Racist Politics in Malaysia–Blame the Whole Shebang


February 19, 2017

Racist Politics in Malaysia–Blame the Whole Shebang

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

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It was obvious that bigotry was never a one-way operation, that hatred bred hatred!”

– Isaac Asimov, ‘Pebble in the Sky’

COMMENT: Readers interested in what I write should consider this a companion piece to my article describing how non-Malay Malaysians (specifically) are a tolerant lot.

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Mahathir’s First Carma (Cari Makan) Journalist–A Kadir Jasin

De facto opposition leader and former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad casually mentioned last week that he was partly to blame for the demonisation of DAP. I suppose this went together with veteran journalist A Kadir Jasin’s admission that he was part of the brainwashing that went, and goes on, in UMNO. They say admitting you have a problem is the first step, but I doubt that the indoctrination of Malay youths will cease any time soon when the opposition is made up of Islamic groups determined to use Islam as a political tool.

I wrote the last part of the above paragraph after the opposition had suffered a setback in the by-election where the current UMNO grand poobah was supposed to receive a black eye but apparently, the opposition punched itself in the face. A reader had emailed and asked if the schadenfreude tasted good, especially since I had predicted the results.

I take no pleasure in any opposition defeat and neither do I take pleasure in a UMNO win. This is the bitter taste of having to choose between the lesser of two evils. Furthermore, when I say “evil”, do not get your panties in a twist because it is an expression and not a description of either political fronts. These days I cannot tell the difference between winning and losing when it comes to “saving Malaysia”.

As I have argued before, a country can recover from corruption scandals, but it rarely recovers from that type of Islam that neutralises the democratic imperative. In Malaysia, where race and religion are not mutually exclusive, the threat from Islamists is coupled with ethno-nationalism.

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The  First Malay Nationalist (or is it Racist?)

The de facto Opposition Leader is right when he says that he demonised DAP as DAP and other opposition parties had demonised him. However, the reality is that these political parties were not only demonising their political rivals, they were demonising entire communities.

So, when you want to win, and you demonise your political opponents, and by extension whole communities, the political terrain becomes a battleground for competing racial interests instead of ideological or policy ideas.

This is why I have always been sceptical of the opposition propaganda about voting across racial lines. In one of my numerous articles about race relations in this country, I wrote: “In addition, this idea that voting across racial lines as some sort of evidence of burgeoning multiracial solidarity is complete bunkum. The real test is when people vote across ethnic and religious lines in support of ideologies that run counter to the interests of their communities and by this, I mean egalitarian ideas that run afoul of constitutional sacred cows and social and religious dogma.”

While the former Prime Minister (and now de facto Opposition Leader) and the system contributed to Malay fear of DAP, the whole political system and voting patterns of Malaysians is also culpable for this sad state of affairs. UMNO succeeded because the majority of Malaysians voted for race-based parties. Racial preoccupations were the currency that sustained BN politics and still does.

The problem is that because we do not have an alternative, BN politics is the only game in town. Non-Malay oppositional voices and voters do not demand an alternative but rather that the system continues but in a more “fairer” manner.

DAP and MCA furiously battle for the Chinese vote. Meanwhile Malay-dominated so-called multicultural parties battle with UMNO and now PAS for the Malay vote. Until the former Prime Minister showed up, there was no central theme that united the Opposition.

While the charismatic Anwar Ibrahim and the late Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat discovered that populism does not necessarily mean racial or religious preoccupations when it comes to cobbling together a formidable coalition, the emergence of the former Prime Minister as the de facto opposition leader has given the current UMNO regime an opportunity to:

1) Revisit history.

2) Dredge up the financial scandals of the former Prime Minister.

3) Point out that their strategies for securing the Malay vote is based on his strategies that kept him in power for decades.

If anyone is wondering why questions of race always revolves around the Malay and Chinese dialectic, it is because… well, if you are going to ask this question, you have obviously not being paying attention.

All are participants in race game

When I argued that Malaysians were a tolerant lot, the thrust of the piece revolved around how systemic inequalities were a detriment to the non-Muslim population but I failed to emphasise how the non-Malay communities were active participants in the race game in this country.

Voting for race-based parties meant that we did not have to concern ourselves with egalitarian concepts that would have been the basis for a more democratic system. It was not that we were “immature” or “uneducated”, it was just easier to vote for a political hegemon that provided security and stability for decades but not the rights and responsibilities that are part and parcel of a functional democracy.

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UMNO’s Money Stealing Grand Poobah

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Tolerance may have been a one-way street, it was also the street where we stopped by the sidewalk and spat at the “Malays”. There is the other narrative of non-Malays engaging in subtle and overt racism, all the while supporting racial political parties that claimed inclusiveness.

The majority of us did this to ensure that our racial preoccupations were satisfied by a plutocrat class instead of demanding for an accountable and transparent government, but more importantly demanding for a principled opposition who fearlessly made their positions clear instead of championing communal causes under the guise of “multiracial/culturalism”.

The private sector was (is) dominated by Chinese polity who were perpetuating their own form of systemic inequalities and contextualising this reality as a response to the systemic inequality perpetrated by the UMNO Malay state.

While I think, there is generally “a live and let live” vibe between Malaysians, it would be a mistake to assume that this is some sort of national identity or some form of stable unity. I realise that this is political incorrect to say, but the hard truth is that while race relations have been manipulated by establishment (both UMNO and the Opposition), the reality is that there was always tensions between the various races of this country.

This is why talking about “race” in this country is such a demoralising endeavour. Appeals to emotion replace rational discourse. The fact that our constitution is compromised, the system itself is predicated on maintaining racial and religious superiority, makes any discussion about how the non-Malays react to such a system, their complicity in sustaining the system difficult to articulate.

The fault of UMNO and the Opposition is that nobody offered an alternative and Malaysians never expected anything better.

You know what the big difference is between the corruption scandals of UMNO back in the day and the one now is? The difference is that a vast majority of Malaysians kept voting UMNO-BN back then than they do now. This is a testament to not only the political strategies of Mahathir but also the apathy of the Malaysians. This of course is a boon for the Opposition because Mahathir seems to be the only person who can galvanise the opposition. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

 

Let Malaysia remain a secular and inclusive state for All


February 16, 2017

Let Malaysia remain a secular and inclusive state for All

by Dr Kua Kia Soong@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT:  There is an attempt by some ‘eminent persons’ to install the Rukunegara as the preamble to the Malaysian constitution. If there is indeed a need for such a preamble, it ought to reaffirm the principles of secularism and inclusiveness in the constitution.

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God Bless Malaysia with these guys

In my humble opinion, any attempt to have a preamble to our constitution needs first to be discussed by all the communities in the country including the Orang Asli, debated and passed through Parliament; secondly, it has to be inclusive.

This ‘national philosophy’ of Rukunegara was proclaimed on Merdeka Day, 1970 as a response to the racial riots of May 13, 1969 when the country was still under a state of Emergency. Like the National Culture Policy, it was drafted by selected ‘eminent persons’ rather than involving representation from all Malaysian communities and it did not go through a democratic process of debate, nor was it passed by the Federal Parliament.

While most of its aspirations are noble and acceptable, namely, “achieving a more perfect unity…; preserving a democratic way of life; creating a just society…; guaranteeing a liberal approach towards her rich and varied cultural traditions; and building a progressive society…”; nevertheless, its principle of ‘Belief in God’ is not inclusive of all Malaysian faiths.

Any preamble should include all peoples and stress social justice and democracy

The preamble to the US constitution, for example is short and concise, stressing that their nation is defined and formed by its people and what it stands for:

“We the People… in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution…”

Although peopled largely by Christians, the preamble to the US constitution makes no reference to a God or monarch. Apart from serving as an executive summary, it merely sets the stage for how the new government defined by the constitution will establish justice and secure the blessings of Liberty. Thus, their preamble is absolutely secular and the first three words are perhaps the most important: “We the People…”

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Malaysian Muslims idolize this Guy

Perhaps India is a better comparison since it was a former colony like ours. The preamble to the constitution of India actually makes its secularism explicit:

“We, the people of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a sovereign socialist secular democratic republic and to secure to all its citizens: Justice, social, economic and political; Liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; Equality of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all Fraternity assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation…”

Thus the main purposes of having a preamble of the Indian constitution are again, first, to refer to the source that is responsible for the authority of the constitution (We, the People…), and to spell out the objectives of the Indian constitution, namely, Equality, Justice, Fraternity and Liberty. Like the US constitution, there is no insistence on ‘Belief in God’.

The importance of being secular

So what is the significance of including ‘Belief in (the monotheistic) God’ in the hypothetical preamble to our constitution?

Since the prevalence of Islamic populism in the Eighties, there have been attempts by politicians including one or two Prime ministers (one of them is none other than Tun Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohamad) to claim that Malaysia is an Islamic state. Nonetheless, this attempt has been rightfully frustrated by among others, Bapa Malaysia and the Judiciary in the country.

For example, on his 80th birthday on February 8, 1983, Tunku’s main message to the Barisan Nasional leaders was not to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state, stressing that Malaysia was set up as a secular state with Islam as the official religion and this is enshrined in the Constitution. This was echoed a few days later by the Third Malaysian Prime Minister, Tun Hussein Onn on his 61st Birthday on February 12, 1983.

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Commander-in-Chief, Ketuanan Melayu (Malay Hegemony) and Partner of PAS’ Hadi Awang on Hudud
The Alliance Memorandum submitted to the Reid Constitution Commission on Sept 27, 1956 clearly stated that “the religion of Malaya shall be Islam… and shall not imply that the state is not a secular state.” Thus, both the Reid Commission in 1957 and the Cobbold Commission in 1962 characterised Malaysia as a “secular state”.

Most importantly, former Lord President of the Malaysian Judiciary, Mohamed Salleh Abas in Che Omar bin Che Soh vs Public Prosecutor (1988), stated that the term “Islam” in Article 3(1) of the Federal Constitution meant “only such acts as relate to rituals and ceremonies… the law in this country is… secular law.”

The Late Lord President Mohamed Suffian Hashim similarly wrote that Islam was made the official religion primarily for ceremonial purposes, to enable prayers to be offered in the Islamic way on official public occasions, such as the installation or birthday of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Independence Day and similar occasions.

Against the background of confounding populist politicians, one would think that it is even more crucial – if there is a need for a preamble to our constitution – for such a preamble to reaffirm the secular and inclusive character of our constitution.

In a secular state, the state is officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor atheism. It treats all its citizens equally regardless of religion. Secularism is not merely desirable but essential for the healthy existence of a pluralist society such as ours. It implies a separation that exists between the state and religion.

This does not detract from the fact that the right to religion is a fundamental right and the denial of this freedom is a violation of the basic principles of democracy.

Monotheism is not the only religion in this world

Secularism is also important in regulating the relation between the state and various religious groups on the principle of equality. When the Rukunegara espouses only ‘Belief in (Monotheistic) God’, it forgets that there are Malaysians of other faiths based on polytheism or animism and ancestor worship.

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To conclude, the concept of secularism is derived from the principle of democracy and secularism becomes meaningful only when it refers to democratic equality and includes diverse peoples of all faiths, beliefs and practices.

DR KUA KIA SOONG is Suaram adviser.

Malaysia: China, Malaysian Chinese and GE-14


February 15, 2017

Malaysia: China, Malaysian Chinese and GE-14

by Dato Dennis Ignatius@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

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Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak (pictured with de facto PM Rosmah Mansor) recently offered three reasons why Barisan Nasional (BN) can expect a significant increase in support from the Chinese community at the next general elections – “the opposition’s shortcomings despite being given the opportunity; Malaysia’s good relations with China; and, the good moral politics practiced by the BN.” (Bernama, 5th February 2017)

It is an astonishing assertion to say the least. In the first place, by any reckoning, the Opposition in both Selangor and Penang has, in fact, performed far better than previous UMNO-BN governments. In a few short years, corruption and waste are significantly down; there is greater accountability and transparency and people are better off than before. And this despite the unrelenting hostility and lack of cooperation from the federal government.

The Opposition may have their shortcomings but there’s little doubt that if they ever came to power at the federal level, Malaysia would be the better for it.

As for the claim that BN practices “good moral politics,” it is so risible that it isn’t even worth a second thought.

The China card

The reference to China, on the other hand, is significant if only for the mindset it reveals. It suggests that the Minister  who is notorious when he was a Sabah state minister  considers Malaysian Chinese more parochial than patriotic, that the Chinese community will overlook the bigotry and racial prejudice perpetrated against them as well as the injustice, corruption and scandal that have blighted our nation simply because they prize good relations with China.

Acting on this belief, UMNO-BN ministers have assiduously sought to co-opt China into their elections strategy in the expectation that China’s ringing endorsement of the current Malaysian leadership will play out well with Malaysian Chinese.

At the ground level, a senior UMNO minister even went so far as to accompany the Chinese Ambassador around as the ambassador distributed Chinese government assistance to Malaysian Chinese schools, something that was always frowned upon in the past.

The MCA too appears to be counting on China’s endorsement to restore its fortunes as the party of choice for Malaysian Chinese. By setting up a PRC affairs committee and an OBOR (One Belt One Road) centre, the MCA is clearly hoping to convince Malaysian Chinese that its close relationship with China will bring huge dividends to the Malaysian Chinese community through lucrative deals, projects and other businesses.

But is relations with China a key election issue for Malaysian Chinese? Even a cursory survey of Malaysian Chinese attitudes suggests otherwise. In fact, their key concerns – security, education, tolerance and good governance – are not even on Salleh’s radar.

Security and safety

There is no doubt that Malaysian Chinese have been quite traumatized by the rising level of anti-Chinese sentiment in the country as well as the threat of racial violence.

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The Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur (2015)

For many, the 2015 Petaling Street affair – when senior UMNO leaders shamefully stood by and did nothing even as the Red Shirts threatened a bloodbath – was a turning point; it indicated that Malaysian Chinese could no longer count on UMNO-BN for their safety and survival.

Frustrated at the lack of government action and fearful for their safety, many Malaysian Chinese, and others as well, applauded when the Chinese Ambassador finally intervened to stop things from getting out of hand.

Those who believe that China might provide some protection for Malaysian Chinese might, therefore, welcome closer relations with China; not because of any loyalty per se to their ancestral homeland but simply in the hope that it would bring a measure of stability.

Some also harbour the hope that closer relations with China might somehow forestall the growing drift towards Islamic extremism in Malaysia, another area of great concern to Malaysian Chinese as well as to other Malaysians. They reason that the more indispensable China is to Malaysia’s economic well-being and to UMNO-BN’s survival, the less UMNO would want to scare them away with any dramatic Islamisation initiatives.

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The Anti-Chinese Malays

Whether China can or will provide such a security blanket is, however, an open question. Observers have argued, for example, that the Chinese Ambassador’s intervention in the Petaling Street affair was aimed more at avoiding the kind of internal instability that could jeopardize China’s economic and political gains in the country rather than out of any particular concern for Malaysian Chinese.

Education

It is no secret that Malaysian Chinese also place a very high premium on education and the opportunities that a good education provides. It is, after all, education that transformed a ragtag bunch of largely indentured labourers into an economic powerhouse that Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi recently described as “the group that will carry the nation forward.”

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The Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi with UMNO Racists, Noh Omar and Jamal Ikan Bakar Yunos

In this context, the Chinese school system occupies a special place in the Malaysian Chinese psyche. It is more than just education; it is about inculcating traditional values, culture and language. Its very existence is a psychological beacon of hope and comfort, an assurance that their language, culture and identity will endure.

When the Chinese school system is condemned as unconstitutional, detrimental to national integration and threatened with closure, when the Unified Examination Certificate is refused recognition, when funds are withheld, it is, rightly or wrongly, perceived as a thinly veiled attack on the Malaysian Chinese community itself.

After all, how is it justified to demand the closure of Chinese schools on the grounds of national unity when Chinese schools today are more integrated than national schools, when foreign English-medium private schools proliferate, when monoracial educational and religious institutions continue to flourish with government support?

To be sure, we have a serious national unity issue in this country that needs urgent attention. However, the way to build unity must surely be through consultation, cooperation and accommodation rather than further marginalising besieged minorities or demonising them for political expediency.

Tolerance

As well, Malaysian Chinese are deeply concerned, even grieved, over the way they have been racially harassed and taunted by many from within UMNO and PAS itself.

It hurts that even after more than a century of living in Malaysia and contributing to its development as much as anyone else, they are still considered interlopers, intruders and “pendatangs.” It hurts when they are taunted as unpatriotic, as disloyal, as ungrateful. It hurts when decades of blood, sweat and tears in the service of their nation are dismissed as irrelevant or deliberately downplayed. Or that their votes are not solicited with promises of wise policies but demanded with threats of punishment and retribution.

And it hurts when those who come from countries like Indonesia are permitted to be proud of their heritage while Malaysian Chinese must always be watchful lest they be accused of chauvinism and disloyalty.

Sure, no community is without their faults but the constant racist polemics is discouraging, discomforting and disquieting.

Good governance

Finally, there is the issue of good governance.Like other Malaysians, Malaysian Chinese are sick and tired of the corruption and abuse of power that has become commonplace in our nation today.

It was this concern that compelled thousands of them to join their fellow citizens in participating in the BERSIH rallies, despite the threats and intimidation, to press for political change, for respect for the constitution and for good and clean governance.

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Malaysian Chinese, in fact, feel insulted that politicians think they can be won over simply on the promise of good relations with China. They are, first and foremost, Malaysians and it is national issues like good governance, justice and respect for diversity that matter far more to them than relations with China.

Malaysian Chinese want what other Malaysians want

If UMNO-BN wants to win the support of Malaysian Chinese, it does not need to look to China; it simply needs to treat them with respect and dignity as fellow citizens of this nation we all call home.

In the final analysis, Malaysian Chinese want what everybody else in Malaysia so desperately wants – good governance, security, respect for our constitution and for the rights of all citizens irrespective of race or religion, and the opportunity to pursue their dreams and live in peace with their fellow citizens. And the answer to that is not found in Beijing but in Putrajaya.

 

 

 

Malaysians are a tolerant and docile lot


February 15, 2017

Malaysians are a tolerant and docile lot over Najib Razak, bigotry, racism, corruption

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

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“The difference between fundamentalists and moderates – and certainly the difference between all ‘extremists’ and moderates – is the degree to which they see political and military action to be intrinsic to the practice of their faith. In any case, people who believe that Islam must inform every dimension of human existence, including politics and law, are now generally called not ‘fundamentalists’ or ‘extremists’ but, rather, ‘Islamists’.” – Sam Harris

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak described (an example of) the beauty of Malaysia as the Chinese waiting (uncomplaining) for Muslim potentates while they prayed when an official function was about to begin. This really sums up the concept of “moderation” in this country. The non-Muslims do not complain and indeed make pacts with Islamists, and life carries on as usual as long as there is money to be made.

In this country, “tolerance” is a one-way street. It is a street only used by the non-Malay population. The claim that the constitution guarantees certain rights is a complete sham. Mind you, the word “tolerance” is in itself a loathsome word. It is a word lacking empathy, simpatico, goodwill or camaraderie. The word implies, “enduring” instead of “accepting” and “understanding” – all those sentiments that denote a sense of belonging.

When it comes to race and specifically religion, I wrote – “…The reality is that the only people who find themselves disturbed by another religion are the non-Muslims. If there is a disparity in treatment, a lack of fairness, outright persecution or double standards, it is faced by non-Muslim communities.”

The post-69 history of Malaysia is the history of non-Malays non-complaining, as we allowed our country and our politics to be hijacked by charlatans who promised security, stability and prosperity if we continued tolerating everything that deep down inside we knew was destroying this country.

Image result for Najib Razak QuotesThat’s a lot bull, Prime Minister Najib, you betrayed our Trust, and one day you are going to pay the price for doing so.–Din Merican

When the Prime Minister of this country claims that “The Federal Constitution stresses that we must respect our difference in diversity in terms of culture, language and religion”, I double up in laughter because the constitution is meaningless without people who actually believe in discovering and enforcing the intent of the constitution.

Honestly, this is the same regime where a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department wanted to crack down on religious pluralism (amongst others) because “They are trying to do this by putting pressure on our country to surrender and adhere to what they said as ‘international standards and laws’ to allow total freedom of human rights, which contravenes the principles and teachings of Islam, the cultures of our multiracial people, and the spirit of the Federal Constitution.”

This has never been about a government of equals. This has always been about creating a monolithic community under the yoke of UMNO. Always remember what the Pahang mufti said after he backtracked form his genocide comment – “We are not forcing but I urge non-Muslims to convert to Islam to be safe in the afterlife and for unity in Malaysia. There will be no more chaos and we can focus on development” – which is the canard that Muslims shove down one another’s throats in attempt at solidarity.

So yes, we are a “tolerant” people. And if you are Malay and feel the same way about what non-Malays have tolerated, then perhaps you understand the situation deeper than the average establishment supporter.

Unilateral conversions

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The man who destroyed our institutions–Can Malaysians think?

We tolerated a great many things. Here are some of things I think we tolerate.We are tolerant that a specific race is defined in our constitution. We are tolerant that race determines privileges. We are tolerant that a religion is deemed superior and this is codified in our laws and constitution. We are tolerant that the security apparatus in our country determines which laws to follow. We are tolerant when our religions are mocked and we are branded traitors because we defend our rights which are supposedly enshrined in our constitution.

We are tolerant when religious personalities imply that oppositional political parties are the enemies of Islam and thus open to war-like retribution. We are tolerant when our public spaces are invaded by a state-sanctioned religion. We are tolerant when we are warned not to interfere in the state-sponsored religion even though it has been objectively proven that the same religion interferes in our rights.

We are tolerant when our children are indoctrinated in our public schools. We are tolerant when our politicians play the race-and-religion card at every opportunity. We are tolerant when men convert to the state’s religion to vindictively attack their wives and children. We are tolerant when public spaces are raided by religious officials and our fellow countrymen and women are dragged out and humiliated. We are tolerant when the propaganda organs of the state lie and disseminate fake news vilifying Malaysians as “racist”, “chauvinist” and “anti-Islam”.

We are tolerant when members of the so-called opposition claim that they have to use the same tactics as UMNO to remove the current grand poohbah. We are tolerant when voices tell us that we should be grateful for being allowed to live here. We are tolerant when our history is distorted.

We are tolerant when foreign Islamists came to this country and mock our religions. We are tolerant when we are warned by the mainstream political establishment that we can never assume to lead this country because this would hurt the sensitivities of the majority. We are tolerant when the natives of this land are abused and expelled from their ancestral homes.

We are tolerant of unilateral conversions. We are tolerant of attacks against the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. We are tolerant of attacks against liberalism and progressive ideas. We are tolerant when our education system is used as a petri dish. We are tolerant of quotas in our education system. We are tolerant of quotas in our civil and security services. We are tolerant of deaths in custody. We are tolerant when laws are created that would give the executive unlimited powers. So yes, we tolerate a great many things.

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The UMNO racists

The UMNO state understands that the non-Muslims would not do anything about it. Sure, a majority of non-Muslims would like to see Najib go and they would be joined by Muslims with the same cause, but ultimately the UMNO state knows when the chips are down, the opposition will not do anything to challenge UMNO hegemony on race and religion.

Indeed, the regime is extremely confident that the Malaysian non-Malays will tolerate this, too.

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

Noam Chomsky’s ‘Responsibility of Intellectuals’ Revisited


February 14, 2017

Noam Chomsky’s ‘Responsibility of Intellectuals’ After 50 Years: It’s an Even Heavier Responsibility Now

Written amid rising opposition to the Vietnam War, Chomsky’s greatest essay has added resonance in the age of Trump.
By Jay Parini

http://www.alternet.org/visions/noam-chomskys-responsibility-intellectuals-after-50-years-its-even-heavier-responsibility

Nothing was quite the same for me after reading that piece, which I’ve reread periodically throughout my life, finding things to challenge me each time. I always finish the essay feeling reawakened, aware that I’ve not done enough to make the world a better place by using whatever gifts I may have. Chomsky spurs me to more intense reading and thinking, driving me into action, which might take the form of writing an op-ed piece, joining a march or protest, sending money to a special cause, or just committing myself to further study a political issue.

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The main point of Chomsky’s essay is beautifully framed after a personal introduction in which he alludes to his early admiration for Dwight Macdonald, an influential writer and editor from the generation before him:

Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions. In the Western world at least, they have the power that comes from political liberty, from access to information and freedom of expression. For a privileged minority, Western democracy provides the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology, and class interest through which the events of current history are presented to us.

For those who think of Chomsky as tediously anti-American, I would note that here and countless times in the course of his voluminous writing he says that it is only within a relatively free society that intellectuals have the elbow room to work. In a kind of totalizing line shortly after the above quotation, he writes: “It is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies.”

This imposes a heavy burden on those of us who think of ourselves as “intellectuals,” a term rarely used now, as it sounds like something Lenin or Trotsky would have used and does, indeed, smack of self-satisfaction, even smugness; but (at least in my own head) it remains useful, embracing anyone who has access to good information, who can read this material critically, analyze data logically, and respond frankly in clear and persuasive language to what is discovered.

Chomsky’s essay appeared at the height of the Vietnam War, and was written mainly in response to that conflict, which ultimately left a poor and rural country in a state of complete disarray, with more than 2 million dead, millions more wounded, and the population’s basic infrastructure decimated. I recall flying over the northern parts of Vietnam some years after the war had ended, and seeing unimaginably vast stretches of denuded forest, the result of herbicidal dumps – 20 million tons of the stuff, including Agent Orange, which has had ongoing health consequences for the Vietnamese.

The complete picture of this devastation was unavailable to Chomsky, or anyone, at the time; but he saw clearly that the so-called experts who defended this ill-conceived and immoral war before congressional committees had evaded their responsibility to speak the truth.

In his usual systematic way, Chomsky seems to delight in citing any number of obsequious authorities, who repeatedly imply that the spread of American-style democracy abroad by force is justified, even if it means destroying this or that particular country in the effort to make them appreciate the benefits of our system. He quotes one expert from the Institute of Far Eastern Studies who tells Congress blithely that the North Vietnamese “would be perfectly happy to be bombed to be free.”

“In no small measure,” Chomsky writes in the penultimate paragraph of his essay, “it is attitudes like this that lie behind the butchery in Vietnam, and we had better face up to them with candor, or we will find our government leading us towards a ‘final solution’ in Vietnam, and in the many Vietnams that inevitably lie ahead.”

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Chomsky, of course, was right to say this, anticipating American military interventions in such places as Lebanon (1982-1984), Grenada (1983), Libya (1986), Panama (1989), the Persian Gulf (1990-1991) and, most disastrously, Iraq (2003-2011), the folly of which led to the creation of ISIS and the catastrophe of Syria.

Needless to say, he has remained a striking commentator on these and countless other American interventions over the past half century, a writer with an astonishing command of modern history. For me, his writing has been consistently cogent, if marred by occasional exaggeration and an ironic tone (fueled by anger or frustration) that occasionally gets out of hand, making him an easy target for opponents who wish to dismiss him as a crackpot or somebody so blinded by anti-American sentiment that he can’t ever give the U.S. government a break.

I like “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” and other essays from this period by Chomsky, because one feels him discovering his voice and forging a method: that relentlessly logical drive, the use of memorable and shocking quotations by authorities, the effortless placing of the argument within historical boundaries and the furious moral edge, which — even in this early essay — sometimes tips over from irony into sarcasm (a swerve that will not serve him well in later years).

Here, however, even the sarcasm seems well-positioned. He begins one paragraph, for instance, by saying: “It is the responsibility of the intellectuals to insist upon the truth, it is also his duty to see events in their historical perspective.” He then refers to the 1938 Munich Agreement, wherein Britain and other European nations allowed the Nazis to annex the Sudetenland — one of the great errors of appeasement in modern times. He goes on to quote Adlai Stevenson on this error, where the former presidential candidate notes how “expansive powers push at more and more doors” until they break open, one by one, and finally resistance becomes necessary, whereupon “major war breaks out.” Chomsky comments: “Of course, the aggressiveness of liberal imperialism is not that of Nazi Germany, though the distinction may seem rather academic to a Vietnamese peasant who is being gassed or incinerated.”

What he says about the gassed, incinerated victims of American military violence plucks our attention. It’s good polemical writing that forces us to confront the realities at hand.

What really got to me when I first read this essay was the astonishing idea that Americans didn’t always act out of purity of motives, wishing the best for everyone. That was what I had been taught by a generation of teachers who had served in World War II, but the Vietnam War forced many in my generation to begin the painful quest to understand American motives in a more complex way. Chomsky writes that it’s “an article of faith that American motives are pure and not subject to analysis.” He goes on to say with almost mock reticence: “We are hardly the first power in history to combine material interests, great technological capacity, and an utter disregard for the suffering and misery of the lower orders.”

The sardonic tone, as in “the lower orders,” disfigures the writing; but at the time this sentence hit me hard. I hadn’t thought about American imperialism until then, and I assumed that Americans worked with benign intent, using our spectacular power to further democratic ends. In fact, American power is utilized almost exclusively to protect American economic interests abroad and to parry blows that come when our behavior creates a huge kickback, as with radical Islamic terrorism.

One of the features of this early essay that will play out expansively in Chomsky’s voluminous later writing is the manner in which he sets up “experts,” quickly to deride them. Famously the Kennedy and Johnson administrations surrounded themselves with the “best and the brightest,” and this continued through the Nixon years, with Henry Kissinger, a Harvard professor, becoming secretary of state. Chomsky skewers a range of these technocrats in this essay, people who in theory are “intellectuals,” from Walter Robinson through Walt Rostow and Henry Kissinger, among many others, each of whom accepts a “fundamental axiom,” which is that “the United States has the right to extend its power and control without limit, insofar as is feasible.” The “responsible” critics, he says, don’t challenge this assumption but suggest that Americans probably can’t “get away with it,” whatever “it” is, at this or that particular time or place.

Chomsky cites a recent article on Vietnam by Irving Kristol in Encounter (which was soon to be exposed as a recipient of CIA funding) where the “teach-in movement” is criticized: Professors and students would sit together and talk about the war outside of class times and classrooms. (I had myself attended several of these events, so I sat to attention while reading.) Kristol was an early neocon, a proponent of realpolitik contrasted college professor-intellectuals against the war as “unreasonable, ideological types” motived by “simple, virtuous ‘anti-imperialism’” with sober experts like himself.

Chomsky dives in: “I am not interested here in whether Kristol’s characterization of protest and dissent is accurate, but rather in the assumptions that it expresses with respect to such questions as these: Is the purity of American motives a matter that is beyond discussion, or that is irrelevant to discussion? Should decisions be left to ‘experts’ with Washington contacts?” He questions the whole notion of “expertise” here, the assumption that these men (there were almost no women “experts” in the mid-’60s) possessed relevant information that was “not in the public domain,” and that they would make the “best” decisions on matters of policy.

Chomsky was, and remains, a lay analyst of foreign affairs, with no academic degrees in the field. He was not an “expert” on Southeast Asia at the time, just a highly informed and very smart person who could access the relevant data and make judgments. He would go on, over the next five decades, to apply his relentless form of criticism to a dizzying array of domestic and foreign policy issues — at times making sweeping statements and severe judgments that would challenge and inspire many but also create a minor cottage industry devoted to debunking Chomsky.

This is not the place to defend Chomsky against his critics, as this ground has been endlessly rehashed. It’s enough to say that many intelligent critics over the years would find Chomsky self-righteous and splenetic, quick to accuse American power brokers of evil motives, too easy to grant a pass to mass murderers like Pol Pot or, during the period before the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein.

I take it for granted, as I suspect Chomsky does, that in foreign affairs there are so many moving parts that it’s difficult to pin blame anywhere. One may see George W. Bush, for instance, as the propelling force behind the catastrophe of the Iraq War, but surely even that blunder was a complex matter, with a mix of oil interests (represented by Dick Cheney) and perhaps naive political motives as well. One recalls “experts” like Paul Wolfowitz, who told a congressional committee on February. 27, 2003, that he was “reasonably certain” that the Iraqi people would “greet us as liberators.”

Fifty years after writing “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” Chomsky remains vigorous and shockingly productive, and — in the dawning age of President Donald Trump — one can only hope he has a few more years left. In a recent interview, he said (with an intentional hyperbole that has always been a key weapon in his arsenal of rhetorical moves) that the election of Trump “placed total control of the government — executive, Congress, the Supreme Court — in the hands of the Republican Party, which has become the most dangerous organization in world history.”

Chomsky acknowledged that the “last phrase may seem outlandish, even outrageous,” but went on to explain that he believes that the denial of global warming means “racing as rapidly as possible to destruction of organized human life.” As he would, he laid out in some detail the threat of climate change, pointing to the tens of millions in Bangladesh who will soon have to flee from “low-lying plains … because of sea level rise and more severe weather, creating a migrant crisis that will make today’s pale in significance.”

I don’t know that, in fact, the Republican Party of today is really more dangerous than, say, the Nazi or Stalinist or Maoist dictatorships that left tens of millions dead. But, as ever, Chomsky makes his point memorably, and forces us to confront an uncomfortable situation.

Image result for Donald J Trump

Intellectuals need to  take on this “dangerously ill-informed bully in the White House”and Malaysia’s most corrupt and intellectually challenged Prime Minister Najib Razak and other kleptocrats. Speak the Truth to Power–Din Merican

As I reread Chomsky’s essay on the responsibility of intellectuals, it strikes me forcefully that not one of us who has been trained to think critically and to write lucidly has the option to remain silent now. Too much is at stake, including the survival of some form of American democracy and decency itself, if not an entire ecosystem. With a dangerously ill-informed bully in the White House, a man almost immune to facts and rational thought, we who have training in critical thought and exposition must tirelessly call a spade a spade, a demagogue a demagogue. And the lies that emanate from the Trump administration must be patiently, insistently and thoroughly deconstructed. This is the responsibility of the intellectual, now more than ever.

Jay Parini, a poet and novelist, teaches at Middlebury College. His most recent book is New and Collected Poems, 1975-2015.”

Recommended Read:

https://www.pdx.edu/challenge-program/sites/www.pdx.edu.challenge-program/files/KRANE-TheResponsibilityofIntellectuals.pdf

Teuku Adnan: A Referendum for Kuala Lumpur too?


February 7, 2017

Tengku (Teuku) Adnan’s Folly: Taking on Penang

COMMENT: I have a simple message for this corrupt Fake Royalty, Teuku Adnan and that is leave Penang alone. Stop diverting our attention from Kuala Lumpur. Nurul Izzah has said enough about his track record as Federal Territories Minister. I have nothing substantive to add except to say that our national capital is a snake pit of corrupt viper like officials led by Teuku Adnan. Georgetown in contrast is a well-managed and attractive place for all visitors.–Din Merican.

Read this:

http://www.penang.ws/penang-attractions/placevisit.htm

A Referendum for Kuala Lumpur too?

by Nurul Izzah Anwar, MP@www.malaysikini.com

 

Image result for Penang Panoramic View

Penang’s version of Hollywood’s Rodeo Drive, Penang Road is arguably the most important thoroughfare on the island. A mixture of nouveau-riche and quaint heritage, it runs the length from Lebuh Farquhar in the north, to Jalan Gurdwara in the south – near the Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak (KOMTAR tower) – at the junction of Macalister Road. Brightly lit, Penang Road is divided into four main sections and it’s thoroughly tourist-friendly with walkways and plenty of plants.

Malaysia’s Dynamic, Smart and Gutsy Member of Parliament, Nurul Izzah Anwar

MP SPEAKS: Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor has said that the notion to add a federal territory in Malaysia is simply a suggestion that “requires proposal, referendum and approval at national level.” It goes without saying that Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and even Putrajaya should then have been accorded the same level of decency when they were put under the government’s rule.

In addition to a referendum for Penangites, would Tengku Adnan also consider holding one for KLites? For a variety of reasons, residents of KL have long called Kuala Lumpur City Hall’s (DBKL) ability to govern into question.

For one, DBKL’s mismanagement has led to rampant corruption. Just last year, the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) investigated DBKL project management executive director who was eventually charged with 18 counts of corruption, including accepting bribes and assets estimated at RM4.4 million.

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Secondly, DBKL is incompetent in developing KL in a sustainable manner. Throughout the years, DBKL has permitted developers such as Amona Group and IJM Land to encroach upon Bukit Gasing, one of Kuala Lumpur’s last remaining green lungs.

On the contrary, residents who have surfaced their concerns – the risk of landslides, overcrowding, traffic congestion to DBKL are often dismissed for profit-making purposes, at the expense of KL’s environmental sustainability.

Thirdly, DBKL has failed to provide KL’s low-income residents a decent standard of living. Low sanitation and maintenance standards, in addition to illegal leasing are among the foremost problems of PPR housing in KL, while DBKL itself is also struggling with mounting levels of unpaid rent.

Tengku Adnan’s promise to provide affordable homes to Penangites by virtue of transferring Penang to the clutches of the federal government will prove to be nothing but an empty promise.

Before Tengku Adnan commences a referendum in Penang, consider also polling the residents of KL of the city’s performance under the federal territory jurisdiction.

Contrary to Tengku Adnan’s claim that a federal territory would prevent the oppression of citizens – Malay or not, for decades, residents of KL have only experienced poor city planning and development, coupled with the government’s negligence towards their welfare.

Ku Nan’s abysmal track record

Throughout his four years as the Federal Territories minister, Tengku Adnan has proposed and implemented many policies that have caused much public distress.

In 2013, Tengku Adnan proposed a hike in annual property assessment rates that ranged between 100 and 250 percent of the previous rates which elicited much public furor, before capping the rates between 10 and 25 percent their existing annual rates.

In 2014, he heartlessly banned soup kitchens within a 2km radius of KL city centre because “(soup kitchens) just encourages people to remain homeless and jobless”.

This year, his proposal to ban kapcais from KL also met with much dissatisfaction from KLites.

Keeping Ku Nan’s many hare-brained proposals in mind, we must take extra precaution when evaluating the merits of his suggestion that the state of Penang be left under his ministry’s jurisdiction.

Undemocratic model of governance

Over the years that the BN government reigned over KL in the guise of a federal territory, the rights of KLites have been plundered with impunity. Corruption depleted public coffers, while irresponsible planning lowered standards of living.

Through the 2013 general elections, nine out of 11 parliamentary constituencies in Kuala Lumpur were won by opposition lawmakers. Yet, the mayor of Kuala Lumpur is not only unelected, but also appointed by none other than our Federal Territories Minister and UMNO lawmaker, Tengku Adnan.

In addition, Kuala Lumpur does not even have its own state government. Despite having one of the largest budgets among all states and federal territories in Malaysia, the people of Kuala Lumpur have to surrender financial control to the whims and fancies of an Umno politician like Tengku Adnan.

Ironically, members of parliaments who were elected to represent the concerns of KLites have little say in decision-making, and are subjugated to the mayor, who in turn, reports to Tengku Adnan.

As such, the conversion of Penang from a state to a federal territory is just an excuse for the government to put opposition territory under BN’s malicious control. Now, Tengku Adnan is mustering the audacity to coerce the opposition into relinquishing its governance of Penang when 10 out of 13 parliamentary constituencies in the state have decidedly elected opposition lawmakers in the 2013 general elections.

Clearly, we must not allow BN’s undemocratic practices to oppress other regions in Malaysia.

Tengku Adnan’s proposal to categorise Penang as a federal territory, as opposed to retaining the northern region’s autonomy as a state is dubious at best – and authoritarian at worst. Politically motivated proposals as such flies in the face of public interest, and will only be implemented to fulfil the blind ambition of power-hungry BN politicians.


NURUL IZZAH ANWAR is Lembah Pantai MP and a graduate of John Hopkins University.