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a wider public, the only news would be if anyone has died of shock from the revelation that Dr Mahathir Mohamad has withdrawn support for Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.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.

Uncertainty as the Secret of Happiness


December 29, 2013

Food for Thought ahead of 2014. Negativity is the antidote to positiveFacebook-K and D thinking. So rediscover the power of negative thinking and may you find Happiness and Success, says Mr. Burkeman. For me the key to happiness is to be one’s authentic self. I have always looked at the positive side of life. Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative. That is the dictum for me. Good luck, Mr. Burkeman.–Din Merican

Against Positive Thinking: Uncertainty as the Secret of Happiness

by Maria Popova

Exploring the “negative path” to well-being.

Having studied under Positive Psychology pioneer Dr. Martin Seligman, and having read a great deal on the art-science of happiness and the role of optimism in well-being, I was at first incredulous of a book with the no doubt intentionally semi-scandalous title of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking (public library). But, as it often turns out, author Oliver Burkeman argues for a much more sensible proposition — namely, that we’ve created a culture crippled by the fear of failure, and that the most important thing we can do to enhance our psychoemotional wellbeing is to embrace uncertainty.

Besides, the book has a lovely animated trailer — always a win

Burkeman writes in The Guardian:

[Research] points to an alternative approach [to happiness]: a ‘negative path’ to happiness that entails taking a radically different stance towards those things most of us spend our lives trying hard to avoid. This involves learning to enjoy uncertainty, embracing insecurity and becoming familiar with failure. In order to be truly happy, it turns out, we might actually need to be willing to experience more negative emotions – or, at the very least, to stop running quite so hard from them.

The American edition (once again with an uglified, dumbed down, and contrived cover design) won’t be out until November, but you can snag a British edition here, or hunt it down at your favorite public library.

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/06/21/oliver-burkeman-the-antidote/

Western Education is not bereft of Ethical and Moral Values


December 11, 2013

Western Education is NOT bereft of Ethical and Moral Values

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

COMMENT: In a much-awaited speech on the reform of higher education 220px-Anwar_Ibrahim-editedin Muslim societies, Anwar Ibrahim disagreed with the popular notion among Muslims that Western education is devoid of an ethical and moral dimension.

Anwar said this notion, widely disseminated in Islamic intellectual circles, has been a hindrance to the development of Muslims, particularly in the scientific and technical spheres.

“… [T]here is a general perception among the discourse of many Muslim scholars that Western education and philosophy is secular and bereft of an ethical and moral dimension. To my mind, this is unfounded,” declared Anwar in a keynote address to a symposium organised by the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) in Washington DC on Monday.

Malaysia’s parliamentary opposition leader, highly regarded abroad than at home for his intellection, observed that the misperception of Western education as ethically vacant was also shared by intellectuals in the West.

He said seminal Western thinkers like John Locke and Adam Smith were concerned to base their philosophies on a moral core, but that Smith, in particular, “the icon of ‘capitalism’, has been seriously misread”. Anwar argued that the “moral sentiments” that were an integral part of Smith’s economic propositions were “not at loggerheads with Islamic percepts”.

He likened Smith’s concern for morality in economics with Islamic thinker Ismail Faruqi’s conception of a good economy as the expression of Islam’s spirituality.

FaruqiTo Faruqi, “the economy of the ummah and its good health are the essence of Islam, just as Islam’s spirituality is inexistent without just economic action.”

Anwar held that the Islamic percept ‘inna al din al mu’amalah’ (religion is indeed Man’s treatment of his fellows) made it imperative for Man to “order human life so as to make it actualise the pattern intended for it by its Creator”.

He said Muslim societies would not be productive if it they do not “emerge from the exercise of finding fault” with Western systems. Quoting from a host of Islamic philosophers ranging from the 11th century’s Al Ghazali to the 20th century’s Naguib Al-Attas, Anwar made the point that education in Muslim societies must “proceed on the basis of rationality”.

He defined rationalism the way Faruqi conceived it as not “the priority of reason over revelation but the rejection of any ultimate contradiction between them”.

Anwar acknowledged that the rationalist strain in the interpretive process (ijtihad) left its exponents vulnerable to the charge of espousing secular thinking.

The pursuit of Knowledge

From the time of Muhammad Abduh, the 19th century Egyptian thinkerMuhammad Abduh famed for pushing for the modernisation of Islamic education, Anwar said that Islamic modernists had to combat the suspicion of attempting to “introduce secularism through the back door of ijtihad” but that this allegation was misconceived.

“On the contrary, what Abduh did was to subject the moral and epistemological premises of secular modernity to scrutiny and he came to the conclusion that Islam’s modernity was both non-Western and non-secular,” said Anwar.

In his oration, Anwar did not explain how Islam’s modernity could be both non-Western and non-secular. Neither did he expatiate on “Islamisation of knowledge” which he said would immunise Muslims from the excesses of the liberalist mindset that would lead to the placing of reason above revelation.

He seemed surer, though, of his thesis that current approaches to the Islamisation of knowledge in Muslim societies tended to place a preponderance of focus on the social sciences, whereas he said it was in the technological and scientific disciplines that Muslims were lagging behind non-Muslim communities and where the quest for knowledge, therefore, needed greater emphasis.

Anwar reminded that the ‘Bayt-a-Hikmahof’ (Golden Age of Islam) gave birth to not only philosophers but also to eminent scientists. He attributed this to the holistic pursuit of knowledge that he credited to the Quranic injunction on the use of the intellectual faculty.

He said the “Quran enjoins the use of reason as provided by the senses, and the truth grounded on revelation”. He concurred with Faruqi that Islam was ‘the religion of world-affirmation par excellence’.”