The Faithful Aide: Michael Cornelius Selvam Vellu


April 18, 2014

The Faithful Aide: Michael Cornelius Selvam Vellu

by Bernama

Karpal

The name Michael Cornelius Selvam Vellu may not be as famous as the man he was serving – renowned lawyer Karpal Singh – but his sacrifice will remain in the annals of Malaysian history for his devotion to his boss.

It would be suffice to say that Michael was literally the man behind Karpal, since the 39-year-old, would push his boss around in his wheelchair wherever he went, including to Parliament.

Bukit Gelugor MP and former DAP chairman Karpal Singh, 73, died in a car accident on the North-South Expressway this morning near Gua Tempurung, Kampar together with his long-serving personal assistant Michael.

Karpal’s daughter Sangeet Kaur Deo said Michael was a “faithful servant to his master” and stayed with him even in death.

Hailing from Vellore, Tamil Nadu in southern India, Michael leaves behind a wife, a son and a daughter while his body is expected to be flown back to India for burial. – Bernama, April 17, 2014.

OBITUARY by Steve Oh

The Tiger of Jelutong will roar no more as a sombre silence falls upon Malaysia at the death of a loved son.

News of the sudden tragic death of veteran DAP leader, parliamentarian and litigation lawyer Karpal Singh has sent shockwaves across the country and fans of the affable Karpal around the world into a state of mourning.

His admirers are found everywhere, those who respected and loved this rare individual and irreplaceable man, the true ‘people’s politician’ and a lawyer for those with lost hope and a last resort for justice, who defended the underdogs and victims of injustice. They all, friends and strangers alike, will be in silent grief and like I feel, a sense of  loss and grieve with Karpal’s family.

Who would have imagined a man who has saved so many lives from the gallows, from convicted drug offenders to a condemned 14-year-old Chinese boy convicted for possession of a firearm, who survived a car accident that confined him to a wheelchair since 2005, would succumb to a horrific vehicle collision on the North-South Expresswayway at 1.30am while all of us were safe and sound asleep.

The man who took seven years to finish his law studies because he was ‘playful’ by his own admission, who showed early signs of political prowess while a student leader at the University of Singapore, leaves behind a gap that no one can fill.

Though dead, Karpal will still speak through the legacy he left behind. We all die some day but it is what we live for that we will be best remembered, unless you are Jesus Christ whose death and resurrection remembered this Easter weekend is the rare exception.

Karpal, the man of struggle for justice, lived a life of struggle for others. His was not a life in vain pursuit and personal aggrandisement but for the social justice he believed in and fought for others in a country that denied basic justice to all that fell foul of those in power and dysfunctional and corrupt public institutions and politicians. The political ideals of justice he stood for will be the nation’s living inheritance.

Defender of the defenceless

Karpal’s tenacity to see justice done was evident when he laboured on to clear Australian Kevin Barlow of his drug trafficking conviction even after his execution.

This defender of the defenceless, often ‘the little man’, and ‘a friend to the oppressed and marginalised’ as he was renown, lived for the country he loved and at a time when someone of his age should have been in bed at home and asleep, he was instead on his way to Penang to attend court, presumably, to defend someone and was killed in the course of duty.

He died as he lived – striving for someone regardless of race, religion or rank. He lived out his convictions and proved he was no mere talker but doer. To my mind, Karpal is a national icon and a national hero, a paradigm of national character – the ultimate and unrivalled battler for all Malaysians and a better country.

He has not lived to see his vision realised and hope deferred makes the heart sick. Those who loved him must do more for without him the load becomes heavier, the hill steeper and the challenge more formidable.

But if Malaysians have his heart for justice, nothing will stand in their way and they will triumph as overcomers of evil and corruption, and Karpal would have been happy and proud.

Malaysia would have been a worse place without Karpal and those drunk with power would have succeeded in their excessive ways and got away unchallenged with their abuses of power if he had not been there to check them by his intrepid acts of political and personal bravery.

His parliamentary life was colourful and controversial and when you have many parliamentarians suffering from ‘foot in mouth’ disease, it was not surprising he once aptly called an offensive fellow parliamentarian, “the bigfoot from Kinabatangan”. He received as much as he gave.

His life and career should be studied by all aspiring Malaysians and even my father who once in siding with the late Penang chief minister Dr Lim Chong Eu, as his political party stalwart and friend, had expressed a moment of disdain for  Karpal in the 70s but was immediately saddened when I broke the news to him.

Like many of us, he had been won over by Karpal’s acts of selfless service to the people over the ensuing years. Undaunted, Karpal laboured and remained true to the same cause and far be it for us to desert him in his death. We must put our hands to the cart that Karpal and all civic-minded Malaysians had pushed all these years.

He was a “capable and clever man”, my father lamented. And I know who he would have voted for had Karpal stood in his electorate. Our sense of justice should outweigh the affiliation to any group or anyone who is unjust. We betray ourselves when we dampen our conscience to injustice.

But more than the activist he was, Karpal was a man who stood up for principles however unpopular and did not capitulate to political expediency or compromised his convictions. This he proved consistently in his stand against his country being turned unconstitutionally into Mahathir Mohamad’s queer idea of a political Islamic state in flagrant contempt of the country’s secular constitution.

That was classic Karpal. And above all, he never sold himself to the highest bidder in a country ruined by the corruption he often lambasted. He was the honest fighter, he fought in the open ring of political combat with no holds barred, unlike those who claim to fight the fight in the arms of the powers-that-be ‘from within’ and be seduced by their courts of pleasure and become virtually ineffective.

How can we honour his memory?

What is Karpal’s legacy to us all? How can we honour his memory as he would have liked? What is the best way to vindicate all that Karpal stood and lived for? How do we keep it going for the man who started it all, who made opposition politics the crucial preparation for government?

We all individually and collectively must focus on what matters most – the deliverance of justice – the heartbeat of Karpal’s life and labour – to all Malaysians and deliver the country from its bondage to corruption and abuse of power.

In a nutshell we all, whoever or wherever we are, regardless of our backgrounds, must strive for the political and social change that Karpal gave his life to seeing when he went into politics to save his country.

Anything short of a change in a government that Karpal gave his life to achieve would be seen by him as a betrayal to the vision of a just and free Malaysia.  Karpal saw his country in this pernicious grip.

A corrupt government is bad governance and bad governance means suffering and strife for the country. Bad governance is anathema to all citizens and corrupt politicians are the collective public enemy and bane of the nation. Karpal did not say those exact words but better still he lived out his life to destroy the malaise described.

Karpal started life in Penang and began his double vocation in law and politics with an innate sense of justice. His passion saw him get into trouble with those who had become the people’s enemies by their immoral and unjust conduct.

The son of a humble Punjabi watchman and part-time herdsman, whose father emigrated to Penang from India in 1920, he believed there will be no justice until Malaysia is a country where everyone is treated equally under the law.

He believed in the DAP’s ‘Malaysian Malaysia’ political dogma and extolled the country’s first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman for promoting racial unity. He criticised the special impunity of the hereditary rulers under the original constitution that were subsequently removed.

He put conviction into action by throwing himself into politics in 1970 after the May 13, 1969 riots. I  had the privilege of meeting Karpal at the state funeral of the late Dr Lim Chong Eu. It was a fleeting moment, he gave me a smile, and I shook his hand, as he was pushed past by in his wheelchair, and in that passing moment I was able to intuitively see what a kind and generous person he was, as first impressions can sometimes prove true and lasting.

There was none of the air of self-importance that I find in other dignitaries and politicians I have met and as with the late Irene Fernandez, I regret not having made the effort to learn more about a fellow Penangite and great human being and to spend time to get to know more of such a rare personage.

Who would not have benefitted from meeting someone of Karpal’s stature, to learn from his struggles and achievements? I hope someone will do a story of his life in documentary as a public service to all Malaysians.

No one can do him harm

In the ensuing days, the accolades and obituaries will flow and none will do justice to a true son of the nation who was unfairly and cruelly imprisoned under the notorious now repealed ISA, charged for sedition several times, and even threatened with a silver bullet in a death threat.

The vicissitudes in the life of Karpal who has dared to sue a Malaysian king, a sultan and just about anyone in the public interest has resulted in a man we can salute with utter pride and admiration. Without fear or favour is a phrase reserved for a man like him.

Karpal is no more in the political arena. He leaves a couple of sons in politics to soldier on. But he leaves his nation the priceless legacy of a true patriot, a true son of the nation, and a true lawyer beyond the call of the written law and elusive justice.

Indeed Karpal to many of us will be the missing ‘towering Malaysian’ that cannot be found in the government that coined the phrase.

His incomparable life in law and politics has no equal in Malaysia and indeed there ought to be a Hall of Fame for the sons and daughters of the country like him.

He may be known as the ‘Tiger of Jelutong’ having served that constituency for five terms but his life and achievements are larger than such a parochial title, given him after he told MIC’s S Samy Vellu, “he could be the lion, and I could be the tiger, because there are no lions in Malaysia.”

No lions indeed except in the zoo.
 
Karpal is the ‘Tiger of Justice’ and his life given to seek justice for his clients and his country has earned him a place in history that will stay with us forever.

The nation weeps with Karpal’s family but we are comforted that his enemies can do him no more to harm or spuriously charge him in court and send him to prison unjustly. Karpal Singh lived for Malaysia.

Let Malaysians remember him and honour him by making justice flow like a river and deliver the country from its bondage to corruption and injustice. That must be his living legacy – the passion to seek justice for the nation and something for all Malaysians to emulate.


STEVE OH is author and composer of the novel and musical ‘Tiger King of the Golden Jungle’.

Penang to give Karpal official send-off


The Penang government will provide veteran lawmaker Karpal Singh an official send off.
The Penang government will provide veteran lawmaker Karpal Singh an official send off.

April 17, 2014

A Tribute to The Tiger of Jelutong:

Legacy of the ‘Tiger of Jelutong’ will endure

by Aimee Gulliver @www.malaysiakini.com

  • Cowards die many times before their deaths;
    The valiant never taste of death but once.
    Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
    It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
    Seeing that death, a necessary end,
    Will come when it will come.

    • Julius Caesar Act II, scene 2, line 33.

Karpal Singh’s story may have come to an abrupt end this morning, but the author of his biography says the legacy of the ‘Tiger of Jelutong’ will endure in Malaysia, where he was a warrior in the fight for equality and justice.

image

New Zealand journalist Tim Donoghue first met Karpal in Penang in 1987 and spent nearly 30 years researching the biography he wrote on the fearless lawyer and advocate, titled “Karpal Singh – Tiger of Jelutong”, which was published in 2013.

“I’ve done a few things in journalism, but I’m particularly proud of that because this man was the ultimate scrapper, but he had a sense of humour,” Donoghue said.

“The things he had to deal with, the life and death issues that he had to deal with, he smiled his way through them all, and he helped a lot of people out along the way. There was always that great twinkle in his eyes, and you just knew that no matter what anyone was ever going to throw at that guy, he was never going to kow-tow to any man.”

Karpal and his aide Michael Cornelius Selvam Vellu, 39, were killed in a road accident about 1.10 this morning near Kampar in Perak. The former DAP chairperson’s sudden departure has shocked the nation, and elicated a flood of eulogies from both sides of the political divide.

His death comes as the 74-year-old was gearing up to appeal his recent conviction for sedition that was cross-appealed by the government, which is seeking have the wheelchair-bound politician jailed.

Karpal

“I don’t think the legal system has brought any great credit upon itself by convicting this man of sedition.“I think that is something that those in the ruling political and legal establishment of Malaysia do need to think about.”, Donoghue said.

The government’s persecution of the man who stood up and fought for human rights in Malaysia had made a martyr out of him, Donoghue said.

“Now that Karpal has gone to his death under threat of imprisonment for this sedition charge, I think he will be a great rallying point come the next election – there will be a huge groundswell of support among the opposition parties in the country.”

A long line of challenges

Karpal’s conviction for sedition was just the latest in a long line of challenges for the “Sikh warrior in legal attire”. “Back when he was 65, after the car accident, most people said he was gone. Even his best friends, with the best intentions in the world, were saying it would have been a far more merciful end if he had died at that time.”

“But the Tiger of Jelutong had a message for those who doubted him.

“He suffered a huge amount of pain as a result of that accident, but he vowed, with the help of his family, to get back out there into the realm of both politics and the law in Malaysia and to keep challenging those in power.”

“Karpal continued his work, and some of his most notable achievements came in the years following his debilitating accident”, Donoghue said.

“After his car accident, his life was totally shattered. But I do think he did his best work, both in the law and in politics, in the seven or eight years that he had after his accident. He did some amazing things in his life. “He would say to me, ‘retirement is not a word in my dictionary’. And the reason I think he hung on was as a result of the pain he suffered because of that accident.”

Donoghue said the manner of Karpal’s death could be considered a merciful release in some ways, but his family would not agree.

Backed by family, every step of the way

“Every step of the way they backed him, they fought with him, and they lifted and laid him. They fought to keep him going.” It was with the support of his family, and his devoted assistant Michael Cornelius Selvam Vellu, 39, who was also killed in this morning’s accident, that Karpal was able to continue his work after the 2005 accident.

“Michael gave his life for this man. He worked around the clock, 24 hours a day, just to support Karpal, and the whole family is very, very, grateful for the job he has done.

“Everything Karpal has done in the last few years has been with the support of (his wife) Gurmit Kaur and Michael. They’ve kept him going, really.”

When he came to Malaysia to launch Karpal’s biography in 2013, Donoghue said he could tell Karpal was extremely proud of what he had achieved in his life.

“Basically, his legacy is one of uncompromising challenge to human rights on a number of fronts throughout his 40-plus years in legal practice.

“I suppose what endeared him to me was he challenged, he challenged, he challenged – and he did it in such a way that everybody enjoyed the trip.”

Although he was an eminently patient man, Donoghue said, Karpal would occasionally get frustrated with him, and ask when the book would be completed.

“I would tell him we would finish when he gave me an ending. We had the final ending this morning, and I think Karpal Singh will go down as one of the great warriors of the Malaysian legal and political fraternities.”

“He was a man who, as long as he had breath going into his lungs, was always going to fight. And in the wake of this man’s life, the fight will go on in Malaysia.”


AIMEE GULLIVER is a New Zealand journalist interning with Malaysiakini for six weeks, courtesy of the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

The passing of a good friend and fellow Malaysian, Bernard “Zorro” Khoo


April 4, 2014

The passing of a good friend and fellow Malaysian, Bernard “Zorro” Khoo

I was deeply saddened to learn from  another good friend and great Malaysian sportsman and former All England Badminton Champion, Dato’ Yew Cheng Hoe, of the passing of my dear friend and fellow blogger, Bernard Khoo this afternoon of cancer.

Bernard and I became close friends when we, Haris Ibrahim, and Raja Petra Kamaruddin were active civil society activists in the 2007-2008 period with our friends in Pakatan Rakyat; we participated in the first BERSIH protest in early November, 2007, travelled throughout the country except Sabah and Sarawak during the 2008 Election campaign and kept in touch on regular basis, exchanging views and ideas which I often used for my blog.

A very special man, that great English teacher from La Salle, Sentul, Kuala Lumpur is today no longer with us; but to those who were privileged to know him Bernie will remain in our hearts. According to one of his former pupils, Nelson Fernandez who owns and runs his own advertising and PR agency, Bernie was an excellent English and History teacher and an outstanding football coach who bonded well with his wards.

Bernie-Zorro

I was among the first to know from him personally of his health problem. He endured his suffering with dignity, and was always optimistic about the future of our country and ever willing to help the underdog. He never ceased to remind me that we must never give up.

“Do it for our grandchildren, Din”, he said. Well, Bernie, we will soldier on, although you have returned to the Lord, because like you, we cannot allow our wonderful and great country go to waste because of incompetence, corruption and abuse of power.

image

My wife, Dr. Kamsiah and wish to express our sincere condolences to his wife and bereaved family. We intend to attend his funeral services on Monday, April 7, 2014 at the St Ignatius Church, Taman Plaza, Petaling Jaya, Selangor.–Din Merican

Dr. John remembers Irene Fernandez


April  4, 2014

Dr. John remembers Irene Fernandez

by K J John@www.malaysiakini.com–04-04-14

Irene Fernandez is a personal friend of our family. We grew up in the same neighbourhood in the early 60s. Therefore, my feelings about her passing are mixed at best. Of course, since we are Christians, death is something we can look forward to, because of our personal and relational faith we have with Jesus Christ. He is the Judge at the Second Coming.

We believe he destroyed the dividing wall of hostility between Man and God by his death and resurrection. What a reminder about why we must take this season of Lent more seriously, as we reflect on both; his realities in history of time to define Good Friday and Easter. Good Friday was the good work of Jesus on the cross to redefine our eternity, and Easter is our similar hope through his resurrection; because he still lives.

Nonetheless without getting into the theology of ‘what quality of personal and relational faith defines our eternal life in Heaven’, I will believe that I will see the late Dr Irene Fernandez in Heaven. I will look forward to that day.

Even so, allow me to reflect on this question; did Irene deserve better from all of us? What do I mean?Irene was a great lady who lived out her dignity and destiny of her calling through her life. She lived and died for her beliefs. That is now her legacy for those of us who know her and have been influenced by her ‘good works’.

She was more than her value of saltiness and the light she shone into the systemic level of bribery and corruption at all levels of society. I will miss Irene. Farewell my good friend until we meet again on yonder shore.

The abuse of Irene’s dignity

Almost in identical style and execution but learning from their mistakes of the past, especially with the Lim Guan Eng incident, the Attorney-General’s Chambers selectively prosecuted and persecuted Irene for telling the truth about bribery and corruption related to especially naming Bangledeshi workers and documenting of their case stories. She was charged in court with “lying about truths”, sentenced to jail, and finally released by the appeal court. What misjustice!

Muslim theology also states that all humans have a God-ordained dignity which must therefore be honoured and respected by all in positions of authority. These authorities do not deny God or ignoring the person they call ‘Allah.’Now, we even see Muslim judges practice ‘rule by law and not really rule of law,’ because they do not understand Muslim theology well. They think God has ordained them to behave like God and decide some other’s destiny and deny their dignity.

My doctoral thesis was on this subject of dignity in the workplace. Dignity so defined is a God-quality of honour and respect for human beings, as the highest of all created beings, including angels. All other humans must grant such mutual respect and regard for the other; without fear or favour. But, systems always fail to do this well, especially because the ‘powerful’ always assume they are already on God’s side and no one can question their ‘abuse of authority.’ How untrue!

Even Muslim theology has a similar concept of trusteeship or stewardship. Therefore, all authorities, by name, must be both accountable and responsible to Almighty God on Judgment Day, for things done or left undone.

Therefore, I feel guilty, because I worked for this ‘authoritarian government’ which caused great and severe abuse to Irene Fernandez by wrongly ‘prosecuting, but which resulted in severe persecution’, with even her passport and travel rights being denied. Then finally, she was released by the Court of Appeal.

Did not Irene deserve better from all of us, especially when this so-called legitimate government abused her dignity and denied a proper destiny. For that the global community gave her the ‘Right to Livelihood Award’; often called the alternative Nobel Prize.

Irene’s lifeline

Born in 1946, we became neighbours sometime in 1961, when our family moved to the first-ever housing development in Jalan Kolam Ayer in Sungai Petani. We had some glorious times of friendship and family fellowship as they were also Malayali Christians, like us. Then I left to go to school in the RMC in 1965.

I reconnected with Irene when her case hit the newspapers. I was then writing a column in the NST. I wrote and supported Irene’s findings and they published my views, without edit. Then when we started Oriental Hearts and Mind Study Institute’s (OHMSI) National Congress on Integrity in 2005, Irene was one of the keynote speakers, apart from Bishop Paul Tan and Clifford Herbert, former secretarygeneral of the Finance Ministry.

We were a multi-ethnic and multi-faith community as we sought to define the word ‘integrity.’ One of the best definitions on this concept of ‘integrity’ which was publicised by the mainstream newspaper was by the chief secretary to the government, Sidek Hassan (right). He popularised the definition that “integrity is what you do when no one else is watching”.

Of course, whether Sidek or us, we know that “when no one else is watching” is not such; as God is always watching. Therefore what Sidek means by that ‘definition’ is integrity makes requisite for us to do what is right, good, and true when no one else human is watching. But, we are reminded by scriptures that God is always watching and keep a record of the same; which becomes our basis for judgment at Jesus’s Second Coming.

Did not Irene do what is good, true, and right by defending the dignity of Bangladeshi workers? Why then did we prosecute and persecute her? Who are really the guilty ones? Do you really think God was not watching when we do the same? Did not Irene Fernandez deserve better, as she lived her life of dignity, integrity, and destiny?

Is not wrongful prosecution equal to persecution?

Can the citizens of Malaysia not take the attorney-general (AG) to court over wrongful prosecution of so many public cases? Every time a senior public servant is charged with corruption and then finally discharged by the higher courts for the lack of conclusive evidence, I feel the same way about each and every one of them; their dignity and destiny which God intended for them is denied by my mortals.

We are not gods; in fact let me quote the father who said, “the police are not god”. They cannot cause death and not be held responsible and fully accountable. Let me modify the same argument; the AG is not god and the cabinet must hold him responsible for the Irene case and make good their ‘uninformed incompetence in prosecuting and persecuting her’.

Irene deserved very much more from all of us. The reason evil governance begins because good and ordinary people choose to close on eye and think they cannot make a difference. Irene showed us otherwise she could. Let us follow her legacy and not follow the crooks. May God bless our soul and spirit.

Controversial Muslim Thinker and Politics


February 23, 2014

Controversial Muslim Thinker sets the cat among the canaries, again

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

COMMENT They say politics makes for strange bedfellows. It looks like religion also does the same. Consider thinker Kassim Ahmad’s ties to former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad – on Islamic exegesis, the two are birds of a feather.

kassim thinkerThe Controversial Muslim Thinker

This is best understood in the context of Voltaire’s famous criticism of Christian belief and practice at the onset of the Enlightenment in the 18th century – that incantations can kill a flock of sheep if administered with a certain quantity of arsenic.

In other words, faith should not be blind and unexamined beliefs are for bovines, not homo-sapiens.

In 1986, Kassim published a book – ‘Hadis: Satu Penilaian Semula (Hadith: A Reappraisal)’ – that espoused a subversive idea.This was that certain bases of Islamic practice and belief cannot sustain critical scrutiny. The book proposed the Quran as sole basis for sound Muslim belief and best practices.

That view Kassim reiterated to a conference which reviewed his thought held last Sunday at the Perdana Leadership Foundation, a think-tank associated with Mahathir (right).

The former Premier officiated at the conference’s opening and days later, after controversy flared over what Kassim had said, allowed that Kassim was a thinker whose opinions are easily misunderstood.

Like the publication of his book 28 years ago, Kassim’s latest musings have caused a furore. Its magnitude can be gauged in the days to come as Islamic authorities mull action against him.

It’s a safe bet, though, that none of them will take him on in a debate because they know that Kassim is a formidable foe to joust with; he will not easily recant his views.

Kassim blames Anwar Ibrahim – the Education Minister in the mid-1980s – for squelching the debate that ‘Hadis’ was obviously intended to provoke.Till today, Kassim nurses an enduring antipathy towards Anwar for the turn of events following publication of Kassim’s book in early 1986.

The ironies in history

Although all this occurred 28 years ago, the passage of decades has not had a becalming effect on the visceral feelings the controversy evoked at that time.

As recently as the middle of 2012, Kassim remained choleric at the mention of Anwar’s name, denouncing the Pakatan Rakyat leader with a vituperation that was ugly to behold.

It is not clear that Anwar had anything to do with the banning of Kassim’s book or with foreclosure of the debate.What’s less incontestable is that had the book not been banned, matters to do with Islamic thought and understanding in Malaysia would plausibly have transcended the present moment where some peninsula Muslim Malaysians insist that the term ‘Allah’ is exclusive to them.

In one of those ironies in which history abounds, in the debate over the ‘Allah’ issue, Anwar (left) is not opposed to non-Muslim use of the term – provided it is not abused – whereas Mahathir is for prohibition of the term to non-Muslims.

Kassim’s position on the issue is not known, but judging from what can be deduced of the man’s intellect, it would be a huge surprise if he agreed with Mahathir’s stance.

There is a strong strain of the iconoclast in Kassim, evident from half a century ago when he suggested that Malay folklore was wrong to view Hang Tuah as a hero because the real hero was Tuah’s friend, Hang Jebat, whom Tuah had killed.

Because of his tendency to examine the received wisdom on a subject, it wasn’t surprising that Kassim, who tuned 80 last September, gave vent at last Sunday’s conference to views that were even more controversial than the ones he aired in his 1986 work.

In what was purported to be his final testament – rendered at the conference themed ‘Thoughts of Kassim Ahmad: A Review’ – the man who started his intellectual journey as a cultural iconoclast and doctrinaire socialist, invited Muslims to return to the teachings of the Islamic faith as revealed in the Quran.

He said that believers would find Quranic teachings to be cognate with natural law (undang-undang alamiah).Kassim also espoused the view that Muslims do not need, like he claimed Christians did, a “priestly caste” to know what God commands of them and to perceive those commands’ consonance with what natural law tells them.

He argued that the female practice of wearing a headscarf (tudung) was a wrong interpretation of the Quranic stricture against bodily exposure, claiming that hair on a woman’s head is not included in the ‘aurat’ that is required by the Quran to be covered. He said that head hair must be aired for health (natural law) reasons.

An interesting tack to take

Thus, he took an example from nature to elucidate a Quranic teaching, demonstrating in the process the supposed truth of his argument that sound interpretation of Quranic revelation would necessarily be found to be compatible with what natural law teaches.

This is an interesting tack to take and is at variance to the asharite (God is power/God is will) school of Islamic thought. The asharite has been the dominant school since the 12th century when it gained the upper hand over the mutazilite (God is also reason) school of Islamic interpretation.

Since the victory of the asharite school, Islam’s answer to what is called “the Socratic puzzle” has been emphatic.But, pray, what is the Socratic puzzle?

It is a question that is so abstruse, it gives philosophy a bad name: Is a good action good because it is approved by God? Or is it approved by God because it is good?

In other words, do the categories of good and evil, right and wrong, have an existence independent of the divine will?

To this, the answer of the Asharite school is: An action is good because it is approved by Allah.

The asharites hold that there is no independent criterion of morality outside the will of Allah. And since the Quran is an absolutely literal and accurate account of that will – indeed in a deep sense, the Quran itself actually incarnates that will – there is no independent criterion of morality outside the text of the Quran.

In other words, if the Quran says something that seems morally offensive, it is morality that is mistaken, not the Quran.

The Mutazilites are inclined to find an interpretation of the Quran that accords with what natural law teaches. This is because they believe that there is an objective moral order to the universe and that this is discoverable through reason. That is why the Mutazilities are called rationalists.

Because these are febrile questions of religious interpretation and philosophy, and apt to foment divisive and emotional effects on believers – Voltaire advised that discussion of complex religious questions be held behind closed doors and out of the hearing of servants – Muslim thinkers approach them with circumspection.

Now and then, one or the other of them saunters on to the turf and inevitable detonations ensue.

Last Sunday, Kassim Ahmad walked into a blast-prone area and set off subversive ripples of resonance. He is likely to enjoy immunity because he did it at the Perdana Leadership Foundation

Last year about this time, Ibrahim Ali (right) escaped a sedition rap for threatening to burn bibles after Mahathir offered extenuations on the Perkasa chief’s behalf, following former attorney-general Abu Talib Othman’s admonishing incumbent AG Abdul Gani Patail against dilly-dallying on pressing charges.

This time round, Mahathir’s extenuations on behalf of Kassim are likely to have intellectually more beneficent uses.

The irony is that Kassim – like the man he detests, Anwar Ibrahim – is not likely to think much of the argument that the term ‘Allah’ ought to be the exclusive preserve of Peninsula Muslims; more certainly, he will laugh Mahathir’s reservation of the term for Peninsula Malays, to scorn.Not just politics, religion, too, makes for strange bedfellows.

Tribute to Sam Berns


February 3, 2014

Tribute to Sam Berns, RIP

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

Sam Berns is an inspiration to us all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering Tun Abdul Razak: “Putting People First”


January 14, 2014

Remembering Tun Abdul Razak: “Putting People First”

by Nazir Razak@http://www.themalaysianinsider.com

Nazir Razak2…there are signs that inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic tensions are once again approaching worrying levels. What can be done? There is a Malay proverb: “Sesat di Hujung Jalan, Balik ke-Pangkal Jalan.” Loosely translated, it means “When one has lost one’s way, one should return to the beginning.”… And “the beginning” here, in my view, is the values, commitment, vision and inclusiveness demonstrated and embodied by Tun Razak.–Nazir Razak

Thirty-eight years ago today, on January 14, 1976, Tun Abdul Razak Hussein passed away in London from complications wreaked by leukaemia.

Malaysia lost its Prime Minister. I lost my father. Malaysia (Malaya) was 19. I was nine. The days immediately after were shrouded in personal sorrow and national mourning.My four brothers and I sought to comfort our mother, while the public and heartfelt outpouring of grief throughout the country served as a resounding reminder that we were not alone in our time of tragedy.

I must confess that given my age and my father’s hectic schedule, I sometimes lament the factTunrazak14_300_575_100 that he gave so much to the country, leaving too little for his family. However, I have never wavered from being enormously proud of his selfless dedication to our young nation.

I did not get the time to know him. But imprinted in me are the values he imparted, the integrity that he insisted upon, above all. Yes, above all, including his family.

I recall the time when my brothers and I approached him one evening and asked that a swimming pool be built at Seri Taman, the Prime Minister’s residence where we lived.

The lawyer that he was, he insisted that we make our case with logical and rational arguments. We did so, and thought we had presented the argument pretty well, until we noticed his face had started to darken, and the eyes flashed with annoyance.

My father made it abundantly clear that while Seri Taman may be our home, the house belonged to the government and, hence, to the people. Anything spent on it would have to come from public funds, and there was no way he was going to allow the state coffers to be depleted on something as frivolous as a swimming pool.

“What will the people think?” he thundered. In my years of growing up, I actively sought to hear from people who knew my father well, including those who had worked with him in government, politics, the Merdeka movement and so on as well as his personal friends.

It was my only way of getting to know him. What stood out for me was that in almost every conversation I had about him, the qualities they always referenced were his values.

As the custodian of the nation’s coffers, his frugality was legendary.”You had to account for every cent, or he would be on your back,” one former Minister told me. Well, I knew that already. Not just from the swimming pool episode, but many anecdotes.

My elder brothers often talk about one of the rare opportunities they had to accompany him on an official trip to Switzerland.He made sure he paid their expenses himself, he was so careful with the cost of the trip to the government that he moved his whole entourage to a cheaper hotel than originally booked, and they dined over and over again at the cheapest restaurant in the vicinity of the hotel.

And then there was his final trip to Europe in October 1975 for medical treatment. He must have known that it could well be his last trip, yet he did not allow my mother to accompany him to save his own money; probably concerned about her financial situation after his passing.

She only managed to join him weeks later on the insistence of the cabinet and with a specially approved government budget for her travel.

His integrity was another trait that came up often in conversations. He was guided by what now seems a somewhat quaint and old-fashioned concept of public service; that a public servant is first and foremost a servant of the people whose trust must never be betrayed.

The other point that kept being repeated was his stamina. Many were later astonished to learn he had been suffering from leukaemia, given that when in office, he was constantly on the move, attending to official duties, immersing himself in the minutiae of policy and, of course, his famous surprise visits to constituencies around the country that allowed him to hear directly from the people about what was happening on the ground.

Of course, few people forget to recount Tun Razak’s dedication to rural development. He was “People First”, long before the sound bite.

But above all, what they unanimously emphasised was Tun Razak’s commitment to national unity – towards building a nation where every single one of its citizens could find a place under the Malaysian sun.

That vision was encapsulated in the two initiatives that my father spearheaded in the wake of the May 13, 1969 tragedy – the formulation of the Rukunegara in 1970 and the New Economic Policy in 1971.

The Rukunegara reconciled indigenous cultural traditions and heritage with the demands of a modern, secular state.

The NEP‘s goal, as outlined in the policy announcement, was the promotion of national unity to be undertaken via a massive experiment in socio-economic engineering through the twin thrusts of eradication of poverty irrespective of race and economic restructuring to eliminate identification of economic function with ethnicity.

The debate on the NEP rages on today. I myself have publicly remarked that something has gone awry in its implementation.The fixation on quotas and the seemingly easy route to unimaginable wealth for a select few have created an intra-ethnic divide in class and status, while fuelling inter-ethnic tensions. Both these developments serve to undermine, if not completely negate, the overarching goal of Tun Razak’s NEP, strengthening national unity.

What went wrong? Some have argued that the fault was affirmative action itself.  For me, it was because its implementation was skewed by the focus on the tactical approach rather than the commitment to the strategic goal.

The NEP has certainly helped eradicate poverty and reduced economic imbalances by spawning a Malay middle class. However, in terms of the larger vision, the best that can be said about the NEP is that it initially helped blunt the edges of racial conflict in the aftermath of May 13.

Thanks in part to the NEP, Malaysia did not follow Sri Lanka, which became embroiled in decades of strife between the immigrant Tamils and the indigenous Sinhalese.That is no small achievement. But the NEP promise of strengthening national unity has not been realised.

In fact, there are signs that inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic tensions are once again approaching worrying levels. What can be done? There is a Malay proverb: “Sesat di Hujung Jalan, Balik ke-Pangkal Jalan.” Loosely translated, it means “When one has lost one’s way, one should return to the beginning.”

And “the beginning” here, in my view, is the values, commitment, vision and inclusiveness demonstrated and embodied by Tun Razak.

I have mentioned earlier the remarks about his integrity, commitment to the concept of public service and his vision of a progressive, prosperous and united Malaysia. But let me close here by emphasising two other highlights of his legacy.

One, he was a true democrat. Two years after running the country as head of the National Operations Council, he disbanded the committee and restored democratic rule.

He held virtually dictatorial power as the NOC chief, but his worldview and values rested on a foundation of democratic rule, not dictatorship. His decision-making style exemplified this as well: he brought in all who needed to be involved and engaged in a consultative discussion before any major decision was adopted.

He never excluded those with contrarian views, he encouraged multiplicity of opinions in order to have the best chance of making a right final decision.

Two, while he was committed to helping improve the material quality of life for the majority Bumiputeras to avert another “May 13″, he viewed this as a national prerogative rather than a racial one. That, to me, explains his determination to involve Malaysia’s best and brightest in this quest, regardless of their racial or ethnic origin.

Just check out those who served him and his administration back then. They were and are, Malaysians all, united in their determination to rebuild this nation from the ashes of May 13.

That was Tun Razak’s legacy to Malaysia. We can best honour it by returning to “Pangkal Jalan”.

* Datuk Seri Mohd Nazir Razak is the son of the second Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak, and a brother of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. He is Managing Director and Chief Executive of the CIMB Group..Photograph courtesy Nazir Razak

Madiba laid to rest in Qunu


December 15, 2013

Madiba laid to rest in Qunu

Mandela3CNN) — Nelson Mandela was laid to rest in his childhood village of Qunu on Sunday, marking the end of an exceptional journey for the prisoner turned president who transformed South Africa.

Under the scorching sun, a military escort accompanied his coffin to the burial site and took off the national flag that draped his casket. White wreaths sat around it.His widow, Graca Machel, and others watched from under a tent as helicopters carrying flags whizzed past.

“Now you have achieved the ultimate freedom in the bosom of God, your maker,” the officiator said.Tribal leaders clad in animal skins joined dignitaries in dark suits at the burial grounds atop a hill overlooking Qunu valleys.

Before making their way to the site, mourners attended a service in a tent set up for the event. Ninety-five candles glowed behind his casket, one for each year of his life. Mandela died December 5 after a recurring lung infection and declining health.

The service started with a somber military procession wheeling his casket into the tent. Residents watched and danced in what has become a familiar celebration of his life.

Inside the tent, the wall of candles flickered, casting a soft glow on tearful mourners.And as the national anthem “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” or “God Bless Africa” drifted over the rolling hills, a giant picture of Mandela smiled down on mourners.

“Today marks the end of an extraordinary journey that began 95 years ago,” South African President Jacob Zuma said during the ceremony. “It is the end of 95 glorious years of a freedom fighter … a beacon of hope to all those fighting for a just and equitable world order.”

The President thanked Mandela’s family for sharing him with the world, and said his memory will live on. “We shall not say goodbye, for you are not gone,” Zuma said. “You’ll live forever in our hearts and minds.”

About 4,500 people gathered in the tent, including Mandela’s widow, Graca Machel, who occasionally dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. His ex-wife, Winnie Mandela, sat next to her.

I’ve lost a brother

Mourners represented all spheres of Mandela’s life. There were celebrities, Presidents, relatives and former political prisoners.

“You symbolize today and always will … qualities of forgiveness and reconciliation,”Opra and Brandson said a tearful Ahmed Kathrada, a close friend who served time in prison with Mandela for defying the apartheid government. “I’ve lost a brother. My life is in a void, and I don’t know who to turn to.”Talk show host Oprah Winfrey, Prince Charles and business mogul Richard Branson were also among the attendees.

Final chapter

Mandela 4The funeral and burial cap 10 days of national mourning for a man whose fame transcended borders.

“Nelson Mandela was our leader, our hero, our icon and our father as much as he was yours,” Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said, regaling mourners with tales of a secret visit Mandela made in 1962 to Dar es Salaam to gather support for the ANC.

During his fight against apartheid, Mandela fled to Tanzania, which housed the headquarters of his party, the African National Congress. The white minority government had banned it in South Africa.

In sharp contrast to the days of apartheid, the events honoring Mandela included a great deal of pageantry, as well as state honors. Mandela’s body arrived Saturday in the tiny village in the Eastern Cape province, where he grew up surrounded by lush, tranquil hills and velvety green grass.

Before its arrival in Qunu, it lay in state for three days in Pretoria. After an emotional service at the air base there, which included the handing over of his body to the ruling African National Congress, it was put in a military helicopter for the final leg of his journey.

Though he dined with Kings and Presidents in his lifetime, the international icon relished his time at the village. He herded cows and goats there as a child, and always said it’s where he felt most at peace. Some of his children are also buried there.

“He really believed this is where he belonged,” said his daughter, Maki Mandela. Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years for defying the racist apartheid government that led South Africa for decades. He emerged from prison in 1990 and became South Africa’s first black president four years later, all the while promoting forgiveness and reconciliation.

His defiance of white minority rule and long incarceration for fighting against segregation focused the world’s attention on apartheid, the legalized racial segregation enforced by the South African government until 1994.

Years after his 1999 retirement from the presidency, Mandela was considered the ideal head of state. He became a yardstick for African leaders, who consistently fell short when measured against him.

Following the service, family and friends will walk to the gravesite, overlooking the rural home he loved so much, to say goodbye. In keeping with tradition, Mandela was laid to rest in the afternoon, when the sun is at its highest.

CNN’s Robyn Curnow contributed to this report from the Mandela compound in Qunu. Faith Karimi wrote and reported from Atlanta and Marie-Louise Gumuchian from London.

http://edition.cnn.com/2013/12/15/world/africa/nelson-mandela-qunu-funeral/

How to Truly Honor Mandela


December 14, 2013

How to Truly Honor Mandela

by Nicholas D. Kristof@http://www.nytimes.com

Pres ObamaWorld leaders, including President Obama, are jostling for the chance to celebrate Nelson Mandela this week, which would surely make Mandela smile. He had a mischievous sense of humor, and he knew better than anybody that the United States and other countries now embracing him had spurned him when he could have actually used the help.

In the deluge of coverage since Mandela died, there has been surprisingly little reflection on the lessons for ourselves, and there is a whiff of hypocrisy about the adulation for Mandela even as we simultaneously sell weapons to repressive regimes around the world. We needn’t just look backward: Yes, President Reagan or Dick Cheney, as a member of Congress in the ’80s, didn’t honor Mandela when it would have helped him, but it’s more relevant today that President Obama isn’t speaking up adequately on behalf of political prisoners.

If we Americans want to uphold the spirit of Mandela, then let’s advocate for political prisoners in China, Cuba, Syria and Iran and also in allies like Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Bahrain. And we should more forcefully protest Israeli settlements in the West Bank, for Mandela himself said: “Our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

President Obama gave a characteristically eloquent eulogy for Mandela, but he neglected the obvious point for ourselves: We should try to stand on the right side of history. The Obama administration didn’t even blush when, on the day Mandela died, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel visited Bahrain — an undemocratic minority regime that violently oppresses its majority.

Hagel consorted with Bahrain’s King without speaking up forcefully and publicly about imprisoned human rights activists like Nabeel Rajab, the globally respected president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights. Or about Zainab al-Khawaja, an American-educated woman who quoted Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mandela — and who is now in prison for her advocacy of human rights. Granted, the United States has important security interests, but do we really need to marginalize those carrying on Mandela’s fight?

“Future elected presidents and prime ministers are sitting in jails of governments the U.S. is supporting with weapons,” notes Brian Dooley of Human Rights First. “One day, Nabeel Rajab or Zainab al-Khawaja could be part of a Bahrain government that the U.S. will need to do business with. If it’s to avoid the mistakes it made with Mandela, it should start advocating properly for their release.”

In the eulogy, Obama said of Mandela, “He changed laws, but also hearts.” So let’s indeed have a change of heart and offer a tribute not just in words but also in firmer support for other advocates of peaceful democratic change. Consider Ethiopia, where the United States has enormous clout that it hasn’t adequately used on behalf of political prisoners like Eskinder Nega, a journalist serving an 18-year sentence for terrorism.

Ken Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, says that his candidate for Mandela of today is Liu Xiaobo, the great Chinese writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner who is serving an 11-year prison sentence for advocating democracy and human rights. When China is free and democratic, world leaders will likely issue moving tributes to Liu’s moral vision, but he could use their words today.

One of the lessons of Mandela’s life is that global pressure does matter. When Mandela was put on trial in 1963 and 1964, the South African government wanted to execute him. But because of an international outcry, he was given life imprisonment instead.

Finally, to further honor Mandela’s legacy, President Obama could make a stronger push to close the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and end that stain on American national honor. Think of the gratuitous cruelty toward Samir Naji al-Hasan Moqbel, a Guantánamo inmate from Yemen who wrote in The Times of what happened when he refused food:

“I was sick in the prison hospital and refused to be fed. A team from the E.R.F. (Extreme Reaction Force), a squad of eight military police officers in riot gear, burst in. They tied my hands and feet to the bed. They forcibly inserted an IV into my hand. I spent 26 hours in this state, tied to the bed. During this time I was not permitted to go to the toilet. They inserted a catheter, which was painful, degrading and unnecessary.”

Mr. President, you can’t blame John Boehner for that. Granted, it’s easy for those of us outside of government to advocate for human rights, while it’s infinitely more difficult for officials in power to balance human rights against other priorities. Some political leaders reading this will undoubtedly feel that I’m being simplistic and unfair, eliding the realpolitik pressures to work with flawed allies. They should remember that a generation ago, their predecessors were citing the same reasons to keep quiet about Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela: The Indispensable Man


December 13, 2013

Richard Stengel“In many ways, the image of Nelson Mandela has become a kind of fairy tale: he is the last noble man, a figure of heroic achievement. Indeed, his life has followed the narrative of the archetypal hero, of great suffering followed by redemption…He was the founder of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the military wing of the African National Congress, and was considered South Africa’s No.1 terrorist in the 1950s…

Prison was the crucible that formed the Mandela we know…And because he is not a saint, he had his share of bitterness. He famously said, “The struggle is my life”, but his life was also a struggle…And then, after he forged this new South Africa, won the first democratic election in the country’s history and began to redress the wrongs done to his people, he walked away from it. He became the rarest thing a one term President who chose not to run for office again.

Like George Washington, he understood that every step he made would be a template for others to follow. He could have been President for life, but he knew  that for democracy to rule, he could not. Two democratic election have followed his presidency., and if the men who have succeeded him have not been his equal, well, that too is democracy. He was a large man in every way. His legacy is that he expanded human freedon. He was tolerant of everything but intolerance. He deserves to rest in peace”–Richard Stengel, Collaborator of Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom in TIME Commemorative Issue, December 19, 2013

Nelson Mandela: The Indispensable Man

Mandela made himself indispensable by dispensing with the things that empowered tyrants: pride, power, anger and vengeance

by Howard Chua-Eoan (12-06-13)

No one is indispensable. Yet history is full of individuals whose absence or presence changed the course of human events and altered the fate of nations. Most of these were autocrats whose accumulation of power was itself the reason to fear the vacuum resulting from their departure. But Nelson Mandela, who died Thursday, December 5, at the age of 95, became indispensable because he had dispensed with the things that empowered tyrants and with which they rarely parted: pride, power, anger and vengeance.

By the time of his death, he had not been President of South Africa for 14 years. Yet he remained first in the hearts of his compatriots who were so fearful of his passing that prayers went up from believers and unbelievers alike whenever he took ill. What they feared they would lose when they lost him was manifold: the wisdom to see racial reconciliation as a political and ethical necessity; the courage to choose the hard road of peace; the knowledge that pursuing justice can renew the human spirit.

1994: Nelson Mandela in his previous cell2004–Mandela visited his cell

He was a repentant warrior and long-suffering martyr; a savvy saint and humble leader; he was both father of his nation and its conscience, the moral glue of its fragile polity. As long as he lived, so did the hope that he gave South Africa and the world with his epic life. For it was only when he emerged from prison after 27 years that his country itself began to be free. Will it know the road forward without him?

He was not Nelson Mandela at his birth in 1918. His father — a noble counselor to the King of the Madiba clan — gave the child the name Rolihlahla, a word meaning “troublemaker” in the tribe’s Xhosa language. It would turn out to be prophetic. Only later would a teacher at a Methodist school give him the English name Nelson at his baptism — no one seems to know what reason lay behind that. Mandela was the given name of his grandfather.

As a privileged member of his tribe — his father was of royal lineage — Nelson Mandela would attend private schools, absorbing the diverse political philosophies circulating at the time. In the 1940s, he studied law and joined the country’s first black law firm, founded by Oliver Tambo.

South Africa, a construct of Dutch migrants and British colonial rule, had long curtailed black and Asian liberties with a combination of Roman-Dutch laws and white legislation, limiting the rights to travel and vote by the country’s nonwhite populace. Indeed, Mandela would not make his first white friend until he was in his 20s. But worse was to come. In 1948, the victory of the segregationist National Party made apartheid (literally, “apartness” in Afrikaans, the language of the white South Africans of Dutch descent) the official policy of the country — banishing blacks to economically backward “homelands” in the interior of the country, not allowing them into areas where whites lived unless prescribed by the country’s stringent “pass laws.” In the cities, blacks were forcibly restricted to townships like Soweto, vast mires of poverty.

By this time, Mandela had joined the African National Congress (ANC) and, along with other activists in the party, led protests against the apartheid regime, which responded to such demonstrations with brutality and gunfire. Mandela began to ponder the merits of armed rebellion. “For me, nonviolence was not a moral principle but a strategy,” he wrote in his autobiography, Long Road to Freedom. “There is no moral goodness in using an ineffective weapon.” He was tried for treason, and acquitted. Then Mandela was arrested in August 1962 for setting up Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) — the ANC’s military wing. It had bombed three power stations in December 1961.

In 1963, after a trial sentencing that extended his original five-year penalty to life imprisonment, he said, “During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

He knew he was headed for decades — perhaps a lifetime — of invisibility and isolation. (He would remain imprisoned for 27 years.) But he also sensed that he would not be powerless. “I was the symbol of justice in the court of the oppressor,” he later wrote, “the representative of the great ideals of freedom, fairness and democracy in a society that dishonored those virtues. I realized then and there that I could carry on the fight even within the fortress of the enemy.”

Transferred to Robben Island, a former leper colony off Cape Town, he would spend years breaking rocks, mining in a lime quarry, sleeping on mats on icy floors, treated to the severe and petty indignities suffered by blacks under a racist prison system. But he would become the most famous political prisoner in the world — and the thorn in the side of the apartheid regime that would eventually tear it apart.

That was partly the result of the ANC’s decision to subsume its campaign against the country’s white rulers around Mandela’s persona and imprisonment. “Free Nelson Mandela” became the movement’s rallying call, and the slogan stirred up a global outcry not just politically but culturally as well, as pop musicians and writers and artists took up his cause. For the movement, it helped to have a living martyr to demand justice for.

Meanwhile, the South African government was dealing with the realization that apartheid was ultimately untenable. It was dealing violently with the revolt of its black townships and was increasingly a pariah in the eyes of the world. To the white regime in the capital Pretoria, Mandela suddenly became a way out of potential catastrophe.

In 1985, President P.W. Botha offered Mandela freedom if he would renounce violence. In a statement read in public by his daughter, the prisoner responded: “I am not a violent man. It was only then, when all other forms of resistance were no longer open to us, that we turned to armed struggle … Let [Botha] renounce violence. Let him say he will dismantle apartheid … I cherish my freedom dearly, [but] what freedom am I being offered while the organization of the people [i.e., the ANC] remains banned? Only free men can negotiate. I cannot, and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. I will return.”

Yet, in his prison cell, he was preparing to negotiate. It was a politically fraught decision. “Both sides regarded discussions as a sign of weakness and betrayal,” he wrote. “But there are times when a leader must move ahead of the flock.” As for his enemies, he wrote, “All men, even the most seemingly cold-blooded, have a core of decency. If their hearts are touched, they are capable of change.” Negotiations would continue for the next four years, with Mandela trying to convince the white regime not to fear black retribution; and simultaneously charming ANC hard-liners into giving up their opposition to talking with a government they despised. As 1989 progressed, Mandela met with Botha and his successor F.W. de Klerk. And in February 1990 came momentous news: the ANC was no longer banned and Nelson Mandela was free. He walked out of prison on February 11.

Dalai Lama, Nelson MandelaMandela and The Dalai Lama

Even more notable than the developments was Mandela’s countenance. He did not emerge a firebrand waiting to be rekindled but a smiling, courteous, affable grandfatherly figure. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the greatest antiapartheid fighters, later said, “[Prison] gave him a new depth and serenity at the core of his being, and made him tolerant and magnanimous to a fault, more ready to forgive than to nurse grudges — paradoxically regal and even arrogant, and at the same time ever so humble and modest.” Mandela himself said, “I wanted South Africa to see that I loved even my enemies while I hated the system that turned us against one another.”

Mandela’s charisma swept everything aside like a tidal wave. Even the ANC, which had engineered his cause, was overwhelmed, turned into a supporting actor in the dramatic transformation of South Africa, just as Botha and de Klerk were. There was no turning back. In 1994, Mandela cast his first vote ever in the election that saw him become the first black President of South Africa.

The personal costs had been high: he had divorced his first wife because she did not like politics; his second wife Winnie became one of his most visible champions during his years in jail, but two years after his freedom, they would divorce — a consequence of years apart and political differences that Mandela blamed only on himself.

But throughout his presidency and in the ensuing years of retirement, he became a beacon for the good, not afraid to speak out against friend or foe, contributing his prestige and aura to causes at home and abroad all the while bringing the disparate parts of his own country together. The new South Africa of shared prosperity and, at least theoretically, equal opportunity is his vision. The greater achievement is that the vast majority of the country — of all races — bought into that dream.

MadibaBut as he aged and fell ill, so has the South African dream. The ANC, which now rules the country, is dominated by the kind of arrogance and privilege that Mandela so deftly balanced with humility and moral standing. Many South Africans — black, white, Asian and colored — fear the future will be corrupted by an ANC that no longer knows the way forward or appreciates the necessity of keeping to the hard road of freedom.

What South Africans fear they will lose can be sensed in one word in Xhosa: mayibuye. Mayibuye has a beautiful range of meanings. It can simply signify a return and thus can be applied to the migrations and the movement of peoples — poignant for a nation constricted by pass laws. But it also has the sense of restoration, being returned to the perfect starting point, a journey back to Eden, to a place before original sin.

It also has historic resonance. In the trial where he received a life sentence, Mandela was accused of backing Operation Mayibuye: a militant attempt to take the country from its apartheid rulers using guerrilla warfare. But he had always thought that strategy unfeasible, and in prison he converted to the road map of peace and reconciliation to bring South Africa to the place where it could begin again. South Africans have now lost Mandela; they don’t want to lose the way he found. Mayibuye.

A Few Things Malaysians can learn from Mandela


December 8, 2013

A Few Things Malaysians can learn from Mandela

by Anil Netto

original mandelaAs we mourn Nelson Mandela’s passing and celebrate his lifetime of struggle for a democratic  South Africa, there are a few things we can learn.

1. Much has been said about his genorisity of spirit, his magnamity and his ability to win over old adversaries, there was also tremendous personal sacrifice, hardship, hard labour, and emotional pain arising from separation from his family.

The struggle involved tremendous sacrifice. For those from whom much is expected, much will be demanded in terms of personal sacrifice. Let us not forget the plight of prisoners of conscience everywhere and those incarcerated without trial or after sham trials.

2. Mandela was an iconic and inspirational figure, but there were also countless other activists inside and outside South Africa involved in the anti-apartheid campaign… Luthuli, Biko, Hani, Tambo. Mandela also had an indomitable spirit.

The apartheid regime tried to cage his body but they were unable to crush his spirit. Instead his spirit soared and transcended the divisions in the country. Ultimately, the world embraced the person once regarded as a “terrorist”. And he knew when to step down gracefully, rather than attempt to cling on to power.

3. Real change does not happen overnight. We may labour and work for change now, but we may not see the result – just like many other anti-apartheid activists did not live to see the outcome of their strugle. But others down the road will. It may take years, even decades to see change. For change to take place, a critical mass has to be achieved. But truth and justice will triumph over oppression and injustice in the end.

4. Mandela guided and led South Africa in its transition from apartheid to democracy and racial equality. But the struggle against racism around the world, and even here in Malaysia, is far from over. Let us hope the racists in our midst realise their thinking resembles that of the Jurassic Age fossils should be discarded.

5. Mandela and the anti-apartheid activists may have succeeded in ending racial inequality. But in terms of income inequality, the country remains one of the most unequal in the world with a Gini cooffecient of around 0.69. The corporate agenda and neoliberalism threaten to bring about new forms of economic oppression.

Global civil society struggle must now take on this yawning inquality – the stupendous wealth of the top 1 per cent vs the plight of the struggling masses – as well as other critical issues facing humankind such as climate change.

http://anilnetto.com/democracy/civil-society/five-things-we-can-learn-from-mandelas-life/#more-47408

Mandela led by moral authority


December 7, 2013

Mandela led by moral authority

by W. Scott Thompson

W_Scott_ThompsonW Scott Thompson is emeritus professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, United States

I have three distinct personal memories of Nelson Mandela that I hope adds a little light to an understanding of politics.

At Oxford, I befriended a South African member of the African National Congress (ANC), who knew the Mandelas personally. He promised me a family meeting, but by the time my companion and I arrived, Nelson Mandela had been arrested — the previous week — for what turned out to be a 27-year incarceration.

Since the civil rights movement in the southern states of the United States, I had never sensed such brittleness in a society as Johannesburg was on arrival. Riots had started. My friend took me to the Mandela household in the Soweto slums and spent four hours with his then wife Winnie and some of their children.

I noted that the décor was exactly the same as those of black civil rights leaders in the American south — the same expensive whisky bottles, the laminated furniture, the pictures. We just talked about We Shall Overcome and what could be done abroad.

In the last year of writing my thesis in 1967, there had already been a conference in London on sanctions against South Africa, from which commenced a world-wide movement — but this did not cause America to act until a group of us got through to president Reagan in 1983, convincing him that the so-called Soviet “pincer movement” to control South Africa’s nuclear-critical mineral supply was outweighed by the moral imperatives.

I’d recently returned from South Africa where I got a meretricious brainwashing on the “pincer”. Maybe if one could extrapolate the future from there, in 50 years, it might have worked. Nine years later, however, the Berlin Wall came down.

The last white President of apartheid South Africa, Willem de Klerk, was a man without an ounce of sense in his head and willing to fight to the last Boer. But he “got it”, and in the late 1980s, began moving Mandela to more of a house arrest.

They shared a Nobel Peace Prize, the most astonishing since Henry Kissinger’s shared with his Vietnamese counterpart, Le Duc Tho, who had the grace to decline. Oh, I forgot the pairing of Anwar Sadat and the ex-terrorist Israeli premier Menachem Begin in 1978.

In 2003, the Rhodes Trust, founded by a rich bachelor, Cecil Rhodes, who created the two Rhodesias (upon independence, changed its names to Zambia and Zimbabwe) and created the largest foundation in British history from his creation of the diamond and gold near-monopolies, held a centenary anniversary celebration for Cape Town and Oxford.

By the way, the reason Rhodes Scholarships are so coveted include the RM300,000 annual stipend-tuition. The trust was mainly to brush up untidy rough young American men to prepare themselves for world leadership, a foresight of Rhodes. The best years of my life were those four in Oxford and Africa brushing up on my frontier youth and I wouldn’t have missed those celebrations for the world.

The Rhodes Trust now had to convince the aging Mandela to join the party — maybe a bitter pill given the uncharitable part of Rhodes’s legacy. Thus was created — with a STG10 million sweetener from the Trust — the Mandela Rhodes Trust. Surprise, Mandela accepted.

At Rhodes’s country house, the thousand or so alumni gathered to see the great man. All of us reached for our cameras and hundreds of security personnel grabbed us and said that flashes might hurt Mandela’s retina. These burley Boer guards were the same people who had tormented him for 27 years, mostly on ghastly Robben Island. Now, they were concerned for his retina? What wonders political reality can realise.

The third event was concluded in England six months later. In the first non-official gathering in Westminster Palace in 900 years, Mandela addressed the oft-distinguished Rhodes gathering and was flanked by Bill Clinton (who was a Rhodes Scholar but never finished his degree, given his already received inspiration that he was destined for too great a thing like an Oxford degree or dutifully serving in the military — his first great public lie) and Tony Blair.

On the way down the stairs, the two men flanked Mandela and supported him. Blair was solicitous and helpful but the former president was too busy waving at friends and anyone famous to be of any help at all. It was disgusting.

Well, there’s rule by power and rule by moral authority. There’s often rule by power, but seldom is there rule mainly by moral authority, with the electoral decision a mere detail.

What the lesson of Mandela should be is not just that civil disobedience can change history, but that rule by moral authority is the highest accomplishment any man or woman can achieve. May the memory of the greatest leader of the 20th century’s last half include that powerful lesson. Project Syndicate

Queen Elizabeth II greeting former South African President Nelson Mandela during a reception at Buckingham Palace in London, to mark the centenary of the Rhodes Trust on Oct 20, 2003. AFP pic

The Passing of Nelson Mandela


December 6,2013

The Passing of Nelson Mandela

I sent the following message to the Nelson Mandela Foundation this morning upon hearing on the wires of the passing of this great South African:

I am sad to learn this morning of the passing of this great man, Father Madiba. Like Gandhi, his precursor in South Africa, he will live forever in the memories of men who love freedom, justice and non-discrimination.  To Machel (Graça Machel), his family and descendents, my wife, Dr Kamsiah and I wish to express our sincere condolences.-Din Merican, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Nelson Mandela: Obituary

Nelson Mandela, who has died aged 95, was the architect of South Africa’s transformation from racial despotism to liberal democracy, saving his country from civil war and becoming its first black President

Nelson Mandela 'loves US beauty pageant reality TV show'

 
 11:02PM GMT 05 December 2013

Read the story of Mandela’s tempestuous life, filled with hardship and struggle and crowned by a singular triumph, in the Telegraph’s seven-part obituary.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/nelson-mandela/10115323/Nelson-Mandela-obituary.html

John F.Kennedy, the Elusive President


October 27, 2013

John F.Kennedy, the Elusive President

by Jill Abramson@www.nytimes.com

As the 50th anniversary of his assassination nears, John F. Kennedy remains all but impossible to pin down. One reason is that his martyrdom — for a generation of Americans still the most traumatic public event of their lives, 9/11 notwithstanding — has obscured much about the man and his accomplishments.

JFKJohn F. Kennedy

Was Kennedy a great president, as many continue to think? Or was he a reckless and charming lightweight or, worse still, the first of our celebrities-in-chief? To what extent do his numerous personal failings, barely reported during his lifetime but amply documented since, overshadow or undermine his policy achievements? And what of those achievements — in civil rights and poverty, to name two issues his administration embraced. Weren’t the breakthroughs actually the doing of his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson?

Even the basic facts of Kennedy’s death are still subject to heated argument. The historical consensus seems to have settled on Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone assassin, but conspiracy speculation abounds — involving Johnson, the C.I.A., the mob, Fidel Castro or a baroque combination of all of them. Many of the theories have been circulating for decades and have now found new life on the Internet, in Web sites febrile with unfiltered and at times unhinged musings.

Of course the Kennedy fixation is hardly limited to the digital world. An estimated 40,000 books about him have been published since his death, and this anniversary year has loosed another vast outpouring. Yet to explore the enormous literature is to be struck not by what’s there but by what’s missing. Readers can choose from many books but surprisingly few good ones, and not one really outstanding one.

It is a curious state of affairs, and some of the nation’s leading historians wonder about it. “There is such fascination in the country about the anniversary, but there is no great book about Kennedy,” Robert Caro lamented when I spoke to him not long ago. The situation is all the stranger, he added, since Kennedy’s life and death form “one of the great American stories.” Caro should know. His epic life of Johnson (four volumes and counting) brilliantly captures parts of the Kennedy saga, especially the assassination in Dallas, revisited in the latest installment, “The Passage of Power.”

Robert Dallek, the author of “An Unfinished Life,” probably the best single-volume Kennedy biography, suggests that the cultish atmosphere surrounding, and perhaps smothering, the actual man may be the reason for the deficit of good writing about him. “The mass audience has turned Kennedy into a celebrity, so historians are not really impressed by him,” Dallek told me. “Historians see him more as a celebrity who didn’t accomplish very much.” Dallek also pointed to a second inhibiting factor, the commercial pressure authors feel to come up with sensational new material. His own book, as it happens, included a good deal of fresh information on Kennedy’s severe health problems and their cover-up by those closest to him. And yet Dallek is careful not to let these revelations overwhelm the larger story.

Dallek is also good on the fairy-tale aspects of the Kennedy family history, and he closely examines the workings of the Kennedy White House. So enthralled was he by this last topic that he has written a follow-up, “Camelot’s Court,” which profiles members of Kennedy’s famous brain trust and is being released for the 50th anniversary. This time, however, it is Dallek who doesn’t offer much fresh material.

This in turn raises another question: How much is left to say about Kennedy’s presidency? The signature legislative accomplishments he and his advisers envisioned were not enacted until after his death. Then there is the Vietnam conundrum. Some maintain that Kennedy would not have escalated the war as Johnson did. But the belief that he would have limited the American presence in Vietnam is rooted as much in the romance of “what might have been” as in the documented record.

Indeed, a dolorous mood of “what might have been” hangs over a good deal of writing about Kennedy. Arriving in time for Nov. 22 is the loathsomely titled “If Kennedy Lived. The First and Second Terms of President John F. Kennedy: An Alternate History,” by the television commentator Jeff Greenfield, who imagines a completed first Kennedy term and then a second. This isn’t new territory for Greenfield, who worked for Kennedy’s brother Robert and is the author of a previous book of presidential “what ifs” called “Then Everything Changed.” (Dallek’s “Camelot’s Court” and Greenfield’s “If Kennedy Lived” are reviewed here.)

Thurston Clarke, the author of two previous and quite serviceable books on the Kennedys, also dwells on fanciful “what might have beens” in “JFK’s Last Hundred Days,” suggesting that the death of the presidential couple’s last child, Patrick, brought the grieving parents closer together and may have signaled the end of Kennedy’s compulsive womanizing. What’s more, Clarke makes a giant (and dubious) leap about Kennedy as leader, arguing that in the final 100 days he was becoming a great president. One example, according to Clarke, was his persuading the conservative Republicans Charles Halleck, the House minority leader, and Everett Dirksen, the Senate minority leader, to support a civil rights bill. Once re-elected, Kennedy would have pushed the bill through Congress.

Kennedy as Arthurian hero is also a feature of what has been calledJFK and Family “pundit lit” by the historian and journalist David Greenberg. The purpose of this genre (books by writers who themselves are famous) is, in Greenberg’s words, “to extend their authors’ brands — to make money, to be sure, and to express some set of ideas, however vague, but mainly to keep their celebrity creators in the media spotlight.” The champion in this growing field is Bill O’Reilly, who has milked the Kennedy assassination with unique efficiency.

O’Reilly’s latest contribution, “Kennedy’s Last Days,” is an illustrated recycling, for children, of his mega-best seller “Killing Kennedy.” This new version, it must be said, distinctly improves on the original, whose choppy sentences, many written in the present tense, lose nothing when recast for younger readers. “He is on a collision course with evil,” O’Reilly declares. No less elevated is his discussion of Kennedy’s decision to visit Dallas despite warnings of roiling violence, including the physical assault on his United Nations ambassador, Adlai Stevenson, who had given a speech in the city in October 1963. “J.F.K. has decided to visit Big D,” O’Reilly writes. “There is no backing down.” Happily, the wooden prose is offset by the many illustrations. My favorite is a spread on the first family’s pets, including puppies and a pony.

Bad books by celebrity authors shouldn’t surprise us, even when the subject is an American president. The true mystery in Kennedy’s case is why, 50 years after his death, highly accomplished writers seem unable to fix him on the page.

For some, the trouble has been idolatry. Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who wrote three magisterial volumes on Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, attempted a similar history in “A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House.” Published in 1965, it has the virtues of immediacy, since Schlesinger, Kennedy’s Harvard contemporary, had been on the White House staff, brought in as court historian. He witnessed many of the events he describes. But in his admiration for Kennedy, he became a chief architect of the Camelot myth and so failed, in the end, to give a persuasive account of the actual presidency.

In 1993, the political journalist Richard Reeves did better. “President Kennedy: Profile of Power” is a minutely detailed chronicle of the Kennedy White House. As a primer on Kennedy’s decision-making, like his handling of the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban missile crisis, the book is fascinating. What’s missing is a picture of Kennedy’s personal life, though Reeves includes a passing mention of Marilyn Monroe being sewn into the $5,000 flesh-colored, skintight dress she wore to celebrate the president’s birthday at Madison Square Garden in 1962. (This is the place to note that Reeves edited “The Kennedy Years,” The New York Times’s own addition to the ever-­expanding Kennedy cosmos, and I wrote the foreword.)

Balancing out, or warring with, the Kennedy claque are the Kennedy haters, like Seymour M. Hersh and Garry Wills. In “The Dark Side of Camelot,” Hersh wildly posits connections between the Kennedys and the mob, while Wills, though he offers any number of brilliant insights into Kennedy and his circle of courtiers, fixates on the Kennedy brothers’ (and father’s) sexual escapades in “The Kennedy Imprisonment.”

The sum total of this oddly polarized literature is a kind of void. Other presidents, good and bad, have been served well by biographers and historians. We have first-rate books on Jefferson, on Lincoln, on Wilson, on both Roosevelts. Even unloved presidents have received major books: Johnson (Caro) and Richard Nixon (Wills, among others). Kennedy, the odd man out, still seeks his true biographer.

Why is this the case? One reason is that even during his lifetime, Kennedy defeated or outwitted the most powerfully analytic and intuitive minds.

In 1960, Esquire magazine commissioned Norman Mailer’s first major piece of political journalism, asking him to report on the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles that nominated Kennedy. Mailer’s long virtuoso article, “Superman Comes to the Supermarket,” came as close as any book or essay ever has to capturing Kennedy’s essence, though that essence, Mailer candidly acknowledged, was enigmatic. Here was a 43-year-old man whose irony and grace were keyed to the national temper in 1960. Kennedy’s presence, youthful and light, was at once soothing and disruptive, with a touch of brusqueness. He carried himself “with a cool grace which seemed indifferent to applause, his manner somehow similar to the poise of a fine boxer, quick with his hands, neat in his timing, and two feet away from his corner when the bell ended the round.” Finally, however, “there was an elusive detachment to everything he did. One did not have the feeling of a man present in the room with all his weight and all his mind.”

Mailer himself doesn’t know “whether to value this elusiveness, or to beware of it. One could be witnessing the fortitude of a superior sensitivity or the detachment of a man who was not quite real to himself.”

And yet Kennedy’s unreality, in Mailer’s view, may have answered the particular craving of a particular historical moment. “It was a hero America needed, a hero central to his time, a man whose personality might suggest contradiction and mysteries which could reach into the alienated circuits of the underground, because only a hero can capture the secret imagination of a people, and so be good for the vitality of his nation.” Those words seemed to prophesy the Kennedy mystique that was to come, reinforced by the whisker-thin victory over Nixon in the general election, by the romantic excitements of Camelot and then by the horror of Dallas.

Fifty years later we are still sifting through the facts of the assassination. The Warren Commission concluded in 1964 that Kennedy had been killed by a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald. Edward Jay Epstein and Mark Lane were among the first writers to challenge that finding, and their skepticism loosed a tide of investigations. The 50th anniversary has washed in some new ones. Among the more ambitious is “A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination,” a work of more than 500 pages. Its author, Philip Shenon, a former New York Times reporter, uncovered a new lead, in the person of a heretofore overlooked woman who may have had suspicious ties to the assassin. But when Shenon finds the woman, now in her 70s, in Mexico, she denies having had a relationship with Oswald, and Shenon’s encounters with her prove more mysterious than illuminating.

Kennedy’s murder was bound to attract novelists, and some have approached the subject inventively, if with strange results. Stephen King’s “11/22/63,” a best seller published in 2011, takes the form of a time-travel romp involving a high school English teacher who finds romance in Texas while keeping tabs on Oswald. At more than 800 pages, the novel demands a commitment that exceeds its entertainment value.

I rather like Mailer’s “Oswald’s Tale,” published in 1995. It is, like his earlier masterpiece “The Executioner’s Song,” a work of “faction,” which is Mailer’s term for his hybrid of documented fact and novelistic elaboration. Mailer and his colleague, Lawrence Schiller, spent six months in Russia examining Oswald’s K.G.B. files, and the huge quasi novel that came out of it contains a good deal of engrossing material about Oswald and his Russian wife, Marina, as well as the odd assortment of people the couple mixed with in Texas. Mailer’s narrative skills are prodigious, but in the end he has little to tell us that wasn’t already uncovered by Priscilla Johnson McMillan in “Marina and Lee,” her nonfiction portrait of the troubled couple from 1977. (Mailer properly credits McMillan’s book.)

In a gripping piece from his 1976 collection of essays, “Controversy,” Manchester described what happened next. First there were the many insertions and deletions made by various Kennedy minions, who applied so much pressure that Manchester became a nervous wreck. An especially low point came when Robert Kennedy hunted Manchester down in a New York hotel room and banged on the door, demanding to be let in to argue for still more changes. Next, Jackie Kennedy, who had not bothered to read the manuscript, accepted the view of her factotums that many of its details, like the fact that she carried cigarettes in her purse, were too personal. Further angered by the $665,000 Manchester had received from Look magazine for serial rights, Mrs. Kennedy went to court to enjoin the author from publishing the book. Eventually, she settled out of court and finally read “The Death of a President” when it was published in 1967. She deemed it “fascinating.”

Nevertheless, the Kennedy family, which controlled publication rights to “The Death of a President,” allowed it to go out of print, and for a number of years copies could be found only online or at rummage sales. The good news, maybe the best, of the 50th anniversary is that Little, Brown has now reissued paperback and e-book editions.

It’s good news because, remarkably, and against all odds, Manchester (who died in 2004) wrote an extraordinary book. There are obvious defects. Predictably, he blares the trumpets of Camelot, and he has a weakness for melodrama. It’s hard to believe, even at the time of Kennedy’s murder, that to the world it was “as though the Axis powers had surrendered and Adolf Hitler and Franklin Roosevelt had died in the hours between noon and midafternoon in Washington of a single day in 1945.” But these excesses don’t really matter, thanks to Manchester’s vivid reporting, masterly narrative and authentically poetic touches.

It is in small, quiet scenes that Manchester’s chronicle accumulates its greatest force. When it is time for Dave Powers, the slain president’s aide and sidekick, to pick out the clothes Kennedy will wear to his grave, he selects from eight suits and four pairs of shoes brought out by Kennedy’s valet, George Thomas. Powers settles on a blue-gray suit, black shoes and “a blue tie with a slight pattern of light dots.” An embroidered “JFK” on the white silk shirt is hidden from view. The valet remembered that Kennedy’s “dislike of flamboyant monograms had extended to handkerchiefs,” Manchester writes. The president “had carefully folded them so that the initials would not show, and Thomas did it for him now, slipping the handkerchief into his coat pocket.”

Of all that has been written and that will be read on this 50th anniversary, it is the last paragraphs of “The Death of a President” that deserve to stand out from everything else. Manchester describes viewing the bloodstained pink suit Jackie Kennedy wore on Nov. 22, 1963, which had since been stowed in a Georgetown attic:

Unknown to her, the clothes Mrs. Kennedy wore into the bright midday glare of Dallas lie in an attic not far from 3017 N Street. In Bethesda that night those closest to her had vowed that from the moment she shed them she should never see them again. She hasn’t. Yet they are still there, in one of two long brown paper cartons thrust between roof rafters. The first is marked “September 12, 1953,” the date of her marriage; it contains her wedding gown. The block-printed label on the other is “Worn by Jackie, November 22, 1963.” Inside, neatly arranged, are the pink wool suit, the black shift, the low-heeled shoes and, wrapped in a white towel, the stockings. Were the box to be opened by an intruder from some land so remote that the name, the date and photographs of the ensemble had not been published and republished until they had been graven upon his memory, he might conclude that these were merely stylish garments which had passed out of fashion and which, because they were associated with some pleasant occasion, had not been discarded.

kennedyj3If the trespasser looked closer, however, he would be momentarily baffled. The memento of a happy time would be cleaned before storing. Obviously this costume has not been. There are ugly splotches along the front and hem of the skirt. The handbag’s leather and the inside of each shoe are caked dark red. And the stockings are quite odd. Once the same substance streaked them in mad scribbly patterns, but time and the sheerness of the fabric have altered it. The rusty clots have flaked off; they lie in tiny brittle grains on the nap of the towel. Examining them closely, the intruder would see his error. This clothing, he would perceive, had not been kept out of sentiment. He would realize that it had been worn by a slender young woman who had met with some dreadful accident. He might ponder whether she had survived. He might even wonder who had been to blame.

Unfortunately, the tapes of Manchester’s two five-hour interviews with Jackie Kennedy, who seems to have regretted her frankness, remain under seal at the Kennedy Library until 2067. This is a final sadness for a reader sifting through these many books. Taken together, they tell us all too little about this president, now gone 50 years, who remains as elusive in death as he was in life.

Jill Abramson is the executive editor of The Times.

A version of this article appears in print on October 27, 2013, on page BR1 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: The Elusive President.

A Fitting Tribute to General Giap: A Great Soldier and Patriot


October 18, 2013

A Fitting Tribute to General Giap: A Great Soldier and Patriot

By Mahendra Ved  | mahendraved07@gmail.com –The New Straits Times

Vo Nguyen Giap

A BORN SOLDIER: Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap defeated four major powers in a span of four decades

I AM disappointed about the absence, so far, of a fitting tribute to the Vietnamese military hero, General Vo Nguyen Giap, who died on October 4, age 102.

India has a fairly large community of scholars and strategic thinkers, with civil and military backgrounds. It cannot miss discussing one of the greatest generals of the last century who successively defeated the Japanese Imperial land forces, the French colonial army, the United States and, as defence minister, beat back the invading Chinese PLA in 1979.

To defeat one major power would be a lifetime’s achievement. To defeat four of them in a span of four decades is unimaginable.

Most members of that community would have lived through the 1960s and 1970s, if not earlier, reading the exploits of Giap, even if they came to them as distorted, white-washed versions of a defeated West.

Those politically aware would remember the slogan “aamar naam tomar naam, sonar naam Vietnam”, expressing solidarity with the heroic struggle the Vietnamese people waged.

Jawaharlal Nehru had befriended Ho Chi Minh. India had angered the West and much of Southeast Asia by supporting the Vietnamese.

That era has gone. Battle lines have been re-drawn many times. Vietnam itself is the best example of a people who have moved on.

As they make their presence felt in the Southeast Asian region, the Vietnamese would be reminded of how Giap made common cause with the Americans in the early part of World War 2 to defeat the Imperial Japanese forces, but resisted the Western powers after that war ended.

Giap was a born soldier who admired Napoleon. While at school, he learnt details of each of the Napoleonic campaigns. The irony was lost when the “Red Napoleon” — short like his hero, but not podgy — defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

Giap’s victory, several historians say, sounded the death knell for Western colonialism worldwide.

“If a nation is determined to stand up, it is very strong,” Giap said on the battle’s 50th anniversary. “We are very proud that Vietnam was the first colony that could stand up and gain independence on its own.”

Two decades later, after a long struggle that destroyed Vietnam with napalms and chemicals, Giap became the first commander to have overseen the defeat of the American military machine.

Ask any 50-plus American how Vietnam hurt then, and continues to torment them.

Giap’s feat remains unprecedented. After Ho Chi Minh, he was the only other recognisable symbol of Vietnamese resistance. Back in 1967, an American airman whose plane was shot down recalls the visitor: “He stayed only a few moments, staring at me; then left without saying a word,”

John McCainThat US Navy airman, later US Senator John McCain, recalls that 30 years later, he requested a meeting with Giap. “Both of us clasped each other’s shoulders as if we were reunited comrades rather than former enemies.”

Western analysts have grudgingly acknowledged Giap. They argue that he could allow heavy casualties among his men because he represented a totalitarian system. No doubt, tiring the enemy with patient attrition was one of Giap’s basic tactics. But only popular support and a high level of commitment could have helped Giap win his many campaigns.

The fact remains that a substantial part of the three million Vietnamese who perished were the victims of American carpet-bombing and chemical warfare.

Giap was adept at using the terrain to his advantage. His swoop, hit and Cherun made him a guerilla warrior of repute, and compared with Mao Zedong and Che Guevara. But he went well beyond jungle warfare, engaging his stronger and better equipped adversary in major battles, conducting broad offensives. They did mean heavy casualties, but for Giap, the “cause” was supreme.

He was a nationalist who took help from far and wide — the Russians, the Chinese, the Cubans, among others — but resisted any interference from Moscow or Beijing.

After winning the war against the US, Giap became something of a peace-monger. His attitude did not always sit well with the power brokers in Hanoi. He was gradually sidelined. But the old soldier never completely faded away.

He was named Defence Minister and, a year later, Deputy Prime Minister. But his influence with the Communist Party never matched his own popular standing. Following his departure from the defence ministry in 1980, he was removed from the Politburo in 1982. He remained deputy PM and served on the Central Committee until 1991.

Some analysts say that his fiery temperament and his greater devotion to uniting Vietnam than to the global anti-capitalist cause stymied his rise.

Why Vietnam remains the only country to defeat the US? Giap’s response: “I’d say that Vietnam is rare. As a nation, Vietnam was formed very early on, because the risk of aggression from outside forces made all the tribes to band together… And then there was constant battle against the elements, against the harsh winter conditions. In our legends, this struggle against the elements is seen as a unifying factor, a force for national cohesion. This, combined with the constant risk of invasion, made for greater cohesion and created a tradition — a tradition that gave us strength.”

Indian economist and university don Yoginder K. Alagh, who hosted Giap in 1998, recalls: “Like many Asian leaders, he admired India and its fight for independence. We have so much to learn from each other, he told me.”

Another Indian analyst Bharat Karnad, while applauding Giap, regrets that India is not what Vietnam is.

“… visceral antipathy to being dictated to by anyone and the undiluted fighting spirit of its people has marked out Vietnam’s singularity. I have been advocating that India should make Vietnam its strategic pivot — arming it, equipping it, with every strategic armament, including the Brahmos cruise missile, and anything else Hanoi wants, to keep China occupied east of Malacca, and off our backs.”

Mourning People’s Hero, General Giap


October 15, 2013

Op-Ed Contributor

Mourning People’s Hero, General Giap

by Nguyen Qui Duc (Published: October 14, 2013)

Many Vietnamese mourned him not only as a military hero, but also as symbol of the decency, dignity and rectitude that no longer exist in the ranks of Vietnam’s leaders. Nepotism is rampant. The current leaders are seen as corrupt and self-serving, putting personal and business gains ahead of the public good.– Nguyen Qui Duc

HANOI — The extreme chaos that characterizes daily life in this capital of Vietnam suddenly disappeared over the weekend.

Streets normally clogged with thousands of impatient scooters, motorcycles, taxis, cars and trucks were empty. Many of the raucous sidewalk beer halls, cafés and tea shops were no longer overfilled with students, day laborers and competing mobile vendors. The neon lights outside of the karaoke bars stopped blinking, and TV sets that often show dancing pop stars or period films were silent black screens.

The quietude in this city of more than six million people was the result of the death of one man — Vo Nguyen Giap, general of the People’s Army of Vietnam, who oversaw the defeats of the French and the Americans and who died on Oct. 4 at the (estimated) age of 102.

Hailed by his people and by historians and leaders around the world as a brilliant military tactician and commander, General Giap was the last of the revolutionaries who first brought communism to Vietnam.

Second only to the untouchable Ho Chi Minh, General Giap had remained an enduring symbol of anti-colonialism, anti-imperialism and revolutionary fervor.

Early Saturday morning, General Giap’s two-day funeral started at the memorial hall of the Ministry of Defense, a mammoth granite-walled structure often used for mourning officials and veterans. Goose-stepping soldiers in white uniforms took charge of countless wreaths and huge portraits of the military hero.

Thousands of policemen and young volunteers were deployed to provide extra security as the Communist Party General Secretary, the President, the Prime Minister and former party bosses and government leaders led delegations to pay respect in front of the altar.General Giap’s coffin was draped in the national flag, red with a gold star.

Many Vietnamese mourned him not only as a military hero, but also as symbol of the decency, dignity and rectitude that no longer exist in the ranks of Vietnam’s leaders. Nepotism is rampant. The current leaders are seen as corrupt and self-serving, putting personal and business gains ahead of the public good.

Bob McNamara and General GiapFILE – In this Monday, June 23, 1997, file photo, former U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, left, speaks to his onetime foe Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap in Hanoi, Vietnam. Officials say Giap, the military mastermind who drove the French and the Americans out of Vietnam, died at a Hanoi hospital Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, at age 102. He was the country’s last famous communist revolutionary, and used ingenious guerrilla tactics to overcome enormous odds against superior forces. (AP Photo/Tri Hieu, File)

Over the past week, thousands of people queued up from early morning until late night, snaking around the streets from the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum around to Dien Bien Phu, the street named after the devastating 1954 battle where General Giap ended French domination in Indochina.

From there, war veterans in wheelchairs, students, villagers and people from all walks of life quietly followed one another, step by step, toward the gate to General Giap’s home.

In small groups, carrying flowers, they entered the old French villa where General Giap had lived for decades, each person bowing and paying respect in front of his portrait.

Blogs, social media and news sites — many of them state-controlled, to be sure — have run continuous accounts of civility, solidarity and kindness among the mourners waiting on line. Cafés offered free bottled water, shops brought out large umbrellas to shield people from sun, and student volunteers passed out paper fans.

On social media, Vietnamese posted photos and videos of the general, many about his military triumphs. Some replaced their Facebook profile pictures with an image of the general, raising a clenched fist. Photos of General Giap paying visits to former comrades, many of them elderly men in their 80s and 90s, have been widely circulated.

The popular attitude here is that General Giap was the last of the old guard who could bring together the Vietnamese this way — that his death inspired people to exchange their normal, disorderly behavior, in this rapidly developing economy, for quieter and more dignified traditional manners. For decades, General Giap had been the flickering light for a people desperate for a truly compassionate leader, and now that light has been extinguished. Except for Ho Chi Minh, no one else in modern Vietnamese history will be remembered and celebrated in life and in death this way.

While he was the most prominent commander, leading many campaigns against the Americans, he fell out of favor within the Communist Party after the war. At one point, this military lion — who had also been a professor of history, a journalist, defense minister, among many other roles — was given the humbling post of vice prime minister for science and education.

Some of General Giap’s detractors — particularly in the West — have written about his ruthlessness in sending soldiers to die in battle. Others have lamented his reluctance later in life to speak out against the Communist Party’s abuse of power, or to criticize abuses by the current crop of leaders.

But the state-run media have been repeating all the proper salutations for his decisive military victories, his patriotic attitude, and his loyalty to the Communist Party.

Hanoi and other major cities in Vietnam are holding ceremonies this week to mourn General Giap. Then the normal chaos of life here will resume.

On Sunday, General Giap was flown from here to his home town in Quang Binh Province, in central Vietnam, where he was buried in a family plot, overlooking the sea.

The fear among ordinary Vietnamese — murmured, not openly spoken — is that General Giap’s death signals the final disappearance of moral decency for decades to come.

Nguyen Qui Duc, a former radio host, is a journalist based in Hanoi who has covered Asia for public media in America for more than 20 years.

INTERNATIONAL NEW YORK TIMES A version of this op-ed appears in print on October 15, 2013, in The International New York Times.

SP Setia: PNB’s Dilemma


October 4, 2013

SP Setia: PNB’s Dilemma

http://www.kinibiz.com/story/tigertalk

tiger-talk-generic-2

The way Tiger sees it, Permodalan Nasional or PNB is in quite a pickle. It has undertaken not to get involved in developer SP Setia’s management. But its President and CEO Liew Kee Sin may be moving to a rival and may well take others with him. Should PNB sit on its hands and do nothing in the meantime? If it were a Tiger, it won’t.

In the corporate jungle, Tiger goes by a number of rules. One of these is a simple one – if you don’t know what to do with a company you want to take over, then stay an investor and keep the stake below a level at which you don’t have to acquire a majority interest in the company.

If you do acquire majority control and ruffle feathers and more, and if top staff leave in droves, then be prepared to put your own people in at the apex, restore confidence and run the company as good or better than before.

SP Setia is Malaysia’s foremost property company and perhaps equally as famous is its President and CEO and one-time major shareholder Liew Kee Sin, widely credited with building up the company from scratch.

Liew Kee Sin

Liew Kee Sin

Unlike many other Malaysian tycoons, Liew and associates, the main ones of whom are Voon Tin Yow (currently his Deputy at SP Setia) and Teow Leong Seng (Chief Financial Officer), somehow did not keep majority control of SP Setia but steadily decreased their stakes. Both Voon and Teow are SP Setia directors.

That puzzled Tiger. Why would they do that? Tiger will have to go into the realm of conjecture  and offer only possible answers. Perhaps there were other backers who preferred to exit and who were happy to sell to whoever was accumulating.

That somebody else who had been accumulating SP Setia shares  was one of Malaysia’s largest funds Permodalan Nasional (PNB), and associated interests who by 2011 had acquired just under 33%, the trigger point at which a mandatory general offer would have to be made. At that time, Liew’s direct and indirect interests amounted to about 11%.

But things continued as per normal – PNB had two board representatives, less than interests aligned with Liew who had five at least. PNB and other government-linked funds, controlled over 50%, making SP Setia effectively a bumiputera company which gave it leverage to do land deals with the government. Crucially, management was firmly vested with Liew and associates.

And then PNB did something unwise and strategically confounding – itsetia-logo pushed its stake above 33%, triggering a mandatory general offer, which it duly made in September 2011 at RM3.90 a share. The floodgates were opened and the protests cascaded. Cries of backdoor nationalisation were heard, and in race-crazy Malaysia the not-so-soft whispers talked of Chinese businesses being taken over by Malay/bumiputera interests.

Tiger being apolitical and more than a bit naive here, wondered aloud: But was not SP Setia already Malay-owned? This was met with suitably disapproving glares which chastened Tiger, but only a bit, as Tiger has a distaste for racial politics.

PNB logoBut Tiger understood well the ramifications. Once PNB gets majority control, it will want board control and that may spell the end of independence for Liew and associates too. To put it bluntly, PNB’s hostile takeover bid evoked hostility too and that just would not do. What if Liew and gang just upped and left?

Tiger is not sure whether PNB thought about that and was prepared to move in. That would have been brave but reckless because none of PNB’s property units, Sime Darby included, had developed the kind of innovativeness, push, panache and marketing coupled with the delivery that SP Setia had. That is why the move was confounding. Why did PNB not attempt to make the takeover friendly?

Recall that at the time of that takeover, the election game was being played out and it just would not do to have Chinese resentment and voter backlash by letting the takeover go through in its format then. It was said that no less than the prime minister intervened to rectify matters.

So this takeover was aborted and another one put in place instead. The offer price was a mere five sen higher at RM3.95 a share. This time there were joint offerors – PNB, and yes, smart reader that you are you guessed it, Liew. It was silly to call it a joint offer because PNB would still be doing the buying.

The real difference was this: a management agreement which gave Liew total executive powers subject to board control in governance and strategic matters. And from what Tiger could see from an examination of the board composition, PNB’s numbers on the board have remained at just two post-takeover, less than those aligned with Liew which at that time would have amounted to at least five.

According to the management agreement, PNB’s involvement is only through its representation on the SP Setia board while day-to-day operations will be led by Liew for the tenure of the management agreement which is three years, unless his appointment is terminated earlier. Reports put Liew’s leaving date sometime in March 2015. The agreement was made in January 2012.

As an incentive for Liew to stay on, PNB gave a put option to Liew to sell his direct over-8% stake in SP Setia in three tranches over three years, effectively giving him a floor exit price of RM3.95 even if the price of the shares fell below that. The share price traded recently around RM3.20.

This was no incentive at all. As a joint offeror for the takeover of SP Setia, he should have been required to just keep the stake and take his chances with market movements. If he did well, he would reap the benefits from higher share prices.

As it is, Liew got the best of both worlds – a high exit price even if the share did not perform and management control to boot even if he exercised part of the options. His direct stake has been whittled down to below 3% from over 8% as he exercised his options but he is still firmly in the driver’s seat. How odd!

At the end of PNB’s revised offer (Tiger excludes Liew here because he was joint offeror in name only) it ended up, together with associate companies, owning nearly 70% of SP Setia, a management agreement which gave Liew total executive powers and for PNB still just two representatives on the board.

That’s a bum deal for PNB in every way – it has taken over the company but has absolutely no say in management and does not even have board control which implies no control over even strategic or governance matters. Again, how odd!

The hope was that Liew would do his utmost for SP Setia in the three years of the management contract. But other events overtook this, leading to serious questions of conflict for Liew which are yet to be resolved. It changed the game completely for SP Setia and PNB to the disfavour of both entities.

Less than a year after PNB’s takeover of SP Setia, a new and rapidly rising name in property emerged –  Eco World Development which is making waves throughout the property circle. Note the “Eco” in it. Its main properties have the “eco” in it too – EcoSky, EcoBotanic, EcoBusiness Park etc.

That’s much like many of SP Setia’s higher end projects – Setia Eco Park, Eco City, Eco Glades, Eco Hills. It’s getting to be very difficult to differentiate one from another. In fact, Eco World is staffed by former top executives of SP Setia. Interestingly, Liew’s son, Liew Tian Xiong, at 22 and a 2012 graduate from Melbourne University, is on the board of Eco World.

Meantime, Eco World, together with Tian Xiong has already bought a 65% stake in listed developer Focal Aims at RM1.40 a share or some RM230 million and is making an offer for the remaining shares. Of the 65%, 35% (more than half) is owned by Tian Xiong and that would have cost about RM124 million.

Eco World and SP Setia pic

Tiger says tender Tian Xiong cannot have that kind of money at his disposal – it must come from his father, don’t you think?  In fact, that is confirmed in a Focal Aims announcement to Bursa Malaysia where Liew and his wife are listed as parties acting in concert for the offer for the rest of Focal Aims as financiers to their son Tian Xiong. The general expectation is for Eco World’s assets, which the company says have a gross development value of RM30 billion, to be injected into Focal Aims via a backdoor listing.

Eventually one can expect Eco World to become a major rival to SP Setia itself. And where would that place Liew?

Isn’t it time PNB satisfies itself as to what Liew’s intentions are? Shouldn’t Liew and PNB CEO Hamad Kama Piah Che Othman have a tete-a-tete and shouldn’t the latter ask the former whether he would stay on in SP Setia or follow his son?

Even if Liew gives his assurance, has PNB evaluated the situation to determine if that is reasonable and fair, to use a term that financial advisers are fond of? And if they have already had the conversation shouldn’t the investing public know the outcome?

Hamad Kama Piah Che Othman

Hamad Kama Piah Che Othman

And what about Battersea, the RM40 billion project in London? SP Setia and Liew lead this venture which is 40% owned by SP Setia, 40% by Sime Darby and 20% by the Employees Provident Fund. Shouldn’t Sime Darby and EPF be concerned about how Liew will handle this and indeed if he can given his potential conflicts?

Will PNB use its voting power to get additional representation on the board? Will it then make changes at the top and replace Liew with someone else who is demonstrably more committed and has no conflicts of interest?

If PNB does that, can it be sure that Liew’s two lieutenants still remaining in SP Setia, Voon and Teong won’t leave as well? These two have been with Liew for the last 17 years and helped him build SP Setia. Won’t their loyalties be with Liew too? Indeed, would PNB want these two to remain there without Liew? And if they stayed, how confident can PNB be that they will work for SP Setia’s interests?

When is PNB, through its various companies the largest owner of property developers and land banks in the country, going to push for in-house expertise and capability to be built within its various holdings instead of depending on other developers indefinitely?

PNB right now is well and truly pickled over this SP Setia and Liew dilemma. It’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t and sometimes it may be better to be damned doing then damned doing nothing at all.

Tiger knows PNB is no Tiger and the answers are a foregone conclusion. Which leaves this final niggling, disturbing question: What’s going to happen to SP Setia? What’s going to happen to Battersea?

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