Guna’s Take on Fake News


November 8, 2017

Guna’s Take on Fake News

One would think that fake news happens only in cyberspace and that mainstream/traditional news organisations are somehow not subject to reporting fake news. But that’s not necessarily true because when the media space is controlled like it is here, it produces an atmosphere which spews out fake news in billows.–P. Gunasegaram

by P. Gunaegaram@www.malaysiakini.com

QUESTION TIME | One would think that fake news happens only in cyberspace and that mainstream/traditional news organisations are somehow not subject to reporting fake news. But that’s not necessarily true because when the media space is controlled like it is here, it produces an atmosphere which spews out fake news in billows.

In its simplest form, fake news is just manufactured news but there are degrees. Some are outright lies while others combine untruths with elements of true news to project an image which is not wholly correct while appearing to give the impression that it comes from accurate news sources.

It is most easy to do this online by setting up websites and/or blogs to propagate the news and manufacture news to the benefit of the sponsoring authority. Thus, political parties and candidates up for election pay so-called cyber troopers large amounts of money to boost their image in the eyes of the public.

Simultaneously they engage in activities to drag down the image of the opponents through smear campaigns, sometimes unearthing true stories and twisting the context and at other times broadcasting outright lies.

In Malaysia, as elections loom large and have to be held by August next year, this whole idea of fake news, especially on social media, has grabbed the attention of politician and layman alike, especially when US President Donald Trump, who has propagated fake news against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, accuses US mainstream media of fake news in repeated tweets.

 

But in Malaysia, the situation is very different. We have had fake news with us for decades now, especially during general elections, when more or less the entire regulated media industry gets commandeered by the ruling government – BN and its predecessors.

Look at for instance, how newspapers either directly owned by political parties or those close to them behave at election time – UMNO’s Utusan group, MCA’s The Star, as well as New Straits Times, RTM1, RTM2, TV3, and even ntv7, the other broadcast media.

It is as if the government can do no wrong, it is as if the opposition is a major threat to the unity of the country. The only viable party that can rule the country is, of course, the BN, everyone else will take the country to ruin.

So the heavily-controlled mainstream newspapers, magazines and broadcast organisations not just spewed fake news but engaged in regular propaganda blasts about how the government was so great, with documentaries about what it did, and through advertisements. The poor opposition is denied any airtime or space in the newspapers while the ruling party of the day runs riot over the opposition in all the various broadcast and print media.

Is it any surprise that the ruling party thrashed the opposition soundly in almost all the elections since 1969 (until the tide turned in 2008) when the opposition denied the ruling party two-thirds majority for a while? BN regained it following the collapse of many opposition parties into BN in the aftermath of oppressive measures following the May 13 riots shortly after the elections, riots which many consider to have been manufactured.

 

And then came 2008 – BN did not lose but soundly lost its two-thirds majority and five states in the general elections, its biggest setback yet. And the opposition finally began to think about riding into Putrajaya in triumph. In 2013, despite all of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s efforts, BN did not regain the two-thirds majority although UMNO did better.

So what made the change in 2008 and 2013? In two words, social media, which remained largely uncensored and unregulated and which gave the opposition a lot more space than it ever did before – there was a new medium to send news out instead of just print and broadcast and it was accessible to all.

A game changer

The control of the print and broadcast media no longer ensured that only some news of the favourable kind reached the general public. In Malaysia’s case, social media stopped the avalanche of fake news spewing out of the mainstream manufactured news factories.

But unfortunately, with fake news making such an impact on social media in the US for instance, with Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the polls significantly attributed to it, the importance of social media is being increasingly recognised as a game changer for elections in Malaysia.

Thus, both Najib and his deputy have been increasingly talking about fake news on social media and the need to counter it effectively. But in all probability what they mean is that the true news is coming out from many sections of the social media, so we have to do something about it.

 

Their thinking goes something like this: We have to counter all these things which are true which are coming out from social media – we can blank it out from the print and broadcast media but we need a social media attack to counter these truths with lies.

Thus, we see Najib claiming in his blog rather preposterously that 1MDB will save RM200 billion in 20 years for Malaysia when the truth is that it has in all probability it has already lost as much as RM40 billion.

Expect this broadside by the BN on social media in Malaysia to increase – in the US, fake news may have reached epidemic proportions already, but in Malaysia, the process is just beginning but will increase very rapidly.

It is not going to be easy to differentiate the truth from the fake news but if you stick to respected and established online new organisations such as … – you know who they are, I don’t have to tell you – you will be safe.

Stick to independent news organisations who have a strong tradition of respect for truth, accuracy and balance and who cover both what the government as well as what the opposition has to say. Look at who are behind news portals – if they are not specific enough about ownership and editorial team, be suspicious.

Verify and crosscheck sources of information. Much is passed on over social media websites such as Facebook and WhatsApp with not even a mention of the source. If you want to check the source, type a key extract into a search engine and look at the results.

Please remember, especially at election time – you are more likely to get fake news and inadequate news of the right kind from mainstream media who have had a long track record compared to some of the online news portals who may not have as long a record.

And finally, please support those who supply good, fair information at reasonable prices (less than 60 sen a day) by subscribing to them (instead of sharing passwords indiscriminately), and take out advertisements with them and donating to them. It’s a small price to pay.

The sad truth is that information that is free is more likely to be tainted. Now, who was it who said that there is no such thing as a free lunch?


P GUNASEGARAM says truth often lies hidden under a pile of lies. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com.

Rethinking Southeast Asian civil society


November 7, 2017

Rethinking Southeast Asian civil society

by Kevin Hewison@www.newmandala.org

http://www.newmandala.org/illiberal-civil-society/

In the mid-1990s, there was a lot of enthusiasm for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the expansion of civil society in Southeast Asia. At the time, there was an efflorescence of activism as activists campaigned against trade agreements, foregrounded gender issues, worked to reduce poverty, improve health, protect the environment, advocated for workers and consumers, exposed corruption, bolstered human rights and agitated for democracy.

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The optimism of the decade was driven by a feeling of confidence that democracy was taking root in the region, growing on a foundation of thriving capitalist economies. The resonance of 1960s modernisation theory was palpable—the “Third Wave” of democratisation was said to be washing over the region. This was emphasised by the triumphs of popular uprisings in the Philippines (1986), South Korea (1987), Thailand (1992) and Indonesia (1998). These events were associated in the theory with the rise of the middle class and an expansion of civil society.

Two decades later, this optimism has faded. There is now more pessimism about civil society and democratisation. To understand these changing perspectives, it is necessary to give attention to recent political events, and rethink how we conceptualise civil society and its role in Southeast Asian politics today.

Civil society and democratisation

The notion of “civil society” has meanings embedded in the development of capitalism and the end of absolutism in Europe, and the consequent reduction of the weight of the state. The idea of a space relatively autonomous of the state developed quite late in colonial and postcolonial Southeast Asia. While anticolonial, socialist and communist movements, religious and educational organisations, trade unions and the like were established from the late 19th century, they were usually repressed.

When writing of civil society in late 20th century Southeast Asia, analysts tended to emphasise the non-state nature of civil society organisations (CSOs). Many have agreed with David Steinberg, who defined civil society as:

composed of those non-ephemeral organizations of individuals banded together for a common purpose or purposes to pursue those interests through group activities and by peaceful means. These are generally non-profit organizations, and may be local or national, advocacy or supportive, religious, cultural, social, professional, educational, or even organizations that, while not for profit, support the business sector, such as chambers of commerce, trade associations, etc.

The organisations mentioned can be formal or informal, may be charitable, developmental or political. Yet when considering democratisation, authors usually associate civil society with efforts to expand political space. Some authors identify a “political civil society,” where “non-violent … organisations and movements … seek to promote human rights and democratisation…”. Their efforts mean that the political space of civil society becomes a site of intense competition and struggle—including for the organisations that occupy this space.

Civil society and political conflict

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But this conceptualisation of civil society—one which views the groups making up civil society as only being non-violent and peaceful—is too limiting. Civil society and its political space is open to many groups, not just those considered “democratic” and “progressive”. That space can also be occupied by state-sponsored, right-wing, anti-immigrant and anti-democracy activists, and many others considered nasty, fascist, and reactionary. That the groups occupying civil society’s political space will sometimes be violent, and will oppose other groups, should be no surprise when we consider that all societies are riven and driven by conflict over all manner of resources.

Thinking this way of political space and civil society is not uncontroversial. Much of conventional political science, heavily imbued with modernisation theory, has romanticised civil society as the natural domain of individual and group freedoms, and sometimes conceived of NGOs and CSOs as representative interest groups. Such a perspective treats conflict and division as pathological, and misses the fact that political space is created through contestation with the state and with other groups in society. It is a view that fails to give sufficient attention to how civil society groups have actually behaved.

Contestation within civil society

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Bersih Movement in Malaysia

When we think of civil society as a site of struggle, it becomes clear that it is not always a ballast for democratisation. Islamic militias in Indonesia, racist Buddhist gangs in Myanmar and right-wing ultranationalists in the Philippines and Thailand are not forces for a democratic society—yet each undoubtedly occupies the space of civil society.

Islamic militias have re-emerged at various times during Indonesia’s reformasi era and engaged in mobilisation and violence. While the use of violence might exclude such groups from the romanticised approaches to civil society, militias have occupied a space created by democratisation, even if their activities are meant to mobilise anti-democratic groups and against some freedoms. A recent example of such anti-democratic opposition was seen in the defeat of Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) in the 2017 Jakarta governor’s election. The Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, or FPI) joined with several political parties to oppose Ahok in an acrimonious contest that involved the mobilisation of Islamic identity in huge demonstrations that targeted Ahok as a Chinese Christian portrayed as “threatening” Islam. Eventually, Ahok’s opponents gained the support of elements of the state to jail him on charges of blasphemy and inciting violence.

In Myanmar, religious groups have also engaged in racist and xenophobic activism. Radical Buddhists such as the ultra-nationalist 969 Movement and Ma Ba Tha (Myanmar Patriotic Association) have been able to mobilise mass demonstrations against Muslims and have fuelled extreme communal violence since 2012. Such groups have also been supported by elements of the state and by elected politicians, all the while taking advantage of the expanded political space created by Myanmar’s political transition to mobilise and propagandise.

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Buddhist monks walk during a prayer ceremony for the victims of the recent unrest between Buddhists and Muslims in Mandalay, at Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar’s capital Yangon on Friday, July 4, 2014. (Reuters)

 

Indonesia and Myanmar demonstrate how extremists use the political space of civil society, and elements of electoral democracy, to oppose and challenge the freedoms that have come with democratisation. These groups are connected with some of the most regressive elements that continue to populate some state agencies. So far, they have not managed to destroy the political basis of these new democracies. But to see how the political space of civil society was used to re-establish authoritarianism in a Southeast Asian “democratic success story” of years past, we only need to turn our eyes to Thailand’s decade of high-octane political contestation.

Thailand: civil society for military dictatorship

 

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The Yellow and Red Shirts of Thailand

Thailand’s recent political mobilisations have been designated by the colours that define their motivations. Their massive street demonstrations mobilised many, including NGOs and CSOs. The broad Red Shirt movement and the official United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship bring together supporters of electoral politics, those opposed to military interventions, and supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra. The Red Shirts, of course, developed to oppose the anti-Thaksin Yellow Shirt movement. The latter initially coagulated as the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), wearing yellow to announce their royalism. Yellow Shirts tend to support the status quo, are anti-democratic, ultranationalist, and supported the 2006 and 2014 military coups.

In the 1990s, Thailand’s civil society, dominated by middle class interests, gained a reputation for opposing the military’s domination. NGOs and CSOs also tended to support the liberalising ideas that permeated the so-called People’s Constitution of 1997. When Thaksin was elected under the rules of this constitution in 2001, his government gained the support of many NGOs and CSOs. This support was forthcoming because of Thaksin’s initial nationalism, and his attention to grassroots issues and poverty eradication. That early support quickly drained away, with Thaksin coming to be viewed as authoritarian and corrupt.

The PAD, which was formed to oppose and bring down the popularly elected Thaksin, came to include many CSOs and NGOs which, at the time, would have been bundled into the broad category of “progressive civil society”. As the anti-Thaksin campaign expanded, the middle class, including spokespersons for civil society groups, began to denigrate the grassroots. The latter appreciated Thaksin’s “populist” policies and, especially in the north, northeast and central regions, voted for his parties in large numbers. Mobilised Yellow Shirts vilified this grassroots support for Thaksin, labelling those who voted for his party as ignorant, duped or bought.

As pro-Thaksin parties won every election from 2001 to 2011, the Yellow Shirts began an inevitable shift towards the denigration of the electoral processes itself, while declaring themselves the protectors of “true democracy”. The Yellow Shirts—the PAD and its clone, the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC)—emphatically rejected electoral politics, arguing that electoral victories amounted to a dictatorship of the majority. In the 2013–14, PDRC protesters opposed an election called by then prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra. Yellow Shirts blocked candidate registration, prevented the distribution of ballot papers, and tried to prevent voting on polling day. The PDRC argued that no election could be “free and fair” until the “Thaksin regime” had been destroyed. Their ultimatum was that the Yingluck government had to be thrown out, replaced by an appointed government and an appointed “reform” committee to purge those associated with Thaksin’s rule.

Backed by Bangkok’s middle class, including CSOs and NGOs, PAD and the PDRC campaigned for a “democracy” that rejected voting and elections. They wanted a greater reliance on selected and appointed “representatives”, usually opting for a royally- appointed government of “good” people. This paternalism was taken up by protesters, who claimed to champion transparency and anti-corruption while begging the military for a coup. Such Orwellian doublespeak was also in evidence when the military responded and seized power in 2014. The junta defined a coup and military dictatorship as a form of “democracy”. One pronouncement called on:

all Thai citizens [to] uphold and have faith in the democratic system with His Majesty the King as Head of State. [The] NCPO [junta] fully realizes that the military intervention may be perceived by the West as a threat to democracy and a violation of the people’s liberty. However, this military intervention was inevitable, in order to uphold national security and to strengthen democracy (emphasis added).

The result has been more than three years of military dictatorship that has narrowed political space and heavily restricted much civil society activism. Red Shirts had championed electoral politics, arguing that winning elections should count for something and reckoned that electoral democracy was the appropriate platform for political reform. Under the military junta, they have been demobilised, jailed, and repressed.

Interestingly, most of the PAD and PDRC-affiliated NGOS and CSOs have either supported, or at least not opposed, the junta. Some have continued to receive state funds. However, the relationship with the junta remains tense, not least because the junta sees some of these groups as contingent supporters, worrying about their capacity for mobilising supporters and considering them more anti-Thaksin than pro-junta. Few high-profile leaders of these groups have expressed regrets about having supported the 2006 and 2014 coups.

Complicating “civil society”

The travails of electoral democracy in Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand are not unique in Southeast Asia. Certainly, any notion that increased national wealth results in a civil society that becomes a “natural” ballast of democratisation should be rejected. Democratisation does increase the space identified as civil society. However, this space is not always a stronghold of progressives. As a site of struggle, civil society can be occupied by groups that are anti-democratic, ultra-nationalist, and sectarian. As the experience of Thailand and other countries has made clear, much abstract talk of “civil society” runs the risk of crediting its constituent parts with a uniformly pro-democratic outlook that they manifestly do not hold.

This post appears as part of the Regional Learning Hub, a New Mandala series on the challenges facing civil society in Southeast Asia, supported by the TIFA Foundation.

Old dominance, new dominos in Southeast Asia


November  4, 2017

Old dominance, new dominos in Southeast Asia

by Dan Slater@www.newmandala.org

Not since World War II has liberal democracy, and the intergroup tolerance that sustains it, seemed so deeply endangered in so many places at once. For the first time in three quarters of a century, illiberalism and chauvinism have stolen the march, virtually all over the globe, on their liberal and cosmopolitan rivals. With narrow voices for exclusion and nativism making frightening headway against broader visions of inclusion and diversity in Britain, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Poland, South Africa, Turkey, and the United States, it seems fair to conclude that they can now gain major ground just about anywhere at any time.

If the flu of political and social illiberalism is circumnavigating the globe, Southeast Asia has precious little immunity with which to withstand it. This is a region where authoritarian regimes have always easily outnumbered democracies, and where liberalism and universalism have always struggled to gain traction against religion, nationalism, and communalism as forms of ideology and identification. So it should be no surprise that in a historical moment when democracy feels unsafe even in formerly safe-seeming spaces, it feels in Southeast Asia as if democracy could readily be extinguished entirely.

It wouldn’t be the first time since decolonisation that Southeast Asia suffered a complete democratic wipe-out. Historically speaking, the region’s democratic nadir ran from the early 1970s, when Malaysia’s Barisan Nasional and the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos converted their electoral legitimacy into outright authoritarian powers, until the mid-1980s. For most of that decade and a half, Southeast Asia boasted literally zero regimes that met even minimally democratic standards—with the minor exceptions of Thailand’s fleeting democratic experiment from 1973–76 and grudging democratic opening over the course of the mid-to-late 1980s. The Cold War did not produce the dominos of successive collapse from capitalism to communism across Southeast Asia that American interventionists feared, at least outside of what was formerly French Indochina. What it did help produce, though, was a region-wide domino effect of democratic collapses into authoritarianism.

Image result for A presidential campaign rally for Prabowo Subianto in Jakarta, June 2014. Photo: Liam Gammon

Could Southeast Asia domino its way into a total 1970s-style democratic abyss again? Since most of the region is enduringly authoritarian to begin with, it is already—and always—most of the way there. As in the early 1970s, the global ecology for democracy is looking downright toxic. External contributions to democratisation in Southeast Asia should never be overstated, of course. But whether by coincidence or not, democracies in Southeast Asia (as well as Northeast Asia) have almost always either been cosy or trying to get cosier to the United States. If that gravitational pull of American democracy has ever really reached all the way to Southeast Asia, it has changed from propulsion to repulsion almost overnight with the presidential ascendancy of Donald Trump. One could have recently imagined, for example, Vietnam following the path of Taiwan (and arguably Myanmar) by responding to an increasingly threatening and intrusive China by burnishing democratic credentials as down payment on a stronger American alliance. If Hanoi wants better ties with Washington now, it would be better advised to start building the right brand of luxury hotels than the right kind of political regime.

Old dominance

Even before disturbing global authoritarian trends emerged, Southeast Asia displayed a dismal democratic baseline. We would thus do well to distinguish the cases of old dominance that establish that dismal baseline from what we might call the new dominos that find themselves either tumbling or looking increasingly wobbly in these troubled global times.

None of the region’s long-dominant authoritarian regimes appear deeply endangered at the moment. Singapore’s PAP is riding high in the saddle after its most recent electoral-authoritarian landslide. It remains disinclined toward political liberalisation despite the manifest lack of risk to its own dominance from doing so. The gossipy drama of the Lee family feud distracts from the deeper point that an honest and independent media outlet could never get a license to investigate and report on it freely and openly. In Malaysia, venality is up far more than brutality is down. So long as the ruling BN can compensate for its high-level corruption with high-level repression—especially by re-imprisoning opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim—they seem likely to get away with it. Commentators commonly fret that Hun Sen just killed the last remnants of democracy in Cambodia when he shuttered the Cambodia Daily and moved to ban the country’s only major opposition party. But what is really transpiring is a transition from multiparty authoritarianism to single-party authoritarianism, since Cambodia has not met even minimal democratic standards for the past 25 years. Speaking of single-party dictatorships, Vietnam’s leaders have recently stepped up repression of dissidents. But it is not as if the Vietnamese Communist Party has ever brooked serious dissent in the first place.

Image result for One of the ubiquitous billboards featuring Cambodian strongman Hun Sen. Photo: Flickr user Erwan Deverre, Creative Commons

Not coincidentally, in all four of these cases, old dominance is rooted in old authoritarian ruling parties. In this sense, Southeast Asia is far from unique. Dictatorships ruled by parties have long tended to be more stable than those in which the military plays the leading role. So it stands to reason that the greatest action in the region, not just now but over the past decade, has been in countries where the military either still is, or in the past was, a leading power in political life. A militarised past means a high potential for a domino-ing present.

The new dominoes

Just as we can identify four clear cases of old dominance rooted in authoritarian ruling parties—Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam—four cases fit more readily in the new domino category: Indonesia, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Thailand. Across all these cases, long histories of parties failing to decisively supersede the power of the military left democracies with relatively little institutional strength to sustain themselves. In the case of Thailand, these weak civilian institutions have already laid the groundwork for outright democratic collapse at the military’s—and monarchy’s—hands.

Even among these latter four cases, I hasten to add, the story in terms of national regime type has been one of stability far more than instability. Of the eight Southeast Asian cases discussed here, only in Myanmar and Thailand have outright regime transitions occurred since the turn of the millennium. And one of the two, Myanmar, has moved in a more democratic direction since 2011. So it is worth stressing that Southeast Asian democracy has not exactly been cratering.

But the times and the tides seem to be turning. Could Myanmar soon follow Thailand’s recent path back to unchallenged military rule? Could the Philippines, now ruled by a strongman backed by martial law in Mindanao, descend from its current fragile status as an illiberal democracy into an outright one-man dictatorship? And does the shocking imprisonment of Jakarta’s ethnic Chinese former governor on blasphemy charges portend the demise in Indonesia of the tolerant norms on which even a minimalist democracy depends?

Image result for An election rally for the National League for Democracy in Yangon, October 2015. Photo: Olivia Cable

Although all four of these countries have been travelling distinctive trajectories downward, there is a vital common theme. When procedural democracy arises in otherwise politically and socially illiberal and intolerant conditions, democracy’s own key features can easily—and ironically—undermine its own quality and even threaten its own survival. Specifically, democratic procedures have a tendency to produce unbridled majoritarianism and unconstrained leadership in the absence of powerful countervailing forces to contain them. In settings where liberal institutions and societal commitment to inclusive and cosmopolitan values are relatively weak, minorities exist at the mercy of majorities. Sometimes that minority is defined demographically; other times it is established electorally.

The Philippines and Thailand both exemplify the dangers of domineering and abusive executives in illiberal democratic settings. Empowered and emboldened by decisive electoral majorities, Thaksin Shinawatra has attempted and Rodrigo Duterte is now attempting to overcome legacies of unresponsive, oligarchic politics in both countries through force of personal will. In Thailand this did not lead to outright populist authoritarianism, in part because the Thai military and monarchy saw fit to re-establish oligarchic authoritarianism instead. It is in the Philippines where a brazenly violent populist seems inclined to seize as many authoritarian-style powers as the system and public will allow. As abysmal as Duterte has been for human rights, his defenders quite plausibly prefer a highly popular president responding to actual social ills like the drug trade over a discredited one hanging on through electoral malfeasance like Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo did a decade ago.

Image result for Anti-Thaksin “Yellow shirts” protesting in Bangkok, November 2012. Photo: Nick Nostitz

Human rights are precisely the terrain on which conditions are sliding downhill in Indonesia and Myanmar as well. In Indonesia both anti-communist and anti-Chinese sentiment have made frightening comebacks from their Cold War demises. Since these were the same fear-filled mentalities that spawned and sustained Suharto’s New Order, their re-emergence suddenly makes democracy feel unsafe again at the national level. Conditions in transitional Myanmar are of course immeasurably more dire. But democratisation does not deserve the brunt of the blame for an ongoing calamity like the forcible expulsion and—why split hairs?—the state-sanctioned mass murder of the Rohingya. In Myanmar as in Indonesia, it is the ideological potency of ethnic and religious nationalism that explains why minorities get brutalised. Ethnic nationalism—or what I would prefer we call nativism—is one of the most dangerous gateways to authoritarianism, as well as a sapper of democratic substance. Democracy may embolden an electorally supercharged ethnic or religious majority to believe it can do whatever it wants with unvalued minorities. But it is authoritarian legacies of militarisation in Myanmar and ethnic and ideological scapegoating in Indonesia that best explain the severity and ugliness of both countries’ nativist downturns.

Reasserting liberal democratic values

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Read On:

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/future-development/2016/03/30/aung-san-suu-kyis-new-government-what-to-look-for-in-myanmar/

If one vivid lesson shines through the dim shadows of Southeast Asia’s democratic downslide, it is that democratisation and human rights are far from the same thing. Especially when a country’s citizenry is more deeply steeped in religious than in liberal educational institutions, they will quite understandably tend to see the world in terms of good people and bad people. Meanwhile nationalists steeped in a lifetime of authoritarian state propaganda are analogously primed to see the world in terms of us, who belong, and them, who do not. Under such conditions, democratic rights may get extended; but no further than the ranks of the supposedly virtuous.

What all this suggests is that our global crisis of liberalism and democracy is first and foremost a crisis of education. Heroic histories of mass urban mobilisation to topple dictatorships naturally lead us to expect that if civil society is to help forge democracy, it will be by organising the resistance: “People Power,” as we like to say.

This may still be largely true in Southeast Asia’s cases of old dominance, where dictatorship must somehow be dislodged before democracy can be defended. But in Southeast Asia’s new dominos, as in Western democracies where pluralism is under assault, a deeper educational imperative underlies the organisational challenge confronting us. Remarkably, we have reached a moment when our politics most urgently needs to be driven not by an exalted desire to maximise human freedom, but by the base yet pressing need to minimise human cruelty. And if educational institutions—with a big assist from the mass media—do not spread the message that even the lives of minorities and suspected criminals have value and are worthy of protection, who will? For civil society to help save Southeast Asian democracy—or democracy anywhere in these dark days, to be truthful—its educational mission will need to loom as large as its organisational one.

Dan Slater is Professor of Political Science and incoming Director of the Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies (WCED) at the University of Michigan. His research has focused on the historical and contemporary sources of authoritarian durability and the emergence of democracy, particularly in Southeast Asia. You can follow him on Twitter at @SlaterPolitics. This post appears as part of the Regional Learning Hub, a New Mandala series on the challenges facing civil society in Southeast Asia, supported by the TIFA Foundation.

 

 

The Protocols of Donald J. Trump


November 1, 2017

The Protocols of Donald J. Trump

Democracy depends both on the right to free speech and the right to know. We may have no alternative but to strike a new balance between the two.–Robert Skidelsky

 

There has always been a thriving market for fake information, forgeries, hoaxes, and conspiracy theories. The difference today is that purveyors of lies, like US President Donald Trump, no longer have to be able to hoodwink more or less reputable news outlets.

LONDON – It is an odd quirk in the history of logic that the blameless Cretans should have given their name to the famous “liar paradox.” The Cretan Epimenides is supposed to have said: “All Cretans are liars.” If Epimenides was lying, he was telling the truth – and thus was lying.

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Something similar can be said of US President Donald Trump: Even when he’s telling the truth, many assume he is lying – and thus being true to himself. His trolling is notorious. For years, he claimed, with no evidence other than unnamed sources that he called “extremely credible,” that Barack Obama’s birth certificate was fraudulent. During the Republican primary, he linked his opponent Senator Ted Cruz’s father to John F. Kennedy’s assassination. He has promoted the quack idea that vaccines cause autism, and has masterfully deployed the suggestio falsi – for example, his insinuation that climate change is a Chinese hoax designed to cripple the American economy.

There has always been a thriving market for fake information, forgeries, hoaxes, and conspiracy theories. “History is a distillation of rumor,” wrote Thomas Carlyle in the nineteenth century. Sellers of fakery manufacture information for money or for political profit; there are always eager buyers among the credulous, prurient, or vindictive. And gossip is always entertaining.

Modern history provides us with some famous examples. The Zinoviev letter, a forgery implicating Britain’s Labour Party in Kremlin-led Communist sedition, was published by the Daily Mail four days before the United Kingdom’s general election in 1924, dashing Labour’s chances.

Perhaps the most famous such forgery was The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Possibly manufactured for money, The Protocols purported to be evidence of a Jewish plan for world domination. Its key passage reads: “[…] we shall so wear down the Goyim that they will be compelled to offer us an international power that by its position will enable us without any violence gradually to absorb all the State forces of the world and to form a Super-Government.” Circulated by the Czarist secret police in the early 1900s to justify the regime’s anti-Jewish pogroms, it became the foundation of the anti-Semitic literature of the first half of the twentieth century, with horrendous consequences.

So what is new? The attention being paid to fake information today arises from the hugely expanded speed with which digitally manufactured information travels around the world. In the past, one had to be able to hoodwink more or less reputable news outlets to plant fake stories. Now misinformation can go viral through social media, like a modern Black Death.

The important question is how this will affect democracy. Will the unprecedented ease of access to information liberate people from thought control, or will it strengthen it to such an extent that democracy simply drowns in a sea of manipulation?

Optimists and pessimists both have good arguments. “Knowledge is power,” say the optimists. It seems to follow that the more information made available, the more knowledgeable voters will be, and therefore the more able to hold leaders to account.

But information, the pessimists point out, is not knowledge. Information has to be structured to become knowledge. Institutions like schools, universities, newspapers, and political parties have been our traditional structuring devices. But digital technology is institutionally naked. It provides no structuring mechanism, and therefore no control on the spread of knowledge-free opinion.

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In Donald Trump, Europe’s populist leaders think they have found a champion.

 Social media have undoubtedly played a part in the rise of the populist politics that thrives in such an environment. Left-wing populists, like Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, Bernie Sanders in the US, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France, received a significant boost from social media’s ability to bypass traditional news outlets. Right-wing populists, like Trump, Marine Le Pen in France, and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, benefited in exactly the same way. Both sides accuse long-established media outlets of “faking” news.

Perhaps the market for news will eventually find its own equilibrium between truth and falsehood. A fraction of the population will always be willing buyers of fake news; but the majority will learn to distinguish between trustworthy and unreliable sources.1

But if the spread of misinformation is thought of as a virus, there is no natural equilibrium to be had, short of catastrophe. So it has to be checked by inoculation.

Few trust politicians, who often have a vested interest in false information, to do the job. One answer is independent agencies along the lines of the consumer watchdog Which? There are a number of websites now devoted to fact checking and debunking putative news stories. One of the best known, Snopes.com, was launched in 1994 as a project to check the accuracy of urban legends. Facebook is now attempting to flag fake news stories by noting that they have been “disputed by third-party fact checkers.”

Worthy though these attempts are, they suffer from an inherent weakness: they still place responsibility on readers to check whether a news story is true. But we are all liable to seek information that confirms our beliefs and ignore information that challenges them. Facts will not be checked by those whose beliefs depend on not checking them.

There are no easy answers. Obviously, education in critical thinking, and especially in social sciences such as economics, is necessary. But will that be sufficient to counter the massive increase in the ability to spread fake information?

Democracy depends both on the right to free speech and the right to know. We may have no alternative but to strike a new balance between the two.

 

*Lord  Skidelsky, Professor Emeritus of Political Economy at Warwick University and a fellow of the British Academy in history and economics, is a member of the British House of Lords. The author of a three-volume biography of John Maynard Keynes, he began his political career in the Labour party, became the Conservative Party’s spokesman for Treasury affairs in the House of Lords, and was eventually forced out of the Conservative Party for his opposition to NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999.

 

The Great Annare (MIC) Hoax


October 31, 2017

The Great Annare (MIC) Hoax

When you are a race-based party ostensibly there to protect the interests of your community, but your community is not the people who voted you into office, there is really no incentive for you to look after the interests of your community beyond making superficial noises about Tamil schools and funding budding entrepreneurs.” –S. Thayaparan.

http://www.malaysiakini.com

 

 

Image result for The Poor Malaysian Indian in Kuala Lumpur

Does MIC care about the plight of the Indian Poor?

COMMENT | I have no idea if the Indian vote will make a difference in 60 electoral constituencies but I do know that voting for the Barisan National establishment in this election will seal the fate of the Indian marginalised poor and further class divisions within the diverse Indian community.

As someone who believes the less you need big government, the stronger you are, the disenfranchised of the Indian community which is the voting base of MIC, is the perfect example of what is wrong with the way the Umno establishment has done business all these years.

There is a robust dialectic in the Indian community which goes unnoticed in the Sino-Malay discourse that dominates the alternative press. Establishment Indian political operatives and their supporters have this strange defence as to why the disenfranchised in the Indian community remain marginalised.

Their excuse is that “rich Indians” unlike their Chinese counterparts are not doing enough for the community. While this may be true, this still does not explain why the Indian community should carry on voting for the establishment when MIC is supposed to be looking after the “interests” of the community.

 

Elites always take care of themselves first, only crumbs for the downtrodden. Expect Samy Velu and his successors in MIC to be any different from UMNO and MCA?

Furthermore, this idea that “rich Indians” are not doing enough is ludicrous because MIC is riddled with plutocrats who are the beneficiaries of a corrupt system that nurtures a feudalistic mindset. In other words, if the rich Indians in MIC cared about their community as the Chinese plutocrats in MCA do, there would be a very different dialectic going on now in the Indian community.

Meanwhile UMNO folk tell me, that whenever funds are dispersed to the Indian community, leakages prevent them from going to where it is needed most. This, of course, is rather disingenuous because everyone knows that there are “leakages”; and funds  are disbursed to ensure that votes would be bought and not that genuine progress is initiated for the disenfranchised of the Indian community.

I, of course, am the last person to talk about the Indian community. I see no reason why the interests of the Indian community should be defined by the Tamil school issue or the building of new temples. Indeed, I view all these language schools anathema to any kind of cohesive nation building but because our public schools is a hotbed of Islamic preoccupations and “ketuanan politics”, the only way young people are assured of any education not politicised by religion and racial superiority are in these kinds of schools.

Beyond that, MIC has a dismal record of holding the line when it comes to religious extremism. Have you noticed that the most disenfranchised of the Indian community – women – have been on the receiving end of Islamic extremism be it forced conversions or their children stolen from them and MIC has done nothing for them.

Indeed the only “Indian” community that has accumulated political and financial power is the Indian Muslim community–the mamaks–who should actually be part of the greater Indian community but instead is an associate member of UMNO. So that is where all the “rich Indians” went.

I mean, take this issue of stateless Indians. I have heard MIC people blame the Indian parents for not registering their newborns. Yes, blame mostly uneducated people for not understanding government bureaucracy. Is it not the job of MIC to ensure that their voting base remains healthy and vibrant? Instead, when opposition politicians bring up this issue – my sincere gratitude to those who specifically put the time and effort into handling these cases – there is this big rush to demonstrate that MIC is earning its keep.

We cannot even talk about the crime statistics, deaths in custody and the shoot first policy as advocated by the Deputy Prime Minister because victims of suspected gangsters are mostly “Malays”, because all this means confronting the issues of religious and racial supremacy and MIC has never been able to criticise the UMNO state because they know, we know and definitely the UMNO state knows, that MIC is part of the problem.

Moreover, let us be truthful especially when it comes to the nexus of crime and political power. While some folks in UMNO may praise their Tiga Line hoodlums as the last line of defence for Malay privileges and religious superiority, MIC has nurtured an overt thug culture which has seen journalists attacked and political meetings turn into freak shows.

 

 

The Tamil Malar incident is a prime example of the relationship between the MIC and UMNO. As I said then, “This merely means that people would go, “well, there is that MIC gangster culture, what do you expect” narrative and the Malay ruling elite would just think it is the price of making a display of Indian representation in the ruling coalition. I am down with that too, but it just goes to show how full of horse manure the Ministry of Youth and Sports really is.”

I can understand why MIC has been extremely ineffective in many issues. The Indian community does not have a large voting base because it is not a sizable demographic. Just like Indian politicians who cannot solely rely on their own community to vote them to power, MIC has to rely on UMNO to literally keep them in power. That always comes at the cost of communal sovereignty and independence.

When you are a race-based party ostensibly there to protect the interests of your community, but your community is not the people who voted you into office, there is really no incentive for you to look after the interests of your community beyond making superficial noises about Tamil schools and funding budding entrepreneurs.

No matter how you self-identify in the Indian community, I hope people understand that as the smallest minority, we would be the first to suffer under the assault of Islamic extremism and racial supremacy. Rejecting the establishment and their proxies is the only way to slow the tide of racial and religious extremism.


S. THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

Ops Lalang–Dr. Mahathir and Anwar are the Villians, says MCA Publicity Man


October 30, 2017

Ops Lalang–Dr. Mahathir and Anwar are the Villians, says MCA Publicity Man

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by Ti Lian Ker@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT | We are now commemorating the 30th anniversary of the biggest crackdown on innocent activists, politicians from both sides of the divide (including MCA leaders ), intellectuals, academics and activists, including the revocation of the publishing licences of two dailies – the MCA-owned The Star and Sin Chew Jit Poh.

The dragnet was the landmark of then Prime inister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s draconian iron-fisted Machiavellian style of maintaining power for 22 years.

Mahathir had been an authoritarian and condemned for bringing “dooms and time bombs” to Malaysia by his political enemy – but now ally – DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang.

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Ops Lalang was said to be caused by the growing racial tensions by Mahathir’s government that were said to be too “tolerant” and “liberal”. However, the real and immediate cause was the appointment of about 100 non-Mandarin speaking senior assistants to vernacular Chinese schools, which caused anxiety and fear among Chinese educationists and politicians.

On October 11, 1987, the United Chinese Schools Committee Association, also known as Dong Jiao Zong, together with Chinese politicians had gathered more than 2,000 people to protest against this decision that was seen as a direct attack on the character of Chinese vernacular schools.

Coincidentally, the Education Minister then was Anwar Ibrahim. At the time, Anwar was a rising political star and Mahathir’s protege in UMNO. Anwar repeatedly warned of retaliation and that the Education Ministry’s decision would not be changed or compromised despite pressure from component parties, including MCA.

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A week later, on October 17, 1987, UMNO Youth responded to the Thean Hou Kong 2,000 gathering with a bigger rally of 10,000, where UMNO politicians displayed their ire at MCA politicians for participating in the protest.

This was followed with a promise of a half a million UMNO members gathering on November 1, 1987, by the then UMNO Secretary-General Sanusi Junid, who is a Mahathir loyalist. This was calculated and meant to increase the tempo of racial tension.

However, on or about October 27, 1987, Ops Lalang was carried out, targeting Chinese activists, academicians, politicians, etc, who were arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA). They were arrested and detained without trial by the order of the Home Minister, who was also the prime minister.

Looking back, the protagonists or “villains” of the dark period known as Ops Lalang were none other than Mahathir and Anwar.

Was the blatant and forceful decision to appoint a large number of non-Mandarin speaking teachers to helm Chinese vernacular schools intentional? Was this decision made knowing that it would provoke a massive “violent” reaction from Chinese educationists and politicians?

Were the events leading to Ops Lalang orchestrated by both Mahathir and Anwar?

Ironically, we are now asked by the biggest critic of these two “villains” who was also a victim of Ops Lalang, Kit Siang, to vote and support these “villains”.

DAP and Kit Siang might have chosen to forgive and absolve these “villains” but there are others, including MCA politicians, who were innocent victims of this blatant abuse of power. We cannot allow a repeat of such a politically heinous act. Never again!


TI LIAN KER is MCA publicity spokesperson and religious harmony bureau chairperson.