Malaysia is in Ostrich Mode over University Rankings

June 20 2014

Taipei, Taiwan

Malaysia in Ostrich mode over University Rankings

By KT Maran

The Times Higher Education Asia University Rankings 2014 has shown that for the second consecutive year, Malaysia’s public universities have failed to make it to the top    100.


Malaysia’s PM Najib and his Deputy take Education Lightly

However our Education Minister is making good progress on thinking up a perfect excuse for it. In his response to the failure of local public universities to make the list, Education Minister II Idris Jusoh said the decline did not reflect the local tertiary education levels in the country.

He said emphasis should be placed on the entire learning process rather than rankings alone. “Rankings don’t mean everything, although we can improve (our performance). We must be realistic when aiming for a position,” he said.

The nation’s continuous failure to feature in any university ranking despite a huge education budget every year has not gone down well with the public. The Education Ministry received RM38.7 billion in 2013 and has been allocated RM54 billion this year, the biggest allocation yet. However we keep making excuses for the deplorable academic performance of our Malaysian Universities. Our neighbour Singapore is ranked second.

First class infrastructure alone is not enough to pull us out of this rut. What about the mentality of our students? What has happened to striving hard and putting in the effort to achieve academic excellence?

It does seem we are good in giving excuses year in and year out for our dismal academic performance. The world is laughing at us and our ministers are doing us no favours with their rationale either.

The Muslim World’s Challenges–Part 1

May 28, 2014

The Muslim World’s Challenges

By Dr Farhan Ahmad Nizami

ISLAMIC PAST: Legacy was built on Muslims’ confidence in Islam, sustained by material prosperity, combined with political and legal stability

Dr Farhan Ahmad NizamiFOR about a thousand years, roughly from the 7th century onwards, the people under Islamic rule made striking advances in their material and intellectual culture.

The contribution of those advances to modern Western philosophy, sciences and technology has been extensively studied. But I want to speak about their distinctively Islamic qualities.

The area under Islamic influence stretched overland from the Atlantic in the west to the borders of China, and across the Indian Ocean to the islands of the Malay archipelago.

This vast area was commercially interconnected with much continuous and profitable exchange of goods. It was also culturally interconnected, with prodigious traffic in books and ideas, scholars and travellers.

Its people busied themselves in seeking knowledge and writing it down. So much so was this that, to this day, there remain huge quantities of manuscripts, from different ends of the Islamic world, yet to be catalogued and studied.

The regional diversity and assimilative embrace of Islam as a civilisation is manifest in the names by which great figures in Islamic scholarship are best known: al-Qurtubi, al-Fasi, al-Iskandari, al-Dimashaqi, al-Baghdadi, al-Isfahani, al-Bukhari, al-Dihlawi and al-Jawi.

The language of communication among scholars was mostly Arabic, with Persian and Turkish becoming important later in the east. This dominance of Arabic was not the result of any policy to diminish local languages. It was simply a gradual extension of the authority of the language of the Quran and its teachings.

Muslims believed that the way of life defined by the Quran summed up the best of the teachings of the past. They expected that non-Muslims, too, would have knowledge, skills and virtues. They expected to learn from them and to fit that learning with Islam.

Islamic civilisation thus self-consciously set out to co-exist with and absorb the cultures of others. It did so from a position of political strength.

The House of Wisdom (Bayt al-Hikma) in Baghdad, funded by the Caliph, is the best-known example of this attitude. Translations were commissioned of works in every branch of learning, from metaphysics to the science of making poisons. Once translated, these works were studied critically, then improved and extended.

The dominant streams in this flood of knowledge were Hellenic, Persian and Indian. The Chinese script proved too severe an obstacle to the absorption of Chinese philosophy and science. However, Chinese influences are found everywhere in the material culture of the Islamic world, in decorative motifs, and in the skills of making paper, ceramics, glass, metal-ware, textiles, dyes and drugs.

The Quran presented the teaching of all God’s messengers as a unified legacy. Muslims set out to harmonise older traditions of learning with that legacy. This effort was not universally admired.

In particular, the presentation of Islamic teachings in the style of Greek philosophy remained controversial for centuries. In the end, it had a more enduring influence on the medieval Christian world than on Islam.

Such controversies did not dampen Muslims’ self-confidence. In general, Islamic norms continued to encourage intellectual adventure and achievement. Muslims were aware of living in prosperous, stable societies, and comfortable with non-Muslim communities among them. They considered themselves forward-looking, inventive and multi-cultured.

Their best scholars made innovations of lasting importance in mathematics and experimental science, and applied them in technical instruments, manufacture, and engineering. And the wealthiest royal courts competed to own and display the results.

Al-Jazari’s famous water-clock illustrates this well. Its water-raising technology is Greek; the elephant, inside which the great vat of water is hidden, represents India, the rugs on its back are Persian; on top of the howdah sits an Egyptian phoenix; on its sides are conspicuously Chinese red dragons. This deliberately multicultural device was constructed shortly after the Crusades.

All that said, while Muslim societies were stable, their governments were often not: regime change was usually violent and disruptive. Politically, the Muslims became ever weaker and more divided.

Little now survives of their cultural self-confidence; even less remains of the personal and political skills they had developed to manage life alongside different communities and confessions.

Their ways of organising long-distance commerce and regulating free markets have vanished completely. The material remains of the rest — all the thinking in all the books, colleges, libraries and hospitals — interest only medievalists, museums, and tourists.

The past still has presence in the public spaces; you still hear the call to prayer, even in secularised city centres. There is still a feel of Islam in private homes and personal manners.

We can objectively map the movements of books, ideas and scholars from one end of the Islamic world to the other in every century until the modern period.

The recovery following the Crusades and Mongol conquests included the building of madrasa and colleges that taught a rich, varied curriculum.

There is little evidence of that during European colonial rule. The madrasa of that era were not well funded. They could afford to focus only on Islamic sciences narrowly defined.

For the rest of their education, Muslims had to leave the cultural space of Islam. A division became established between religious and secular education, between old and modern, with Islam on the side of the old. That division is at the heart of the present challenges facing Muslims in every part of the world.

When we memorialise the legacy of the Islamic past — when naming public institutions, or presenting past glories in books and museums — we should remember that this legacy was built on Muslims’ confidence in Islam.

This confidence was sustained by material prosperity, combined with a sufficient degree of political and legal stability. Without prosperity and stability, the constraints on political and economic decisions are too strong for people to make their own choices for their future.

We need only look at the difficulties in post-recession Europe to know that feeling powerless to shape the future is not special to Muslim societies. It is not related to their being Muslim but to the material conditions in which they are Muslim.

The end-goal is hardly a matter of dispute among the vast majority of Muslims. It is to re-establish connections between Islamic upbringing and education and modern secular, technical education.

The latter provides the means for individuals to make their way in the world, to have things to do in it and to enjoy doing them successfully. The former provides them with their religious orientation and identity.

Religious orientation is not itself the goal. The aim is not to have people identify as Muslims; the vast majority already do that. Rather, the aim is to enable them to prosper in the world in ways that express and test, inform and improve, their identity as Muslims.

As the Chinese saying puts it, the journey of a thousand miles begins from where your feet are. We in the Muslim world can only set out from where we stand in reality. That reality needs to be stated bluntly.

Today, Muslim identity is not sufficiently relevant to how things are done in the world, especially in the collective spheres of life.

Muslim identity is not the engine of prosperity, of either the production or the distribution of wealth. Muslim identity is not the engine of knowledge, of collecting it, or adding to it, or disseminating it. (This is true, rather unexpectedly, even of knowledge about the past legacy of Islam.)

Muslim identity is not the engine of political and legal order. Or rather, it is not so in a positive way. Instead, we see mainly negative expressions of it. We see it in a despairing withdrawal from the evils of power: in the attitude that the status quo, however bad, is still better than chaos.

We see it also in despairing violence intended to erase the status quo, without any labour of understanding and analysis about what will follow.

The end-goal is to make being Muslim relevant and effective in the quest for knowledge, in the quest for prosperity and in the quest for political order. Except in the sphere of personal courtesies and private concerns, being Muslim is no longer the currency of exchange neither among Muslims themselves, nor between them and non-Muslims.

To make it so again is a task of huge scale and complexity. Our first priority must be to establish institutions and forums so that the present challenges are properly identified, and then try to guide expectations towards realistic, achievable goals.

The hurdles in the way are real and substantial.First, there is the hurdle, as I said, of determining what is do-able and specifying it intelligently, in the light of local realities; in the way that sustains momentum towards the next objective; and without losing sight of the end-goal.

Second, there is the hurdle of co-ordinating effort with other societies and states. Priorities can vary sharply with local conditions. Therefore, there will be a need for trust among policymakers, with tolerance for variable levels of competence and energy.

Thirdly, there is the hurdle of rejection by those who oppose any attempt to bring religious concerns into the public sphere. The response will sometimes be concession, compromise and conciliation. At other times, it will take the form of steadfastly holding one’s ground. In either case, alert flexibility — the readiness to adjust to different circumstances — is essential.

Among general objectives, the most inclusive is to build up the commercial, financial, trade and cultural ties between Muslim societies.One measure of the need is the low values and volumes of bilateral trade between Muslim-majority countries, compared with their trade with non-Muslim countries.

Another measure is the low values and volumes of trade outside the dollar-dominated banking system.

Another is the low numbers of Muslims travelling for higher education from one Muslim country to another; the general preference, for those who can afford it, remains Europe or America.

Yet another measure is the massive inflow of cultural product from the non-Muslim into the Muslim world — the information and imagery people get from their televisions and computers; the advertising that influences the things they want to own; the time they give to sports and other entertainments.

All of this shapes people’s horizons, and their understanding of what is important and what is possible.

For the states that make up the Islamic world, the need to work together is clear. Modern technologies make it much easier to do that than it used to be. The sacrifices needed for cooperation to succeed are widely understood. But we should also highlight the benefits of a strengthened economic base in Muslim states, through increase in trade and long-term investments in human development.

The distribution of resources favours Muslim nations, but they lack the will and confidence to manage them to best advantage. If only because they are Muslim nations, their leaders have a special responsibility to nurture that will and confidence.

Their aspirations and policies should be consciously linked to the history, culture and faith that Muslims share. If enough far-sighted individuals have the courage of their Islamic convictions, what seems desirable but unrealistic can become a realistic and achievable goal.

Muslims are commanded to “bid to the good and forbid from the evil” (amr bi-l-ma`ruf wa-nahy `ani l-munkar). This entails commitment to the direction and quality of the whole social ethos. Not just traditional forms of family life and neighbourliness but also religiously valid ways of earning a living, co-operatively with others and with the natural environment.

As I mentioned, in the past, Muslims traded globally. The expansion of Islam’s influence followed the trade routes out of its Arabian heartland. For Muslims, economic effort is an integral part of responsible living.

We have a reliable record of how the Prophet and his companions went about discharging that responsibility. Muslims may not engage in practices that deliberately and systematically deprive others of their livelihood, and then, in response to a separate impulse, give charitably to relieve the distress their economic practice has generated.

Rather, the effort to do good works and the effort to create wealth must be sustained as a single endeavour. Both means and ends must be halal.

More Muslims need to join, with each other and with non-Muslims, in the urgent need to balance the creation and distribution of wealth so that a good life is available to all, including future generations.

Muslims’ efforts to develop techniques of financing and investment that are free of usury and uncertainty (speculation) are pertinent to the wider concerns about ethical investment, fair and genuinely free trade, and abolishing the export, through debt-slavery, of poverty, instability and pollution to the poorest and weakest on this earth.

We have seen over the last forty years massive growth in the stocks of Islamic financial capital. But these stocks are not being deployed to develop the economic capacity of Muslim countries. It seems that the wealthiest Muslims, individually or as sovereign powers, prefer the safe, quick returns from investment in the non-Muslim world.

In many Muslim states, economic infrastructure and activity remain linked to servicing the economies of former colonial powers. Those linkages are not sustained only by fear, but by individual and institutional inertia — by lack of will and imagination on the part of officials to take the necessary steps to put in place the needed skills and systems.

One reason that Muslims do not invest their wealth and talents in Muslim countries is that those countries are unstable, unsafe and unproductive to work in.

This vicious circle is not a function of those countries being Muslim: similar socio-economic conditions elsewhere have similar effects — an exodus of energy, talent and money.

Many Muslim states inherited their political boundaries from the colonial era. Those boundaries increased dependence on the colonial power to keep order. The anti-colonial struggle provided a shared history for communities separated by ethnic and religious differences. In the post-colonial era they have not been able to find common ground. Solidarity is not a precondition, but an outcome, of the effort to identify common purposes. It is something that has to be, and can be, constructed.

To make Muslim identity effective in the world, a major policy commitment must be to make justice and fairness the decisive value for all modes and levels of governance.

This means allowing independent centres of authority to emerge and recognising their concerns and aspirations. It means a redistribution of opportunities to acquire wealth and influence, so that decision-making is not concentrated in the same few hands.

This must be a process, not a gesture. It must be given the time it needs, according to local conditions, to happen gradually.

In this way all parties learn to trust and work with each other to mutual benefit. If government is seen to be in the service of the people as a whole, its security is guaranteed by them.

Tomorrow: Part II

Dr Farhan Ahmad Nizami presenting the Perdana Putrajaya Lecture at the Putrajaya International Convention Centre yesterday. Bernama pic

Penindasan Ilmu membantutkan Perkembangan Bangsa

May 21, 2014

Penindasan Ilmu membantutkan Perkembangan Bangsa

oleh  Zairil Khir Johari

Zairil Khir JohariIzinkan saya bermula dengan memetik sebuah anekdot masyhur yang dikisahkan di dalam Al-Quran. Kisah seorang insan yang mencari siapa Tuhannya. Beliau bermula dengan mempersoalkan amalan tradisional masyarakatnya yang menyembah berhala.

Pada malam hari, beliau melihat kepada bintang yang menyinari pekat malam, lalu bertanya: apakah bintang ini Tuhan? Namun, ternyata bintang itu terbenam di ufuk dunia menjelang subuh.

Lalu beliau melihat pula kepada bulan, bulat dan bercahaya, dan mengajukan soalan yang sama: apakah bulan ini Tuhan? Namun, bulan juga menghilang setelah terbit fajar dan diganti pula oleh matahari yang bersinar dengan lebih terang.

Apakah matahari ini sebenarnya Tuhan? Setelah matahari terbenam tatkala senja menyingsing, beliau menyedari bahawa Tuhan tidak mungkin menjadi objek dan simbol-simbol semata-mata tetapi adalah kekuasaan yang mengaturkan objek dan simbol-simbol ini. Maka, beliau akhirnya berkata:

“Wahai kaumku, sesungguhnya aku berlepas diri (bersih) dari apa yang kamu sekutukan dengan Allah. Sesungguhnya aku hadapkan mukaku kepada Allah yang menciptakan langit dan bumi, dengan cenderung kepada agama yang benar, dan aku bukan dari orang-orang yang menyekutukan Allah.”

Demikianlah pengembaraan spiritual Nabi Ibrahim mencari Tuhannya, sebagaimana yang dicatatkan dalam Surah Al-An‘am, ayat 74-79.

Walaupun saya bukan pakar agama, saya percaya bahawa kisah Nabi Ibrahim ini jelas menggambarkan bagaimana Islam adalah agama yang berasaskan sisi rasional yang mampu dihujahkan dengan logik.

Pada saya, perkara yang paling menarik dalam kisah tersebut, adalah pada waktu Nabi Ibrahim sedang menghadapi persoalan epistemelogi yang paling besar dalam sejarah ketamadunan manusia – persoalan kewujudan manusia – tiada campur tangan yang berlaku daripada Yang Maha Esa. Bukankah mudah andainya sekiranya malaikat (atau setidaknya Ustaz Azhar Idrus) diutuskan untuk memberikan jawapan kepada Nabi Ibrahim?

Sebaliknya, Allah dalam kebijaksanaanNya telah menyerahkan kepada Nabi Ibrahim untuk mencerap alam dan mencari kebenaran melalui kaedah kognitif dan empirikal. Malah, kaedah ini telah mengukuhkan lagi keyakinan Nabi Ibrahim.

Ini membuktikan bahawa Islam adalah lebih daripada dogma semata-mata. Sesungguhnya, Allah telah mengurniakan manusia dengan magnum opus ciptaannya, kurniaan yang hatta tidak pernah diberikan kepada makhluk lain termasuk para malaikat, iaitu akal fikiran yang melayakkan kaum manusia diangkat menjadi khalifah di dunia ini.

Agama Islam adalah agama ilmu pengetahuan.

Agama Islam adalah agama ilmu pengetahuan.

Malangnya, di Malaysia, nikmat akal ini tidak benar-benar dihargai, apatah lagi disyukuri, sehingga terdapat kecenderungan para penguasa untuk melakukan apa yang Allah sendiri tidak lakukan terhadap Nabi Ibrahim, iaitu untuk berfikir dan membuat keputusan bagi pihak orang lain, khususnya dalam soal keimanan yang sangat peribadi.

Penindasan ilmu

Justeru, di negara kita, pemerintah akan menentukan untuk rakyat apa yang boleh atau tidak boleh dibaca, ditonton, dibicara, malah dipercayai. Sebagai contoh, bukan Muslim dilarang daripada menggunakan beberapa kalimah “Islam” seperti “Allah,” manakala terjemahan Bible dalam bahasa Melayu pula menjadi mangsa undang-undang.

Penapisan ini tidak hanya terhad kepada bahan-bahan agama. Filem adiwira Daredevil (2003) juga telah diharamkan kerana kononnya merosakkan akidah umat. Baru-baru ini, nasib yang sama telah menimpa buku komik berjudul Ultraman: The Ultra Power.

Dan sekiranya itu tidak cukup menghairankan, kerajaan telah mengambil langkah pelik mengharamkan sesetengah buku hanya dalam bahasa Melayu, manakala tiada sebarang halangan dalam versi bahasa Inggeris.

Satu contoh adalah buku penting dalam ilmu biologi, The Origin of Species karya Charles Darwin. Masuk sahaja ke mana-mana kedai buku atau perpustakaan utama di negara kita dan buku tersebut boleh dijumpai. Walau bagaimanapun, terjemahannya dalam bahasa Melayu, iaitu Asal-usul Spesies, disenaraikan sebagai buku terlarang.

Ada juga buku lain yang mengalami nasib yang menyedihkan ini, seperti karya Karen Armstrong, Islam: A Short History. Terjemahannya, Sepintas Sejarah Islam, diharamkan manakala versi asalnya boleh dibeli dan dipinjam di serata negara.

Apabila diminta untuk mewajarkan pengharaman buku Darwin, maklumbalas yang diterima daripada Kementerian Dalam Negeri adalah bahawa buku tersebut “memudaratkan ketenteraman awam” sambil bercanggah dengan ajaran Ahli Sunnah Wal Jamaah (hal ini pula menimbulkan persoalan lain berkenaan penguasaan pemerintah ke atas “jenis” Islam yang boleh diamalkan).

Pun begitu, jawapan kerajaan langsung tidak masuk akal. Bagaimanakah mungkin sesuatu buku itu dianggap sebagai ancaman kepada ketenteraman awam dan menyalahi ajaran Islam dalam satu bahasa, tetapi boleh diterima pula dalam bahasa lain?

Ataupun, adakah ini sebenarnya cara kerajaan untuk meletakkan batasan ilmu ke atas mereka yang hanya celik Bahasa Kebangsaan, seolah-olah orang Melayu Islam tidak cukup rasional dan cerdik untuk membaca karya besar dunia berbanding mereka yang mampu berbahasa Inggeris?

Pembantutan perkembangan bangsa

Hakikatnya, tindakan mengharamkan buku atas apa-apa alasan tidak mungkin diwajarkan, kerana ia bukan sahaja menindas ilmu dan minda, malah membantutkan perkembangan negara bangsa.

Sejarah dunia membuktikan bahawa pembangunan tamadun berlaku atas usaha memperluaskan ilmu, manakala kegagalan tamadun berlaku apabila ilmu disekat dan dihadkan.

Dalam hal ini, usaha penterjemahan adalah sangat kritikal. Ini kerana ia bukan sahaja soal penyalinan kata dalam bahasa yang berbeza, tetapi pengolahan ilmu, maklumat dan pengalaman sesuatu budaya.

Ketika zaman kegemilangan Islam semasa pemerintahan Khalifah Harun al-Rashid, Baitul Hikmah di Baghdad telah menjadi pusat penterjemahan yang masyhur, di mana karya-karya tamadun Greek telah diterjemahkan bagi tatapan umum.

Ini bukan sahaja tidak memudaratkan ketenteraman umat, malah telah menyumbang kepada perkembangan tamadun Islam sehingga terhasil karya-karya dunia yang sangat berpengaruh sehingga ke hari ini.

Malangnya di Malaysia, usaha penterjemahan buku ilmiah adalah amat kurang sekali. Maka, persoalan muncul, apakah fungsi Institut Terjemahan Negara Malaysia atau sekarang dikenali sebagai Institut Terjemahan dan Buku Malaysia (ITBM)? Institut ini bukan sahaja tidak giat dalam usaha penterjemahan, ia nampaknya lebih cenderung kepada menerbitkan buku-buku pemimpin kerajaan seperti Perkhidmatan Awam: Meneraju Perubahan, Melangkau Jangkaan oleh Dato’ Sri Najib Razak dan Sudut Pandangan Muhyiddin Yassin oleh Timbalan Perdana Menteri.

Cuba bayangkan sekiranya Khalifah Harun al-Rashid menggunakan Baitul Hikmah untuk menerbitkan buku sendiri – adakah zaman baginda akan dikenali serata dunia sebagai zaman kegemilangan Islam?

Bahasa milik penguasa?

Kita semua kenal dengan cogan kata “Bahasa Jiwa Bangsa.” Menurut Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, slogan ini adalah satu gagasan besar yang bermaksud bahawa bahasa mampu memainkan peranan dalam pembentukan identiti kebangsaan.

Di negara ini, bahasa Melayu telah diangkat menjadi Bahasa Kebangsaan. Ini bererti ia bukan lagi menjadi bahasa milik kaum Melayu semata-mata, tetapi telah menjadi bahasa kepunyaan setiap insan yang bergelar rakyat Malaysia.

Namun, tindakan kerajaan untuk memperkecilkan kemampuan bahasa Melayu sebagai bahasa kebangsaan dan bahasa keilmuan dengan mengharamkan terjemahan Melayu sesetengah buku serta keengganannya untuk melabur secara besar-besaran dalam usaha penterjemahan telah menjadikan gagasan ini sebagai slogan kosong yang menghiasi dinding-dinding sekolah semata-mata.

Dalam erti kata lain, para penguasa di Malaysia bukan sahaja tidak menghormati Bahasa Kebangsaan malah menindas penggunaannya. Justeru, nasib bahasa Melayu hanya boleh diselamatkan sekiranya belenggu kerajaan dirungkaikan dan ia diberi ruang dan sokongan yang mencukupi agar menjadi bahasa wacana ilmu sekali lagi.

Elok juga sekiranya iktibar dapat diambil daripada kisah Nabi Ibrahim dan sejarah tamadun Islam, iaitu tidak ada kuasa yang boleh kekal, sama ada kuasa ideologi, agama atau politik, sekiranya ia tidak dapat diwajarkan secara logik dan rasional. Pada masa yang sama, mana-mana kerajaan atau tamadun yang tidak membenarkan ruang bagi perkembangan ilmu dalam kalangan masyarakatnya akan akhirnya menemui kegagalan. Bak kata pepatah orang putih: Sesiapa yang gagal mengambil iktibar daripada sejarah akan mengulangi kesilapannya.

ZAIRIL ialah Ahli Parlimen Bukit Bendera, yang juga Pengarah Eksekutif Penang Institute (PI). Ucapan ini disampaikan sebagai pembukaan Forum Nusantara anjuran PI di Shah Alam pada 17 Mei 2014 bertajuk ‘Bahasa Jiwa Bangsa atau Bahasa Jiwa Kuasa?’

Karpal’s Sedition Conviction is Bad News for Malaysia

February 22, 2014

Karpal’s Sedition Conviction is Bad News for Malaysia

by V Anbalagan, Assistant News Editor, The Malaysian Insider

karpal-singhDAP lawmaker Karpal Singh’s (pic, above) conviction for sedition reaffirms the return of authoritarianism and political persecution, a lawyers’ group said.

 So now giving one's legal opinion is deemed seditious! mj

So now giving one’s legal opinion is deemed seditious! mj

Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) Executive Director Eric Paulsen said this was apparent following the dismissal earlier this week of P. Uthayakumar’s appeal, also for sedition.

He said the return of authoritarianism and political persecution followed a brief lull during which Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak made a series of democratic reforms which turned out to be a rebranding exercise and ultimately, false.

“Karpal’s conviction has once again reaffirmed Najib’s false reformist credentials,” he said in a statement today.

Paulsen said Najib  had not only broken the promise he made on July 11, 2012, when he announced that the Sedition Act would be abolished but his administration has increasingly abused sedition charges against opposition leaders and dissidents like Tian Chua, Tamrin Ghafar, Haris Ibrahim, Safwan Anang, Adam Adli, Hishamuddin Rais and Suhaimi Shafie.

Najib  had not only broken the promise he made on July 11, 2012, when he announced that the Sedition Act would be abolished but his administration has increasingly abused sedition charges against opposition leaders and dissidents like Tian Chua, Tamrin Ghafar, Haris Ibrahim, Safwan Anang, Adam Adli, Hishamuddin Rais and Suhaimi Shafie..

Najib had not only broken the promise he made on July 11, 2012, when he announced that the Sedition Act would be abolished but his administration has increasingly abused sedition charges against opposition leaders and dissidents like Tian Chua, Tamrin Ghafar, Haris Ibrahim, Safwan Anang, Adam Adli, Hishamuddin Rais and Suhaimi Shafie..

“Sedition is an antiquated and undemocratic offence and most modern states have repealed or put it into disuse. It certainly has no place in a modern and democratic Malaysia that we aspire to be.”

Paulsen said the investigations and prosecutions were a waste of public funds. Police and the Attorney General’s Chambers’ resources would also have been better used to address real crimes.

“LFL, therefore, calls on the police and AG’s Chambers to conduct themselves in a professional, fair and independent manner and not to selectively and in bad faith target Opposition leaders and dissidents when government leaders and others connected to them like Datuk Ibrahim Ali, Datuk Zulkilfi Noordin, Ridhuan Tee Abdullah and Datuk Mohd Noor Abdullah have made more serious and offensive speeches but led to no repercussion or action.”

He said LFL was shocked by the High Court conviction of Karpal. He now faces imprisonment up to five years and disqualification as member of parliament.

“Making political or critical comments is not a crime and especially so in this case. Karpal was merely giving his legal opinion on the 2008 constitutional crisis in Perak and under no circumstances can it be described as seditious.”

He said while it was true freedom of speech was not absolute and there were accepted limitations like incitement to violence and hate speech, the threshold for freedom of expression, however, must be high.

Lawyer Amer Hamzah Arshad said politicians and those critical of the establishment had to deal the archaic law as it was still in the statute book.

“It is unfortunate the senior lawyer has been found guilty for merely stating the law and the facts to the public as there was a belief by certain quarters that the rulers enjoyed immunity and no legal action could be taken against them.”

He said an ordinary person would now feel fearful to express in public his legitimate views about the affairs of the state and leaders.

“This in a way will close the door for the authorities to gauge the true sentiment of the public. Fear will be used by the government as a  tool to maintain their grip on power.”

High Court judge Datuk Paduka Azman Abdullah today found Karpal guilty of uttering seditious words against the Sultan of Perak at the height of the constitutional crisis in 2009.

 Same case, same judge, different judgments -- only in the land of endless possibilities! mj

Same case, same judge, different judgments — only in the land of endless possibilities! mj

Sentence has been deferred to March 7 for Karpal’s defence team to prepare mitigation to obtain a lighter sentence.

On Tuesday, a High Court also upheld the jail sentence of two years and six months imposed on lawyer P. Uthayakumar by the Sessions Court for writing a letter of a seditious nature to former British prime minister Gordon Brown seven years ago. – February 21, 2014.

Innovation, the “Third Arrow” and US-Japan Relations

January 11, 2014

east-west-center-asia-pacific-bulletinNumber 246 | January 10, 2014


Innovation, the “Third Arrow” and US-Japan Relations

By Sean Connell

Sean Connell, Japan Studies Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington, explains that “It is valuable to consider the potential impacts these strategies have not only for Japan, but also their interconnectivity with the US economy at a time when both countries face intensifying global competitive pressure.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic revitalization policies have energized Japan over the past year, boosting both corporate and public confidence and lifting the Nikkei stock index to heights unseen in recent years. The Abe government’s three-pronged strategy of aggressive monetary policy, fiscal policy, and structural reforms aims to eliminate deflationary mindsets after two “lost decades” of economic stagnation, stimulate consumption and investment, and spur new growth. As part of its growth strategy, the Abe government brought Japan into the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, presenting significant opportunities to strengthen Japan’s economic relationship with the United States.

A growing, prosperous Japan benefits the United States. Japan is the fourth-largest US export market, and US subsidiaries of Japanese companies employed more than 680,000 US workers in 2011. The two economies are increasingly integrated through trade, investment, and global supply chains. A TPP agreement will accelerate and further deepen integration by removing significant market access, regulatory, and other barriers in Japan to US exports. Moreover, the recent approval of US shale gas exports to Japan will make energy an increasing area of the bilateral economic partnership. The Abe government’s growth agenda shares with US domestic economic strategies the goal of spurring innovation to generate new productivity and growth engines. It is valuable to consider the potential impacts these strategies have not only for Japan, but also their interconnectivity with the US economy at a time when both countries face intensifying global competitive pressure. One consideration for policymakers is the matter of where engagement supports Japan’s growth strategies, and presents opportunities for bilateral cooperation in creating new industries and advancing related goals globally.

First, governments play key roles in facilitating conducive environments and policy frameworks for innovation, and in coordinating among various actors–including businesses, universities, non-governmental organizations, and entrepreneurs–from whose interactions innovations emerge. The Japan Revitalization Strategy announced in June 2013 indicates an active role for the Japanese government in advancing these proposals. This is important for enhancing basic research for which government support is vital, such as the proposed establishment of a Japanese version of the National Institutes of Health, along with university reforms. It will be essential to implement deep structural reforms, such as those required for TPP, electricity deregulation, and in labor and agriculture policy in order to overcome long-recognized constraints to productivity and Japan’s innovation ecosystem. The Abe government should, however, be careful to avoid actions that could inadvertently distort markets, including picking industry and standards champions, and consider appropriate exit strategies for government stimulus in order to allow competitive businesses and entrepreneurs to fully unleash innovative capabilities. These are issues with which the US also grapples, and that present useful opportunities for continued engagement and dialogue around best practices and policy solutions.

Second, coordination around innovation policy is increasingly important within the US-Japan relationship. Center stage for this is TPP, given the role trade and investment play in fostering innovation by encouraging competition and bringing new products, technologies, and ideas across borders. TPP presents opportunities to enhance key elements of innovation frameworks, including stronger intellectual property protections, greater alignment of standards-setting processes, opening market sectors closed to investment, removing localization barriers, improving transparency and eliminating regulatory impediments. Some of these issues remain challenges to foreign businesses in Japan, but on others Japan has strong rules and shared goals with the United States. This makes TPP an important venue for cooperation to ensure a high-standard agreement that encourages innovation in Japan, and fosters a more competitive environment across the Asia-Pacific region for Japanese and US innovations. The two governments are additionally exploring common issues in clean energy, the Internet economy, and other innovation-driven industries. These dialogues have increasingly incorporated both small and large businesses from both countries, positive for pragmatic discussions on policy, commercial developments, and areas of potential collaboration. Expanding this inclusive approach, and exploring untapped synergies across existing initiatives and institutional lines on cross-cutting innovation topics, could present beneficial opportunities. This includes in new growth areas, such as smart grid systems, health care technologies including regenerative medicine, and services for aging societies.

Third, innovation is borderless and requires a global orientation. Japan is world-leading in its innovation capabilities, but Japanese companies have stumbled in recent years in bringing these assets to global markets. Contributing factors have included business and organizational models, and an inward, domestic focus. The Abe administration’s growth strategy includes a comprehensive set of actions to address these and related challenges in Japan’s innovation ecosystem. These range from incentives for corporate governance reform and business organization, and encouraging more women and high-skilled foreign professionals in the workforce, to attracting foreign direct investment through special economic zones featuring bold regulatory reforms. Increased engagement with US partners, at multiple levels of government, the private sector, and civil society can support Japan as it moves forward with this agenda. For example, the two governments are discussing opportunities to facilitate more mergers and acquisitions into Japan, which could help introduce more global perspectives and get innovative Japanese goods, services, and ideas out to global markets. Leveraging the diverse networks of people and institutions across both countries already collaborating bilaterally and active in these areas could also contribute positively. Examples include entrepreneurial business competitions and women’s leadership programs such as those under the TOMODACHI initiative.

Building on this, stakeholder-driven initiatives could be valuable as models for collaboration in achieving these goals. For example, the International Institute for Carbon-Neutral Energy Research (I2CNER), a joint Kyushu University/University of Illinois institute funded by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, is emerging as a unique venue for US-Japan basic research collaboration. Initiated by researchers from both universities, I2CNER is not only developing innovative technologies, but also emerging as a laboratory for new practices in a Japanese university environment, including through introducing a US-style tenure system for researchers. A joint US-Japan smart grid demonstration project in Maui, which came on line in December 2013, is intended to develop a functioning smart grid system and business model that could be exported to other island or isolated communities. Additionally, Okinawa Prefecture and the State of Hawai’i have each taken the lead in opening ocean thermal energy conversion demonstration facilities and exchanging information to study the potential of this energy resource. These represent just a few examples of evolving opportunities for US-Japan cooperation at multiple levels in both countries, and which can serve as laboratories to explore in practical ways the two countries can pursue mutually beneficial innovation and growth objectives.

About the Author

Sean Connell is a Japan Studies Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington. He can be contacted via email at

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington
APB Series Coordinator: Damien Tomkins, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

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Inequality Is a Choice

October 15, 2013

ddm and kghWe wish all our Fellow Muslims at home and abroad Eid Mubarak. We pray for the good health and safety of all pilgrims performing the Haj in Mecca. May Allah Bless you and may there be peace and goodwill in our country. Let us rise above the current political mess, bigotry, and idiocy and work for a better future for Malaysia.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

Eid Mubarak

Inequality Is a Choice

J.E.StiglitzInequality and poverty among children are a special moral disgrace. They flout right-wing suggestions that poverty is a result of laziness and poor choices;  children can’t choose their parents… Some countries have made the choice to create more equitable economies: South Korea, where a half-century ago just one in 10 people attained a college degree, today has one of the world’s highest university completion rates.–Stiglitz

It’s well known by now that income and wealth inequality in most rich countries, especially the United States, have soared in recent decades and, tragically, worsened even more since the Great Recession. But what about the rest of the world? Is the gap between countries narrowing, as rising economic powers like China and India have lifted hundreds of millions of people from poverty? And within poor and middle-income countries, is inequality getting worse or better? Are we moving toward a more fair world, or a more unjust one?

These are complex questions, and new research by a World Bank economist named Branko Milanovic, along with other scholars, points the way to some answers.

Starting in the 18th century, the industrial revolution produced giant wealth for Europe and North America. Of course, inequality within these countries was appalling — think of the textile mills of Liverpool and Manchester, England, in the 1820s, and the tenements of the Lower East Side of Manhattan and the South Side of Chicago in the 1890s — but the gap between the rich and the rest, as a global phenomenon, widened even more, right up through about World War II. To this day, inequality between countries is far greater than inequality within countries.

But starting around the fall of Communism in the late 1980s, economic globalization accelerated and the gap between nations began to shrink. The period from 1988 to 2008 “might have witnessed the first decline in global inequality between world citizens since the Industrial Revolution,” Mr. Milanovic, who was born in the former Yugoslavia and is the author of “The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality,” wrote in a paper published last November. While the gap between some regions has markedly narrowed — namely, between Asia and the advanced economies of the West — huge gaps remain. Average global incomes, by country, have moved closer together over the last several decades, particularly on the strength of the growth of China and India. But overall equality across humanity, considered as individuals, has improved very little. (The Gini coefficient, a measurement of inequality, improved by just 1.4 points from 2002 to 2008.)

So while nations in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, as a whole, might be catching up with the West, the poor everywhere are left behind, even in places like China where they’ve benefited somewhat from rising living standards.

From 1988 to 2008, Mr. Milanovic found, people in the world’s top 1 percent saw their incomes increase by 60 percent, while those in the bottom 5 percent had no change in their income. And while median incomes have greatly improved in recent decades, there are still enormous imbalances: 8 percent of humanity takes home 50 percent of global income; the top 1 percent alone takes home 15 percent. Income gains have been greatest among the global elite — financial and corporate executives in rich countries — and the great “emerging middle classes” of China, India, Indonesia and Brazil.

Who lost out? Africans, some Latin Americans, and people in post-Communist Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, Mr. Milanovic found.

The United States provides a particularly grim example for the world. And because, in so many ways, America often “leads the world,” if others follow America’s example, it does not portend well for the future.

On the one hand, widening income and wealth inequality in America is part of a trend seen across the Western world. A 2011 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that income inequality first started to rise in the late ’70s and early ’80s in America and Britain (and also in Israel).

The trend became more widespread starting in the late ’80s. Within the last decade, income inequality grew even in traditionally egalitarian countries like Germany, Sweden and Denmark. With a few exceptions — France, Japan, Spain — the top 10 percent of earners in most advanced economies raced ahead, while the bottom 10 percent fell further behind.

But the trend was not universal, or inevitable. Over these same years, countries like Chile, Mexico, Greece, Turkey and Hungary managed to reduce (in some cases very high) income inequality significantly, suggesting that inequality is a product of political and not merely macroeconomic forces. It is not true that inequality is an inevitable byproduct of globalization, the free movement of labor, capital, goods and services, and technological change that favors better-skilled and better-educated employees.

Of the advanced economies, America has some of the worst disparities in incomes and opportunities, with devastating macroeconomic consequences. The gross domestic product of the United States has more than quadrupled in the last 40 years and nearly doubled in the last 25, but as is now well known, the benefits have gone to the top — and increasingly to the very, very top.

Last year, the top 1 percent of Americans took home 22 percent of the nation’s income; the top 0.1 percent, 11 percent. Ninety-five percent of all income gains since 2009 have gone to the top 1 percent. Recently released census figures show that median income in America hasn’t budged in almost a quarter-century. The typical American man makes less than he did 45 years ago (after adjusting for inflation); men who graduated from high school but don’t have four-year college degrees make almost 40 percent less than they did four decades ago.

American inequality began its upswing 30 years ago, along with tax decreases for the rich and the easing of regulations on the financial sector. That’s no coincidence. It has worsened as we have under-invested in our infrastructure, education and health care systems, and social safety nets. Rising inequality reinforces itself by corroding our political system and our democratic governance.

And Europe seems all too eager to follow America’s bad example. The embrace of austerity, from Britain to Germany, is leading to high unemployment, falling wages and increasing inequality. Officials like Angela Merkel, the newly re-elected German Chancellor, and Mario Draghi, President of the European Central Bank, argue that Europe’s problems are a result of a bloated welfare spending. But that line of thinking has only taken Europe into recession (and even depression). That things may have bottomed out — that the recession may be “officially” over — is little comfort to the 27 million out of a job in the E.U. On both sides of the Atlantic, the austerity fanatics say, march on: these are the bitter pills that we need to take to achieve prosperity. But prosperity for whom?

Excessive financialization — which helps explain Britain’s dubious status as the second-most-unequal country, after the United States, among the world’s most advanced economies — also helps explain the soaring inequality. In many countries, weak corporate governance and eroding social cohesion have led to increasing gaps between the pay of chief executives and that of ordinary workers — not yet approaching the 500-to-1 level for America’s biggest companies (as estimated by the International Labor Organization) but still greater than pre-recession levels. (Japan, which has curbed executive pay, is a notable exception.) American innovations in rent-seeking — enriching oneself not by making the size of the economic pie bigger but by manipulating the system to seize a larger slice — have gone global.

Asymmetric globalization has also exerted its toll around the globe. Mobile capital has demanded that workers make wage concessions and governments make tax concessions. The result is a race to the bottom. Wages and working conditions are being threatened. Pioneering firms like Apple, whose work relies on enormous advances in science and technology, many of them financed by government, have also shown great dexterity in avoiding taxes. They are willing to take, but not to give back.

Inequality and poverty among children are a special moral disgrace. They flout right-wing suggestions that poverty is a result of laziness and poor choices; children can’t choose their parents. In America, nearly one in four children lives in poverty; in Spain and Greece, about one in six; in Australia, Britain and Canada, more than one in 10. None of this is inevitable. Some countries have made the choice to create more equitable economies: South Korea, where a half-century ago just one in 10 people attained a college degree, today has one of the world’s highest university completion rates.

For these reasons, I see us entering a world divided not just between the haves and have-nots, but also between those countries that do nothing about it, and those that do. Some countries will be successful in creating shared prosperity — the only kind of prosperity that I believe is truly sustainable. Others will let inequality run amok. In these divided societies, the rich will hunker in gated communities, almost completely separated from the poor, whose lives will be almost unfathomable to them, and vice versa. I’ve visited societies that seem to have chosen this path. They are not places in which most of us would want to live, whether in their cloistered enclaves or their desperate shantytowns.

A State of Justice and Benevolence

August 18, 2013

Background of Ahmad Farouk Musa

Dr.Ahmad Farouk Musa and the organisation he leads, the Islamicdr-ahmad-farouk-musa Renaissance Front are at the forefront of promoting a vision of Islam that is progressive and democratic in Malaysia.

His day job is as an academician at the Monash University, Malaysian Campus. He is a trained cardiothoracic surgeon and an ardent researcher who had presented his work across Asia and Europe.

Apart from his academic and surgical world, he is actively involved in social work. He works for the promotion and establishment of civil society and has delivered talks related to Islam at universities and other Islamic centres in Malaysia. He had been involved in interfaith dialogues especially with regard to Christian-Muslim relations and also intra-faith dialogues especially the Shii-Sunni discourse.

He writes for a column at the Islamic Party (PAS) official organ with the intention to reappraise the understanding of the Islamists and infuse progressive and democratic ideas. He also writes to other established web-portals such as Malaysiakini, The Malaysian Insider and Free Malaysia Today. He is also a steering committee member of BERSIH 2.0, a coalition promoting clean, free and fair elections.

He is the founder and Director of Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), an intellectual movement and a think tank focusing on youth empowerment and promotion of intellectual discourse and reformation. 

Below is the summary of his paper presented at theCompeting visions in the Muslim world conference.”

The Secular Democratic State: A State of Justice and Benevolence

by Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa, Islamic Renaissance Front (08-14-13)

One of the emerging trends that may influence the trajectory of contemporary political Islam is the intrusion of Literal Islam. Obviously this worrying trend could be seen more clearly with the Arab Spring although the literalists were not initially at the forefront. They advocate the revival of pristine Islam and the establishment of Islamic states based on Sharia laws. Other form of political systems or constitution are dismissed as un-Islamic and a manifestation of Western neo-colonialism.

Their thrust for political power can be felt as far as Maghribi in the West and stretches to Malaysia in the East. Although this project could be traced way back to the time of Islamism of the fundamentalist era, the idea was rejuvenated with the collapse of the many dictatorships during Arab Spring.

The whole fundamental percept of the Islamist project lies in the idea of God’s sovereignty. Any other forms of governments are basically human efforts to usurp the sovereignty of God by human. If two lines were to be drawn, a horizontal and a vertical, then the point of friction is when the two lines meet. People who believe in the strict definition of an Islamic state seek to interject their vertical relationship with God into the horizontal public spheres as a way of regulating human affairs.

The entire idea is based on the notion that a religion claims to be in possession of universal truth. The ideological rigidity often associated with this belief undermines tolerance, pluralism, and compromises all the crucial aspects of liberal democratic politics. And due to the pivotal status that Sharia occupies the economy of Islamic theological-legal discourse, hudud or divine punishment, has been elevated to the status of “holy grail” of many Islamist movements.

That is the main reason why there is a need for the separation of religion from politics. Religion is exclusionary because it sets up a boundary between believers and non-believers, whereas citizenship should not be based on adherence to God but rather on membership in a political society. And religion undermines the secular order in society that is needed to maintain a democratic peace. It basically seeks to collapse the distinction between the vertical and horizontal axis, and drags God from heavenly heights and injecting into the centre of public debate.

It must be stressed here that a call to establish a secular state is not similar in any ways to the call for secularising the society. A state should be secular in the sense that it is neutral to all the differing religious doctrines. It does not mean the exclusion of religion from the public life of a society. The misconception that it does, is one of the reasons many Muslims tend to be hostile towards the concept.

If Islam should still be seen to play a role in governance, then the main task is for it to be a guarantor of human dignity. It must ensure the physical safety of individual citizens, their rights to protect their family, the safety of their property, fairness in their profession and their full participation in civil society.

It should not be a catalyst for building an “ideological community”, to establish the so-called Islamic state, nor implementing Islamic laws and moral codes. Islam is no longer a solution to all problems or “al-Islam huwa al-hal”. Such a slogan is merely a plain rhetoric. The main focus should be on justice, equality and freedom.

The only way forward is to allow a space for intellectual discourse and to respect religious rights and freedom of conscience and expression. Islam and true religiosity could thrive better in a secular state that breaks down the monopoly of religious truth.  It is a space needed for a Muslim to live a life based on his own freewill and true conviction and not because of state’s imposition.

It must be pointed out that while religion is exclusionary, democracy is inclusive in nature, egalitarian and non-discriminatory. No man can monopolise to be speaking on behalf of God. The compatibility or incompatibility of a religion – including Islam – with democracy is not a matter of mere philosophical speculations, but of political struggle.

It is not as much the question of texts but more of the struggle of power between those who want a democratic religion and those who pursue an authoritarian version. And only in a secular democratic state, all citizens, believers no less than non-believers, and even believers from the various denominations, Sunni and Shii alike, will have the same basic reason to embrace the right to religious freedom. They will have total freedom from a government that wants to behave as an arbiter of religious truth or worse, a government that manifests its coercive power to impose religious authority and uniformity.

TPPA: Kudos to Prime Minister Najib

August 18, 2013

TPPA: Kudos to Prime Minister Najib

by BA Hamzah, DSDK

NajibKudos to Prime Minister Najib Razak for taking pre-emptive measures on the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). The Cabinet’s decision is a soft reminder to the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) to be more sensitive to the aspirations of the rakyat.MITI is accountable to the Cabinet, which in turn is answerable to the rakyat.

The Cabinet has set the litmus test for Malaysia joining the TPPA: favourable terms for those affected by the Treaty. The ball is now back in MITI’s court, which must now make sure the Treaty benefits Malaysians.

It would have been a different narrative if, for example, the MITI negotiators were to first consult some experts in trade and investment policy and the affected parties before taking on the “big boys”. [Five of the TPPA members have GNP per capita above US forty-thousand dollars; US$12,000 for Brazil and US$5,000 plus for Malaysia].

One trade expert that MITI should forthwith consult is the Cambridge- educated, former USM colleague and Penang- based columnist for The Star Martin Khor.

Had it held its belated “Open House” much earlier and long before Tun Mahathir and others criticised the TPPA, MITI would not have to go through this wrenching soul searching process. A few of us including my good friend and blogger, Dato’ Din Merican and I are concerned with MITI’s defensive style, which has inevitably dented its credibility. MITI should not behave like an ostrich burying its head in the sand.

Members of the public are not privy to the negotiations. While we put our trust in MITI, we also expect it to do rigorous homework. Now, we know that a comprehensive study has not been completed and that no cost-benefit study in two critical areas was conducted.

We can only hope that the results of these studies will be made public as the rakyat has every right to know what is in store for them. MITI is not empowered to act without the consent of Parliament, which represents us, the people.

Whether the MITI Open House on August 1 was an afterthought orDatuk-Seri-Mustapa-Mohamed otherwise, the session was a welcome opportunity to “exchange” views. Unfortunately the forum turned out to be an unusual exercise in public relations. At that session, MITI merely restated its position that everything was overboard. Of course, as expected, it promised to bring the expressed concerns for further discussion.

Knowing what we want is half of the picture. Getting what the Cabinet has mandated is a challenge that our negotiators must live up to. Will the “big boys” continue to listen to our pleas and woes? Is it not too little too late to renegotiate the terms when the clock has started ticking? What is the fate of million Malaysians whose livelihood depends on the state-owned–enterprises (SOEs) and small- and- medium enterprises (SMEs) once the TPPA comes into operation, for example?

Many thousand poor Malaysians suffering from cancer, AIDS and myeloid leukaemia who depend on cheaper generic drugs have reasons to smile after the Cabinet made a decision that it would not agree to any provision in the Treaty that limits access to affordable medicine and healthcare.

Under the TPPA rule on intellectual property right, only patented drugs are allowed. With regard to this, the Indians are more fortunate following a recent Supreme Court decision that rejected a patent for a cancer drug; the cheaper generic version costs only US$165; the would- be- patented drug costs US$2,666 a month!

Renegotiating issues like jurisdiction in the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, status of government procurement policies, status of state-owned enterprises, policies on financial services including capital controls, and the impact of intellectual property rights on the cost of medicine and healthcare, is, in my view, difficult at this late stage.

The multinationals are using the TPPA to rewrite the rules of international trade and financial services. The multinationals are determined to rein in the role of state enterprises and promotion of local small and medium private companies, which they allege have been blocking access to markets in Third World countries.

The role of the state as actor in international relations will likely to be eroded under the TPPA trade-imposed regime; the multinational companies have supplanted their role. The fear in some quarters that the state can no longer exercise sovereign immunity over certain trade -related issues is quite justified.

NajibWith the multinationals in the driver’s seat, anti-smoking pictures or slogans like “smoking is bad for your lungs”, “that second hand smoke kills” or “smoking leads to cancer” will no longer be allowed. Governments can be sued for displaying these slogans!

Whether PM Najib Razak will call- off the unpopular TPPA depends on many factors–external and domestic. Externally, withdrawing from the TPPA will not endear KL to Washington especially when Malaysia is hosting President Obama in October. Domestically, it depends on how much the Treaty will affect his chances of retaining UMNO Presidency in the upcoming UMNO General Assembly slated for October, too. On balance, however, when push comes to shove, the latter will have the final say.

On TPPA: MITI responds

August 14, 2013

COMMENT by BA Hamzah: Judging from the statements of prominentBA Hamzah cabinet Ministers over the TPPA it would seem that Malaysia is now more determined to be a member. More so after Tun Mahathir has openly criticised the treaty for its lack of transparency and unfavourable content.

The TPPA is likely to be debated at the forthcoming UMNO General Assembly in October alongside Pak Lah’s latest “The Awakening”. Don’t be surprised if a few were to thumb the table with late Barry Wain’s book on Mahathir: The Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohammad in Turbulent Times.

Anything under the sun is possible at an UMNO meeting including belacan that Malaysia, under the TPPA, can market to Brunei. Of the twelve, Brunei has the tiniest market. The population of Brunei is one third of Kuala Lumpur. What can we sell to Brunei except for belacan?

Malaysia’s membership of the TPPA is likely to be about UMNO politics as it is about free trade. Well it is not really free trade, as it also talks about financial services. Under the proposed TPPA, Malaysia can no longer introduce capital controls in the event of another Soros type currency speculation. The TPPA is also about state-owned–enterprises (SOEs) and small- and- medium enterprises (SMEs), which have been consciously developed over the years for specific reasons. These two will come under scrutiny.

One Minister has suggested that the TPPA would rein in corruption among Government officials. I have not figured out how this can be achieved, presumably through the proposed intervention in Government procurement policies. It will indeed be a miracle if the TPPA mechanism can rein in rampant corruption in Malaysia.

Without the SOEs, SMEs and Government contracts, not only Malays will suffer. Every one who depends on the Government for business will have to bite the bullet too. It may put an end to the New Economic Policy, which is supposed to favour the Bumiputeras.That’s not a bad outcome since it puts end to crony capitalism and political patronage. But it also means an end to the policy of restructuring the society, the other pillar of the NEP, to eradicate poverty irrespective of race.

Who drives the TPPA? MITI says the decision is by consensus, so it is on auto-pilot mode. Interesting!. Scratch the surface slightly, you will find that the train is auto-piloted by large American multinationals like the tobacco companies and pharmaceutical giants.

Forget about educating Malaysians on the hazards of smoking under the TPPA agreement. Displaying anti-smoking pictures or captions like “smoking is bad for your lungs”, “that second hand smoke kills” or “smoking leads to cancer” is unfair form of trade.

Under the TPPA, Big tobacco companies must be permitted to sell cigarettes, irrespective of the health hazard of smoking.It is OK if it kills people, as long as it fairly traded!

The impact on healthcare is going to be steep for Malaysians who cannot afford patented drugs. Under the TPPA rule on intellectual property rights, only original, patented drugs are allowed. Generics are not.

Imagine those suffering from AIDs and myeloid leukaemia, which need cheaper generics to stay alive.

The Supreme Court in India has done a service to the poor by recently rejecting a patent on a cancer drug that costs a US$2,600 a month. Now Indian drug makers can continue to sell the same drug for US$165 a month. Fortunately for Indians, India is not party to the TPPA.

On the surface, TPPA is designed to benefit the wealthy. The poor must continue to endure and suffer because of bad policies. MITI should have a  heart for the poor Malaysians suffering from cancer and myeloid leukaemia.

MITI should listen to the voices of the educated and well-informed members of the civil society too. It would seem that it is adamant in pushing the agenda. Whose agenda is it? Is a regime agenda? Or should MITI be more concerned with the poor rakyat who voted for the regime?

Fair representation is a key element in a functioning democratic system. Politicians are elected to represent the people and Government officials are mere civil servants whose primary duty is to serve the rakyat. In this particular case, MITI must put the interest of the common people above regime loyalty.

Regime comes and goes; the rakyat stay.

How much of the TPPA is about geopolitics? Plenty. Ten TPPA members are allies, near allies or client states of America: Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.This can probably explain why China is not invited. All eleven have FTAs with the US. Malaysia does not. 

Arguably, the TPPA augments the US military policy of pivoting to the East targeting at China. Since when has Malaysia moved into the US policy orbit of containing China, which is currently our largest trading partner?

The TPPA is a rich-man club, going by the GNP per capita. Except for Malaysia, Mexico, Peru and Vietnam, the GNP per capita of seven other countries are above forty-thousand US dollars; thirty eight thousand for New Zealand and twelve-thousand for Brazil.

Datuk-Seri-Mustapa-MohamedThe majority of Malaysian rakyat want Tok Pa (Dato Seri Mustapha Mohamed) and MITI to first resolve favourably the fate of small and medium scale enterprises, jurisdiction issue in the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, status of government procurement policies, status of state-owned enterprises, policies on financial services including capital controls, and deal with the impact of intellectual property rights on the cost of medicine and healthcare before moving ahead with the TPPA.

The rakyat will not accept any fait accompli decision. The days when the top can impose their will on ordinary Malaysians are over.

On TPPA: MITI responds

MITI-MalaysiaMPORTANT INITIATIVE: Country’s GDP set to improve, while its goods and services will reach a wider market, says MITI

THE Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), an initiative to establish a free trade agreement (FTA) between 12 countries – Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam – will see a market of 800 million people and combined gross domestic product (GDP) of US$27.5 trillion (RM89.1 trillion).

The agreement covers new elements such as competition, labour, environment, government procurement and intellectual property rights. The International Trade and Industry Ministry (Miti) has put together a Q&A (question and answer) to address public concerns and fears about the ongoing talks.

Here are the excerpts from Part One:

Question: What is the rationale of joining the TPPA negotiations?

Answer: The government views the TPPA as an important initiative as Malaysia seeks to expand market access opportunities, enhance its competitive advantage and build investor confidence. The comprehensive study conducted by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) also identified several major economic benefits to Malaysia, including welfare gains of 1.46 per cent and higher wages for skilled and unskilled labour by 2020, in addition to improved GDP growth due to greater market access among member countries.

The successful conclusion of the TPPA will form a huge market of 800 million people with a combined GDP of US$27.5 trillion. This far surpasses Malaysia’s limited domestic market of 29.5 million people and a GDP of US$300 billion.

According to a simulation study done by the Peterson Institute of Economics in June last year, by 2025, Malaysia will benefit with an increase in gross national income by RM26.3 billion and increase in exports of RM41.7 billion.

Admittedly, the government is aware of the challenges and controversies surrounding the TPPA because unlike other FTAs, it is comprehensive and covers more areas of interest, which would naturally invite more public opinion and debate. The government appreciates all views expressed on the TPPA and will continue to engage the stakeholders and NGOs for inputs and feedback.

Question: What are the benefits of TPPA for Malaysia?

Answer: Consultations with various stakeholders prior to joining TPPA negotiations have revealed an increasing request from Malaysian companies for more open markets and trade facilitative measures. There are increasing numbers of Malaysian companies becoming global investors and they require a level of predictability that can be guaranteed effectively through binding agreements like FTAs.

Concurrently, there is also interest from foreign companies from non-TPPA countries that are exploring Malaysia as a base for their operations as the hope to enjoy the benefits of the TPPA. The combination of greater market access for Malaysian products and services under the TPPA and the continued inflow of foreign investments will create a powerful catalyst in driving Malaysia’s economic transformation agenda.

With TPPA, Malaysia will become an integral part of the greater economic integration within the Asia- Pacific region. It will also significantly enhance Malaysia’s engagement with important trading partners such as the US, Canada, Mexico and Peru. As a member of TPPA, Malaysia will also be able to increase it participation in the regional supply and value chains and facilitate access for Malaysian products and services into bigger markets.

Question: What are the challenges of the TPPA for Malaysia?

The government is aware of the many benefits and the challenges involved. For instance, government procurement is one of the new elements in TPP, which was never part of the FTAs that Malaysia has signed. This is one strategic area the government is negotiating cautiously, after taking into consideration feedback from stakeholders, particularly on the concern of safeguarding the interest of local enterprises and the Bumiputera commercial and industrial community.

Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is another difficult area. One of the main concerns on IPR revolves around access to affordable medi-cine and healthcare as well as longer protection term which might delay manufacturing of generic drugs.

Malaysian negotiators will continue to negotiate an outcome that will give Malaysians access to affordable medicine and healthcare.

Question: What will happen if Malaysia does not join the TPPA?

Answer: The TPPA offers Malaysia an opportunity to be part of a consumer market with 800 million people. Abandoning the TPPA negotiations now would mean allowing other countries to set the terms of agreement without considering Malaysia’s interests and concerns. Acceding to the TPPA later would result in Malaysia having to accept the rules, disciplines, terms and conditions decided by others.

By not joining the TPPA, Malaysia would be at a disadvantage in terms of seeking bigger and better market access for its products and services. The impact of that disadvantage will be even more significant should countries like China, Indonesia and other competitors decide to join later.

Once realised, the TPPA will result in a huge consumer market for Malaysian goods and services. Market access to 800 million people is not an opportunity we can afford to miss, especially since we are an open economy highly dependent on international trade. In an increasingly competitive global environment, our absence will make Malaysia less attractive as an investment destination, compared with those that are TPPA members. As investors avoid Malaysia, this could result in fewer opportunities for job creation.

Question: Who is in charge of the TPPA negotiations?

Answer: The cabinet has mandated MITI to coordinate Malaysia’s participation in the TPPA negotiations. MITI acts as the chief negotiator but other ministries and agencies will lead the working groups for areas under their responsibility. (See Table 1).

With the mandate from the cabinet, the lead ministries and agencies involved are focused on safeguarding Malaysia’s best interest in the ongoing negotiations. Before every negotiating round, the cabinet is briefed on all issues, and for the necessary mandate to be given to all negotiators.

Question: Was there a lack of consultation in forming Malaysia’s position in TPPA?

Answer: The government admits more consultations could have been carried out. In this regard, MITI has made many statements assuring the public that consultations have been carried out by negotiators in their respective fields.

It had also organised a TPPA open day on August 1 to update the public and the media on issues surrounding TPPA, to clear misconceptions about it and to hear the public’s concerns about it.

MITI welcomes the establishment of a bipartisan caucus in Parliament. Its minister had met and briefed the caucus on developments and issues concerning the matter. The caucus provided constructive inputs to the government.

It must be noted that inputs and feedback from industry associations, interest groups and business chambers play a key role in the formation of Malaysia’s negotiating positions. To illustrate a point, Malaysia’s position in the negotiations on government procurement, led by the Finance Ministry, strongly reflects the concerns of stakeholders, the Bumiputera business community and state-owned enterprises (SOEs) as well as that the small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Malaysia has also maintained the rights of all states on matters related to land and water. On SOEs, Malaysia’s position is determined by the Finance Ministry and Khazanah Nasional Bhd.

The government will continue to engage all stakeholders. In addition to the open day, MITI met the Coalition to Act Against the TPPA Malaysia on August 6 and discussed ways to enhance engagement with stakeholders. Miti welcomes feedback and opinion from all parties regarding the TPPA.

Question: Why the secrecy in TPPA negotiations?

Answer: While the negotiating texts have never been made public as negotiations are ongoing, the government has and will continue to share its negotiating position with relevant stakeholders during the consultation sessions.

A level of confidentiality is required for two main reasons: (a) regulations and the evolving process of negotiations and rules surrounding TPPA oblige negotiators to maintain confidentiality of the negotiating texts and (b) negotiators advancing the interests of Malaysia, strategically do not want to publicly disclose their bargaining positions to ensure the best outcome during the negotiations.

Mindful of the public feedback, the Miti minister will put this issue on the agenda of the forthcoming TPP Ministerial Meeting in Brunei.

Question: Why rush TPPA by October this year?

Answer: As in all negotiations, there is a need to work towards a target date to conclude negotiations. It should be noted that the Trans Pacific Partnership Leaders Statement issued on November 12 2011, in Honolulu, clearly called on the negotiating teams to continue talks with other Asia-Pacific partners that have expressed interest in joining the TPPA in order to facilitate their future participation. TPPA leaders have set an October target for substantial conclusion of the negotiations.

However, this is not a definitive deadline for the conclusion of the TPPA as the parties involved are still negotiating on a number of sensitive issues. It is in Malaysia’s best interest that TPPA is concluded in a manner that benefits the people.

Question: Why is China not in the TPPA?

Answer: The position of all TPPA members is for this agreement to be a building block for the Free Trade Agreement of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP), which will encompass all the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) economies, of which China is also a member. Membership in TPPA is voluntary. Every APEC member, including China, is free to decide when to join TPPA.

China is a very important trading partner to Malaysia. As such, Malaysia certainly welcomes China into the TPPA.

8 Realities: Why the Malaysian Government should fund Higher Education

July 3, 2013

 MY COMMENT: This is a well written and thoughtful piece byDin Merican Anas Faizli. I thank him for sending it to me and with his permission I am sharing it with you. I personally believe that education of the right sort, that is one which recognises an individual’s natural aptitude, is an income enhancing and profitable undertaking. While I acknowledge the role of government as investor in education, I think it is up to us as individuals to decide whether we are prepared to go through the grind ourselves to get a degree or a professional/technical qualificaton at the tertiary level. Self development is a personal responsibility, not one for the state to decide.

That said, university education is not for everybody, that means we need to create polytechnics and technical institutes, as in the case of Germany, for those who have no aptitude for research and teaching.

Our industrialisation needs mechanics, techinicians, and nuts and bolts types, not just  researchers, academics, managers and bureaucrats. This is the real gap which our country must try to close. So, what our government can do is to allocate public funds for quality technical education for those who are unsuited for university education that Anas favours.–Din Merican

Anas8 Realities: Why the Malaysian Government should fund Higher Education

By Anas Alam Faizli

Education was institutionalized to formalize the process of knowledge acquisition and research in man’s quest for understanding. Earliest universities in the history of mankind namely Al-Azhar, Bologna, Oxford, Palencia, Cambridge and University of Naples (world’s first public university, 1224) have one thing in common; they were built by notable early world civilizations as institutions of research, discourse, learning, proliferation of knowledge and documentation. This contrasts largely from the role of universities today as institutions of human capital accreditation, qualification, and most unfortunately, business and profits.

Ibnu Khaldun, father of historiography, sociology and economics, in his work Prolegomenon (Muqaddimah) argued that the government would only gain strength and sovereignty through its citizens. This strength can only be sustained by wealth, which can only be acquired through human capital development (education), which in turn can only be achieved by justice and inclusiveness for all. Aristotle too proposed “Education should be one and the same for all.” A system that discriminates, in our case, based on household economic ability, can and will rile an unhealthy imbalance in the quality of the resulting labour force and society. These form the basis of our argument here.

 In America, the individual funds his higher education while many European countries have public-funded institutions of higher learning. The latter is the best for Malaysia. Our societal and economic progression (or digression) does not depend on any one factor, but on the interaction of economic, social and political factors over a long period of time. Let’s first look at some realities that we need to contend with to understand why the Malaysian government should fund higher education.

Reality #1: Society benefits from education

 We can never truly measure the immense positive externalities derived from an educated society. Outcomes of university education and research continuously found the progress of mankind. In developing Malaysia, higher education is an impetus for establishing a civic-minded society, highly skilled manpower and competitive value proposition for capital and production. Investing in education may cost the society tax Ringgits, but the consequences in failing to do so will be devastating. Walter W. McMahon (economist at University of Illinois) outlined the “private non-market benefits” for degree-holders. These include better personal health and improved cognitive development in their children. Alongside is the “social non-market benefits”, such as lower spending on prisons and greater political stability.

Reality #2: “Neither here nor there”

 Malaysia is neither here nor there, and education opportunity is a major contributing factor. Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labour and Professor at University of California@Berkeley, made a compelling argument that is very applicable to Malaysia. To attract jobs and capital, nations and states face two choices; one is to build a low-tax but low-wage “warehouse economy” competing on price, another is to compete on quality, by increasing taxes and regulation to invest in human capital for a highly productive workforce.

In Malaysia, wage growth caught up with productivity growth only up until the late 1990’s. Since 1996, we have been living in the “middle income trap”, stunted at the World Bank’s definition of upper middle income; neither high nor low income. In fact, for the past 10 years real wage growth has been negative. Having 77% of the Malaysian workforce with only SPM and below qualification is a structural barrier to us crossing over to the higher income group. The labour force is largely unskilled and unable to move their labour services up the value chain where higher salaries are paid.

Reality #3: Education is fundamental to a competitive value proposition

Another case for education is competitiveness for both FDI and outputs. On the FDI side, our factors of production, in this case labour, needs to be attractive enough. With a labour force that is neither highly skilled nor cheap, our value propositions dwarf next to the likes of Vietnam and Singapore. As a result, technology and automation service the lower-value processes replacing need for labour, while R&D and origination have not caught up due to lack of expertise. Malaysia has been the only country in the region facing net outflow in FDI since 2007.

 On the output side, our goal to move away from producing lower-value manufacturing and primary goods, into the higher-value services sector too have been held back by limited talent and capabilities. Lack of advanced education is one major factor causing this lack of competitiveness.

Reality #4: Efficiency driven economy versus Innovation driven economy

 A study released by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) categorizes Malaysia as an efficiency-driven economy, behind innovation-driven economies. We focus on improving existing processes, but we are not out there inventing new things where the big money is. Focusing on the latter is extremely important now more than ever for Malaysia, because we can no longer offer very cheap labour, land and factories to produce mass generic products competitively.

The number of researchers in Malaysia for each 1 million population is only 365 behind Japan’s 5,416 and South Korea’s 4,231. We are in dire need for more trained professionals and innovators, and we could have harvested them from talents that did not pursue tertiary education due to the lack of opportunities.

 Reality #5: Education is an investment

Like parents investing in their children’s future, the state must invest in the population for the future of the nation. An educated society is able to position themselves into higher standards of living characterized by higher income, production of high value goods and services, longer life expectancy, subscription to civic and moral values, political stability, existence of civil liberties and openness to change and development.

While highly developed nations like Denmark and the Netherlands invest 11.2% and 10.8% (respectively) of GDP in education, we invested only 4.8% last year (majority on infrastructure and emoluments!). To make matters worse, the education budget education is slashed from RM50 billion to RM37 billion this year! To get an idea of how counter-intuitive this is for a developing Malaysia, even Afghanistan (7.4%), Vietnam (7.2%) and Timor Leste (12.3%) spent more.

 Currently, about 80% of the bottom 40% income households are only-SPM qualified and below, while only 5% received higher education. The rest never made it to school at all. The reason is crystal clear; it is education that can lift households into higher income thus significantly reducing poverty and its consequences. If this group were to receive higher education, it is the state that ultimately benefits as social capital is returned from the household to the state in increased production and tax income. Social justice is served; while nobody is left discriminated or neglected from being given an opportunity to develop his or her own merits.

Reality #6: … with a Positive Net Return-on-Investment (ROI)

 Entertain this simple simulation: Consider a fresh graduate entering the workforce with a salary of RM2,500, working for 30 years with a modest increment of 5% a year. Upon retiring at the age of 55 years, he would have paid back at least RM290,000 to the government only in income taxes. Even after discounting, payback in taxes is significantly beyond the investment cost providing education.

 Reality #7: Education correlates with wealth and income

 Tertiary-educated individuals have an average of RM182,000 in wealth to their name, while SPM holders have only an average RM82,000 in net worth. Degree holders have at least 2.2 times the wealth of SPM leavers. But the tertiary education penetration rate for Malaysia stands at only 36.5%. This is only measured at point of enrolment (not completion)! Not only we are significantly behind “very high human development” nations’ average of 75%, we are also behind “high human development” nations’ average of 50%.

In contrast, 86% of Americans, 84% of Kiwis, 100% of Koreans, 99% of the British, 45% of Thais, and 38.4% of Turks are university-trained. As a result, the bulk of our workforce is unable to position themselves in higher-earning jobs. The bulk of our jobs involve the lower portions of the industry value chains. How are we then to move our economy into higher GNI territory, and inclusively move the majority of our population into higher income brackets? Current practice of relying on one-off mega construction projects will not ensure Malaysia move into high-income status, and stay there for the long run!

 Reality #8: Education will reduce income inequality

 Malaysia ranks as the third most unequal nation in Asia, based on a GINI coefficient of 0.4621 (World Bank). Using only GINI, a simple measure of dispersion between the richest and poorest in an economy, we can already see that there are structural problems with the kind of growth that we have been enjoying. A household that earns RM10,000 monthly and above is already considered the top 4% Malaysian households! 60% of the highest earning income households have at least one member that received tertiary-level education. But 60% of the lowest-earning households have only SPM-holders as their most qualified household member. Not coincidentally, only the top 20% income households in Malaysia have experienced substantial income growth. For the remaining 80% it has been moderate. The gap between the rich and poor has been consistently growing from year 1970 until today. Only non-discriminatory access to education for the bottom 40% will arrest the growth of this gap.

 America perceives that the benefits of tertiary-level education are enjoyed most by the individual himself, thus the individual funds his higher education. The Scandinavians believe that the government should pay for higher education. On one hand, we see a privately funded education system in America, and growing inequality between the relatively richer and poorer households. There is at least $902 billion (NY Federal Reserve) in total outstanding student loan debt in the United States today. In contrast, government-funded higher education Scandinavia ranks as most equal nations in the world. The apparent causal-effect relationship here is hard to dispel.

 We expect free access to education to allow inter-generational mobility and narrow this inequality gap. If we let economic disability become a prohibitive factor for education, relatively poorer households will never be lifted out of the low-income bracket.

 One graduate for every Malaysian family

 We need an education system that is inclusive, does not neglect academically-struggling yet vocationally-advantaged pupils, matches industry requirements, yet streams students into disciplines where they will excel most. Most importantly, the system must not allow students to find themselves at the point of entering the industry, handicapped with a student loan on their shoulders, only to realize that they are not employable.

Malaysia has progressed in many aspects by making primary and secondary education free. 100% of Malaysians finish at least primary 6 and 68% finish form 5. The current socio and economic condition in Malaysia now calls to make finishing form 5 legally compulsory and providing free and accessible tertiary education for all.

I  urge the government, non-governmental bodies, policy-makers, and lobby groups to move towards providing free tuition fees for higher education at all our public universities. Where public universities are unable to cater for surplus of qualified students, it is suggested that the same equivalent amount of tuition fee funding is to be provided for private universities in a staggered manner, so as to ensure education accessibility by all.

I also propose the target of one graduate in each of the 6.4 million Malaysian households to ensure inter-generational mobility; that is for at least one child of a self-subsistent fisherman or low-salaried factory worker to uplift the entire family into a higher income bracket. A graduate in each family will be the change-agent that ensures his generation improves the family; via a chain reaction multiplying effect, ultimately affecting the graduate’s surroundings.

Education is way too important for us to risk any mismanagement, oversight and underfunding. The generations that go through a robustly managed quality education system, or lack of them, will ultimately decide Malaysia’s direction and the society that we will live in. Only then we can fundamentally assure that our true north for a high income Malaysia is sustainable, inclusive and is enjoyed by all layers of society – not just for the Top 1%. Let us reflect what Nelson Mandela said for a better Malaysia! “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

 *Anas Alam Faizli is an oil and gas professional. He is pursuing a post-graduate doctorate and is the founding executive director of Teach For The Needs (TFTN).

 ** Data and figures are derived from EPU, DOSM, HIS 2009, HDR 2011, World databank and BNM. For details, please refer BLINDSPOT (

Rough-Edged Atomic Pioneer

May 29, 2013

NY Times: Books of The Times

Rough-Edged Atomic Pioneer

‘Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center,’ by Ray Monk

By Janet Maslin (05-27-13)

Ray Monk had begun work on his J. Robert Oppenheimer biography in 2005, when Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s “American Prometheus” was published. That book, billed as “the first full-scale biography” of Oppenheimer, the theoretical physicist, gave Mr. Monk good reason to worry. It covers scientific, historical, moral, political and personal aspects of Oppenheimer’s life, conveying his arrogance, brilliance, self-destructiveness and lady-killing charisma. What gaps remained for Mr. Monk to fill?

R OpThe introduction to Mr. Monk’s “Robert Oppenheimer: A Life Inside the Center” cites at least one of them: physics.

“One would never know from reading Bird and Sherwin’s book how much of Oppenheimer’s time and intellectual energy was taken up with thinking about mesons,” Mr. Monk writes sniffily, noting that the subatomic particle does not even appear in Bird and Sherwin’s index. Mr. Monk’s own book mentions “Thirty Years of Mesons,” a lecture delivered by Oppenheimer in 1966 to the American Physical Society. And according to his index, Mr. Monk gives the meson its due on at least 21 out of 695 pages.

This is a strange way for Mr. Monk to compete. He is a professor of philosophy, with excellent books about Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell to his credit. And he is not a great explicator of physics, merely a not-bad one. Would anyone seriously interested in Oppenheimer seek out a biography for this?: “What, really, is an electron? A particle? A wave? Could it possibly be both? Might it possibly be neither? How should one, if indeed one should at all, picture an electron and its movements?”

It’s also odd that Mr. Monk (right) adopts a vaguely atomic metaphor to describe Ray MonkOppenheimer’s life. His book appeared in England under the main title “In the Centre,” as if Oppenheimer were a nucleus and not a person. Time and again he hits that analogy hard, emphasizing the importance of logistics in Oppenheimer’s personal and intellectual life.

It’s true that he played the crucial role in secret atomic research conducted in Los Alamos, N.M., and that he would never escape central responsibility for creating the atomic bomb. But Mr. Monk takes a needlessly mechanistic approach to a man who has seemed much more interestingly human in other, keener studies.

This lengthy book does aspire to be more comprehensive than earlier volumes. Before Oppenheimer even makes his entrance into Mr. Monk’s narrative, much has been said about the German-Jewish tradition into which he was born, the privilege that allowed him to be so aloof and the Ethical Culture beliefs that shaped his family and education. Mr. Monk also writes at length about anti-Semitism and the kinds of Jews who practiced it, with Oppenheimer among them.

As part of his overall arrogance and superciliousness, Oppenheimer allowed himself to be treated as the antithesis of a Jewish stereotype. He grew from, in his own words, “an unctuous, repulsively good little boy” into such an urbane prodigy that Harvard never bothered to discriminate against him. A quota system applied to Jews in 1922, when Oppenheimer arrived there.

In the earlier, formative chapters, which are better than the book’s treks over the best-known, most public part of Oppenheimer’s adult life, Mr. Monk also illustrates how easily Oppenheimer’s snobbery trumped anybody else’s.

“Instead of 5,000 keen, intellectually alive, well-read young men who have come here to think out ideas and to learn the ideas of others,” he complained about his fellow Harvard students, “I find 5,000 tawdry yokels, yanked from fat farms and snoring small towns, to bellow at ball games.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Monk believes Oppenheimer was intimidated by the broad sophistication he found at Harvard and later Cambridge. Not until he arrived at Göttingen University in 1926, at the age of 22, did he feel free of academic elitism, in a place without “the weight of 700 years of tradition bearing down upon it.”

RO with EinsteinBy this point in his book, Mr. Monk has begun to explain quantum physics and drop the names of the heavyweights. Here is a book that ticks off the reactions of Einstein, Planck, Heisenberg, Born and Dirac to Schrödinger’s “wave mechanics,” and shows how remarkably smoothly Oppenheimer insinuated himself into those ranks.

The 1927 “On the Quantum Theory of Molecules” which he co-wrote with Max Born, may not have been one of Born’s greatest hits, but it became one of Oppenheimer’s better-known works. Without Mr. Monk, many readers interested in Oppenheimer’s life might not have known that at all.

Mr. Monk does a strong job of explaining how Oppenheimer, with unwanted assistance from Nazi Germany, helped shift the center of theoretical physics from Europe to California (he taught at both Berkeley and Caltech). That shift leads the book to Los Alamos during wartime, though it is notably more colorless than other accounts of the guarded community there. The familiarity continues through the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the conscience-searing effects on Oppenheimer of his breakthroughs in the science of mass destruction.

Mr. Monk gives very detailed accounts of F.B.I. surveillance of Oppenheimer and those around him. And he replays Oppenheimer’s familiar, contorted, much-dramatized testimony to the Atomic Energy Commission hearings in 1954, which stripped him of his security clearance and branded him a risk to national security.

The remainder of Mr. Monk’s book describes Oppenheimer’s relatively glamorous years leading the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., the ongoing debate about his reputation, and the growing infrequency of his appearances as a public figure. “Thirty Years of Mesons” notwithstanding, he withdrew into a life that is only sketchily explained here.

It is typical of Mr. Monk’s distanced view of his subject that he writes this, in conclusion, about Oppenheimer’s wife and two children: “Oppenheimer loved Kitty, Toni and Peter, but he was never able to be the reliably affectionate husband or father they needed him to be. The problems he had as a child forming close bonds with other people had remained with him throughout his life.” Though Oppenheimer left behind nearly 300 boxes of papers, Mr. Monk says they contain “remarkably little that gives away anything of an intimate nature.” That’s hard to believe. Other biographers have seen Oppenheimer at closer range, in living color.

A version of this review appeared in print on May 28, 2013, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: Rough-Edged Atomic Pioneer.

Wawancara Bersama Dr. Bakri Musa (Bahagian 8)

March 11, 2013

Wawancara Bersama Dr. Bakri Musa (Bahagian 8): Pendidikan untuk Malaysia

Suaris: Dr banyak menulis dan membentangkan kertas kerja mengenai pendidikan yang sebaiknya untuk Malaysia. Adakah dasar dan sistem hari ini mampu membawa orang Melayu mengharungi gelombang masa depan? Apakah yang perlu diperbaiki, diatasi atau diganti?

Dr Bakri: Ternyata dasar dan sistem pendidikan sekarang tidak mampu Bakri Musamembawa anak-anak, khasnya anak Melayu, menghadapi masa depan. Rakyat tidak puas hati walaupun berkali-kali kerajaan buat kertas putih dan cetak biru (“blueprint”) untuk “mentransformasikan” sekolah dan universiti kita. Semuanya tidak berkesan. Di sini saya maksudkan aliran awam; pihak swasta cemerlang, tetapi tidak ramai penuntut Melayu di antaranya.

Tanda jelas pendidikan awam kita tidak mengagumkan ialah pertumbuhan cergas sekolah antarabangsa dan kolej serta universiti swasta. Di Alberta, Canada, sekolah dan universiti awam mereka handal. Oleh sebab itu saluran pendidikan swasta tidak laku. Begitu juga di Singapura. Pertumbuhan sekolah dan universiti swasta yang rancak di Malaysia bukan tanda sektor pendidikan kita beres dan subur, tetapi sebaliknya.

Pramoedya Ananta Toer menulis dalam novelnya Bumi Manusia, “seorang terpelajar harus sudah berbuat adil sejak dalam fikiran apalagi dalam perbuatan.” Itulah tujuan pelajaran, untuk mendidik rakyat yang adil. Pendidikan Islam bertujuan membina makhluk yang soleh. Istilah “soleh” saya ertikan “berguna atau memberi manfaat kepada masyarakat.” Rakyat yang adil dan soleh, itu tujuan pendidikan.

Bagi masyarakat berbagai kaum dan budaya seperti Malaysia, saya tambah atau beratkan satu lagi tujuan, iaitu meningkatkan persefahaman antara kaum supaya kita lebih berfikir sebagai satu dan tidak lagi terikat kepada prasangka kaum kita. Tanpa tujuan ini, kita mungkin menjadi saperti penduduk Northern Ireland, berpendidikan tinggi tetapi bermusuhan antara satu dengan lain. Di sana kaum Katholik dan Protestan tidak habis-habis bermusuhan.

Betul pada intinya seorang yang “adil dan soleh” tidak akan membuat demikian, jadi tujuan kedua ini mungkin berulang atau termasuk dalam kandungan “adil dan soleh.” Walaubagaimanapun kita mesti beratkan sudut ini.

Falsafah pendidikan mesti menyifatkan murid sebagai pisau untuk diasah atau tajamkan. Tetapi sekarang kita sifatkan mereka sebagai tong kosong yang mesti disumbat dengan fakta, maklumat, dan propoganda.

Fikirkan, di tangan pakar bedah, pisau tajam ialah alat memyembuh barah; di tangan ahli seni pahat, (untuk) mereka patung kayu yang indah. Sebaliknya, di tangan penyangak pisau menjadi senjata membunuh. Itu mustahaknya tujuan adil dan soleh dalam pendidikan.

Dengan tong yang diisi, apa yang mungkin kita dapatkan balik hanya apa yang telah disumbat. Itu sahaja! Itu pun bukan semuanya sebab banyak yang terlekat atau bocor keluar di bawah.

Munshi Abdullah menulis, di antara mereka yang berguru dan mereka yang meniru, jauh bezanya. Seorang yang berguru, dan berguru cemerlang, tidak terhad pencapaiannya. Mereka yang pandai meniru terhad hanya kepada menghafizkan apa yang diberi atau diajar. Itu sahaja, seumpama burung nuri.

Pendidikan tidak menjamin kita semua menjadi pemimpin, hanya mengajar pemimpin mana yang patut diikuti (education can’t make us all leaders, but it can teach us which leader to follow). Itu (yang disebut) Horace Mann, pendidik Amerika terkemuka. Dia menambah, tidak ada ciptaan insan yang lebih hebat lagi untuk menyamakan keadaan manusia (education … beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of men ..)

Di dunia ini, yang paling bertuah atau beruntung ialah mereka yang fasih dalam dua (atau lebih) bahasa, dan satu daripadanya ialah Bahasa Inggeris (BI). Itu sebabnya Negara China, Jepun dan Korea Selatan berlumba mengajar penuntut mereka BI. Yang paling rugi atau lemah ialah mereka yang hanya tahu satu bahasa sahaja, dan bahasa itu lain daripada BI. (manakala berada) di tengah-tengah terletak mereka yang fasih hanya dalam BI. Mengapa BI dan bukan Mandarin atau Swahili yang penting dalam dunia sekarang saya tidak tahu. Sepatutnya Mandarin sebab bahasa itu yang paling ramai pengunanya. Pada satu masa dahulu, bahasa Latin. Mungkin pada masa depan dengan kehandalan kemajuan negara China, Mandarin akan menjadi bahasa pilihan.

Kebanyakan orang Melayu fasih hanya dalam satu bahasa sahaja, dan bahasa itu bukan BI. Kaum bukan Melayu di Malaysia fasih dalam dua atau tiga bahasa: BI, BM(Bahasa Malaysia) dan bahasa ibunda. Itu sebabnya mereka maju, dan bukan atas alasan keistemewaan budaya atau bangsa mereka. Cina yang fasih dengan Hakka atau Hokkien sahaja terhad ke pasar minggu dan gerai atau kedai. Dengan cara pendidikan yang bijak, murid Melayu pun boleh juga fasih dalam tiga bahasa, BI, BM, dan Bahasa Arab.

Mengikut kajian neuroscience, banyak tambahan keistimewaan otak kepada mereka yang fasih dalam berbagai bahasa, antaranya kebolehan berfikir “luar kotak” dan dari berbagai sudut. Itu sebabnya universiti terkemuka Amerika memestikan mahasiswa mereka fasih dalam dua bahasa.

Selain daripada bertujuan berkebolehan dua (atau tiga) bahasa, sistem pendidikan kita mestilah beralasan kukuh atas sains dan ilmu hisab, serta mengalakkan murid berfikir. Sains membolehkan kita memahami alam di sekitar serta di dalam (diri) kita. Sains ialah kajian “Quran Kedua” yang dimaksudkan oleh Hamka. Ilmu hisab pula, tanpa kemahiran dalam mata pelajaran itu, kita tidak boleh berfikir dengan tepat, hanya agak- agak sahaja. Dan tanpa berkebolehan berfikir sendiri, rakyat akan jadi Pak Turut dan senang dipengaruhi.

Had sekolah patut dipanjangkan selama 13 tahun untuk semua, dengan empat mata pelajaran asas – BI, BM, Sains, dan Ilmu Hisab – dimestikan setiap hari dan setiap tahun. Mata pelajaran lain dipilih oleh sekolah dan pelajar. Saya tidak kira apa bahasa pengantar, sama ada BM, Swahili, atau Mandarin. Di Amerika sekarang sudah jadi kebiasaan untuk semua bersekolah 15 tahun, prasekolah ke darjah 12 (13 tahun) dan dua tahun kolej.

Saya mencadangkan pada tahun 10 hingga 13 (sekolah tinggi) penuntut disalurkan kepada tiga jurusan –akademik (untuk bakal mahasiswa), biasa (untuk bakal askar, kerani dan jururawat), dan vokasional, untuk melatih pembuat perabut, juru mekanik, dan tukang jahit. Murid boleh menukar saluran hanya semasa Tahun 10 dan 11. Ini cara Jerman, tetapi di sana saluran itu dimulai lebih awal lagi, pada tahun lima.

Selain daripada itu saya (cadangkan supaya) tambahkan peruntukan kepada sekolah yang mempunyai (komposisi) murid yang mencerminkan masyarakat Malaysia. Saya tidak memaksa tiap- tiap sekolah mengambil beberapa peratus murid Melayu, Cina dan sebagainya, tetapi sekolah yang berjaya mendapat murid berbilang kaum akan dihadiahkan dengan meningkatkan peruntukan wang, guru dan kelebihan lain, tidak kira apa bahasa pengantarnya. Begitu juga, saya akan melebihkan peruntukan untuk sekolah di mana muridnya terkumpul daripada keluarga miskin, seperti di luar bandar.

Saya tidak hapuskan sekolah terhad kepada satu kaum. Jauh sekali! Hanya sekolah tersebut jangan harap mendapat bantuan satu sen pun dari kerajaan. Tentang agama, itu patut di ajar hanya sebagai satu mata pelajaran sahaja dan bukan memenuhi seluruh masa atau sukatan pelajaran. Sekolah agama mesti mengajar empat mata pelajaran asas yang saya sebutkan dahulu (BI, BM, Sains, dan Ilmu Hisab). Saya tidak kira apa bahasa pengantar sekolah agama, samada Arab, BM, Mandarin (seperti di Negara China), atau B.I (seperti di Amerika). Sekolah agama Kristian di Amerika ramai penuntut bukan Kristian termasuk Islam oleh sebab mutu akademiknya tinggi.

Kalau sekolah agama Malaysia tinggi tarafnya, mungkin ibu bapa bukan Islam akan menghantar anak mereka. Tengoklah dahulu, Tun Razak dan Hussein Onn hantar anak mereka ke sekolah “mission” (satu jenis sekolah agama) Kristian!

Kelemahan yang nyata di antara murid Melayu ialah kemorosotan taraf BI. Saya anak kampung, ibu bapa saya tidak tahu langsung BI, dan bahasa itu jarang digunakan di sekitar alam saya semasa kecil. Tambahan pula saya bersekolah semasa negeri dijajah. Tetapi saya fasih dalam BI. Sepatutnya sekarang kita sudah merdeka, pimpinan negeri dalam tangan Melayu, kemudahan untuk murid Melayu untuk belajar BI semestinya lebih senang bila dibandingkan dengan masa dulu. Tetapi sebaliknya yang berlaku!

Apa sebab? Masyarakat dan pemimpin kita tidak memberatkan hal itu. Mereka menyifatkan mengalakkan BI bermakna kita tidak “memartabatkan” atau cinta bahasa kita. Itu kesilapan terbesar.

Oleh sebab taraf BI di (kalangan) murid kampung sudah jauh merosot, saya cadangkan mengadakan “immersion schools” mengunakan hanya BI selama sekurang kurangnya lima tahun dari prasekolah hingga ke darjah empat atau lima. Bahasa lain termasuk BM tidak diajar. Oleh sebab BM digunakan di sekitar luar sekolah dan di rumah, tidak mungkin murid akan lupa bertutur dalam itu.

Saya mensyaratkan satu sahaja. Iaitu murid dihadkan kepada mereka yang bahasa ibunda ialah BM, bahasa itu biasa digunakan di rumah serta sekitar, atau murid itu sudah fasih bertutur dalam BM.

Kalau seorang murid Cina sudah pandai bertutur dalam BM (seperti Cina Baba misalnya) mereka boleh masuk sekolah “English immersion.” Kita mesti mengadakan Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (Inggeris), di mana bahasa penghantar ialah BI, di kawasan kampung Melayu.

Bakri on EducationSatu cara lagi untuk meninggikan taraf BI antara murid Melayu ialah dengan menubuhkan Sekolah Agama yang menggunakan BI sebagai bahasa pengantar, seperti di Amerika. Sudah tentunya murid di sekolah itu akan fasih dalam BI, BM dan Bahasa Arab!

Itu dengan ringkasnya cadangan saya untuk membaiki, mengatasi atau mengganti sistem pendidikan kita. Saya kembangkan dengan lebih mendalam lagi melalui buku saya, An Education System Worthy of Malaysia (2003).

Untuk menutup (wawancara ini), saya bentangkan tiga unsur asas. Pertama, ibu bapa sahaja yang tahu apa yang baik untuk anak mereka. Maknanya, kita tidak boleh paksa ibu bapa menghantar anak mereka ke sekolah ini atau itu. Pilihan itu semestinya terletak di tangan ibu bapa, dan hanya kepada mereka dan bukan pemimpin politik atau pegawai pendidikan.

Kedua, mengikut kebijakan bekas Canselor German Willy Brandt, hanyaEducation_for_all_UNESCO satu sahaja bahasa rasmi di dunia ini, iaitu bahasa pelanggan kita. Kata Brandt, kalau saya ingin menjual, saya mesti menggunakan bahasa bakal pembeli.

Kalau saya membeli dari kau, kau mesti gunakan bahasa saya (Jerman)! Kalau kita ingin menjual lebih banyak lagi getah dan kelapa sawit kepada negara China dan Amerika, kita patut belajar bahasa mereka!

Ketiga, dan pandangan ini khas untuk orang Melayu sahaja, kita mesti ingat atas perbezaannya penting antara memajukan Bahasa Melayu dan memarakan Bangsa Melayu. BM boleh maju tetapi itu tidak bermakna Bangsa Melayu akan turut bersama. Tetapi kalau Bangsa Melayu maju, semestinya bahasa kita akan turut bersama.

Lebih penting ialah sebaliknya, iaitu jika Bangsa Melayu bangsat, tidak ramai yang ingin belajar BM. Itu termasuk orang Melayu sendiri. Lima puluh tahun dahulu negara China bangsat; tidak ramai berminat belajar Mandarin. Sekarang Negara China sudah maju, Mandarin ialah bahasa kedua yang sangat diminati oleh pelajar Amerika.

A Tribute to Sir Patrick Moore

December 17, 2012

A Tribute to Sir Patrick Moore

by Professor Martin Barstow, University of Leicester (December 11, 2012)

Sir Patrick MooreGrowing up a the time of the Moon Landings, like many others I was inspired to become a scientist by Patrick through his coverage of Apollo and his appearances on Sky at Night. He already had a strong connection with the University when I joined the Physics and Astronomy Department and it was a thrill to meet him in person for the first time.

His support for our work has been tremendous over the years and he became a patron of our efforts to create the National Space Centre here in the Leicester (the planetarium is now named after him).

I was delighted when he was awarded the Distinguished Honorary Fellowship of the University in recognition of 50 years of Sky at Night together with his association with the University and was privileged to act as his host for the day. The weather was terrible, but Patrick insisted we walk to the De Montfort Hall. It was slow progress, as everyone we passed stopped to say hello and he took time for a personal word with all.

I always had an ambition to appear on Sky at Night as a young astronomer and, in recent years have had the good fortune to be involved in a number of programmes. Becoming part of Sky at Night is like joining an extended family, with Patrick being the glue that held it all together. He was one of nature’s gentlemen with time for everyone. His hospitality was generous and trips to his home at Selsey became events for my whole family.

When my daughter, Jo, was about to start a PhD working on Venus, Patrick remarked, “I wrote a book on that”. Several days later a copy of the book appeared with a personal message inscribed on the title page. My musician son, Nick, was allowed to try out the famous xylophone and caused some consternation for the BBC film crew when Patrick insisted on delaying a recording while he “dug out” some music for him.

We last saw Patrick in person at a wonderful evening in Selsey celebrating the 55 year anniversary of Sky at Night earlier this year. Many of the Sky at Night family were there and we closed the evening with a truly terrible, but enjoyable (to us at least), karaoke rendition of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. I am not sure what Brian May (another great friend of Patrick’s) would have thought of that.

I have many fond memories of Patrick that I will aways treasure. He was a great man and a great friend. I will miss him tremendously, but he will be missed by millions more.

Professor Martin Barstow, Head of the College of Science and Engineering

Anwar: A Visionary Leader?

September 25, 2012

Anwar: A Visionary Leader?

by Terence Netto

COMMENT Is Anwar Ibrahim an irresponsible rider of the zeitgeist, or is he a leader who has a feel for the law of unintended consequences and has manned himself nobly to face the formidable challenges of the path of bold reform he elected upon 14 years ago that is now poised for execution?

In other words, is he an opportunist thumping the tub with minimal concern for consequences, or is he a visionary leader with a matchless ability to convey high flown speculation in the accents of the street, a place now reverberating with the democratic spirit of the times leveraging on which would afford him the spotlight-grabbing presence of a global leader?

In sum, is he charlatan or statesman?NONETo be sure, the double-sidedness of this question that dogs Anwar has been the common lot of many a pivotal politician in eras past, with allies and adversaries, contemporaries and successors, journalists and historians, puzzled by what they see as enigmatic, contradictory, and even, hypocritical, strains to their character.

Today, by accepting the invitation to be the fifth speaker in the series called Royal Selangor Club Presidential Luncheon Talks, Anwar has chosen to saunter into a situation where he may well be subjected to sharp and unceremonious questioning from a sellout crowd on the penumbras to his political personality.

The 350 seats to the luncheon were taken up within three days of the posters publicising the event going up at the prestigious club. In contrast, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, the first invitee to the series that begun last January, had 184 takers; Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, the second invitee, had 148 takers; Musa Hitam, the third speaker, had 190; and Lim Guan Eng, the fifth, drew 275 diners.

Lim’s draw was the most creditable of the series until Anwar’s because dining rates for his talk were raised from RM50 for club members and RM70 for guests to RM80 and RM100 respectively – a marked increase that, apparently, did not have a diminishing effect on attendance.

The raised rates have been retained for Anwar’s talk which at its draw of 350 diners is a smash because he had asked for a September 6 date, but was told by the club that they needed more time to publicise the event.

In the event, the club did not need the extra time to herald the talk. It could have been held at Anwar’s request early date. Seats were sold out within 72 hours of the posters going up – and that was in the first week of September.

Tough questions expected

However, a brimming house is no guarantee of likeability for what the speaker is going to say and there could be a number of pesky questioners eager to have a go at Anwar who ought not to avail himself of the protection the talk’s moderator offered Najib when he faced a question about his willingness to accept the results of the 13th general election.

The moderator interposed in the question-and-answer session to absolve Najib of the need to reply although the question was perfectly in order because it was on a subject that speaker had threaded in his postprandial remarks.

The protocol on these occasions is that invited speakers should not be asked questions on matters they had not raised in their speech.lingam tape inquiry day 4 170108 mahathirOf course, nobody would expect Anwar to affect the Dr Mahathir Mohamad stance that the latter made famous at the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Lingam video controversy in January 2008.

That General Custer-like stand saw Mahathir claim that he was prepared to answer any questions within or outside the terms of reference of the inquiry, a typically pre-emptive position taken by the former prime minister to rock circling detractors back on their heels.

But that bombast fell flat when Mahathir trotted out the excuse of a not sufficiently retentive memory at the inquiry when he was pegged on lacunae in his conduct and that of his aides.

Anwar, an exponent of transparency and accountability in government, cannot rely on comparable subterfuge for his salvation before an audience that is likely to temper admiration with a healthy dose of skepticism.

The reference here to Mahathir is not without relevance, for it was at the Royal Selangor Club where Mahathir was first introduced to Anwar in 1971. It remains to be seen if Anwar would make that first encounter the subject of his talk today; it is a fit subject for dilation.

First impressions can be deceptive or they can be spot-on for a lifetime. By dwelling at length on his first impressions on Mahathir, Anwar can show what has learned over four intervening decades on the nature of fleeting and immediate impressions.

That way he would tell a lot on the moral thrust and empirical substance of his perceptual and analytical ability, which is important because Anwar would, if it comes to that, be Malaysia’s first PM of an avowedly intellectual bent.

On Perception, Human Mind and Decision Making

September 17, 2012

On Perception, Human Mind and Decision Making

by Khairie Hisyam Aliman@

One particularly memorable class I had in university was when a professor talked about marble stones and the metamorphic processes that create them, ending with an short account of when he was in Mecca.

As he laid eyes on the marble flooring near the Kaabah, his mind immediately analysed its properties and before he realised it he had a good idea of its parent rock’s geological qualities and history.

At the time, I was awestruck by the professor’s geological expertise and how it provides an additional lens through which he perceives the world, picking out details that another person could never guess at. Years later I find myself almost understanding what that might feel like — albeit with words and language instead of rocks.

Previously I wrote about sub-editors and how the nature of the work imparts lifelong habits, even after moving on to other jobs. While that is somewhat different from my professor’s knowledge and experience flavouring his perception of his surroundings, I feel both boils down to the same basic thing: our work defines a significant part of who we are. The knowledge and skills that we learn, acquire and master, once hardwired into our brain, inevitably influence how we interact with our world.

Inevitably, these bits and pieces that we keep adding to our great archive as we go through life will shape us as individuals. As we learn new things and discover, the way we perceive things around us evolves to reflect what we know and understand.

When I was in my teens transitioning from comic books to more text-heavy volumes by Raymond E. Feist and Terry Brooks, my perception of the books was rather simple. Both writers tell different stories, and that was all I saw. At the back of my mind I was vaguely aware of another aspect differentiating the authors that I could not seem to vocalise, like a forgotten word at the tip of your tongue that just won’t come out.

It was only when I learned to write professionally and grew aware of the concept of “writing style” that I realised — like a light switched on in a pitch-black room — that the authors structure their sentences differently, finally seeing the nuances that mark their respective voices.

From that point on I began paying attention to how different writers arrange their words, how different it is from how I would write it and what makes their personality shine through the dry ink on paper. Learning that one concept as a writer added an extra lens through which I read, and whenever I read I look through it without conscious effort.

I imagine it is the same with everyone, whatever you do for a living. What we know colours our perspective and, eventually, after accumulating enough knowledge or skill in something, that colouring stays permanently.

Our brain processes what we see and hear and touch based on what it knows, and the more we know in one field of expertise, the more it will be inclined to access that area of its archives first to give definition to what we perceive. It is the reason why an architect will look at a house and immediately ponder its design, whereas a realtor might see the same house and weigh its location and value.

Sometimes it makes me wonder: are those around me seeing things I do not? Perhaps they do. And perhaps I see little things that they miss, too. The thought of something I see clearly still holding mysteries that are in plain view to someone else fascinates me as much as it humbles me.

My professor sees the world through the eyes of a geologist. Whose eyes might you be looking through?

* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.


The Science of Irrationality

A Nobelist explains our fondness for not thinking

by Jonah Lehrer

Here’s a simple arithmetic question: “A bat and ball cost $1.10. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

The vast majority of people respond quickly and confidently, insisting the ball costs 10 cents. This answer is both incredibly obvious and utterly wrong. (The correct answer is five cents for the ball and $1.05 for the bat.) What’s most impressive is that education doesn’t really help; more than 50% of students at Harvard, Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology routinely give the incorrect answer.

Daniel Kahneman (left), a Nobel Laureate and professor of psychology at Princeton, has been asking questions like this for more than five decades. His disarmingly simple experiments have profoundly changed the way that we think about thinking.

While philosophers, economists and social scientists had assumed for centuries that human beings are rational agents, Mr. Kahneman and his scientific partner, the late Amos Tversky, demonstrated that we’re not nearly as rational as we like to believe.

When people face an uncertain situation, they don’t carefully evaluate the information or look up relevant statistics. Instead, their decisions depend on mental short cuts, which often lead them to make foolish decisions. The short cuts aren’t a faster way of doing the math; they’re a way of skipping the math altogether.

Although Mr. Kahneman is now widely recognized as one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, his research was dismissed for years. Mr. Kahneman recounts how one eminent American philosopher, after hearing about the work, quickly turned away, saying, “I am not interested in the psychology of stupidity.”

But the philosopher missed the point. The biases and blind-spots identified by Messrs. Kahneman and Tversky aren’t symptoms of stupidity. They’re an essential part of our humanity, the inescapable byproducts of a brain that evolution engineered over millions of years.

In Mr. Kahneman’s important new book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” his first work for a popular audience, he outlines the implications of this new model of cognition. What are the most important mental errors that we all make? And can they be overcome?

Consider the overconfidence bias, which drives many of our mistakes in decision-making. The best demonstration of the bias comes from the world of investing. Although many fund managers charge high fees to oversee stock portfolios, they routinely fail a basic test of skill: persistent achievement.

As Mr. Kahneman notes, the year-to-year correlation between the performance of the vast majority of funds is barely above zero, which suggests that most successful managers are banking on luck, not talent.

This shouldn’t be too surprising. The stock market is a case study in randomness, a system so complex that it’s impossible to predict. Nevertheless, professional investors routinely believe that they can see what others can’t. The end result is that they make far too many trades, with costly consequences.

And it’s not just investors who suffer from this mental flaw. The typical entrepreneur believes that he or she has a 60% chance of success, though less than 35% of small businesses survive more than five years. Meanwhile, CEOs who hold more company stock—taken here as a sign of self-confidence—also tend to make more irresponsible decisions, overpaying for acquisitions and engaging in misguided mergers.

Even consumers are hurt by this bias. A recent survey of American homeowners found that they expected, on average, to spend about $18,500 on remodelling their kitchens. The actual average cost? Nearly $39,000.

We like to see ourselves as a Promethean species, uniquely endowed with the gift of reason. But Mr. Kahneman’s simple experiments reveal a very different mind, stuffed full of habits that, in most situations, lead us astray. Though overconfidence may encourage us to take necessary risks—Mr. Kahneman calls it the “engine of capitalism”—it’s generally a dangerous (and expensive) illusion.

What’s even more upsetting is that these habits are virtually impossible to fix. As Mr. Kahneman himself admits, “My intuitive thinking is just as prone to overconfidence, extreme predictions and the planning fallacy as it was before I made a study of these issues.”

Even when we know why we stumble, we still find a way to fall. WSJ: Jonah Lehrer

Uniting Religion and Reason

July 25, 2012

Uniting Religion and Reason

by  Dr Mohd Farid M Shahran, Senior Fellow,

It is hardly possible for a civilisation to survive without being appreciative to rational inquiries and intellectual pursuits. For civilisation is nothing but the refinement of human life through rational investigation and experience.

THE incident of a couple attacking a Policeman with a sword in front of the Prime Minister’s Department was a front cover story recently. The man, who was shot and later on died, also claimed himself to be the Imam Mahdi.

While the real cause of the incident is still under investigation, immediate reaction was one of bewilderment for such an irrational act. Since the motive is seemingly religious, the deeper question is, could religion teach us to do such a thing?

To be religious is quite often thought to be anti-reason and dismissive of rational inquiries.The basic premise is two-fold. First, since religion is based on submission to the absolute will of God, less room is available for thinking and rational justification, and secondly, it is based on divine injunction which is beyond fault, hence, no rational explanation is needed.

The logical implication of this thinking is that what comes from religion will form its own truth, while what comes from reason will form another. Both of these are irreconcilable and contradictory. Ultimately, this thinking will lead to the situation where every endeavour, which is based on rational inquiry like science and philosophy, is contradictory to religion.

This is based on a few observations: First, Islam has proven itself to be a great civilisation for a long time. It is hardly possible to think of a civilisation that can survive, without being appreciative to rational inquiries and intellectual pursuits.

For civilisation is nothing but the refinement of every aspect of human life through rational investigation and human experience within any framework of a worldview.

In the case of Islam, although the development of its civilisation was inspired by the spirit of revelation and progressed within the framework of religious worldview with tawhid as the central theme, the gradual unfolding of its various civilisational aspects in history took place through diverse intellectual inquiries.

This is reflected in countless great intellectual works of Muslim scholars throughout the Golden Age of Islam. In addition, science and philosophy flourished in the Muslim world while translations by Muslim scholars of great works from the zenith of reason at that time, the Greek civilisation, were very much active.

Secondly, the Quran as the source of Islam is far from anti-reason.Replete with verses challenging human beings to use their reason, the Quran quite often ends some of its verses with phrases like “will you not use your reason?” and “so that you might use your reason” which are mainly directed at those who are inconsistent in their thinking and actions.

In the same spirit, the Quran does not ever portray people who are reasonable and contemplative as bad and vile. On the contrary, they are described as those who are on the right path and are close to God.

They are the ones who posses true insight (ulu al-absar), true heart (ulu al-bab), true intelligence (ulu al-nuha), all referring to different aspects of reason (‘aql).

One of the verses pronounces that those who reflect on the creation of heavens and earth will eventually come to the conclusion that such creations are neither made in vain nor without purpose, but rather are signs to higher divine meanings (Quran 3:191).

As a matter of fact, this verse has become one of the motivating factors in the development of science in Islam.

In a few instances in the Quran, God challenges those who do not want to accept the teachings of the Prophet and the truth of religion to provide their burhan to prove themselves right.

The term burhan, which later became a terminology in Islamic philosophy, refers to the demonstrative proof that is the highest level of rational proof based on self-evident premises.

Thirdly, some rational principles play important roles even in the understanding of revelations as explained by Muslim theologians.For example, before every Quranic verse can be fully understood, it must be qualified rationally for its metaphorical level, if it is specific or general, or if it comes in contradiction with other verses in terms of meaning.

Such are the rational principles which are the prerequisites in understanding revelation.

Following this, another important rational method developed in the study of the Quran, which is the allegorical interpretation in regard to the verses which seem contradictory in meaning.

Such a method derived from the premise that the Quran must be consistent and self contradictions should not arise. In other words, those who read the Quran must be reasonably sound so as to understand that some verses are not in contradiction with others.

Fourthly, in Islam both reason and religion are innate to human beings. Being an essential characteristic, every human being is endowed with reason, and for that matter, the human being is defined by philosophers as a thinking living being (al-hayawan al-natiq). The great Muslim thinker, al-Ghazali, defines reason as a natural disposition in man that differentiates him from other living beings.

As to religion, which in Islam is reflected in the concept of conscious and willing submission to one God (aslama) and true worship (ibadah), they are already inherent characteristics of every child who, according to a saying of the Prophet, is born into this world pure and sinless, hence has already submitted itself to God.

In fact, another Quranic verse reiterates that even all of the children of Adam have submitted themselves to God through their covenant with Him before coming to this world (Quran 7:172).

It is therefore hardly conceivable that both religion and reason, which are innate, can be contradictory in nature.


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