The Demise of A Secular State


October 16, 2017

The Demise of  A Secular State

by S. Thayaparan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

“What the State can usefully do is to make itself a central depository, and active circulator and diffuser, of the experience resulting from many trials. Its business is to enable each experimentalist to benefit by the experiments of others, instead of tolerating no experiments but its own.”
John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty”

Malaysiakini columnist P Gunasegeram ends his latest piece, ‘I am a pendatang and proud of it,” with the appropriate “And know that I am here to stay whether you bloody like it or not because this country is mine too!” which is exactly how most non-Malay/ non-Muslims feel whenever they read about the use of the weaponised Islam in this country.

All you have to do is read the comments on social media when Johor’s HRH Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar stands up for what is right and decent when it comes to countering the agendas of Islamists in this country, who would use religion as a demarcation line to understand the frustrations non-Malays have with a system that on the one hand, finds utilitarian value in non-Malay contribution to this country, and on the other, is disgusted by their very existence as Malaysians with hopes and agendas of their own. These agendas are not necessarily different from each other but are anathema to the agendas of these state-sponsored Islamists.

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Johor’s HRH Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar stands up for what is right and decent when it comes to countering the agendas of Islamists in this country. The Malaysian Opposition led by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and his sidekick DAP’s Lim Kit Siang is deaf and dumb on this issue.
 

People often miss the larger narrative when it is easier to digest sound bites. When a religious school burns down, this should have been an opportunity for a national discussion on why these religious schools exists in the first place, what values they are promoting, how safe are they and the corrupt practices that goes in the creation and maintenance of these schools. Instead, nobody was really interested in this, but carried on putting all their eggs in the 1MDB basket.

The Muslims-only launderette issue becomes about how:

1)HRH The Sultan of Johor was the line in the sand when it comes to this type of religious mischief because politicians offered only mild condemnation which sounded more like bemusement, and

2) the relevance of an institution like Jakim (Islamic Development Department) to state religious bodies is questioned by the moves of the Johor Sultan, who, by cutting off contact between the federal religious authorities and his state’s religious department, is making it clear that – for the time being at least – he does not want religious extremism from the federal level contaminating Islamic moderation at the state level.

Where is our glorious opposition in all of this? As I said before – “If you are waffling on your commitment to a secular state, then you have to make your case for an Islamic state and this is where the trouble begins and ends. If oppositional Muslim political operatives and their allies would just stop using religion as the basis of critique and concentrate on furthering the agenda of the secular state, oppositional Muslim MPs would not have to worry about attempting to ‘out-Islam’ their rivals because this would not be the grounds on which they battle for votes.”

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Prime Minister Ayahtollah Najib Razak, Malaysia Al-Islam

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Ayahtollah Abdul Hadi Awang–Deputy Prime Minister, Malaysia al-Islam

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki  reminds us that BN – not Umno but BN – is committed to make Malaysia an Islamic state and of course, we will not hear anything from the MCA and MIC about this glorious agenda. Neither will we hear anything from our doughty opposition, because they have convinced themselves that they need to be “Islamic” to win the votes of the majority of the Malay community to replace the current Umno poohbah who is apparently the enemy of the state.

Which brings up the uncomfortable question of what kind of state? The enemy of an Islamic state or a secular state?

Forsaking the Constitution

Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak blathers on about how we should embrace new politics – whatever that means – and not abandon the Constitution, but the reality is that by chipping away at the Constitution which is what Umno is doing in its attempt to create an “Islamic” state, it is just further evidence that the Constitution is not worth the paper it is printed on.

Meanwhile, the opposition is doing nothing about this. Nobody in the opposition has ever made statements that reaffirm the primacy of the Constitution or the opposition’s agenda of ending the Islamisation process. We do not even know if this is one of the reforms that would “save Malaysia” that the opposition intends to carry out.

 

Remember, “this meme that by benching UMNO, we as Malaysians, whatever our religion or credo, would be safe from the machinations of Islamic extremists, is irrational considering that we neither have a committed secular opposition nor Muslim politicians who openly commit to secular agendas. As long as this remains the default setting of Malaysian politics, there will never be a period where secularism is safe from encroaching Islamic extremism.”

I mean really, this whole idea of making Malaysia an “Islamic” state is really about making Malaysia more like Saudi Arabia. And you know what the Johor sultan thinks about that, right? Here is a reminder – “If there are some of you who wish to be an Arab and practise Arab culture, and do not wish to follow our Malay customs and traditions, that is up to you. I also welcome you to live in Saudi Arabia.”

But what I really want to know is, what does the opposition think of that? Does the opposition think that Malay culture should emulate Arab culture and if so, does the opposition advocate that Malays who don’t want to follow “Malay” customs and traditions are welcome to live in Saudi Arabia?

Depending on your point of view, the balkanisation of Malaysia is something that is a very real possibility because of this agenda of turning Malaysia into an “Islamic” state. This is not something that any rational person would want and I am including the Malays in this equation, because if they really wanted to live in an Islamic paradise, they would have voted for PAS a long time ago.

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Young Malaysians on a Mission: #TangkapNajib

Writing for Malaysiakini has presented me with opportunity to talk to young people from all over Malaysia. This is purely anecdotal, but what young people tell me is that they are disgusted by politics in this country. They voted for change and even on a state level, this has not happened. Most, if not all, of them say that if UMNO stops “playing” with race and religion they will vote BN because they know all over the world politicians are corrupt.

A common complaint or some variation of the same, is that Pakatan Harapan is not doing anything to stop Malaysia for becoming an Islamic state. Most young people who choose to leave do not leave because of corruption, but because of race and religion.

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Pakatan Harapan is not doing anything to stop Malaysia for becoming an Islamic state.

I am beginning to realise that the idea of voting for the opposition to create a two-party system and the almost zealous advocacy (mine?) of such, is an idea of diminishing returns.

Aung San Suu Kyi unveils relief plans for Rohingya Muslims


October 16, 2017

Aung San Suu Kyi unveils relief plans for Rohingya Muslims

Nobel laureate aims to restore reputation by setting up civilian-led agency in Myanmar to deliver aid and resettle refugees

Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech to the nation over the Rakhine and Rohingya situation in Naypyitaw in September
Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticised for failing to denounce a brutal army crackdown on the Rohingya in Rakhine state. Photograph: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has announced plans to set up a civilian-led agency, with foreign assistance, to deliver aid and help resettle Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.

A close adviser, speaking with Aung San Suu Kyi’s knowledge, said the proposed body had been long planned, and was part of an attempt to show the civilian government she leads, rather than the Burmese military, can deliver humanitarian relief, resettlement and economic recovery.

The Nobel laureate has been criticised for failing to denounce a brutal army crackdown on the Rohingya in Rakhine state, which has forced hundreds of thousands to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Thousands of refugees have continued to arrive in recent days from across the Naf river separating the two countries, even though Myanmar insists military operations ceased on 5 September.

Aid agencies estimate that 536,000 people have arrived in Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh, straining scarce resources of aid groups and local communities.

About 200,000 Rohingya were already in Bangladesh after fleeing persecution in Myanmar, where they have long been denied citizenship and faced restrictions on their movements and access to basic services.

The adviser said Aung San Suu Kyi had been deeply affected by the crisis in her country, and was determined to fix it, but needed to be careful not to inflame the situation further.

“She is appalled by what she has seen. She does care deeply about this. I know that does not always come across. But she really does,” said the adviser, who asked not to be named. “What was not clear to her [before now] was how to fix it, and how to give the civilian government the powers it needed”.

In a speech carried by state TV late on Thursday, Aung San Suu Kyi said: “There has been a lot of criticisms against our country. We need to understand international opinion. However, just as no one can fully understand the situation of our country the way we do, no one can desire peace and development for our country more than us.”

Many of Aung San Suu Kyi’s former allies have been exasperated by her failure to criticise the military, but the adviser said she was treading a fine line, knowing her government could become under threat of being overthrown by the military.

The adviser added her speech marked an attempt to wrestle Buddhism out of the hands of extremists.

Aung San Suu Kyi came to power ending years of military rule in a compromise that left the military with sweeping powers.

In her new proposal, she said she was setting up a new body to deliver relief and resettlement on the ground, as well as implement projects in all sectors of the region.

“It is going to be an implementation unit and will introduce a degree of transparency into the government that will allow the international community to participate and provide aid”, the adviser added.

The aim is for the body to be a vehicle through which recovery aid, including that delivered by the UK, can be funnelled.

Her adviser said Aung San Suu Kyi understood the moral priority of humanitarian assistance, the need to build new homes for those who had to flee as well as the need for economic development in the region.

“She has put herself front and centre of this and said ‘I will lead this’ ”. The adviser added: “She is someone who through her whole life has been committed to the values of human rights. That has not gone away, but she is very focused on fixing the problem, rather than identifying it.

“She recognises there have been particular tragedies amongst the Muslim communities, and amongst other small minority groups. But, yes, she does see this latest and most dreadful upsurge of violence as stemming from carefully timed political attacks on police stations.”

Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech made no mention of the allegations levelled against security forces, over which she has no formal control under the military-drafted constitution. State media in recent weeks, however, has offered repeated denials of the human rights allegations, often blaming misreporting by the west.

In her speech, she said: “Rather than rebutting criticisms and allegations with words, we will show the world by our actions and our deeds. In the Rakhine state, there are so many things to be done.”

Her adviser said: “She is trying to move away from inflammatory and divisive remarks towards a coherent national solution that is civilian-led. The perilous state of the democratic transition in her country is understood.”

Aung San Suu Kyi listed repatriation of those who have fled to Bangladesh as a top priority, a task that faces political and practical hurdles, notably due to the fact that tens of thousands of Muslim refugees who fled to Bangladesh do not have the documentation likely to satisfy the military that they have a right of return.

However, detailed work remains on possible forms of new registration to allow the Rohingya to return.

In another attempt to respond to western criticisms, Myanmar’s military has launched an internal investigation into the conduct of soldiers during the army’s offensive in Rakhine, which was launched after attacks by Rohingya insurgents on security posts in late August.

 

Jomo Kwame Sundaram–Need to Speak Truth to Power


October 16, 2017

Jomo Kwame Sundaram–Need to Speak Truth to Power

by Malaysiakini Team

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Tomorrow: Jomo on why Malaysians are worse off today

INTERVIEW | Jomo Kwame Sundaram, former Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development at the United Nations, talks about the need to “speak truth to power,” among others.

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Question: In a recent speech, Prime Minister Najib Razak accused you of taking “every opportunity to attack me and my policies, from our participation in the TPPA, to the administration of welfare payments, to foreign investment in Malaysia.” What do you have to say?

Jomo: What can I say? One should not read him out of context. He said this as proof of freedom of speech and democracy in the country. Obviously, I appreciate his commitment to freedom of speech, and presumably, freedom after speech [laughs]. In fact, some people now tease me as the PM’s “poster boy” for free speech in Malaysia.

But unfortunately, his fact-checkers did not do their homework, or perhaps facts don’t matter in this age of fake news. As many know, I have also been criticised by the PM’s critics for supporting several of his policy initiatives, most notably BR1M (Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia) and the minimum wage policy.

BR1M goes directly to beneficiaries and is hence much appreciated by recipients. Understandably, as with the mid-year deal for Felda settlers, opposition politicians see BR1M as bribing the electorate, but one should not condemn BR1M itself.

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However, labour market interventions, such as the minimum wage policy, have been far more significant for improving a lot of low-income earners although the public may not realise it.

I recently lauded the Health Ministry initiative to get an affordable Hepatitis C treatment, for a small fraction of the US price, for the almost half million Malaysians who suffer from it.

So factually, his speechwriters were wrong. But he was right to say that I do not blindly support everything his government has done, and have been critical of specific policies, which I have done for decades, long before he became PM.

Najib said you have been critical of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

Jomo: He is correct that I have long been critical of the TPPA. Before I came back to Malaysia last year, I joined some UN colleagues to critically assess the TPPA. The report was launched in Washington DC in early 2016, soon after I left the UN.

That work was not focused on Malaysia, and simply pointed out that the methodology used simply assumed away the problems the TPPA would generate, including for the US. In the US, both Democrats and Republicans cited our work to oppose the TPPA.

After returning to Malaysia, I felt obliged to point out that the gains promised by the TPPA, even by its most fervent US advocates, were actually very modest and exaggerated by its Malaysian proponents.

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I also pointed out that most of the gains to the US were at our expense. Strengthened intellectual property rights (IPRs) would raise the costs of medicines, for example.

The TPPA’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions would allow private tribunals to make rulings in favour of powerful foreign corporations at potentially great expense to the Malaysian government.

Even now, although the TPPA is dead in law because President (Donald) Trump rejected it, there are those trying to push TPP 11 through while the government and public are distracted by other matters.

This would be worse as it would sell out the national and public interest for next to no gain. My concern throughout has been the Malaysian public interest, including the government interest.

What about foreign investments?

Jomo: As for foreign investment, again he is correct that I am concerned about how the government is encouraging foreign portfolio investment, as in the period before the 1997-98 crisis.

Unlike Thailand and Indonesia then, the government and Malaysian corporations had not borrowed very heavily from abroad. But we were vulnerable because of the sudden exit of mainly foreign holdings from the Malaysian stock market.

Such investments have grown so much in the last decade that some estimates suggest that they exceed foreign share ownership in the mid-1970s, more than four decades ago. It is also misleading to think that because Malaysians have been encouraged to invest abroad, we should encourage foreign portfolio investments here.

 

Greenfield foreign direct investments are a different story as they may bring in new productive capacities and capabilities, including technology, management and market access. But my concern remains that Malaysian industrial capacities and capabilities remain modest, and we still have relatively few internationally competitive industrial firms.

My concerns have been expressed with the country’s interests and future progress foremost. I pray that the space for such discussion and debate will be expanded, not diminished. The PM’s affirmation of freedom of speech should, therefore, be welcomed, not feared.

So, what inspires you to do what you do?

Jomo: Many people have inspired me. Those who fought to free us from imperialism, oppression and exploitation. While in school, especially at the Royal Military College, I was inspired by Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Yasser Arafat, Kwame Nkrumah, Ho Chi Minh and Nelson Mandela.

And yes, I do not identify with the other man I was named after – Jomo Kenyatta, father of Kenya’s current president, who was unfairly jailed by the British from 1952 until 1959, but became increasingly corrupt and tribalistic after becoming president in 1963.

Chinua Achebe’s writings turned from the disruptive colonial impact to the gangrene of corruption. Then, in 1983, I was shaken by the brutal torture and murder of my senior in school, the late Jalil Ibrahim, in Hong Kong.

We are all enjoined to “speak truth to power.” Initially, when I was at UKM (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) with the late Ishak Shari, Osman Rani and Ismail Muhd Salleh, and later with others after I moved to Universiti Malaya.

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During Dr Mahathir (Mohamad)’s long tenure, I was also known as a critic, even though I appreciated many aspects of particular policy initiatives. Although I was quite outspoken in those days, BN politicians did not harass me.

 

Rather, petty university administrators who had ambitions or agendas of their own were the vindictive ones. But most left me alone as I had no ambitions in terms of university positions.

Also, there is no personal animus on my part towards the Prime Minister. As is well-known, I greatly admire his late father (Tun Abdul Razak )for many reasons. In fact, I wrote an article early last year, just after leaving the UN, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of his untimely passing.

As a student then, in the cold winter of early 1976, we organised a memorial meeting at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to honour his contributions soon after he passed.

Tomorrow: Jomo on why Malaysians are worse off today

Cambodia– Responding to Rising Voter Expectations


October 16, 2017

Cambodia– Responding to Rising  Voter Expectations 

by Kongkea Chhoeun, Australian National University

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

Image result for Hun Sen at WEF

As long as the Cambodian government manages to maintain satisfactory economic performance, continues its piecemeal reforms benefitting the majority of the population, and promotes some appearance of democracy in the country, it will continue to demand difficult value judgments on the part of Cambodian citizens as to whether the CPP’s actions against the media and civil society are worth fighting back against.– Kongkea Chhoeun

 

It might be easy to forget given the events of August–September 2017, but Cambodian democracy had until a few years ago been making progress. Many key indicators of democratic quality had continued to improve since the 1998 national elections, which followed the near collapse of the system in the aftermath of the July 1997 internal fighting between armed forces loyal to Prime Minister Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Rannariddh.

 

Competition among political parties increased, thanks to the unification of the opposition parties in 2012 ahead of the 2013 national election. The economy also continued to grow extraordinarily well. Growth has averaged 7 per cent per year since 1993, and poverty has fallen more than 1 per cent per year on average since 2003. Inequality has also declined. Vertical political accountability has been strengthened markedly, thanks to decentralisation and deconcentration. Cambodians are increasingly able to hold local leaders to account through local democratic processes.

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Sanderson Park, at Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh  has a sculpture of a dove with an olive branch in its beak. It is made up entirely from parts of AK-47 rifles.

But the 2013 polls were a turning point. Although they won the election, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) lost the popular vote for the first time since 1998, seeing its popular vote plummet by more than 20 per cent. To its credit, the CPP-led government subsequently implemented various reforms aimed at winning the hearts and minds of Cambodian voters. The CPP has permitted moderate reforms, restructured the National Electoral Committee and increased public servants pay. And in August 2017, Hun Sen also promised a slew of new benefits for garment workers, including a big increase in their monthly minimum wage.

But with the carrots have come sticks.Indicators of horizontal accountability have either stalled or are in decline. Local and international NGOs and media operated with comparatively little constraint from the state before the 2013 national election period. Since then, the government has made disturbing moves that wipe out progress made in terms of political openness. Among a range of actions is the passage of legislation governing NGOs.

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Despite a boycott by the opposition, the Parliament passed the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organisations, which requires the nearly 5000 domestic and international NGOs that work in the country to register with the government and report their activities and finances or risk fines, criminal prosecution and being shut down. In August 2017, the government used this law to order the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to shut down its operations and repatriate its foreign staff, accusing the NDI of illegally operating in the country.

The Cambodian government has also targeted foreign and foreign-linked media. In August 2017, the government accused the Cambodia Daily of failing to pay more than US$6 million in taxes, giving the paper one month to resolve the issue or risk being shut down. The Daily is a US-owned outlet credited for its reports critical of the government. In addition, the government instructed more than a dozen radio stations across the country to cease operations, accusing them of failing to report how much and to whom they sell their airtime.

Two major factors — one internal and one external — may explain the government’s recent measures against international NGOs and media. Internally, these measures were escalated as a result of the June 2017 local government elections, the result of which represented a big boost for the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party and a serious blow to the CPP. After the June 2017 local government elections, the CPP still controlled the majority of local governments — 1156 or 70 per cent of communes. But the opposition party’s share of local governments increased about 12 fold in comparison with the last local elections held in 2012.

The external factor is the declining role of the United States as a champion of democracy. The drastic moves targeting US-based NGOs and media occurred in the aftermath of the election of Donald Trump. His election and subsequent attacks on mainstream media have disconcerted democrats at home and abroad and certainly delegitimised US efforts to promote liberal democratic principles internationally.

Furthermore, the failure of the United States to pre-empt and manage democratic breakdown in Thailand, and to promote democracy in Laos and Vietnam, only serves to diminish the US role in promoting democracy in Cambodia, and potentially gives the Cambodian government an excuse to maintain the status quo.

Likewise, Australia and European countries have been silent on these issues so far, showing a similar unwillingness to influence internal political decisions in Cambodia. The 2014 Australia–Cambodia refugee deal tainted Australia’s reputation as an altruistic donor to Cambodia, and has certainly undermined Australian leverage in promoting reforms in Cambodian domestic affairs. And European countries have been busy cleaning up the mess in their own backyard after the Brexit vote in 2016 and the rise of populist movements across the continent.

Meanwhile, Cambodia is increasingly dependent on China, and less and less so on Western countries. China is feeding the Cambodian economy, investing US$857 million (roughly 61 per cent of total FDI) and channelling US$320 million in aid (roughly 30 per cent of total aid) to the country in 2015. By contrast, investment and aid from Western countries is either modest or on the decline.

Whatever the mix of domestic and global political influences, the consequences of the CPP’s crackdown on Cambodia’s democracy are being felt. As long as the Cambodian government manages to maintain satisfactory economic performance, continues its piecemeal reforms benefitting the majority of the population, and promotes some appearance of democracy in the country, it will continue to demand difficult value judgments on the part of Cambodian citizens as to whether the CPP’s actions against the media and civil society are worth fighting back against.

Kongkea Chhoeun is a PhD Candidate at the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.

This article was first published here on New Mandala.

 

I am Sarawakian. I am a Paloi (Fool)?


October 15, 2017

I am Sarawakian. I am a Paloi (Fool)?

by Francis Paul Siah

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for Francis Paul Siah of Sarawak

 

COMMENT | “Orang Sarawak bukan bodoh, kata ketua menterinya” (The people of Sarawak are not fools, says Sarawak Chief Minister) was the header in many Bahasa Malaysia newspapers and news portals a week ago.

This proud and oft-repeated remark came from Chief Minister Abang Johari Abang Openg at a town hall session with some 5,000 Sarawakian diasporas in the Peninsula, as he took a swipe at former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad who is now chairperson of the opposition Pakatan Harapan.

Oh really, Sarawakians are not fools? Well, maybe not most of the time. But I will be honest. As a Sarawakian, I have to admit, almost grudgingly, that I have been a fool at times – made some stupid decisions not beneficial to my home state and fellow Sarawakians and am now living in remorse and regret over them.

 

Of course, for Abang Jo (photo), who is in power and feeling on top of the world as the state’s chief executive, it would be pretty dumb of him to say that Sarawakians, the people whom he is supposed to lead, are fools.

Abang Jo is such a nice and decent guy, to the extent that many find him boringly nice. He does not beat around the bush and tells you as it is – you already know what his next sentence is even before he says it. In a nutshell – he is very plain. (Think nasi lemak, without the ikan bilis and sambal).

Sarawakians miss Adenan Satem. I do too. He was a breath of fresh air, after 33 years of the “White Hair”. Sadly, he came on board to helm Sarawak too late in his life and didn’t have the time to do more.

So, what did Abang Jo actually say when he met Sarawakians in Kuala Lumpur recently? According to a Malaysiakini report, the Chief Minister reminded Mahathir that Sarawakians are not fools who can be lied to.

He cited the Pan Borneo Highway as one example of Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak’s contributions to the state, a request which has been made since the time of Mahathir’s 22-year rule.

“Sarawakians are people with principles… We want politics that can deliver,” said Abang Johari, who claimed that Mahathir has since sacrificed his own principles by working together with DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang, whom he had demonised in the past.

“Let us determine our own destiny. Orang Sarawak bukan paloi (Sarawakians are no fools)… Don’t bluff us,” he said in pledging to continue negotiations with Putrajaya to reclaim Sarawak’s rights as provided under the Federal Constitution and Malaysia Agreement 1963.

Abang Johari earlier recalled his time serving as a state minister and difficulties to obtain funds for development, while Mahathir was still Prime Minister.

“At the time I was a minister in the (state) cabinet. We had asked if the (federal government under Mahathir) can build coastal roads,” he said, adding that the promises made were never fulfilled due to alleged short of funds.

“But when Najib came (into power), they (promised to) build roads like in the peninsula… So smooth!,” he said at the annual event dubbed Lan Berambeh Anak Sarawak, now in its 10th year, held at the Putra World Trade Centre in Kuala Lumpur.

 

The 2,325km Pan Borneo Highway, across Sarawak and Sabah, was first announced as part of Barisan Nasional’s manifesto during the 13th general election and later formalised in Budget 2015.

When met by reporters later, Abang Johari described the questions asked during the one-hour session as an indication that Sarawakians in the Peninsula are happy with his administration of the state.

Among others, he cited questions raised on various state policies, including matters which touch on negotiations with Putrajaya for more rights to royalty from oil and gas activities.

‘Putrajaya leadership today is more open’

“During Mahathir’s time, we can’t ask these questions because we are in fear. Alhamdulillah the leadership in Putrajaya today is more open (to negotiations),” he added.

To Abang Jo, I salute you for your new-found courage in coming out to slam Mahathir now. I am with you on your many statements of disappointment and disillusionment with the Mahathir (photo) administration. I believe they are true.

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But I must also let you know why, as a Sarawakian, I am bodoh and still feel like a fool.

This is why. In 1963, when Sarawak was enticed to team up with Malaya, Sabah and Singapore to form the new nation of Malaysia, I just signed the agreement without really understanding its fine print.

I was just impressed when Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra brought me to Kuala Lumpur and showed me the development taking place. He promised me that Sarawak would progress in a similar fashion if I sign up.

Then some British fellows brought me to London in a big plane. Wow, that was the first time I had flown to a foreign land. I felt very important sitting down with the “Orang Puteh” to discuss the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63). Then, I sat at the high table (a British tradition for VIPs) and tucked in heartily at the many sumptuous dinners, not forgetting the fine whisky and brandy, offered.

Upon my return, I affixed my signature on the MA63, never bothered to think nor understand why my fellow Sarawakians, Ong Kee Hui, Stephen Yong and others from the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), were opposed to it.

 

 

Now 54 years later and with the growing voices of discontent among my fellow Sarawakians towards Malaya, with some even calling for secession, my conscience suddenly pricks me. Did I betray my dear homeland, Sarawak, and my people by signing the MA63 without fully understanding its implications?

I think I have to concede that it was foolish of me to sign MA63 blindly. I was bodoh.

If not, why must Abang Jo pledge to continue negotiations with Putrajaya to reclaim Sarawak’s rights as provided under the Federal Constitution and MA63?

About the Pan Borneo Highway, I am happy that, at long last, my home state will have a superhighway. I am happy too that the Barisan Nasional, under the dynamic and caring PM Najib Abdul Razak, now sees it fit to keep his pledge made during the 2013 general election.

Questions on Pan Borneo Highway

But I am also bodoh because I am afraid to ask pertinent questions surrounding the multi-billion ringgit Pan Borneo Highway project.

 

The first question I didn’t ask and, which I should is: “Why was Fadillah Yusof (photo), a relatively unknown leader of Abang Jo’s Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu (PBB) suddenly appointed to head the senior Works Ministry in the federal cabinet in 2013?”

Fadillah is only the PBB Youth leader. Never has a junior person like a PBB Youth leader ever been entrusted with a senior federal ministry. Hey, the Works Ministry was helmed by none other than the MIC supremo S Samy Vellu for years.

Even the UMNO Youth leader and chairperson of BN Youth, Khairy Jamaluddin, was only given the junior Youth and Sports Ministry. And the MCA Youth leader, Chong Sin Woon, was only appointed as a deputy education minister. Isn’t MCA the second biggest BN partner?

The next question I have not asked is: “Was Fadillah appointed as the works minister just because his brother, Bustari Yusof, is the head honcho of the Pan Borneo Highway project? And Bustari was recently described in the media as the “No 1 go-to person in the Najib administration” and “the man who quietly guides Najib’s hand”.

Oh, I am bodoh. I fail to see the link. So I kept quiet, even now.

Now, what about Abang Jo’s allegation that Mahathir has since sacrificed his own principles by working together with DAP stalwart Lim Kit Siang (photo), whom he had demonised in the past?

Oh, that Chinese chauvinist Kit Siang! He is a racist to the core! He has even received RM1 billion from Mahathir because Mahathir wants to be chairman of Pakatan Harapan. And Kit Siang also wants to be the next Prime minister of Malaysia. Yes, let’s have a good chuckle over those allegations against the DAP veteran.

But if Kit Siang is a Chinese chauvinist and a racist, I didn’t speak up against him when DAP started its foray into Sarawak in 1979. I was bodoh then.

It is now an open secret that the then Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Rahman Yakub was the one who wanted DAP in Sarawak to compete with the Chinese-based SUPP. Rahman was having problems with SUPP, its Secretary-General Stephen Yong in particular. Rahman was a shrewd politician and a master tactician. He wanted DAP to neutralise Chinese support for SUPP.

Even though I knew it was not right to back-stab a component party member, I was afraid to speak up against Rahman because he was a powerful chief minister and he usually gets what he wants.

Now, I know I was bodoh because I didn’t have the guts to put things right even though I knew it was wrong.

Today, DAP is the strongest opposition party in Sarawak. Serve me right!

Abang Jo also stated that with Najib at the helm in Putrajaya now, he would be negotiating for more rights to royalty from oil and gas activities for Sarawak.

“During Mahathir’s time, we can’t ask these questions because we are in fear”, the chief minister said.

My interpretation is this: I lived in fear of Mahathir in the past. Now with Najib, I am not afraid anymore.

You see, I was so bodoh. Even though I am in BN, I fear Mahathir and I didn’t dare to tick him off even when he did not fulfil his promises to Sarawak, for whatever reasons.

But with Najib now, I dare to do so. Come to think of it, I am still bodoh. Why must I kow-tow to Najib? Right now, he needs Sarawak more than Sarawak needs him. He is fighting for his political survival.

If I still have to beg Najib for development projects for Sarawak, I am a fool. Things are not going right for Najib. He is a desperate man. Now is the time to demand, not beg. If we, Sarawakians, do not know how to take advantage of the situation now, then let us forever be condemned as Sarawakians who are bodoh.

 

Or, in Abang Jo’s own word – “paloi


FRANCIS PAUL SIAH heads the Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) and can be reached at sirsiah@gmail.com

Challenging Obscurantism with Reformist Mindset


 

October 15, 2017

Challenging Obscurantism with Reformist Mindset in Malaysia

When reason gives way to dogma, obscurantism, anti-intellectualism and un civil discourse, Malaysia enters neo-Stone Age.–Din Merican

by Dr. Ahmad Farouk  Musa

Image result for Din Merican and Dr Farouk Musa

“Verily, We did offer the trust [of reason and volition] to the heavens, and the earth, and the mountains: but they refused to bear it because they were afraid of it. Yet man took it up – for, verily, he has always been prone to be most wicked, most foolish”.
[Surah Al-Ahzab, 33:72]

cherepno-mozgovaja-travma-klassifikacijaMany interpreters derive various meanings from the word ‘trust’ that is connected to this verse; but perhaps the closest definition that describes the meaning of ‘trust’ – as per Muhammad Asad’s explanation in his commentary ‘The Message of the Quran’ – appears to be ‘reason’ or ‘intellect’, and ‘the faculty of volition’. Thus, it is primarily the superiority of intellect or the force of reason that allows for that volition. And, it is this ‘reason’ and ‘intellect’ that becomes the basis to differentiate us from all other celestial beings, including the angels.

The angels were once commanded to prostrate before Adam because of the superiority of reason bestowed unto no other creation but the creatures called humans. In this matter, Muhammad Asad, greatly influenced by the views of Imam Muhammad Abduh, clearly establishes the importance of ‘reason’ in his debate surrounding the following verse:

“And He imparted unto Adam the names of all things; then He brought them within the ken of the angels and said: “Declare unto Me the names of these [things], if what you say is true.”
[Surah Al-Baqarah, 2: 31]

2.Para5.RightThe term ‘ism’ (name), according to philologists, shows an expression of “imparting knowledge (about something)”. According to Muhammad Asad, in philosophical terms, it signifies the meaning of a “concept”.

The subsequent verses indicate that based on the impartation of knowledge achieved from God in the form of a “name” or concept of thinking; man is therefore, in some situations, higher in status than Angels. “Name” is a symbolic expression of the formidability in defining an expression, the formidability in elaborating the views that form the unique characteristics of humankind and which makes it possible for them, in the words of the Qur’an, to become God’s vicegerent on earth.

Image result for Din Merican and Dr Farouk Musa

 

It is with that, therefore, the mission and aspirations of the Islamic Renaissance Front to rejuvenate or renew Muslim thinking or in other words, to champion the superiority of reason or simply ‘the rise of reason’. Consequently, it is not an exaggeration to say that it manifests a form of rethinking and a rejuvenation of the Mu’tazilites (Rationalists) course of rationalism in the modern world Islam.

However, the question often asked is, what about ‘iman’ or faith? Is reason required to experience it? On this point, Imam Muhammad Abduh opines that faith is incomplete so long as it is not based on reason. According to his view reason is the only source of faith. It is due to reason that Man can recognise the signs of Divine power, not through reckless confidence by merely following along.

The Challenges

Image result for Din Merican and Dr Farouk Musa

Malaysia’s Obscurantist in-Chief with India’s Fugitive Zakir Naik

Indeed, all the challenges we face now are the same challenges the past reformists faced, that is, intellectual stagnation. And, as a result of this decline in rationalism amongst modern Muslims, we witness the decay of the Islamic world today.

3.Para10jpgTo think that we were once a people proud of our great civilisation at time when the West was still in the dark ages. We had thousands of scientists, physicists, mathematicians, chemists, astrologists, physicians and many more fields of expertise all of which were established at the House of Wisdom in the Rationalists era. But, all of that only remains recorded in the folds of history.

The Rationalists at that time believed that one of the ultimate traits of God was justice. This is as embodied in their usulul khamsah (five principles) or one of the five principles of the Rationalists’ doctrine. And since God is just, Man must therefore possess the will to endeavour.  Man should we willing to use reason as endowed by God to differentiate between what is right and wrong and to endeavour to uphold justice.

And for the Rationalists, since God is most Just, verily, God will not respond to what is good and bad arbitrarily. Man will receive God’s response be it the blessings of heaven or the torture of hellfire as a result of his own choices made based on his own free will.

Thus, whoever believes that God is the most Just, will witness the reality that man is the maker of his own actions. And accordingly, he is responsible for whatever response God gives him based on his actions by his own hands.

This certainly conflicts with what has been extracted from works of the Ash’arites (Traditionalists). For the Traditionalists, God is most Compelling; who with His strength may cast someone who is pious and just into the hellfire and place someone who is cruel and evil into the heaven. Because that is the reality behind the power of God who is the most Compelling and the most Powerful.

But what remains clear, God in the view of the Rationalists, is a God who is Just and not a God who is a dictator; and this is the cause behind the theological problem that existed once upon a time. And this is what we have inherited for generations.

How Does God Interact with Us?

Verily, God who is Most Compelling delivered to us, His creations; the message primarily in two ways, through his Revealed Book or from the Book of the Universe.

Embodied in His Revealed Book sent down to us, i.e. the Qur’an, is the verse:

“Verily, this Qur’an shows the way to all that is most upright, and gives the believers who do good deeds the glad tiding that theirs will be a great reward.”
[Surah Al-Isra’, 17:9]

However, we often forget that God also speaks to us through the universe He created. Was it not in Surah al-Imran where it was stated:

“Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and in the succession of night and day, there are indeed messages for all who are endowed with insight, [and] who remember God when they stand, and when they sit, and when they lie down to sleep, and [thus] reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: “O our Sustainer! Thou hast not created [aught of] this without meaning and purpose. Limitless art Thou in Thy glory! Keep us safe, then, from suffering through fire!”
[Surah Al-Imran, 3:190-191]

4.Para19.RightIt was based on that, according to Imam Muhammad Abduh, someone could not possibly have faith in his God other than mobilising his mind and intellect to think about the creations of God the Almighty.

This Mu’tazilite rationalism also brought them to summarise, that God, and the firmaments of His creation, should operate in accordance with rational rules that He himself has created. It was this view that successfully brought the Muslims to direction of scientific research and to the pinnacle of scientific excellence in various dimensions.

This realm operates through a system that is determinate in as much as it is orderly, where everything functions in an organised manner, from the smallest atom; proton, neutron and electron; to the biggest planets and stars that revolve in their respective orbits.  All of them revolve in a manner that is neatly arranged by the divine natural rules.  All these natural rules are entirely pure, and many of them have mathematical properties. Water will boil at 100°C and it will freeze at 0°C. Everything that is thrown from above will land on the ground due to the attractive force of gravity.  All of these are the natural laws of the universe created by God. Only when we understand and study these natural laws and universal rules, it is then that we understand how a particular phenomenon occurs based on scientific knowledge, knowledge which itself originates from God Himself. And by pursuing and equipping ourselves with such scientific knowledge, it is only then that we may spur ourselves towards shaping a new civilisation.

The Rationalists at that time were a group of people who deeply understood all these natural laws. They studied this various wealth of knowledge from the East and the West, translated these scientific ideas and improved upon those ideas without assuming such knowledge was obtained from a people who held agnostic beliefs about God. Due to that, they advanced in all fields of knowledge with the peak of which lead to the building of the House of Wisdom. They were the people that held to this rational theory that everything that happens must be in accordance with the natural laws determined by God, which in modern language, would be scientific knowledge.

However, Muslims influenced by the Traditionalists’ doctrine today, assume that God who is most Compelling can do whatever that conflicts with the natural law. Because He is the God who is the most Compelling. Thus, His power does not require Him to abide by the natural laws that He created, just as how He is empowered to cast someone pious into the hellfire or to place an evil person in heaven.

It is this kind of belief that creates so many shamans who proclaim to be able to perform all sorts of otherworldly surgeries to remove gallstones and all other kinds of spiritual surgeries. And it is belief such as this that fan the development of various pseudosciences that only use the incantations of magical spells based on the belief that because God is the most Compelling, He may do whatever He pleases to displace the laws of nature and He doesn’t have to operate within these natural laws.

The Modern Problem

5.Para25This issue of pseudoscience is but one of the problems that exists amongst Muslims impeding their ability to advance in the field of science. However, what is more severe is in the field of politics and statecraft. What is clear is that as result of this assumption that the Qur’an is to be executed without any room to consider the created Qu’ran which with it brings the implication that the Qur’an should be viewed from the angle of historicity, that makes it possible to face compelling issues of this age including issues like fundamental human rights, democracy and pluralism.

Such rigid and literal views in understanding the Qur’an entraps Muslims in the Medinan  State concept or to use Professor Tariq Ramadan’s terminology from his book “Radical Reform”, an obsession with model rather than its underlying principles. In fact, for us to advance and to prove that Islam is a religion suited to and in line with fundamental human rights and the modern concepts of nationhood, the religion of Islam must, therefore, be in line with sound logic.

Unless we can manage to achieve unanimity in giving reason and intellect its appropriate standing in facing the shifts of time and the various challenges of the era, we will not be able to free ourselves from the clutches and burdens of the past generation to move forward and to rebuild the glorious civilisation that has been lost.

The Solution

“Verily, God does not change men’s condition unless they change their inner selves”
[Surah Al-Ra’d, 13: 11]

Muhammad Asad interprets this phrase to be an illustration to the Revelation regarding cause and effect (sunatuLlah). This Revelation encompasses the life of the individual and the community. And makes the rise and fall of a civilisation depend on the quality of morality in humankind and on change “from within themselves”.

Accordingly, Muslims will, therefore, cannot expect change merely by sitting idly and praying and hoping that a miracle will happen. They have this mistaken belief that every matter on Earth has been determined for them just as how the Traditionalists believed that our fate has been predetermined and that any effort is merely an illusion. No matter how hard we try, what has been fated will not change. With that, Muslims will therefore become the most backward people and the most unproductive in their contribution to science and technology.

6.Para31.RightThe earliest generation of Muslims did not idly await for the arrival of al-Mahdi to rescue and to lead them. Due to that, we may see the renowned sociologist and historian, Ibn Khaldun in his ‘Muqaddimah’ (Prolegomena) fiercely opposed to the concept of the Mahdi (Islam’s Awaited Messiah) as well as rejecting all possibilities of such an event taking place as it serves only to make Muslims a more passive people.

Indeed, the understanding of the Qur’an shook Arabia, and freed the Muslims from the shackles of tribal conflicts. Within the span of a few decades, the Qur’an spread its worldview across Arabian borders and gave birth to the first ever ideological community in history through its insistence on awareness and knowledge. It enlivened amongst its followers the enthusiasm to seek knowledge and to research freely based on rationalism and the natural laws which ended with an era which captivated others in research and scientific discovery that raised the Islamic world to the highest peak of its culture.

This culture pioneered by the Rationalists penetrated middle-age European thought in many ways and through many paths. Ultimately it sparked a revolution in the European culture which we named as Renaissance, and later the passing of time played a major role in giving rise to what is termed as the “scientific age” in which we live in at this time.

And this is what we currently hope for so that the culture of thinking and researching based on science of technology can be reignited again to return to the success and the glory of our past predecessors.


AFMusaDato’ Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa is a Director at Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), a think-tank advocating reform and renewal and the empowerment of the intellect.

https://irfront.net/post/articles/articles-english/restoring-the-reformist-mind/