Euphemisms in geopolitics

November 29,2018

Euphemisms in geopolitics

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International relations is premised on a handful of theoretical frameworks. They explain how nations relate with one another and provide an understanding of human events that take place around the world. The most familiar of these frameworks is the realist paradigm. Realism is easy to grasp – states behave rationally, and are calculative and egoistic. Realism obscures any state behaviour based on morality.

It is time for Malaysia to articulate its own narrative to describe the reality of geopolitics. We should call a spade, a spade. I applaud Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad for his speech at the recent UN general assembly when he called for nations to recognise Palestine and “stop Israel’s blatant atrocities”. Mahathir did not say “aggression” or “hostility”. Contrary to realist euphemisms, Mahathir re-introduced unambiguous truisms on the world stage. Up till then, the US narrative had dominated, especially since the notorious “undemocratic” 2000 election. What we need now is an alternative global dialogue. The views and aspirations of the developing and third world nations should be given a prominent platform.

The current ambivalent narrative is really an apology for an underlying reality. To put it simply, the ongoing discourse detailing global conflicts has been accepted as normal, even sophisticated. The following are common phrases we read on a daily basis explaining regional unrest. “Pushing back against Iran’s regional ambitions” is one example that appeared in a recent Washington Post article. It described America’s “pushing back” strategy, and Iran’s “ambition”. Another is the headline in a leading Asian weekly. It reads “The China Threat Cannot Be Ignored”. This refers, obviously, to the so-called China “threat”.

Mass media and the academia are overflowing with realist overtones in analysing world politics. We can accept, to a certain degree, that the media uses catchy headlines to attract readership. However, these realist concepts (ambition and threat) hide reality. The world of analysis has instead been dominated by US parlance. A more poignant narrative has to be re-introduced which includes the words “imperialist” and “imperialism”.

21st-century international relations is characterised by fear and distrust. This has resulted in a feeling of insecurity between states. China, for example, invokes feelings of trepidation for many countries in the South China Sea region. Its rapidly expanding navy is considered threatening to many regional states. This feeling is exacerbated by China’s bold economic designs such the Belt and Road Initiative.However, since there is no world government, when one nation accumulates power other countries feel insecure. As a result, they are compelled to do the same. What emerges is a “security dilemma”.Classic realism accepts this as a fait accompli. There is no issue of whether it is right or wrong. It just is. Describing such a situation as a “dilemma” suggests a mood of predicament and difficulty. Due to this security dilemma, all countries are in a state of political conundrum.

The current debate on the international stage suggests constant tension between the powerful and the less powerful, i.e. an asymmetric dilemma. There is tension between equal powers as well, a symmetric dilemma. However, the narrative always avoids what is really at play: abject bullying.Global geopolitics reflects states’ behaviour based on fear, reputation and national interest.

I take issue with the concept “national interest”. Given the current state of international politics, we should be reading more about imperialism as a motivating factor. National interest is the kid gloves that academia and diplomats love to wear. The ongoing Yemen war illustrates my point.We are made to believe that the humanitarian disaster in Yemen is the result of a Sunni-Shia conflict among Muslims. However, it is more complex than that. It is not just about petty Muslims fighting over sects. Since September 2014, the civil war between the Houthi rebels in the north and the Yemeni government has escalated into a free-for-all onslaught by several players. The Arab coalition, made up of nine countries, the US, UK, France and Iran are involved in a proxy war over Yemen. What began as an internal civil war exploded into a complicated web of international intrigues, lies and imperialist aggression.

The Yemen war is not only based on religious grievances. The narrative has failed to highlight economic and political issues. Realism has sustained the discourse which highlights phrases such as “fighting for freedom”, “liberation of the true Islam” and national interest. Al-Qaeda has taken advantage of the chaos and launched several attacks on Houthi rebels whom they consider infidels. But this situation does not justify billions exchanged in arms sales between US-led bullies and the coalition of Arab states. The US and Arab bombing campaigns in Yemen have created a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations recognises this but till now remains emasculated. Trade sanctions on Iran are another act of imperialist bullying.US imperialist designs are clear in the events following Donald Trump’s exit in May from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA, or the Iran nuclear deal).

This resulted in the re-imposition of sanctions against Iran. It was engineered to cripple its economy. European, Japanese and South Korean companies who are heavily invested in Iran are very dependent on the U.S financial system. So they are in a dilemma over whether to pull their businesses out of Iran or face the wrath of Trump.Earlier this year, Japan needed to “seek exemption” from the US in order to continue importing oil from Iran. The tables are turned now as a former imperialist power (Japan) has to seek permission from a neo-imperialist superpower (the US). Japan was worried because putting the brakes on all Iranian oil exports would result in a loss of around 165,481 barrels per day.In August, Iran’s investment contracts with European, Japanese and South Korean banks were suspended. The US had obviously denied Japan’s request. While China and Russia are still committed to their deals with Iran, the rest have halted their interaction. This is classic imperialism at work. Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, yet the US threatens others who continue to uphold JCPOA. Not only is Iran’s access to foreign financial services and facilities targeted, nations who are committed to business deals with Iran are also punished. Financial strangulation has become the imperialistic arm of US power politics.In July, Malaysia reaffirmed support for the JCPOA. Predictably, on September 14, the US treasury imposed sanctions on a Thai aviation company (My Aviation Company Ltd, Bangkok) which was acting on behalf of Iran’s Mahan Air.

The US claims the latter was ferrying troops and supplies into Syria. Mahan Travel and Tourism is based in Malaysia.In response to Trump’s recent bellowing to the UN Security Council (when he said Iran would “suffer consequences”), Mahathir declared that “smaller nations like Malaysia will suffer”. He said “we have no choice and if you do not obey them, they will take action on your banks and currencies”.

It is clear that Malaysia now joins an elite list of nations that are the object of US imperialism.While I offer no concrete solutions to the growing economic and financial war waged by the US, I suggest we re-evaluate how we look at current affairs. The inter-connectedness of the global financial system is the new imperialistic “soft power” weapon. Trump has proven to be the heavy-handed emperor. He has successfully manipulated credible powers in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, punishing them for remaining in the JCPOA.Trump is the embodiment of a new archetypical leader popularly referred to as the “strongman”. In reality, the US has reached the pinnacle as an imperial power, par excellence. What Lenin wrote decades ago is now a reality: capitalist competition has transformed into a monopoly; a monopoly of trade, commodities, services and most crucially, ideology.

People are not born lazy

November 29, 2018

People are not born lazy



COMMENT | If you are poor, does it automatically make you lazy? If you do not have a good education, which doesn’t allow you to hold a good job, does it mean you deserve to be labelled as lazy?

If you work fewer hours and rest more, does that categorise you as lazy? How do we decide who is lazy and who isn’t? I’ll tell you what lazy means to me – it simply means inefficient.

I believe lazy people are not intrinsically lazy but are lazy because they have not found what they are looking for. And in some cases, people become lazy when their effort does not give them a good return.

A paralysed individual who sees no development despite his daily physiotherapy sessions, could eventually give up and become lazy.

A farmer or a fisherman who isn’t able to provide a good living for his family despite juggling jobs and working hard could eventually become lazy.

A student who fails in every examination and who never receives proper support or guidance, could eventually become lazy and give up on education altogether.

A jobless fresh graduate who ends up a nasi lemak seller could eventually become lazy in finding a suitable employment matching his university qualification.

People are not born lazy. However, when they are not inspired, motivated, supported or in worse cases when they are mocked, criticised and often reminded of their inability to succeed – people can eventually lose their self-confidence and become comfortably lazy.

Laziness is how people sabotage themselves in order to deal with fear and hopelessness.

A couple of days ago, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad called Malaysians lazy, saying that countries like Vietnam would soon overtake Malaysia in economic rankings because its people were more hardworking than Malaysians.

He claimed lazy Malaysians were very selective of jobs and dependent on financial handouts than working hard. This is not the first time our 93-year-old Prime Mminister has slammed Malaysians as lazy.

Part of the problem

Back in 2002, he said it is the Malay culture to be lazy, blaming them for not working as hard as others, not taking responsibilities seriously, handing over their jobs to others and lacking the knowledge to make good decisions.

In 2014, he said they were not capable of feeling ashamed of their failures. And earlier this year he condemned the Malays once again – calling them less committed to work, not hardworking and not trustworthy.

I believe this certainly will not be the last time he mocks Malaysians for being lazy.However, while Mahathir continues to condemn Malaysians as lazy, I do wonder why has he not put any effort into getting Malaysians out of their lazy habits?

Complaining throughout the years and calling Malays lazy isn’t going to change anything if Mahathir himself continues to fight for their special privileges. It only makes him look like a hypocrite.

On second thoughts, perhaps the PM and the other leaders of Malaysia are part of the problem which makes Malaysians lazy?

Should it not be the prime minister’s responsibility to come up with plans and strategies to produce superior Malays who will become professionals, academicians, entrepreneurs and successful individuals?

Instead of doing that, why does the new government continue to spoonfeed the Malays with quotas, aid and subsidies which have all been proven to fail over the past six decades insofar as turning them into champions is concerned?

You can also look at Mahathir’s own inefficient cabinet. Look at how inefficient the ministers are in improving our education system and look at how easy the ministers wash their hands of important matters such as child marriage.

Look at the lazy folks in Pakatan Harapan who made up their manifesto from a bunch of wild stuff without carefully putting in the hard work to draft a viable manifesto for the sake of the people whose trust they were trying to win.

With such lazy people in the government, no wonder there are no solid attempts made to come up with a strategy to assist Malaysians out of their lazy ways.

Look at Mahathir’s own work – his own protégé turned out to be the biggest crook our country has ever seen. While we are at it, if Mahathir believed Malaysians should work harder to build a nation of diligent people, why did he keep his lips sealed over the years when foreign labour flooded our country?

What Malaysians need

Truth be told, poverty, the lack of education and a lack of willpower to achieve greater things in life do not make us lazy. In fact, it makes us survivors.Not being born into a privileged family, to be sent to study abroad with good career prospects waiting upon returning to Malaysia only makes us unfortunate, not lazy.

What Malaysians need today is not a lecture about how lazy and unworthy we are; what we need are leaders who will inspire us to be better and support us along the way.

We need leaders who can introduce policies and strategies to push Malaysians out of their comfort zones even if those policies and strategies are resisted by those who are not capable of understanding the objectives.

We need leaders to change the lazy mentality and culture of Malaysians by not being lazy themselves in fulfilling their own responsibilities towards the people of this country.

If you ask me, I think it is the responsibility of a government to do whatever it is in the best interest of the people, even if the people themselves do not agree with it in the short term.

Pussyfooting about and mocking them without putting in any solid effort to turn Malaysians into a hardworking nation only makes seasonal politicians lazy leaders.

FA ABDUL is a passionate storyteller, a growing media trainer, an aspiring playwright, a regular director, a struggling producer, a self-acclaimed photographer, an expert Facebooker, a lazy blogger, a part-time queen and a full-time vainpot.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily. represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Jomo named National Academic Figure

November 28, 2018

Jomo named National Academic Figure

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Economist Jomo Kwame Sundaram was announced as the 12th National Academic Figure at the National Academic Awards (AAN) ceremony in Putrajaya last night.


Jomo, 66, a former assistant secretary-general for Economic Development in the United Nations, is an expert in political economy of development, especially in the Southeast Asian region .Jomo received RM200,000, a trophy and a certificate.


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The National Academic Figure award is presented to academicians who are committed, wholly engaged and always contributing to the discovery and development of knowledge, wealth generation and fulfilling the aspirations of the tertiary institution as a national development vehicle.

Meanwhile, Juan Joon Ching, a professor with Universiti Malaya, was announced as the most promising academician award winner. This award is given to affluent scholars under the age of 40.

Earlier, Mahathir in his speech expressed hope that the awards would motivate the individuals to pursue further excellence while setting a benchmark for others to emulate.

“Without their (academicians’) support, I believe we cannot build a knowledgeable generation that is par excellence, and at the same time produce balanced individuals for the development and progress of the country,” the Prime Minister said.



Guna’s Take on the Politics of ICERD and Harapan’s Volte-Face

November 27, 2018

Guna’s Take on the Politics of ICERD and Harapan’s Volte-Face

QUESTION TIME | If we thought that UMNO-style gangster politics is dead and gone with New Malaysia, we have been very sadly mistaken as the recent issue over the ratification of the International Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) shows.

Somehow or other, the ratification of this convention has been taken to be a major attack on the special privileges of bumiputeras, including Malays, resulting in a cacophony of protests by UMNO and PAS, which were rather badly handled by the Harapan government.

It is no such thing.  There are enough safeguards and provisions in the IICERD for the special privileges of bumiputeras to continue and there are countries such as the US which ratified the treaty, saying its own constitution provides for those rights, and if there is any problem, then its constitution will stand supreme against ICERD.

Despite what Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has said about having to amend the constitution, which would require a two-thirds majority in Parliament, to ratify Icerd, most expert legal opinion is that there is no such necessity. In fact, Mahathir had said in September at the UN General Assembly that Malaysia would ratify six UN conventions, which includes Icerd.

The about-turn that Harapan made over Icerd is substantive for one very important reason: it has basically submitted to the blackmail of UMNO and PAS who had threatened not just demonstrations but violence. Demonstration organisers talked openly about creating another May 13 in videos that went viral, raising needless alarm and concern.

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The mute Malaysian Women Libbers

That will only encourage them to come up again and again with gangster-style tactics of violence and bloodbath when every issue of importance is debated. Capitulation to them now over an important issue in Malaysian politics will only make them raise their voices higher and their threats more severe in future.

What was terribly surprising was the silence and muted response by Harapan leaders over an issue which had been twisted and turned by the opposition UMNO and PAS into a highly explosive racial and religious one.

Social redress

There was no attempt to explain that ratifying the ICERD was in no way against bumiputera rights but was aimed at endorsing universal principles against any form of racial discrimination. ICERD specifically excludes special privileges for any community as a means of social redress for as long as that is necessary.

There are some who say that the Federal Constitution sets no limit on special privileges, but even that is not an issue as Icerd can be ratified subject to the primacy of a country’s own constitution as the US did when it ratified Icerd in 1994.

These concerns are addressed and allayed comprehensively in this article by respected constitutional scholar Shad Saleem Faruqi who deals with all the major legal and constitutional issues over ratifying ICERD.


Here are the concluding remarks of his article: “ Even if ratified by the executive, Icerd cannot displace Article 3 (Islam) (of the constitution), Article 153 (special position of the Malays and natives) and Article 181 (prerogatives of Malay Rulers). This is due to the legal fact that our concept of ‘law’ is defined narrowly in ArticIe 160(2) and does not include international law.

“The constitutional position on the ICERD is, therefore, this: Even if the ICERD is ratified by the executive, it is not law unless incorporated into a parliamentary Act. Even if so legislated, it is subject to the supreme constitution’s Articles 3, 153 and 181. Unless these Articles are amended by a special two-thirds majority and the consent of the Conference of Rulers and the Governors of Sabah and Sarawak, the existing constitutional provisions remain in operation.

“The ICERD is not a law but only a pole star for action. Its ideals cannot invalidate national laws. The agitation against it is contrived for political purposes and perceptive Malaysians must not allow themselves to be exploited by politicians.”

Unfortunately, that is exactly what Harapan has done by capitulating to UMNO-PAS and others threats of violence over Icerd at a demonstration to be organised on Dec 8. Now that demonstration is going to be a celebration of their “success” – how pitiable.

Here is the Prime Minister’s Office’s statement on the matter: “The Pakatan Harapan government will not ratify CERD. “The government will continue to defend the Federal Constitution, in which lies the social contract agreed to by representatives of all races during the forming of the nation.”

Narrow agenda

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A Janus-faced Malay Politician

“It was Mahathir, after all, who said point blank to the Malays that they should stop supporting UMNO because its leader was involved in the largest kleptocracy the world has known via 1MDB where RM42 billion was lost. Surely through proper information and education, most Malays can be made to realise that ratifying ICERD does not affect their rights or the rights of other bumiputeras.

But instead, the silence of Harapan leaders and their lack of defense of the reason why ICERD was to be ratified as part of the intentions voiced in their manifesto led to this issue systematically being used to whip up sentiment, spiralling up to the defence of Malay rights which it is not”.–Gunasegaram

That pathetic statement follows upon Mahathir’s volte-face over signing ICERD, saying the untruth that a constitutional amendment is needed to ratify the convention, and taking the easy way out instead of explaining to the Malays, who appear to be the only bumiputra group opposed to the ratification, what the real situation is.

It was Mahathir, after all, who said point blank to the Malays that they should stop supporting UMNO because its leader was involved in the largest kleptocracy the world has known via 1MDB where RM42 billion was lost. Surely through proper information and education, most Malays can be made to realise that ratifying ICERD does not affect their rights or the rights of other bumiputeras.

But instead, the silence of Harapan leaders and their lack of defense of the reason why ICERD was to be ratified as part of the intentions voiced in their manifesto led to this issue systematically being used to whip up sentiment, spiralling up to the defence of Malay rights which it is not.

And handing a victory on a platter to the gangster politics of UMNO, PAS and others who play up racial, religious and royalty sentiments and threaten violence, not in furtherance of Malay rights, but their own selfish, narrow agenda of capturing Malay votes and support.

It is more than a sorry state of affairs for it might lead to pressure on the entire Harapan reform agenda if a simple ratification of the ICERD can be turned into such a serious non-issue.

P GUNASEGARAM wonders how many more manifesto promises Harapan will break. E-mail:

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

NY Times Book Review–Two New Books Confront Nietzsche and His Ideas

November 26, 2018


by Steven B. Smith

A Life of Nietzsche
By Sue Prideaux
Illustrated. 452 pp. Tim Duggan Books. $30.

On Becoming Who You Are
By John Kaag
255 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $26.

Ask college students majoring in philosophy how they got interested in their subject and more than likely the answer will be “Nietzsche.”

Nietzsche has probably been more things to more people than any other philosopher. In the years after World War II, he seemed irreparably stained by his association with National Socialism. His open contempt for equality as a form of slave morality, his language of superior and inferior peoples and races, and his advocacy of a new elite that might reshape the future of Europe seemed more than enough to banish him from the canons of serious philosophical thought, if not simple decency.

The reconsideration of Nietzsche began as early as 1950 with Walter Kaufmann’s influential “Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist,” which portrayed him as a German humanist in the tradition of Goethe and Schiller. Kaufmann traced the misappropriation of Nietzsche by Hitler to the influence of Nietzsche’s sister, Elisabeth, and her husband, Bernhard Förster, who bowdlerized his texts to support their own anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi sympathies. While few today accept the details of Kaufmann’s analysis, the rehabilitation of Nietzsche has been in full swing in recent years.


Nietzsche has been recovered as an ethicist teaching a creed of radical libertarianism, an aesthete who saw the world as akin to a piece of literature, a “perspectivist” who taught that all philosophy is essentially autobiography and more recently a deconstructionist and “critical theorist” who advanced his genealogical method against all received ideas. By this time, the Nietzschean clock seems to have come full circle.

The two books under review here ride the wave of this newfound fascination with Nietzsche, although neither engages directly with the complex legacy of his reception. Sue Prideaux’s “I Am Dynamite!” — the phrase is his self-description from “Ecce Homo” — follows Nietzsche’s life from his birth in 1844 into a family of pious Protestant burghers, his early academic accomplishments at the University of Leipzig and his appointment to a chair of classical philology at the University of Basel at the age of only 24.


One might be forgiven for thinking that Nietzsche’s life would have taken the boring trajectory of scholarly studies followed by academic honors and other signs of accomplishment, something like that of his Swiss colleague Jacob Burkhardt. Instead, he took a violent turn away from his chosen profession with the publication of his first book, “The Birth of Tragedy,” in which he skewered academic philology in the name of the higher values of life and music. He has never been entirely forgiven. The best parts of Prideaux’s book focus on Nietzsche’s infatuation and his later break with Richard Wagner and Cosima von Bülow — the illegitimate daughter of Franz Liszt — who invited the young scholar to become part of their inner circle at their villa on Lake Lucerne.

Nietzsche’s life became increasingly erratic as a series of illnesses — whether real or imagined is not altogether clear — kept him away from teaching. It was during this period of self-imposed exile that he wrote his greatest and most enduring books, “The Genealogy of Morals” and “Thus Spake Zarathustra.” His later years were spent in wanderings throughout Italy and Switzerland before his final breakdown in Turin, where he threw his arms around the neck of a horse that he saw being beaten on the street, leading to his final institutionalization.

Prideaux ends her book deploring the Nazification of Nietzsche’s legacy, but without ever asking whether Nietzsche bears any responsibility for this misappropriation. Why did he write in a way that permitted such misuse? Dangerous thinkers should expect to attract dangerous followers. What else to expect from a philosopher who describes himself as dynamite? Nietzsche would no doubt have despised populist demagogues like Mussolini and Hitler, but then one who promises that “one day there will be associated with my name the recollection of something frightful” should not be surprised when something frightful comes along.

As the author of previous biographies of Edvard Munch and August Strindberg, Prideaux clearly knows her way around the world of European high modernism. She is strong on Nietzsche’s life, but much less so on his ideas. In fact, apart from Nietzsche’s ideas, his life is of relatively little import. She does little to explain what makes Nietzsche an enduring philosopher who continues to exercise great influence. Nor does she attempt to put Nietzsche in the context of his great fin de siècle contemporaries and admirers including William James, Freud, Gide and Shaw, among many others.

John Kaag’s book, “Hiking With Nietzsche,” is a semi-autobiography that follows the author as a 19-year-old, hiking to Sils-Maria in the Swiss Alps in search of Nietzsche’s house, then recounts him making the same trip 18 years later as a professor of philosophy with his wife and baby daughter in tow. It is often said that you can understand someone only when standing in their shoes; Kaag believes that wisdom comes only when hiking on their trails.

This book is less a scholarly study of Nietzsche than a meditation on the relation between hiking and philosophy. For Kaag, walking is not about the destination but the adventure itself. Almost all of the great philosophers — Socrates, Aristotle, the Stoics, Rousseau, Kant, Thoreau — were walkers whose ideas germinated only in motion. He takes Nietzsche’s challenge to “become who you are!” as a call to schlep his young family around the Alps to achieve his own goal of self-discovery. His wife must have the patience of a saint.


Kaag is a lively storyteller who brings Nietzsche’s life into continual contact with his own. This is both the strength and the weakness of the book. He succeeds quite well in maintaining a balance between Nietzsche’s life and thought and makes some nice connections to Emerson, Hesse, Mann and Adorno. I imagine he is an excellent teacher. At other times, a cloying style gets the better of him as we learn a little too much about the author’s parenting skills.

Like Prideaux’s, Kaag’s Nietzsche is a largely apolitical existentialist who challenges his readers to be what they might become. What he doesn’t tell us is how to become what we might be. Nietzsche is presented as the great apostle of the free spirit, the nonconformist and the rugged individualist living in the age of the philistine and the “last man.” Kaag doesn’t exactly ignore Nietzsche’s rough edges — his fascination with eugenics, his flirtations with anti-Semitism, his hatred of democracy in all its forms — but he sees them as not fatal to Nietzsche’s project of individual self-overcoming.

In the important new book “Dangerous Minds,” the political scientist Ronald Beiner argues that Nietzsche has become a part of the cultural air that we breathe. His intoxicating call to embrace liberation and to live up to our highest aspirations has inspired generations of novelists, playwrights and philosophers, to say nothing of countless undergraduates. Yet he also prophesied a world of “great politics” characterized by wars and revolutions fought over the very future of civilization.

Nietzsche was the Marx of the right, the original culture warrior who believed that the future belongs to those with the courage to face the nihilism of the present and mold it like potter’s clay. It is possible to think of Nietzsche’s Übermensch as a solitary walker responsible to no one but himself, but just as likely he was imagining a new Caesar, Borgia or Napoleon. To ignore this dimension of Nietzsche is to give him less than his due.

Steven B. Smith’s latest book is “Modernity and Its Discontents: Making and Remaking the Bourgeois From Machiavelli to Bellow.”


A version of this article appears in print on , on Page 17 of the Sunday Book Review with the headline: A Most Controversial Thinker. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe



ICERD Controversy Needs More than Politics to Resolve

November 26, 2018

ICERD Controversy Needs More than Politics to Resolve   


by Tawfik Ismail and Lim Teck Ghee

Two recent commentaries on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) ratification controversy have argued that it is necessary for the government to make known its position on the issue.

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According to the Sik-Bisik Awang Selamat column of Utusan Malaysia those who oppose ratification have a valid concern in that it will challenge the constitution which affects the special rights of the Malays, the bumiputeras and the Malay rulers. The column noted that the issue will continue to divide the nation as long as the government  drags its feet and does not come out with a clear and definitive decision. The Utusan writers also pointed out that If the politicians cannot take a firm stance on the issue, how can they expect to convince the populace?


The second commentary by Dr. Musa Mohd Nordin and Dr. Awaluddin Mohamed Shaharoun makes the point that that UMNO-PAS politicians are using the issue to create instability in their efforts to topple the Pakatan government. They also provide a necessary reminder to the public that PAS president, Hadi Awang, in an Utusan Melayu report dated 15 September 1985, then in his capacity as Terengganu State Commissioner, “pledged to abolish Malay rights if PAS came into power”. More specifically, he added that these include “the removal of Malay Reserve Land, National Economic Policy or other policies which only served the Malay interest. PAS promised that all races would be equitably treated”.

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Anti-ICERD rally is now void of reasoning

Although diametrically opposed in their support of the political parties, both sets of commentators seem to agree in assigning the primary responsibility for resolving the controversy to the political leaders of Pakatan and Barisan.

A politically driven top down authoritarian approach to managing this controversy now has taken place with the announcement from the Prime Minister’s Office that the Pakatan government has decided against ratifying the ICERD.


According to the PMO statement, “The government will continue to defend the Federal Constitution, in which lies the social contract agreed to by representatives of all races during the forming of the nation.”


While this clearly hasty and apparently panicky decision may have the effect of dousing the inflamed sentiments and views of some members of the public, it is at best a temporary band-aid or cooling agent.

What has happened is that the ICERD issue and the question of Malaysia’s ratification – for better or for worse – has become and will remain a cause celebre which will continue to generate widespread controversy, fierce campaigning by opposed groups and heated public debate.


To ensure that the ICERD ratification issue is not further hijacked by political parties and politicians for their own agenda,  a final government position needs to be made which takes into account the views of all stakeholders and the larger citizenry.

We propose the following process of examination and analysis to take place:


  1. The main objections expressed against ratification relate to concerns about how the international treaty will adversely affect the special position of the Malays, the other Bumiputeras, the Malay rulers, the Malay language, etc..

  2. In addition, the latest statement by PMO brings in a related but new issue of the ‘social contract’ agreed to by the various communities at the time of independence which the ICERD ratification apparently will conflict with.

  3. All major stakeholders – apart from political parties – should review the provisions of the ICERD and determine how the country’s act of ratification will exactly impact on each of their positions as well as on the so-called ‘social contract’.

  4. In particular, each major stakeholder identified by critics of the ICERD as having their position or rights or interests adversely affected by the treaty ratification – the Rulers Council, JAKIM and other Islamic bodies, social, cultural, language, academic, and other Bumiputra bodies and organizations should take the opportunity to give priority to this exercise and  communicate their findings and conclusions to the public and the government. In this way, they can either refute or confirm the concerns made by others on their behalf.


Silence from non-partisan and non-politically aligned key stakeholders will not serve the nation well.  We are all aware that fear and insecurity are being fanned and manipulated by the anti-ICERD Malay faction and this will not stop soon.

Finally, we note that the best way of responding to those who claim to represent or speak up on behalf of the Malays is to remind them of the wisdom of our past leaders in building the nation.

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One of the most influential leaders of our recent history, Tun Dr. Ismail, has explained that:

“The Special Position of the Malays [is] a handicap given to the Malays with the consent of all the other races who have become citizens of the country so as to enable the Malays to compete on equal footing for equal opportunities in this country. That and that alone is the only aim of the Special Position of the Malays.”  (From Ooi Kee Beng, “The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr. Ismail and his Time”, p. 225).


We believe that the ultimate national position on ICERD ratification – whether for or against it – should be derived from historically informed, empirically driven, truth-finding, objective and independent analysis along the lines we have set out. This alone can enable us to break the deadlock over the issue and be acceptable to the great majority of Malaysians who want the country to put this issue behind them and to move on.

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*Tawfik Ismail, eldest son of Tun Dr Ismail, is an alumni of St. John’s, Royal Military College and Oxford University. He represented Sungei Benut as Member or Parliament from 1986 till 1990.

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Dr. Lim Teck Ghee is a public policy analyst and author of the book, Challenging Malaysia’s Status Quo.  He is also co-author of the recent book on the 14th GE, Anatomy of an Electoral Tsunami.