A Tyranny of Ideas

September 30, 2014

ZaidgeistA Tyranny of Ideas

by Zaid Ibrahim@www.zaid.my


Najib in New York 2014PM Najib at UNGA, New York

Last Friday, our Prime Minister spoke at the United Nations General Assembly about the urgent need to combat the extremist ideas pervading the Islamic world. Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said it is not enough just to bomb the Islamic State’s bases in Iraq and Syria—it is equally important to confront the ideas that give rise to such extremism. Like all Muslim leaders speaking on an international platform, Najib said Islam is a religion of peace that is based on the Quran and the Sunnah, and that finding the right ideas about Islam is essential.

Once again US President Barack Obama sang his praises, but the challenge of rising above rhetoric is as great as ever. Those advocating Islamic systems of governance like the Caliphate in the Middle East, which has been described as “extremist”, read the same Quran and follow the same Sunnah as our Prime Minister; as JAKIM and the ulamak in Malaysia; and as the mullahs in Pakistan and Yemen. Despite sharing the same source, they have managed to come up with very different ideas about what Islam is and what it means to be a Muslim.

If our Prime Minister genuinely wants to see the growth of new and peaceful ideas about Islam, then he must be willing to let the religion and its institutions become a subject of constructive discourse and critical analysis by its adherents. If Malaysia wants to protect itself from extremism, he must allow for different interpretations of the faith and reasoning to flourish in the country.

He must put a stop to what is happening now, which is allowing the ulamaks to unilaterally define what Islam is, what is permissible under the faith and what is not. In fact, based on the fact that we allow Islam to be defined solely by those in power, Malaysia is no different from the IS in the Middle East.

For example, anyone in Malaysia who takes their cue from the Quran’s Surah Al-Baqarah (which says there is no compulsion in religion) and declares that mankind is allowed freedom of religion can be charged for insulting Islam. They can also face an apostasy charge and will probably end up in jail. On a matter such as this, where there is explicit support in the Quran, such a viewpoint should be allowed to be discussed freely.

Malaysia, the so-called cradle of peaceful Islam, must remove all laws that inhibit thinking and reasoning. How will we be able to establish Islam as a religion of peace if we are fearful of other ideas and resort to tyranny of thought instead? Where can we hope to end up if we will only subscribe to thinking that has been sanctioned by the state? Malaysia must not be a country that is run by tyrants in Brioni suits. This makes our leaders no different from IS leaders, except for their choice of wardrobe. But is our Prime Minister ready for such a transformation?

Kassim AhmadLook at what is happening to writer and Islamic scholar Kassim Ahmad (pic left). All he ever said was that the primary source of Islam is the Quran, so there is no need to look to other sources when the subject is covered in the Quran and is clear and incontrovertible. The ulamaks of Malaysia, of course, do not share this view, and because of this Kassim has been charged in the Wilayah Shariah Court.

I urge our Prime Minister to speak to the ulamaks and all relevant religious authorities involved in the administration of Islamic matters in the country, and give them copies of the speech he made in New York last Friday. He should tell them to withdraw the charge against Kassim. If he is unable or unwilling to do so, then the speech was clearly just for show, another sad example of how Muslim leaders are afraid of exposing their people to productive, progressive and peaceful ideas.

This is the tragedy of the Muslim community. Their leaders know what the problem is but they are afraid of the ulamaks. That’s why in many Muslim-majority countries, political leaders do not incur the wrath of the ulamaks or the mullahs. Najib is no different. He was brave in New York because the ulamak do not rule there—Wall Street does.

Open Government and Civil Society Partnership for Malaysia

September 30, 2014

Open Government and Civil Society Partnership for Malaysia

by Wan Saiful Wan Jan@www.thestar.com.my

It is really important for those in the administration to pursue a healthy relationship with groups that can be their ‘critical friends’.

SummitLogo1THE Administration and Diplomatic Officers (Pegawai Tadbir dan Diplomatik, PTD) Alumni Association held its international conference on September 9 and 10 in Kuala Lumpur.

PTD officers are the pillar of the Malaysian civil service. Not everyone in the civil service belongs to the PTD category but usually many top government posts, in Malaysia and abroad, are held by PTD officers.

The PTD traces its history all the way back to the 1800s, when British colonisation started in Malaya. Their official name has evolved through time, and the name “Pegawai Tadbir dan Diplomatik” was only officially introduced in 1972. But their role has remained the same. They are leaders among civil servants and they take charge at strategic levels.

The PTD Alumni Association brings together former PTD officers, acting as a platform to enable them to provide inputs to the government of the day. This year their international conference was themed “Transformational Leadership in Malaysia”. Speakers included former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Chairman of PLUS Malaysia Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, former head of UNDP Malaysia Datuk Richard Leete and Sunway Group’s Tan Sri (Dr.) Jeffrey Cheah.

It was rather daunting when I received an invitation to speak in a session just before Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa delivered his address. But I thought it would be a good opportunity to bring a civil society perspective to this audience so I took up the challenge.I argued that the Government should partner with civil society rather than see them as the “other side”.

It is difficult to deny that civil society in Malaysia is divided along partisan lines. This is especially true when it comes to non-governmental organisations that are more “activist” in their work.For example, groups like Bersih and Negaraku are generally viewed as belonging to the anti-Barisan Nasional side, while Perkasa and Isma are more on the UMNO side.

In reality, this may or may not be true. But that is how these groups are perceived by many. The nature of the relationship between civil society and government varies. There are some who are seen as being subservient to the government, while others are antagonistic.

So while some civil society actors may be perceived as having chosen sides, they are not necessarily blind supporters of that side.In fact, they can also play important roles to shape and mould – through support and opposition – the sides that they are closer to.

CommitmenttoActionFor those in government, I think it is really important that they pursue a healthy relationship with groups that can be their “critical friends”. These are entities that may take an opposing view on certain government policies, but their arguments are not mere rhetoric.

They know what they are talking about and they give reasoned critical views. For example, Transparency International is known globally as an advocate for greater accountability and integrity. Their Malaysian chapter plays a vital role to further that cause here.Similarly, the Bar Council brings together the knowledge of thousands of lawyers and legal experts. Their top leaders know our laws inside out.

Organisations like these may be critical of certain government policies, but their criticisms cannot be dismissed lightly because they speak with the authority of knowledge.

My main proposal at the conference was that the engagement with civil society should be institutionalised, especially with those who can act as critical friends of the government.In fact, 64 countries around the world have already taken steps to bring civil society into the effort to improve government performance, encourage civic participation and enhance government responsiveness to the people. These countries have signed up to the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a global platform that allows the government and civil society to work hand in hand towards transformation.

The OGP was launched in 2011 with just eight countries. Within a short time it has grown to 65 countries, including Britain, Canada, Tunisia, Indonesia and the Philippines.Adopting the OGP would change the nature of the relationship between government and civil society in Malaysia. Both parties would work together to develop a national action plan, and they would partner each other to monitor the implementation too.

The OGP presents an opportunity for us to create a more synergistic relationship between government and civil society, while allowing civil society to retain their independence.

In order to be part of this global community, we have to work in four areas – fiscal transparency, access to information, disclosures related to elected and senior public officials, and citizen engagement. The Malaysian Government is already doing well in most of these areas. Signing up would not be an arduous task. Our main hurdle at the moment is the rather low level of awareness about the OGP. Not many people in government or in civil society know about it yet.

UMNO needs to be reformed, says Tun Dr.Mahathir

September 29, 2014

COMMENT: How did UMNO become a party of weak members who are afraid to speak theDM at 75 truth to power in the first place? The Tun had forgotten that UMNO Baru, which he is now criticising, was of his own making. After 1987, he had removed critics like Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Tun Musa Hitam and others who went on to form  Semangat 46, since he would not tolerate criticisms from party members.

Today, this UMNO is inundated with members who have neither the conviction nor the guts to attack Najib’s policies and programmes, let alone criticise, or remove him. UMNO members are no longer men and women who think of their party and our country first. Self interest overrides that. In fact, they can now be bought with contracts and other inducements to support the UMNO President. Taking on the patron and dispenser of political handouts is, therefore, an act of sheer folly.

Tun Dr. Mahathir was successful in a creating a powerful UMNO presidency by changing the rules of party elections so that it has become almost impossible for anyone to challenge Najib and his cohorts. He should not complain about a task he systematically executed. Until UMNO becomes more democratic, open and accountable, reform remains a pipe dream. –Din Merican

UMNO needs to be reformed, says Tun Dr.Mahathir

by Koh Jun Lin@http://www.malaysiakini.com

4th PM of MalaysiaThe Man who created a Powerful UMNO Baru Presidency
UMNO needs to be reformed so that it can criticise its leaders more courageously, said former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today. At present, the former UMNO President claimed that the party’s culture is to support its leaders without question.”Yes, because the leader must be told about other views. A leader cannot just do whatever he likes,” he told reporters in Putrajaya.

Mahathir said this when asked to comment on former New Straits Times (NST) Group Editor-in-Chief Dato’ A Kadir Jasin’s statement that UMNO is too weak to oust its current President Najib Abdul Razak.Mahathir also confirmed earlier reports that he had written a letter to Najib criticising him and saying that he is withdrawing support for Najib. However he was later asked by an intermediary to retract it. “I just said I would withdraw. I didn’t receive any reason (for the request), since he asked me to withdraw. Later on, I decided that the letter has  no effect on him, so that is when I put it on my blog. I said that leaders must accept criticism,” he said.

According to an Asia Sentinel report, the intermediary was UMNO Secretary-General Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor and purportedly contained seven demands. However, Tengku Adnan had denied the report, saying “There is no such thing”.IPP purchases ‘public money’When asked what he thinks about Najib’s move to ignore his advice and whether it would be detrimental to the country, Mahathir replied, “I think a leader must listen to everybody, not just somebody around me.”

To a question about Kadir’s blog post that Mahathir is “curious” about 1Malaysia Development Berhad’s (1MDB) acquisition of independent power producers (IPPs), Mahathir said he raised the question because the public has the right to know. “This is public money. Although it is borrowed money, it belongs to the government, and government spending must follow certain procedures.You cannot just spend money as you like,” he said, before elaborating on the parliamentary procedures involved.

AK JasinHe clarified that he was not speculating on any ulterior motive behind the deals. In his blog, Kadir claimed that Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) could acquire the IPPs for a token sum of money if its power purchasing agreement in not renewed.

The agreements last 21 years for gas-fired plants and 25 years for coal-fired plants, he said, and some of these that have been purchased have less than seven years left on the agreement and have long recovered their costs and substantial profits. “Dr Mahathir was curious why 1MDB bought the ageing IPPs when the government could wait a few more years and get them for ‘free’. Something is amiss,” he had written.

Civilisational clash ‘not of our doing’

September 29, 2014

Civilisational clash ‘not of our doing’

by Dr. Farish M. Noor@www.nst.com,my

farish-a-noorTHE ongoing bombardment of Syria — ostensibly to remove the threat of the Islamic State (IS) — has sparked off a bout of serious questioning about the propriety of the campaign, and whether such a strategy would actually work.

Interestingly, many of these questions are also being raised in the Western press, where opinion makers have argued that such a strategy may well end up entrenching IS further and angering ordinary civilians, who will also be the victims of such attacks, for it is well-known that “smart weapons” are seldom truly smart, and that civilian casualties are bound to be incurred.

But more worrying still is the talk of a “war against evil” and the need to fight against IS in the defence of “civilisation”, “law and order”, and “justice”.The somewhat simplistic dialectics of such arguments are embarrassingly clear, where the insurgents of IS are being labelled as uncivilised and barbaric, while those who attack them have summarily assumed the mantle of a higher moral authority.

Under such circumstances, is it any wonder if critical thinkers the world over have opined that what we are seeing today is a nasty prelude to a larger conflict that will be fought along the fault-lines of culture and civilisation?

Lest it be forgotten, we need to remember that IS does not represent the civilisation of Arab-Muslims in any way. In their deeds and words IS does not represent the same grand civilisation that was the product of thinkers like al-Ghazali, Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd and Ibn Khaldun.

As many contemporary Muslim leaders have argued, what we see in the ranks of IS is a travesty of Arab civilisation that was once the fountainhead of science and rational thinking.  But equally worrisome is the language and vocabulary of IS’s opponents, who have applied to them a pathology that is general, sweeping and reductionist.

To argue, as some Western leaders and policymakers have, that IS is the result of blind hate and anger, would be to reduce the frustrations and anxieties of millions of Arabs to bare emotions and reactionary action, without any attempt to understand and recognise the very real political-economic underpinnings of such collective anxiety.

It is dumfounding that hardly any of these leaders have noted the obvious fact that IS has emerged in a region that has been torn apart for three decades, since the Iran-Iraq war, that was also supported by external states and other actors.

It is equally perplexing to note that none of these leaders have acknowledged their own culpability in their policy of intervening in that region — in the name of “regime change” — and by doing so, weakened the states of the Arab world to the point where none of them can really rein in radical movements and splinter groups like IS. Do we seriously expect a moderate society to emerge from a region that has been reduced to a war zone for so long?

It is for this reason that the term “Clash of Civilisations” is so misleading, and dangerously so. As a glib slogan that reduces and over-simplifies the complexity of the problems of the Arab world, it is a convenient by-word that allows external actors and players to absolve themselves of their own responsibility for the mess they have created.

The term is dangerous in the manner that it reduces the phenomenon of violent radical resistance to the level of primordial irrational sentiments, and reinforces the racist stereotype of Arabs as inherently violent and pathologically fatalistic.

In dealing with the real problem of groups like IS, a degree of honest, objective analysis is required that would also unveil the hidden hands at work, the connections with external agendas and interests.

What we do not need at the moment is some convenient slogan that white-washes the facts about intervention, regime change/manipulation and their monstrous outcomes.

And, we need to remember that the idea of the “Clash of Civilisations” itself is a concept that was never invented by us, but rather imposed upon us and other communities — perhaps in an effort to deny our genuine political-economic needs and aspirations, and to discard serious critical thinking for simplistic oppositional dialectics instead.

A Modest Proposal for the Champions of Ketuanan Melayu, Part 2

September 29, 2014

A Modest Proposal for the Champions of Ketuanan Melayu

Part 2: Molding our Students

by Dr. M.Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

 bakri-musa[In Part One I suggested that our current obsession with the presumed deficiencies of our race and our undisguised resentment over the successes of others are but expressions of frus (frustration) and fury for our own lack of competitiveness and productivity. We should focus instead on remedying both, and begin with our young, especially those promising ones at our SBPs.]

It may seem obvious but needs to be stated explicitly: We must prepare these students for top universities the moment they step foot at a SBP. That’s how they do it elsewhere. American students aspiring to top universities begin their preparation upon entering high school, or even earlier. The courses they take, their extra-curricular programs as well as their summer activities are all geared towards this central mission.

My grandchildren who are in an American school in Singapore have assigned reading lists for the summer, and they are still in primary school! Likewise, SBP students must have mandatory reading lists and writing assignments during their long holidays. The purpose is two-fold. One is to prevent attrition of knowledge and study skills during the long hiatus, and the other, to inculcate the habit of reading and writing. It impresses upon them that those skills are not just for examinations.

Once when I took my family on an overseas trip, my son’s teacher asked him to keep a journal to be shared with his class while my daughter was assigned to study a Malay folk tale. In high school my son was invited to spend his summer break at Ames Research Center.

I speak with some experience. When my daughter entered Harvard Law School over 15 years ago, she was the first Malaysian to enroll there. There has not been another since. One of my sons works for an agency that prepares students for selective universities.

We should prepare all SBP students for recognized matriculation examinations like IB, American AP, or British “A” level, and start them from day one. Consequently it would serve no purpose for them to sit for SRP and SPM. Those tests have little predictive value anyway; their philosophy and assumptions are also very different.

Since these students have limited English proficiency coming as they are from the national stream, why not have their first year at SBP be full English-immersion akin to the Special Malay or “Remove” Classes of yore? Better yet, make all SBPs English-medium. That however, is no panacea. MARA already has a few English-medium SBPs but their students’ achievements remain disappointing. We need to do more.

I envisage admitting the students in the middle of their Form II instead of Form I, as at present, based on their SRP scores as well as their Form I and first term of Form II performances. By the time they sit for their IB or “A” level five years later, their cohorts in the regular school would be in the middle of their Upper Six.

Their college counseling should start right away, as with preparing for their PSAT and SAT. There must be adequate resources and personnel to guide these students in their college choices, but more on that later.

 Daewon’s and Minjuk’s excellent results were skewed because their students were children of diplomats, expatriates, and others who had been educated in the West. The South Korean government has since changed the rule to make those schools liberalize their admissions. For SBPs I suggest that they reserve half their slots for those who would be the first in their family to enter university and those from the kampongs.

No matter how stringent the selection process, inevitably there will a few who would not thrive in the residential school environment. While every attempt should be made to help them, but if they do not measure up, then they should be returned to regular schools. They are not failures rather they are better suited for day school.

Korean Schools

Three features of the Korean schools are worth emulating. First is the mentoring system where first-year students are paired with a senior. Second, those students are constantly exposed to successful role models, fellow Koreans as well as non-Koreans who are graduates of top universities. Those students get first-hand perspectives beyond what could be gleaned from the college brochures. Likewise, our SBPs should invite Malaysians who are graduates of top universities to give talks to and inspire these students.

The third striking feature is that the students’ time is structured during their entire waking hours. They are always involved in something, if not with their classes and class assignments then debates, sports, music, and a myriad of extra-curricular activities. When students are occupied, they are less likely to get into trouble.

MCKK (The Malay College Kuala Kangsar) obtained excellent results during the time of Principal Howell when he instituted daily afternoon “preps” in addition to the evening ones. When you have high expectations and demand more from your students, they respond. The converse is even more consequential. If you have low expectations or reward those who do not strive, as with sending them to third-rate universities abroad, then you are imparting the wrong message. That would be akin to membajakan (adding fertilizer) lallang. Even without the extra help, those weeds would snuff out the lengkuas. In a rentier economy, we are busy fertilizing our lallang.

MARA is membajakan lallang by sending hundreds of its students to third-rate universities abroad. The money could be better spent to strengthen its matriculation programs and SBPs at home. MARA should adopt tougher standards and send only those who have been accepted to top universities. Currently it sends students abroad even for sixth form. It is cheaper and far more effective to prepare those students in Malaysia. MARA’s current policy only perpetuates this culture of mediocrity.

Next Week: Last of Three Parts: Leveraging Residential Schools

Europe retains the Ryder Cup with an impressive win over the Americans

September 29, 2014

Ryder Cup 2014: Jamie Donaldson seals win with ‘wedge shot of my life’

at Gleneagles, The Guardian, Sunday 28 September 2014 18.57 BST

Jamie DonaldsonJamie Donaldson of Wales delivered the Winning Point

 It was a shot worthy of winning any game of golf, let alone a Ryder Cup in front of 45,000 rabid supporters and millions more on television who had been whipped into a state of high anticipation. The debutant Jamie Donaldson called the stroke that brought victory over Keegan Bradley, securing his third victory of the week and delivering the Ryder Cup for Europe, “the wedge shot of my life”. “He’s been sensational, incredible. It’s been a hell of a week,” said his captain, Paul McGinley, as he kissed the man who delivered the winning shot.

Donaldson broke off from his own TV interviews to embrace his parents as the emotions that the Europeans have kept in check beneath talk of plans and templates began to bubble to the surface. “It’s amazing. The lads have got on so well all week. It’s been great craic in there. It’s just an incredible week,” said the Welshman. “It’s hard to describe how good it is. It’s just … there’s nothing else like it in golf. It’s just a total one-off. It’s just a huge, huge thing, and it’s just been amazing to be a part of it.”

Europe-lineup_3048924bThe European Ryder Cup Team-2104 won impressively over Tom Watson’s American Team

Lofted downhill from 146 yards to the 15th green, his approach shot landed within inches of the pin to a huge roar and sparked a wild, backslapping celebration from his hitherto reserved captain. “It was a perfect yardage and I played the wedge shot of my life to close the game out. I can’t really put words to it – it’s unbelievable,” said Donaldson. “I knew it was all getting tight there at the end. I was just trying to not spend too much time looking at the scoreboard and just concentrate on my match.”

As Donaldson, right, was submerged beneath a mob of congratulation from team-mates, his caddie Michael Donaghy, vice-captains and other assorted members of his entourage, two pivotal moments may have sprung to mind. First, when he ignored a doctor’s instructions to quit the game altogether in 2004 when struggling with a chronic back complaint (“The first doctor I went to see said, ‘don’t play’ – so I went to see someone else,” the 38-year-old has said. “That wasn’t what I wanted to hear. As soon as someone says that, you just go and see someone else!”).

Then, having sprung to prominence by winning the 2012 Irish Open and the 2013 Abu Dhabi Championship following years of toil on a European tour he joined in 2002, he almost missed out on the Ryder Cup. Ranked 25th in the world, Donaldson has only ever once finished in the top 10 in a major but since his breakthrough has consistently challenged in other tournaments. Donaldson, who lives in Macclesfield with his partner and two young children, had been in line to qualify for the team all year until a missed putt at the US PGA Championship left him out of the running for an automatic berth.

“I had a chat with him in the caddie room in the cart barn underneath Valhalla,” said McGinley before the first day. “He had just come off the 18th green. If he had got up-and-down, he would have been a Ryder Cup player. He didn’t. He knew he had to make twenty-odd-thousand euros in the next two events. He was pretty distraught. I had a good chat with him. We talked about it. We came up with a strategy of what he had to do to make the team. I didn’t want him to miss the team.”

Paul McGinleyMcGinley (left) told him straight that it would be difficult to pick him as a wildcard and that it was down to him to make the €20,000 he needed to secure his spot. “We came up with a plan that he was going to play Czechoslovakia [at the Czech Masters]. He went out there, and he played very aggressively and ended up winning the tournament,” said McGinley. “I know that was a huge psychological boost for him, to be able to make the team and to be able to burst through the line the way he did.”

As a beaming Donaldson marched up the 18th green behind Victor Dubuisson with a Welsh flag around his shoulders, he in many ways epitomised the teamwork and bond that underpinned their success. “It’s a great sense of pride, as I say, this ugly face,” laughed McGinley in the post victory melee, grabbing Donaldson’s cheeks. “How happy it is, and the pride that we give to everybody, and the happiness of people in the stands, that’s what you did.”

McGinley said that Lee Westwood had acted as almost an extra vice-captain in mentoring Donaldson. “I love it,” said Westwood. “I have as much fun playing for myself as seeing somebody else take to it like a duck to water.”

The pair overcame Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk during one of the crucial foursomes sessions that formed the backbone of Europe’s victory. For Donaldson, it was the man who meticulously planned Europe’s victory under cloudless skies who had set the tone for a week he will never forget. “Paul captained one of the Seve Trophies I played in and I told everybody that he was going to be unbelievable here. He’s certainly done a lot more than that. He’s been incredible.”