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.