Birthday Greetings from my friend Terence Netto

May 22, 2014

Din and KamsiahI am deeply  moved by an e-mail message I received a few moments ago from a soulmate in literature, Terence Netto and thank him  warmly for his very kind wishes to mark my 75th Birthday, which falls tomorrow, May 23.

It is indeed a great honour to share the same date as his late father, Christie Netto, whose centenary it will be tomorrow. Two Germinians, a quarter of century apart, Christie and I share a common passion which is the love of reading and literature.

Terence had an excellent role model in his father, and I had an equally wonderful one in my late mother, Hajjah Fatimah Merican. Both he and I were indeed fortunate to have  such unselfish mentors.

Our parents –my mother and his father– did not leave behind great wealth.  But in their separate ways, they exposed us to great literature and taught us the value of reading.

Yes, I love to read history and literary works of antiquity through which I began to appreciate the nobility of a Hamlet and the idealism of a Brutus and despise  the toxic qualities of Iago, the greed of a Shylock and the machinations and temptations of a Lady Macbeth.

So my friend, Terence, allow me to post a poem by William Wordsworth in honour of the long departed Christie Netto. He did his duty for our country. And so did my beloved mother.You and I will now go on, never to quit because we still have plenty to do before we sleep.

My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold (Rainbow)

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the Man;
And I could wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety.

Let also us celebrate this auspicious day with this tune by Sammy Davies Jr.–Din Merican

Birthday Greetings from my friend, Terence Netto

Dear Din,

My fond greetings to you on attaining the milestone of three score and 15 years.Ever since I came to know you seven years ago and got to know that your birthday falls on May 23, I have felt a special kinship for you. It is because the date is also the birthday of my father whose centenary is today which makes this day extra special to me.

It is apposite that I should greet you on this day when I feel a deep sense of gratitude to my dad. For without his urging me to read from a young age I doubt I could have forged a friendship with you that I am certain would last for the duration of our remaining years, you being a ripe 75 and I, a mere 14 years to the rear.

You and I have had many occasions when we shared our delight in the stuff we had read in our days of youth and maturity. That reading may not have covered the compendium of what Matthew Arnold meant by the “best that has been said and thought” in this world, but any range that has within its compass a dollop of Shakespeare, a draught of Tolstoy and a distillate of Gibbon would suffice for  the delights that we have shared whenever we met.

 From my father, Christie Netto, I acquired the sheer joy of felicitous statement which led me to devour literary and political stuff, especially when these have been singingly rendered. Combined with the fortune of having a good English teacher in the late Bernard Khoo Teng Swee (whom your website commemorated last week) and the fortuitous friendship of (also departed) fellow journalist, Shaik Osman Majid (who like you had Penang Free School as his alma mater), I learned to read, remember and store my mind with the stuff that will always be a joy forever.

 So on this day when you mark your 75th birthday, I take a special delight in greeting you and in remembering my father to whom I owe such a lot. If in the “brief candle” of our life the knowledge of how this world works and of how human beings are constituted could be available to us, it is almost certain such powers would only be acquired through comprehension of the great works of literary and philosophic merit.

It has been no small pleasure that through the mentoring of Christie, a humble accounts clerk who knew Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Marx, Netto junior acquired some of the wherewithal that must have made him, I figure, a companion of some value to Din Merican to whom the Latin greeting – Ad multos annos – is most appropriate on this auspicious day.




On Chin Peng: Who is Lying?

September 21, 2013

Side Views


Chin Peng deserves a place in his country – Kee Thuan Chye

Kee TCThe pettiness of the Government has not been so clearly exposed as it is now over the issue of whether the former Communist leader Chin Peng’s ashes should be allowed into Malaysia to be buried in the land he loved and fought for. Even the police – who should have better things to look out for like the increasing incidences of crime – are putting out alerts to prevent the ashes from being brought back from Thailand, where he died. As if these ashes were lethal and could, by some preternatural means, maim the Malaysian populace.

Imagine this. Police personnel stationed at every entry point into Malaysia from Thailand, including at airports, going through the bags of everyone coming in. As if they have nothing better to do. But then, for all we know, the ashes might have been sent to someone in, say, Indonesia instead, and this person comes into Malaysia with it, unchecked. How stupid can it get?

Meanwhile, the authorities still quibble over the trivia that Chin Peng was not Malaysian because he could not produce the necessary documents to prove he was so, but it seems more likely that they did not want to let him return, full stop.

He first applied, under the guarantees of the peace agreement, to resettle in Malaysia in 1990, but his application was rejected the following year. In 2004, he wrote to then Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, but got no reply. That year, he received instead a letter from the Home Ministry’s secretary-general saying that his request to enter Malaysia had been rejected. No explanation was given.

He took the matter to the courts. But in 2005, the High Court rejected his application to enter Malaysia on the grounds that he had to show identification papers to prove his citizenship. Chin Peng, however, said he could not do so because his birth certificate was seized by the Police in 1948. In 2008, the Court of Appeal upheld the ruling.

Just a few days ago, Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Khalid Abu Bakar reiterated that Chin Peng was never a Malaysian citizen and, as such, the question of his being buried in Malaysia should not arise.

Hours after former Communist Party of Malaya leader Chin Peng died in Bangkok, police are on alert to prevent his remains from entering Malaysia.But documents are only stuff on paper. They are no match for what a person feels for his country and the things he does in respect of that feeling. Whatever you call that feeling – patriotism if you like – it is far and above more meaningful than a piece of paper.

The fact is, Chin Peng fought against the Japanese when they invaded Malaya and the British retreated. If this alone does not automatically qualify him to be Malaysian, what will? Entering the country illegally and agreeing to vote for Barisan Nasional, like the immigrants in Sabah who have been given identity cards for doing just that? In the latter case, in fact, having documents doesn’t mean diddly squat.

More tangible than this, the Malaysian Government signed a peace treaty in 1989 with the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), of which Chin Peng was its head. And in that agreement, the CPM agreed to disband and cease all armed activities while the Government agreed to allow the CPM’s members to settle down in Malaysia. Since then, many have been allowed home, including leaders like Rashid Maidin and Shamsiah Fakeh. But why not Chin Peng? Why was he discriminated against?

The other favourite argument of the Government’s against Chin Peng’s return to Malaysia is that he was a terrorist and the head of a terrorist organisation that had caused the deaths of thousands. But when you hold this up against the terms of the agreement, you can straight away see that the argument is unfair. The man and his comrades had given up the fight, they would no longer “terrorise”. It was time for both sides to put the past aside and move on. For the sake of peace. That’s what an agreement is about. So how could the Government sign an agreement and still call the other signatory a villain? Might as well not sign the agreement in the first place!

Why does the Government want to behave in such bad form over this? Because it thinks maintaining Chin Peng as a bogeyman is worth its tarnishing its honour?

But even on the issue of Chin Peng being a terrorist, the lines are not clear-cut. To some, he was one, but to others, he was a freedom fighter. When he served the British cause in fighting against the Japanese, he was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire), but when he consequently fought against the British to gain independence for Malaya, he was a terrorist.

True, his Communist ideology was not everyone’s cup of tea and the CPM did kill many people to fulfil its mission, for which it should be condemned, but Chin Peng has also taken responsibility for the CPM’s taking of thousands of lives. In an interview with History Professor Cheah Boon Kheng in 1998, he said, “This was inevitable. It was a war for national independence.”

That this was so is affirmed by our first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, in his book Lest We Forget: “Just as Indonesia was fighting a bloody battle, so were the Communists of Malaya, who, too, fought for independence.”

The Japanese, on the other hand, were invaders, and they tortured and killed thousands more of our countrymen during their invasion, and yet we have forgiven them their atrocities. In fact, the Japanese are now our friends, and they are a people we look up to, thanks to ex-premiere Mahathir Mohamad’s Look East Policy. So why is it that we cut them slacker?

Is the Government hard on Chin Peng because it feels embarrassed that UMNO, the party that it has heaped so much credit on for winning independence, did not fight any bloody battles for it, like Chin Peng and the CPM did? And that, also, one of UMNO’s revered leaders of the past, Abdul Razak Hussein, actually worked for the Japanese?

Well, in the book Tun Abdul Razak: Potret dalam Kenangan, a collection of reminiscences by people who knew the country’s second Prime Minister, there is a mention of his having been an administrative officer for the Japanese. It is in the chapter entitled ‘Saya Mendayung, Dia Mengemudi’ (I Rowed, He Held the Helm), written by former Cabinet Minister Ghazali Shafie.

And in a study called ‘Sejarah Penubuhan Universiti Teknologi Mara UITM’, there is a photograph of Razak with three others dressed in Japanese uniform with the rising sun insignia pinned on their shirt pockets. This apparently depicts the time he was being trained by the Japanese.

To be sure, Ghazali also mentions in his chapter that he and Razak were actually nationalists. “We felt that since we had known the British much longer … it was easier to stand up to them than the Japanese, whom we had not got a full measure of yet … Therefore, we felt we had to master [the] Japanese [language] and at the same time, we had to look for channels to contact the British … so as to obtain their assistance in fighting the Japanese.”

From his account, it looks like the strategy adopted by him and Razak was a pragmatic play-both-sides one that is different from the direct warfare approach opted for by Chin Peng.

In view of this, do we still say that Chin Peng doesn’t deserve to even have his ashes brought home to the country he wanted to return to and die in?

Well, I would say that he has more right to be buried in Malaysia than many people I could name. For example, those who have been behind the giving of illegal identity cards to illegal immigrants in Sabah are certainly not as worthy as Chin Peng in claiming this country as their home. He never sold out his country; in fact, he wanted it to be free. His problem was, his ideology was not accepted. And he was on the wrong side of history.

I think it’s time to set the history right. – September 21, 2013.

*  Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the new book The Elections Bullshit, now available in bookstores.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.

On Chin Peng: Who is Lying?

by Aidila Razak and Tan Juin Wuu@

Najib PMContrary to Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s claim, Chin Peng’s former comrades and family members have insisted that the late Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) leader had applied to return home following the 1989 Hatyai Peace Accord.

“The lawyers requested three documents from the Home Ministry when Chin Peng first filed the case (to return home) in the Penang High Court. The first was a list provided by CPM of those who have applied to go back (to Malaysia), the second a list of those rejected by the government and third, a list of those approved.

“Chin Peng’s name was in the first document, proving he had applied,” his ex-comrade Nan Jin told the media at the sidelines of the second day of Chin Peng’s wake in Bangkok today.

Chin Peng’s nephew, Lee Chung, added that a news article in 1991 also quoted then Inspector- General of Police Haniff Omar that his uncle had applied towards the end of the one-year stipulated application period.

He also pointed out that then Police Special Branch Chief Zulkifli Abdul Rahman was quoted in the same year as claiming that Chin Peng’s application was being processed.

“So what (Prime Minister) Najib Abdul Razak said is not the truth because logically, the 1991 statements show that an application was made,” he said.

Najib said the remains of Chin Peng – or his real name Ong Boon Hua – would not be allowed on Malaysian soil as he did not apply within the one-year period after the Peace Accord and that the family can sue the government if it disagrees.

Chin Peng lost his case in 2008 when he could not produce identification documents to prove his citizenship to the Court of Appeal.

‘We’ll bring him home with dignity’

Meanwhile, Lee Chung’s brother Lee Suvit said the family would “do their best” to fulfill his wish to have his remains returned to his hometown of Sitiawan, Perak.

“We will try to bring him back with dignity,” said Suvit, whose sister cared for Chin Peng until he died of cancer on September 16.

Chin Peng at 1955 Baling TalksThe Thai national said that despite dying in exile, Chin Peng died “calm and happy”, having spent his twilight years with family, writing and taking walks, “just like any other old man”.

While the rest of the world may focus on Chin Peng’s political role, for the family, it would be his jokes and kindness which would be missed the most.

Painting a picture of a much-loved patriarch, he said that Chin Peng would play his harmonica at family gatherings and his favourite tune was the song “Red Flag”.

chinpeng01Suvit said that even Chin Peng’s absence in his children’s life was an act of sacrifice to “protect them”. Both children are Malaysians and shy away from the public eye to avoid possible reprisals.

Suvit said that his daughter, now only a year younger than Chin Peng when he became CPM secretary-general at 23, grew very close to him.

Yet, he said, Chin Peng’s grandnieces and grandnephews, who were seen at the wake, do not know much about their granduncle’s political significance.

Born and bred in modern Thailand, their lives are a far cry compared to Chin Peng’s who joined the resistance at 15.

“Mine, too, is very different. He used to say ‘times were tough in my days’ and we’d brush him off. Maybe (his grandnephews and grandnieces) know some stories about him from us, but I think they just know that their granduncle is a good man, and whatever his struggle was, it was for a good cause,” he said.

Suvit, who now owns a factory in Shanghai, said his own grandchildren would know even less about Chin Peng.  “There is no need to pass down stories about his struggle to the coming generations. They can read about his role in Malaysia’s Independence and Southeast Asia in books. He is part of history,” he said.

Malaysia: Together in Poetry and Song

September 8, 2013

Malaysia: Together in Poetry and Song


A national laureate’s most important lesson to his daughter is also a message for the whole nation, writes Kerry-Ann Augustin

AT the ultimate hipster haunt in Publika, I sit next to journalists from othermalaysia-at-50-Malaysia-Day_129_100_100 publications, all looking for their leads on Petronas’ big project — The Malaysia Day 2013 Campaign.

I’m here for Project#Tanahairku, a programme designed to drum some national pride into the consciousness of young Malaysians. After a string of questions from everyone else, I decide to pipe up: “How did your father pass down the importance of what Merdeka means, to you?”

Almost immediately, there is a glaze across Haslina Usman’s kind eyes. At a blink, her tears trickle down as she tries to compose herself. I am gripped with an awkwardness as everyone around the table goes silent — should I not have asked that question? But I had to. The eldest daughter of the national laureate was the only one who could tell us about what her father could teach us all.

She clears her throat, dabs her smudged eyeliner with tissue, smiles and answers: “Through his work”.


Usman AwangThe only thing I recall, from a textbook or two, is a photo of a middle-aged man clad in blue baju Melayu, black songkok and lips pursed to form a small smile. Next to his picture, neatly cropped into a box with a thin, black outline, lies a poem in print. We were 17 and to most of us in class, it was just another person, another poem on another page.

I don’t think I realised how tragic this perception was till I started sieving through the late poet’s works over the last few weeks. Despite my now rusty Malay, every word, every stanza from many of his poems resonated within my Malaysian heart. But I feel goosebumps as I see the dates at the end of the poems — 1950, 1979, 1956, 1959 and so on. My eyebrows meet in the middle. I am hooked and slightly shocked all at once. How is it possible that these poems are still relevant to what we are feeling today?

Usman’s 1956 gem, Tanahair, couldn’t have resurfaced at a better time. In a country increasingly divided by political preferences, the poem echoes the sentiments of many Malaysians I’ve interviewed over this Merdeka month — deep down we are all the same.

As Haslina explains, her father’s words were simple, understood by all. The appeal of his work lays partially in his prose — simple not bombastic, direct not abstract and soulful not patronising. And most importantly, razor-sharp yet delicate. Perhaps this is what makes his work accessible to the ones he was so passionate about, the rakyat. But the other part of what makes Usman a true artiste was his fearlessness.

Professor Madya Dr Mohamad Mokhtar Abu Hassan, a lecturer of Malay Studies at University Malaya, in an interview years ago said of Usman Awang: “His strength lay in the way he weaved in his unabashed opinion of the system into elements of his poetry or short stories. He used his work as a platform to criticise leaders who were dishonest”.

The pen is mightier than the sword, they say. Usman’s principle as a writer was just that. The man who never had an education past primary school once said that writers are the mouth-pieces of the people.


Melayu itu orang yang bijaksana
Nakalnya bersulam jenaka
Budi bahasanya tidak terkira
Kurang ajarnya tetap santun
Jika menipu pun masih bersopan
Bila mengampu bijak beralas tangan.

Melayu itu berani jika bersalah
Kecut takut kerana benar,
Janji simpan di perut
Selalu pecah di mulut,
Biar mati adat
Jangan mati anak.

Melayu di tanah Semenanjung luas maknanya:
Jawa itu Melayu, Bugis itu Melayu
Banjar juga disebut Melayu,
Minangkabau memang Melayu,
Keturunan Acheh adalah Melayu,
Jakun dan Sakai asli Melayu,
Arab dan Pakistani, semua Melayu
Mamak dan Malbari serap ke Melayu
Malah mua’alaf bertakrif Melayu
(Setelah disunat anunya itu)

Dalam sejarahnya
Melayu itu pengembara lautan
Melorongkan jalur sejarah zaman
Begitu luas daerah sempadan
Sayangnya kini segala kehilangan

Melayu itu kaya falsafahnya
Kias kata bidal pusaka
Akar budi bersulamkan daya
Gedung akal laut bicara

Malangnya Melayu itu kuat bersorak
Terlalu ghairah pesta temasya
Sedangkan kampung telah tergadai
Sawah sejalur tinggal sejengkal
tanah sebidang mudah terjual

Meski telah memiliki telaga
Tangan masih memegang tali
Sedang orang mencapai timba.
Berbuahlah pisang tiga kali
Melayu itu masih bermimpi

Walaupun sudah mengenal universiti
Masih berdagang di rumah sendiri.
Berkelahi cara Melayu
Menikam dengan pantun
Menyanggah dengan senyum
Marahnya dengan diam
Merendah bukan menyembah
Meninggi bukan melonjak.

Watak Melayu menolak permusuhan
Setia dan sabar tiada sempadan
Tapi jika marah tak nampak telinga
Musuh dicari ke lubang cacing
Tak dapat tanduk telinga dijinjing
Maruah dan agama dihina jangan
Hebat amuknya tak kenal lawan

Berdamai cara Melayu indah sekali
Silaturrahim hati yang murni
Maaf diungkap senantiasa bersahut
Tangan diulur sentiasa bersambut
Luka pun tidak lagi berparut

Baiknya hati Melayu itu tak terbandingkan
Segala yang ada sanggup diberikan
Sehingga tercipta sebuah kiasan:
“Dagang lalu nasi ditanakkan
Suami pulang lapar tak makan
Kera di hutan disusu-susukan
Anak di pangkuan mati kebuluran”

Bagaimanakah Melayu abad dua puluh satu
Masihkan tunduk tersipu-sipu?
Jangan takut melanggar pantang
Jika pantang menghalang kemajuan;
Jangan segan menentang larangan
Jika yakin kepada kebenaran;
Jangan malu mengucapkan keyakinan
Jika percaya kepada keadilan.

Jadilah bangsa yang bijaksana
Memegang tali memegang timba
Memiliki ekonomi mencipta budaya
Menjadi tuan di negara Merdeka “

umno-tikam-belakangThe 21st Century Malay UMNO Style

“My dad… he died a sad man,” Haslina says later, over the phone. There is no need to see her facial expressions because her pain is transmitted by her voice. “He was upset at muscle building politicians. People are losing faith in our country but when you read his poems you remember your motherland,” she says.“My father wrote his works to instil semangat (the spirit) in us. And of course, I am protective of my father’s works. It’s not just because the copyright belongs to his children but also because his work belongs to the nation,” she explains.


Haslina now runs UA Enterprises, her late father’s publishing house. “There are lots of sacrifices to make financially, and…,” she breaks, and with a harrowing sigh continues “but his work needs to be preserved.” She explains her efforts in keeping her father’s legacy alive, which included a stage production of Uda Dan Dara The Musical.

She admits she took his work for granted when he was alive.“You know when you come home and see your father working, you only see him as a working dad. I never bothered, till he passed on, to really understand his work,” she says with an air of regret clouding every inflection of her tone. But Haslina admits that they rarely saw their father who was constantly drowned in work.

“He sacrificed family time for his country. In his latter years, he tried to make up for it,” she adds.“But my father would ask his friends to come over to our house or sometimes he would take me to his workplace, so I was exposed to all the goings on. And there would be all kinds of people — students, academicians, activist. All sorts! I even visited his friends in prison!” she says animatedly.

I ask what her father’s most valuable lesson to her was.“You know, when I said earlier that there were all sorts of people, I meant all sorts. There was no distinction in race or religion for my father. He welcomed everyone. We had friends of all races and now, when some people play up race issues I just don’t get it, you know?”

If you read any of his works, you will know this to be true.In July this year, an award in honour of his work that promoted unity of races was launched by the Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia (Huazong). Aptly called the Usman Awang National Integration Award, it will be presented to individuals or societies who can bring communities of different ethnicities together for an activity that will help change things for the better.

In the raucous of racial card-playing of this era, it is a beautiful tribute to a man who truly believed and embraced a multicultural Malaysia.


“Nowadays, children in school seem to be segregated. Like this race gangMalaysia-- Endless Possibilities and that race gang kind of thing,” says Haslina as she relates her observations about families. “It all starts with the family — we should be instilling love for everyone. A family is like a community, we build character through our relationships, a sense of understanding.”

“Why can’t we be happy for each other?” she asks as she launches into stories of her father’s childhood. She relates how her father and brother had little choice but to fend for themselves when their mother passed on at an early age. But the people in their village were kind and they would help whatever they could. “I believe these hardships was part of what made my father really love his family and his country,” she says, adding that nature played a big part in his work, metaphorically as well.


“Part of the poem is about the struggles of war. But young people may not be able to relate to this because we are not living in a war-torn country,” explains Mohd Suhaimy Kamaruddin, general manager of strategic communication at Petronas, during the discussion in Publika. He goes on to say that the oil giant’s intent is to convey the message of unity through music.

“We are turning this poem into a song to resonate with younger generation,” he adds.Two weeks after Mohd Suhaimy’s revelation, I waited patiently for the release of Tanahair. Infused with a new lease of life through renowned composer, Audi Mok, Twitter was abuzz with positive feedback on his pop interpretation of the poem. Even Haslina was thrilled.

“At first I was afraid. It might attract negative remarks as this is considered a national treasure you know?” she says, clearly delighted with the results. “But it’s more important that the younger generation can relate to the message in the poem,” she adds.

It is ironic that Usman Awang’s lost legacy is found in the toughest of times. But it is way more important that we keep it alive. As Haslina puts it: “Finally my father’s work is out there for the nation”.I’m glad I asked her that question.–The New Straits/Sunday Times

The Lahad Datu Standoff: Another Point of View

February 27, 2013

The Lahad Datu Standoff: Another Point of View

by Lt Gen (Rtd) Datuk Seri Zaini Mohd Said  |

Sulu armyLIKE many happenings in the realm of national security, the ones often thought unlikely and even impossible to happen will. Old military hands had already learned this and will constantly remind themselves to expect the unexpected to occur, somehow.

Long ago, the United States experienced Pearl Harbour and then the 9/11 attack. We had among others, things like the Al Maunah arms heist at our military camps, the two-person samurai sword attack in Putrajaya and now the incursion and entrenchment in Sabah of armed soldiers of the Sultanate of Sulu on Feb 12. All of these were mostly unexpected.

Those in the business of defence and security are conscious of threats that can emanate from outside or from within the country. However, they can never predict and picture fully the actual and detailed form these threats can manifest themselves. These, therefore, can still surprise.

We were surprised by the incursion of the soldiers and their demand forHome Affairs Minister2 Sabah to be handed back to the Sultanate of Sulu or else they would fight — to the death if necessary. It was also some surprise to many as to the manner they made their demand, with more than 100 armed men, in Sabah, and, headed by a royal member from the sultanate.

Not unexpectedly, many are questioning why they were able to land in the first place and why it is taking so long to evict or apprehend them, forcibly if need be.

Understandable, questions from reasonable minds but since the operation and delicate process of urging them to leave is ongoing, it is best to let the authorities go about doing their job and wait for the complete answers to come once there is full closure of the matter.

In the meantime, there is little need for worry or cause for alarm. Indications are that the authorities and Police are on top of the situation and are prepared for any eventuality.

The Sulu soldiers are also reported to begin to lose their nerve and tiring fast. Even our military is close by and ready to come in if needed. It should not be too difficult for the security forces to end the standoff by use of force at all.

We should, however, pray that this will not be necessary. It would certainlyRajah Muda Agbimuddin Kiram affect and jeopardise the effort and our role as the facilitator towards getting the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Manila peace accord finalised and the establishment of the Bangsamoro state in southern Philippines.

If force were to result in many casualties on the Sulu side, then Malaysia’s plans and prospects of helping and participating in the development in the land of the Moros will diminish. It cannot be easy when there are to be vengeful and angry people from within the population there.

In any case, it is believed that they had not come intending to fight us or our security forces. That they came led and dressed in recognisable military uniforms with clear insignias is not to appear intimidating but to be identified as a bona fide and organised military body and not terrorists or common criminals.

map-sabah-intrudersA recognition that would entitle them to be regarded and treated under all the provisions of the international law on land warfare and the Geneva Convention as military combatants. A status they could nevertheless lose if they were to make monetary or other material demands over what has already been stated.

This must have been clear to our authorities and that probably explains the present strategy of urging them to leave peacefully and not giving in to any inappropriate demand, being the most appropriate option to pursue.

Avoid the shooting part at all costs for it will never ever end in that part of the world and not with the Moros.


Poetry, You and Me

February 11, 2013

Poetry,You and Me

“Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.”-T.S. Eliot

Let us use this CNY period to listen to some poetry and reflect on where we are all heading. Bean. are waiting to take that ride on the Kerbau on a journey to a faraway place beyond the crimson sky. Poetry can be fascinating yet amusing.But it is certainly better than politics.–Din Merican

Dedicated to BERSIH2.0 around the World: Locksley Hall

July 9, 2011

To BERSIH2.0 Around the World:  Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Locksley Hall

As of this morning, Kuala Lumpur is a city under blockage, the consequence of Police action to prevent BERSIH2.0’s Walk for Democracy, which is to start at 2pm today.

I wonder what the city’s business community will attribute the loss of business to. Certainly not to the oppressed and peace loving Malaysians who seek to show that they wholeheartedly support the campaign for free and fair elections.

They have to blame the Government and the Police, the oppressors who have over-reacted in this and other instances of peaceful protests in our country.

Fortunately, Malaysian diaspora from New Zealand, Europe  to Canada and the United States are taking to the streets to show us here in Malaysia that in their host countries, it is legitimate to stand up for our democratic rights, in this instance, to inform the people in power that they want free and fair election, the sine qua non for true democracy.

I dedicate Locksley Hall, a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson, to all Malaysians where ever they may be for standing up for us at home who are being prevented from taking a walk to Istana Negara peacefully in support of BERSIH2.o leaders who wish to hand a petition to our beloved King.

To these BERSIH2.0 leaders, I say don’t be discouraged. The world hears you and I certainly do.  Take heed from my favorite hero of peace, Mahatma Gandhi  who said:

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but in the end, they always fall — think of it, ALWAYS.”

Why this poem which talks about love lost and despair? Yes, but I like the latter part of this poem because it is noticeably more upbeat. The poet, Alfred Lord Tennyson  gazes upon the wonder of“the Vision of the World”. There is reunification with society, as “the individual withers, and the world is more and more”, and his focus shifts from away his own dismal personal state This is seen in his vision of “the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world”, and also his glad response to rejoin his comrades at the bugle call.

I am less ambitious. My bugle call is for a Vision of Malaysia as a truly democratic nation and genuine pluralist society where we all can be the best that our God given endowments can take us on a journey of excellence.

In this poem, the barrenness in nature is replaced, as the gloomy moors give way to “heavens fill[ed] with shouting”, the “yonder shining Orient”, and the “heavy-fruited tree” upon Eden. There is a sense of opulence conveyed in the expanse of geographical scope and richness of words.

Most importantly, Tennyson paradoxically reverts to youth. A sense of carpe diem is raised, in the energy of his “wild pulsation”, and his willingness to “take some savage woman”. The verbs are movement oriented now; such as “dive”, “run”, “leap the rainbows of the brooks.”

As one commenator says:  “He (Tennyson) can bid farewell to Locksley Hall, for he has ridded himself of his obsessive concern with the Hall as a symbol of despair.” And indeed, he moves onward: “For the mighty wind arises, roaring seaward, and I go.”

Unlike Tennyson, I won’t go in despair. Instead, I want to go in triumph, believing in our Hall of Parliament as the last hope for freedom, justice and democracy. But our parliamentarians must be chosen in free and fair elections.–Din Merican

Locksley Hall

COMRADES, leave me here a little, while as yet ‘t is early morn:
Leave me here, and when you want me, sound upon the bugle-horn.
‘T is the place, and all around it, as of old, the curlews call,
Dreary gleams about the moorland flying over Locksley Hall;

Locksley Hall, that in the distance overlooks the sandy tracts,
And the hollow ocean-ridges roaring into cataracts.
“>Many a night from yonder ivied casement, ere I went to rest,
Did I look on great Orion sloping slowly to the West.

Many a night I saw the Pleiads, rising thro’ the mellow shade,
Glitter like a swarm of fire-flies tangled in a silver braid.
Here about the beach I wander’d, nourishing a youth sublime
with the fairy tales of science, and the long result of Time;

When the centuries behind me like a fruitful land reposed;
When I clung to all the present for the promise that it closed:
When I dipt into the future far as human eye could see;
Saw the Vision of the world and all the wonder that would be.

In the Spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin’s breast;
In the Spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest;>
In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnish’d dove;
In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.

Then her cheek was pale and thinner than should be for one so young,
And her eyes on all my motions with a mute observance hung.
And I said, “My cousin Amy, speak, and speak the truth to me,
Trust me, cousin, all the current of my being sets to thee.”

On her pallid cheek and forehead came a colour and a light,
As I have seen the rosy red flushing in the northern night.
And she turn’d–her bosom shaken with a sudden storm of sighs–
All the spirit deeply dawning in the dark of hazel eyes–

Saying, “I have hid my feelings, fearing they should do me wrong”;
Saying, “Dost thou love me, cousin?” weeping, “I have loved thee long.”
Love took up the glass of Time, and turn’d it in his glowing hands;
Every moment, lightly shaken, ran itself in golden sands.

Love took up the harp of Life, and smote on all the chords with might;
Smote the chord of Self, that, trembling, pass’d in music out of sight.
Many a morning on the moorland did we hear the copses ring,
And her whisper throng’d my pulses with the fullness of the Spring.

Many an evening by the waters did we watch the stately ships,
And our spirits rush’d together at the touching of the lips.
O my cousin, shallow-hearted! O my Amy, mine no more!
O the dreary, dreary moorland! O the barren, barren shore!

Falser than all fancy fathoms, falser than all songs have sung,
Puppet to a father’s threat, and servile to a shrewish tongue!
Is it well to wish thee happy?–having known me–to decline
On a range of lower feelings and a narrower heart than mine!

Yet it shall be; thou shalt lower to his level day by day,
What is fine within thee growing coarse to sympathize with clay.
As the husband is, the wife is: thou art mated with a clown,
And the grossness of his nature will have weight to drag thee down.

He will hold thee, when his passion shall have spent its novel force,
Something better than his dog, a little dearer than his horse.
What is this? his eyes are heavy; think not they are glazed with wine.
Go to him, it is thy duty, kiss him, take his hand in thine.

It may be my lord is weary, that his brain is overwrought:
Soothe him with thy finer fancies, touch him with thy lighter thought.
He will answer to the purpose, easy things to understand–
Better thou wert dead before me, tho’ I slew thee with my hand!

Better thou and I were lying, hidden from the heart’s disgrace,
Roll’d in one another’s arms, and silent in a last embrace.
Cursed be the social wants that sin against the strength of youth!
Cursed be the social lies that warp us from the living truth!

Cursed be the sickly forms that err from honest Nature’s rule!
Cursed be the gold that gilds the straiten’d forehead of the fool!
Well–‘t is well that I should bluster!–Hadst thou less unworthy proved–
Would to God–for I had loved thee more than ever wife was loved.

Am I mad, that I should cherish that which bears but bitter fruit?
I will pluck it from my bosom, tho’ my heart be at the root.
Never, tho’ my mortal summers to such length of years should come
As the many-winter’d crow that leads the clanging rookery home.

Where is comfort? in division of the records of the mind?
Can I part her from herself, and love her, as I knew her, kind?
I remember one that perish’d; sweetly did she speak and move;
Such a one do I remember, whom to look at was to love.

Can I think of her as dead, and love her for the love she bore?
No–she never loved me truly; love is love for evermore.
Comfort? comfort scorn’d of devils! this is truth the poet sings,
That a sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.

Drug thy memories, lest thou learn it, lest thy heart be put to proof,
In the dead unhappy night, and when the rain is on the roof.
Like a dog, he hunts in dreams, and thou art staring at the wall,
Where the dying night-lamp flickers, and the shadows rise and fall.

Then a hand shall pass before thee, pointing to his drunken sleep,
To thy widow’d marriage-pillows, to the tears that thou wilt weep.
Thou shalt hear the “Never, never,” whisper’d by the phantom years,
And a song from out the distance in the ringing of thine ears;

And an eye shall vex thee, looking ancient kindness on thy pain.
Turn thee, turn thee on thy pillow; get thee to thy rest again.
Nay, but Nature brings thee solace; for a tender voice will cry.
‘T is a purer life than thine, a lip to drain thy trouble dry.

Baby lips will laugh me down; my latest rival brings thee rest.
Baby fingers, waxen touches, press me from the mother’s breast.
O, the child too clothes the father with a dearness not his due.
Half is thine and half is his: it will be worthy of the two.

O, I see thee old and formal, fitted to thy petty part,
With a little hoard of maxims preaching down a daughter’s heart.
They were dangerous guides the feelings–she herself was not exempt–
she herself had suffer’d”–Perish in thy self-contempt!

Overlive it–lower yet–be happy! wherefore should I care?
I myself must mix with action, lest I wither by despair.
What is that which I should turn to, lighting upon days like these?
Every door is barr’d with gold, and opens but to golden keys.

Every gate is throng’d with suitors, all the markets overflow.
I have but an angry fancy; what is that which I should do?
I had been content to perish, falling on the foeman’s ground,
When the ranks are roll’d in vapour, and the winds are laid with sound.

But the jingling of the guinea helps the hurt that Honour feels,
And the nations do but murmur, snarling at each other’s heels.
Can I but relive in sadness? I will turn that earlier page.
Hide me from my deep emotion, O thou wondrous Mother-Age!

Make me feel the wild pulsation that I felt before the strife,
When I heard my days before me, and the tumult of my life;
Yearning for the large excitement that the coming years would yield,
Eager-hearted as a boy when first he leaves his father’s field,

And at night along the dusky highway near and nearer drawn,
Sees in heaven the light of London flaring like a dreary dawn;
And his spirit leaps within him to be gone before him then,
Underneath the light he looks at, in among the throngs of men:

Men, my brothers, men the workers, ever reaping something new:
That which they have done but earnest of the things that they shall do:
For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;

Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales;
Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;

Far along the world-wide whisper of the south-wind rushing warm,

With the standards of the peoples plunging thro’ the thunder-storm;
Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle-flags were furl’d
In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world.

There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,
And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapped in universal law.
So I triumph’d ere my passion sweeping thro’ me left me dry,
Left me with the palsied heart, and left me with the jaundiced eye;

Eye, to which all order festers, all things here are out of joint:
Science moves, but slowly, slowly, creeping on from point to point:
Slowly comes a hungry people, as a lion, creeping nigher,
Glares at one that nods and winks behind a slowly-dying fire.

Yet I doubt not thro’ the ages one increasing purpose runs,
And the thoughts of men are widen’d with the process of the suns.
What is that to him that reaps not harvest of his youthful joys,
Tho’ the deep heart of existence beat for ever like a boy’s?

Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers, and I linger on the shore,
And the individual withers, and the world is more and more.
Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers, and he bears a laden breast,
Full of sad experience, moving toward the stillness of his rest.

Hark, my merry comrades call me, sounding on the bugle-horn,
They to whom my foolish passion were a target for their scorn:
Shall it not be scorn to me to harp on such a moulder’d string?
I am shamed thro’ all my nature to have loved so slight a thing.

Weakness to be wroth with weakness! woman’s pleasure, woman’s pain–
Nature made them blinder motions bounded in a shallower brain:
Woman is the lesser man, and all thy passions, match’d with mine,
Are as moonlight unto sunlight, and as water unto wine–

Here at least, where nature sickens, nothing. Ah, for some retreat
Deep in yonder shining Orient, where my life began to beat;
Where in wild Mahratta-battle fell my father evil-starr’d,
I was left a trampled orphan, and a selfish uncle’s ward.

Or to burst all links of habit–there to wander far away,
On from island unto island at the gateways of the day.
Larger constellations burning, mellow moons and happy skies,
Breadths of tropic shade and palms in cluster, knots of Paradise.

Never comes the trader, never floats an European flag,
Slides the bird o’er lustrous woodland, swings the trailer from the crag;
Droops the heavy-blossom’d bower, hangs the heavy-fruited tree–
Summer isles of Eden lying in dark-purple spheres of sea.

There methinks would be enjoyment more than in this march of mind,
In the steamship, in the railway, in the thoughts that shake mankind.
There the passions cramp’d no longer shall have scope and breathing space;
I will take some savage woman, she shall rear my dusky race.

Iron-jointed, supple-sinew’d, they shall dive, and they shall run,
Catch the wild goat by the hair, and hurl their lances in the sun;
Whistle back the parrot’s call, and leap the rainbows of the brooks,
Not with blinded eyesight poring over miserable books.

Fool, again the dream, the fancy! but I know my words are wild,
But I count the gray barbarian lower than the Christian child.
I, to herd with narrow foreheads, vacant of our glorious gains,
Like a beast with lower pleasures, like a beast with lower pains!

Mated with a squalid savage–what to me were sun or clime?
I the heir of all the ages, in the foremost files of time
I that rather held it better men should perish one by one,
Than that earth should stand at gaze like Joshua’s moon in Ajalon!

Not in vain the distance beacons. Forward, forward let us range,
Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change.
Thro’ the shadow of the globe we sweep into the younger day;
Better fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay.

Mother-Age (for mine I knew not) help me as when life begun:
Rift the hills, and roll the waters, flash the lightnings, weigh the Sun.
O, I see the crescent promise of my spirit hath not set.
Ancient founts of inspiration well thro’ all my fancy yet.

Howsoever these things be, a long farewell to Locksley Hall!
Now for me the woods may wither, now for me the roof-tree fall.
Comes a vapour from the margin, blackening over heath and holt,
Cramming all the blast before it, in its breast a thunderbolt.

Let it fall on Locksley Hall, with rain or hail, or fire or snow;
For the mighty wind arises, roaring seaward, and I go.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Aristotle and the Higher Good

July 3, 2011


Aristotle and the Higher Good: Nicomachean Ethics

By Harry V Jaffa*
Published: July 1, 2011

Some time in the 1920s, the Conservative statesman F. E. Smith — Lord Birkenhead — gave a copy of the “Nicomachean Ethics” to his close friend Winston Churchill. He did so saying there were those who thought this was the greatest book of all time.

Churchill returned it some weeks later, saying it was all very interesting, but he had already thought most of it out for himself. But it is the very genius of Aristotle — as it is of every great teacher — to make you think he is uncovering your own thought in his. In Churchill’s case, it is also probable that the classical tradition informed more of his upbringing, at home and at school, than he realized.

In 1946, in a letter to the philosopher Karl Löwith, Leo Strauss mentioned how difficult it had been for him to understand Aristotle’s account of magnanimity, greatness of soul, in Book 4 of the “Ethics.”

The difficulty was resolved when he came to realize that Churchill was a perfect example of that virtue. So Churchill helped Leo Strauss understand Aristotle! That is perfectly consistent with Aristotle’s telling us it does not matter whether one describes a virtue or someone characterized by that virtue.

Where the “Ethics” stands among the greatest of all great books perhaps no one can say. That Aristotle’s text, which explores the basis of the best way of human life, belongs on any list of such books is indisputable.

In his great essay “On Classical Political Philosophy,” Strauss emphasizes the continuity between pre-­philosophic political speech and its refinement by classical political philosophy. It is part of the order of nature (and of nature’s God) that pre-­philosophic speech supply the matter, and philosophic speech the form, of perfected political speech, much as the chisel of the sculptor uncovers the form of the statue within the block of marble. Before the “Ethics” men knew that courage was a virtue, and that it meant overcoming fear in the face of danger. Aristotle says nothing different from this, but he also distinguishes true virtue from its specious simulacra.

The false appearance of courage may result, for instance, from overconfidence in one’s skill or strength, or from one’s failure to recognize the skill or strength of his opponents. The accurate assessment of one’s own superiority of strength or skill, which means one really has no reason to fear an approaching conflict, is another false appearance of courage. A false courage may also result from a passion that blinds someone to the reality of the danger he faces. In short, the appearance of courage may be mistaken for actual courage whenever the rational component of virtue is lacking.

The existence of politics before political philosophy is what makes political philosophy possible. Politics is inherently controversial because human beings are passionately attached to their opinions by interests that have nothing to do with the truth. But because philosophers — properly so called — have no interest other than the truth, they alone can bring to bear the canon of reason that will transform the conflict of opinion that otherwise dominates the political world.

Unfortunately, what has been called philosophy for more than a century has virtually destroyed any belief in the possibility of objective truth, and with it the possibility of philosophy. Our chaotic politics reflects this chaos of the mind.

No enterprise to replace this chaos with the cosmos of reason could be more welcome. The volume before us is much more than a translation. The translators, Robert C. Bartlett, who teaches Hellenic politics at Boston College, and Susan D. Collins, a political scientist at the University of Houston, have provided helpful aids.

Many Greek words cannot be easily translated into single English equivalents — for example, the Greek word techne, which appears in the first sentence of the “Ethics.” It is here translated as “art,” as it usually is. But the Greeks made no distinction, as we do, between the useful arts and the fine arts. The most precise rendering is probably “know-how,” but that does not seem tonally right. The best solution is to use an approximation like “art” and supplement it with notes. This is what the translators have done, in this case and others, with considerable thoroughness.

They have also supplied an informative introduction, as well as “A Note on the Translation,” a bibliography and an outline of the work. All this precedes the main text. Afterward comes a brief “Overview of the Moral Virtues and Vices,” a very extensive and invaluable glossary, a list of “Key Greek Terms,” an index of proper names and at last a detailed “general index.” Together these bring the original text within the compass of every intelligent reader.

Thomas Aquinas, writing in the 13th century, believed that in the “Ethics” Aristotle had said everything needful for happiness in this life. Thus Aquinas did not write his own book on ethics, but instead wrote a commentary on Aristotle. This tradition was extended by the greatest political philosopher of the 20th century, Leo Strauss, who wrote that all his work had no other purpose than to address “the crisis of the West.

But what is the West? And what is its crisis? According to Strauss (and many others), the West is the civilization constituted at its core by the coming together of classical philosophy and biblical revelation. The vitality of Western civilization results from the interplay of these alternative principles, though each contains within itself what claims to be exclusive and irrefutable authority. Symbolic of this authority are Athens and Jerusalem.

In “The Second World War,” Churchill remarks that everything valuable in modern life and thought is an inheritance from these ancient cities. The debunking both of Socratic skepticism (“the unexamined life is not worth living”) and of biblical faith (“Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”) has led to the crisis of the West, a chaos of moral relativism and philosophic nihilism in which every lifestyle, no matter how corrupt or degenerate, can be said to be as good as any other.

In their brilliant and highly readable “Interpretive Essay” Bartlett and Collins suggest, without positively asserting, that Aristotle offers a solution to the problem, or crisis, of human well-being. But they seem to doubt whether it can meet the challenge of the God of Abraham. But these two principles are not adversarial in all respects.

Indeed, much of Strauss’s work is a radical attack — made with the greatest intellectual competence — against the latter-­day enemies of both the Bible and a Socratic Aristotle. Strauss maintained that Athens and Jerusalem, while disagreeing on the ultimate good, disagree very little, if at all, on what constitutes a morality both good in itself and the pathway to a higher good.

Aristotle’s greatness of soul (magnanimity) may seem to resemble pride, the greatest of sins described in the biblical canon. But Thomas Aquinas’s interpretation of the “Ethics” offers proof against theological negativism. And in the “Summa Contra Gentiles,”Thomas made the case for sacred doctrine on the basis of Aristotelian premises. It is an assumption of Aristotle’s philosophy of nature that the highest good of each species is accessible to all, or nearly all, its members.

For man the highest good is wisdom. But since few if any human beings attain it, Aristotle’s nature requires a supernatural correlate: the afterlife. Whatever one thinks of this argument, it points to a dialectical friendship between Athens and Jerusalem. All the more reason for them to join forces in the desperate struggle, still going on, between civilization and barbarism.

Harry V. Jaffa is a distinguished fellow of the Claremont Institute. His books include“Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates” and “Thomism and ­Aristotelianism: A Study of the Commentary by Thomas Aquinas on the Nicomachean Ethics.”

A version of this review appeared in print on July 3, 2011, on page BR16 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: Faith and Reason.

BERSIH2.0’s Response to Chandra Muzaffar

July 3, 2011

July 9 Rally: The BERSIH2.0 Show will Go On

Let us listen to the political humour of Hishamuddin Rais. This is followed by a serious message from Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan.

United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said of her: “… Ambiga Sreenevasan, has a remarkable record of accomplishment in Malaysia. She has pursued judicial reform and good governance, she has stood up for religious tolerance, and she has been a resolute advocate of women’s equality and their full political participation. She is someone who is not only working in her own country, but whose influence is felt beyond the borders of Malaysia. And it is a great honor to recognize her ...”

Dato’ Ambiga explains the mission of BERSIH2.0 and also why the show must go on, despite recent actions by our government. In the same breadth, both Hishamuddin and Dato Ambiga answer Dr. Chandra Muzaffar.

Article 10(1) grants freedom of speech, the right to assemble peaceably and the right to form associations to every Malaysian citizen but such freedom and rights are not absolute: the Constitution itself, by Article 10 (2), (3) and (4), expressly permits Parliament by law to impose restrictions in the interest of the security of the Federation, friendly relations with other countries, public order, morality, to protect the privileges of Parliament, to provide against contempt of court, defamation, or incitement to any offence.

Article 10 is a key provision of Part II of the Constitution, and has been regarded as “of paramount importance” by the judicial community in Malaysia.

Hishamuddin Rais in Action

Dr McCoy speaks his mind

Mrs Bhupalan Speaks

Civil Society Led-BERSIH2.0

Thank You, Dato A. Samad Said from Your Generation of Malaysians

Finally, I am posting a picture of Dato’ A Samad Said with his controversial poem Unggun Bersih.

Dato’ Samad (born in 1935) is a Malaysian intellectual of my generation and our internationally respect poet and novelist who, in May 1976, was named by Malay literature communities and many of the country’s linguists as the Pejuang Sastera [Literary Exponent] receiving, within the following decade, the 1976 Southeast Asia Write Award and, in 1986, in appreciation of his continuous writings and contributions to the nation’s literary heritage, or Kesusasteraan Melayu, the title Sasterawan Negara.

To you, dear Dato’, I say thank you for showing men and women of our generation that activism is not out of date, even at our age. Let us do it for the generations after us. We did what we had to do before but are now called upon to do it all over again for freedom, democracy and justice. Allah Selamatkan Malaysia, Negara tercinta.–Din Merican

Ungku A. Aziz: Pantun and the Wisdom of the Malay Mind

June 19, 2011

Ungku A.Aziz: Pantun and the Wisdom of the Malay Mind 

by Dato’ Johan Jaaffar @

ROYAL Professor Ungku Abdul Aziz Ungku Abdul Hamid is one of the greatest minds the country has ever known. He is also a man of many achievements, to name one, he is the first recipient of the Merdeka Award in the education and community category in 2008. His interest in all things literary is legendary.

He was obsessed with the Japanese haiku at one point and his latest love is the Malay pantun. Pantun undeniably is the most popular vehicle for the expression of poetic feeling among the Malays. Pak Ungku painstakingly assembled, documented and studied some 16,000 of them over the years. He selected 78 to be included in an interesting lecture organised by the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) and the Malaysian Linguistic Association in 2007 as part of the Raja Ali Haji Lecture series.

I am honoured to have been given the opportunity to write the preface for the book Pantun dan Kebijaksanaan Akal Budi Melayu (Pantun and the Wisdom of the Malay Mind) based on the lecture published by DBP. It was a labour of love for me knowing the man behind the book. It is not often we find someone of his stature to give such serious attention to a Malay poetical form. It is normally the domain of literary scholars and researchers. Ungku Aziz certainly brings a new dimension to literary studies — looking at pantun from various disciplines — from economics to psychological references — areas very few would dare tread.

So his “reading” of the Malay pantun would certainly be different from others. But Ungku Aziz is a contrarian among economic thinkers who believe that there is a relationship between the economic capabilities of the Malays and their value system, worldview and psyche. When he started studying poverty among the Malays, he realised how culture, ways of life, dietary habits and government policies were an insurmountable hindrance to their progress.

It was not a pleasant thing to say at the time but Ungku Aziz shared the same view as another monumental thinker among the Malays, Zainal Abidin Ahmad or Za’ba, who was uncharacteristically audacious in criticising some of the “Malay ways”. It was, therefore, unsurprising that Ungku Aziz wrote a glowing tribute to Zainal Abidin’s views in the book Jejak-jejak di Pantai Zaman published in 1975.

Not surprisingly, too, it was Ungku Aziz who made the word minda (mind) part of the Malay lexicon. No other Malay literary creation explains the Malay mind better than the pantun. For more than 700 years of its existence as part of the Malay oral tradition, the pantun has always been the manifestation of the genius of Malay creativity and a storehouse of the Malay mind.

Pantun is simple in its form but complex in its texture and nuances. It is easily adaptable and allows for improvisation. The pantun contains beautiful imagery and the delicacy of thoughts. That is part of the reason why it survives the test of time. Even today, you hear pantun being read at wedding ceremonies and official functions, not to mention on the airwaves at the slightest provocation.

The pantun was created anonymously just like many of the works that constitute the Malay oral tradition. It is interesting to note that the pantun was born out of the largely uneducated Malay populace of old. Life was hard and survival was the rule. Far from the blooming of other literary brilliance and theatrical sophistication nurtured by the istana (court), lesser mortals had to contend with folk literature of their own, from cerita rakyat (folk tales) to verses like pantun, gurindam (a two-line verse) and peribahasa (proverbs).

Literary works became part of the socialisation process. Before radio and TV, people lived with tukang cerita (story-tellers) and penglipur lara (literally, soother of woes) of all kinds. Even nenek (grandmothers) were involved in telling exemplary moral stories to be emulated as well as fables, myths, legends and ghost stories. Literary works entertain and are used as tools to educate. They reaffirm social norms and community compliance. But creativity is their mainstay.

Ode on a Grecian Urn

June 9, 2011

Ode on a Grecian Urn

It has been quite some time that I have posted a poem on this blog. Tonight, I feel the need to indulge in a beautiful poem. For this purpose, I have chosen John Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn.

In this Ode, I think, Keats  wants to create for us a world of pure joy, but here the idealized or fantasy world  is the life of the people on the urn. Keats sees them, simultaneously, as carved figures on the marble vase and live people in ancient Greece. Existing in a frozen or suspended time, they cannot move or change, nor can their feelings change, yet the unknown sculptor has succeeded in creating a sense of living passion and turbulent action. The real world of pain thus contrasts with the fantasy world of joy.

CLF , Terence Netto, and other lovers of poetry, can you attempt to interpret this last two lines of this Ode for me:

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’–That is all
Ye know of earth, and all ye need to know.

I find them challenging to this day, the link between Beauty and Truth, in the context of this Ode which I read and studied ages ago. As I ride into the sunset, I have yet to fully appreciate these two lines. So, I googled and found this commentary on the beauty-truth equation, and am still not sure if I get it :

“The final stanza contains the beauty-truth equation, the most controversial line in all the criticism of Keats’ poetry. No critic’s interpretation of the line satisfies any other critic, however, and no doubt they will continue to wrestle with the equation as long as the poem is read. In the stanza, Keats also makes two main comments on his urn. The urn teases him out of thought, as does eternity; that is, the problem of the effect of a work of art on time and life, or simply of what art does, is a perplexing one, as is the effort to grapple with the concept of eternity. Art’s (imagined) arrest of time is a form of eternity and, probably, is what brought the word eternity into the poem.

The second thought is the truth-beauty equation. Through the poet’s imagination, the urn has been able to preserve a temporary and happy condition in permanence, but it cannot do the same for Keats or his generation; old age will waste them and bring them woe.

Yet the pictured urn can do something for them and for succeeding generations as long as it will last. It will bring them through its pictured beauty a vision of happiness (truth) of a kind available in eternity, in the hereafter, just as it has brought Keats a vision of happiness by means of sharing its existence empathically and bringing its scenes to emotional life through his imagination. All you know on earth and all you need to know in regard to beautiful works of art, whether urns or poems about urns, is that they give an inkling of the unchanging happiness to be realized in the hereafter. When Keats says “that is all ye know on earth,” he is postulating an existence beyond earth.

Although Keats was not a particularly religious man, his meditation on the problem of happiness and its brief duration in the course of writing “Ode on a Grecian Urn” brought him a glimpse of heaven, a state of existence which his letters show he did think about. In his letter of November 22, 1817, to Benjamin Bailey, he mentioned “another favorite Speculation of mine, that we shall enjoy ourselves here after by having what we called happiness on Earth repeated in a finer tone and so repeated.”–

Ode on a Grecian Urn

by John Keats

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunt about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these?  What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit?  What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels?  What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter: therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal – yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape!  Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

Of Clouds and Golden Daffodils

April 25, 2011

Of Clouds and Golden Daffodils

It has been quite a while since I posted a poem on this blog. Given the political and non-political happenings including the gloom and doom about the future of the US dollar (now at RM 2.99), let me cheer all of us up with Bill Wordsworth’s poem I read in school decades ago.–Din Merican

I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud

by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee;
A poet could not be but gay,
In such a jocund company!
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.


Courtesy of Looes74, Mr Bojangles and CLF

Ulysses: “To strive, to seek,to find, not to yield”

March 31, 2011

Alfred Lord Tennyson‘s Ulysses: Uplifting our Spirits

Najib must Lead, not be Led

The last two stanzas of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses are inspiring for all of us who must face the challenges of living in a much confused Malaysia. We seem to be without direction, drifting in a sea of acronyms (ETP, NKRA, NEM) and slogans like 1Malaysia: Rakyat Didahulukan, Pencapaian DiUtamakan, Malaysia Boleh and Wawasan 2020.  Promises, Promises, Projects, Projects (4Ps), if I may add. So let us be inspired by Ulysses and verses from Lord Tennyson’s poem of the same name.

Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are,
One equal-temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Maybe my friends, for one fleeting moment in Malaysia there was a Camelot. Or could I be dreaming? I remember this  tune by Julie Andrews on YouTube. –Din Merican

In Defense of Naive Reading

October 12, 2010

In Defense of Naïve Reading

by Robert Pippin (October 10, 2010)

Remember the culture wars (or the ’80s, for that matter)? “The Closing of the American Mind,” “Cultural Literacy,” “Prof Scam” ,“Tenured Radicals”? Whatever happened to all that? It occasionally resurfaces, of course. There was the Alan Sokal/Social Text affair in 1996, and there are occasional flaps about winners of bad writing awards and so forth, but the national attention on universities and their mission and place in our larger culture has certainly shifted.

Those culture wars, however much more heat than light they generated, were at least a philosophical debate about values, about what an educated person should know, even about what college was for. All of that has been displaced in the last decade by another sort of discourse: stories about the staggering and growing expense of a college education; the national hysteria about getting one’s children into an “elite” school (or at least one the neighbors might have heard of); the declining impact of a college degree on one’s job prospects; rampant plagiarism; the vast multitudes of part-time or adjunct faculty, usually without health care or much of a future, now teaching our undergraduates; pronouncements on the end of the book, the end of attention spans, even the end of reading itself. But the question of what all this expense and anxiety might ultimately be about, or what the point of it all is, has not surfaced much lately.

It might now be possible to get a different sort of perspective on that discussion of 20 years ago. It is not as if anybody won. The underlying issues ─ especially the philosophical issues ─ have not been resolved. The debate, in the manner of many such public debates and old soldiers, just faded away.

While the public debates may have died down — and while there continue to be such methodological debates in sociology, anthropology and history — it is still the teaching of literature that generates the most academic, and especially non-academic, discussion. There are such debates in philosophy, too, but we tend to get a pass on this issue since debates about what philosophy is have always been one of philosophy’s main topics.

Poems and novels and paintings were not produced as objects for future academic study; there is no reason to think that they could be suitable objects of “research.”

Most students study some literature in college, and most of those are aware that they are being taught a lot of  theory along with the literature. They understand that the latest theory is a broad social-science-like approach called “cultural studies,” or a particular version is called “post-colonialism” or “new historicism.” And there are still plenty of gender-theoretical approaches that are prominent. But what often goes unremarked upon in the continuing (though less public) debate about such approaches is that, taking in the longue durée, this instability is in itself completely unremarkable.

The ’80s debaters tended to forget that the teaching of vernacular literature is quite a recent development in the long history of the university. (The same could be said about the relatively recent invention of art history or music as an academic research discipline.) So it is not surprising that, in such a short time, we have not yet settled on the right or commonly agreed upon way to go about it. The fact that the backgrounds and expectations of the student population have changed so dramatically so many times in the last 100 years has made the problem even more difficult.

In the case of vernacular literature, there was from the beginning some tension between the reader’s point of view and what “professional scholarship” required. Naturally enough, the first models were borrowed from the way “research” was done on the classical texts in Greek and Latin that made up most of a student’s exposure to literature until the end of the 19th century. Philology, with its central focus on language, was once the master model for all the sciences and it was natural for teachers to try to train students to make good texts, track down sources, learn about conflicting editions and adjudicate such controversies. Then, as a kind of natural extension of these practices, came historical criticism, national language categorization, work on tracing influences and patronage, all contributing to the worry about classifying various schools, movements or periods. Then came biographical criticism and the flood gates were soon open wide: psychoanalytic criticism, new or formal criticism, semiotics, structuralism, post-structuralism, discourse analysis, reader response criticism or “reception aesthetics,” systems theory, hermeneutics, deconstruction, feminist criticism, cultural studies. And so on.

Clearly, poems and novels and paintings were not produced as objects for future academic study; there is no a priori reason to think that they could be suitable objects of  “research.” By and large they were produced for the pleasure and enlightenment of those who enjoyed them. But just as clearly, the teaching of literature in universities ─ especially after the 19th-century research model of Humboldt University of Berlin was widely copied ─ needed a justification consistent with the aims of that academic setting: that fact alone has always shaped the way vernacular literature has been taught.

The main aim was research: the creating and accumulation and transmission of knowledge. And the main model was the natural science model of collaborative research: define problems, break them down into manageable parts, create sub-disciplines and sub-sub-disciplines for the study of these, train students for such research specialties and share everything. With that model, what literature and all the arts needed was something like a general “science of meaning” that could eventually fit that sort of aspiration. Texts or art works could be analyzed as exemplifying and so helping establish such a science. Results could be published in scholarly journals, disputed by others, consensus would eventually emerge and so on. And if it proved impossible to establish anything like a pure science of exclusively literary or artistic or musical meaning, then collaboration with psychoanalysis or anthropology or linguistics would be welcomed.

Will the sciences eventually provide the actual theory of meaning that researchers in literature and the arts will need?

Finally, complicating the situation is the fact that literature study in a university education requires some method of evaluation of whether the student has done well or poorly. Students’ papers must be graded and no faculty member wants to face the inevitable “that’s just your opinion” unarmed, as it were. Learning how to use a research methodology, providing evidence that one has understood and can apply such a method, is understandably an appealing pedagogy.

None of this is in itself wrong-headed or misguided, and the absence of any consensus about this at this still early stage is not surprising. But there are two main dangers created by the inevitable pressures that the research paradigm for the study of literature and the arts within a modern research university brings with it.

While it is important and quite natural for literary specialists to try to arrive at a theory of what they do (something that conservatives in the culture wars often refused to concede), there is no particular reason to think that every aspect of the teaching of literature or film or art or all significant writing about the subject should be either an exemplification of how such a theory works or an introduction to what needs to be known in order to become a professor of such an enterprise. This is so for two all-important reasons.

First, literature and the arts have a dimension unique in the academy, not shared by the objects studied, or “researched” by our scientific brethren. They invite or invoke, at a kind of “first level,” an aesthetic experience that is by its nature resistant to restatement in more formalized, theoretical or generalizing language. This response can certainly be enriched by knowledge of context and history, but the objects express a first-person or subjective view of human concerns that is falsified if wholly transposed to a more “sideways on” or third person view. Indeed that is in a way the whole point of having the “arts.”

Likewise ─ and this is a much more controversial thesis ─ such works also can directly deliver a  kind of practical knowledge and self-understanding not available from a third person or more general formulation of such knowledge. There is no reason to think that such knowledge — exemplified in what Aristotle said about the practically wise man (the phronimos) or in what Pascal meant by the difference between l’esprit géometrique and l’esprit de finesse — is any less knowledge because it cannot be so formalized or even taught as such. Call this a plea for a place for “naïve” reading, teaching and writing — an appreciation and discussion not mediated by a theoretical research question recognizable as such by the modern academy.

This is not all that literary study should be: we certainly need a theory about how artistic works mean anything at all, why or in what sense, reading a novel, say, is different than reading a detailed case history. But there is also no reason to dismiss the “naïve” approach as mere amateurish “belle lettrism.” Naïve reading can be very hard; it can be done well or poorly; people can get better at it. And it doesn’t have to be “formalist” or purely textual criticism. Knowing as much as possible about the social world it was written for, about the author’s other works, his or her contemporaries, and so forth, can be very helpful.

Secondly, the “research model” pressures described are beginning to have another poorly thought out influence. It is quite natural (to some, anyway) to assume that eventually not just the model of the sciences, but the sciences themselves will provide the actual theory of meaning that researchers in such fields will need. One already sees the “application” of “results” from the neurosciences and evolutionary biology to questions about why characters in novels act as they do or what might be responsible for the moods characteristic of certain poets. People seem to be unusually interested in what area of the brain is active when Rilke is read to a subject. The great problem here is not so much a new sort of culture clash (or the victory of one of C.P. Snow’s “two cultures”) but that such applications are spectacular examples of bad literary criticism, not good examples of some revolutionary approach.

If one wants to explain why Dr. Sloper in Henry James’s novel, “Washington Square,” seems so protective yet so cold about his daughter Catherine’s dalliance with a suitor, one has to begin by entertaining the good evidence provided in the novel ─ that he enjoys the power he has over her and wants to keep it; that he fears the loneliness that would result if she leaves; that he knows the suitor is a fortune hunter; that Catherine has become a kind of surrogate wife for him and he regards her as “his” in that sense; that he hates the youth of the suitor; that he hates his daughter for being less accomplished than he would have liked; and that only some of this is available to his awareness, even though all true and playing some role. And one would only be getting started in fashioning an account of what his various actions mean, what he intended, what others understood him to be doing, all before we could even begin looking for anything like “the adaptive fitness” of “what he does.”

If being happy to remain engrossed in the richness of such interpretive possibilities is “naïve,” then so be it.

Robert B. Pippin is the Evelyn Stefansson Nef Distinguished Service Professor in the John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought, the Department of Philosophy, and the College at the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books on German idealism and on  theories of modernity. His next book, on the problem of fate in American film noir, will appear in 2011.

The Village Blacksmith: For the Ordinary Fellow

September 21, 2010

The Village Blacksmith: In Honour of the Ordinary Fellow

This was one of the poems my late mother read to me when I was growing up. It is about a kind, religious and hardworking man.  The last stanza has special meaning to me. Henry Longfellow is brilliant in capturing the soul of this village blacksmith who has plenty to teach us about the simple life. I shall quote it  here as a constant reminder to me at least of what life is all about and what it has been for me.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought!

Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from this poem.–Din Merican

The Village Blacksmith
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Under a spreading chestnut tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.

And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.

He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter’s voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother’s voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipe
A tear out of his eyes.

Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought!

Tengku Razaleigh: We were once ‘Malaysians’

August 1, 2010

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah: We were once ‘Malaysians’

The following keynote speech was given by Gua Musang (Kelantan) Parliamentarian and former Malaysian Finance Minister Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah at the 4th Annual Malaysian Student Leaders Summit (MSLS) on July 30, 2010.

I have played some small role in the life of this nation, but having been on the wrong side of one or two political fights with the powers-that-be, I am not as close to the young people of this country as I would hope to be.

History and the 8 o’clock news are written by the victors. In recent years, the government’s monopoly of the media has been destroyed by the technology revolution.

You could say I was also a member of the United Kingdom and Eire Council for Malaysian Students (UKEC). Well I was, except that I belonged to the predecessor of the UKEC, by more than 50 years, the Malayan Students Union of the UK and Eire. I led this organisation in 1958/59.

asli forum tengku razaleigh economy 150109 02I was then a student of Queen’s University at Belfast, as well as at Lincoln’s Inn. In a rather cooler climate than Kota Bharu’s, we campaigned for decolonisation. We demonstrated in Trafalgar Square and even in Paris. We made posters and participated in British elections.

Your invitation to participate in the MSLS was prefaced by an essay that calls for an intellectually informed activism. I congratulate you on this. The youth of today, you note, “will chart the future of Malaysia.” You say you “no longer want to be ignored and leave the future of our Malaysia at the hands of the current generation.” You “want to grab the bull by the horns… and have a say in where we go as a society and as a nation.”

I feel the same, actually. A lot of Malaysians feel the same. They are tired of being ignored and talked down to. You are right. The present generation in power has let Malaysia down. But also you cite two things as testimony of the importance of youth and of student activism to this country, the election results of 2008 and “the prime minister’s acknowledgement of the role of youth in the development of the country.”

So perhaps you are a little way yet from thinking for yourselves. The first step in “grabbing the bull by the horns” is not to require the endorsement of the prime minister, or any minister, for your activism. Politicians are not your parents. They are your servants. You don’t need a government slogan coined by a foreign PR agency to wrap your project in. You just go ahead and do it.

When I was a student, our newly independent country was already a leader in the post-colonial world. We were sought out as a leader in the Afro-Asian Conference that inaugurated the Non-Aligned Movement and the G-77.

The Afro-Asian movement was led by such luminaries as Zhou En Lai, Nehru, Kwame Nkrumah and Soekarno. Malaysians were seen as moderate leaders capable of mediating between the more radical leaders and the West. We were known for our moderation, good sense and reliability.

We were a leader in the Islamic world, as ourselves and as we were, without our leaders having to put up false displays of piety. His memory has been scrubbed out quite systematically from our national consciousness, so you might not know this or much else about him, but it was Tunku Abdul Rahman who established our leadership in the Islamic world by coming up with the idea of the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Conference) and making it happen.

tunku abdul rahmanUnder his leadership, Malaysia led the way in taking up the anti-apartheid cause in the Commonwealth and in the United Nations, resulting in South Africa’s expulsion from these bodies.

Tunku Abdul Rahman: His great integrity in service was clear to all

Here was a man at ease with himself, made it a policy goal that Malaysia be “a happy country”. He loved sport and encouraged sporting achievement among Malaysians. He was owner of many a fine race horses. He called a press conference with his stewards when his horse won at the Melbourne Cup.

He had nothing to hide because his great integrity in service was clear to all. Now we have religious and moral hypocrites who cheat, lie and steal in office, who propagate an ideology that shackled the education system for all Malaysians, while they send their own kids to elite academies in the West.

Days when we were on top

Speaking of football – you’re too young to have experienced the Merdeka Cup in the 60s and 70s. Teams from across Asia would come to play in Kuala Lumpur: teams such as South Korea and Japan, whom we defeated routinely.

We were one of the better sides in Asia. We won the bronze medal at the Asian Games in 1974 and qualified for the Moscow Olympics in 1980. Today our FIFA ranking is 157 out of 203 countries.

That puts us in the lowest quartile, below Maldives (149), the smallest country in Asia, with just 400,000 people living about 1.5 metres above sea level who have to worry that their country may soon be swallowed up by climate change. Here in Asean we are behind Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, whom we used to dominate, and now only one spot above basketball-playing Philippines.

The captain of our illustrious 1970’s side was Soh Chin Aun and we had R Arumugam, Isa Bakar, Santokh Singh, James Wong and Mokhtar Dahari. They were heroes whose names rolled off the tongues of our schoolchildren as they copied them on the school field. It wasn’t about being the best in the world, but about being passionate and united and devoted to the game.

It was the same in badminton, except at one time we were the best in the world. I remember Wong Peng Soon, the first Asian to win the All-England Championship, and then just dominated it throughout the 1950. Back home every kid who played badminton in every little kampung wanted to call himself Wong Peng Soon.

There was no tinge of anybody identifying themselves exclusively as Chinese, Malays or Indian. Peng Soon was a Malayan hero. Just like each of our football heroes. Now we do not have an iota of that feeling. Where has it all gone?

Capital flight troubling

I don’t think it’s mere nostalgia that makes us think there was a time when the sun shone more brightly upon Malaysia. I bring up sport because it has been a mirror of our more general performance as a nation.

When we were at ease with who we were and didn’t need slogans to do our best together, we did well. When race and money entered our game, we declined. The same applies to our political and economic life.

Soon after independence, we were already a highly successful developing country. We had begun the infrastructure building and diversification of our economy that would be the foundation for further growth. We carried out an import-substitution programme that stimulated local productive capacity.

From there, we started an infrastructure build-up that enabled a diversification of the economy leading to rapid industrialisation. We carried out effective programmes to raise rural income and help the landless with programmes such as Felda.

Our achievements in achieving growth with equity were recognised around the world. Our peer group in economic development were South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, and we led the pack. I remember we used to send technical consultants to advise the South Koreans.

Bmalaysia stock exchange market klse 141008 05y the late 90s, however, we had fallen far behind this group and were competing with Thailand and Indonesia. Today, according to the latest World Investment Report, FDI into Malaysia is at a 20-year low.

We are entering the peer group of Cambodia, Burma and the Philippines as an investment destination. Thailand, despite a month-long siege of the capital, attracted more FDI than we did last year. Indonesia and Vietnam far outperform us, not as a statistical blip but consistently. Soon we shall have difficulty keeping up with the Philippines.

This, I believe, is called relegation. If we take into account FDI outflow, the picture is even more depressing. Last year, we received US$1.38 billion in investments but US$8.04 billion flowed out. We are the only country in Southeast Asia that has suffered net FDI outflow.

I am not against outward investment. It can be a good thing for the country. But an imbalance on this scale indicates capital flight, not mere investment overseas.

Time to wake up

Without a doubt, Malaysia is slipping. Billions have been looted from this country, and billions more are being siphoned out as our entire political structure crumbles. Yet we are gathered here in comfort, in a country that still seems to ‘work’ – most of the time. This is due less to good management than to the extraordinary wealth of this country.

You were born into a country of immense resources, both natural, cultural and social. We have been wearing down this advantage with mismanagement and corruption. With lies, tall tales and theft. We have a political class unwilling or unable to address the central issue of the day because they have grown fat and comfortable with a system built on lies and theft.

It is time to wake up. That waking up can begin here, right here, at this conference. Not tomorrow or the day after but today. So let me, as I have the honour of opening this conference, suggest the following:

1) Overcome the urge to have our hopes for the future endorsed by the prime minister. He will have retired, and I’ll be long gone, when your future arrives. The shape of your future is being determined now.

2) Resist the temptation to say “in line with” when we do something. Your projects, believe it or not, don’t have to be in line with any government campaign for them to be meaningful. You don’t need to polish anyone’s apple. Just get on with what you plan to do.

3) Do not put a lid on certain issues as ‘sensitive’ just because someone said they are. Or it is against the ‘social contract’. Or it is ‘politicisation’.

You don’t need to have your conversation delimited by the hyper-sensitive among us. Sensitivity is often a club people use to hit each other with. Reasoned discussion of contentious issues builds understanding and trust. Stress test your ideas.

4) It’s not ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’ to ask for an end to having politics, economic policy, education policy and everything and the kitchen sink determined by race. It’s called growing up.

5) Don’t let the politicians you have invited here talk down to you.

Don’t let them

Don’t let them tell you how bright and ‘exuberant’ you are, that you are the future of the nation, etc. If you close your eyes and flow with their flattery, you have safely joined the caravan, a caravan taking the nation down a sink hole.

If they tell you the future is in your hands, kindly request that they hand that future over first. Ask them how come the youngest member of our cabinet is 45? Our Merdeka cabinet had an average age below 30.

You’re not the first generation to be bright. Mine wasn’t too stupid. But you could be the first generation of students and young graduates in 50 years to push this nation through a major transformation. And it is a transformation we need desperately.

You will be told that much is expected of you, much has been given to you and so forth. This is all true. Actually much has also been stolen from you. Over the last twenty five years, much of the immense wealth generated by our productive people and our vast resources has been looted. This was supposed to have been your patrimony.

The uncomplicated sense of belonging fully, wholeheartedly, unreservedly, to this country, in all its diversity, that has been taken from you. Our sense of ourselves as Malaysians, a free and united people, has been replaced by a tale of racial strife and resentment that continues to haunt us. The thing is, this tale is false.

Reclaim your history

The most precious thing you have been deprived of has been your history. Someone of my generation finds it hard to describe what must seem like a completely different country to you now. Malaysia was not born in strife but in unity. Our independence was achieved through a demonstration of unity by the people in supporting a multiracial government led by Tunku Abdul Rahman.

That show of unity, demonstrated first through the municipal elections of 1952 and then through the Alliance’s landslide victory in the elections of 1955, showed that the people of Malaya were united in wanting their freedom. We surprised the British, who thought we could not do this.

Today we are no longer as united as we were then. We are also less free. I don’t think this is a coincidence. It takes free people to have the psychological strength to overcome the confines of a racialised worldview. It takes free people to overcome those politicians bent on hanging on to power gained by racialising every feature of our life including our football teams.

Hence while you are at this conference, let me argue, that as an absolute minimum, we should call for the repeal of unjust and much abused Acts of Parliament which are reversals of freedoms that we won at Merdeka.

I ask you in joining me in calling for the repeal of the ISA (Internal Security Act) and the OSA (Official Secrets Act). These draconian laws have been used, more often than not, as political tools rather than instruments of national security. They create a climate of fear.

I ask you to join me in calling for the repeal of the Printing and Publications Act, and above all, the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA). I don’t see how you can pursue your student activism with such freedom and support in the UK and Eire while forgetting that your brethren at home are deprived of their basic rights of association and expression by the UUCA. The UUCA has done immense harm in dumbing down our universities.

We must have freedom as guaranteed under our constitution. Freedom to assemble, associate, speak, write, move. This is basic. Even on matters of race and even on religious matters we should be able to speak freely, and we shall educate each other.

Make BN multiracial

It is time to realise the dream of Hussein Onn and the spirit of the Alliance and of Tunku Abdul Rahman. That dream was one of unity and a single Malaysian people. They went as far as they could with it in their time. Instead of taking on the torch, we have reversed course. The next step for us as a country is to move beyond the infancy of race-based parties to a non-racial party system.

Our race-based party system is the key political reason why we are a sick country, declining before our own eyes, with money fleeing and people telling their children not to come home after their studies.

So let us try to take 1Malaysia seriously. Millions have been spent putting up billboards and adding the term to every conceivable thing. We even have ‘Cuti-cuti 1Malaysia’. Can’t take a normal holiday anymore. This is all fine.

Now let us see if it means anything. Let us see the government of the day lead by example. 1Malaysia is empty because it is propagated by a government supported by a racially-based party system that is the chief cause of our inability to grow up in our race relations.

Our inability to grow up in our race relations is the chief reason why investors, and we ourselves, no longer have confidence in our economy. The reasons why we are behind Maldives in football, and behind the Philippines in FDI, are linked.

So let us take 1Malaysia seriously, and convert Barisan Nasional into a party open to all citizens. Let it be a multiracial party open to direct membership. Pakatan Rakyat will be forced to do the same or be left behind the times. Then we shall have the vehicles for a two party, non-race-based system.

If UMNO, MIC or MCA are afraid of losing supporters, let them get their members to join this new multiracial party. Pakatan Rakyat should do the same. Nobody need feel left out. UMNO members can join en masse. The Hainanese Kopitiam Owners’ Association can join whichever party they want, or both parties en masse if they like.

We can maintain our cherished civil associations, however we choose to associate. But we drop all communalism when we compete for the ballot. When our candidates stand for elections, let them ever after stand only as Malaysians, for better or worse.

Stephen Spender: I think continually

June 19, 2010

I Think Continually–Stephen Spender

I have not been posting poems on this blog for quite a while. I thought I should do so today to say thanks in a poetic way  to my blogging friends like Frank, Bean, Tean, Menyalak-er, Kakrubi56, Tok Cik, Danieldaud, and Siti Khatijah and Maureen et.el. They are heroes who brighten this blog. As usual, I will dedicate this poem to my dear wife Dr. Kamsiah G. Haider who is always urging me on when things do not look too bright.


A poem from time to time in times of political gloom is good for our aching souls. At least, that is the way I feel. Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses is one of my favorite but it was featured before. Now  let me to introduce Stephen Spender to you. I have chosen this particular poem , I think continually ,by Sir Stephen because I like his last stanza.–Din Merican

I Think Continually

I think continually of those who were truly great.
Who, from the womb, remembered the soul’s history
Through corridors of light where the hours are suns
Endless and singing. Whose lovely ambition
Was that their lips, still touched with fire,
Should tell of the Spirit clothed from head to foot in song.
And who hoarded from the Spring branches
The desires falling across their bodies like blossoms.

What is precious is never to forget
The essential delight of the blood drawn from ageless springs
Breaking through rocks in worlds before our earth.
Never to deny its pleasure in the morning simple light
Nor its grave evening demand for love.
Never to allow gradually the traffic to smother
With noise and fog the flowering of the spirit.

Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
See how these names are feted by the waving grass
And by the streamers of white cloud
And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
The names of those who in their lives fought for life

Who wore at their hearts the fire’s centre.
Born of the sun they travelled a short while towards the sun,
And left the vivid air signed with their honour.

Stephen Spender*

Sir Stephen Harold Spender CBE (28 February 1909 – 16 July 1995) was an English poet, novelist and essayist who concentrated on themes of social injustice and the class struggle in his work. He was appointed the seventeenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the United States Library of Congress in 1965.

Bagan Pinang: Defeat despite best efforts

October 11, 2009

My Econs Class of 1963 and I

My Econs Class of 1963 and I

My classmates and I met for a reunion lunch last Wednesday (October 7) at Original Kayu Restuarant in Section ss2, Petaling Jaya.  At that time, we already felt that Pakatan Rakyat would face major political and bureaucratic obstacles in its attempt to win the Bagan Pinang by election. The chances of victory were rather slim, given 4,000-5,000 postal votes, the media blitz, and money that UMNO would pump in to prop up its candidate, Isa Samad, Calon Rasuah.

My classmates were of the view that the best PR could hope for was a reduction in the margin of victory. I was the only one who thought that the odds would be about even, but the result announced at 8 pm this evening showed that Isa Samad won with a majority of 5,435 votes. I was obviously too optimistic.

Yes, we lost badly in Bagan Pinang. UMNO-BN’s Calon Rasuah won by a landslide. It is true that we face many obstacles in trying to defeat UMNO-BN in their stronghold. But we as genuine democrats (in a country which practices  politics of  manipulation and voter intimidation) must respect the choice of the people of Bagan Pinang. It is obvious that corruption is still acceptable as a way of life for the people of Bagan Pinang.

We must learn lessons for this setback, yes only a setback, review our strategies and tactics, improve our machinery on the ground and boost our public relations. The public is perceiving Pakatan Rakyat as increasingly divided, indisciplined (i.e. incapable of managing some of our ego-centric ADUNs and MPs), and unable to govern.

Our strengths are in our conceptualization and articulation of ideas, but we  have yet to execute them to good effect. Fortunately, there is still time to make appropriate changes in the way we conduct our campaigns and interface with the rakyat who want to see change, not business as usual, although in Bagan Pinang, it was the business as usual UMNO-BN coalition that retained the ADUN seat .

For today, take a breather. To those who worked hard in Bagan Pinang we say “terima kasih daun kali kalau boleh kerja keras lagi”. I dedicate this poem, Ulysses, by Alfred Lord Tennyson to you all , supporters of Pakatan Rakyat, and my dear friends  in Barisan Rakyat Bloggers group for your hard work and dedication.

To my classmates (Class of 1963 Econs, University of Malaya)  who are truly Malaysians, I thank you for your friendship, support and understanding over the years. With us as still united as we were in the 196os, we will be strong in will to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield. That which we are, we are.--Din Merican

Alfred Lord Tennyson–Ulysses

Come, my friends.
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,–
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

by Alfred Tennyson