The Fault, dear Najib, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves

January 31, 2012

The Fault, dear Najib, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves

by Terence Netto@

COMMENT Really, there appears to be no such thing as a good time for Prime Minister Najib Razak to call for snap polls. By ‘a good time’, it meant conditions where positive factors outweigh negative ones for the re-election of the UMNO-BN government.

Najib has been trying to formulate and implement policies for this excess of positives over negatives since taking charge in April 2009.najib abdul razak in perth chogm 1But every time he feels he has a surplus of good vibes over bad ones, his government is upset by gremlins that have the effect of stalling the recourse to a new mandate as every new PM who desires validity for his reforms is impelled to.

The latest instance of this imp of misfortune dogging him is the attorney-general’s filing of intent to appeal the High Court’s January 9 decision to acquit Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim on a charge of sodomy.

Najib had begun capitalising on that acquittal the day it was delivered, citing it as a demonstration of the liberal reforms he had initiated under his government.

Ironically, this credit-taking had the effect of confirming that the judiciary had indeed been subject to the whims of the executive. But the opposition was not going to protest this indirect confirmation of their suspicions for obvious reasons: Anwar’s acquittal on a case that was filled with unconscionable gaps was right and fitting.

More expediency than conviction

But the sequel for the credit-taking Najib began to turn sour almost immediately. Right-wingers in his party, already angry that the Police had allowed Pakatan Rakyat supporters to gather in numbers at the judgment’s delivery, now clamoured that the decision be appealed.

anwar ceramah in melaka 040112When the A-G’s Chambers filed its notice of intent to appeal, the PM decided that not only would he have his cake – take credit for the acquittal, he would eat it too – absolve himself of responsibility for the appeal.

It would have been better if Najib had signaled his displeasure with the A-G’s decision. It would have suggested there was more conviction than expediency to his reforms.

But the PM is not a man of conviction so much as convenience. Talk of reform and transformation of the economy and polity trips easily off his tongue.

The jargon of progressive management drips from his government’s public relations vents but because there is no conviction behind it, the exploitative convenience behind the cupcake soon enough becomes detectable.

It would be wishful thinking for the PM to hope for luck with the good fairies of electoral timing. Thus far it appears these good fairies have frowned more than fawned on him. Because of this, the PM has had to resort to munificent measures his deficit-battling government can ill afford, such as the RM500 handout to citizens earning less than RM3,000 a month, to keep on the credit side of the ledger by which, supposedly, the electorate evaluates its leaders.

But even these inducements cannot dispel the fumes emitted by the scandals that almost continually occur on the PM’s watch.

Less than rosy prognosis

The cattle-rearing project undertaken by the Wanita UMNO leader Shahrizat Abdul Jalil is only the most sensational of the lot in that it contains details lurid enough to sustain the buzz among the chattering classes. As if all this were not bad enough, details of his wife’s sybaritic shopping expedition in Sydney on a recent vacation only serve to keep the embers of controversy glowing.

Furthermore, with the economic indices – stemming mainly from the glitz outlooks for the United States and Europe – pointing to a less than rosy prognosis for 2012 than that painted by the government, Najib must be wondering what would it take to create a favourable time for an election.

“I can call spirits from the vasty deep?” says a character in Shakespeare’s Henry the Fourth.To which the protagonist replies, “Why, so can I, so can any man. But will they come when you do call for them?”

Besieged leaders seeking a mandate must wonder at the elusiveness of a propitious time in which to summon electoral spirits from the “vasty deep.” With the clock winding down on his inherited (from predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s) mandate, with the downward draft exerted by recurrent scandals on his watch, and with the glitz of his reforms getting plainer by the month, can Najib avoid the musings of Cassius to Brutus in another of Shakespeare’s plays (Julius Caesar): “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

Dear Dr. Mahathir Mohamad

January 31, 2012

Open Letter to Dr Mahathir Mohamad

by Mohd Ikhram Merican

January 30, 2012
Dear Tun Dr M,

Many years ago, in 1986 or ‘87, I can’t remember the exact year, I had the pleasure of meeting you in a private family dinner. You were the guest of honour and I was a very young boy, excited to be in the vicinity of your towering presence. I had many things I wanted to say to you and when I walked up to where you were seated I could only manage one rhetorical question.

You were very kind. Although in the midst of conversation with my uncles, you stopped and gave me, a little boy, a few minutes of your time. I spoke to the prime minister. It was my two minutes of fame.

For the better part of my life you have been the Prime Minister of Malaysia. In all those years, I saw you as the best Prime Minister Malaysia has ever had. Sadly, I’m not so sure anymore. I don’t despise you or loathe you but I question your rationale for a good many things.

There are so many issues that I would like to raise with you. It is near impossible to cover everything here but let me start with your latest blog post titled “Kaitan Bangsa Dengan Bisnes”. The Malaysian Insider reported this with the headline, “Dr M: Scrapping race-based policies will lead to chaos.”

I find it hard to believe that scrapping race-based policies will lead to chaos. The status quo is more detrimental to the country in the long run. The existing race-based policies have done little to improve the plight of the Malays. In fact it has created a class divide between the Malay haves and have-nots. This WILL split the Malays because severe class inequalities have caused revolutions, even in singular nations.

You believe not everyone has equal capabilities and some people must be given special consideration in business and other areas based on their race. This is an argument that neither makes sense nor justifies special considerations. Let me elaborate. Would you allow an aspiring surgeon to become one via special considerations, even if he is inherently bad at it? And would you trust your life under the knife with this person? This is what you propose.

Allow me to provide a further example. UiTM was founded in 1956 (as Dewan Latihan Rida) to facilitate the creation of Bumiputera professionals. Fifty-six years later, it ranks among the last in the QS World University Rankings. While it is the largest university in Malaysia, and has admittedly created many graduates, it has done little to create world-class professionals.

The IITs of India were created with similar ideals to UiTM. The first IIT was conceived in 1950, a mere six years before UiTM. In the same QS World University Rankings, IIT Delhi ranks in the top 200. The IITs are internationally recognised for engineering and technology with entrance exams that are so tough, candidates use Ivy League universities as a fall back in case they don’t make the cut. Bill Gates has been quoted as saying: “And it’s hard to think of anything like IIT anywhere in the world. It is a very unique institution.”

This happens when you pursue meritocracy. In your blog post you ask if it is true that race consideration in business vis-a-vis the NEP has stifled economic growth. My answer is, yes it has. The NEP’s original intention was noble but it has become a tool to justify and facilitate nepotism, cronyism and, contrary to its original purpose, inequality. The nation’s resources have been unscrupulously plundered to benefit cronies NOT the common man, be he Bumiputera or not. Yes, we’ve had a good run under your stewardship but our fundamentals have been hindering us from the type of progress that Singapore enjoys. In short, a system that does not promote and reward performance is inherently flawed. If you need proof, look at Malaysia Airlines.

I quote the book “Winning in Asia” by Peter J. Williamson (Harvard Business Press):

“Those Bumiputera companies with a continued reliance on preferential treatment and local connections and without a broader set of competitive advantages have been unable to successfully expand internationally. To grow, they have therefore diversified across industries within their home country, often resulting in a loss of focus and an inability to build deep operational competence in particular businesses.”

And so again, yes, the NEP has stifled economic growth. You say that when the distribution of wealth is disparate between the races, there is a high probability of enmity between the poorer and richer races. After 40 years of implementation, and devoid of significant success, don’t you think there is a serious problem with the NEP as a tool to bridge the economic gap? Furthermore, the Malays, Chinese, and Indians have not been at each other’s throats during this period. In fact, it is the ruling coalition that regularly stokes racial fire. The race card has been played to the hilt and it is now a misnomer for economic and social stability. I wish you had more faith in us and our ability to co-exist.

Progress is hindered by fear. It is the fear of change, fear of each other, fear of betrayal, fear of riots, fear of racial tension and fear of so many other things that keep us from progressing. Amplifying our fears by attributing wrong causes to effects is not going to help with nation building. I believe that the socio-economic divide can be closed through prudent management of the economy, a world-class education system, observance of the Rule of Law, and nation-building policies. I ask that you use your influence to condemn corruption, nepotism and cronyism. This is the real problem that undermines Malaysia and stifles its growth. —

Wrong to admire Hang Tuah, says Mahathir

January 31, 2012

Wrong to admire Hang Tuah, says Mahathir

by Aidila (01-30-12)

Former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad today dipped his toe in the ongoing debate over Hang Tuah’s existence by saying it is wrong to admire the Malay historical leader.

Answering a question from the floor during the Razak Lecture Series, he said Hang Tuah is “too loyal” and was described as having done things that was “not admirable at all”.

“Here is a man so servile, so very obedient, so loyal and willing to kill his friend knowing that (Hang Jebat) was condemned to death for something he did not do.

“To kill his fellow Hang is not something admirable at all,” Mahathir told an audience of about 300 in Putrajaya.

Hang Tuah is often used as a symbol of servitude and loyalty for Malays, and his story is often invoked in call for support for local leaders.

On the question of the warrior’s existence, Mahathir said that “there must be some truth in the story” although not everything can be believed.

He said parts of the Hikayat Hang Tuah, like how Hang Tuah defeated everyone in the world, including Turkey, without even remembering how he got there does not gel with reality. “Much of this is fiction,” he said. In response, moderator Razali Ismail said that if the British can believe in the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table then Malaysians should be able to believe in Hang Tuah.

The controversy broke when historian Khoo Kay Khim earlier this month disputed Hang Tuah’s existence. Mahathir was speaking on leadership at the second instalment of talks organised by the Razak School of Government.

In his lecture, Malaysia’s fourth premier said that as difficult as it may be, society must be careful of the leaders they elect as it is difficult to get rid of leaders once they enter office.

“Even in a democracy, (an elected leader) may have powerful instruments to influence public thinking so the majority select him, when you know the majority was hoodwinked by the incumbent,” he said.

Leadership ‘musical chairs’

All the same, he said, society should also know to give leaders time to learn the job before ousting them, or it will be a case of leadership “musical chairs”. He said first-term leaders often cannot implement policies before it is time to worry about re-election, especially under the Westminister system where snap polls can be called after three years.

“There is no perfect leader in the world, no matter how good he is, he will do bad things.Please excuse the bad things and focus on the good things,” said Mahathir, who was PM for over two decades.

Responsibility while Protecting

January 29, 2012

Responsibility while Protecting

by Gareth Evans (2012-01-27)


Ten months ago, the United Nations Security Council, with no dissent, authorized the use of “all necessary measures” to protect civilians at imminent risk of massacre in Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi’s Libya. Those lives were saved – and, if the Security Council had acted equally decisively and robustly in the 1990’s, so might those of 8,000 others in Srebrenica and 800,000 in Rwanda.

I and many others hailed the agreement to intervene in Libya as the coming of age of the responsibility to protect (“R2P”) principle, unanimously embraced by the world’s governments in 2005. Its core idea – countering centuries of treating sovereignty almost as a license to kill – is that states must protect their own people from genocide and other mass atrocity crimes. If they manifestly fail to do so, the international community has the responsibility to act – by persuasion, if possible, and by coercion, if necessary.

Now, ten months later, the Security Council is paralyzed over Syria, unable to agree not only on the extreme step of military force, but even on lesser coercive measures like targeted sanctions, an arms embargo, or referral to the International Criminal Court. That inaction comes despite a death toll of well over 5,000 and an outlook even worse than in Libya early last year.

The hesitation partly reflects the very different geopolitics of the Syrian crisis: potentially explosive regional sectarian divisions, no Arab League unanimity in favor of tough action, a long Russian commitment to the Assad regime, and a strong Syrian army, which would make any conceivable military intervention difficult and bloody.

But there is more to it than that. Security Council consensus about when and how to apply R2P, so evident in February and March 2011, has evaporated in a welter of recrimination about how the NATO-led implementation of the Council’s Libya mandate “to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack” was carried out.

Leading the critical charge have been the “BRICS” (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). Their complaints are not about the initial military response – destroying the Libyan air force’s infrastructure, and air attacks on ground forces advancing on Benghazi. Rather, they object to what came after, when it rapidly became apparent that the three permanent Security Council’s members driving the intervention (the United States, the United Kingdom, and France) would settle for nothing less than regime change, and do whatever it took to achieve it.

In particular, concerns have been raised that the interveners rejected ceasefire offers that may have been serious, struck fleeing personnel who posed no immediate risk to civilians, and attacked locations that had no obvious military significance (like the compound in which Qaddafi’s relatives were killed). More generally, the Western powers, along with Arab states like Qatar, comprehensively supported the rebel side in what rapidly became a civil war, ignoring an explicit arms embargo in the process.

The US, the UK, and France are quick with some answers. Protecting civilians in areas like Tripoli that were under Qaddafi’s direct control, they argue, required overturning his regime. If one side was supported in a civil war, it was because a regime’s one-sided killing sometimes leads civilians (as in Syria) to take up arms to fight back (and to recruit army defectors). Moreover, military operations cannot be micromanaged with a “1,000-mile screwdriver.” And a more limited “monitor and swoop” concept of operations would have led to a longer and messier conflict in Libya, which would have been politically impossible to sustain in the US and Europe, and likely would have produced many more civilian casualties.

These arguments all have force, but the US, the UK, and France resisted debating them in the Security Council, and other Council members were never given sufficient information to enable them to be evaluated. Maybe not all of the BRICS are to be believed when they say that more common ground could have been achieved had a better process been followed. But the Western powers’ dismissiveness during the Libyan campaign did bruise them – and those bruises will have to heal before any consensus can be expected on tough responses to such situations in the future.

The better news is that a way forward has opened up. In November, Brazil circulated a paper arguing that the R2P concept, as it has evolved so far, needs to be supplemented by a new set of principles and procedures on the theme of “responsibility while protecting” (already being labeled “RWP”). Its two key proposals are a set of criteria (including last resort, proportionality, and balance of consequences) to be taken into account before the Security Council mandates any use of military force, and a monitoring-and-review mechanism to ensure that such mandates’ implementation is seriously debated.

Initial reaction among the US, the UK, and France was almost contemptuous: one could almost hear their leaders sneering, “These countries would want all of those delaying and spoiling options, wouldn’t they.” But that attitude has begun to soften – as it must. Brazil, for its part, has indicated willingness to refine its proposals to make them more workable and broadly acceptable.

Renewed consensus on how to implement R2P in hard cases may come too late to help in Syria. But everyone understands that the alternative to Security Council cooperation is a return to the bad old days of Rwanda, Srebrenica, and Kosovo: either total inaction in the face of mass atrocity crimes, or action outlawed by the UN Charter. After all that has been achieved in the last decade, such an outcome would be heartbreaking.

Gareth Evans, former Australian Foreign Minister and President Emeritus of the International Crisis Group, is the author of The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and For All.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2012.

The NST, Professor Emeritus Khoo Kay Kim and History

January 29, 2012

The NST, Professor Emeritus Khoo Kay Kim and History

The NST Editorial

Hang Tuah in History

“There should be no question that we should pursue the truth”–The NST

REWRITING or resetting history can be a tricky business, akin to traversing fields dotted with landmines, especially if it threatens to interfere with cherished memories. So, when historian Tan Sri Professor Emeritus  Khoo Kay Kim said there was no written record that the 15th century Malay warrior Hang Tuah, his friend Hang Jebat, or the princess Hang Li Po, existed, the response to this astonishing assertion was not predominantly academic curiosity.

Rather, various parties hastened to debunk Khoo’s theory by contributing their own assertions of why they believed that Hang Tuah and his friends existed. Malaysian Archaeologists’ Association president Datuk Professor Emeritus  Dr Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman opined that even though the exact era in which Hang Tuah is thought to exist is not really known, that the 15th century tomb attributed to him did not have a specific name on it, and that Hang Tuah and his friends might be mythical figures, this did not mean that studies concerning them could not still continue.

In some ways, although coming from opposing camps, Nik Hassan’s opinion partly echoes Khoo’s, who said that Hang Tuah and company could still be studied, but as mythical figures rather than historical ones. The issue has arisen from work being done by the Education Ministry’s History Review Committee, of which Khoo is a member. The panel was appointed to analyse and review the History curriculum. Khoo opined that school History textbooks should be rewritten so that they contained historical facts and not myths or legends, and that hearsay should not be presented as historical fact.

Although the matter may take some while to resolve, the Hang Tuah debacle is a perfect platform upon which to test how much we value history; more specifically, whether we dare to risk possibly having to give up our sentimental memories for the sake of pursuing and obtaining an accurate and authentic history. From the intellectual perspective, there should be no question that we should pursue the truth.

And, Islamic scholarly culture places the highest value on academic honesty; the complex and technical mechanism for authenticating hadiths (sayings of Prophet Muhammad) are the clearest example of the importance of accurate referencing  — a single questionable link in the chain of authenticity automatically excludes a hadith from being declared sahih (authentic). Ibn Khaldun, a 14th century Muslim philosopher and historiographer, was widely respected for establishing mechanisms by which to authenticate history. In teaching schoolchildren History therefore, we should strive to cultivate in them a scholarly culture that places a premium on honesty and accuracy.

Emeritus Professor Khoo Kay Kim’s Interview

Don’t Ignore Real Heroes

Tan Sri Prof Emeritus Khoo Kay Kim provoked a storm of controversy when he said that there was no evidence that legendary warrior Hang Tuah ever existed. Malaysian Archaeologists Association president Datuk Prof Emeritus Dr Nik Hassan Shuhaimi Nik Abdul Rahman has refuted this claim, saying the tomb of Hang Tuah in Malacca proves the legendary warrior’s existence. Literary figure Dr Kassim Ahmad, who compiled the Hikayat Hang Tuah, also stressed that Hang Tuah was a real person. So did he exist or not?
Arman Ahmad sits down with Khoo to find out.Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim says there’s a lot about our history that we don’t know about.

QuestionCan you tell us how this issue first came about?

Answer: During a talk at a local university, I posed a question to the audience.I asked why in our country today we tend to play up mythical figures instead of people who really contributed a lot to our country.

Very often, when I ask people who was the first Malay to be absorbed into the civil service, they will say they don’t know. Nobody remembers who was the first Malay doctor, too, for example. Many of these real role models are forgotten. Western society remembers its historical figures and separates legend and history. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said here.

QuestionThere has been tremendous hue and cry from the public after you said that Hang Tuah may have been a myth. Many people disagree with you. How do you feel about this? What caused you to speak up?

Answer: Hang Tuah was made popular through the Bangsawan theatre during the pre-war era. There is no doubt that he was very popular. But at the end of the day, what do you want to learn about in school as part of history? Myth or fact?

It is a bit upsetting that around Kuala Lumpur, you can find streets named after Hang Jebat and Hang Tuah but not named after real historical figures of the past. There is a street name Jalan Maharajalela, but was it named after the man accused of murdering J.W.W. Birch?  That man’s name was Maharajalela Pandak Lam. Maharajalela was just an honorific title.

 We all know Jalan Raja Chulan, but do we know who Raja Chulan was? The whole point is there is a lot of history that people don’t know about.

QuestionYou are an academic, but you now have to deal with a very politically charged topic. How are you handling all this?

Answer:  Times have changed. Once, our society was very particular about the truth, and whenever people make statements, they have to be able to back up their statement with facts. Today, you can say anything you like in public. You can read the writing  of bloggers online and they say anything they like.

In the academic field, you are not allowed to do that . When someone writes a thesis, he is not allowed to say anything he likes. He has to back up his statement with facts. Unfortunately, some people have begun to attack me.

I even learnt that someone asked (Malay rights group) Perkasa to report to the police that I insulted royalty, which is rather absurd really.

The great tradition underlying the Malay monarchy was how they could trace their lineage back to Iskandar Dzulkarnain (Alexander the Great). Hang Tuah was just a “Laksamana” and had nothing to do with royalty.

This is also the first time I’m being attacked by Dr Syed Husin Ali, but he is not a historian . He was never trained in history.

Question: The Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals), which is the primary record of history during the Malacca Sultanate, did mention Hang Tuah. How accurate is it in recording history?

Answer: The Sejarah Melayu is not precise historiography. It is a historical document if you want to know how people used to think in those days. But we cannot confirm how much of it is fact, and how much of it is pure fable. It does not record dates, and has characters that we cannot confirm existed.

For example, it does not tell us when Malacca was first founded or when a ruler ascended the throne or passed away. We have no knowledge when Hang Jebat died. History cannot be like that. It has to be very precise.

On the other hand, Ming records from China are very precise. They recorded the names of the first ruler, second ruler of Malacca, along with the dates of their reign. These facts were recorded at that particular time, and not some time after the incident.

We know from these records that in 1414, Megat Iskandar Shah came to China to report the death of his father, Parameswara. China had close ties and protected Malacca at the time. It is recorded that their first envoy to Malacca left in 1403 and arrived there in 1404. Ming Dynasty records are the best documents on history.

Question In Ming records, was Hang Li Po ever mentioned?

Answer:  Hang Li Po was not mentioned in the Ming records. Sejarah Melayu is not considered historiography. It is a literary text. Hang Tuah was never mentioned in the Ming records.

QuestionWhat does Hang — as in Hang Tuah or Hang Li Po  — signify? Is it an honorary title?

Answer:  This still can’t be concluded from our current body of knowledge.

QuestionCould Hang Tuah and his band of men have been Chinese like some people claim?

Answer: How can we justify that Kasturi is a Chinese name when it’s a common Indian name?

QuestionIf Hang Tuah did not exist, then why is there a tomb that supposedly holds his body in Malacca? Malacca state recognises this as Hang Tuah’s tomb.

Answer:  How come there is a tomb when he did not come back from the mountain (Gunung Ledang)? How come they accept part of the story and not accept the other part?  

QuestionMalacca State Museums Department Director Datuk Khamis Abas said Hang Tuah was a legendary Malay warrior and this was proven in the research. What do you have to say about this?

Answer:  He used the word “legendary”, right?

Question: Heroes like Hang Tuah, King Arthur, Robin Hood or even Braveheart, despite doubts over their historical integrity, have a tremendous impact in uplifting a nation’s spirit. Do you feel bad about deconstructing a national hero?

Answer:  From the time I started studying history seriously in 1956, we never talked about legends. We were always trying our best to find primary sources to write the history of Malaya.

Today, we have great bodies of knowledge at our disposal. There are hundreds of theses written by university students. Most of them are unpublished and in our libraries. Good articles can also be found in contemporary newspapers.

You have to be diligent in going through these sources. We do not encourage historians to sit on a comfortable chair and imagine things. If you are a man of letters, then you can do as you like.

Question:  What other historical figures or facts in Malaysia are myths as well?

Answer:  Not many. But at one time there was a big controversy about whether Mat Kilau was still living. We have British contemporary records that showed he died a long time ago. Then I heard stories, which could not be confirmed, that said this man was actually a Bangsawan actor from Singapore.

QuestionWhat direction will the new history curriculum take after this?

Answer:  It’s not ready yet. They are still discussing it. They have actually dropped him from the school textbooks for some time.  In the last four, five years, we have not seen him in school textbooks.

QuestionWhat other heroes have we forgotten but could be part of the school syllabus?

Answer:  Panglima Awang. He was taken to Portugal from Malacca and actually sailed with Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet. When they came back to Malacca, he had completed the journey around the world. He was the first man to sail around the world.

This is a real hero and his story is proven and recorded in history. It’s worthwhile to bring this back to the school syllabus. Another example is the first Malay doctor, Dr Abdul Latiff Abdul Razak,  from Selangor. In the old P. Ramlee films, you might notice that the doctor is always named Dr Latiff.  

Question: As a work of literature, do you think Hang Tuah the hero was a good role model? 

Answer:  When Tuah lost his weapon, Jebat allowed him to pick it up again. When Jebat lost his weapon, Tuah took advantage. If you want to teach nilai murni (good values),  who is the real hero? But, at the end of the day, it is up to society to decide, not me.

 Of course, for the Malay Muslims,  the Quran will give you the right answer for every situation. Still, Hang Tuah had his good values. But while praising him, it is important that we don’t neglect the real Malaysian heroes of history.

If you have a hero, then a hero must be able to cope with any kind of questions society may ask. Surely, the younger generation, with a scientific mind, must ask many things. You cannot tell them, don’t worry about whether he is real, just accept these values that we put across to you.

QuestionOur people have been very poor recorders of history in the past. Do you think something drastic needs to be done so that we not only record history but correctly interpret it in the future?

Answer:  History in this country has been so neglected. Our history is a jumble   that has not been properly verified by professional and well- trained historians. Our schools must educate the children properly about history. Children must know about their own society as well as country.

Malay history tends to be mixed together with fables. English and even Chinese history had tendencies to build up epics as well. But once they entered the modern age, science and technology became important. It is crucial that young people looked logically and critically at things. A lot of questions need to be answered.

You cannot give answers based on fables. The young people, when they lose confidence, won’t respect their own society.

QuestionHow do we verify the facts of history?

Answer:  We always have to rely on empirical evidence. You can speculate whatever you like, but at the end of the day, you have to admit that it is purely speculation.

In the past, they did not make a distinction between legend and myth when they recorded history. You also have to consider the fact that these hikayat were discovered very much later.

They were not available to the public in those days. One of the first people to collect Malay manuscripts was Sir Stamford Raffles when he came to Singapore in 1819.  If you take Sejarah Melayu, there are no less than about 20 versions.

QuestionDr Kassim Ahmad (left) said that Hang Tuah must have been based on some real person. What is your opinion on this?

Answer: We have no evidence of any kind. That’s the whole trouble. The modern study of history is almost considered a science — you must have proof — without proof how do you draw the conclusions?

QuestionAs a historian since the 1950s, do you think Malaysians appreciate history?

Answer: It is only beginning to be taught in the universities. Universiti Malaya was founded in 1949. The history department was very strong and very concerned about writing history from a Malayan perspective.

Before that, our history concentrated on what British officials did, and neglected the locals. The department of history  began to write the first Malayan-centric history.

QuestionThere are some people who don’t care whether Hang Tuah existed or not. They just want someone who represents their value sets and aspirations. What would you say to them?

Answer:  If we are concerned about studying the values of that period, then it’s a different discipline.

For example, it is very important that Sejarah Melayu and Hikayat Hang Tuah be part of Malay classical literature because they teach the value sets, but we should not confuse them with history.

Wisma Putra: A ‘Wander-ful’ service for Travellers?

January 28, 2012


The article in The Star by Tan Sri Mohd Radzi Abd Rahman (below) is shallow and it shows his lack of understanding of what Wisma Putra should be about. That is disappointing since he is the Secretary-General whose job is to provide much needed strategic thinking in the shaping of Malaysian foreign policy and the conduct of our diplomacy.

The consular service is a minor aspect of the Malaysian Foreign Office. As a former Foreign Service Officer under the Late (Tun) Ghazalie Shafie, I know that Wisma Putra is about the serious business of public diplomacy and projecting and representing Malaysia’s interest to the rest of the world. Certainly, it is not a travel agency specialising in the care of traveling VIPs and the issuing visas for visitors to Malaysia!

When I was living in Phnom Penh in the early 1990s, I was privileged to witness how Malaysian diplomats under our Ambassador Dato’ Deva Mohd. Ridzam’s leadership worked to represent our interests in Cambodia. Our mission was involved in advising Malaysian business investors, and helping then the fragile government in capacity building, providing invaluable intelligence to the Malaysian Government on political and economic developments in the host country, and networking with host country leaders and officials and members of the political opposition.

The Malaysians visiting Cambodia sought useful advice from our Ambassador and his senior staff. I was a witness to instances when Dato Deva intervened to ensure that Malaysians who got on the wrong side of the Cambodian law were given a fair treatment.  I am, therefore, surprised to  read that “many Malaysians abroad do not see the need to contact the embassy unless they are in trouble”.

Does this Secretary-General not understand that Malaysians do contact embassy officials when they are confident that they can get good commercial and personal advice, not because it has a “wander-ful service for travelers.” If Malaysians avoid the embassy, it is because they do not believe that the mission can help them.

Maybe, Tan Sri Radzi is now confirming the reality that Wisma Putra is now reduced to a consular office, post office and a VIP travel agency, all rolled into one composite whole, staffed by over paid, mediocre and incompetent personnel.  And that is indeed a great pity.

The article also reflects the intellectual quality of this top Wisma Putra official. I have yet to see a serious article from him about our foreign policy or listen to or hear of him talking at any public forum on Malaysia’s diplomacy. That is not surprising either since all he can do is to write an article on consular administration, which should posted on the Wisma Putra website, or given to BERNAMA for wide  coverage.

I have also not heard our Foreign Minister, Anifah Aman, speaking in Parliament even with prepared answers on foreign policy issues.  It is, in fact, an open secret that the Foreign Minister is afraid to face his adversaries in Dewan Rakyat. It is indeed regrettable that Wisma Putra is no longer what it was when the Late Tun Ghazalie Shafie was the Permanent Secretary, and Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Today, in public diplomacy, Malaysia is punching below its weight. Our diplomats can neither write nor talk English, the language of international diplomacy and commerce. During the 1960’s, our diplomats were well read and articulate. They were respected by their colleagues in the region and elsewhere for their ability to draft treaties, communiques. and press releases.–Din Merican

A ‘wander-ful’ service for Travelers

By Tan Sri Mohd Radzi Abd Rahman

Although many Malaysians abroad do not see the need to contact the embassy unless they are in trouble, the Foreign Ministry’s consular service is always ready to help.

THE public face of the Foreign Affairs Ministry is the consular service. This is an important arm of the ministry that Malaysians are familiar with.In the past year alone, around 15 to 25 million people entered and left the country. With the increasing number of Malaysians travelling abroad and foreign expatriates making Malaysia their temporary home, consular achievement has now become one of the yardsticks to measure the effectiveness of the Foreign Service delivery system.

Unlike the economic, political, bilateral and multilateral diplomacy the Malaysian diplomat is familiar with, consular service is the “citizen service” that deals directly with the ordinary people, who are treated as important clients.

The function of the consular office at Wisma Putra, or at the 21 Malaysian consulates and 81 embassies abroad, is guided by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations 1963.

The consular functions include notary duties, attestation of documents, processing certificates of good conduct, birth registration, extending assistance to vessels and aircraft, and issuing of passports, travel documents and visas to persons wishing to travel to Malaysia.

Paramount among these functions is assisting its nationals within limits permitted by international law.

To many Malaysian diasporas, tourists and students studying abroad, the embassy is the consular office, and nothing more. The other functions of the embassy that deal with the privileged entities such as the palace, president’s office, ministries or people holding high appointments are hardly known to them.

In fact, Malaysians traveling or living abroad do not see the importance of coming in contact with the embassy unless out of necessity – such as to register a newborn, the renewal of passports, or when requiring emergency assistance such as during a tsunami, the Bali bombings, 9/11, the SARS epidemic crisis of 2003 or the 2010 volcanic eruption in Iceland that put air travel throughout Europe at a standstill.

A good number of Malaysians also appear at the consulate or the embassy when they are in distress, in cases where their passports, air tickets and money are stolen or lost and they are stranded with no change of clothes.

When this happens, one has to agree with Paul Theroux that travel is glamorous only in retrospect. Losing a passport through theft, negligence or disasters is one of the inconveniences for Malaysians when abroad.

In the case of a lost passport, the consulate or embassy is not authorised to issue a new passport to replace a lost one; it can issue an emergency certificate, a temporary, one-way travel document enabling one to travel home, but not valid to be used to travel to other countries.

All Malaysian embassies and consulates can facilitate the renewal of a Malaysian passport, but not all of them can issue a new Malaysian passport.

Where it is necessary for the embassy or consulate to forward an application for renewal or for a new Malaysian passport back to the Immigration Department in Malaysia, the process will inevitably take longer.

Within the boundaries of the consular functions, those who come for assistance are expected to be served with the highest level of professionalism.

The consular office can assist in notifying next-of-kin in the event the Malaysian is injured, arrested or detained.

It can communicate with the family or friends to request for emergency repatriation funds or arrange for the return of the remains of a deceased to Malaysia.

The consular officer also identifies bodies at the mortuary, visits those detained or imprisoned should there be a request from them to do so and ensure that due process of the law is accorded to them in the country they are arrested or detained.

To the Malaysian embassies abroad, the contact with Malaysian nationals is a pleasant experience. Especially at the embassies which are located where hardly any Malaysian travels, it is a delight for the Malaysian diplomat to meet another fellow citizen.

With the Government’s diaspora policy in place, a friendly contact with Malaysians working abroad is also useful. These individuals relate stories of their businesses, their expertise and the fascinating researches they are tasked to carry out at their new place of work.

With affordable travel, the world has become a smaller place.This means the consular offices have to be an effective problem-solver. In carrying out this task, the Malaysian diplomat is sometimes swayed by sympathy rather than logic.

On one occasion, a stranded Malaysian girl who was back-packing around Europe was “adopted” by the embassy staff with each one taking turns to provide her with food while waiting for her family to send over money for her return ticket home.

Upon reaching home, she sent a postcard to the embassy thanking them for the “five-star hotel” service and the excellent meals and warm clothes. Such instances are an exception rather than a rule.

There is only so much a consular office can do. Some consular offices are under-staffed and when unable to meet the expectations of the clients, they are sternly criticised and sometimes unfortunate stories get to the press.

What is helpful for the Malaysian traveler is to know what it takes to be in another country. They should come prepared, take pains to know whether a visa is required to enter the country, ensure that their passports exceed the six-month validity, bring sufficient money, have a travel and medical insurance ready, check websites of embassies and consulates in the country they are traveling and — as a precaution in case of emergency or natural disaster — register themselves at the embassy either by e-mail or in person.

The poet Saadi is apt when he said that a traveller without observation is a bird without wings. As a significant contributor to public diplomacy, the consular office assumes an important role in current-day diplomacy but when Malaysians work in tandem with them, the end-product benefits not only themselves but also their country – and not all those who wander are lost (J.R.R. Tolkien).