Dr M will remember how the authorities accused him of lying over his slashed plane tyres just a week ago. They called it Fake News.
‘Facts’ in the world of science are usually established through being tried and tested. Even so, matters regarded as fact for decades can later be discovered to be false, usually thanks to dissenters who eventually proved their point. The context of human discourse is far more complex and changing still. You cannot create a scientific ‘definition’ to govern such things and human society needs those dissenters to be able to voice their position.
There are already huge disincentives facing journalists and public persons when it comes to deliberately or mistakenly disseminating false information. Firstly, a reputation once lost is hard to regain. Secondly, there are paths to sue within a civil context. That is enough.
Leaders ought not to fear a false bogeyman – the idea that some unknown person could suddenly spout nonsense that would have hoards running onto the streets. For every purveryor of false information there is the check of a trusted voice of good sense to counter-balance the impulses of the people in these situations.
Only one phenomenon breaks that rule, which is the development of cults – mostly extremist versions of established religions. Cults can stir up dangerous actions by the indoctrinated followers, fed daily on false information. Hence, bombs on the streets of Europe and elsewhere.
However, there is terror legislation for these matters and dangerous preachers are a very different target to journalists and ought to be handled separately.
Journalists and citizens must be allowed speak freely and even be allowed to get it wrong, if they can show their intentions were to inform about something they genuinely had good reason to believe and are willing to correct and amend if found mistaken (as opposed to intended and malicious lies). These are the principles that have now evolved after much pain and argument in most modern democracies and Malaysia would do well to join them.
After all, the alternative is far worse. It gives power to people like Najib to tell people like Dr M that they are lying over slashed tyres, 1MDB and all the rest.
Academics can no longer afford to pat themselves on the back and celebrate their own privileges. If they are to defend the freedom of their enterprise, they must restore dialogue with the broader public and ensure that the relevance of their research – and how research actually occurs – is well understood.
CAMBRIDGE – Academic freedom is a precious commodity, critical to ensure that discovery of the truth is not encumbered by political or ideological forces. But this does not mean that intellectuals should hide in academic bunkers that, by protecting us from criticism by “non-experts,” allow ego to flourish and enable a focus on questions that are not actually relevant to anyone else. We experts should have to explain ourselves.
The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh
This means, first and foremost, that researchers should be communicating their results in a way that supports accountability and confirms that public funds and education benefits are being used in ways that are in taxpayers’ interests. The duty to communicate findings also ensures that the public is educated, not only about the topic itself, but also about the way research actually works.
Scholarly books and journals often give the impression that the truth is revealed through a neat, orderly, and logical process. But research is far from being a pristine landscape; in fact, it resembles a battlefield, littered with miscalculations, failed experiments, and discarded assumptions. The path to truth is often convoluted, and those who travel along it often must navigate fierce competition and professional intrigue.
Some argue that it is better to hide this reality from the public, in order to maintain credibility. For example, in 2014, physicists collaborating on a project known as BICEP2 thought that they had detected gravitational waves from the beginning of the universe. It was later realized that the signal they had detected could be entirely attributed to interstellar dust.
H.E. Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, University of Cambodia (UC) Founder, Board and Trustee Chairman, And President seeks to create a Research Culture at UC,Phnom Penh.
Some of my colleagues worried that this revelation would undermine faith in other scientific predictions, such as those involving climate change. But would hiding the truth from the public really do more for scientific and academic credibility than cultivating a culture of transparency? Probably not. In fact, being honest about the realities of research might enhance trust and create more space for innovation, with an informed public accepting that risk is the unavoidable and worthwhile cost of groundbreaking and broadly beneficial discoveries.
Another way to ensure that academia continues to innovate in useful and relevant ways is to blur the traditional boundaries among disciplines – the frontiers where invention so often happens. To that end, universities should update their organizational structure, moving away from clearly delineated departments in order to create a kind of continuum across the arts, humanities, and sciences. Students should be encouraged to take courses in multiple disciplines, so that they can weave those lessons and experiences into new patterns of knowledge.
To make this process sustainable, universities should ensure that the courses and curricula they offer help students to develop the skills that a fast-changing labor market demands. This means not just creating new curricula today, but also updating them every few years, in order to account for new trends and discoveries in areas ranging from artificial intelligence and Big Data to alternative energy sources and genome editing.
Professors, for their part, should approach their job as mentors of future leaders in science, technology, the arts, and humanities, rather than attempting to mold students in their own intellectual image. Of course, the latter approach can be useful if the goal is to advance the popularity of one’s own research program and to ensure that one’s own ideas and perspective endure. But that is not the fundamental mission of academia.
The louder the consensus in the echo chambers of academia become, the greater the ego boost for those who inhabit those chambers. But history shows that progress is sometimes advocated by a soft voice in the background, like that of Albert Einstein during his early career. Truth and consensus are not always the same. Diversity of opinion – which implies diversity of gender, ethnicity, and background – is vital to support creativity, discovery, and progress.
That is why it is so important for prizes and professional associations to be used not to reinforce mainstream perspectives, but rather to encourage independent thought and reward innovation. This does not mean that all opinions should be considered equal, but rather that alternative views should be debated and vetted on merit alone.
We in academia cannot continue to pat ourselves on the back, celebrating our own privileges and failing to look at the world in new and relevant ways. If we are to defend the freedom of our enterprise, we must restore dialogue with the broader public and ensure that the relevance of our work is well understood – including by us.
The Malaysian Parliament passed the Anti-Fake News Law a week ago on 2 April 2018, just in time for the 14th general elections (GE14) on 9 May. It wasn’t the most controversial law to have gone through the Barisan Nasional (BN)-dominated legislature, as the National Security Council Act passed in 2016 gives wide powers to the government to declare a state of emergency. But surely the Anti-Fake News Law is one of the many designed with clear targets in mind—dissenters and critics, and just about anyone who dares to verbalise any thoughts or opinions that challenge the establishment.
The law has yet to be gazetted, which is needed for it to be enforced. But its introduction is enough to raise fears among journalists, bloggers, politicians and netizens who speak out on social media. A maximum six-year jail term replaced the 10 years initially penned in, while the term “knowingly” in creating and spreading false news now reads “maliciously”. The change was presented as a compromise from the government following strong criticism, but it did little to placate concerns that the law is essentially problematic as it violates fundamental principles of freedom of expression. Besides, one cannot help but wonder if the “compromise” was a deliberate strategy to demonstrate a responsive government that should be voted back in.
The road to this haphazard but possibly shrewdly crafted law has been paved with a series of cosmetic reforms under Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak since he took office in 2009. While some laws like the Internal Security Act (ISA) were repealed, others introduced still contain draconian provisions. This latest law promises to fill in the gaps of what the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) couldn’t do in reining in free speech online. Since the 2008 general elections (GE12), the CMA has been a useful tool for the state to use in clamping down online critics.
In most cases, those hauled up for investigations were individuals sharing their thoughts and opinions over Twitter, Facebook and even WhatsApp. Activists and artists have also been charged under the law for satire and criticisms levelled against the government. It was a reminder to ordinary citizens that they had to toe the line, and what better way of instilling fear than to arrest and threaten them with jail sentences. According to human rights organisation SUARAM, there were 146 known documented cases under the CMA in 2017 alone. It observed that it was much easier to prosecute for speech under the law. However, most who were charged under the law would plead guilty, and only a few mounted constitutional challenges.
In 2017, plans were afoot to amend the CMA as the authorities sought more powers to investigate and prosecute online offenders and increase the penalties. The changes were not tabled but it can be assumed that the initial idea behind that proposal had found its way into the Anti-Fake News Law.
For most observers, the obvious reason behind this rushed law is to keep the scandalous 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) wealth fund and other financial misappropriations out of the electorate’s focus. This is a punitive law that fails to provide any clarity on the meaning or parameters of “fake news”, but criminalises a wide array of speech online and offline. It is thus obvious that “fake news”, as defined by the Najib government, is a catch-all phrase to allow politicians to delegitimise any forms of criticism; businesses to slam dunk their complainants using state resources; and turn members of society against each other on potentially frivolous allegations of spreading allegedly false content.
The latter is the most worrying as the state has outsourced censorship to a range of private individuals and groups to act on its behalf, to defend, among others, narrow interpretations of Islam and Malay rights. The state is then presented as having a hands-off approach even though it gives tacit approval for many of these acts of political and social vigilantism. Which is why, even if Najib’s UMNO-led coalition wins a two-thirds majority in Parliament at GE14, Malaysians can expect the law to be applied actively after the elections.
That the law does not specify the context in which “fake news” can occur—for example, during elections, as proposed in France—means that its application will be wide, arbitrary, and disproportionate to the alleged offences. Citing the other jurisdictions in Europe as justification is irrelevant as Malaysia’s law was passed amidst an already restricted environment for free speech and the media. Besides, it’s not falsehoods that the government is worried about, or that it could harm ordinary citizens; it is the expose of abuse of power that it fears. Malaysian leaders are much like the authoritarian leaders across Asia who have found US President Donald J. Trump’s language of “fake news”—an accusation he directs to the media he doesn’t like—useful to justify their controls at home.
Independent media outlets and journalists in Malaysia, as well as social media users, can expect to be on the target list. They are already cornered at almost every turn with the CMA, the Sedition Act, the Official Secrets Act, the Printing Presses and Publications Act, and the Defamation Act, just to name a few. Scenarios in which the media could be affected by the law include publishing developing stories (corruption, crisis, emergencies, political events) that rely on sources or witness accounts, and reportage based on information and data collected by think-tanks, academics or non-governmental organisations.
The mainstream, pro-government media, on the other hand, may be exempt from this as they continue to function as mouthpieces of the ruling party and have a stake in legal obstacles for smaller and less-resourced competitors. Since the 2008 elections, online platforms and social media in particular, have overtaken the mainstream licensed media as the primary sources of information. Many of the legacy media companies have acknowledged challenges posed by digital technologies on their business models, and have experienced serious financial losses and falling circulation over the years.
Of course, the media landscape is not defined in binaries, the good vs the bad, independent and otherwise. But to a large extent, the mainstream media has propped the government and has done little to remedy the loss of credibility it has suffered in the process. Even the BN set up its own news platform, The Rakyat, for the elections and its leaders have increased their presence on social media significantly since the 2008 defeat online, in order to reach out to younger Malaysians. It might just be that the BN has lost confidence in the mainstream media, which it controls, to deliver the votes it needs.
Even if the Anti-Fake News Law has yet to be operationalised, it is certain that “fake news” will be a feature of the elections. Leaders from all sides of the political divide are sure to frame their narratives in this language. Citizens and voters will have to navigate through the vast and complex web of information sources to find what is useful for them. And now that “fake news” has become a clear and present danger to society, BN’s online machinery and its cybertroopers will tap into that goldmine of public “confusion” to discredit its opponents.
Instead of legislating against so-called fake news, it would have been far better to promote public discussions about politics and governance, and encourage digital media literacy at various levels. With GE14, it is important that voters take the time to be more discerning of the information they receive. As most people are expected to share news and updates on social media including chat applications, it will be challenging to verify the sources of authenticity of the information. This can be a tall order as most people are likely to trust messages from friends or family members, especially if these affirm one’s pre-existing political positions.
This GE14 will not only be a social media “war”, it will also witness how far Malaysia’s politics will be able to cope with new forms of propaganda and misinformation.
US President Donald Trump signs trade sanctions against China–Making a Non-Issue into a Global Probem–Trump’s Economics
Economic and financial issues nowadays tend to be discussed in intellectual silos, by specialists who give little mind to security concerns or the interplay between national and international objectives. But sooner or later, economists will realize that global security demands a new approach, just as it did in the interwar period.
PRINCETON – Now that the world is facing a trade war and the growing possibility that the West could find itself in a real war, we would do well to reconsider the lessons of the interwar period.
Many of today’s economic and security disorders are frequently attributed to the 2008 global financial crisis. In addition to exposing the flaws in conventional economic policies, the crisis and its aftermath accelerated the global rebalancing from the Atlantic to the Asia-Pacific region, while fueling political discontent and the rise of anti-establishment movements in the West.
Dr Buckminster Fuller is a creative genuis, thinker and builder
Likewise, the Great Depression of the 1930s is usually thought to have produced a seismic shift in economic thinking. According to the conventional narrative, policymakers at the time, having vowed never to repeat the errors that led to the crisis, devised new measures to overcome their economies’ prolonged malaise.
The conceptual and institutional reordering of economics that followed is usually credited to one towering figure: the British economist John Maynard Keynes, who published The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money in 1936. Keynes also orchestrated the 1944 Bretton Woods conference, which led to the creation of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the post-war global monetary order.
According to Keynes’s collaborator and biographer Roy Harrod, Keynes enjoyed a god-like presence at the Bretton Woods talks. But some of Keynes’s other contemporaries, notably the British economist Joan Robinson, always doubted that he deserved so much credit for ushering in the new order.
After all, the real reason that Keynesian thinking took hold was that its method of calculating aggregate consumption, investment, and savings proved invaluable for American and British military planning during World War II. With consistent national accounting, governments could make better use of resources, divert production from civilian to military purposes, and curtail inflationary pressures, thereby maintaining consumption and staving off civil unrest.
The same tools turned out to be just as useful in reorienting the post-war economy toward higher household consumption. But the point is that the revolution in economics, followed by the economic miracles of the post-war era, was a product of wartime calculation, not peacetime reflection. Pressing security concerns and the need to ensure domestic and international stability made policymakers more willing to challenge longstanding economic orthodoxy.
This era holds important lessons for the present. Nowadays, many economists complain that the financial crisis did not prompt a serious rethinking of conventional economics. There are no modern-day equivalents to Keynes. Instead, economic and financial issues tend to be discussed in intellectual silos, by specialists who give little mind to security concerns or the interplay between national and international objectives.
Still, as in the interwar period, there are security threats today that will make rethinking economic assumptions necessary, if not inevitable. Though the financial crisis did not lead to a holistic intellectual reckoning, three broader challenges to the liberal international order since 2016 almost certainly will.
The first challenge is the existential threat of climate change, which will have far-reaching geopolitical consequences, particularly for areas already facing water shortages, and for tropical countries and coastal cities already experiencing the effects of rising sea levels. At the same time, some countries will enjoy temporary gains, owing to longer growing seasons and increased access to minerals, hydrocarbons, and other resources in polar regions.
Ultimately, reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will serve the common good. But, without an international mechanism to compensate those most at risk of a warming planet, individual countries will weigh the trade-offs of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions differently.
The second global challenge is artificial intelligence and its foreseeable disruption of labor markets. AI threatens not just employment but also security, because it will render obsolete many technologies that states use to defend their populations and deter aggression. It is little wonder that larger powers like the United States and China are already racing to dominate AI and other big-data technologies. As they continue to do so, they will be playing an increasingly dangerous and unstable game, in which each technological turn could fundamentally transform politics by rendering old defenses useless.
The third challenge is the monetary revolution being driven by distributed-ledger technologies such as block chain, which holds out the promise of creating non-state money. Since Bretton Woods, monetary dominance has been a form of power, particularly for the US. But alternative modes of money will offer both governments and non-state actors new ways to assert power or bypass existing power structures. Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are already disrupting markets, and could someday alter the financial relations on which modern industrial societies are based.
In the new political geography, China, Russia, India, and others see each of these challenges as opportunities to shape the future of globalization on their own terms. What they envision would look very different from the model of the late twentieth century. China, for example, regards AI as a tool for recasting political organization through mass surveillance and state-directed thinking. By replacing individualism with collectivism, it could push global politics in a profoundly illiberal direction.
Fortunately, there are alternative paths forward. In rethinking economics and security, we will need to develop an approach that advances innovation within a framework of coordinated deliberation about future social and political arrangements. We need to apply human imagination and inventiveness not only to the creation of new technologies, but also to the systems that will govern those technologies.
The best future will be one in which governments and multinational corporations do not control all of the information. The challenge, then, is to devise generally acceptable solutions based on cooperation, rather than on the destruction of competing vision.
*Harold James is Professor of History and International Affairs at Princeton University and a senior fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation. A specialist on German economic history and on globalization, he is a co-author of the new book The Euro and The Battle of Ideas, and the author of The Creation and Destruction of Value: The Globalization Cycle, Krupp: A History of the Legendary German Firm, and Making the European Monetary Union.
Anwar Ibrahim–The Charismatic Ketua Umum, Parti KeADILan Rakyat
“God does not play dice,” Albert Einstein is known to have once said. He was referring to the symmetry and completeness of the universe. Even if the universe, as some physicists believe, continues to expand, its expansion is derived from clear mathematical formula.
But the vastness of the universe—-if one insists multiverse—-makes one prone to a state of forgetfulness. Invariably, “insan,” a Quranic description of humankind, that who is inclined to forget, is a key concept in Islamic hermeneutics. The latter may seem like a big word. But it means human interpretation of the revealed scripture.
One of the first Malaysian scholars to unpack the meaning of “insan,” was Professor Syed Naquib Al Attas, the original founder of the Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC) whose existence under International Islamic University (IIU) was discontinued; though there are discordant voices to restore it.
Professor Naquib Al Attas explained in “Faces of Islam,” one of the first Islamic programs in TV3 back in the mid 1980s, that it was precisely due to the forgetful nature of humankind, that God has to manifest Himself in the form of readable and recitable words that is the Quran.
Anwar Ibrahim, then in his mid 30s, appeared as one of the speakers of “Faces of Islam” too. Being a former student of Syed Naquib Alattas, Anwar Ibrahim naturally carried the flair of his grandmaster. But, through out the hour long interview by Dr Ziauddin Sardar, the host of the “Faces of Islam,” Anwar Ibrahim spoke time and again on the meaning of ‘Tawhid,’ or, the Unity of God.
In other words, while all of us may be different by the intentional designs of God, He nonetheless has a teleological view of how all of us should co-exist. In the mind of God, the best of the humankind were those who spoke “truths to power.”
Between 1980s and 2018, whether Anwar Ibrahim is in or out of incarceration due to trumped up charges, he has always been consistent in telling the truths.
He warned, for example, that 1MDB would explode into a financial disaster. Sadly, events have proved him right. Anwar Ibrahim, in his Malay book, “Menangani Perubahan,” literally to handle change in a deliberate manner, further attests to the importance of civil society existing side by side with the state.
Again, the proliferation of Bersih, Tindak, C4, and Women’s Aid Organization (WAO), even Sisters in Islam, have proven themselves vital and necessary to the creation of a just society, one governed by the Rule of Law.
In his heydays of UMNO, when Anwar Ibrahim was the Deputy President of the party, he was intent on giving due emphasis on Islam Madani, or, civil Islam. Such an Islamic concept would have served as a mirror to reflect on the flaws and failings of the state.
The Loneliness of a Long Distance Political Runner
In this sense, Anwar Ibrahim has always tried to don the role of a rain maker, albeit of the intellectual kind. When ideas and concepts were lacking in the dreary landscape of Malaysia, he was one of the first to introduce the works of Ismail Al Faruqi, Parvez Manzor, Usman Awang, A. Samad Said, indeed, Malik Ben Nabi and Sheikh Qaradawi.
Elsewhere, Anwar Ibrahim also encouraged more Malaysians to read the works of Allan Bloom, author of “The Closing of the American Mind,” or, Gai Eaton, or, even Professor Toshiko Izutsu and Professor Tu Wei Ming.
Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind was a best seller when it was released in 1987 (Hardcover)
The generation of thinkers who had worked with Anwar Ibrahim gained amply from such a long and sophisticated reading list. The likes of Dr Mohammad Al Manuty, at one stage the president of Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia or ABIM, had served him in good stead. Manuty, came away, well read and perpetually curious; while others like Kamaruddin Jaffar, another confidante of Anwar Ibrahim, too, did not abandon his scholastic leanings.
In fact, the current campus of the International Islamic University has Anwar Ibrahim to thank. It was during Anwar Ibrahim’s tenure as the Minister of Finance in the mid 1990s that the actual size of the International Islamic University was allowed to grow manifold in the Gombak campus.
In the eyes of many, Anwar Ibrahim may be the perennial political fighter. After all, his creed, “Lawan Tetap Lawan,” or, The Fight Must Go On, has always been his talismanic call in any general election.
But the truth is, Anwar Ibrahim is not so much what the contemporary parlance would call a ‘realist,’ as he is either a ‘magical realist,’ in the mould of Gabriella Marquez, a Noble playwright, or, a ‘constructivist.’
As a ‘magical realist,’ all things can happen. Like “The Count of Monte Cristo,” who was wrongly imprisoned, French author Victor Hugo wrote of a character who escaped his dreadful imprisonment to wreak revenge on those who sent him to the gallows.
Anwar Ibrahim, as Tun Dr Mahathir may attest, does not want his wife or his daughter, to hold a permanent grudge against Tun Dr Mahathir. The goal in life was to forgive, with a vision to move on, and up.
Anwar Ibrahim is not an enigmatic figure by virtue of his exotic reading habits. Rather, the strength of Anwar Ibrahim comes from his ability to challenge his readers to a serious read and new potential. The moment a person begins to keep up with his readings, and writings, that’s when s/he can grow exponentially.
When the political tsunami in Malaysia comes right on time by the 14th general election, Anwar Ibrahim’s true power may rest in his ability to inspire the nation to devour their books once again, even if they may be in the form of surfing through Kindle or Good Reads.
In this sense, the upcoming tsunami of Malaysia, as preferred by Anwar Ibrahim, would be intellectual first, although having lost so much time, due to unfair imprisonment, Anwar Ibrahim may concurrently instigate people to read and do.
The role of a rainmaker is to fill up the lakes and dams. Only when the right policy knowledge is all dammed up, would Malaysia be ready for serious restructuring of the political economy of Malaysia.
The latter has now become a truculent version of its old self, devouring nothing else but the disposal income of the average citizens.
For a tsunami to wipe the slate of Malaysia clean, the place to begin is to read deeply and widely. Once this is done, academic knowledge imbued with democracy and respectful spirit of listening, would form the crucible of an actual policy or intellectual discourse.
When Malaysians of all colors and creeds can remind each other of the flaws faced by the country, than piecemeal solutions can be found.
Just like the ice cap mountains whose melted water can turn into a torrent, Anwar Ibrahim has the effect of triggering a tsunami in rural and urban areas that are thirsting for books, papers, magazines, and alternative media—-none of which are sheer pulp.
A true tsunami begins with throwing away the yoke of oppression and the post colonial mentality of fearing nothing but the state. Malaysia can go far, especially if more Malaysians are ready to be counted.
I have received a few phone calls and messages on my Facebook to say that they can no longer have access to my blog. Even ASTRO which has a surrogate blog (Google: Din Merican: the Malaysian DJ Blogger – Astro) has stopped posting since March 16, 2018.
This is regrettable since my blog is intended to stimulate discussion and free exchange of views not only on Malaysian issues but also on current developments throughout the world. I hope my friends outside Malaysia are still able to do so.
Keeping on reading because I intend to post articles of high quality and share my views with you. Being moral equivalent is not option for me. Like Noam Chomsky, Bilahari Kausikan, Kishore Mahbubani, Fareed Zakaria, Tom Friedman, and academics like Joseph Stiglitz, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Terence Gomez, Paul Krugman, Robert Reich, Philosopher A.C Grayling, Jeffery Sachs, Laura Tyson, Steven Pinker, Nick Kristof et.al, who I admire and respect, I will speak the truth to power. Thanks for your support and insightful comments.–Din Merican