this room, hopefully – there is little confidence in the system.  Some analyse post-nominals to identify which award from which state has been bestowed to judge accordingly, but this is a sad reversal of the original intent of the system: that there may be shame in accepting honours.  As I will show in my lecture today, Raja Aziz did not need decorations to affirm his integrity, honour and morality: he had those in abundance, transmitted to the world by his gentlemanly decorum.

Of course there are greater things to worry about than our honours system, though that is indicative of a more general state of affairs.  Anecdotal evidence and opinion polls point to a lack of confidence in national institutions: the executive, legislative and judicial bodies at federal and state level, the electoral system, the police, and even the heads of state.  Check and balance institutions are derided in social media as being compromised by certain interests instead of constraining them, and among the chattering classes there is no shortage of cynicism to describe the health of our democracy.

In assessing how we got to such a state, we need to revisit our constitutional setup and the intentions of its architects: for it is our Constitution that largely defines the functions of these institutions and sets the rules of engagement between them.  Before we do that, it is prudent to consider some constitutional principles.

Constitutionalism

As every student of constitutional law knows, AV Dicey presented the orthodox perspective of constitutional law in the United Kingdom – that the sovereignty of Parliament was the prime constitutional principle: parliament can make or unmake any law whatever, and even the judiciary is subject to Parliament.  This view has since been challenged: one noteworthy case was R (Jackson) v Attorney General in 2005, where the judges’ obiter comments suggested that the rule of law trumped parliamentary sovereignty. 

But what do we mean by ‘the rule of law’?  In his widely acclaimed book on the subject, Lord Bingham identified eight features of the rule of law: accessibility of the law, law not discretion, equality before the law, the exercise of power, human rights, dispute resolution, a fair trial, and the rule of law in the international order.[3]

Friedrich August von Hayek believed that the central role of the state should be to maintain the rule of law, with as little arbitrary intervention as possible.[4] By contrast, Ronald Dworkin criticised the view that the rule of law embodied any formal qualities in law that could be determined by the application of a rule.  Rather, he regarded law as having inherent moral content and as itself a branch of moral philosophy. [5]

Jeffrey Jowell observed that Dworkin was seeking a general theory of law, while Dicey was seeking “a general principle of how power should be deployed by a government in a democracy”, though undeniably the questions are linked.  On parliamentary supremacy, he has said that “it may take some time, provocative legislation, and considerable judicial courage for the courts to assert the primacy of the Rule of Law over parliamentary sovereignty, but it is no longer self-evident that a legislature in a modern democracy should be able with impunity to violate the strictures of the Rule of Law.”[6]

Continuing on this note, Trevor Allan has argued that “the core of the liberal ideal of a government of laws requires that the general laws of the state contain some aspect of serving the common good. He writes: “No one can be expected to acknowledge any legal rule, as imposing a genuine legal obligation, unless it is accompanied by the claim that his obedience serves a common good.”[7]  The rule of law offers the individual not merely a series of laws to obey, but a justification for doing so.

Clearly, constitutional law is a deep topic, full of nuance, complexity and controversy.  The example of the UK illustrates the active debate that surrounds it.  We must note, however, that the Malaysian and the British legal systems differ in that we have a single written formal constitution.

Intuitively, one may feel this would help in clarifying this issue, but this is barely the case as disputes surround how written constitutions should be interpreted, as in the United States.  Recently President Obama was criticised by for making a “decisive break in the American constitutional tradition” by not seeking congressional consent when declaring war against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria; instead, “the president is acting on the proposition that the commander in chief has unilateral authority to declare war.”[8]

So how do we balance the supremacy of the constitution with the sovereignty of parliament and the ideal of rule of law?  At the heart of this debate lies more fundamental questions about the very nature of law.  Is law, as HLA Hart would argue, merely something that is passed by the proper channels?  Or, as Lon Fuller would argue, is the law’s purpose to provide order and clarity?  Does legislation that fails to fulfil these criteria not deserve to be regarded as law?

To explore how we ought to define the law in Malaysia, it is crucial to place the law in its proper context.  The law does not operate in a vacuum, but functions within and interacts with society.  In this way the law both shapes and is shaped by society and is part of a broader societal framework.  The law should reflect society’s ideals and values, clarifying them and providing order to societal morality.

Here we come up against another issue: morality is personal but the law must be universal.  Given society is not uniform, but a collection of individuals each holding on to different beliefs, what shape should the law take in order to best secure the interests – and morality – of society as whole, rather than just a handful of interest groups?  Even if a nation’s founding fathers were at one time universally accepted as reflecting the nation’s moral norms, to what extent do we accept that those norms can change over time?

Many open-ended questions have been put forward, and we are in danger of moving from constitutional law to jurisprudence.  But asking these difficult questions is a necessary part of nation-building, and Raja Aziz played a large part in helping to answer them

Raja Aziz’s views

It is clear that Raja Aziz did not favour Dicey’s view, and he opposed the 1988 amendments that moved Malaysia closer to that position, writing: “The fundamental principle which applies under a written constitution is that it is the Constitution itself, and not Parliament, which is supreme… To remove from the High Courts the judicial power of the Federation, which had since Merdeka Day been vested in them, and to have Parliament instead confer upon the High Courts their jurisdiction and power cannot be conducive to the maintenance of an independent judiciary.”[9]

He favoured the interpretation of the Indian courts in Kesavananda v The State of Kerala in which fundamental rights provided by the constitution formed part of its basic structure and could not be abrogated, and lamented that the Malaysian courts in Loh Kooi Choon v Government of Malaysia as well as the Singaporean courts in Teo Soh Lung v Minister for Home Affairs rejected this argument.  “On this view,” he argued, “the fundamental rights, though said to be guaranteed by the Constitution, are illusory.  They form part of the Constitution only for so long as the Government deigns to let them remain.”[10] When asked in 2007 what the Constitution meant to him, Raja Aziz replied “it means nothing to me at the moment, because it can be changed at any time.”[11]

These words are ominous when the basic structure of our Constitution is under threat today with regards jurisdiction of courts, religious issues and the relationship between Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak.  Even more dangerously, there are those who have deliberately reinterpreted basic premises of our Constitution, citing key articles out of context as justification.  Raja Aziz, as a staunch defender of the Constitution as it was understood by those who drafted and adopted it, would be appalled.

His unwavering defence of the Merdeka principles led the current President of the Malaysian Bar, in paying tribute to his predecessor, to say: “Ungku was undoubtedly a legal luminary and a doyen of the Bar.  His unequivocal commitment to a strong and independent Bar and the independence of the judiciary – two essential elements of the rule of law – is legendary.”[12]Inevitably, Raja Aziz also commented extensively on other issues as and when they became topical.

On the independence of parliamentarians, he wrote: “No backbencher can afford to be independent if he depends on his parliamentary allowances for his existence.  Certainly he is not qualified to be one if he does not have the courage of his own convictions.”[13]

On freedom of speech, he opined: “A free press is one of the checks and balances necessary to secure the continued development of democracy,” and after mentioning the Printing Presses and Publications Act, the Official Secrets Act and the Sedition Act he went on to say: “Part of the obstacles to press freedom has been due to the reluctance of the courts to limit the scope of the restrictions which can be imposed on freedom of speech.  That has resulted in a wide discretion being left to the Public Prosecutor.” [14]  “In defamation cases, the courts have not shown concern at the adverse effect the substantial damages they have award to claimants… They seem to have misunderstood their role in a democratic society, which is to preserve and protect the constitutional rights of individuals.”[15]

On the 1993 constitutional amendments to remove the legal immunity of the Rulers, he warned: “The amendments will arm the Executive with the power to subjugate the Rulers through threats of prosecution for any offences, however minor.  The Rulers will be at the mercy of the Executive… The power to prosecute is a powerful weapon which, in the hands of the ruthless, can be abused to great advantage – not by prosecuting the alleged offender but by withholding prosecution in return for his cooperation.”[16]

On the mandatory nature of the death penalty, during his 1976-78 term as President of the Malaysian Bar, he “led the Bar Council to oppose legislation where judges must impose the mandatory death sentence for various offences without allowing them the opportunity to choose other alternative forms of punishment.”[17]

On police killings in the late 1990s, he wrote: “That the police have a right to self-defence and the requisite use of firearms in the course of apprehending suspects and preventing the commission of crimes is accepted.   What has, however, given cause for concern is whether in performing those duties the police have too willingly abandoned all principles of self-restraint when it comes to using firearms.  The alarming increase in the number of suspected criminal fatalities bespeaks the possibility of a police force that has forgotten the two crucial principles that define all legal and justified use of force – proportionality and discrimination.”[18]

On apostasy, in an article about a follower of the Sky Kingdom sect, he said: “[Kamariah Ali’s] long and futile legal struggle highlights the need to seriously address the constitutional issue of the right of Muslims to freedom of religion… The civil courts have the jurisdiction to interpret the Constitution and protect fundamental liberties, including the right to freedom of religion under Article 11.”[19]

On conversion of children to Islam by one spouse, he similarly “was critical of the court’s refusal to make decisions.”[20]

On the police reaction to the first Walk for Justice in 2007, he wrote: “Police officers turned up at the Bar Council office a few days after the Walk to question three of the Council’s office bearers against whom a complaint had apparently been made.  When requested to do so, the police officers were not able to provide details of the complaint or of the first information report.  They behaved as if the country was a police state.”[21]

On detention without trial, in 1976 after the government tabled an amendment to the Federal Constitution which would withdraw from persons arrested, detained or place under restricted residence, their rights to counsel amongst other things, he issued a Protest Note with the following: “One basic difference distinguishes those who are loyal to this country from those who are bent on over-throwing it; and that is, that the former have respect for the law.  But harsh and unjust laws cannot command respect willingly; and a law which treats persons who may have committed ordinary crimes in the same way as it does communist terrorists cannot be good law.  What distinguishes our system of government from that advocated by our adversaries is the fundamental human rights protected by the Constitution.”[22]

Mr Lim Chee Wee as President of the Malaysian Bar used that quote at the Dedication and Naming Ceremony of the Raja Aziz Addruse Auditorium three years ago.  In that speech Mr Lim also said that “Ungku would have welcomed the Malaysia Day speech made by our Prime Minister on 16 September 2011, on abolishing the ISA and other detention without trial laws.  He would also have scrutinised with a keen eye the actual words in which these promised reforms are eventually couched.”  If Raja Aziz were alive today, I’m sure he would pen an eloquent denunciation of the recent invocations of the Sedition Act.

Raja Aziz had a long-held distaste for the Sedition Act, and felt that the decision of the Indian Supreme Court in Kedar Nath v State of Bihar, in which the court recognised a duty “of drawing a clear line of demarcation between the ambit of a citizen’s fundamental rights guaranteed [by the Constitution] and the power of the legislature to impose reasonable restrictions on that guaranteed right in the interest of, inter alia, security of the State and public order”, was superior to the Malaysian High Court’s argument that “it is impossible to spell out any requirement of the intention to incite violence, tumult or public disorder in order to constitute sedition under the Sedition Act.”  Here, Raja Aziz cited the United States Supreme Court in Ricco v Biggs: “The preservation and protection of the individual’s constitutional rights are within the inherent duty and power of the courts, which the legislature can neither control or abolish.”  He went on to say that “the removal from the citizens of one of their fundamental rights cannot possibly be to promote the growth of the nation.”[23]

Dato’ Cyrus Das speaking in 2011 recalled how Raja Aziz “led the Bar team in the sedition case against Dato’ Param Cumaraswamy, then Vice-President of the Bar, arguing that the offence of sedition was a relic of British colonialism and did not sit well with the guarantees of liberty and free speech conferred by the modern Malaysian Constitution. Raja Aziz argued convincingly that the term ‘seditious tendency’ could not be applied elastically to cover every criticism of government that comes close to home.  The acquittal of Dato’ Param was applauded domestically and internationally as a vindication of free speech in Malaysia.”[24]

On so many issues, I found repeatedly that I agreed with Raja Aziz, even though sometimes that concord came from a completely different direction.

IDEAS

My background was in what lawyers like to denigrate as the “fluffy” social sciences centred on public policy and political philosophy.  Through this process I concluded that Malaysia was modelled largely on what would be termed in the UK as classical liberal lines: Bapa Merdeka spoke consistently of liberty and justice, and his speeches and articles are replete with calls for the protection of individual freedoms, for strong check and balance institutions, for government to keep out of business, and his famous maxim that a free, sovereign nation is better happy than mighty.

In London I found two Malaysians who agreed with me and we established a think tank to promote these values and commensurately advocate policy change.  This became the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs, which I am happy to say today flourishes under a dedicated team that promotes market-based solutions to public policy problems guided by the principles of rule of law, limited government, individual liberty and free markets.

When I returned to Malaysia one of the first events we organised was a seminar on the rule of law, and I asked Raja Aziz to speak.  He graciously agreed, and more generally when we met over meals with my parents, conversations would turn to what IDEAS was doing and what I was writing about.  He disagreed with me sometimes – a point he would make explicit when he wrote his foreword to my first collection of articles.[25]

We were on the same page when it came to political freedom, but he was less enthusiastic about IDEAS’ views on economic freedom.   Still I think he was glad that we had set up this think tank, and thought us a worthy participant in the NGO space that was pioneered by HAKAM, which he founded with Param Cumaraswamy, Tun Hussein Onn and Tunku Abdul Rahman in 1989.

Raja Aziz showed me that there is no issue beyond debate.  He proved that even the most incendiary topics could be calmly but comprehensively explored.  Today there are those who feel that certain institutions should never be questioned, and would advocate an authoritarian show of force and use the Sedition Act if citizens question certain decisions.  But such tactics are hardly conducive to fostering affection for the very institutions that they are purportedly trying to defend.  History has given us ample evidence of the terrors that can arise once governments adopt such logic.  Conversely, confidence in institutions can be engendered by demonstrating that they serve the people, and equally importantly, by showing how they evolved over time in our particular socio-political milieu.

History

When I talk to young Malaysians about the history of democracy in this country I start by citing the agreement between Demang Lebar Daun and Sang Sapurba, which established a contract between the ruler and the ruled, as well as the Batu Bersurat Terengganu of 1303, which required the ruler to act in accordance with a higher power.  The next few centuries see a rich tradition of law-making, especially in Malacca and Kedah, as the increasingly prosperous sultanates demanded that citizens and traders enjoyed security, justice and low taxes.  The federation of Negeri Sembilan shows us that traditional institutions from Pagar Ruyong – the matrilineal clan structure, decentralised governance and adat courts – could be adapted to fit a new geography.  The Johor Constitution of 1895 and the Terengganu Constitution of 1911 show us that rulers were aware of the importance of separation of powers and limits to the authority of institutions.

While the Reid Commission looked to the Westminster model in the writing of our Constitution, there is no doubt that history played its part: the Rulers and political leaders involved in the Merdeka negotiations would not have accepted a paradigm that was alien to what the people were used to – after all, that lay at the crux of the rejection of the Malayan Union.   In a sense, the 1948 Federation of Malaya settlement, the 1957 Merdeka Agreement and the 1963 Formation of Malaysia were echoes of the 1773 Federation of Negeri Sembilan: different institutions with different histories fusing together in an attempt at create modern sovereign states in the Westphalian system.

Unfortunately, this is not the way Malaysian history is presently taught to schoolchildren, where key events are often not placed in the proper context.  In the worst case, important events are cherry-picked and distorted in order to satisfy present-day political objectives.  While every country has its national myths and legends, not all governments permit academic scrutiny of these myths and legends.  This is why I have constantly argued for the need to liberate the teaching of history from political control.

The post-war period is particularly sensitive. The Malaysian Left continuously complains that their contributions to independence are omitted from official accounts.  But the role of the Malay Rulers too is relegated in favour of the myth that a single political party championed and won Merdeka.  Sustaining this narrative necessitates the creation of another myth: namely, that institutions have, over the last sixty years, remained static and monolithic – as if the political successors of Dato’ Onn Ja’afar and Tunku Abdul Rahman are by default their ideological successors.  Accordingly, internal party factionalism is conveniently forgotten.

Also forgotten is past leaders’ attitudes towards authoritarian legislation in particular conditions.  When confronted on the possible abuse of the Internal Security Act designed to combat communist terrorists, Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman famously replied that “Abuse of the Act can be prevented by vigilant public opinion via elections, a free press and above all the Parliament.”[26]  Imagine that!

The confidence Malaysians have in these institutions is weak partly because of this deficient grasp of history, but is aided and abetted by deliberate distortion by political leaders, often through collaborative academics.

 Today

This has drastic consequences.  When institutions have been compromised by personal or party interests, it becomes difficult even for ethical individuals to rectify the situation.  There are several figures who once enjoyed good public reputations in the NGO or corporate world, but lost credibility simply by becoming cabinet ministers.  The prevalent view is that individuals will be corrupted by the system, instead of the system being cleansed by individuals.  This in turn deters many citizens from wanting to contribute, and the cycle of institutional destruction spirals downward.

Ulterior motives are assumed where there are good intentions, and damaging aspersions are cast.  In the worst case scenario, dejected individuals come to the conclusion that “since others are going to think I am corrupt anyway, I may as well be corrupt.”  It helps that politicians have amassed tools of patronage to reorient loose moral compasses:  I have seen how admirable people who succeeded in competitive international environments nonetheless succumb to extra inducements.  It also helps that accomplices in the traditional and new media will happily concoct fictions their paymasters direct.

When you place this in a political environment that routinely employs the vocabulary of race and religion, there is even more polarisation.  Retired politicians and civil servants tell me how, once upon a time, political leaders on opposing sides were able to socialise with one another.  They may have disagreed ideologically but they did not doubt each other’s sincerity.  Today, simply supporting a different party leads to accusations of treason.

In such an atmosphere, what hope is there for rule of law and morality?  How do we break the cycle of institutional destruction?  Party hacks will naturally say that only if their side gains a comfortable majority at the next election will there be real change.  Yet, as we have seen in recent political shenanigans on both sides, that is unmitigated fantasy.

Rather, we need to cajole political forces into a consensus, to re-forge a shared understanding of the Constitution, the rule of law, and the separation of powers.  Here, aspects of Tun Abdullah Badawi’s administration are instructive.  During his premiership there was an opening up of democratic space that allowed organisations like IDEAS to prosper, strengthening the role of civil society.  His acceptance of the 2008 general election results while others bayed for blood proved that peaceful transitions are possible.  His decision to form a Royal Commission of Inquiry into police reform produced a valuable proposal for an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission, even if it wasn’t fully implemented.  His attempt to reform the judiciary, accompanied by a statement of regret about the 1988 constitutional crisis, was a step in the right direction in recalibrating the relationship between judiciary, executive and public.

So there are things that morally courageous Prime Ministers can do to realise Tunku Abdul Rahman’s vision of “a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice.”[27]  But where moral courage might be absent, it is up to civil society to show that the pillars of the Rukunegara can be upheld without the insincere hectoring of the state

I know that the Malaysian Bar, through its various committees, have strong relationships with NGOs too.  You’re in a unique position, being a creature of statute rather than subject to the Registrar of Societies.  But recently even the Bar has been made a scapegoat for incompetence elsewhere: the leaking of an early draft of the National Harmony Bill, for example, was laid at your feet even though political machinations drove it.  The future of that legislation is uncertain, since the Sedition Act has been lately invoked despite a promise to repeal it.

It is important to bear in mind that the motivations of those on either side of the Sedition Act focus on quite different aspects.  Those who want to repeal the Act – like the 701 members of the Malaysian Bar who voted last Friday to march peacefully against it – are outraged by the recent spate of arrests.  Here, Raja Aziz’s point about the elasticity of the definition of ‘seditious tendency’ is prescient.

On the other side, there are those who want to keep the Act out of a genuine fear that racial and religious slurs will be spread to incite violence.  Here I think the majority of members of the Bar would sympathise.  That is why it is vital that a completed draft of the National Harmony Bill be presented to Parliament as soon as possible, so that both sides might be assuaged.  This view is well articulated by Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah, the former deputy minister for higher education and now CEO of the Global Movements of the Moderates Foundation.

Though he has shown moral courage, there needs to be more.  In such times we miss Raja Aziz.  His moral courage, leadership and reasoned voice of calm would pierce through the turbulence to educate us all.

Conclusion

Thus far I have tried to demonstrate my inspirations from Raja Aziz.  Here are some others:

Tun Dzaiddin Abdullah, who was his partner at Rithauddeen and Aziz, and presently Chairman of IDEAS’ Council, wrote: “He couldn’t care less about politics but was focused on the law.  He would only take a case if there was a legal issue, not for political reasons.  The law was closest to his heart.”[28]  Indeed, Raja Aziz representing Syed Husin Ali, Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim or Chin Peng does not in itself, as apparatchiks on both sides might wish to promote, mean he endorsed their politics or ideologies.

Introducing the inaugural Raja Aziz Addruse Memorial Lecture, Mr Christopher Leong said: “‘To act without fear’ is not to have no fear; it is to have the ability to overcome fear or to act in spite of it.  The cause of justice demands this of the Members of the Malaysian Bar, and Ungku exemplified it: there is no advocate I know who has conducted and carried himself truer to this core principle of the Bar.”[29] 

Mr Lim Chee Wee spoke of the personal legacy that Ungku left to Malaysian lawyers: “There can only be one Raja Aziz Addruse.  That his professional brethren recognised this is attested to by the number of lawyers whose reaction to a crisis is to ask themselves, ‘what would Ungku have done?’…  He would have taken an unwaveringly moral stand, couched in terms at once certain and polite, and he would have maintained this approach against all challenges, in the face of all adversities, without thought of personal consequence.”

Dato’ Cyrus Das said of Raja Aziz: “Principles like the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary were to him not mere clichés or fancy words to be uttered at the appropriate time and to be forgotten when it becomes inconvenient.  Raja Aziz believed in these values.  He was acutely aware from the Tunku’s time that Malaysia was a developing democracy and that a proper balance had to be struck between executive authority and individual rights.  He saw the Malaysian Constitution as providing for this equilibrium and that the role of the judiciary was to maintain this balance.   By his cases he strove valiantly to argue for this principle anxious that the judiciary should not be seen by the public to be a mere extension of government.”[30]

And Dato’ Param Cumaraswamy said: “His eminence in advocacy before the Courts and the respect he commanded from the Judges earned him a reputation, and he was in demand in the profession as lead counsel…  When Lord President Tun Mohd Suffian first introduced the appointment of temporary judicial commissioners to clear then backlog of cases in the High Court, Raja Aziz was one of the few appointed. But he refused any permanent judicial appointment. He felt that only through practice of the law could he contribute effectively to the advancement of the cause of justice through respect for the rule of law and human rights…  He gave voice to the voiceless, taking on their causes on pro-bono briefs before the courts to assist those who could not afford access to the courts… His relentless and committed pursuit of justice through the rule of law was noted by the International Commission of Jurists, [and] Raja Aziz was elected as a Commissioner in 2006.”[31] 

Raja Aziz was more than just a great constitutional lawyer: he was a national hero.  I hope that through the efforts of the Malaysian Bar, and especially through this lecture series, his legacy will not go the way of so many other Malaysian heroes: forgotten and unappreciated. 

Perhaps we can take comfort in the fact that, despite the 1988 amendments, there remains a contestation between the supremacy of Parliament and that of the Constitution: that judicial review may survive despite ouster clauses, that separation of powers is inherent to our democracy, that the basic structure doctrine should apply.  Like many of you, I pray that the battle that Raja Aziz fought throughout his legal career can still be won – but only if the Malaysian judiciary successfully asserts its independence, and wins respect from the people.

By way of conclusion I would like to thank my parents, through whom I first got to know Uncle Aziz, and who have supported me as I have navigated precariously through the nexus of Malaysian civil society and politics.Dato’ Dominic Puthucheary, Dato’ Malik Imtiaz Sarwar and Vinayak Sri Ram for giving valuable feedback on early drafts of this lecture.

IDEAS’ intern Jian Eu for gathering materials and drafting a section of this lecture. The Bar Council, especially Christopher Leong and Brendan Siva for inviting me to deliver this lecture, Chin Oy Sim for sending me rare resources on Raja Aziz, and Anne Andrew for assisting with invitations.And Aunty Catherine for her trust in me.

If anything I have said does not befit the stature of the Raja Aziz Addruse Memorial Lecture, then I apologise.  If I have misrepresented the opinions of others, then please correct me.  If I have committed sedition, then God help us all – though I can count on 701 members of the Malaysian Bar to assist.

One of the fascinating nuggets I learnt in the course of preparing for this lecture was Raja Aziz’s role, as Deputy Parliamentary Draftsman, in one piece of legislation that never saw the light of day: the Malay Surnames Act.  In an interview he revealed: “[Tunku Abdul Rahman] thought that having surnames would enable Malays to trace their lineage much more easily and they would no longer need to use bin or binti… I thought that it was a very good thing and I adopted Addruse.”

While Raja Aziz rejected all offers of Dato’, he certainly lived up to the style of “Yang Mulia”.  But it is the name “Addruse” that we must ensure endures as an inspiration of steadfast morality.  I ask you now to spend a moment to remember him in your thoughts and prayers.

_________

[1]Tunku ’Abidin Muhriz, Transcript of interview with Raja Aziz Addruse, 23 December 2002

[2] Quoted in ‘Bar auditorium renamed after Raja Aziz Addruse’, Malaysiakini, 30 October 2011

[3] T Bingham, The Rule of Law (2010)

[4] F Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (1944)

[5] R Dworkin, A Matter of Principle (1985) and Laws Empire (1986)

[6] J Jowell, D Oliver (eds) The Changing Constitution (2011)

[7] TRS Allan, ‘The Rule of law as the rule of reason: consent and constitutionalism’, Law Quarterly Review, 1999

[8] Bruce Ackerman, ‘Obama’s Betrayal of the Constitution’, New York Times, 11 September 2014

[9] Raja Aziz Addruse, ‘Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law: Their Protection by Judges’

[10] Ibid.

[11] Roger Tan, ‘A gentleman who believed in honesty and fair play’, The Star, 13 July 2011

[12] Christopher Leong, Speech at the presentation of the inaugural Malaysian Bar Lifetime Achievement Award, 10 March 2012

[13] Raja Aziz Addruse, ‘Does our Constitution provide for adequate representation for opposing and varied interests in Parliament?’, The Malayan Law Journal, April 1976

[14] Raja Aziz Addruse, ‘Journalists, Press Freedom and the Law’, 10 May 2002

[15] Raja Aziz Addruse, ‘Human Rights and the Fundamental Liberties under the Federal Constitution’, Pahang Bar Annual Lecture 2000

[16] Quoted in Professor Mark Gillen, ‘The Malay Rulers Loss of Immunity’, 1994

[17] ‘Bar auditorium named after Raja Aziz Addruse’, Malaysiakini, 30 October 2011

[18] Raja Aziz Addruse, ‘Police cannot assume the roles of judges’, New Straits Times, 11 April 1998

[19] Raja Aziz Addruse, ‘Let’s have certainty in this law’, New Straits Times, 27 April 2008

[20] Ding Jo-Ann, ‘Remembering Raja Aziz Addruse’, The Nut Graph, 12 December 2011

[21] Raja Aziz Addruse, ‘The Constitution: What it means to me’, New Straits Times, 27 April 2008

[22] Quoted in Lim Chee Wee, Speech at the Dedication and Naming Ceremony of the Raja Aziz Addruse Auditorium, Bar Council, 29 October 2011

[23] All quoted in Raja Aziz Addruse, ‘Fundamental Rights and the Rule of Law: Their Protection by Judges’

[24] Cyrus Das, Speech at the Dedication and Naming Ceremony of the Raja Aziz Addruse Auditorium, Bar Council, 29 October 2011

[25] Tunku ’Abidin Muhriz, Abiding Times (2011)

[26] Quoted in Ooi Kee Beng, The Reluctant Politician (2006)

[27] Tunku Abdul Rahman, Proclamation of Independence, 31 August 1957

[28] ‘Raja Aziz a quiet man of principles’, New Straits Times, 13 July 2011

[29] Christopher Leong, Opening Remarks at the Inaugural Raja Aziz Addruse Memorial Lecture, 29 October 2011

[30] Dato’ Cyrus Das, Speech at the Dedication and Naming Ceremony of the Raja Aziz Addruse Auditorium, 29 October 2011

[31] Dato’ Param Cumaraswamy, ‘Raja Aziz Addruse – At the forefront of advocacy’, Aliran, 7 September 2011

 

 

 

 

Symmetrical characters, parallel fates


August 19, 2014

Symmetrical characters, parallel fates

COMMENT by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com

Men of destiny seek proof of their greatness by exercising a license to go too far, and as the fear grows that destiny may have played a terrible joke on them, they double and redouble the stakes on the wheel of fortune. In this way they destroy themselves.-Terence Netto

hype_najib1Now that the cat has sprung out of the bag and is dashing about among a wider public, the only news would be if anyone has died of shock from the revelation that Dr Mahathir Mohamad has withdrawn support for Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

After months of premonitory sniping at the Premier by his satraps, notably A Kadir Jasin and Zainuddin Maidin, the man himself has come out in the open with a formal declaration of hostilities. There is no more cogent example of déjà vu nor self-parody than the producer himself reiterating he is about to re-start a familiar business – the demolition of a sitting PM.

A fortuitous benefit of this incipient extravaganza – to the federal opposition, Pakatan Rakyat – has been the confirmation that their self-destructive shenanigans in Selangor have furnished the opportunity to the premier demolisher of incumbent PMs to fix on this as the most opportune time for the unleashing of his decanal decapitation of national head honchos, not to mention a few deputies as well.

The wonder is that anyone at all, at this advanced juncture of their career trajectories, could be surprised at how the two protagonists, one of the drama about to start and the other of an already running one in Selangor, confirm a truism of classical Greece – that character is fate.

Character here is taken to mean the way in which a person confronts the things that happen to him, a number of which may come about as a consequence of his characteristic behavior. Fate is the sum of the decisive things that happen to a person, whether as a result of his characteristic behavior, or fortuitously, at the behest of some transcendent power.

That the characters of Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim have fed off each other is by now a staple of Malaysia’s modern history. Malaysians are beginning to realise that the one’s career could not have been possible without the other and vice versa.

Truly, the reformasi movement would not have been catalyzed into something urgent and insistent without what Mahathir did to Anwar in September 1998 and how the latter reacted to the events.

Before September 1998, the movement was an inchoate yearning; after Anwar’s jailing and obloquy, reform became a national agenda. Mahathir would not have been able to prolong his tenancy of the PM’s office – 22 long years – without Anwar’s lieutenancy for 16 years of that tenure.

Certainly, the accretion of power to the office of the PM and UMNO President could not have taken place without Anwar’s tacit support, as heir presumptive to Mahathir.

The long running drama of their interaction since they first met in 1971 and their influence on the life of this nation over the last four decades is so pivotal that our history itself becomes confused with their own biographies which goes to illustrate historian Thomas Carlyle’s theory that humanity advances by means of these demi-gods or ‘heroes’.

Succumbing to the danger of self parody

But as the philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson cautioned: “Every hero becomes a bore at last”: the two are presently in danger of inducing a yawn in arenas they once bestrode as giants. If it happens it would be due to their succumbing to the danger of self-parody each is tempted to flirt with, Mahathir more so.

Tun Dr. MahathirMen of destiny seek proof of their greatness by exercising a license to go too far, and as the fear grows that destiny may have played a terrible joke on them, they double and redouble the stakes on the wheel of fortune. In this way they destroy themselves.

By claiming at the commencement of his unseat Najib campaign, after the fashion of Brutus, that it is not because he loves his leaders less but that he loves the people and country more, Mahathir is parodying what Anuar Musa, then a young delegate from Kelantan to the UMNO general assembly in 1983, who quoted from the Shakespearean play Julius Caesar the words Brutus used before stabbing Caesar. The Roman emperor was surprised that a friend like Brutus could be part of squad of assassins with regicide in mind.

Anuar cited the quotation in the course of rhetorical flights faintly critical of Mahathir’s leadership of UMNO. Mahathir’s response was characteristically brusque. “Brutus stabbed Caesar” he reminded the UMNO delegates. In other words, back-stabbers are back-stabbers, their lofty motives notwithstanding.

If Mahathir unseats Najib, the wheel would have come full circle in his career: he began his ascent to the top of the greasy pole by destroying one UMNO President (Tunku Abdul Rahman) and is set to end his career by destroying the son of the man (Abdul Razak Hussein) who gave him the chance to rise after a display of Oedipal rage against the Tunku.

If PKR allows Anwar to convert the party into his personal fiefdom, his thrust to the top of the totem pole that began with his rebellion against nepotism, cronyism and corruption in 1998 would flirt with what could well be a fatal contradiction. Not for the first time in history would pivotal allies-turned-adversaries have symmetrical characters/parallel fates.

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

Tribute to Sam Berns


February 3, 2014

Tribute to Sam Berns, RIP

COMMENT: I pay tribute to Sam Berns for his courage and  mental attitude. I am deeply moved by Sam’s plight but I admire this young 17 year old. I thought I should share this story with you. It is important that we all accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative and anything in between. Yes, Sam, we will keep looking forward and hope we have your spirit and verve.–Din Merican

Sam Berns is an inspiration to us all

by Margalit Fox@http://www.nytimes (01-13-14)

Robert Kraft, owner of The New England Patriots, pays a tribute to Sam Burns:

Robert and Sam“I loved Sam Berns and am richer for having known him. He was a special young man whose inspirational story and positive outlook on life touched my heart. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to spend time with him and to get to know his incredible family. Together, they positively impacted the lives of people around the world in their quest to find a cure for Progeria. The HBO documentary, ‘Life According to Sam’ shared his incredible story with a national audience. It was so beautifully done. It made you laugh. It also made you cry. Today, it’s the latter for all who knew Sam or learned of his story through that documentary.”

Sam Berns, a Massachusetts high school junior whose life with the illness progeria was the subject of a documentary film recently shortlisted for an Academy Award, died on Friday in Boston. He was 17.

His death, from complications of the disease, was announced by the Progeria Research Foundation, which Sam’s parents, both physicians, established in 1999.

Sam Berns and His parentsSam with his parents, Drs Leslie Gordon and Scott Berns

Extremely rare — it affects one in four million to one in eight million births — progeria is a genetic disorder resulting in rapid premature aging. Only a few hundred people have the disease, whose hallmarks include hair loss, stunted growth, joint deterioration and cardiac problems.

Though the gene that causes progeria was isolated in 2003 by a research team that included Sam’s mother, there is still no cure. Patients live, on average, to the age of 13, typically dying of heart attacks or strokes.

The feature-length documentary “Life According to Sam,” directed by Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine, was released last year. They won an Oscar for their 2012 short documentary “Inocente,” about a homeless teenager.

“Life According to Sam” has been shown at film festivals, including Sundance, and it was broadcast on HBO in October. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences said it is among 15 documentaries considered for Oscar nominations.

Through the film, through a profile in The New York Times Magazine in 2005 and through a talk he gave last year at a TEDx conference (a community-based incarnation of the TED talks) that gained wide currency on the Internet, Sam became progeria’s best-known public face.

“Life According to Sam” opens when its subject, who lived in Foxborough, is 13 and follows him for three years. He agreed to participate on one condition, which he sets forth firmly in the film: “I didn’t put myself in front of you to have you feel bad for me,” he says. “You don’t need to feel bad for me. Because I want you to get to know me. This is my life.”

Diminutive and bespectacled, Sam was a riot of enthusiasms: for math and science, comic books, scouting (he was an Eagle Scout), playing the drums and Boston-area sports teams.

In his TEDx talk, he spoke of his heart’s desire: to play the snare drum with the Foxborough High School marching band. The trouble was that the drum and its harness weighed 40 pounds. Sam weighed 50 pounds. His parents engaged an engineer to develop an apparatus weighing just six pounds. Sam marched.

sam bernsThe only child of Dr. Scott Berns, a pediatrician, and Dr. Leslie Gordon, then a pediatric intern, Sampson Gordon Berns was born in Providence, R.I., on Oct. 23, 1996. He received a diagnosis of progeria shortly before his second birthday.

Finding little medical literature about progeria, his parents, with Dr. Gordon’s sister Audrey Gordon, started the research foundation. As a result of its work, clinical trials of a drug, lonafarnib, which appears to ameliorate some effects of progeria, began in 2007. Though preliminary results are considered encouraging, the drug does not constitute a cure.

Besides his parents, Sam’s survivors include his grandparents, Alice and Lewis Berns and Barbara and Burt Gordon.At his death, Sam had been planning to apply to college, where he hoped to study genetics or cell biology.

“No matter what I choose to become, I believe that I can change the world,” he said in his TEDx talk last year. “And as I’m striving to change the world, I will be happy.”

Social Democracy needs rejuvenation


January 27, 2014

Social Democracy needs rejuvenation

by Liew Chin Tong and Dr. Ooi Kee Beng

social-democracy-needs-rejuvenationThe world, in particular Asia, is in dire need of a coherent left-of-centre discourse. The recently concluded elections in Australia and Germany, just like those held in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia in the past year or so, produced, domestic peculiarities aside, strikingly similar recipes for right-wing parties.

First, hijack the populist pronouncements of their nominally left-leaning opponents, and second, couple these with the drumming up of the nationalist fervour that often favours parties on the right, especially in times of crisis or insecurity.

Even in Germany, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats moved strategically leftward to accommodate the growing public malcontent towards capital and in so doing, she stole the thunder from the Social Democratic Party.

At the risk of generalizing to the extent of ignoring local conditions, it is still worth asking why left-leaning parties, which supposedly represent the less-well-to-do, are failing to win elections in times of global economic hardship.

Lack of social democratic discourse

Perhaps the challenge lies in the fact that there is no vibrant left-of-centre social democratic discourse around today. In Asia, most social democratic parties were lumped together with the communists, which in itself is ironic since the two were usually hostile towards each other. They were then wiped out together, often violently and brutally at the height of the Cold War. To this date, anything that is left-leaning is treated suspiciously in many Asian societies—Taiwan, Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia included.

In the European context, the most effective rivals of the communists were in fact the social democrats, not the right-wing parties. The social democratic movements allowed for peaceful victories after accepting the parliamentary process.

But since Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan shifted the centre rightward, neoliberals have been defining the macro-economic agenda through tax cuts, the creation of tax havens, and privatisation of government functions, hence diminished the ability of the state to redistribute wealth and opportunities.

The New Labour constructed by Tony Blair takes its lineage from Australia’s Labor governments of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating (1983-1996). All hitherto social democratic parties converged with the right, accepting “economic rationalism” or neoliberal ideals as gospel truth.

How the Right hijacked the People’s Agenda

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites – dramatically remembered through the tearing down of the Berlin Wall – there is no more ideological challenger to neoliberalism, a situation Francis Fukuyama euphorically called “the end of history”.

Secure jobs, decent wages and social welfare quickly turned into old ideas standing in the way of the coming of the Brave New World. “Globalisation” often means that more workers all over the world are moving in all directions to look for jobs, resulting in a race to the bottom for wage levels, while capital flees from high-tax states in search of “tax holidays” or even tax havens.

Essentially, the economic programmes of the mainstream parties representing the left and the right no longer differ in substantive matters or even in their manifest values. And so, during bad economic times, when left parties tend to do well, all that the right simply needs to do is copy the nicer sounding policies of its opponents to boost voter support.

Why the right is able to do this so easily and so successfully, is that there is hardly a coherent left-of-centre discourse around today that offers a somewhat comprehensive understanding of the socio-economic problems of our times and that at the same time provides solutions based on that analysis.

With the fall of Communism, the idea that wealth and opportunities generated by society needs to be redistributed throughout society by the state is forgotten. With that amnesia comes the tremendous widening of the income gap experienced throughout world since 1990.

Not only does this threaten the political stability of most countries, the excessive accumulation of wealth in the hands of the increasingly small class of the super-rich almost sucks consumption capacity away from society at large as aggregate demand falls.

In many ways, therefore, we are back in the days of the early 20th century when social instability threatened to destroy capitalism. What saved it then were the reformist movements that we came to know as social democratic parties.

The need for a coherent Centre Left policy

However, because Communism is not knocking at the door, the need for social democratic policies is not properly felt, and governments crave for endless increments in their GDP in the blind hope that wealth will distribute itself naturally.

The increasing income gap tells us one definite thing—whether or not wealth trickles down, it is certainly not doing it faster than wealth being accumulated into the investment accounts of the increasingly smaller group of fantastically wealthy families and individuals.

In the days when the Left effectively faced the Right in parliament, the differing values were simplified as that between Justice and Freedom. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, freedom for the few has taken over, and notions of justice have disappeared from everyday thinking.

It is time, for the sake of the social sustainability of economic growth and political stability throughout the world that justice and freedom needs a new balance. Social democracy needs rejuvenation.

And, in Asia, the opponents of right-wing ideologies cannot just rely on piecemeal populist ideas to win. They need a coherent centre-left policy platform that balances justice and freedom—and seeks to integrate them in practice.

liew-chin-tong

Liew Chin Tong is the Member of Parliament for Kluang; Dr. Ooi Kee Beng isooikeebeng_0017 the Deputy Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore. The article was first published in Socdem Asia Quarterly, October 2013.