The Unlikely Return of Cat Stevens


September 17, 2017

The Unlikely Return of Cat Stevens


Cat Stevens was giving us back the songs he’d taken away so many years ago. He was, after all this time, validating their worth again, and with it, our love for them.

Photograph by Matt Writtle / eyevine / Redux

Early in a Cat Stevens, a.k.a. Yusuf Islam, a.k.a. Yusuf/Cat Stevens, concert in Boston a couple of years ago, there was a hushed pause in the room as the then sixty-six-year-old performer waited for a stagehand to bring him a guitar in between songs. “I’m really happy to be here!” the singer suddenly exclaimed. It did not sound like ersatz show-biz banter; it sounded humble, childlike even, as if he himself were surprised by the emotion. It sounded like capitulation. The crowd, in response, rose to its feet en masse, producing a sound that was more than just a cheer. It was an embrace. It was an acknowledgment by artist and audience alike: Cat Stevens, a figure who, for all intents and purposes, had ceased to exist more than three decades ago, had come back.

For a long time, it has been hard to love the man once known (and now known again) as Cat Stevens. In the years since he formally retired from the popular music world, in 1978, his name has popped up in the media from time to time. He would be quoted, or seen in a video-clip interview, and it was difficult to accept the visage of the person whom he now presented himself as—to reconcile this cold, humorless, unhappy, and severe-looking man with the joyful, understanding, goofy, wise songwriter whose music we’d known and loved. For a long time, the man who’d changed his name to Yusuf Islam had completely disowned his artistic output as Cat Stevens—a confusing, dispiriting slap in the face to those it once meant a great deal to.

The man who was Cat Stevens ran Islamic schools for children, spreading the word of Allah, and acted as a spokesperson for Islam. After a while, he began making some children’s albums, but he wasn’t playing the guitar, and the music was not for his traditional fan base. In interviews, he sounded defensive and removed. Some remarks attributed to him seemed to be in line with some of the more distasteful prejudices of orthodox Islam.

Then, in 2006, came “An Other Cup,” his first album of commercial music in twenty-eight years. He’d dropped his adopted last name of Islam, and was now calling himself, simply, Yusuf. Something had shifted, certainly. How welcome it was to hear that voice with that guitar again, after all these years. Still, the album’s opening track, “Midday (Avoid City After Dark),” set a tone of unease, paranoia, and judgment that never really lifted. Elsewhere on the recording, there was a revisit to a much earlier composition (“I Think I See the Light”) and an interesting (if forced-sounding) reworking of a section of his “Foreigner Suite” (“Heaven/Where True Love Goes”), but the bulk of the album felt earthbound. Nowhere was there the joie de vivre that inhabited his best work. The follow-up, “Roadsinger,” in 2009, sounded fresher, but still unconvincing. Which was it—was he wary of us, or we of him? There seemed to be skepticism and distrust on both sides.

Some live performances began to appear here and there online. Yusuf was steadfast about not playing any old Cat Stevens material, save for a select few songs that he could justify in the context of his religious path, such as “The Wind” and “Peace Train.” He had collaborated on a musical called “Moonshadow” that featured actors singing some of his old songs and was having a run in Australia. It proved a critical and financial flop.

I paid attention to all of this because, unhip as this may be to admit, the music of Cat Stevens once meant a great deal to me. I did not grow up listening to it, per se (I was too young), but his music became the soundtrack to my adolescence when I watched “Harold and Maude” for the first time, and my world changed. I went out and got a guitar. I listened to Cat Stevens obsessively, played and sang his songs with friends, hunted down all of his albums. While it was clear that he’d lost his way artistically on later albums like “Numbers” and “Izitso,” the earlier, classic albums that he’s still known for (“Mona Bone Jakon” through “Foreigner”) were full of treasures that could be mined again and again. Indelible melodies, beautiful production, emotionally committed performances, and, most of all, a gentle wisdom, a repudiation of the status quo, a sense that we were not alone. Here was someone who was trying to make sense of life, too; he may not have had the answers, but he was looking for them, and we were encouraged to join him. Here was a friend.

Of course, I quickly learned that Cat Stevens had already ceased to be. My adolescent soul despaired, knowing that there would be no more Cat Stevens albums, no more Cat Stevens concerts. The man who had become a hero to me had long since retired from the music world.

In time, his music, too, would fade from my consciousness. As I grew and matured, so did my musical tastes and sensibilities. I might reach for a Cat Stevens album on rare occasions, to remind myself of something that I’d once treasured, sometimes surprised that a song or album held up as strongly as it did, but his music was no longer a living thing for me. I paid attention when he came out of retirement with the two Yusuf albums, and listened to each of them a handful of times with attendant hopes and (it seemed) inevitable disappointment. It was hard to get excited about his music now. The voice was the same, but the spirit was changed, different, unwelcoming.

Nevertheless, when it was announced, in late 2014, that he was going to perform in America for the first time in thirty-eight years, I put my misgivings aside and became a teen-ager again, queueing up for tickets on the phone the morning they went on sale. I did not listen to his latest album, “Tell ‘Em I’m Gone,” nor did I look for any news about the kinds of shows that he’d been playing of late. I simply drove up to Boston to see my old hero, expectations dimmed to almost nothing. I imagined that there I would see Yusuf Islam, delivering a respectful program of his latter-day music, with perhaps one or two old favorites thrown in as crowd appeasement. I wasn’t going for Yusuf Islam. I was going to pay homage to the singer who had once meant so much to me, for the chance to simply be in the same room with him for the first (and what I assumed would be the last) time.

It has taken some time for me to think clearly about what it was like to be at that show. What happened there was more than just a good concert given by a group of well-rehearsed, talented musicians, backing a pop icon on a comeback tour, though it was partly that. It was more than just a nostalgic trip down memory lane, as a sold-out crowd sang along to songs that many (including myself) never expected to hear played live again, though it was partly that, too. Without resorting to hyperbole, being there, for me, was an unexpected catharsis, something like seeing a ghost.

I didn’t know, until I got there, that the singer was now billing himself with the ungainly but revealing name of Yusuf/Cat Stevens. Was he now acknowledging his former self? This was a surprise, the first of many that the evening would hold.

The once and future Cat Stevens walked onstage to a tremendous ovation (no surprise there) and launched into a solo performance of “The Wind.” O.K., in some way, this was what we’d all come for, and here he’d already given it to us. All the latter-day Yusuf stuff would follow, we’d give him some hearty applause at the encore, and that would be that—or so I thought. What was this, though? He was wearing sunglasses and a leather jacket—not the austere, devotional garb he’d worn in the (admittedly not so recent) appearances that I’d seen him do online. And the stage set—it was elaborate, whimsical, evocative of the old Cat, whose tastes sometimes crossed the line into outright silliness. Most significantly, though, he himself seemed engaged, connected, and—hardest to believe—lighthearted.

“Here Comes My Baby” and “The First Cut Is the Deepest” followed, two pop hits from the infancy of his career, both secular love songs, both jarring surprises. “Thinking ‘Bout You” followed, a more recent song of love and devotion, but it was buoyed by an energy and commitment that sustained the freshness of what had come before, and served as a bridge to the first real shock of the night, as the singer made his way to a piano at the side of the stage and, unaccompanied, launched into the opening strains of “Sitting,” and the crowd seemed to collectively gasp before erupting into joyous, grateful cheers. Here he was again. Cat Stevens. Questioning, seeking, proudly admitting that he did not have the answers, but that he was on his way to find them. Our companion, our friend, had returned.

It was the first of what would be many goosebump-inducing moments in the generous, two-part concert. He followed it with “Last Love Song,” from 1978’s obscure (and mostly uninspired-sounding) “Back to Earth,” the mere fact that he was exploring and reclaiming obscurities from his back catalogue speaking volumes. By the time he reached the end of the first set, closing it with “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out,” the message was clear—something had happened. He was giving us back the songs he’d taken away so many years ago. He was, after all this time, validating their worth again, and with it, our love for them. After insisting for so many years, as Yusuf Islam, that there was only one way, only one truth, one law, one path, he’d relented. He was giving us permission, again, to do and think and live how we wanted. And he seemed genuinely happy saying and singing it.

The second set held even more surprises, as song after song from the old œuvre was brought back to life. “Oh Very Young,” “Sad Lisa,” “Miles from Nowhere” (I have my freedom / I can make my own rules / Oh yeah, the ones that I choose). They were presented, for the most part, as set pieces, with hardly any improvisation at all, but that didn’t matter. The faithful Alun Davies was there on lead acoustic guitar, as he has been since 1970. Matt Sweeney was a welcome addition on electric guitar, adding a pinch of verve and danger to the mix, but if old concert footage is any indication, Cat Stevens was never one for taking too many risks onstage musically, choosing instead to eschew spontaneity in deference to the arrangements on his studio recordings.

It was touching to hear the singer-songwriter still tinkering with that beautiful failure “Foreigner Suite,” still trying to get it right. Classics such as “Where Do the Children Play?” and “Trouble” brought with them a great sadness; confronted with the simplicity, the naïveté even, of the sentiments in these gentle lyrics, it was impossible not to think of how the world has changed and darkened since these songs were written and last performed. Even “Moonshadow,” that lullaby of Buddhist acceptance, carried with it the sting of longing for less dire times.

Being at that concert, hearing those songs again, sung with conviction by that man, was like being allowed to spend a night in one’s childhood home, with everything back the way that it was from some preëxistential, innocent moment—with even one’s family members frozen in time the way that they were decades ago. For me, it was eerie, spooky, unsettling, like Emily’s return from the dead in “Our Town.”

At the end of each of these old songs, there was that same sustained applause that followed his aside, early in the show, about how happy he was to be there. It’s a sound I keep coming back to in my mind when I think about the experience of being at that concert, a sound distinct from any that I think I have ever heard. It was an entity, a palpable force, as though the emotion behind every voice and every pair of hands could be heard. There was a sort of desperate celebration to it. It was the sound of reconciliation, of gratitude, of forgiveness.

Yusuf/Cat Stevens has a new album coming out this week, called “A Laughing Apple,” and more tour dates have been announced. I have not heard the new recording yet, but news of its release has led me to reflect on that night, when it felt as though this shape-shifting performer had brought someone we once loved back from the dead, a phantom from another time, and with that act offered tacit acknowledgment that we’re so much better together than we are apart. It’s a notion as naïvely idealistic as any he ever gave us; an echo from the past, finding its way to us past a wall that is, miraculously, no longer there

Howard Fishman is a writer, performer, and composer based in Brooklyn,  New York.

 

Pakatan Harapan –Avoid Strategic Ambiguity in Election Manifesto


September 1, 2017

Pakatan Harapan –Avoid Strategic Ambiguity in Election Manifesto

by Dr. Wong Chin Huat

http://www.eastasiaforum.org

Image result for Ultra Mahathir Mohamad

 Tun Mahathir as Pakatan Harapan Chairman–The Election Changer?

Malaysia’s opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH) is busy preparing its manifesto for the 14th General Election (GE14) to be held by August 2018 at the latest. PH cannot afford to repeat past mistakes and publish a strategically ambiguous election manifesto as a simple public relations exercise — it needs to produce a transition pact that clearly spells out what its victory would change and what it would not.

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UMNO Ketuanan Melayu–BN1.0

Malaysia is a one-party state which has been ruled by the Malay-nationalist United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and its coalition partners since independence from Britain in 1957. Malaysia is also a polarised society where the majority Malay-Muslims and the minority Chinese, Indian and Bornean non-Muslims have largely opposing views on Islamisation and pro Malay-Muslim preferential policies.

This fundamental contradiction has helped UMNO’s party-state to survive previous challenges since the opposition has never been able to win favour with both blocs. In 1990, the opposition won the Chinese vote, but lost the Malays due to their fear of losing political and religious dominance. In 1999, the opposition won the Malay vote, but many Chinese feared an ethnic riot if UMNO performed badly. In 2013, the opposition coalition won 51 per cent of the total vote, but its Malay-Muslim support was only around 40 per cent. Thanks to partisan gerrymandering, the UNMO-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition held on to power by a margin of 44 seats.

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Voices of Moderation in Civil Society

Looking toward the coming election PH is aiming to win more Malay votes. The inclusion of Mahathir Mohamad (formerly of UMNO and prime minister between 1981 and 2003) as PH’s new chairman is a game changer. He fills the void left by the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party (PAS) which now collaborates with UMNO to pursue its agenda to expand Syariah law.

Many now hope for a tsunami of Malay voters to sweep UMNO away. But there is a catch to such optimism: communal incoordination risks foiling the opposition coalition once again.

Given UMNO’s further shift to ultra-nationalism after 2013, Chinese votes appear unlikely to swing back to BN. But with Mahathir evading talk of concrete reforms, many Chinese who fear PH turning into a BN 2.0 may stay home on election day offsetting any potential Malay swing to PH.

Previous opposition coalitions have tried this sort of strategic ambiguity before. Instead of taking clear positions on Islamisation and the pro-Malay New Economic Policy, they seized upon salient issues such as corruption and good governance. But ambiguity is neither strategic nor possible this time around. UMNO will continue — with the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party’s help — to warn Malays that both Islam and Muslims are under threat. If PH responds by leaning towards the Malays, more Chinese votes risk being lost.

Beyond populist and catch-all promises like repealing the Good and Sales Tax, a better strategy for PH would be to enter into a transition pact with citizenry on how it would manage regime change should it win. Such a pact should separate the pro-Malay/Muslim policies which UMNO holds its ethnic constituency at ransom with from the party-state, dismantle those features of the political system which prevent genuine electoral competition and enable corruption, and find better alternatives in inter-communal policies.

In terms of making politics competitive, both the authoritarian and majoritarian features of the party-state need to be eliminated.

To dismantle authoritarianism, three institutional reforms are indispensable. First, civil and political liberties must be reinforced to emphasise the freedoms of expression, assembly and association. PH must also commit to media freedom and to no detention without trial.

Second, there must be judicial and prosecutorial reforms regarding the appointment, promotion and retirement of judges as well as the establishment of an independent prosecution separate from the attorney general.

Third, political impartiality of the state apparatus — bureaucracy, police and the military — must be enforced. State agencies and officials must be checked by independent anti-corruption and ombudsman institutions with real regulatory teeth. Such reforms may produce a majoritarian democracy, but leaves the risk of democratic winner-takes-all politics which will likely further tear at Malaysia’s bipolar social wounds. Hence, two more institutional reforms are needed to dismantle majoritarianism.

First, electoral, parliamentary and cabinet reforms must be enacted — this includes a more proportional electoral system and a term limit on prime ministership. Powers need to be devolved to the states, the senate should be directly elected and local elections restored. These reforms will end a concentration of power at the top of the leadership, the root cause of the 1MDB scandal.

At the same time, PH should also promise to avoid sweeping change without national consensus on divisive issues like the pro-Malay ethnic preferential policy, Islamisation as well as language and education. These issues should be deliberated by broad-based consultative bodies to produce new policy alternatives, which may be modified to become party manifestos in the 15th General Election (GE15).

Instead of repeating ‘strategic ambiguity’, PH should make clear that GE14 will only be a ‘transition election’ from the party-state while the ‘founding election’ for a new Malaysia will be GE15, when playing field is level.

With the right balance of change and continuity guided principally by a two-stage roadmap, there is hope that PH may just garner enough Malay and non-Malay voters to end UMNO’s corrupt party-state.

Wong Chin Huat is the Head of Political Studies at Penang Institute.

FA Abdul remembers Humanist Thasleem Ibrahim


August 30, 2017

FA Abdul remembers Humanist Thasleem Ibrahim

“For what is a man, what has he got
If not himself, then he has naught,
To say the things, he truly feels
And not the words, of one who kneels
The record shows, I took the blows
And did it my way…”

– Frank Sinatra, “My Way”

http://www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT–FA Abdul | Dato Thasleem Ibrahim was my teh tarik and chatting buddy. The first time I was in contact with Dato Thasleem was in early 2015 when I received an unexpected text message from him.

“Assalamualaikum. I read your article ‘I Like Keema And Not Kimma’ and I nearly fell off my chair!”

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Dato Thasleem Ibrahim and Datin Dr. Yazmeen paid a courtesy call on Dr.APJ Abdul Kalam at his residence in New Delhi on 26th.July 2010. The discussions centered mostly on education and youths.

We both had a good laugh chatting about the Malaysian Indian Muslim Association (Kimma), which claimed to be representing the Indian Muslims but was seeking for them to be acknowledged as Malays. As an ex-advisor to Kimma for many, many years, Dato Thasleem surely had a lot of stories I found interesting.

Following that first text message, more conversations through phone calls as well as over teh tarik and vadai at his favourite mamak place in Taman Tun Dr Ismail ensued.

I learned that Dato Thasleem was born in Ramnad district of Tamil Nadu and came to Malaysia when he was five years old. Having been schooled in Ipoh until he was in Form 5, he regards himself as an Ipoh boy.

Oh, how can I forget the time when he joked – “I have banyak girlfriends in Ipoh. But now they’re all grandmothers!”He was such a jovial chap with a remarkable aura.

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Dato’ Tashleem Ibrahim seen with DAP’s Theresa Kok

One of the issues both of us passionately talked about from time to time was how religion, which was supposed to promote unity among all, was being used to break us apart. Dato used to warn me that if nothing is done now, in the future we might end up in separate hospital wards and mortuary freezers according to our race and religion.

Dato Thasleem’s dream was to create a better world for our children, a world full of values of humanity, fairness and equality – a dream he never gave up on.

“I lost the case, my dear. Punished for speaking the truth and seeking justice but the civil servant got promoted. Malaysia is truly Bolehland,” he told me not too long ago regarding a senior Malay civil servant who had sued him for defamation for calling him an ultra-Malay racist. “But I cannot give up. The fight must continue.”

As much as I looked up to Dato Thasleem as a wonderful being with a great soul who was ever willing to fight for justice, for he believed every true Muslim had a responsibility to defend what is right and resist what is wrong, I also saw a father figure who was kind and loving and always gave a shoulder to lean on upon sensing the need for one.

The last time I spoke to him was the morning he was admitted to the hospital.

“I have been following all your articles. Been unwell for the past six months. I was diagnosed with interstitial lung disease in 2009, yet I’m not giving up and I’m pushing myself against medical advice and now I’m paying a heavy price. Too many battles to fight, it really hit me hard.”

He told me how he regrets not taking better care of himself. And he spoke of the need for him to keep his mind active by continuously hammering the corrupt politicians, although at the time, he was not feeling well.

And even as his health deteriorated, he texted me, “Ma, you will always be in my prayers.”

With him now gone, it is up to those who loved him dearly and those who recognised his jihad, to carry on fighting for justice.

Dato Thasleem devoted his life to fighting for what he believed in and, in the midst of doing so, touched so many lives.

Jihad for justice is his legacy. The fight must go on. It has to.


FA ABDUL is a passionate storyteller, a growing media trainer, an aspiring playwright, a regular director, a struggling producer, a self-acclaimed photographer, an expert Facebooker, a lazy blogger, a part-time queen and a full-time vainpot.

 

A Fitting Tribute to a Humanitarian and an Exemplary Malaysian Muslim–Thasleem Ibrahim


August 25, 2017

A Fitting Tribute to a Humanitarian and an Exemplary Malaysian Muslim–Thasleem Ibrahim

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Image result for Man is a Measure of All Things Quote
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On Dato’ Thasleem Mohamed Ibrahim

The best way to honour his memory is for the activists in the community to do away with the infighting and deep divisions that have plagued their work and to come together to continue the struggle for the downtrodden, exploited and subjugated among them and in the other communities–Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

The passing of Thasleem Ibrahim leaves a big void in the NGO sector. It also takes away a luminary from the much smaller world of the true sons of our soil and Malaysian patriots willing to act according to the dictates of their conscience and to stand up for justice, a better country and the rights of the marginalized and oppressed – not simply in words but also in deed.

A man of strong values, Thasleem’s record of compassion, charity and activism is unique amongst Malaysians.

Eschewing the fanfare which good Samaritans and benefactors often look for, he has quietly funded studies for over 60 hafiz (Quran memorisers) in the last 20 years. He has also adopted Tamil schools since 1995 with more than 15,000 children benefiting from his financial support; and, in his own home, he and his wife have been adoptive parents to 16 children from various backgrounds – Hindus, Christians, Malays, and Indian Muslims. Few Malaysians can match him in his humanitarianism and his personal mission to share his worldly acquisitions with those less fortunate.

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 Dato’ Thasleem Mohamed Ibrahim

Two personal traits of Thasleem stand out for me during the time that he and his National Indian Rights Action (NIAT) and Jihad for Justice groupings worked with the Center for Policy Initiatives and Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia on the controversial educational issues of the day from 2008- 2014 before he was compelled to take a less active role due to ill health.

The first is that while Thasleem took his religious faith and values seriously and he tried to live them in his activist work, he never saw the need to draw attention to his commitment to Islam or to talk much about the beauty or superiority of the religion. On the contrary what roused his anger and his response – often articulated in public rebuke – were extremists and hypocrites making use of Islam and those peddling the ideology of religious dominance.

The second was his fearlessness in taking up politically incorrect and unpopular issues which he really had no stake in. Thasleem was a retired businessman, not a historian, academic or educationist. But his concern was for truth, good sense and sensibleness to prevail. In the campaign against the use of Interlok as a school text and on the need for a true Malaysian history to be taught to our young population, he openly criticized the motives and dishonest educational values of the ruling politicians and their apparatchik which had necessitated the reform movement he helped to lead.

Thasleem has left those of us who aspire to a better Malaysia too early. He would have wanted more time. But he was also always fully aware that the torch burning for justice and truth is only faintly lit and is easily extinguished should patriotic and level-headed Malaysians remain silent and do nothing or remain on the sidelines. This is especially true for the case of marginalized Tamils and Indians whose welfare and cause he was most committed to, and where he was concerned with the little progress achieved.

The best way to honour his memory is for the activists in the community to do away with the infighting and deep divisions that have plagued their work and to come together to continue the struggle for the downtrodden, exploited and subjugated among them and in the other communities.

The Costs and Benefits of SOCIAL INCLUSION


June 10, 2017

The Costs and Benefits of SOCIAL INCLUSION

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT | Amongst inclusion, integration, affirmative action, ethnic preference or similar policies implemented to redress perceived socio-economic differences or imbalances in social groups, probably the longest lived and arguably most successful of those pursued by the world’s nations have been those of Malaysia in the field of education.

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The beginnings of this achievement in education can be traced to active measures undertaken by the British colonial government to upgrade the economic progress of Malays in 1950 through the establishment of the Rural Industrial Development Authority (Rida).

According to an official history account, Rida had first opened its doors to some 50 students to help in the training of rural Malays in 1956.

Following independence and the May 13 racial violence, Rida morphed to become Majlis Amanah Rakyat or Mara as everyone today knows it.

Since then, this modest educational component of Rida/Mara has grown to become the largest higher education institution in the nation.

Today, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) comprises one main campus, 13 state campuses and 22 satellite campuses. With 17,000 academic and non-academic staff, UiTM offers over 500 programmes ranging from foundation to postgraduate level.

It has some 170,000 students – all bumiputeras and a small number of international students – and teaching is fully conducted in English.

There is no disputing the benefits and advantages that ethnic preference policies in higher education have had for the Malays. UiTM can be said to have spawned an entire generation of the Malay middle and upper class. It has also been the catalyst to the rapid proliferation of Malays in key targeted professional and high income groups during the New Economic Policy (NEP) and post-NEP era.

Putting UiTM under the microscope

The Economic Planning Unit does not appear to have updated a key table showing the racial proportion of professional and high income groups for some years now.

This is probably because Malays have comprised the largest number among accountants, architects, dentists, medical doctors, lawyers, veterinary surgeons, engineers and surveyors in the country for at least one decade, if not longer now.

Less easy to assess are the costs and the impact of this racially structured affirmative action education and training agency on the country’s manpower needs and talent pool. The most contentious issue relates to the closing of the university’s doors to non-Malay students.

Although the university’s Pro-Chancellor, Arshad Ayub, in 2015 called for opportunity to be given to non-bumiputeras to study there, so as to encourage healthy competition and produce more intellectuals among students, his proposal – even though he qualified it by stating that these opportunities should be opened at post-graduate levels and not at diploma and bachelor’s degree levels – has proven to be a political minefield and non-starter.

Contentious issues aside, it is also unclear today the extent to which the Malay poor – indeed, the entire bumiputera poor – are the prime beneficiaries according to the mission objectives of the institution.

Or whether the institution is catering to a privileged Malay middle and upper class which can well afford to meet its educational needs in the same way that the rest of the country’s citizenry are doing. If the latter is happening, not only are non-Malays being marginalised, but also poor Malays and poor non-Malay bumiputeras.

According to a recent report, 3,000 Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) and Sijil Tinggi Pelajaran Malaysia (STPM) school-leavers who failed to pursue further studies despite obtaining excellent results were offered placements at UiTM in 2016.

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Vice-Chancellor Professor Emeritus Hassan Said said the opportunity was being given to to students from poor families and rural areas who could not continue their studies due to various factors, among them financial constraints. This total – even if increased greatly – will be a miniscule of the total number of 200,000 students envisaged for the year 2020.

A stand alone comprehensive and independent review of UiTM is not only necessary. It is overdue for at least three reasons.

One is the dominant role of UiTM in the country’s higher education and manpower planning system.

The second is the very large amount of public expenditure that has been spent during the past four decades on the institution. According to the latest data, the operating budget for UiTM alone in 2016 came up to RM2.23 billion of the total RM7.57 billion allocated to all 20 public universities in the country, or nearly 30 percent.

Even after the latest round of budgetary cutbacks, UiTM is slated to receive an allocation of RM1.67 billion of the RM6.12 billion allocation for all public universities in 2017.

 

Finally, a rigorous assessment is necessary because the government is continuing to position Mara and UiTM as the crucial driver of bumiputera economic and educational development for the coming decades.

Meanwhile there should be concern about the quality of higher education provided by UiTM. In the current Wikipedia article on UiTM, the table below shows that hardly any progress has been achieved by the university in its standing among universities in Malaysia, the region and world.

What is preventing UiTM from living up to its self characterised description of being “a research-intensive entrepreneurial university’ leading the way for Malaysia to become an innovation-based and knowledge-based economy are just two of many questions that need to be asked by all concerned Malaysians, not just politicians and the university’s staff and alumni.

Stay the Course, Dean: We are winning


April 8, 2017

Stay the Course, Dean: Winning the Word War against Najib Razak and UMNO-BN

by Dean Johns@www,malaysiakini.com

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In the 15 years or so since I wrote my first column on this topic (recently re-posted on my blog, in case you’re interested, here, I’ve fought and lost so many verbal battles that it often strikes me that if I had any sense I should have conceded defeat by now.

And in some ways I guess I have. Total failure in my fight against the forces waging guerrilla and gorilla wars in Africa, the Muddle East and elsewhere has disabused me of any belief in the alleged wisdom, or, given that it’s evidently based on nothing but wishful thinking, wishdom, that the pen is mightier than the sword.

More dire still has been my discovery, in the course of a decade spent decrying the corruption and other evils of Malaysia’s ever-ruling UMNO-BN regime, and witnessing this situation only go from bad to worse and now utterly woeful, that the pen is not even mightier than the sordid.

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As depressing as my reverses have been, however, and as many times as I’ve thus thought of giving-up fighting fiction posing as fact by the writing of faction and friction, I find I’m hopelessly addicted to it.

Addicted not so much to frontally attacking the forces of error and evil with barrages, bombardments and blitzkriegs of words, but to sabotaging, defusing or disarming the very words they use as weapons against the rest of us.

As weapons ranging from literal booby-traps like ‘bye-election’, which in UMNO-BN’s Malaysia, as years ago I was delighted to point-out to the intended boobies it was supposed to entrap was actually, considering all the regime bribery involved in it, literally a ‘buy-election’; to intercontinental misguiding verbal missiles like ‘people’s’ and ‘democratic.’

As I mentioned many years ago in a Malaysiakini column entitled ‘Wronged words’, the term ‘people’s’ in the official name of a nation is a dead-set certain sign that its government is at war with both its people and the truth, and so is the word ‘democratic’.

Thus North Korea, currently the apparently leading contender for the title of the world’s most dick-headed dictatorship, wages an especially vicious version of the word wars by billing itself as not just ‘democratic’ or the ‘people’s’, but both.

Image result for The Corrupt UMNO-BN regime

Sound Advice for All Civil Society Activists (Dean Johns, Bakri Musa, Azly Rahman, Lim Teck Ghee, Mariam Mohktar and Din Merican included) from the Great Mahatma Gandhi. We are winning the Hearts and Minds War against the Corrupt and Incompetent UMNO-BN regime led by Najib Razak.–Din Merican

UMN0-BN’s Malaysia, on the other hand, as discussed at some length in a long-ago Malaysiakini column titled ‘Democracy with a difference’, wages a more covert war against its democracy-, justice- and rights-deprived citizens by claiming to be rather than naming itself ‘democratic’.

So it gave me a good deal of satisfaction to counter-attack against this sneak-attack on reality by contending that, far from genuinely democratic, UMNO-BN-dominated Malaysia is a domocracy designed for the greater benefit of one race, and thus also a dermocracy.

It is also as racked by ruling-regime corruption and criminality as any other of the world’s virtually countless kleptocracies, dimocracies and dumbocracies.

Image result for khairy jamaluddin and UMNOA Pr0msing Young Leader, Khairy Jamaluddin–On the Wrong Side of History

And as if Malaysians weren’t casualties enough of the word wars to be going on with, the UMNO-BN regime keeps fooling the Malaysian people by fueling an apparently endless war over the word ‘secular’, which is what the country’s constitution supposedly is.

In the latest episode in this conflict, which is clearly designed to keep opposition parties and sectors of the populace at each other’s throats, the regime is pretending to consider a piece of legislation known as Act 355 proposed by hard-core Islamic party PAS, or, as I can’t help thinking of it, PUS, for the purpose of making penalties more severe for Muslims who offend against Shariah law.

Not so much secular as sectular

As the dominant regime party, UMNO, is composed entirely of Muslims dedicated to privileging the Muslim majority of the populace, it seems to me that the government of Malaysia, such as it is, is already not so much secular as what could justly be called sectular.

Not to mention sickular, as currently evidenced by the proposal in parliament by some UMNO MP that female Muslim victims of statutory or even forcible rape should be permitted (or encouraged or even forced?) to marry their attackers, and that marriage should be permitted with Muslim girls as young as nine who are sufficiently physically mature for their age.

Of course I and most of my comrades engaged in the word wars with the ruling regime see this and similar verbal skirmishes about other such atrocities as attempts to divert hostile fire away from its most obviously tempting target, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak.

Whose government, be it secular, sickular, or even just plain ular, as many consider symbolised by the apparent two-headed snake in the UMNO party symbol, is seen by most Malaysians as most certainly suckular, given that Najib and his accomplices are strongly suspected of ceaselessly sucking as much of the nation’s wealth into their pockets and purses as possible.

As indeed, albeit to a somewhat lesser extent or at least in a more legal manner, are the members, supporters and cronies of the legitimately-elected governments around the world that consider themselves ‘right-wing’.

Politics is the point at which the class wars and word wars coalesce, of course. So that those of us who deplore the ever-widening gulf between the rich and poor, greedy and needy, capitalists and workers, or as two successive right-wing Australian treasurers have tried to falsify this vicious false binary, ‘lifters and leaners’ and ‘taxed and taxed-nots’, consider the right wing precisely the wrong wing.

And by extension, as I’ve blogged recently, the so-called ‘Christian right’, in light of the fact that they self-interestedly pervert, or, if you prefer, double-cross Christian ethics in favour of their crass self-interest, are actually the Crasstian wrong.

In short, or in summary, my strategy for keeping on fighting on the side of right (as distinct from right- or in other words wrong-wing) in the never-ending word wars is to take all the terms the enemy has trashed, convert them into their true versions and fire them back.

In other words, even if I have no way of outgunning the forces of fear, ignorance and greed, I can have endless fun outpunning them.