MH17: Prime Minister’s Soft Diplomacy and Decisive Action brought results


July 24, 2014

MH17: Prime Minister’s Soft Diplomacy and Decisive Action brought results

Speech at the Emergency Session of Parliament (July 23, 2014)

Prime Minister Najib in ParliamentPrime Minister Najib Addressing MPs on MH17

“No words can describe the grief. Nothing can replace the loss of a loved one. Thus, in facing these difficult times, regardless of our political and religious background, we must remain united as one nation, 1Malaysia…

Nevertheless, while we are enveloped by sorrow and profound grief, we have never forgotten the misfortune that has befallen our Palestinian brothers in Gaza who have lost many innocent lives as a result of cruelty and injustice. Therefore, we call for an immediate ceasefire”.–PM Najib Razak

MR Speaker Sir,

At about 11pm on Thursday, July 17, 2014, corresponding to 19 Ramadan, 1435, Hijrah, a date that will not be easily forgotten, I received a telephone call from the chairman of Malaysia Airlines, Tan Sri Md Nor Yusof, about MH17.

As it turned out, even before the MH370 tragedy had abated, the unwelcome MH17 tragedy had happened.With divine provision, a tragic event had taken place. The world, in general, and Malaysians, in particular, were shocked by the unexpected tragedy of the reported crash of a Boeing 777-200 commercial aircraft of Malaysia Airlines, flight MH17, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

In less than two hours, I arrived at the MAS operations rooms at KLIA (KL International Airport), along with several ministers. We were briefed by the MAS management on what had happened. Without wasting any time, I was in touch with several world leaders, among them President Obama of the United States, Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine.

At about 2am, I decided to send a special team to the crash site. Then, at about 5am, I called a special press conference to inform Malaysians and the rest of the world about what was happening at that time.

For the information of this august house, the flight had left (Amsterdam) at about 12.15pm local time and was scheduled to arrive at KLIA at 6.10am Malaysian time. The flight had on board 298 people, comprising 283 passengers and 15 crew (members). Forty-three of them, including two infants, were Malaysians.  Malaysia Airlines confirmed having been informed by the Ukraine Air Traffic Control that it lost contact with flight MH17 at 10.15pm local time, about 50km from the Russia-Ukraine border.

Message of Condolence

On behalf of the government and people of Malaysia, I expressed profound sadness over the tragedy that had befallen the passengers and crew of flight MH17.

 I also extended condolences and profound sympathy as well, especially to all the family members, friends and acquaintances of the victims. It is hoped that all of them will remain steadfast and resolute in facing this most challenging moment of grief.

The government also declared that from 18 to 21 July, 2014, the national flag will be flown at half mast nationwide.Let us Muslims say the Al-Fatihah and the non-Muslims, observe a moment’s silence.

Important Facts

Some important facts for the scrutiny of this august house.

 Fact No. 1: The total number of deaths. For your information, Malaysia Airlines listed the passengers and crew based on nationality. The updated list as at July 18, 2014, based on nationality is as follows:

Netherlands — 192

Malaysia — 43 (including 15 crew and two infants)

Australia — 27

Indonesia — 12 (including one infant)

United Kingdom — 10 (including one dual national from UK/South Africa)

Germany — four

Belgium — four

The Philippines — three

The United States — one (dual national United States/Netherlands)

Canada — one

New Zealand — one

This brings the number of people killed to 298, comprising 283 passengers and 15 crew. The number includes 83 innocent children and three infants.

Fact No. 2: The MAS flight path was certified safe. As for the flight path used by MAS, I have to explain that the flight path of MH17 was one that was certified safe and approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, or ICAO, as well as Ukraine, the air space of which it traversed. Furthermore, the International Air Transport Association, or IATA, had also stated that the air space traversed by the flight was safe.

For example, 15 of the 16 airlines in the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines used this route to get to Ukraine. European airlines also used the same flight path and traversed the same air space. In fact, several hours before the tragic incident, several commercial aircraft of several Asian nations also used the same flight path.

For your information, according to the Wall Street Journal, which quoted a report from Eurocontrol, 400 commercial flights, among them 150 international flights, traverse the air space over eastern Ukraine daily. In fact, two days before the tragedy, 75 flights of various airlines used the flight path that was used by flight MH17. Even on that day, flight MH17 did not receive any instruction to alter the flight path.

Fact No. 3: MAS flight in good physical and technical condition. As for the physical and technical condition of the flight, MAS issued a statement on July 18, 2014, verifying that flight MH17 was in good condition. MAS also confirmed that all systems of the flight were in good working order, particularly the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) and the transponder.

Fact No. 4: International Law. The shooting down of the aircraft was not only a cruel act, but one that violated the principles of international law by way of the Convention on International Civil Aviation or better known as the Chicago Convention and which is recognised by the United Nations as per Resolution 1067 (1996).

In this matter, the UN had unanimously approved a resolution to urge the separatists to provide unrestricted access to the MH17 crash site in Ukraine. It also called for all military activity, including by the armed groups, to be stopped immediately in the vicinity of the site to enable the international investigation to be conducted in safety.

I have instructed the Attorney-General to look into this matter thoroughly to ensure that any action to be taken by Malaysia is in accordance with the international law applied in matters of such a nature.

Malaysia’s Demands and Call

For the information of honourable MPs (Members of Parliament), on July 17, 2014, several hours after the crash of MH17, officials in the United States and Ukraine claimed that the flight was shot down in eastern Ukraine.

If these claims are true, we strongly condemn this inhuman, uncivilised, barbaric, savage and irresponsible act by those who are believed to have shot down the ill-fated flight MH17.Nevertheless, for the moment, we are not pointing fingers at anyone until the facts have been obtained.

I am made to understand that the region where the tragedy occurred is under the control of a separatist group. Nevertheless, I felt angry and disappointed over two matters:

Firstly, when I was informed that they did not regard the crash site as a prohibited area and did not adhere to the international standard practice of ensuring that evidence is not removed or impaired.

Secondly, the delay in attending to the tragedy, which resulted in the failure to accord the bodies of the victims the honour and dignity they rightly deserve.

In addition, Malaysia called on the ICAO, as the guardian of civil aviation security worldwide, to issue a resolution strongly condemning the attack on flight MH17, as had been done in cases of a similar nature. Furthermore, the shooting down of the flight MH17 commercial aircraft is a most cruel act and a brutal and violent crime.

As stated in Annex 13 of the ICAO Convention, the government of Ukraine has to assume responsibility to undertake an investigation as to the cause of the crash. A report on the investigation has to be given to the next of kin of the victims as provided for in the ICAO guidelines.

Of course, Malaysia would offer unwavering support to participate in this investigation. For the record, the Malaysian Minister of Transport, Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, and Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, were among those who had gone to Kiev, Ukraine.

Malaysia also welcomes the call for an investigation by an independent international team on the crash and urges all quarters to cooperate to ensure that the probe can be completed. We demand and support an independent international investigation into the tragedy. Those responsible for this tragedy have to be brought to justice.

Last Friday, we sent a plane with a special team of 133 people, comprising a SMART (Special Malaysian Disaster Assistance and Rescue) team, technical officers, a medical team and Jakim officers to the crash site. A special investigation team was also set up, comprising representatives from Malaysia, the Netherlands, Britain and the United States.

MAS sent 40 staff to Amsterdam to provide assistance and moral support to the families of the victims.Furthermore, I received many telephone calls from world leaders who expressed their support and sympathy and promised to extend aid in whatever form that they can. On behalf of the government and people of Malaysia, I expressed thanks for the support they and the world community have extended to Malaysia.

MH17 Crash Site 3The Crash Site

Three Successful Deals

In principle, the treatment accorded to the bodies of the victims was wrong, but following consultation with the head of the separatist group, we managed to avert further damage. It is unnecessary for us to announce every action taken. Sometimes we must work quietly in the service of a better outcome, especially when negotiating with the head of a separatist group, with the desire to ensure that the bodies of the victims can be retrieved and given a decent burial, even though time has passed.

On Monday, July 21, 2014, under difficult circumstances, I was forced to make a risky decision in the best interests of the bodies of the victims of the tragedy and to be certain of the reality of what had happened.In this matter, I consulted Alexander Borodai, the head of the pro-Russia separatist group, because the region is under their control. The consultation yielded three deals:

First, all the recovered bodies of the MH17 tragedy victims, estimated to be 282, were taken from Torev to Kharkiv in Ukraine by train before being flown to Amsterdam, along with six members of the Malaysian recovery team at 1am on Tuesday, July 22, 2014, and arriving there at 11am local time. Following forensic work in Amsterdam, the bodies of all Malaysians will be brought back to our country as soon as possible. I undertook to do this and will do everything I can because I had promised the families of the victims when I met them that, as far as possible, the victims can be laid to rest before Syawal. Only then will the families of the victims have peace of mind.

Second, the two black boxes of flight MH17 were handed over to the Malaysian team in Donetsk at 9pm Ukraine time on Monday, July 21, 2014. Without the black boxes, it will be difficult for us to carry on with the investigation. The black boxes have been handed over to the investigation team led by the Netherlands and will be sent to London for further investigation.

Third, all the members of the independent international team of investigators are to be given access to the crash site and a guarantee of safety to undertake a comprehensive probe into the MH17 tragedy. However, this has yet to be fully realised.

Solidarity and Unity

MH17We Malaysians Mourn the Loss of Lives on MH17 and MH370

In fact, this has been a very tragic calendar (year) for us. Nevertheless, in this difficult period in the month of Ramadan, we must strengthen our solidarity and unity in facing this situation. God willing.  No words can describe the grief. Nothing can replace the loss of a loved one. Thus, in facing these difficult times, regardless of our political and religious background, we must remain united as one nation, 1Malaysia.

Therefore, do not engage in any speculation that can cause embarrassment to the victims of the tragedy and their families. This is not the time to splash on the social media stories which can be factually wrong or false.

I wish to take this opportunity to thank the Opposition leader (Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim) and the Gelang Patah MP (Lim Kit Siang) and the leaders of other political parties for having likened the MH17 tragedy to genocide and for calling for the murderers to be brought to justice.

Nevertheless, while we are enveloped by sorrow and profound grief, we have never forgotten the misfortune that has befallen our Palestinian brothers in Gaza who have lost many innocent lives as a result of cruelty and injustice. Therefore, we call for an immediate ceasefire.

Conclusion

Although we have done a lot, much more remains to be done. We may be up against challenges and various obstacles, but we will never give up halfway.

As such, we urge that the investigation must be conducted by an independent team to ascertain the cause of the crash of flight MH17. Some questions demand immediate answers, such as to whether the aircraft was fired upon with a guided missile, who was the perpetrator of the crime and what was the motive for the attack.

Furthermore, was the shooting premeditated, with the intention to shoot down a commercial flight, or a mistake? All of these require clear and authentic proof.

No matter what we do, we cannot bring back the dead. Imagine how a 1-year-old child will grow up without the love of its father, namely Ahmad Hakimi Hanapi, the co-pilot who perished in the tragedy. More saddening is that the mother has lost her husband.

What about the fate and future of Amarpal Singh? How depressed will this medical student be whose cost of study had been borne by his father who was a victim of the tragedy?Just imagine what grandmother Jamillah Noriah Abang Anuar of Kuching, Sarawak, would be feeling, having lost six members of her beloved family.

Personally, I am able to feel what they are going through. My step-grandmother was one of the victims. More saddening is the fact the world has lost a group of scientists who were involved in AIDS and HIV research. These people were on their way to attend the International AIDS Conference in Australia.In fact, there are many more stories that I cannot mention here. For example, the Netherlands lost 192 of its people in the tragedy. The number is very large when taken as a ratio of the population of that country.

I am of the opinion that geopolitical upheavals do not benefit anyone. They just make people suffer when they lose their loved ones and the world stands to lose competent human beings.

As for the families of the victims of the MH17 tragedy, I wish to tell them not to be worried because, so long as we do not have the answers, we will not stop seeking the truth. No matter how difficult it may be, we will demand justice for the sake of the families of the victims.

Let us walk through this difficult time together, united in grief. Hopefully, God will give us assistance and enlightenment for a solution in the end.Above all, during this blessed final days of Ramadan, let us indulge in more prayers and hope that God will guide us to a solution through our efforts. We must believe that any period of hardship that we pass through will be followed closely by a period of ease, as set by God.

 http://www.nst.com.my/node/16916 –BERNAMA

dm-1205Our Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak has shown that when he takes charge, matters can be resolved expeditiously. As in all things, leadership with decisive action matters. I congratulate him for a task well done. He must now know that he has to take charge in times of crisis. More of the same, Sir, when crisis and tragedy beckons. Take charge and Malaysians will stand with you. Together, we shall overcome as we Malaysians are a strong people in body and spirit.–Din Merican

 

Malaysia can’t afford a botched handling of MH17


July 20, 2014

MY COMMENTWe have been hit by two tragedies, MH 370 and MH 17 a few days ago,Din Merican both within a space of four months. MH370 is still shrouded in secrecy and  it is a public relations disaster; our leaders and public and security officials handled the foreign media poorly. MH17 was brought down by Russian made missiles in the hands of Ukrainian rebels backed by  Prime Minister Putin’s government. Our political leaders and officials are again in the eyes of media. Let them handle the situation better this time.

Those who are behind this dastardly violence must be brought to account. Our diplomats and those of countries which lost their citizens and the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon must act in concert to ascertain the facts about the downing of this ill-fated 777 aircraft. At home, the new Transport Minister has to ensure that there are no cover-ups, blame games, excuses, and conflicting or contradictory statements. Please provide facts as they come to light, and do it well and ensure that there are no fumbles.

I am glad that our Prime Minister has allowed debate in our Parliament on MH37. I hope Parliamentarians on both sides of Dewan Rakyat can be rational and constructive in their deliberations so that we can achieve consensus on what we should do to restore national self confidence and pride in our national flag carrier, Malaysian Airlines.

No shouting matches please. Bung Mokhtar types must not be allowed to disrupt the debate or make fools of themselves. In this time of national crisis, UMNO-BN and Pakatan Rakyat must stand together. The debate should result in a plan of action for the government. To nudge the debate along orderly lines, there should be a White Paper to Parliament on MH17 in which the government can present its views on what it has its mind to deal with the aftermath of MH 17.Din Merican

http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-07-18/malaysia-can-t-botch-another-air-tragedy

Malaysia can’t afford a botched handling of MH17

by William Pesek (07-18-14)

There’s nothing funny about Malaysia Airlines losing two Boeing 777s and more than 500 lives in the space of four months. That hasn’t kept the humor mills from churning out dark humor and lighting up cyberspace.

Liow_Tiong_Lai-MH17_PC

Actor Jason Biggs, for example, got in trouble for tweeting: “Anyone wanna buy my Malaysia Airlines frequent flier miles?” A passenger supposedly among the 298 people aboard Flight 17 that was shot down over eastern Ukraine yesterday uploaded a photo of the doomed plane on Facebook just before takeoff in Amsterdam, captioning it: “Should it disappear, this is what it looks like.”

That reference, by a man reportedly named Cor Pan, was to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, whose disappearance in March continues to provide fodder for satirists, conspiracy theorists and average airplane passengers with a taste for the absurd. On my own Malaysia Air flight last month, I was struck by all the fatalistic quips around me — conversations I overheard and in those with my fellow passengers. One guy deadpanned: “First time I ever bought flight insurance.”

MH17 CrashThere is, of course, no room for humor after this disaster or the prospect that the money-losing airline might not survive — at least not without a government rescue. This company had already become a macabre punch line, something no business can afford in the Internet and social-media age. It’s one thing to have a perception problem; it’s quite another to have folks around the world swearing never to fly Malaysia Air.

Nor is no margin for mistakes by Malaysia or the airline this time, even though all signs indicate that there is no fault on the part of the carrier. The same can’t be said for the bumbling and opacity that surrounded the unexplained loss of Flight 370. Even if there was no negligence on the part of Malaysia Air this week, the credibility of the probe and the willingness of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government to cooperate with outside investigators — tests it failed with Flight 370 — will be enormously important.

As I have written before, the botched response to Flight 370 was a case study in government incompetence and insularity. After six decades in power, Najib’s party isn’t used to being held accountable by voters, never mind foreign reporters demanding answers. Rather than understand that transparency would enhance its credibility, Malaysia’s government chose to blame the international press for impugning the country’s good name.

The world needs to be patient, of course. If Flight 370’s loss was puzzling, even surreal, Flight 17 is just MH 17plain tragic. It’s doubtful Najib ever expected to be thrown into the middle of Russian-Ukraine-European politics. Although there are still so many unanswered questions — who exactly did the shooting and why? — it’s depressing to feel like we’re revisiting the Cold War of the early 1980s, when Korean Air Flight 007 was shot down by a Soviet fighter jet.

More frightening is how vulnerable civilian aviation has become. Even if this is the work of pro-Russian rebels, yesterday’s attack comes a month after a deadly assault on a commercial jetliner in Pakistan. One passenger was killed and two flight attendants were injured as at least 12 gunshots hit Pakistan International Airlines Flight PK-756 as it landed in the northwestern city of Peshawar. It was the first known attack of its kind and raises the risk of copycats. The low-tech nature of such assaults — available to anyone with a gripe, a high-powered rifle and decent marksmanship — is reason for the entire world to worry.

The days ahead will be filled with post-mortems and assigning blame. That includes aviation experts questioning why Malaysia Air took a route over a war zone being avoided by Qantas, Cathay Pacific and several other carriers. The key is for Malaysian authorities to be open, competent and expeditious as the investigation gains momentum. Anything less probably won’t pass muster.

The Passing of James MacGregor Burns at 95


July 16, 2014

The Passing of  James MacGregor Burns at 95

by Bruce Webber–July 15 @www.nytimes.com

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/16/us/james-m-burns-a-scholar-of-presidents-and-leadership-dies-at-95.html?ref=books&_r=0

 

J M BurnsJames MacGregor Burns, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer and political scientist who wrote voluminously about the nature of leadership in general and the presidency in particular, died on Tuesday at his home in Williamstown, Mass. He was 95. The historian Michael Beschloss, a friend and former student, confirmed the death.

Mr. Burns, who taught at Williams College for most of the last half of the 20th century, was the author of more than 20 books, most notably “Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom” (1970), a major study of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s stewardship of the country through World War II. It was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

An informal Adviser to Presidents, Mr. Burns was a liberal Democrat who once ran for Congress from the westernmost district of Massachusetts. Though he sometimes wrote prescriptively from — or for — the left, over all he managed the neat trick of neither hiding his political viewpoint in his work nor funneling his work through it.

The nature of leadership was his fundamental theme throughout his career. In his biographies of Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Edward M. Kennedy, among others, and in his works of political theory — including “Leadership,” a seminal 1978 work melding historical analysis and contemporary observation that became a foundation text for an academic discipline — Mr. Burns focused on parsing the relationship between the personalities of the powerful and the historical events they helped engender.

His award-winning Roosevelt biography, for example, was frank in its admiration of its subject. But the book nonetheless distilled, with equal frankness, Roosevelt’s failings and character flaws; it faulted him for not seizing the moment and cementing the good relations between the United States and the Soviet Union when war had made them allies. This lack of foresight, Mr. Burns argued, was a primary cause of the two nations’ drift into the Cold War.

Roosevelt “was a deeply divided man,” he wrote, “divided between the man of principle, of ideals, of faith, crusading for a distant vision, on the one hand; and, on the other, the man of Realpolitik, of prudence, of narrow, manageable, short-run goals, intent always on protecting his power and authority in a world of shifting moods and capricious fortune.”

This was typical of Mr. Burns, who wrote audaciously, for a historian, with an almost therapistlike interpretation of the historical characters under his scrutiny and saw conflict but no contradiction in the conflicting and sometimes contradictory impulses of great men. He could admire a president for his politics and his leadership skills, yet report on his inherent shortcomings, as he did with Roosevelt; or spot a lack of political courage that undermined a promising presidency, as he did with President Bill Clinton and his vice president, Al Gore, in “Dead Center: Clinton-Gore Leadership and the Perils of Moderation,” written with Georgia Jones Sorenson. In the book, he chastised both men for yielding their liberal instincts too easily.

In “The Power to Lead: The Crisis of the American Presidency,” his 1984 book about the dearth of transforming leaders, as opposed to transactional ones, in contemporary America, Mr. Burns was able to denounce the outlook of a staunch conservative like President Ronald Reagan but admire him for his instinctive leadership — his understanding of not just how to maneuver the levers of power but also how to muster party unity and effect an attitudinal shift in society.

This distinction between transforming and transactional leadership was central to Mr. Burns’s political theorizing. As he explained it in “Leadership,” the transactional leader is the more conventional politician, a horse trader with his followers, offering jobs for votes, say, or support of important legislation in exchange for campaign contributions.

The transforming leader, on the other hand, “looks for potential motives in followers, seeks to satisfy higher needs, and engages the full person of the follower,” Mr. Burns wrote.“The result of transforming leadership,” he went on, “is a relationship of mutual stimulation and elevation that converts followers into leaders and may convert leaders into moral agents.”

If there was any way in which Mr. Burns’s personal views pierced his objectivity as a writer and researcher, it was in his understanding of the human elements of leadership. He had faith in the potential for human greatness, and though he often scolded presidents, congressmen and party officials for failing to strive for progress, one could discern in his writing a pleading for great men and women to lead with greatness.

“That people can be lifted into their better selves,” he wrote at the end of “Leadership,” “is the secret of transforming leadership and the moral and practical theme of this work.”

Mr. Burns was born on August 3, 1918, in Melrose, Mass., outside Boston. His father, Robert, a businessman, and his mother, the former Mildred Bunce, came from Republican families, though Mr. Burns described her as holding feminist principles. She largely raised him, in Burlington, Mass., after his parents’ divorce, and it was she, he said, who instilled in him the independence of mind to oppose the political views prevalent in his father’s family.

“I rebelled early,” Mr. Burns told the television interviewer Brian Lamb in 1989. “I got a lot of attention simply because I sat at the dinner table making these outrageous statements that they never heard anybody make face to face.” He added, “There was a lot of very strenuous and sometimes angry debate within the household.”

After graduating from Williams, Mr. Burns went to Washington and worked as a congressional aide. He served as an Army combat historian in the Pacific during World War II, receiving a Bronze Star, and afterward earned a Ph.D. from Harvard. He did postdoctoral work at the London School of Economics. His first book, “Congress on Trial: The Legislative Process and the Administrative State,” a critical appraisal of American lawmaking, was published in 1949.

After his second book, “Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox” (1956), a study of the president’s early years, Mr. Burns ran for Congress in 1958 from a western Massachusetts district that had not elected a Democrat since 1896 — and it did not again.

Burn's Books

During the campaign he became acquainted with John F. Kennedy, then running for his second term as senator from Massachusetts. After the election, with unrestricted access to Kennedy, his staff and his records, he wrote “John Kennedy: A Political Profile,” an assessment of him as a potential president. Though the book was largely favorable, it was not the hagiography the Kennedy family and presidential campaign had anticipated. (“I think you underestimate him,” Jacqueline Kennedy wrote to him after she read it, adding: “Can’t you see he is exceptional?”)

After Kennedy’s assassination, Mr. Burns said frequently that Kennedy had been a great leader and would have been even greater had he lived. But in his book he called Kennedy “a rationalist and an intellectual” and questioned whether he had the character strength to exert what he called “moral leadership.”

“What great idea does Kennedy personify?” he wrote. “In what way is he a leader of thought? How could he supply moral leadership at a time when new paths before the nation need discovering?”

in 1978, after a half-dozen more books, including the second Roosevelt volume and separate studies of the presidency and of state and local governments, Mr. Burns wrote “Leadership,” an amalgamation of a lifetime of thinking about the qualities shared and exemplified by world leaders throughout history. It became a standard academic text in the emerging discipline known as leadership studies, and Mr. Burns’s concept of transforming leadership itself became the subject of hundreds of doctoral theses.

President Reagan“It inspires our work,” Georgia Sorenson, who founded the Center for Political Leadership and Participation at the University of Maryland, said of “Leadership.” She persuaded Mr. Burns, who was on her dissertation committee, to teach there in 1993, and four years later the university renamed the center in his honor; it is now an independent nonprofit organization, the James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership.

Mr. Burns’s two marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by three children and his companion, Susan Dunn, with whom he collaborated on “The Three Roosevelts” and a biography of George Washington, two of the half-dozen or so books Mr. Burns wrote or co-wrote after the age of 80. His last book, “Fire and Light: How the Enlightenment Transformed Our World,” was published in 2013.

Asked to describe Mr. Burns’s passions away from his writing, Ms. Sorenson named skiing; his two golden retrievers, Jefferson and Roosevelt; the blueberry patch in his yard; and his students.“He would never bump a student appointment to meet with someone more important,” Ms. Sorenson said. “I remember Hillary Clinton once inviting him to tea, and he wouldn’t go because he had to meet with a student. And he would never leave his place in Williamstown during blueberry season.”

Correction: July 15, 2014

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this obituary referred incorrectly to Mr. Burns’s book “Packing the Court: The Rise of Judicial Power and the Coming Crisis of the Supreme Court.” It was not his last book. (“Fire and Light: How the Enlightenment Transformed Our World,” published in 2013, was his last.)

 Correction: July 15, 2014

An earlier version of this obituary misstated the number of children who survive Mr. Burns. It is three, not four. The earlier version also contained an outdated description of the James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership. It is an independent nonprofit organization; it is no longer affiliated with the University of Maryland.

The Passing of a Dear Friend, Bank Negara Colleague and UM Contemporary–Tan Sri Basir Ahmad


June 1, 2014

The Passing of a Dear Friend, Bank Negara Colleague and UM Contemporary–Tan Sri Basir Ahmad

Dr. Kamsiah and I extend our heartfelt condolences to YB Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz and her family on the passing of Tan Sri Basir Ahmad. We attended his funeral after Asr prayers at Masjid Saidina Umar Al Khattab, Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur and then accompanied his hearse to the Bukit Kiara Muslim Cemetery, Petaling Jaya, where he was laid to rest.–Din Merican

http://www.nst.com.my

SINGAPORE: Former Maybank Chairman Tan Sri Mohamed Basir Ahmad passed away at the Singapore General Hospital at 3.51am this morning.

Basir AhmadThe Late Tan Sri Basir Ahmad–A Dear Friend

He was 75.  He leaves behind wife, Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz, the former Minister of International Trade and Industry, a son, two daughters and five grandchildren. According to his son, Alfian, his body would be flown back to Kuala Lumpur this afternoon.He said his father was admitted to the hospital on Friday evening.

Meanwhile, Malaysian High Commissioner to Singapore Datuk Husni Zai Yaacob, when contacted said (Tan Sri) Mohamed Basir died of a heart attack and added that the High Commission was making the necessary arrangements to fly the body back to Kuala Lumpur.

Mohamed Basir had served as Chairman of Maybank for 16 years, after joining Maybank as a Director on Aug 5, 1993 following his retirement after serving in Bank Negara Malaysia as an adviser since 1980. He was appointed as Chairman on October 9, 1993. — BERNAMA

A Life Remembered: Sister Juliana died as she lived – for others


May 24, 2014

A LIFE REMEMBERED

 Sister Juliana died as she lived – for others

By Terence Netto

Sister JulianaIn Catholic-Christian understanding vocations to the religious life do not arise in a void. They sprout from a bed seeded by the prayer, deeds and sacrifices of the family from which the postulant has emerged, the community of faith of which he/she has been a part, and the educational environment in which the candidate was nurtured.

 Hilary Clinton’s idea that it takes a whole village to educate a child very nearly explains the vocation of Sister Juliana Lim, the Roman Catholic nun who died last Tuesday, six days after she was beaten senseless by an unknown assailant on the grounds of the Church of the Visitation in Seremban. Juliana, 69, was getting out of her car, together with her elder confrere Sister Marie-Rose Teng, 79, when both were accosted by an intruder brandishing a crash helmet.

The sisters, belonging to the Congregation of the Infant Jesus, famed for the setting up of convent schools in the country from as long ago as 1852, were early for a daily ritual: attendance at morning mass which on Wednesday, May 14, was scheduled for 6.30.

 Little did the nuns expect that this was to be a different morning, one in which they would become victims of every urban denizen’s paranoia in a country where the police are at pains to deny what many citizens feel in their marrow – that they can at any time be targets of the random violence that could leap at them from shadowy recesses where individual pathology intersects with law enforcement decay.

 Perhaps because the church is located in a street, Jalan Yam Tuan, that has a gurdwara and a Hindu temple in the vicinity, the three places of worship lying almost cheek by jowl, the sisters would not have had an inkling of the brutal surprise that lay in furtive wait for them. But when it appeared in the form of a frenzied figure flailing away with a crash helmet, all expectation of the day getting off to a sacramental start, said to be the oxygen of religious life, was crushed under the bludgeoning blows of the assailant.

It must have taken a few moments for Juliana to come to terms with what was happening and, habituated from her childhood in Ayer Salak, an agrarian New Village 15 kilometers northeast of the city of Malacca, she moved without a thought for her safety to get between the assailant and her elder confrere, Marie-Rose.

 The younger nun took the brunt of the hammer blows rained by her attacker who was probably in dire need of the stimulants that can drive otherwise placid-seeming individuals to a manic state if they are short of the cash for their next fix.

The attacker would not have been sentient to the reality that his targets that morning, vowed to a life of evangelical poverty, would not have been in possession, between them, of more then a few Ringgit – a cruelly ironic mismatch, one might say, between his expectations and his victims’ actual capacity.

Juliana crumpled to the ground senseless from the battering she received while Marie-Rose was felled by a less intense barrage. As his victims lay prostrate, their assailant, chastened perhaps by the enormity of what he had done, vanished into the dappled darkness from which he had emerged like a sinister apparition.

 It was several minutes before regular attendees of the morning service became aware of the atrocity that had taken place within a short distance of the main entrance to the church. By the time they were alerted, Juliana was beyond saving while Marie-Rose, reprieved by the selflessness of her younger confrere, would make a fairly quick recovery at the Tuanku Jaafar Hospital where the injured nuns were admitted.

 No purely material computations of the value of a life are allowed in the Roman Catholic worldview, but in the unlikely event that such a heresy is permitted, it would have been Marie-Rose who would have reckoned her life as more expendable than Juliana’s.

The latter was a versatile member of one of the 20 communities to which ageing members of Sisters of the Infant Jesus, a Roman Catholic religious order whose charism is the education of young women, have been divided.

After losing control — through a combination of the Islamization of the national education system and slumping vocations — of the 57 convent schools the order had set up in Peninsular Malaysia since their first in Penang in 1852, the nuns have had to reinvent themselves. They moved away from their focus on education to concentrate on the care and upbringing of orphans, on providing shelter and vocational training to abandoned and battered women, and on faith education.

Juliana was good in the new roles her order has had to assume. When she took her vows in 1964, the nuns of the Infant Jesus and the convents they ran, like the Christian Brothers of the De La Salle order who also had their own schools, were renowned for the quality of the education they imparted in their institutes. But matters have steadily declined from that lofty perch so that people like Juliana, who was pushing 70 but was healthy and energetic, were viewed as anachronisms or relics of a bygone era.

Just two Sundays ago, when it was Good Shepherd Sunday in the Catholic liturgical year, a day devoted to the fostering of vocations, Juliana took leave from her community in Seremban to go back to Ayer Salak where she was born to be with 21 others – all either nuns, priests or brothers – who had returned from their stations throughout Malaysia for a celebratory gathering at the St. Mary’s Church. Three others could not make it. At 24 vocations to the religious life, the agrarian community of Ayer Salak, with a population of about 1,550 mainly Catholic Teochews, has furnished the lion’s share of the vocations to the religious state.

Perhaps a pastoral backdrop is more conducive to the flowering of religious vocations, the natural rhythms of agriculture – of herding, sowing, cultivation and harvesting — bearing similarities to the phases of life devoted to matters of the spirit.

 Her confreres at the gathering at St. Mary’s and the people of Ayer Salak remember Juliana as a strong and cheerful character. Several of them made the journey yesterday to Seremban for her funeral which was held at the church where she met her untoward fate.

Ayer Salak is unique as it is the only Chinese Catholic New Village among the 450 settlements formed in the mid-1950s at the height of the communist insurgency. Unlike most Chinese New Villages where land is held under lease or Temporary Occupation Licenses, the land belongs to the Malacca-Johor Diocese of the Catholic Church and the villagers are charged a nominal yearly rent.

It is from this hatchery that the vocation and character of Sister Juliana Lim was formed, selfless and heroic to the end.

Birthday Greetings from my friend Terence Netto


May 22, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold (Rainbow)

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

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

Birthday Greetings from my friend, Terence Netto

Dear Din,

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Fond adieu to a brace of plural types


May 13, 2014

Fond adieu to a brace of plural types

By Terence Netto

Bernie-Zorro2Last month, I lost two dear friends to death from cancer. Though Bernard Khoo Teng Swee and Ramlan Aziz did not know each other, I realized in the days after their passing that they were alike in one significant aspect – both were multi-cultural personalities.

It was in a way apposite that while coming away from the funeral of Bernard I should receive a call from Ramlan’s wife that herhusband had been admitted to hospital. I told her I would visit him the next day. I was not to have the chance; Ramlan died that evening.

Like I said it was only in the days after their passing I realized how similar the two were and how fortunate I was to have them as friends: they were multi-cultural personalities during a period of our country’s history when most everyone was retreating into cultural ghettos.

Bernard and Ramlan didn’t. They stayed true to their multi- cultural personas and were at ease with the pluralism of their societies. Given the insular temper of the times, this was a signal achievement.

Bernard was raised in Taiping and Penang in the late 1940s and 1950s. He mixed with friends from all the races in the country, both at Kamunting, in Taiping, and at Pulau Tikus, in Penang, where he trained to be a Christian brother.

Ramlan was brought up in the Peel Road and Cochrane areas of Kuala LumpurRamlan where his civil servant father and family were housed in government quarters. Ramlan went to a Christian brothers’ school near where he lived and in the evenings and during school holidays mixed with mainly Indian and Eurasian Christians.

Both Bernard and Ramlan, from reminiscences they shared with me, had strong fathers. Bernard’s stressed integrity and full-blown commitment which came to characterize his son’s attitude to life.

Ramlan remembered his father as a tolerant man, albeit short tempered. An abiding memory was ayah’s observation of religion that it was genie best left in a bottle, always corked.

Bernard began occupational life as a La Salle Brother, teaching from the onset of the 1960s in schools in Singapore, Malacca, Klang and Kuala Lumpur. He left the brotherhood in 1965, his instinctive feel for what is right and wrong constricted by the mores of his religious order. His began his career as a lay teacher in a Christian brothers’ school in Sentul in Kuala Lumpur where the multi-cultural overlay to his personality met with conditions ideal for its flourishing.

Ramlan began working life as a dispatch clerk in a foreign-owned advertising agency in 1968. He would go on to become a media executive in other, locally-owned, advertising agencies where he would rise to become media manager before winding up as general manager of a bumiputera-owned ad agency. In the latter place, the strong performers were Indian Malaysians to whom he would become close, prompting his bumiputera confreres to chide him:“Ramlan ini, president MIC” (Ramlan is an Indian lover).

Bernard would leave teaching in the late 1970s for human resourcemanagement. This was despite the fact he was a good teacher ,of English especially, which made his leaving the profession understandable because of the gradual change, as the 1970s dawned, in the medium of instruction from that language to Bahasa Malaysia.

Bernard’s brought his affinity for motivational dynamics, first discovered in his teaching career, to personnel management,acquiring in the process a reputation for being adept at galvanizing employees in the companies which hired him to higher levels productivity.

Ramlan’s media management brought him into contact with an array of media and marketing executives in newspaper and other news outlets. He learned from them that there was such a thing called ‘horses for courses.’ This simply meant that certain kinds of people were naturally good at certain types of jobs, and that it was folly if public policy failed to take note of this reality.Needless to say, this placed Ramlan at odds with the thrust of public policies that sought to make some people good at occupations for which they had little aptitude.

Throughout the chops and changes to their careers, throughout its ebbs and flows, Bernard and Ramlan remained true to their earliest multi-cultural promptings, instilled in their adolescent and teenage years, and sustained in adulthood, even in the teeth of escalating social conditions adverse to the practice of multiculturalism. They imparted their multiculturalism to their children, Bernard’s two and Ramlan’s five.

Bernard’s daughter would marry a Bahamian and settle in the Caribbean; his son’s wife is an Indian Malaysian. Ramlan’s children were not as adventurous but would take after their father in having friends and colleagues from among the races, an achievement given that his kids did not have the multi-racial mingling he had in his youth. Also, all five of them learned to speak English reasonably well, though Ramlan wasn’t fluent in the tongue.

In one, sadly regrettable way Bernard and Ramlan were also similar. They were heavy smokers and succumbed to lung cancer, Bernard at 74 and Ramlan ten years younger. Both were towering

Malaysians in one eminently laudable way: they were resolutely multicultural during a time when the racial and religious currents were strongly in the other direction. They were archetypes of a sort our country would have to have more of if we are to weld together as a nation.

I count myself fortunate to have known them in life and to memorialize them now that each has gone to his rest.

A Tribute to Datuk Aziz Sattar


May 10, 2014

A Tribute to Datuk Aziz Sattar, the last of the Entertaining Trio

by Dato Johan Jaaffar | zulu.jj@hotmail.com Twitter: @Johan_Jaaffar

http://www.nst.com.my

DATUK Aziz Sattar had a lot of stories to tell. After all, he was one of the last surviving stars of the golden years of Malay cinema. “Bang Aziz”, as he was fondly called, would regale his listeners with stories of stars, directors, producers and films that he was involved with.

Datuk Aziz SattarDatuk Aziz Sattar

My favourite: back then, Malay film stars had to moonlight to get extra income. Aziz and two friends, including a famous actress, were invited to a show in Johor. On the way back to Singapore, they had a flat tyre. To their horror, there was no jack in the car and, worse, there was hardly anyone passing the road at midnight. The actress told them to sort out the tyre while she lifted the car with her thigh. No one spoke about the incident. But they knew she wasn’t the type to mess with.

But Aziz had many more stories to tell about the late P. Ramlee. In fact, he was always an unapologetic defender of the legend. He had nothing but praises for him. After all, it was P. Ramlee who made him famous as part of the trio that gave us the memorable and hugely entertaining Bujang Lapok, Pendekar Bujang Lapok, Ali Baba Bujang Lapok and Seniman Bujang Lapok.

It was in 1957 when Aziz was cast in the first Bujang Lapok. He was already in his 30s. But his youthful, innocent and boisterous look made him the darling of cinema-goers. Bujang Lapok was a massive hit by any standard. Together with S. Shamsuddin and P. Ramlee, they redefined comedy in films. Bujang Lapok was P. Ramlee’s fourth film as director, and his first comedy. He started with Penarik Beca in 1955, then went on to direct Semerah Padi and Panca Delima. The first two were blockbusters.

It wasn’t easy to direct a comedy. After all, P. Ramlee wasn’t known as a comedy actor. In the 24 films he had acted before he helmed Penarik Beca, he was always playing dashing heroes or tragic protagonists. The secret of Bujang Lapok was in the chemistry between its main cast. The trio was perfect. Improvisation, we were told, was the guiding principle. They didn’t just act by following the script. The actors improvised a lot. And, it worked.

Bujang Lapok was a cleverer version of the Three Stooges. P. Ramlee successfully replicated the concept in two Labu Labi films and later at Merdeka Studio in Ulu Kelang, made three Do Re Mi movies. The last in the series, Laksamana Do Re Mi, in 1972, was also his last film. He died a year later at the age of 44.

Bujang Lapuk started it all. And, the series was unparalleled in originality, ingenuity and freshness. Some of the words and phrases used in those films stuck to this day, in fact it became part of the lexicon of cinema. P. Ramlee made fun of everyone and got away with murder for his sindiran (teasing), wit and humour. P. Ramlee moved on to make many more great films. But Aziz and Shamsuddin could never replicate their success in the Bujang Lapok films.

P. Ramlee, of course, was in a different class altogether; he was an all-rounder, no one in the film industry came close to him in terms of originality, creativity and talent.

There were some who believed that many of the scenes and portrayals in the Bujang Lapok series were so original that they were ahead of their time. Remember the scene in Pendekar Bujang Lapok when the dead walked up to the trio? P. Ramlee diehards believed that John Landis plundered the scene for Michael Jackson’s music video, Thriller, 24 years later! Watch it, and you might end up believing.

P. Ramlee died in May 41 years ago, Shamsuddin in June last year and Aziz four days ago. Aziz was the last of the trio in the Bujang Lapok series. There are few survivors of the MFP and Cathay-Keris era in Singapore. With Aziz’s demise, an era closes. With him ends the great bintang filem (film stars’) era.

Aziz may have played second fiddle to others on screen but he was always his own man in real life. He was affable, ebullient and humble. He was a great star with no attitude. Like the character he played in Bujang Lapok, he was charming, friendly and entertaining.

For that, he will be fondly remembered.

Aziz Sattar may have played second fiddle to others on screen but he was always his own man in real life.

 

The Passing of Singapore’s First Lady of Song


May 9, 2014

(April 30, 2014)

The Passing of Singapore’s First Lady of Song–Al Fatihah

Biduanita Kartina Dahari meninggal dunia di Singapura petang ini. Akhbar tempatan melaporkan ratu keroncong itu meninggal dunia kerana penyakit barah. Beliau berusia 73 tahun.

kartinadahari_M-600x350Al-Fatihah

Kali terakhir Allahyarham membuat persembahan untuk para peminatnya ialah di Konsert Sayang Di Sayang terbitan Esplanade Teater Di Pesisiran sempena Pesta Raya 2013. Kartina ialah antara biduanita Melayu era 1960-an hingga 1980-an. Allahyarham meninggalkan tiga orang anak dan jenazahnya akan dikebumikan esok. – Bernama, 30 April, 2014.

Postcript: I learned today of the passing of Kartina Dahari. My wife, Dr. Kamsiah and I wish to extend our belated condolences to the Late Kartina’s bereaved family. In tribute, I wish to play one of my favorite songs by her.

 

 

In Death as in Life, Karpal abided


April 23, 2014

In Death as in Life, Karpal abided

COMMENT by Terence Netto: In life, he wasn’t really a unifying figure: his politics were little too partisan for him to be the glue that could have helped hold things together in our diverse society.

imageIn death, however, he drew respect from all shades of the political spectrum; even a vulgarian like Zulkifli Nordin (of PERKASA) was compelled to retract his bigoted reflexes.

At life’s close, Karpal Singh not only commanded the admiration of legions of his admirers and supporters but also the doffed hats of adversaries. In one brief, soaring moment, his death, with its near universal outpouring of sympathy, appeared to unite the country in collective mourning.

This was an unexpected accomplishment, given that he had in a long and fervent political career vented opinions that were volatile and divisive in a religiously sensitive country.

In his defence it could be said that these were opinions consistent with the man’s political ideology and that they were not out of sync with mainstream constitutional opinion.

But that these opinions were voiced at all and were of high voltage, sufficient to bring on him a label as anti-this or anti-that, and then seeing as we did that a good number of visitors to his wake were in the attire that reflected a religious allegiance at odds with those opinions – all this added to the extraordinariness of Karpal’s accomplishment in death.

If this was additionally odd, it must be because only a few weeks before his death on April 17, he was found guilty of sedition and imposed with a fine that had him headed for disqualification from Parliament, where he was resolutely oppositionist for all but one term since the 1978 general election.

The fates must be fickle if in one instance, a votary is found to be on the wrong side of the law and a little later, he becomes an object of ubiquitous admiration and respect for his devotion to advocacy of the law.

Or was it because the hand of death, in passing over Karpal, had rendered his image simplified and summarised, the figure retained by memory compressed and intensified, the accidents having dropped away and the shades ceasing to count, with the life standing sharply for a few estimated and cherished things rather than for a swarm of possibilities?

No doubt a long career of unparalleled devotion to the law and politics helped to crystallise the image so that at life’s close, it was easy to say about the man that his advocacy of the law and fidelity to his political principles shone like two beacons.

Also, his indomitable spirit reduced the auto accident in 2005 that had him confined to a wheelchair to the status of a mere punctuation in the discharge of professional duties as a lawyer and as a politician.

His triumph over physical adversity added to the grandeur of the obsequies that followed his death and the mourning it evoked; no doubt, it gave special meaning to the motto of his alma mater (labor omnia vincit – labour conquers all) – St Xavier’s Institution in Penang.

Irony in last message

It is said that the last message he conveyed as Parliament adjourned a week before his death was “Don’t mess with the constitution.” There was irony in the words of this message.

There is actually “mess” sutured into parts of our constitution, the part that says the federation is a secular state and the part that establishes Islam as the religion of the federation.

In the mid-1950s when the constitution was drawn up, nobody could have predicted that the meaning of the term ‘secular’ would come to be seen as antithetical to the concept of a state-religion.

Nobody, too, in the 1950s could have visualised that ‘secular’ would also come to refer to a sphere void of any influence by religion and, as such, a term that a certain type of religious sensibility would find highly repugnant.

Thus evolutionary semantics has combined with an upsurge in religious consciousness to render parts of our constitution as problematic as children trapped in bitter custody fights between parents of abruptly differing religious affiliation.

Of Karpal Singh it could ultimately be said that he did not possess the seer-like qualities that could anticipate and resolve a dilemma such as the country is presented with by his party’s Pakatan Rakyat partner, PAS, who are adamant on introducing hudud law in Kelantan.

But Karpal possessed the political solidity and professional integrity to compel allies and adversaries to reckon with his qualms.

Both qualities helped him write a compelling subscript to our mortality such that the life that embodied them has now become a gem in the cosmic sands.

TERENCE NETTO has been a journalist for four decades now. He likes the profession because it puts him in contact with the eminent without being under the necessity to admire them.

 

Mongolia remembers The Tiger of Jelutong


April 21, 2014

http://www.malaysiakini.com (04-19-14)

Mongolia remembers The Tiger of Jelutong

imageThe death of Malaysian icon Karpal Singh has reached the shores of Ulanbataar, Mongolia, where a two-page tribute was dedicated to him in a local daily yesterday.

The Mongolian-language Zuunii Medee or Century News carried two pages of an interview with Altantuya’s dad Setev Shaariibuu who poured out his personal feelings about Karpal in an article headlined ‘Malaysian opposition DAP leader Karpal Singh dies in car accident’.Shaariibuu said he knew this “great man” who helped him in the murder trial of two former police officers suspected of having killed  Altantuya with plastic explosives in October 2006. Karpal diligently kept a watching brief for Shaariibuu since the case commenced in 2007 and had been faithfully keeping him updated of the progress of the case in Malaysia.

Shaariibuu said he send his deepest condolences to Karpal’s family as the late lawyer was with him when he was ‘in the worst situation of his life. “When my daughter died eight years ago in Malaysia… I had no path to follow,” he said in an email to Malaysiakini.

“At that moment, Karpal approached me himself. He felt that no one could help my daughter’s case in Malaysia,” he added.

“He was not only an advocate but a great human rights defender in Southeast Asia,” he said. Shaariibuu met Karpal for the last time in his Kuala Lumpur office on April 11, 2012, where he took photos with his lawyer and presented him with a Mongolian blanket to cover his knees.

“This blanket will be good for your knees. It will keep you warm,” Shaariibuu told him while patting his knees. His words were translated to Karpal by the Mongolian Foreign Ministry official who accompanied Shaariibuu on a three-day visit to Kuala Lumpur. Malaysiakini was present during that visit.

Shaariibuu met Karpal then to speed up his RM100 million suit filed in 2007 against the government, political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda and the two former body guards of the Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak for the sufferings incurred by his family – including two of Altantuya’s sons – as a result of her untimely death.

Shaariibuu expressed his concerns last year that his suit may no longer be valid as the two Special Action Unit members previously convicted of her murder by the Shah Alam High Court – Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar – were acquitted by the Court of Appeal in August 23 last year.

The Federal Court has fixed June 23 to 25 to hear the prosecution’s appeal over the duo’s acquittal, in which Karpal would have been present, keeping a watching brief for Shaariibuu.

His lawyer based in Ulanbataar, Munkhsaruul Mijiddorj, said Shariibuu requested her to send his condolences to Karpal’s family. “Many Mongolians are sad and grieve over his death,” said Munkhsaruul, who had accompanied Shaariibuu on his trip to Kuala Lumpur to attend Altantuya’s murder trial.

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.”