Fed Policy and Inflation Risk


April 26 2012

Fed Policy and Inflation Risk

by Martin Feldstein (03-31-12)

Martin Feldstein is Professor of Economics at Harvard University and President Emeritus of the National Bureau of Economic Research. He chaired President Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers from 1982-1984, and is currently a member of President Barack Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, as well as a member of the board of directors of the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, and the National Committee on United States-China Relations.–Project Syndicate

During the past four years, the United States Federal Reserve has added enormous liquidity to the US commercial banking system, and thus to the American economy. Many observers worry that this liquidity will lead in the future to a rapid increase in the volume of bank credit, causing a brisk rise in the money supply – and of the subsequent rate of inflation.

 

That risk is real, but it is not inevitable, because the relationship between the reserves held at the Fed and the subsequent stock of money and credit is no longer what it used to be. The explosion of reserves has not fueled inflation yet, and the large volume of reserves could in principle be reversed later. But reversing that liquidity may be politically difficult, as well as technically challenging.

Anyone concerned about inflation has to focus on the volume of reserves being created by the Fed. Traditionally, the volume of bank deposits that constitute the broad money supply has increased in proportion to the amount of reserves that the commercial banks had available. Increases in the stock of money have generally led, over multiyear periods, to increases in the price level. Therefore, faster growth of reserves led to faster growth of the money supply – and on to a higher rate of inflation. The Fed in effect controlled – or sometimes failed to control – inflation by limiting the rate of growth of reserves. Read On: Project Syndicate

BERSIH3.0: Kuala Lumpur Mayor takes a firm stand on Venue


April 25, 2012

Kuala Lumpur Mayor takes a tough stand on Venue for BERSIH3.0

by Kuek Ser Kuang Keng@www.malaysiakini.com

Bersih 3.0 supporters at Saturday’s Dataran Merdeka sit-in will face the same actions taken against activists who occupied the venue recently, Kuala Lumpur Mayor Ahmad Fuad Ismail (left) has warned.

“Action has been taken against those kids at Dataran Merdeka… The same action will taken if you (BERSIH supporters) do the same,” Fuad said.

He said this when asked how Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) would react if the Bersih coalition proceeded with its plan to hold the sit-in at the square from 2pm to 4pm. Fuad said this at a press conference after a one-hour meeting between DBKL and BERSIH representatives failed to reach agreement on the venue for the rally.

‘In case of chaos, blame Bersih’

Asked whether DBKL would seek Police help to stop the rally from taking place at Dataran Merdeka, Fuad declined to answer. “When the time comes, you will know. Don’t worry… We are ready. We don’t allow them to go to Dataran Merdeka… let us do our job,” he said.

When it was pointed out to him that a confrontation with the BERSIH supporters could create chaos, Fuad said should this happen, it is the rally organisers who should be blamed.

“Who creates chaos? They create it because they want to go against the laws and (threaten) to sit on the road. I have given them alternatives but they didn’t give me any alternative,” he said.

He claimed that BERSIH representatives had said during the meeting that rally participants might sit on the roads surrounding the square if Dataran Merdeka is cordoned off.

In recent days, DBKL has conducted several raids on students and activists who have set up a protest camp at Dataran Merdeka for more than a 10 days as part of a campaign for free tertiary education.

Their tents and belongings have been confiscated by DBKL while one out of six arrested have been charged in court.

BERSIH: No time to change venue

Prior to Fuad’s press conference, BERSIH co-chairperson Ambiga Sreenevasan told reporters the coalition still hoped that Fuad would change his mind before Saturday.

NONEThus, she said, Bersih would stick to its original plan to hold the rally at Dataran Merdeka, despite Fuad had offered them Stadium Merdeka, explaining that there was not enough time to change venue.

“If we change place now, it would cause bigger confusion. People will still gather here (Dataran Merdeka) as well as at Stadium Merdeka. It is just too little time to inform people,” she said.

“We would be prepared to discuss with the mayor on crowd control and security issues if he changes his mind… We are hoping that we can make it happen,” Ambiga added.

DBKL: That’s not our fault

Earlier, Fuad told reporters that Ambiga’s argument about the time constraint was a weak excuse not to relocate the rally.He said BERSIH has only itself to blame because its official letter to DBKL was only handed on April 19. He said DBKL replied that very day.

“They claimed they had faxed in the letter on April 16 but we didn’t receive it. If it is an important letter, why only fax and not hand deliver it to us? Hence, the issue of DBKL delaying their request, causing them to have insufficient time to inform their supporters does not arise,” he said.

He said BERSIH’s argument that DBKL was already informed through an announcement on April 4 of the coalition’s plan to hold a rally there also cannot be accepted.

“That’s your intention but it was not official notice… Let’s say if I hold a kenduri (feast) but I don’t give you any invitation, would you come?”

Fuad: I’m being fair

Fuad also stressed that if BERSIH was willing to accept the alternative venue – Stadium Merdeka, which is just 1km away from Dataran Merdeka – he would be willing to hold a joint press conference with BERSIH and help publicise the venue change.

“If all of you here report about it, I think the whole world will know.” Fuad further explained that he was in a dilemma because allowing BERSIH to use the historic square would cause him to be accused of double standards, breaking the laws and failing to protect the lives of 1.8 million Kuala Lumpur folks from being disrupted.

Previously three organisations – Malay rights group PERKASA, anti-LGBT movement and a Malay traditional marital arts group – had made the same request but all had been rejected, he claimed.

As for the decisions to allow other cultural and sports activities to use the venue, Fuad explained that those events were neutral and nobody would feel uncomfortable with them, unlike BERSIH which is opposed by certain quarters of the society.

Furthermore, Dataran Merdeka had been gazetted as a prohibited place for rallies under the new Peaceful Assembly Act 2011, he said.

“If they argue that Dataran Merdeka has historical value, same goes for Stadium Merdeka… Independence declaration was made by (first Prime Minister) Tunku Abdul Rahman there.

“It is more appropriate (to hold rally there) because it is wide and has many parkings,” he elaborated.

azlan

Lying Politicians and Words


April 25, 2012

Lying Politicians and Words

Good morning, guys,

Democratic Politics is a play of words. How different are we here in Malaysia? It is time to judge our politicians by the things they do, not what they say. Politicians on both sides of our political divide are mea culpa in this regard.It is a universal truism that politicians promise anything to get elected and those in power will do everything to remain there.

Time to think and not take our politicians at their word. Do you believe MR. Apdal, for example? I do. I believe him when he said that he did not pay rm200k for a shot. I wish to thank him for his honesty in acknowledging that we, as taxpayers, paid for him to gratify his biological urge.–Din Merican

Crafting the state of Malaysia


April 25, 2012

http://www.nst.com.my

Crafting the state of Malaysia

by Dr. A Murad Merican

I USUALLY begin my Malaysian Studies class on the two levels of approaches in conceiving the nation-state — the concrete and the abstract. Neither is unproblematic.

There are many instances of the name “Malaysia” used in books and other documents in the 1800s and 1900s before Malaysia became a nation. Generally, the meaning embraces insular Southeast Asia from Sumatra to the Philippines and the Malay Peninsula.

It is not every day that we find geographical space being defined and manoeuvred along numerous configurations — among others, ideology, colonial presence, ethnicity, language spoken and oral traditions, cultural practices and a collective memory. And it is not every day that one is provided with the opportunity to craft and make nation-states.

The birth of the nation, and especially as to its territorial configuration, needs to be continuously consumed, understood and celebrated. I found Ghazali Shafie’s Memoir on the Formation of Malaysia (1998) a pertinent text on the story of Malaysia. It is the story of the nation — through “the rare opportunity” as Ghazali put it — to participate directly in charting its course.

The young Ghazali, while a law student at the University College of Wales in Aberystwyth, between 1948 and 1951 began to think of a greater union comprising the states of the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo. He chose to study ancient Welsh law with a view to comparing it with other legal systems.

We are reminded that before 1948, there was no country strictly called Malaya but a territory of nine sultanates as British Protectorates and three Straits Settlements as Crown Colonies. In reading the memoir, I tend to belabour the genesis of his thoughts and imagination — the junctures at which he crossed paths with destiny.

In Part One, titled “Genesis”, Ghazali projected his insights in the years before Malaysia, the nation-state. He recalled, “I had become acutely sensitive at that time to the fact that at least I had a country called Tanah Melayu or Malaya whereas before I was only a citizen of the state of Pahang.”

He was conscious that with the formation of the Federation of Malaya, “I had become a citizen of Malaya, a much bigger unit than Pahang”. He arrived in London in August 1948. There, he met Tunku Abdul Rahman and Abdul Razak Hussein (later Tun). They formed a fraternity for the independence of Malaya, “now that we had a country known as the Persekutuan Tanah Melayu since February 1948″.

“I could not erase the thought of a greater federation involving the 11 states of the Federation with Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei and North Borneo would be desirable and viable for the benefit of the people.”

The concept of this “togetherness”, as Ghazali described it, became almost an obsession. He recalled that “I could not suggest a name for it” but wrote in the Straits Times of the desirability of a commonwealth of Southeast Asia.

The origins of “Malaysia” is a subject for the history of ideas. Instrumental to Ghazali’s worldview was living through colonialism, and the people he met. Ghazali learnt that to the British Colonial Office, governing Malaya was extremely cumbersome, with many semi-independent states in the Malay Peninsula and the Borneo territories. The Malay rulers’ sovereignty was never diminished. There were treaty relations and “not a relationship based on one of conqueror-vanquished as upheld by the British judiciary”.

Ghazali had in mind to call such an association or federation of states the Federation of Malaysia, where the states joined in “partnership on a footing something like that which exists between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland”. He argued that “we are linked to the Borneo territories not only by proximity and close association, but also because the Borneo territories have the same types of culture and racial origins as Malayans”. He refuted suggestions that the Malaysia concept was an attempt to colonise.

Tun Muhammad Ghazali Shafie died on January 24, 2010. He was Minister of Home Affairs from 1973 to 1981, and Minister of Foreign affairs for three years from 1981. I first met Ghazali at Wisma Putra as a cadet journalist with Bernama in 1981. It was during a courtesy call by US Senator S.I. Hayakawa, who was a scholar of linguistics.

Ghazali’s Memoir should remain accessible to all. It went for a second printing in 2004. The problem is even the paperback version is not accessible. Such works should be reformatted and reduced in size, displayed in retail outlets. I suggest the publisher re-launch the memoir. In the memoir, “Malaysia” is not just a word, the name of a nation state or territory. It has lexical ramifications, meaning and contexts. It has semantics.

 

Battle for hearts of Kedahans


April 24, 2012

Battle for hearts of Kedahans

By Joceline Tan (04-22-12) @http://www.thestar.com.my

From afar, Kedah looks like it is ready to fall but on the ground, the battle lines are quite blurred and its small town culture deters politicians on either side from being as aggressive as their counterparts elsewhere.

IT was quite bizarre seeing Tan Sri Kadir Sheikh Fadzir, or Mr Bow Tie as he is known, on the dimly-lit stage surrounded by PAS leaders in a tiny village near Baling.

The usually debonair politician had dressed down for the occasion, wearing a white baju Melayu teamed with a brown and yellow sampin. Kadir, or “Kadiak” as he is known in the Kedah Malay dialect, had quit UMNO in a huff last month and this was his maiden appearance on the PAS platform alongside PAS President Datuk Seri Hadi Awang and Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Azizan Abdul Razak.

Politics in the new political landscape has often resembled TV reality shows – dramatic, quite absurd but oh so entertaining – and the Kadir episode is Kedah’s latest reality show.

PAS ceramah draw the biggest crowds when something new happens, and that evening the “new thing” was Kadir talking about why he abandoned UMNO. Kadir’s exit could not have happened at a better time for PAS in Kedah and it is planning to ride on him,

This, despite the fact that PAS leaders have, for years, portrayed Kadir’s “istana” or palace in Baling as an example of UMNO’s excess. His house does resemble a palace. It is an elaborate pink, white and gold monument built on an elevated piece of land and has a regal driveway, gazebos and ponds in the massive grounds.

The most unsettling thing about the “istana” is that it is standing on what was once the poorest district in Kedah. But it looks like PAS leaders are prepared to forget all the things they said about Kadir now that he is on their side.

Kedah is the shakiest of the Pakatan Rakyat states and PAS politicians are praying that Kadir will help them in Baling, if not the whole State. At 73, the flamboyant ex-UMNO minister is past his prime but is a famous name in these parts.

“My worry is that what he says will cast doubts in people’s minds,” said his younger brother, UMNO politician Datuk Aziz.

Aziz, who had cried, holding on to his brother’s knees begging him not to desert UMNO, is deeply disappointed about what has happened. But blood is thicker than water and Aziz is reluctant to say anything bad about Kadir. However, if PAS fields Kadir as a candidate, brother may have to fight brother in the name of politics.

From afar, Kedah looks like it is about to fall but, on the ground, the battle lines are quite blurred. People here talk about politics but not in the obsessed way of Klang Valley folks and definitely minus all the vitriol and hate found on the Internet.

Kedah politics is not as ugly or confrontational as that in Penang or Perak namely because the racial element is not as stark.DAP has a limited presence here and its sole assemblyman does not have a good working relationship with the Government.

PKR is hobbled by poor quality assemblymen, some of whom cannot speak Bahasa Malaysia. One of them is reportedly a medium who goes into trances. He was appointed a State exco member before the pressure to perform caused him to quit.

Kedah still has that small-town culture where everybody seems to know everybody. As a result, they are quite reluctant to say bad things about each other. It certainly makes for a more civil level of politics.

On the defensive

Quite a bit of it also has to do with the Mentri Besar’s personality. Azizan is an Alpha male with an ego but he is not a petty politician. He is highly educated unlike many of the other ulama in PAS and, as a true-blue Kedah man, he has an intimate feel of the ground.

Unlike his counterpart in Penang, he does not spend his days and nights attacking UMNO and blaming it for everything; likewise, UMNO does not attack him unnecessarily.But make no mistake, both sides are adamant about forming the next State Government.

The last few years have found the Pakatan Government on the defensive as they struggled with the demands of governing a State whose populace is still dependent on the Government’s largesse. Its inexperience was all too evident during the 2010 floods, and infighting in PAS over the last one year has affected the administration’s image and may jeopardise its party machinery.

State UMNO chief Dato’ Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah catapulted into the public eye during the big floods when he swung into action, setting up evacuation centres and organising aid to those affected.

Bashah is the assemblyman for Bakar Bata, a state seat in the urban Alor Setar parliamentary constituency. The old UMNO building located at the busiest intersection in Alor Setar has huge, billboard-sized pictures of him in action during the floods. His supporters wanted to put up billboards of such pictures in other parts of the capital but could not get a permit from the local authority.

Most accounts place Bashah as the Mentri Besar-in-waiting, an idea that he tries to downplay but you could tell that he liked the sound of it because his face immediately broke out into the sweetest of smiles.

But he said: “My job is to win back Kedah. The MB’s post, that we leave to the Prime Minister and God.”

Bashah looks like a fierce bulldog in photographs but in person he smiles easily and is the sort of Malay politician who calls everybody a friend even though he may have met you only half an hour earlier.

Malays make up 75% of the population in Kedah, and UMNO is confident that the 5% Malay vote swing back to UMNO will play out in Kedah more clearly than in other west coast States.

One of the reasons why the State fell was because Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was then waging war against Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. Kedah’s most famous citizen has since thrown his support behind Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. His renewed presence in Kedah has also sparked talk that his son, Jerlun MP Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir, is also in the running for the Mentri Besar post.

Another famous Kedahan, Tun Daim Zainuddin, has also warmed up to UMNO following some soured years during the Abdullah Badawi regime. The somewhat reclusive Daim has given strategic interviews to the Chinese vernacular papers in the last few months; many think he is trying to help soften the Chinese vote.

The views of these powerful men will not necessarily make people rush to embrace the Barisan but their endorsement, as they say in the advertising world, will help sell the Barisan brand. But Barisan’s biggest brand name is still Najib. He recently marked his third year as Prime Minister and has shown admirers and critics that he has what it takes for the job.

The Hokkien-speaking Chinese in Kedah often say “Najib eh yong,” meaning that Najib is capable.The Chinese sentiment in Kedah does not seem as hell-bent on punishing UMNO as their counterparts elsewhere.

According to Kedah Chinese Assembly Hall secretary Dato’ Tan Son Lee, the Chinese living in the southern end like Kulim and Sungai Petani tend to identify with what is going on in Penang. They tend to spend their weekends and holidays in Penang and a sizeable number do business or work there. They identify so much with Penang that when they go to Alor Setar, they actually say, “ki Ketah” which means “go to Kedah” in Hokkien.

Although the Chinese are generally not into the politics of PAS, they do not have major issues with Azizan.

“He is quite easy to deal with. But the people around him do not have the same thinking,” said Tan. Many Chinese businessmen, especially developers in the Alor Setar area, think the PAS-led government is not business friendly. The State Government has been reluctant to convert agricultural land for development and talk is that PAS is playing geo-politics; it is worried that the loss of agricultural activity will change the voter profile.

“Alor Setar does not have industries and housing development is a major activity. The projects going on are those approved before 2008 and the slowdown has affected downline activities,” said Bakar Arang assemblyman Dr Cheah Soon Hai.

Businesses affected

Doing business under the Barisan was tough but they were finding out how much tougher it was under Pakatan.

In contrast, Sungai Petani is bustling with development. One knows that one is near Sungai Petani when billboards of housing and commercial schemes start to appear.

What the Chinese business community is most uncomfortable about is PAS’ tendency to attach religious foundations to policies. For example, its latest ruling forbidding any challenge to the state’s fatwa pronouncements.

Ironically, Azizan, despite his faltering health and having to fend off enemies from within, is his party’s chief asset. His moral high ground stems from the perception that he has not used his position to enrich himself.

He has two wives and his first wife’s house is a nondescript brick and wooden structure with peeling paint. He has eight children from the first family, all graduates and none, he emphasised, is involved in any of the State GLCs.

His second wife’s house is a sort of annex to his service centre in his Sungai Limau constituency. She is a teacher, and on the day of this interview, their daughter, the youngest of their six children, returned from school riding pillion on a relative’s motorcycle.

Azizan is also unapologetic about his regard for Dr Mahathir or even Daim.“People say I am close to Tun Mahathir, they are not happy. But he is a statesman, I want to learn from him. If not for Tun Mahathir, there would be no Universiti Utara Malaysia or Langkawi. He is the father of Langkawi’s development and I am co-chairman of Lada,” said Azizan.

His pet project, the Insaniah Kolej Universiti, is coming up beautifully in Kuala Ketil even though the issue over the suspension of several of the students earlier this year was damaging.

He insisted that he had no hard feelings against the two exco members, Datuk Phahrolrazi Zawawi and Dr Ismail Salleh, who tried to topple him, describing it as a “family misunderstanding”. But when the State Assembly sat on Monday, Phahrolrazi, who used to be seated next to the Mentri Besar, had been moved one seat down while the next senior figure, Datuk Taulan Mat Rasul, was moved up.

His rival who used to be second-in-line is now third-in-line. Azizan might seem feeble and laidback to the casual observer but he is quite the political animal and should not be underestimated. He intends to defend his seat in the election and, if his health permits and the party agrees, to continue as Mentri Besar.

Kedah is still awash with celebratory signs of their sovereign’s ascension as the King. Everywhere one turns, there are signboards and banners proclaiming “Daulat Tuanku” and “Daulat Tahniah” to the Royal couple. He is a popular sovereign and Kedahans are proud about their Sultan’s second turn on the throne.

PAS, on the other hand, is asking for a second term. They have been telling Kedahans that Barisan has enjoyed 50 years in power and that they should be given another five years.

“The 2008 election was a lesson for all of us. The next election is not about five years or 50 years but people can now compare who is better at serving them,” said Bashah. The battle for the hearts and minds of Kedah people has started.

BERSIH3.0 at Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur–April 28, 2012


April 24, 2012

SATURDAY, APRIL 28, 2012 @DATARAN MERDEKA, KL

Eyeball to eyeball: Who’s going to blink?

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

COMMENT: “We were eyeball to eyeball and the other guy just blinked,” was the memorable remark by US Secretary of State Dean Rusk about the Cuban missile crisis exactly a half century ago.

Minus the cosmic implications of the United States confrontation with the Soviet Union then, Rusk’s metaphor serves nicely as description of the looming confrontation between BERSIH and the powers-that-be at the Dataran Merdeka on Saturday, April 28, 2012.

A clash had, initially, seemed avoidable.NONEThis was when Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein (right) signaled a fortnight ago that BERSIH could go ahead with the planned protest, provided they staged it in a place other than Dataran Merdeka.

BERSIH co-chair Ambiga Seenivasan quickly demurred at the proviso.

When that demurral was met with the usual vituperative rejoinders from the anti-Ambiga claque found in sections of the government-controlled media, PERKASA, Hasan Ali’s JATI, latterly joined by disgruntled elements of PAS, things turned from the mildly promising to the dismally familiar.

Soon the recognisably dour patterns of the past reasserted its preponderance over the refreshingly new.The licensing authorities, after initially feinting in the direction of acquiescence, withdrew to the forbidding form of what one had – albeit feeble – grounds to hope was the past. Pretty soon, it became quite clear a dour entrenched legacy is difficult to shed overnight.

Expect a lockdown again  

In the last 24 hours, the Police have joined Kuala Lumpur City Hall in declining to give permission to BERSIH to hold their planned sit-down protest, called for 2pm on Saturday. From day one of their announcement that they would demonstrate, the BERSIH stance was that a right to stage a peaceful protest ought not to be made to abide by any abridgement.

Both KL City Hall and the police’s refusal to give the green light only means that the BERSIH demonstrators will go eyeball to eyeball with the Police, especially if the latter attempt to replicate the lockdown they imposed on central Kuala Lumpur on July 9 last year when BERSIH called a demonstration to press their agenda of electoral reform.

That lockdown and what happened as consequence have carved separate niches in local history.On the one hand, it taught the authorities a lesson – apparently, not well learnt – in the futility of countermanding popular protest.NONE

On the other hand, it left participants of the BERSIH-organised march with a feel for the power of Victor Hugo’s insight that greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come.

Today BERSIH co-chair, national literary laureate Dato’ A Samad Said, insisted the protest would go ahead as planned at the Dataran, with or without the acquiescence of the authorities.

The die has been further cast with the announcement by PAS President Abdul Hadi Awang that he will join the protest. He also urged party members to turn up in numbers.

It is a certainty that he will have the company of not only the top brass of his party, but also that of Pakatan Rakyat components DAP and PKR. So eyeball to eyeball it’s going to be.

Police may exhibit less crassness

Unless, of course, the Police are bluffing or BERSIH cannot summon the crowds they successfully did in November 2007, when the first edition of their push for polls reform took place in Kuala Lumpur, and last July 9, when they pulled off a repeat edition in the teeth of a massive Police shutdown of central KL.

Expect in the next 72 hours that protest plans by BERSIH would accelerate along careworn and confidential lines – certainly, on how the protest crowd is going to evade the Police barricades that are almost certain to be thrown around the approaches to Dataran Merdeka.

Because this BERSIH protest will be joined by the Himpunan Hijau movement set up by the anti-Lynas crowd, expect that vibrant young protesters would embroider the occasion with cameo roles as striking as Annie Ooi’s, dubbed the ‘Lady of Liberty’, after impressive pictures emerged of her inspiriting spontaneity.

Expect also that the Police would exhibit less crassness than they did the last time in the methods they choose as crowd deterrence.

NONEA reliance on tear gas would likely be de-emphasised as would be the rushing of milling concentrations of people because they make for image-damaging videos that will surely feature in the news bulletins of the international networks.

The Police would bend over backwards to prevent BERSIH’s third edition of their push for polls reform from becoming an international cause célèbre, like it did the last time.

It will be an eyeball to eyeball confrontation nevertheless, but this time with more wit on one side and less obtuseness on the other. Hopefully.

A Bit of History: Imagining Herr Hitler


April 23, 2012

Imagining Hitler

by Christopher Hitchens

Before Adolf Hitler took power, virtually no one understood his unthinkable evil. Since his suicide, no one has fully explained how a talentless crank was able to turn Europe into a charnel house. In a new book, Hitler 1889–1936: Hubris, Ian Kershaw supplies a piece of the puzzle.

 ‘What a piece of work is man!” says the Prince of Denmark. “How noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!” Well said, but where, as Ron Rosenbaum so intelligently asks in his recent book, Explaining Hitler, do all the Jeffrey Dahmers come from? This is sometimes put, by nervous theologians, as “the problem of evil.”

We often phrase it, colloquially, as the problem of Hitler. “His face in those early years,” wrote Arthur Koestler in 1942, “an unshaped pudding with a black horizontal dot, came to life as the lights of obsession were switched on behind the eyeballs.” And then those paragons of animals, those with the godlike and angelic faculties of reason and understanding, flung themselves down by the million and groaned great noises of worship and adoration. And this in the country of Beethoven and Goethe, where, to continue with Koestler for a moment, “the features of it retained their crankish ridiculousness, with the black dot under the upturned nose and the second black dot pasted on the forefront, but it now assumed the grotesque horror of a totem-mask worn at ritual dances where human sacrifices are performed.” A piece of work—no question about that.

I treasure one episode, in the clotted pages of Mein Kampf, above all others. As a young, resentful loser hanging around in the ­Austro-Hungarian empire, Adolf Hitler was forced to seek employment on a construction site. He thought the labor beneath him, and he very much resented being pressed to join a union.

The lunchtime chat of his fellows was even more repugnant to his nature: “Some of the men went into the nearest public house,” while “I drank my bottle of milk and ate my piece of bread somewhere on the side.” And when they talked politics, everything was rejected: the nation as an invention of the “capitalistic” classes—how often was I to hear just this word!—; the country as the instrument of the bourgeoisie for the exploitation of the workers; the authority of the law as a means of suppressing the proletariat; the school as an institution for bringing up slaves as well as slave-drivers; religion as a means for doping the people destined for exploitation; morality as a sign of sheepish patience, and so forth. Nothing remained that was not dragged down into the dirt and the filth of the lowest depths.

It was this, said the young Hitler, which first persuaded him to study “book after book, pamphlet after pamphlet,” and to begin fighting back for race and nation and decency. “I argued till finally one day they applied the one means that wins the easiest victory over reason: terror and force. Some of the leaders of the other side gave me the choice of either leaving the job at once or of being thrown from the scaffold.” He sloped wolfishly away, later to notice the beards and caftans of the Viennese Jews and to discover another source of lifelong resentment. (One has to admire, also, his early revulsion against “terror and force.”) The passage always sends me into a reverie. I think, first, of those solid Viennese workers who, by the ill luck of the draw, found themselves dealing with the staring eyes of Adolf Hitler at every lunch break.

Austrian social democracy was not created by intimidation, so one imagines their patience being sorely tested before they finally told him he could either clear off or be dropped over the side. Then, in 1914, they and millions like them were dragooned into war by their Emperor and found—among others at the front—Corporal Adolf Hitler, the gung-ho enthusiast!

All that having turned into a bloody nightmare for civilization, the few survivors got home and found … Adolf Hitler demanding revenge for the same war he had wanted in the first place! (He had meanwhile been exposed to poison gas, which I don’t think can have brought out the best in him.) Then the annexation of Austria, the creation of a new, thousand-year ­Reich, and, after a mere 12 years of that, hardly one brick standing upon another from one end of Germany and Austria to the next. Plenty of opportunities for construction workers. Was there one, I wonder, who ever made the connection and sometimes thought of the chance he had missed, to send that little bastard over the edge and right onto the brick pile below?

A foe of political correctness in one way, Hitler was its friend in another. Recall the bottle of milk he swilled while the others were boozing? (The frightful mustache was grown partly to distract attention from his rotting fangs and suppurating gums.) In the same way, he abhorred smoking, was a fanatical vegetarian, and would never allow jokes about sex in his presence.

His tedious hypo­chon­dria and health-cultishness found expression in hysteria about “ba­cilli” and “vermin,” and were, eventually, something more than crankish. He was, like most of his gang leaders, morbidly pious about religion and the family.

Is it the insult to one’s integrity and intelligence—the shame of having still to cringe at the thought of such a person—that partly accounts for our continued fascination with der Führer? The maddening thought that, in other circumstances, he could have been such an ordinary bore and nuisance? The man’s opinions are trite and bigoted and deferential, and the prose in Mein Kampf is simply laughable in its pomposity. (When mutiny and rebellion broke out in Munich after the First World War, Hitler could not get over the shock. He burst into floods of tears, moaning in print that “the loyalty towards the honorable House of Wittelsbach [had] seemed to me to be stronger than the will of a few Jews.”) Yet attempts to make him absurd by caricature and contempt are always, somehow, failures. Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 farce, The Great Dictator, was in many ways a masterpiece, and Bertolt Brecht’s 1941 play The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui was a workmanlike attempt to cut Hitler down to size by depicting him as a cheap crook and a tool of the rackets.

P. G. Wodehouse introduced one of his Mulliner stories, published in 1937, with a heated pub discussion about “the situation in Germany.” Hitler must soon decide one way or another, says a thoughtful customer. There’s no dodging the issue. “He’ll have to let it grow or shave it off.” But if this style of subversive or mocking wit could do the job, there wouldn’t be a “problem of evil,” or such a Hitler conundrum, in the first place.

It hurts and nags, above all, that we never got his mug in court. The British officer Airey Neave, an ex-prisoner of the Gestapo who was one of the military lawyers at Nuremberg, went from cell to cell and thought: We were frightened for years by this? This gaggle of sniggering, talentless, self-pitying picknoses? Hit­ler’s foreign minister, the half-weeping Joa­chim von Rib­ben­trop, gave him, with shaking hands, a list of titled character witnesses, “chiefly members of the British aristocracy.” Hit­ler’s cashier, Walther Funk, on inspection, turned out to be a “depressing hypo­chon­driac.” Robert Ley, organizer of slave labor, was “a slobbering creature.” Julius Streicher, purveyor of Jew-baiting pornography, was actually doing his second stretch in a Nuremberg jail. He’d been convicted of sadistic pederasty and resembled, as Rebecca West put it to Neave, the “sort of old man who gives trouble in parks.” Yet Hitler was never reduced to “human” scale in such fashion; never had to hire a lawyer and try to cop a plea. He only affected to be fond of Wag­ner—his favorite film was the Disney version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, his actress of choice was Shirley Temple, and in music he preferred the kitsch operetta—but he did arrange a Götterdämmerung ending to his rule. As a consequence, there is a recurrent fantasy of retrieving him, and of making him talk.

It’s important to remember that many people, before the war, could look at Hitler and see a man with whom business could be done. Winston Churchill, in a 1935 essay from his book Great Contemporaries, had this to say:

It is not possible to form a just judgment of a public figure who has attained the enormous dimensions of Adolf Hitler until his life work as a whole is before us. Although no subsequent political action can condone wrong deeds, history is replete with examples of men who have risen to power by employing stern, grim, and even frightful methods, but who, nevertheless, when their life is revealed as a whole, have been regarded as great figures whose lives have enriched the story of mankind. So may it be with Hitler.

I’ve always thought that—coming as it did two years after Hitler’s seizure of power—this was a bit lenient. Churchill raised his eyebrows all right at the maltreatment of the German Jews, and at the pace of German re­­-armament, but (as he had done earlier with Mussolini) could not withhold admiration for Hitler’s Kampf itself: “The story of that struggle cannot be read without admiration for the courage, the perseverance, and the vital force which enabled him to challenge, defy, conciliate, or overcome all the authorities or resistances which barred his path.”

Look up H. L. Mencken’s review of Mein Kampf, as it appeared in The American Mercury of December 1933. Greatly to the distress of his old friend and publisher Alfred A. Knopf, among others, Mencken felt it his job to explain that the new Führer was potentially onto something good. Not only did he describe as “sensible enough” the idea that “Germany’s first big task is to collar Austria and so consolidate the German people,” but he went on to state that anti-Semitism was more or less to be expected. (“The disadvantage of the Jew is that, to simple men, he always seems a kind of foreigner.”) Though he tried to soften the blow by comparing Hitler to fundamentalist Democrat William Jennings Bryan—harsh dispraise in the Mencken universe—he too found that there was a Jewish-­Bolshevik threat to be combated: “The bloody Räte­republik at Munich—long forgotten elsewhere, but only too well remembered in Germany—had been set up and bossed by a Jew, and there were other Jews high in the councils of the Communist party, which proposed openly to repeat the Munich pillages and butch­er­ies all over the country.”

Munich, Munich, always Munich. It was there in 1919, just 80 years ago, that the essential catalyst was found. After all, had Hitler not redeemed Germany from the awful moment when, as Winston Churchill himself put it, “the pride and will-power of the Prussian race broke into surrender and revolution behind the fighting lines”?

In his new book, Hitler 1889–1936: Hubris, Professor Ian Kershaw (right) has hit upon the very moment that is suggested by the earlier passage in Mein Kampf, and the—let’s be charitable—unintended compliments paid by Churchill and Mencken.

Do you recall the moment in The Silence of the Lambs when a moth chrysalis is discovered in the throat of a mutilated woman, and taken for examination? The entomologists at the Smithsonian lose no time in establishing that this sinister insect was pres­ent by design and had been carefully nurtured. “Somebody,” says the man with the tweezers, “grew this guy. Fed him honey and nightshade. Kept him warm. Somebody loved him.” The roach Hitler was just a drifter and a loser and a fan­tasist, but he was incubated all right, and shoved down the throats of the German people at the perfect psychological mo­ment.

In Munich in late 1918 and 1919, Hit­ler’s two greatest enemies made common cause. The Räterepublik, or “republic of councils,” was a radical and improvised regime that deposed the monarchy and denounced the war. (Its leader, the Jewish journalist and leftist Kurt Eisner, published the secret documents that showed how the Kaiser had pushed Austria into making a bullying ultimatum after the Sarajevo incident in 1914.) What horror that in Bavaria, Jews and mechanics and longhairs should rule! And that they should expose the war guilt of ­Imperial Germany! Mencken is right that there was pillage and butchery as a result, but in fact the bloodbath began when Eisner was murdered by a fanatical right-wing officer, and it did not stop until hundreds of Jewish and other “suspect” elements had been lynched by the predecessors of the Brownshirts, and “order” had been restored.

In the course of this sanguinary fer­ment, according to documents unearthed by Professor Kershaw, Hitler found his patrons. A cabal of extreme nationalist and conservative officers in the army hired him as a spy, gave him some walking-around money, and noticed his talent for demagoguery. The leader of this group, Captain Karl Mayr, wrote a year or so later to one of his ­Fascist-minded civilian friends: “I’ve set up very capable young people. A Herr Hitler, for example, has become a motive force, a popular speaker of the first rank.”

‘The drummer,” his windup inventors called him. He was proud of the title. Later, it was the army that bought Hitler his first newspaper, the Völkischer Beo­bachter, on which he was to found a career as the first modern politician to enjoy absolute mastery of the mass media. The brass also gave him arms and uniforms on the side to set up the Brownshirts. Somebody grew him.

You can chuck out your Alan Bullock and Joachim Fest and Hugh Trevor-Roper biographies, in my opinion, and read only one relatively short book: The Meaning of Hitler, by the brave, brilliant former German exile Sebastian Haffner. In one dense paragraph, written in 1978, before the Kershaw disclosures, he guessed correctly that Hitler’s maniacal reaction to the Munich revolution in 1918–19 was the key that unlocked everything. Read it carefully, because it leaves nothing out:

“There must never again be and there will never again be a November 1918 in Germany,” was his first political resolution after a great many political ponderings and speculations. It was the first specific objective the young private politician set himself and incidentally the only one he truly accomplished. There was certainly no November 1918 in the Second World War—neither a timely termination of a lost war nor a revolution. Hitler prevented both.

Let us be clear about what this “never again a November 1918” implied. It implied quite a lot. First of all the determination to make impossible any future revolution in a situation analogous to November 1918. Secondly—since otherwise the first point would be left in the air—the determination to bring about once more a similar situation. And this implied, thirdly, the resumption of the war that was lost or believed to be lost. Fourthly, the war had to be resumed on the basis of a domestic constitution in which there were no potentially revolutionary forces. From here it was not far to the fifth point, the abolition of all Left-wing parties, and indeed why not, while one was about it, of all parties.

Since, however, one could not abolish the people behind the Left-wing parties, the workers, they would have to be politically won over to nationalism, and this implied, sixth, that one had to offer them socialism, or at least a kind of socialism, in fact National Socialism. Seventh, their former faith, Marxism, had to be uprooted and that meant—eighth—the physical annihilation of the Marxist politicians and intellectuals who, fortunately, included quite a lot of Jews so that—ninth, and Hitler’s oldest wish—one could also, at the same time, exterminate all the Jews.

It becomes impossible to overstate the germinal importance of the 1918 collapse. The German army had fought, brilliantly and barbarously, against France, Britain, Russia, and later the United States. It had defeated Russia and, in the purely militarist sense, held the other Allies to a standoff. But it had, without noticing the fact, also ruined and beggared Germany. Either this calamity was the fault of the Imperial leadership (the view of the Marxist left) or it was the work of an “enemy within.” The crazy, intoxicating one-word Nazi slogan for the latter was Dolchstoss, or the “stab in the back.” Such a deluded fantasy required fantasists for its promotion.

The high intelligence of Haffner’s analysis explains both Hitler’s appeal to the lowest common denominator and the appeal of such a type to those who imagined they were using him. Hitler’s inventors and back­­ers, from the obscure Captain Mayr up to Field Marshal von Hindenburg (the dense military man) and Fritz Thyssen (the greedy and cynical tycoon) and Franz von Papen (the Establishment wheeler-dealer), could have been taken as caricatures from some Monopoly board game. They neither wanted nor needed an all-out war with Russia and Britain and America, with a Final Solution thrown in. They desired an insurance policy against Communism. But for that they needed Hitler. And Hitler did need all of the foregoing. But he didn’t let on until it was too late.

Professor Kershaw makes the same point in a different but equally chilling way. After the constitutional coup which brought Hitler to power in January 1933, the unscrupulous conservative von Papen, who had helped broker the deal, exclaimed, “We’ve hired him!” At the same moment, the senile President Hindenburg (right with Ludendorff) received a letter from his old comrade-in-arms Erich Ludendorff, who had led Germany’s armies on the Western Front, had helped originate the myth of the “stab in the back,” and had flirted often with Hitler in right-wing politics in Munich after 1919. “You have delivered up our holy German Fatherland to one of the greatest demagogues of all time,” wrote the ultra-reactionary Ludendorff to his onetime commanding officer. “I solemnly prophesy that this accursed man will cast our Reich into the abyss and bring our nation to inconceivable misery. Future generations will damn you in your grave for what you have done.”

This means that, as early as 1933, a brutish and conceited militarist was more farseeing than, say, Winston Churchill. (Actually, the only person in Europe apart from Ludendorff who saw that there was something entirely new and completely hideous about Hitler was Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, about whom Chur­­chill in his Great Contemporaries was much ruder than about Hitler himself.

Trotsky also realized, unlike Ludendorff, that Hitlerism would be dire not just for the “holy German Fatherland.” As he wrote, at the eleventh hour, “today, not only in peasant homes but also in the city sky-scrapers, there lives alongside the twentieth century the tenth or thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms…. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance and savagery!”)

Between Haffner’s incisive analysis and Kershaw’s meticulous historiography, it may be possible to give reason a small retrospective victory. Chroniclers of Hitlerism have tended to divide between those who stress the “subjective” personality, the man’s ravings and delusions and sexual inversions, and those who emphasize the “objective” conditions, the resentment of millions of Germans at national humiliation and general penury.

Some other scholars have simply pointed out, as if on a blackboard, that Hitler loudly proposed to “cure” the second condition by railing at an “enemy within,” the Jews, and “an enemy without,” the Bolsheviks, with their Jewish characteristics. But that’s only to state the same problem in a different way. Obviously, there would have been nationalistic and anti-Semitic reaction to defeat on the battlefield, to the Communist threat, and to the Treaty of Versailles. W. H. Auden grasped this pathology, with a poet’s insight, in his “September 1, 1939”:

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offense
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god …

So, what did occur at Linz, and in the other scenes of Hitler’s enchanting boyhood? It’s known that he had a brutal father and a doting mother, but as Kershaw carefully shows, there is no serious foundation to the rumors of hidden Jewish ancestry, deformity of the genitals, the incompetence or greed of a Jewish doctor at his mother’s deathbed, or any of the other whispers. His sex life managed to be both meager and distraught, but that just won’t do as a theory. Nor is it possible, on the evidence, to believe that Hitler didn’t really dislike the Jews and simply made a cynical, vote-getting “pitch” to those who did. (A surprising number of scholars have allowed themselves to think this.)

For one thing—this is an observation of my own—Mein Kampf was published as an initially unsuccessful vote-getter in 1925, and at that time social democracy was very strong and popular, and the German Jews were still quite secure. To describe either as the work of Satan was to show what you really thought. (“There is no making pacts with Jews,” he tells us he decided back in 1918 when he had recovered from his nervous collapse. “There can only be the hard either-or. I, however, resolved to become a politician.”)

‘To become a politician.” Hitler got bad grades and spent several years mooch­ing and brooding. He wanted to be an artist, and believed in his own distinctly slender genius as a painter. Aesthetic circles in Vienna boasted a strong Jewish presence, and envious mediocre bums throughout history have blamed their own lack of recognition on exclusion by such sophisticated cabals. Moreover, idle mediocre bums from the lower middle class have always detested trade unions and cosmopolitans in about equal measure.

Young Adolf’s prejudices were completely banal until, having identified his shriveled little self with the Kaiser and the Emperor and the army, he saw all his old foes exploiting the moment of defeat by trying to seize power and mock his values. That—and don’t forget the gas with which he had been hit—drove him over the edge. (When he got power himself—­Führer being the first actual job he had ever held—he at once shut down the unions and then viciously pillaged the galleries of a once civilized nation to hang most of the best modern paintings in Ger­many in a wildly philistine 1937 exhibition­—­­in Munich—­entitled “Degenerate Art.”)

In those and other details, his military and business backers let him have his way. They really had overstated, for “opportunist” reasons, the Jewish and Marxist threat. But they thought they owned a marionette. I did not know until I read Kershaw that the proposal for all German soldiers to take their “oath of unconditional loyalty” to the Führer himself actually came from the High Command. They thought this clever move would detach him from the vulgar Nazi Party and confirm him as their creature. A mistake. Arguably a very big mistake. They helped nationalize the concept of the lowest common denominator.

Yet deep within himself, Haffner argues, Hitler did not trust the German people, or think them worthy of his leadership. With outright military catastrophe threatening in 1944, he ordered the arrest of 5,000 leading German politicians, from minister to mayor (including the highly conservative politician Konrad Adenauer, later to become the first West German chancellor), because he thought they might go soft, and even sue for peace, and perhaps allow another November 1918 defeat. He kept his Final Solution a state secret, to be conducted well away from German soil—a compliment to public opinion in its way—and, at the end, coldly decided that Germany itself should be laid waste as a punishment for its weakness.

But then what is one to say of his overseas “enablers”? Two decades after his Munich “incubation,” Hitler must have giggled with incredulity in the fall of 1938 when the prime minister of Great Britain landed at the Munich airport and asked him if there was anything else, after Austria and the Rhineland, that he especially wanted. Hardly daring to hope, as we now know, Hitler replied in effect that Czechoslovakia would be nice.

My own contribution to the anniversaries of 1919 and 1939, if I may mention it, is a foreword to a splendid book called In Our Time: The Chamberlain-Hitler Collusion, by Professors Clement Leibovitz and Alvin Finkel. This volume establishes conclusively that British prime minister Neville Chamberlain was no duped “appeaser,” with a silly mustache of his own. He had made a cold calculation that Hitler should be re-armed, and be allowed—if not, indeed, encouraged—to expand his Reich. This was partly to keep his marauding hands off the British Empire, and partly to encourage his “tough-minded” solution to the Bolshevik problem in the East.

Chamberlain and his foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, refused even to meet with senior German officers who belatedly implored their help, at the last available moment, in overthrowing the madman. The German people, said these brave men, had been partly duped by Hitler because he had apparently restored full employment and over­turned the unpopular and humiliating Treaty of Versailles, without resorting to war. A credible threat of resistance by Britain would destroy this illusion, and there were several generals ready to move against their former protégé. Go away, said His Majesty’s Government. (This story is also told in The Unnecessary War: Whitehall and the German Resistance to Hitler, by Patricia Meehan.) Hard to read about this, even now. Hard to remember, too, that in civilized France the reactionaries of 1936, appalled at the election of a Dreyfusard socialist Jew as premier, yelled “Better Hitler than Blum.” M. Léon Blum was deported to Buchenwald.

Of the countless blood-freezing facts about Adolf Hitler that several historians have established independently, there is one that keeps me awake more than any other. Not only did he “time” everything in anticipation of his own early death (he had always had morbid fantasies of illness and suicide), but, at different moments, he actually told close associates that this was his explicit motive. We must invade Russia now because I have not much time left to me … The transports to the East must begin because I am becoming frail and must see the task completed … Even some of his most toughened and cretinous underlings went pale when they heard this and suddenly realized its staggering import. This howling nihilist didn’t just need to destroy the Jews. He didn’t care if nobody outlived him. In other words, there was no time at which a stiff political or diplomatic resistance, or an as­sas­sination backed by the High Command, or even the toe of an Austrian construction worker’s cleated boot, might not have made all the difference.

Any of these could have fucked him, and the apocalyptic ­horses he rode in on. He was a homicidal maniac in a hurry, and terribly afraid that he might not make it. Yet respectable circles in Germany, and in Britain and France (and, as we have recently learned from the files of Ford and General Motors, in these United States), decided that he was, on balance, a case of “the lesser evil.” Indeed, that was the only use of the word “evil” that they ever permitted themselves.

(Vanity Fair, February, 1999), republished Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens  [pp. 640-651], New York:Twelve, 2011

Kedah DAP against fatwa status amendment


April 23, 2012

Kedah DAP against fatwa status amendment

www.malaysiakini.com

Kedah DAP is against its coalition partner PAS’ action to pass an amendment to the Mufti and Fatwa (Kedah Darul Aman) Enactment which bars people from questioning fatwa (edicts) in any civil or syariah courts.

kedah defection ceramah 220510 dap adun lee guan aikDuring a press conference yesterday, state party chief Lee Guan Aik (right) said DAP will be the first to protest should the amendment be enforced. According to a report published in Chinese newspaper Sin Chew Daily today, the Kota Darul Aman assemblyperson explained that he did not speak out against the amendment in the state assembly due to lack of opportunity.

However, that does not mean the party supports the amendment, he stressed. Lee pointed out that the amendment will affect the rights of non-Muslims which is against DAP’s struggle for a fair, just and democratic society.

“If the amendment is to empower the religious adviser to solve the Al-Salihiyah surau issue, the state government should reconsider because it will involve bigger problems in the future,” he was quoted as saying.

Earlier, Malays rights NGO PERKASA chief and Pasir Mas MP Ibrahim Ali said the amendment was an attempt to torpedo efforts by the NGO’s lawyers to fight the state acquisition of the Al-Salihiyah surau and its land for development purposes.

Several critics including the vocal former Perlis mufti Dr Asri Zainul Abidin had described the amendment as undemocratic and “kills intellectualism”.Even the Islamic Renaissance Front has greeted the new fatwa ruling with alarm.

However, Kedah Menteri Besar Azizan Abdul Razak has defended the amendment, saying the matter should not be politicised. Lee said he will meet with Azizan to seek a written guarantee that the amendment will not affect non-Muslims.

Incumbent Menteri Besar Kedah is a Reactionary Rube and a Political Albatross


April 23, 2012

Incumbent Menteri Besar Kedah is a Reactionary Rube and a Political Albatross

by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT Kedah Menteri Besar Azizan Abdul Razak’s decline from competent Islamic jurist to reactionary rube has been a sad business.

The Kedah State Assembly’s recent passage of an amendment to an enactment whose effect is to render absolute power to the Mufti and Fatwa Committee detracts from the Sultan’s position as head of the religion in the state.

Besides, the amendment confers autarky status on the State Mufti and Fatwa Committee, something that would be at odds with the philosophy of governance espoused by Pakatan Rakyat.

The measure has drawn a Police report by the Tunku Laksamana Kedah, Tunku Mansor Tunku Kassim, a member of the Royal Council. The move is bound to trigger a crisis because the Sultan of Kedah is revered by his subjects. This controversy is the last thing PAS would want.

NONEWith a general election fast approaching, the contretemps place Azizan’s stewardship of state back where it has been for some years now – in the glare of unwelcome publicity.

PAS must now regret they did not compel Azizan to retire when heart problems briefly laid him low last year; it was said the top leadership pushed for him to resign but backed off when he resisted their importuning.

The leadership had been aware of growing unease with the MB, not only felt by the DAP and PKR complement of the Pakatan Rakyat state government but also by Kedah PAS leaders.

Perhaps the niceties that attend intra-party wrangles in an Islamic party prevented a forceful presentation to the ailing Azizan that he should step aside simply because he was not effective.

The Kelantan Lesson

Anwar Ibrahim was in a more enviable situation when he was faced with the same problem in Penang in 2009 when his pick for the deputy chief minister’s role turned out to be a niggling embarrassment.

However, Fairuz Khairuddin was a nobody plucked from obscurity for the post; Anwar had an easier time easing him out the door. By contrast, Azizan is a senior member of the PAS hierarchy. Telling him to go because he was simply not good was never going to be easy.

The MB was adamant in pressing his claims for retention and the top leadership, with an eye to averting internecine troubles – which could be triggered by an Azizan-led revolt – decided to relent and wait things out.

After all, a general election was rapidly approaching; inviting internecine troubles are not the way to prepare for it.

PAS are mindful of a phase of the history of their administration in their stronghold of Kelantan.
There, in 1977, a schism in PAS led by the incumbent Menteri Besar Mohamed Nasir enabled Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah to plot the ouster of PAS from the reins of government and to inaugurate an UMNO ascendancy that lasted until 1990 when current MB Nik Aziz Nik Mat reasserted the PAS domination.

With that important – and lesson-teaching – phase of their history in Kelantan as background, the top leadership of PAS treaded gingerly when approaching the festering leadership issues in Kedah.

Also, the fact that a general election was in the offing compelled them to tiptoe. Unfortunately, long-germinating leadership issues do not obey the discretion demanded by election year schedules.

These can spurt and twist at awkward moments, leaving proponents of timely, but withheld, action regretting their procrastination.

PAS will need to bite the bullet

Earlier this year, two PAS members of the Kedah State Executive Council announced they would decline reappointment to the council (appointments in Kedah are done on an annual basis).

That was the cue the discontent with Azizan had arrived at a critical mass. DAP and PKR leaders muttering against the maladroit Azizan is one thing: the grumbles can be dismissed as a function of people who do not understand the Islamic style of administration.

However, the frustrations of PAS State Exco members against the MB, as demonstrated in two compatriots’ refusal to be reappointed to the Exco, is a more serious matter.

But if the top leadership of PAS found itself in a bind last year when they attempted to force Azizan’s departure, using his illness as pretext, they were in greater difficulty this time round, what with the general election imminent and the chances of BN regaining the state and PAS retaining it said to be evenly poised.

Azizan again won out in the contest of wills between him and the top leadership in PAS which decamped to Alor Star to work out a compromise. If one felt that the crisis caused by two PAS State Exco members declining reappointment should have induced Azizan to henceforth proceed with caution, he has now suggested it had the opposite effect.

Passage of the amendment to the enactment making the State Mufti and Fatwa Committee an absolutist body is something that is simply not done.

PAS would have to bite the bullet and rid their Kedah leadership of someone who is plainly an albatross. If there is a silver lining in this cloud, it is that there is no mystique that clings to an ulama when it comes to the question of suitability for political leadership.

Author-Reseacher Barry Wain sees Najib as a “Selective Reformer”


April 23, 2012

Author-Researcher, Barry Wain sees Najib as a “Selective Reformer”

by Nigel Aw (04-21-12)@http://www.malaysiakini.com

Barry Wain, who in 2010 raised red flags at the Home Ministry with his book ‘Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times’, has described Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak reformer image as a selective one.

The journalist and author, while acknowledging that the current premier had given more substance to his reform agenda compared with his predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, he had only instituted changes where the government’s position was not endangered, he said.

“Recognising his personal and political limits, Najib has become what I call a tactical or selective reformer, a less charitable description might be an opportunistic reformer,” said the Australian, who has lived in Asia for nearly 40 years.

“Skirting some of the areas most in need of reform, he is hoping he can make enough changes around the edges of certain policies, package them attractively and sell them to Malaysia to arrest UMNO’s slide,” Wain told some 30 members of the Foreign Correspondence Club Malaysia (FCCM) at a talk in Kuala Lumpur last night.

‘UMNO Insider no natural reformer’

Despite the recent flurry of legislative reforms, it appeared evident that no attempt has been made to arrest institutional degradation of the police force and judiciary, said Wain, now attached to Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

Among examples he cited was the lack of accountability in the death of Teoh Beng Hock, the conviction of two Police officers without known motive for the murder of Mongolia Altantuya Sharibuu and Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim’s second sodomy trial.

NONE“No serious analyst in Malaysia or abroad would believe that Anwar’s prosecution and trial was free of political influence,” said the keen observer of Malaysian politics.

The Premier, Wain (left) added, had not signaled intention to reform the internal mechanics of UMNO where corruption was most endemic and his proposed reforms to political financing were likely to circumvent money politics within UMNO.

“Should Najib attempt to seriously curb the flow of patronage within the ruling party, he would probably follow Abdullah out the door,” he said.

Before the Najib’s reform push to soften the government’s image, his involvement in the the Perak coup had not not helped his reputation as a natural reformist, he added.

“Throughout Najib’s career, he has been cautious and pragmatic, he has never questioned Malaysia’s ethnic-based political system nor has he proposed significant innovation, not even during his direct ministerial responsibilities.

“It is difficult to define what he stands for… Najib is not only part of the system, one of his closest associates said, he trusts the system, he is the system,” said Wain.

NONEOn the economic reform front, he said, there also appeared to be an absent of genuine change.

“I remember the first time he announced the New Economic Model and said we’ll have a world-class education system, you know education in Malaysia is a mess, if you got the right policies it would probably take years if not generations to bring about change.

“Yes, he articulates it, it’s true we need a world-class education system but there is no follow-up action, sometimes it’s just like once he has said it he pretends it is done.

“With any politicians, one must watch what they do and not just what they say, and this is more true with Najib as there is a big gap between what he says and what they have”, he added.

UMNO’s salvation, losing power

Wain added that he had spoken to people who Najib had consulted at the World Bank and they were convinced that the premier was capable of understanding the nation’s problems. “But he is not instinctively bold or audacious nor does he have strong support from the party to make those reforms,” he said.

perodua tea time with mahathir function 271011 05The truly outstanding leaders such as former Deputy Prime Ministers Musa Hitam and Anwar Ibrahim, and former Finance Minister Tengku Razaliegh Hamzah, Wain said, had long been ousted by former Premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad (left) during his 22-year reign.

“Mahathir failed to provide future leadership for Malaysia… his long tenure also blocked the ascendency of others with leadership potential.

“The most capable people Mahathir got rid of and the people who are left are simply just second or third rung,” he said.UMNO in its current form, he added, was unable to reform while it remained in the cusp of power.

NONE“I don’t believe UMNO will reform itself, I think the best way for UMNO is to be defeated and become the Opposition and then go and do some serious reform and find new leadership.”

Mahathir, Wain said, completed UMNO’s transition from a humble self-sacrificing party of peasants and schoolteachers to a party of self-serving corporate chieftain and dealmakers.

Even after the longest serving premier handed over power, his legacy lingered on as he had engineered both Abdullah and Najib’s premierships. “The country has been run for more than eight years by fairly weak men put there by Mahathir,” he said.

Brazil: Legal Change is not central to Financial Development


April 23, 2012

Project Syndicate: Brazil and Development (April 17, 2012)

Brazil: Legal Change is not central to Financial Development

by Mark Roe and Joao Paulo Vasconcellos

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s visit last week to Washington, DC, offers an occasion to consider how some once-poor countries have broken out of poverty, as Brazil has. Development institutions like the World Bank have advocated improving business law as being essential to success. Are they right?

Such thinking goes back at least as far as Max Weber’s argument that an effective business environment requires a legal structure as predictable as a clock.

Investors, it is thought, need clear rules and effective courts. Security of contract and strong mechanisms that protect investors are, in this view, foundational for finance, which in turn fuels economic growth. If a potential financier is unsure of being repaid, he or she will not invest, firms will not grow, and economic development will stall. Rules and institutions come first; real economic development follows.

But, compelling as this logic seems, Brazil’s rise does not confirm it: financial and economic growth was not preceded by – or even accompanied by – fundamental improvements in courts and contracts.

Growth is unmistakable: Brazil’s financial markets have expanded robustly, with stock-market capitalization rising from 35% of GDP in 2000 to 74% in 2010. In the eight years prior to 2004, only six companies went public; in the eight years since, 138 have. Last year, Brazil overtook the United Kingdom – often seen as an exemplar of contractual security – as the world’s sixth-largest economy.

And yet legal change was not central in Brazil’s success. Brazilian courts were reputed in 2000 to handle investors’ lawsuits slowly and poorly, and they are reputed to handle them slowly and poorly today. Even basic elements of business organization – like limiting public shareholders’ obligation for corporate debts – are said by Brazilian legal experts, such as Bruno Salama, to remain an open question, with all shareholders potentially exposed, especially in labor and tax lawsuits.

If courts are not protecting investors, is something else? New, important stock-exchange rules have strengthened outside investors’ confidence, though only for new companies. For legal scholars, most prominently Columbia University’s John Coffee, stock exchanges have historically been the first step toward protecting investors. An analysis by Ronald Gilson, Henry Hansmann, and Mariana Pargendler of Brazil’s Novo Mercado – the stock exchange’s special voluntary listing segment, which provides strong protections for investors in newly listed companies – supports this view.

But stock exchanges have limits, particularly in Brazil. In the absence of reliable courts, they cannot sue to enforce their rules. Their only recourse is to push recalcitrant firms off the exchange.

The Novo Mercado dealt with this problem by subjecting disputes involving its newly-listed companies to arbitration. Commercial arbitration – and courts’ obligations to enforce the arbitrators’ decisions – can assure investors, even if the courts generally do not.

But arbitration – which has yet to be deeply tested for resolving disputes on the Novo Mercado – does not seem to be the linchpin of Brazil’s recent success. After all, its institutional innovations apply only to the new Novo Mercado-listed companies, and not to the bulk of the Brazilian economy’s big firms, which are listed on the stock exchange’s main segment, and thus remain stuck with the old rules, old institutions, and an ineffective court system.

Two other key changes, one obvious and one surprising, were more essential to Brazil’s financial development.

The obvious change is that economic-growth opportunities mushroomed, owing to greater monetary stability, disinflation, and natural-resource wealth. Better macroeconomic policy led to faster GDP growth, which required financing and motivated some insiders to forego pernicious maneuvering that would scare away new outside investors.

Growth plausibly drove financial development as much as, or more than, institutional development did. While public and private enforcement will need to improve if Brazil’s economy is to move to the next level, dramatic legal improvement has not underpinned Brazil’s overall financial development so far.

The second change is both less obvious and more important: the political stability that came with the election in 2002 of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The surprise here is that Lula, a former labor leader who had been on the far left, was widely opposed, if not despised, in business and financial circles. How, then, did his victory help to fuel the financial growth of the subsequent decade?

Despite his past, Lula promised not to disrupt Brazilian corporate capitalism, running with a market-oriented vice president. Why he did so is difficult to determine: quite plausibly, some combination of Lula’s realism, his reaction to stock-market declines attributed to his chances of being elected, and campaign donations was at work.

Once elected, Lula governed from the pragmatic left, continuing the prior administration’s core policies. True, Brazil still has a “hard” left, and some in Lula’s own party are comfortable with, say, Cuba’s Castro brothers and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. But a consensus had emerged in Brazil that a left party could neither win nor govern with hard-left ideas, and Lula’s presidency did not challenge this view.

The consensus may have reflected the success of Lula’s predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, the relative success of privatization and liberal market economies around the world, and the growth of Brazil’s middle class. Whatever the case, for key leaders of the Brazilian left, including Rousseff, capitalism became part of the solution, not the fundamental problem.

Investors take all kinds of risks. The biggest are not always the legal ones on which the World Bank and development agencies have focused; rather, they are the business risks of a company that fails or a polity that implodes. If business conditions are auspicious and there is a strong consensus in favor of liberal capitalism as the polity’s core economic principle, financial markets can develop and reluctantly absorb risks stemming from the legal system’s defects. Institutional improvements help, but they can come later.

The West must work to understand a New World Order


April 23, 2012

The West must work to understand a New World Order

by Kishore Mahbubani*

As the world becomes inexorably smaller, denser, more interconnected and more complex, the biggest danger the world faces is western groupthink, which fails to spot the thousands of nuances that are vital to interpret international affairs. Crisis after crisis would be avoided if the west could learn to understand these nuances better.

Take, for example, the crisis the west worries about most: Iran. The western narrative is clear: the Israeli government may have no choice but to bomb Iran this year, as time is running out to prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb. Yes, time is running out for the Israeli government. But the immediate threat in the minds of the Israeli government is not the Iranian bomb. It is the fear of Barack Obama’s re-election. As Mr Obama whispered to Demetri Medvedev, he will have more freedom to launch bold initiatives in his second term. And this is the Israeli government’s nightmare: that Obama will push for a two-state solution (even though, incidentally, it would be in Israel’s long-term interests).

Yet western groupthink suggests that the west is honest and straightforward while Iran, as usual, has been lying and mendacious. In fact, the record is less clearcut. For reasons still unknown, the US government walked away from a deal it asked Brazil and Turkey to offer to Iran, which Iran had accepted. This is why Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the UN nuclear watchdog, asked: “Can the West take yes for an answer?” Equally importantly, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s strongman supreme leader, said: “the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin.” This is as strong a message as Iran’s leader can convey to the Iranian people. If Iran is bombed after denouncing nuclear weapons, it will produce a century or more of anger towards the west, just as the Anglo-American coup against Muhammad Mossadegh in 1953 produced half a century of distrust. In short, any bombing of Iran would be an unmitigated disaster for the west.

Now let’s take another crisis: North Korea. Yes, it was foolish and unnecessary for impoverished North Korea to launch a rocket. But did the North Korean regime have any agenda besides developing the capability to reach America with a ballistic missile? Was it pure coincidence that it was launched on the 100th anniversary of the birthday of Kim Il-Sung, the regime’s founder? Was regime legitimisation an equally important goal? And wait – something even more amazing happened in North Korea. Immediately after the rocket failed, the North Korean government admitted failure.

Holy cow – the North Korean government admitted it was fallible. This is truly a big deal. North Korea has taken a huge leap towards becoming a “normal” country. Did anyone in the west notice this nuance? Alas, no one. The US government once again imposed more sanctions. Does isolating an isolated country really work?

To answer this question, let us look at a third country that is slowly but steadily walking away from a crisis: Myanmar. Here too, the dominant western narrative is clear: western sanctions finally forced open Myanmar. Sadly, the dominant western narrative is wrong. Western sanctions did not work. ASEAN engagement with Myanmar did. The regional organisation forced Myanmar’s officials and leaders to attend thousands of meetings in ASEAN countries. These travels opened their eyes to how far Myanmar was falling behind: they realised it had to become a more “normal” country.

Malaysia’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak, was right in saying “that ASEAN has been instrumental in driving both economic growth and political development, and that there can be no clearer example than its relations with Myanmar. For many decades, Myanmar was on the receiving end of very public diplomatic scoldings, often backed up by sanctions… But ASEAN members took a more nuanced view, believing that constructive engagement and encouragement were just as effective, if not more, than sanctions and isolation in creating positive change.”

As usual, western media largely ignored this reality and gave all the credit to Hillary Clinton and David Cameron. A self-serving western narrative just cannot understand the complex new world that is emerging – and progressing, while the west languishes. Yet the era of western dominance is gone. Can the west begin to understand the new and more complex world order unfolding before our eyes day by day?

*Kishore Mahbubani is Dean and Professor in the Practice of Public Policy of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. He previously served for 33 years in Singapore’s diplomatic service and is recognised as an expert on Asian and world affairs.

Gaddis Reviews ‘Ike Eisenhower’


April 22,2012

NY TIMES SUNDAY BOOK REVIEW

Gaddis’ Review of ‘Ike Eisenhower’

He Made It Look Easy
‘Eisenhower in War and Peace,’ by Jean Edward Smith

by John Lewis Gaddis (04-20-12)

Dwight D. Eisenhower’s memoirs came out while I was in graduate school in the 1960s, and one of my professors commented — not entirely facetiously — that he’d been surprised to see print on the pages. My fellow students and I were being taught that despite Eisenhower’s victories in World War II, the presidency had been beyond his capabilities.

Like Ulysses S. Grant, the last general to make it to the White House, Ike won elections easily, but did not rise to the responsibilities these thrust upon him. Jean Edward Smith challenged that argument about Grant in a well-received biography published a decade ago: Grant had been a better president than contemporaries or previous biographers realized, Smith maintained.

In “Eisenhower in War and Peace,” Smith (right), who is now a senior scholar at Columbia after many years at the University of Toronto and Marshall University, makes a more startling claim. Apart from Franklin D. Roosevelt (whose biography Smith has also written), Ike was “the most successful president of the 20th century.”

Historians long ago abandoned the view that Eisenhower’s was a failed presidency. He did, after all, end the Korean War without getting into any others. He stabilized, and did not escalate, the Soviet-American rivalry. He strengthened European alliances while withdrawing support from European colonialism. He rescued the Republican Party from isolationism and McCarthyism. He maintained prosperity, balanced the budget, promoted technological innovation, facilitated (if reluctantly) the civil rights movement and warned, in the most memorable farewell address since Washington’s, of a “military-industrial complex” that could endanger the nation’s liberties. Not until Reagan would another president leave office with so strong a sense of having accomplished what he set out to do.

But does Eisenhower merit a place in the pantheon just behind Franklin Roosevelt? Smith’s case would be stronger if he had specified standards for presidential success. What allowances should one make for unexpected incumbencies, like those of the first Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman, Johnson and Ford? Or for holding office in wartime? Or for “black swan” events — economic crashes, natural disasters, protest movements, self-inflicted scandals, terrorist attacks? What’s the proper balance between planning and improvisation, between being a hedgehog, in Isaiah Berlin’s famous distinction, and being a fox?

Smith doesn’t say. But he does carefully trace Eisenhower’s preparation for the presidency, and that’s what this biography is really about. (Only a quarter of the book is devoted to the White House years and beyond.) From it, Eisenhower’s own views on success in leadership emerge reasonably clearly. To reduce them to the length of a tweet — an exercise my students recommend, and which Ike might well have approved — they amount to achieving one’s ends without corrupting them.

Ends, Eisenhower knew, are potentially infinite. Means can never be. Therefore the task of leaders — whether in the presidency or anywhere else — is to reconcile that contradiction: to deploy means in such a way as to avoid doing too little, which risks defeat, but also too much, which risks exhaustion. Failure can come either way.

Exhaustion was the problem in World War I, in which the costs on all sides allowed no decisive outcome. As a young (and disappointed) Army captain, Eisenhower was kept stateside during the hostilities, training troops in the use of the recently invented tank. After peace returned, he and his fellow officers assumed there would be another war, but they had to plan for it under conditions wholly different from the profligacy with which the last one had been fought. With cuts in military spending that left ranks reduced, Eisenhower’s generation took limited means as their default position.

Doing as much as possible with as little as possible required setting priorities, so Eisenhower made himself an expert, during the 1920s and 1930s, on the theory and practice of limited means.

The theory came from the 19th-century Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz, whose difficult classic, “On War,” Eisenhower mastered, as almost no one else in the Army at the time did. The practice came from serving on staffs: of Fox Conner in Panama, who introduced him to Clausewitz; of John J. Pershing in Paris, who had him map World War I battle sites; of Douglas MacArthur in Washington and the Philippines, from whom Eisenhower learned the pitfalls of arrogance in command; and, in the final years of peace, of the indispensable George C. Marshall, who catapulted Eisenhower above hundreds of more senior officers to make him, after Pearl Harbor, the Army’s chief planner.

Eisenhower’s skills were not those required to command armies on battlefields: in this respect, he lacked the talents of his World War II contemporaries Bradley, Patton and Montgomery. But in his ability to weigh costs against benefits, to delegate authority, to communicate clearly, to cooperate with allies, to maintain morale and especially to see how all the parts of a picture related to the whole (it was not just for fun that he later took up painting), Eisenhower’s preparation for leadership proved invaluable. Lincoln went through many generals before he found Grant, Smith reminds us. Roosevelt found in Eisenhower, with Marshall’s help, the only general he needed to run the European war.

There were setbacks, to be sure: the North African and Italian campaigns, the Battle of the Bulge after the triumph of D-Day. But because Eisenhower showed himself to have learned from these crises, Roosevelt and Marshall never lost confidence in him.

At the same time, Ike was perfecting the art of leading while leaving no trace — the “hidden hand” for which he would be known while in the White House.

The best wartime example, Smith suggests, was the way he gave his subtle support to Charles de Gaulle as the leader of the Free French, which left Roosevelt — no fan of le grand Charles — with a fait accompli. Eisenhower was getting to be good at politics as well as war.

Politics beckoned, after his victories, as it did with Grant before him, but the situations they inherited upon becoming president could hardly have been more different. Facing no credible external enemy, the United States in 1869 was as inward looking as it ever had been or would be. But by 1953, its interests were global and threats seemed to be too. Grant, in the aftermath of the Civil War, struggled to maintain any weapons more lethal than those required to fight American Indians. Eisenhower controlled weaponry that, if used without restraint, could have ended life on the planet.

Success in his mind, then, required not just avoiding the corruption of ends by means, but also their annihilation. How could the United States wage a war that might last for decades without turning itself into an authoritarian state, without exhausting itself in limited conflicts on terrain chosen by adversaries, without risking a new world war that could destroy all its participants? And how, throughout all of this, could the country retain a culture in which its traditional values — even the bland and boring ones — could flourish?

Eisenhower’s greatest accomplishment may well have been to make his presidency look bland and boring: in this sense, he was very different from the flamboyant Roosevelt, and that’s why historians at first underestimated him. Jean Edward Smith is among the many who no longer do. The greatest virtue of his biography is to show how well Eisenhower’s military training prepared him for this task: like Grant, he made what he did seem easy. It never was, though, and Smith stresses the toll it took on Eisenhower’s health, on his marriage and ultimately in the loneliness he could never escape. Perhaps Ike earned his place in the pantheon after all.

John Lewis Gaddis teaches history and grand strategy at Yale. His latest book is “George F. Kennan: An American Life.”

A version of this review appeared in print on April 22, 2012, on page BR14 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: He Made It Look Easy.

Malaysia’s Baghdad Bob in the Election Commission


April 22, 2012

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Election Commission’s Absurd Aziz is Malaysia’s Baghdad Bob

COMMENT by Terence Netto:  The timing could not have been worse.Just when the Election Commission chairperson pronounced the electoral register the cleanest in the world, video footage surfaces as proof of the claim the rolls are sullied.

In his constant avowals that the electoral register is as clean as a hound’s tooth in the face of recurrent evidence of its contamination, EC Chief Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof is getting to resemble ‘Baghdad Bob’.

Followers of CNN’s coverage of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq will remember ‘Baghdad Bob’, the Iraqi Information Minister who cut a pathetic figure in his daily press briefings that insisted the American advance on his country’s capital was a fairy tale.

If the performances of Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, dubbed ‘Baghdad Bob’ by the press, were something out of absurdist theatre, what to make of Abdul Aziz’s insistence the past year, as sundry signs emerged to the contrary, that the electoral rolls for the 13th general election in Malaysia are above board?

‘Absurd Aziz’ may not be as phonetically pleasing a moniker as ‘Baghdad Bob’ but the EC chair’s chutzpah would justify the epithet if he, after viewing the latest video of attempted gerrymandering of the rolls in Malacca, continues to maintain that the EC is an impartial actor in the drama of Malaysia’s 13th general election.

Over the past year, Abdul Aziz and his EC cohort have retailed, with steadily diminishing credence, one explanation after another to deflect doubts sowed by polls reform pressure group BERSIH on the authenticity of the electoral rolls.

Thus far, the evidentiary record purporting to show irregularities in the rolls has not had a “smoking gun” which could turn the clash between BERSIH claim and EC counter-explanation decisively in favour of the former.

This lack seems now to have been furnished by the latest video that purports to show UMNO politicians, Election Commission and National Registration Department officials in flagrante delicto. This must give the EC chief pause.

Neutral cover blown to shreds

Certainly, it should force him to rethink his stated stand that if Selangor does not dissolve its legislature concurrently with the federal parliament’s dissolution, the same rolls that will be used in the polls for parliamentary seats in the state would be employed in the delayed election to its state assembly.

If the video that has surfaced about shady goings-on in the preparation of the rolls in Malacca withstands the doubts that will inevitably be cast on its authenticity, further obduracy on Abdul Aziz’s part would justify the BERSIH stand that the man has to go before a general election can be held.

Aziz’s impartiality was in doubt in the lead-up to the Bersih-organised demonstration of last July when the EC and the police held a briefing for religious representatives and other NGOs that was arranged by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon.

Under a barrage of questions from civil society representatives present, Aziz drew flak for being more solicitous about the inquiries of Koh than he was of the queries of the NGO leaders.

The meeting was convened to dispel the latter’s qualms about the EC’s impartiality but the chairman’s deportment did not inspire confidence.

In the telling of some of his inquisitors that day, Aziz was less the neutral party attempting to clear doubts about the integrity of the process the body he heads supervises than an adjunct of the government that Koh represented.

NONEHis supposedly neutral cover would be blown to shreds if after the appearance of the video seemingly depicting an attempt at electoral fraud in Malacca involving political flunkeys, EC officials and civil servants, he again insists on the EC’s impartial bona fides.

In the circumstances, it’s not much use to argue that the EC chief should be above suspicion, like Caesar’s wife, but Abdul Aziz would flirt with the preposterous if after viewing the video he continues to maintain that our rolls are the cleanest on the planet.

Gov’t briefing on Bersih threat comes unstuck
READ

Police Report Lodged Against Amendment to Kedah Mufti and Fatwa Committee Enactment 2008


April 22, 2012

Police Report Lodged Against Amendment to Kedah Mufti and Fatwa Committee Enactment 2008

by Bernama

The Tunku Laksamana Kedah, Tunku Mansor Tunku Kassim, today lodged a police report over the Kedah State Legislative Assembly’s amending of an enactment to give absolute power to the state mufti and fatwa committee.

“I am making this report because I fear the enactment will usurp the powers of the Sultan of Kedah, who is the head of Islam in the state,” he told reporters after lodging the report at the Alor Setar police headquarters at 9.30am in Alor Setar today.

The state assembly recently amended Section 22A of the Kedah Mufti and Fatwa Committee Enactment 2008 to give the Mufti and Fatwa Committee unlimited powers.

Following the amendment, all decisions by the Mufti and the Fatwa Committee need not be gazetted and cannot be challenged in any court, whether Syariah or Civil.

Meanwhile, Save the Madrasah Salihiah Kanchut movement chairman Mansor Ahmad denied a statement by Kedah Menteri Besar Azizan Abdul Razak recently that they had withdrawn their court action to save the surau which was built in 1909.

“We only withdrew our original application for an injunction to prevent the surau from being demolished but replaced it with a new one,” he said, adding that the Alor Setar High Court had given them permission to do so and that they had hired a lawyer to fight the case.

- Bernama

Malaysia’s muddled experience with Islamic Law


April 22, 2012

Malaysia’s Muddled Experience with Islamic Law

Guest Writer: Rusman

We all know that Malaysia has become more and more ‘Islamic’ over the last 20 years. By ‘Islamic’ we mean not that people have become more inclined towards personal piety, to strive for establishing justice and mercy on the Earth, etc. Rather we are referring to the external dimension of Islam whereby you see institutionalized religion crystallized in the form of an official bureaucracy that seeks to legitimize itself by exerting social, cultural and political influence on  Malaysia.

There are various reasons for this. Certainly there has been a global resurgence of Islamic identity brought on in different countries for different reasons as a response to modernity, secularism, crass consumerism, colonialism and neocolonialism, export of Saudi ideology funded by Saudi petrodollars. I could go on.

In Malaysia some of these factors are also relevant. But we can also attribute the increase to a concerted effort by the government and ruling party to create and strengthen a series of administrative institutions designed in part to flex Malaysia’s muscles as a modern but very Islamic country. And behind these ostensibly unbiased public policy decisions was certainly some political motives driven by the competition between UMNO and PAS to attract the conservative Malay Muslim voter by being seen as the true defender of the faith.

As of late the rhetoric around Malaysia’s so-called Muslim identity has reached the level of the irrationality. Over the last few years we have seen rulings such as the banning of yoga, the banning of non-Muslims using the word Allah, the enlistment of neighborhood Imams as virtual religious police with the power to arrest. In Kedah, a state governed by PAS under the banner of Pakatan Rakyat, the ruling which makes Islamic fatwas unchallengeable in the court of law is yet another example of the gradual encroachment of Islamic law into the space of Malaysia’s secular legal system.

As an outside observer of Malaysian politics its downright confusing. Where does religious authority lie in Malaysia? With the federal government and its many agencies and bureaus of religion? With the sultan? With the state governments? With imams? What are the legal implications of a fatwa in Malaysia?

Tamir Moustafa, Associate Professor at Simon Fraser University in Canada has a forthcoming article in Law and Social Inquiry entitled “Islamic Law, Women’s Rights and Popular Legal Consciousness in Malaysia. [Tamir Moustafa: Islamic Law in Malaysia]

His article raises some valuable insights about the history and development of Islamic law in Malaysia to better understand some of the questions I raise above. Moustafa’s objective is to understand if there is a disconnect between “fundamental conceptual principles in Islamic legal theory and how those concepts are understood  among lay Muslims in Malaysia.”

It is important to appreciate the theoretical framework of Moustafa’s argument- which is to differentiate between sharia and fiqh. Sharia is the Divine Law as revealed by God. Fiqh is the man made laws and regulations based on authoritative sources of Divine Law: 1) the Quran 2) traditions of the Prophet Muhammed 3) qiyas (analogical reasoning) and 4) ijma’ (scholarly consensus). [In actual fact the methodology is more complex that this and takes into account much more including local custom among other things; however for the purposes of this blog we'll keep things simple].

Moustafa aims to find out how well do Malaysian Muslims understand the difference between the Sharia and the laws that they follow in Malaysia which are said to be Sharia, but which are in actual fact fiqh, by definition, because, as he demonstrates, they are neither based on any direct precedent from the Quran or the Sunnah.

Citing William Roff’s 1967 The Origins of Malay Nationalism

A direct effect of colonial rule was thus to encourage the concentration of doctrinal and administrative religious authority in the hands of a hierarchy of officials directly dependent on the sultans for their position and power. . . . By the second decade of the twentieth century Malaysia was equipped with extensive machinery for governing Islam. (pg 72-73)

Moustafa explains that in the span of less than 100 years there emerged in Malaysia a massive religious bureaucracy intended to centralize control of the the religious life of Malaysia (as opposed to leaving it decentralized and autonomous).

Furthermore what is truly shocking about this institutionalization and codification of the laws governing the Islamic religion is that the Shari‘a Criminal Procedure Act (1997) and the Shari‘a Civil Procedure Act (1997) borrow extensively from the framework of the civil courts in Malaysia. Moustafa says that “[t]he drafting committee literally copied the codes of procedure wholesale, making only minor changes where needed.”

Citing Abdul Hamid Mohamed, former Chief Justice of the Federal Court, who was on the drafting committee for various federal and state shari’a procedures acts in the 1980s and 1990s:

We decided to take the existing laws that were currently in use in the common law courts as the basis to work on, remove or substitute the objectionable parts, add whatever needed to be added, make them Shari‘ah-compliance [sic] and have them enacted as laws. In fact, the process and that “methodology,” if it can be so called, continue until today.

The provisions of the Shari‘ah criminal and civil procedure enactments/act are, to a large extent, the same as those used in the common law courts. A graduate in law from any common law country reading the “Shari‘ah” law of procedure in Malaysia would find that he already knows at least 80% of them . . . a common law lawyer reading them for the first time will find that he is reading something familiar, section by section, even word for word. Yet they are “Islamic law.” (Mohamed 2008, 1–2, 10)27

Moustafa adds that Abdul Hamid Mohamed himself, as well as most other legal personnel involved in the codification of Islamic legal procedures in Malaysia DO NOT have any formal education in Islamic jurisprudence. Let me repeat. The laws that govern Islam in Malaysia were codified by many people who have no formal training in Islamic Jurisprudence.

I’m starting to understand one of the reasons why the issue of authority and Islamic law in Malaysia is so confusing. It’s because the people who set up the system in the first place were themselves likely confused and had no real idea what they were during from the standpoint of Islamic jurisprudence. Whether intentionally or unknowingly, their lack of familiarity with the topics they were confronting was one reason why Islamic legal theory was subverted or ignored even though these individuals probably felt they were working for the sake of Islam.

 Moustafa’s conclusion is:

The religious councils, the shari‘a courts, and the entire administrative apparatus are “Islamic” in name, but in function they bear little resemblance to anything that existed before the British arrived. A deep paradox is therefore at play: the legitimacy of the religious administration rests on the emotive power of Islamic symbolism, but its principal mode of organization and operation is fundamentally rooted in the Weberian state  [i.e that state that wishes to have a monopoly of [violent] control over its people].

We’ll review the results of the survey Moustafa conducted in Malaysia on a later post. For now I think it’s worthwhile to discuss what these facts mean for Islam and Muslims in Malaysia.

Politics aside (and politics play an important role no doubt), when Malaysians grapple with the trials and tribulations of how to be a good, practicing Muslim in the modern world, they are not only confronting a formidable adversary in the prevailing materialistic, secular, consumer-driven culture of consumption and instant gratification that is encroaching on every open society.

In addition they have to confront incredibly aggressive and, one might argue, ill-conceived bureaucracy of Islamic affairs that exists throughout Malaysia. Given that many of the laws enshrined in this bureaucracy are not even remotely based on derivations from traditional Islamic sources but are more likely vestiges of British colonial law “adapted” to an Islamic language, what kind of Islam are Malaysians supposed to be following? Furthermore if the people entrusted with the controls of these organizations are themselves ill qualified to carry out their tasks, then where are Malaysian Muslims to turn and what recourse do they have when the system (inevitably) fails to operate in a just and truly Islamic manner?

This Time it is JAZZ for Your Weekend


April 21, 2012

Your Weekend Entertainment: This Time it is JAZZ

Friends,

It has been quite a while that Dr. Kamsiah and I brought jazz to you for your weekend entertainment. So we thought we play this uniquely American bandstand music for this weekend, and  we hope you will enjoy listening to some of the finest exponents of jazz.

We start off with the great trumpeter, Miles Davies whose Kind of Blue and Someday My Prince will come are fabulous jazz classics. He is accompanied by some of the greatest jazz exponents. Chet Baker  is next with his rendition of Dr. Kamsiah’s favorite song, Autumn Leaves and the popular  I get along very well without You. Chick Corea follows with his popular rendition of Spain and  Return to Forever. Not to be missed, Dave Brubeck Quartet returns with Take Five, La Paloma Azul, and Bossa Nova USA.

Have a great Sunday and be ready for Monday when we will again get down to the business of dealing with the issues in Malaysia and other parts of the world.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican

Miles Davies–Kind of Blue


Someday My Prince Will Come

Chet Baker-Autumn Leaves

I get along very well without You

Chick Corea–Spain

Return to Forever

Dave Brubeck Quartet-Take Five

La Paloma Azul

Bossa Nova USA