The Monuments of Power


September 11,

The Monuments of Power

by Ian Buruma*

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/power-of-monuments-charlottesville-by-ian-buruma-2017-09

Why should public spaces in the US be purged of images of Confederate leaders, while statues of Admiral Nelson and Cecil Rhodes still stand in Britain? The way we tell stories of our past, and keep memories alive in cultural artifacts, is a large part of how we view ourselves collectively.

NEW YORK – The ghastly spectacle last month of neo-Nazis marching through Charlottesville, Virginia, carrying torches and barking slogans about the supremacy of the white race, was sparked by the city’s plans to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, the leader of the Confederate army, which fought to retain slavery in the secessionist South during the American Civil War. The statue of General Lee on his horse has been there since 1924, a time when the lynching of black citizens was not a rarity.

Related image

 Cecil Rhodes on Horseback

Inspired by the events taking place in Charlottesville, advocates have emerged in Britain seeking to pull Admiral Nelson off his famous column on Trafalgar Square in London, because the British naval hero supported the slave trade. And two years ago, protesters at the University of Oxford demanded the removal of a sculpture of Cecil Rhodes from Oriel College, where the old imperialist had once been a student, because his views on race and empire are now considered to be obnoxious.

Image result for statue of Admiral Lord NelsonThe  Lord Admiral Nelson Monument stands in London’s Trafalgar Square and is one of the most iconic in London–An Artifact of British Naval History.

There always was something magical about this kind of iconoclasm, which rests on the belief that smashing an image will somehow solve the problems associated with it. When English Protestants challenged the power of the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, mobs laid waste to stone-carved saints and other holy representations with pick-hammers and axes. Eighteenth-century revolutionaries did the same to churches in France. The most radical example occurred in China only a little more than 50 years ago, when Red Guards destroyed Buddhist temples and burned Confucian books – or indeed anything old and traditional – to herald the Cultural Revolution.

It is easy to deplore this type of destruction. Great buildings and works of art are lost. One is tempted to assume that only people who believe in the magical power of images would wish to erase them. The sensible way to deal with monuments of the past would be to see them simply as artifacts of history.

And yet it is not so simple. Who would argue that after 1945 streets and squares in German cities should continue to be named after Adolf Hitler? It was surely not just a childish mistake to remove sculptures of the Führer – or of Soviet leaders in Central and Eastern Europe after 1989. One could argue that images of these leaders and their henchmen lacked the artistic value of great churches of medieval England, or Tang Dynasty Buddhist sculptures in China. But then statues of General Lee are hardly worth preserving for artistic reasons either.

The question is where we should draw the line. Should a historical figure be judged by the amount of blood on his hands? Or should we establish a proper time frame?

It might be argued that monuments celebrating villains who lived within living memory and would still cause grief to surviving victims must be removed, and that anything older should be left alone. But that doesn’t quite work, either. The argument for preserving a sculpture of Hitler in a public place, assuming that such a thing still exists, does not get stronger as time goes on.

Many people in the US South argue that Confederate monuments should be protected as mere reminders of the past, as part of a common “heritage.” The problem is that history is not always neutral. It can still be toxic. The way we tell stories of our past, and keep memories alive in cultural artifacts, is a large part of how we view ourselves collectively. This demands a certain degree of consensus, which often does not exist, especially when there has been a civil war.

The case of postwar Germany is quite straightforward. Both East and West Germany set out to build their collective futures in direct contrast to the Nazi past. Only a resentful fringe still wishes to cling to fond memories of the Third Reich.

Nonetheless, to this day, German authorities ban the display of Nazi imagery, fearing that it might still tempt people to repeat the darkest episodes of their country’s history. This fear is understandable, and not wholly irrational. Such temptations could even become stronger as Nazism fades from living memory.

Britain has a less traumatic recent history. The views of Cecil Rhodes, or Admiral Nelson, though fairly conventional in their time, are certainly no longer fashionable today. It is highly unlikely that many British people gazing up at Nelson on his column or passing Oriel College, Oxford, will be inspired to advocate slavery or build an empire in Africa.

Image result for statue of Robert E Lee

The American South, however, is still a problem. The losers in the Civil War were never quite reconciled to their defeat. For many southerners, though by no means all, the Confederate cause and its monuments are still felt to be part of their collective identity. Although hardly anyone in his right mind would advocate the revival of slavery, nostalgia for the Old South is still tinged with racism. That is why statues of General Lee in front of court buildings and other public places are noxious, and why many people, including southern liberals, wish to see them removed.

There is no perfect solution to this problem, precisely because it is not just about images carved from stone. Resentment in the South is political. The wounds of the Civil War remain unhealed. Much of the rural south is poorer and less educated than other parts of the US. People feel ignored and looked down upon by urban coastal elites. That is why so many of them voted for Donald Trump. Knocking down a few statues will not solve this problem. It might even make matters worse

Get those UMNO goons out of our lives


January 31, 2017

Get those UMNO goons out of our lives

Image may contain: 3 people, text

The best message I got for 2017. Keep those UMNO goons out of our lives. They are playing the politics of race, religion and hatred. We Malaysians must not allow them to manipulate us for their personal gain, Malaysia be damned.–Din Merican

Najib’s Mystery Millions Caught in US Seizure?


August 23, 2016

Najib’s Mystery Millions Caught in US Seizure?

by John Berthelsen

http://www.asiasentinel.com

Najib’s Mystery Millions Caught in US Seizure?

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak may have lost a huge chunk of the fabled US$681 million that was allegedly steered to him from the scandal-plagued 1Malaysia Development Bhd fund, according to sources in Kuala Lumpur.  The money appears to have been used to acquire a major part of the estimated US$1 billion in assets seized by the US government in July, the sources said.

From the first, mystery has surrounded the US$681 million, which was deposited in Najib’s personal bank account in Ambank in Kuala Lumpur in early 2013, just before the general election, from the Singapore branch of Swiss Falcon Private Bank, owned by the Abu Dhabi fund Aabar, and another Swiss institution, Tanore Finance Group.

For months after the transactions were made public, Najib – who acknowledged the receipt but said the money was a “donation” – and a series of surrogates said it had come from a shifting variety of sources although the Prime Minister’s allies generally settled on a mysterious Saudi Arabian Sheikh.

In October 2013, US$620 million of the money was just as mysteriously transferred back out to Tanore Finance Group, after which it disappeared.  The other US$60 million was said to have been used to fund the Barisan Nasional’s campaign in the 2013 election, among other things.

Untitled-1

From left: Jho Low, Riza Aziz and Khadem Al Qubaisi (credit: Getty Images)

That transfer to Tanore is said to have been re-transferred into accounts held by Jho Taek Low, the young financial whiz who convinced Najib to take over a Terengganu state investment fund and turn it into 1MDB. Shortly after, Jho Low, as he calls himself, went on an amazing buying binge of apartments, houses, airplanes, jewelry, paintings and other expensive playthings.  Also, armed with a letter of guarantee from 1MDB, he attempted vainly to buy three of London’s most prestigious hotels.

These Rogues are still around

Many in Kuala Lumpur believe the acquisitions were made on behalf of Najib’s acquisitive wife, Rosmah Mansor, who has generated considerable irritation for her public flaunting of US$100,000 handbags and enormously expensive jewels. She is the mother of Riza Aziz, Najib’s stepson and the producer of The Wolf of Wall Street, which is believed to have been funded by 1MDB money, and which turned a huge profit.

The government is expected to call for general elections in the first quarter of 2017, a full year before the current parliamentary session is due to close. According political analysts in Kuala Lumpur, the government, and particularly the United Malays National Organization, is attempting to thwart the opposition while it is deeply disorganized and squabbling. The opposition, however, has now been joined by the new Parti Prebumi Bersatu Malaysia, headed by ousted UMNO Vice President Muhyiddin Yassin as the secretary general, and being driven by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

“The road is the first or second quarter of next year,” a source told Asia Sentinel. “They are raising funds already.”  Musa Hitam, a senior UMNO statesman, has also predicted an early election.

Monet’s ‘Great Saint George’—a $35 million scene of Venice.(above)

La Maison de Vincent a Arles, by Vincent Van Gogh

When it was suggested that Najib had plenty of money to fund the next election that was left over from the US$620 million that had disappeared out of the country in 2013, the source said: “That money’s all gone. It all went into buying the paintings and the apartments and the houses that Jho Low paid for. Now it’s going, going, gone…”

On July 20, US Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch announced that the US Justice Department’s Kleptocracy Unit had filed civil complaints seeking the forfeiture and recovery of more than US$1 billion in 1MDB assets, the largest such action ever brought under the kleptocracy asset recovery unit.

“Stolen money that is subsequently used to purchase interests in music companies, artwork or high-end real estate is subject to forfeiture under U.S. law,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker, who was present at Lynch’s press conference.

These assets have been detailed in extensive stories in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, much of it supplied by the blog The Sarawak Report, giving the addresses of high-end real estate and hotel properties in New York and Los Angeles, a $35 million jet aircraft, works of art by Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet, an interest in the music publishing rights of EMI Music and the production of The Wolf of Wall Street.

Named in the Justice Department’s complaint were Jho Low, as he is known, as well as Riza Aziz and “Malaysian Official 1,” who was not identified further. But the complaint noted that shortly after a 2013 bond sale for 1MDB were diverted to the Tanore account, “US$681,000,000 was sent from the Tanore Account to a bank account belonging to MALAYSIAN OFFICIAL 1.” 

Malaysian Official 1 was named 32 times in the 136-page civil complaint.It was an unprecedented action against the head of a government that is considered a vital ally in Southeast Asia and one who as late as last January was playing golf with President Barack Obama in Hawaii.

Najib and his surrogates have for more than a month jumped through hoops to seek to deny that he was Malaysian Official 1, with one going so far as to say that Malaysian Official 1 could be the current Agong, or Malaysian king, the Sultan of Kedah. They have accused the US Justice Department of neglecting to hear the Malaysian government’s side of the story. Khairy Jamaluddin, the Youth Minister, told supporters in early August that the US officials “announced (their findings) is as though it was a conviction, as though (those named) are already guilty and to be punished. The words used showed as though Malaysia and the government are guilty.”

In the meantime, however, the US Justice Department is sequestering the assets specified in the complaint, which many observers believe were not Jho Low’s at all, but the Najib family’s as the beneficial owners.  While UMNO officials plan for a 14th Parliamentary election, opponents and political analysts are waiting for the next shoe to drop, and that would be the filing of a criminal complaint against Malaysian Official 1 and his accomplices.

If indeed the US$1 billion in assets that have been seized is the property of the Najib family, it doesn’t leave them destitute. Long before he became Prime Minister, critics accused Najib, as defense minister, of a long string of defense acquisitions that had been overpriced by client companies alleged to be directing kickbacks into the Najib coffers. In February, for instance, French prosecutors launched a formal investigation into allegations that Bernard Baiocco, the former President of Thales International, the French defense contractor, of steering bribes to Najib through his close friend, the former defense analyst Abdul Razak Baginda, suspected of being the middle man. So far the case has not moved forward publicly.

Malaysia: The Extent to which Fawning Officials Go to Please The Boss


February 5, 2018

Malaysia: The Extent to which Fawning Officials Go to Please The Boss

by Anisah Shukry

An outpouring of solidarity for dissident artist Fahmi Reza in the form of posters shared online, after a warning from Malaysian police over his caricatures of the prime minister. – Fahmi Reza Twitter pic, February 5, 2016.

Images of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak dolled up in chalk-white makeup, with a bright red gash for a smile and neon green (or occasionally lush orange) hair, greet visitors to the Facebook community page called Grupa.

It is an acronym for “Grafik Rebel Untuk Protes & Aktivisme”, or “Rebel Graphics for Protests and Activism”, which brought together several graphic designers and digital artists to design posters for last year’s Bersih protest in Kuala Lumpur.

Now, they have set their sights on a new project: flooding the social media with pictures of a clown-faced Najib – sometimes grinning, sometimes sad, and sometimes with a rose dangling from between his lips – along with the hashtag #KitaSemuaPenghasut (we are all seditious).

In Malaysia, where an award-winning cartoonist was censured for drawing satirical comics on the Prime Minister and his wife, Grupa’s antics are more than just a colourful dig at Najib.

They told The Malaysian Insider they were risking arrest to stand up for fellow graphic artist Fahmi Reza, who posted the first clown caricature of Najib on his own Twitter on January 31, and promptly attracted police attention.

In Fahmi’s debut clown poster of Najib, he drew a fang-like smile on the Prime Minister’s face and sinister-looking eyebrows, with the caption: “In 2015, the Sedition Act was used 91 times. Tapi dalam negara yang penuh dengan korupsi, kita semua penghasut (but in a country that is full of corruption, we are all seditious).”

It was in response to the Attorney-General’s decision to close investigations into the RM2.6 billion found in Najib’s personal bank accounts.

Not impressed, the newly-set up Twitter account for the Police’s Cyber Investigation Response Centre (@OfficialPcirc) warned him that he was being watched.

“My first reaction was shock,” Fahmi told The Malaysian Insider as he recalled receiving the tweet.

“I didn’t know the existence of that police cyber unit, PCIRC, until they tweeted me that warning.”

But that feeling quickly turned to outrage when he read its tweet, especially the words “Gunakan dgn berhemah&berlandaskan undang2” (use properly and in accordance with the law).

Big Brother is watching

Defiant, Fahmi immediately wrote a post on Facebook in Malay, which translates to, “In a country that uses laws to protect the corrupt and oppress those brave enough to speak out, it is time we abandon all niceties when fighting the corrupt rulers”.

He also posted another satirical artwork on Twitter, using the police’s words against them in the caption, along with the hashtag #BigBrotherIsWatchingYou, an ode to George Orwell’s 1984.

The activist, who recalled his arrest 12 years ago for drawing a poster on police brutality, didn’t expect the Internet’s graphic artist community to rise up with him in solidarity this time around.

The #KitaSemuaPenghasut movement was a “new wave graphic rebellion against the Old Order”, he said, and the response has been overwhelming.

“It was beyond my expectations. It proved to me that I was not alone. There were others who share my outrage.In the past, graphic designers have largely kept themselves out of the limelight when it came to politics and activism. Grupa is a breath of fresh air,” said Fahmi.

On Grupa’s Facebook, fresh caricatures of Najib are posted every hour, and social media users are lapping it up.”Make a shirt of it, I’d buy it,” urged Facebook user Apisz Fumi in the comments section.

“That is one frightening image,” observed Richard Lee, to a digitally edited picture of Najib baring rotten, bleeding teeth and a cheerfully bright red clown nose.

Grupa said the movement came about when they decided to produce clown-faced posters of Najib to show solidarity with a fellow graphic artist and disgust at the ruling class for “constantly abusing the law”.

“We started releasing several posters on our Facebook page and before we knew it, we even had the public submitting their own versions of Clown Najib to us. To date, we have released 46 posters depicting Najib as a clown,” the group said, adding that they received dozens of paintings from “the citizenry” a day through email.

But the group, as well as Fahmi, risk running afoul of the law, more specifically Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

A conviction could land the artists a fine of up to RM50,000, a year’s jail, or both.And as if to drive this point home, @OfficialPcirc’s only tweet since issuing the warning to Fahmi comprised an image breaking down that same law.

But the prospect of having the police cyber unit clamp down on them doesn’t seem to perturb Grupa, even though they risk courting more trouble than Fahmi, given the flood of caricatures on their page.

They said they were frightened of just one thing: being trampled over should they not voice out.

“So far, no authorities have contacted us, but that may change. We are looking forward to it,” they added.

Global attention

The BBC report on Fahmi Reza and the solidarity shown to him by fellow graphic artists. – BBC pic, February 5, 2016.

For the time being, the group plans to continue sharing clown images of the Prime Minister as long as it believes citizens are being repressed and denied their right to free speech and freedom of expression.

Besides receiving Facebook likes and shares, they gained international publicity with a BBC report on them titled “PM left red nosed by censorship protest”.

Grupa said they were left “humbled and surprised” by the attention.

“We didn’t expect it to go big…Actually we did lah, I mean, you mess with freedom of expression this is what you get lah, blowback,” they quipped.

Despite this, the group is strict about maintaining anonymity. “We are an anonymous collective group of graphic designers and digital artists who work as a team devoid of a formal hierarchy. There is no one in charge as we feel that our artwork should do the talking for us.You can say that our posters are in charge.”

Fahmi said he was ecstatic by the Malaysian graphic design community’s strong spirit of resistance.”It shows that they can ban a poster, but they can’t ban the idea behind the poster. Because ideas are bulletproof.”

And he is confident Malaysia’s #KitaSemuaPenghasut movement will herald a change in society.

“The outpouring of solidarity posters from graphic artists with their own versions of a clown-faced Najib despite the police warning against it was a clear act of defiance and represents a shift in the way ordinary people react to police intimidation.

“When people are emboldened to defy and stand up against injustice, it chips away at the power structure that keeps people docile.”

Clearly emboldened by the movement, Fahmi shared the BBC report on his Twitter yesterday, with the caption, “#KitaSemuaPenghasut has spread. The rebellion has begun.”

He told The Malaysian Insider: “That BBC took interest in the story shows how preposterous it is to consider a satirical graphic featuring the Prime Minister to be a threat.”


February 2, 2016

A Fearless Cartoonist challenges The Royal Malaysian Police over his Najib Clown Cartoon

by Arfa Yunus

http://www.freemalaysiaytoday.com

fahmi-reza-4

Artist and activist Fahmi Reza has warned police against arresting him over his artwork depicting Prime Minister Najib Razak as a clown.In an open letter posted on his Facebook page today, Fahmi said his arrest would only get him more publicity and draw more attention to his art pieces.

“With all due respect, I hope the Police would not make a rash decision to arrest me, following the Police report lodged by Ali Tinju and the Red Shirts movement against the poster I shared on social media.CaLsvZcVIAMmfH9

As you know, the poster was a satire based on current issues, which is protected under Article 10 of the Federal Constitution, which guarantees ‘every citizen the right to freedom of speech and expression’,” he said.

Fahmi recently received a warning from the Police for uploading a caricature of Najib as a clown, as part of a campaign against the Sedition Act.

In lodging a police report yesterday, Ali Tinju, whose real name is Mohd Ali Baharom, said Fahmi’s artwork had caused “public outrage” and could influence the rakyat to hate the Prime Minister.

Fahmi, however, said that if he was arrested, it could draw more visitors to his social media accounts and would inspire more people to rebel, become more aware of their rights, and be unafraid to speak up against corruption, injustice and oppression.

“I end this letter with Newton’s Third Law: ‘For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction’.”

Zunar seeks Freedom of Expression via The Washington Post


January 5, 2015

Zunar seeks Freedom of Expression through The Washington Post: What a damning shame for the Malaysian Government

By Zunar January 1, 2016

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-malaysian-government-has-no-sense-of-humor–and-thats-dangerous/2016/01/01/9f4437aa-af26-11e5-9ab0-884d1cc4b33e_story.html

Zunar is the pen name for the Malaysian political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque.

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I’m a cartoonist in a country where cartooning can be a crime. Under my pen name, Zunar, I expose corruption and abuses of power by the Malaysian government. As it happens, I have a good deal of material to work with. For instance, Prime Minister Najib Razak is currently facing questions about a $700 million “donation” made to his personal bank account.

Congrats Zunar

MALAYSIA-POLITICS-MEDIA-RIGHTS

Last February, Police raided my home in the middle of the night and hauled me off to jail. I was handcuffed for eight hours and thrown into a cell with all the other criminal suspects. I managed to avoid telling my cellmates what I was in for: using Twitter.

I was accused of sedition over a series of tweets I sent out opposing the jailing of a prominent Malaysian opposition leader. Now I’m facing nine charges under my country’s archaic, colonial-era Sedition Act, which could result in a 43-year prison sentence. The court proceedings against me begin this month.

Najib and Obama

I was in the United States in November to receive a press freedom award from the Committee to Protect Journalists. While I was discussing my case with American journalists and cartoonists, President Obama was in Kuala Lumpur meeting with Najib — the third time they met face to face.

Obama is eagerly courting Malaysia in his efforts to fight extremism and to advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, and his meeting reportedly focused on that to the virtual exclusion of everything else. That’s a grave disappointment and a missed opportunity. Obama has a responsibility to put the issue of human rights on the table.

The legal assault against me is nothing new, but it marks a major escalation. The authorities have repeatedly sought to silence me. My office has been raided multiple times since 2009, and authorities have confiscated thousands of my cartoon books. In 2010, five of my books — including “1 Funny Malaysia” — were banned by the Home Affairs Minister, who declared the contents “detrimental to public order.” Later that year I was detained by Police and locked up for two days after the publication of “Cartoon-O-Phobia.” To say the least, the Malaysian government has no sense of humor.

In late 2014, my webmaster was called in for questioning, and three of my assistants were arrested for selling my books. I was also brought in for questioning by the Police, and the company that processes orders for my website was forced to disclose my customer list. In January, the Police raided my office and then opened two investigations in February under the Sedition Act. That’s when they really threw the book at me.

The government hasn’t just targeted me and my associates; it also has cracked down on the entire ecosystem of free expression. Three companies that printed my books were raided and warned not to print my books in the future or their licenses would be revoked. Likewise, bookstores that carried my book were raided and their licenses were threatened. As a result, no one dares print or sell my books.

In such an environment, people like me must turn to the Internet to share our opinions and art. But now that space is under attack as well.

Twitter Chief Executive Jack Dorsey recently proclaimed that the platform is a bastion of “freedom of expression” and speaking “truth to power.” With my personal slogan of “How Can I Be Neutral, Even My Pen Has a Stand,” I embrace his vision. The reality, though, is quite different.

If a person can face sedition charges for stating a belief in 140 characters or less, then there is no freedom of expression. The Malaysian Sedition Act is incredibly broad, banning any act, speech or publication purported to bring contempt against the government or royal sultans. In 2012, Najib pledged to repeal the act because, he said, it “represents a bygone era.” He’s since reversed course and moved to strengthen it.

I’ve been charged with one count of sedition for each supposedly seditious tweet. I could successfully fight one, or maybe two, counts, but nine counts and a potential 43-year prison sentence make clear that the government wants to make an example of me. I need help from people around the world who share my commitment to freedom of expression.

Amnesty International is highlighting my case as part of its Write for Rights campaign, the largest human rights effort on the planet. You can personally write to Prime Minister Najib and call on his government to drop the charges against me and to abolish laws like the Sedition Act that squelch freedom of expression. Public pressure from around the globe can make a big difference in my case and beyond. I hope you’ll join with me to take a stand.