Kassim Ahmad: An Iconoclast


October 14, 2017

Kassim Ahmad: An Iconoclast

 

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Muslim intellectual Kassim Ahmad was a courageous and brave thinker and his passing on October 10, 2017 is a loss for the nation, former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said. Dr Mahathir said he was very sad that his 84-year-old “friend” Kassim had passed away this morning in the Kulim hospital in Kedah. “We lost a brave figure who held on to the principle of his struggle no matter what happened to him,” he said in a statement posted on his blog.–Dr. Mahathir on the Passing of Dr. Kassim Ahmad

by Terence Netto@www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT | Much of the encomia for Kassim Ahmad, who died at the age of 84 in Kulim yesterday, spoke of his courage in the face of repression of his beliefs.

Kassim exemplified Ernest Hemingway’s definition of courage as grace under pressure. He was serene in facing the waves of hostile reaction to his beliefs – save in one instance.

This was when he blamed Anwar Ibrahim for forestalling the evolution of a debate he wanted with critics of his book, “Hadis: Satu Penilaian Semula” (Hadith: A Re-evaluation).

Kassim had wanted the book, which was banned shortly after its publication in 1986, to evoke a debate on the arguments he had adduced for making the Quran – and not the Hadith – as the principal source of Islamic faith and jurisprudence.

The conventional view was that the sources of Islamic jurisprudence were the Quran, Hadith and the general consensus of Islamic scholars. Kassim had argued that the Hadith contradicting the Quran could not be relied upon as a source of Islamic jurisprudence.

 

 

He fingered Anwar (photo), then a Cabinet Minister, as having played the main role behind the scenes to stop any debate on the book from taking place, specifically a debate with the Malaysian Muslim Youth Movement (ABIM). The debate didn’t go ahead. Kassim, ever willing to debate his disputants, blamed Anwar for this.

Anwar was then seen as the go-to Islamist in government, having been ABIM leader from the early 1970s, before mutating from government critic to collaborator in the drive that begun under then prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1982 to inject Islam into the administration and governance of the country.

From the perspective of the years gone by, this move is now seen as having paved the way for the weakening of the secular underpinnings of the 1957 Constitution inaugurating the country’s birth – thus opening the way to what many feared would be the eventual Islamisation of the country, which would have been a travesty of what the country’s founders envisaged.

Kassim would remain scurrilous and vituperative on Anwar’s alleged role in foreclosing debate on the banned book.

‘Amenable, amicable and kind’

The venomous streak that was much in evidence whenever Anwar’s name or fate came up in conversations between Kassim and friends who came a-visiting seemed uncharacteristic of the man who was otherwise amenable, amicable and kind.

From the time he graduated from the University of Malaya in Singapore in the late 1950s to the mid-1980s, when he called for a reevaluation of the hadith, Kassim distinguished himself as a thinker who was wont to go against the convention.

 

He had espoused the merits of Hang Jebat as the authentic Malay hero, in contradistinction to Hang Tuah as the archetype, in Malay intellectual discourse in the early 1960s.

He introduced “scientific socialism” to Parti Rakyat Malaysia in the mid-1960s when he took over its reins from founder Ahmad Boestamam, and changed the party’s name to Parti Sosialis Rakyat Malaysia, in conformity with the Marxist view that their ideology was irrefutable science.

Even when he began to abandon scientific socialism for an Islamic worldview while under ISA detention between 1976 and 1981, it was towards “Teori Sosial Moden Islam” (Modern Islamic Social Theory), the name of the treatise he would pen after being freed, and not towards anything nebulous.

Kassim’s was an intellect who craved certainty for its beliefs, where such certainty is elusive. That was probably why he took an oppositional view of the Hadith, with some of its origins in the mists of times long ago.

Whether it was jousting with national literary laureate Shahnon Ahmad on the role of art and literature in Islamic discourse, or with Islamists on the reliability of the Hadith, Kassim evinced the air of the scientific rationalist.

He had the iconoclast’s penchant for challenging orthodoxies, but this yen came with the ideologue’s weakness for certainties.

The French writer Honoré de Balzac knew the type when he observed that “It’s not sufficient to be a man; one must be a system.”

Read more at https://www.malaysiakini.com/columns/397983#Zu1Yr8RvHWv8cqG0.99

The Passing of My Friend, Islamic Scholar, and Public Intellectual Pak Kassim Ahmad


October 10, 2017

The Passing of My Friend, Islamic Scholar, and Public Intellectual Pak Kassim Ahmad

 

I am deeply distressed this morning to learn from Jaffar Ismail  of the passing of my friend public intellectual Pak Kassim Ahmad. The last time I heard from Pak Kassim  was about a month ago when he sent me via email his blog piece on the Holy Prophet Mohammad pbuh. We communicated often on matters of mutual concern to both of us. He educated me on Islam, for which I am eternally grateful.

Being of the same generation, only a few years my senior, my fellow Kedahan Pak Kassim was a man of integrity and courage who spoke the truth to power. He was persecuted by our religious authorities for his views on Islam. He was educated at the famous School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London and The University of Malaya in Singapore.

 

Image result for Kassim Ahmad  and Din Merican

 

He will be sorely missed by those whose lives he touched by his example, generosity and compassion. It is indeed tragic that a man of such prodigious talent, intellectual verve, and deep convictions  was  not appreciated by our religious establishment (JAKIM) and  UMNO politicians. They feared his ideas and views on Islam to the extent that they did not realise that Pak Kassim Ahmad was a lifelong member of UMNO. As far as I am concerned, Pak Kassim Ahmad led an examined life of learning and deep contemplation.

Image result for Din Merican and Kamsiah Haider

 

My wife, Dr. Kamsiah Haider and I wish to express our sincere and heartfelt condolences to his bereaved family. Semoga Allah mencucuri rahmat keatas roh Allahyarham Pak Kassim Ahmad. Al-Fatihah.–Din Merican

Hugh Hefner, Playboy, and the American Male


October 1, 2017

Hugh Hefner, Playboy, and the American Male

by Adam Gopnik

https://www.newyorker.com/

Image result for Hugh Hefner

The careers of certain cultural figures follow a predictable arc: first young and brazen, then oddly revered, then overly familiar, and then, at last, obsolete. Frank Harris had a career with a shape something like this: a cowboy and a lawyer before becoming the leading London newspaper editor of the eighteen-nineties, he then became known only as the author of a scandalous, multi-volume sexual memoir, ending up merely notorious. Hugh Hefner, the publisher of Playboy, who died on Wednesday, at the age of ninety-one, at the Playboy Mansion, in California, was another such figure. It is as hard now to recapture the period during the nineteen-sixties and seventies when Hefner actually seemed, if not exactly a cultural presence to be reckoned with, then at least a publishing magnate to be recognized, as it would be to return his magazine, Playboy, to the distinctive place, high up on the newsstand, that it once occupied. At one point, George Will could compare Hefner to Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby—not an entirely bad notion, given that the essential vulgarity of Gatsby’s taste, obvious to his creator, has been eclipsed by the retrospective glamour that has been placed on the book. But something like the opposite has taken place with Hefner. There was a time when his excursions into the Playboy philosophy, which was not quite as ridiculous a document as its title makes it sound, were, though never taken seriously, at least seen as significant. Now, they seem not merely quaint but predatory.

What Hefner did was, in one way, as old as sex itself: he took the heterosexual male gaze and commodified it. He took the universal straight-male appetite for pictures of semi-naked women and found a way to feed it that became acceptable enough to attract conventional advertisers. But his real touch of opportunistic American genius was the reverse spin that he pioneered: he took commodities and attached them to the male gaze. He took all the goodies of mid-century American life—the hi-fis and the stereo LPs and the nascent color TVs and the Flokati rugs—and made them part of a plausible seeming whole. The “Playboy man” of Hefner’s imagination was as much a creature of his living room as of his lusts. Desire became inseparable from decoration, carnality from consumerism. Only the bachelor with the right Breuer chair could hope to have an active bedroom. Hefner, as someone once said, made the indoors to the mid-twentieth century what the outdoors had been to the nineteenth—the place where you showed yourself worthy of the idea of a man.

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Playboy Magazine featured Marilyn Monroe that launched Hugh Hefner’s Publishing Career

The feminist critique of Playboy came early, sharp, and loud. It was certainly political, and it was also correct. However much Miss July might be asked to list her intellectual attributes alongside her measurements, it was as a measurement alone that she was being displayed. The pictorials came accompanied by a rhetoric of female empowerment, or at least sexual empowerment, but it was in every way a measured empowerment. Proposing Hefner’s ideal as the most desirable body type was not just repellant but in many ways noxious. The anxious adolescent coyness that the enterprise never escaped—in part because anxious adolescent coyness was Hefner’s true signature emotion, a silk dressing gown and a pipe being exactly an anxious adolescent’s idea of sophistication—was essentially anti-sex, replacing the real thing with a synthetic substitute.

Let it be said that Hefner hired and helped many women. Alice K. Turner was the magazine’s fiction editor for two decades. (Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Joyce Carol Oates all wrote for Playboy.) Hefner handed over the reins of the operation to his daughter, Christie, who for a while was one of the more prominent women C.E.O.s in the country and a major supporter of progressive causes. And, of course, many fine and important things were published in the magazine. The fiction tended to be second-rate work by first-rate names, but the interviews that Hefner published were often major events: Miles Davis, Malcolm X, Vladimir Nabokov, Ayn Rand, Martin Luther King, Jr., Fidel Castro, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, and the very last testament of John Lennon.

The case could even be made—Hefner himself certainly wanted to make it—that, by sponsoring a broadly libertarian view of culture, Hefner and Playboy played a pivotal role in bringing an end to imprisoning ideas of gentility. In one of those carom shots of which cultural history is full, by announcing feminine sexuality as a good thing for the girl next door—however comically self-interested the announcer’s motive—Hefner may indeed have played an unintentional role in the assertion of female sexuality and autonomy. After all, he reminded many women of what they didn’t like about the way they were portrayed, and that they might have something to say about it.

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The Sex Symbol of the 1950s and 1960–Marilyn Monroe (dec. 1962)

But, in the end, the American fable his life most resembled was not “Gatsby” but “Citizen Kane.” By the time Hefner died, seemingly as isolated in his mansion as Kane was in his Xanadu, his empire had been vastly reduced—by both time and fashion. Even before the Internet levelled the world of libidinal gazing, the titillation that Hefner’s imagery evoked had already mostly vanished. The ironic triumph was that the Internet, which achieved Hefner’s dream of instantly accessible and publicly acceptable erotica, undid the old man. Punching a few keys on a keyboard could provide the entire range of human desire and, as pornography took on a truly democratic character, it nearly bankrupted many of its tycoons in the bargain.

The relation of erotic libertinism and political liberty is one of the most vexed in all of modern history. But when social histories of the last half of the past American century are written, the pipe, the pajamas, and the self-invented playboy who held them will still demand their moment of attention, their acute and not entirely dismissive gaze.

Adam Gopnik, a staff writer, has been contributing to The New Yorker since 1986. He is the author of “The Table Comes First.”

A Tribute to Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani– A Beautiful Mind and a Gentle Soul


July 19, 2017

A Tribute to Mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani– A Beautiful Mind and a Gentle Soul

The Passing of Othman Wok


April 17, 2017

The Passing of Othman Wok: A Patriot whose courage and convictions made a difference to Singapore

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Note: It was my good  fortune to have worked with Mr. (Pak) Othman Wok when we together with Mr. Neville Watson were fellow directors of Sime Sembawang Limited, which was engaged in the fabrication of oil rigs and platforms for oil and gas sector. As a director, Pak Othman brought his vast experience  to bear on deliberations of our Board. He was friendly and helpful to me, offering personal advice about building commercial networks based on trust and integrity. I shall miss him and  offer Al-Fatihah in his memory. To Ibu Wok and family, Dr. Kamsiah Haider and I convey our heartfelt and sincere condolences.

I was also grateful that I had the chance to work with Mr. Eddie Barker, Professor Tan Sri Maurice Baker, Mr. Michael Wong Pakshong and Pak Ridzwan Dzafir on the Board of Sime Darby Singapore Limited (1988-1991). They were outstanding individuals who served Singapore  with distinction.  They all touched my life and made a huge difference to my career with Sime Darby.–Din Merican

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/othman-wok-a-man-whose-courage-and-convictions-made-a-difference/3105692.html

Mr Othman Wok, a former Cabinet minister and one of Singapore’s first generation of leaders, died on Monday (Apr 17) at the age of 92.

A journalist, union leader, politician and Ambassador, Mr Othman’s courage and convictions made a difference to Singapore at a critical time in its history, said the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Born in 1924, Mr Othman was the son of a Malay school principal. Despite objections from his grandfather, his progressive father sent the young Othman to Radin Mas School and Raffles Institution – both English-medium schools.

Mr Othman joined the Utusan Melayu, a Malay-language newspaper as a clerk, but was soon talent-spotted and offered a job as a cub reporter by its editor and managing director Mr Yusof Ishak, the man who was to become Singapore’s first President.

Mr Othman Wok in his youth.

While Mr. Othman was working for Utusan Melayu, he became involved in union activities, and it was as Secretary of the Singapore Printing Employees Union that he first met Mr Lee Kuan Yew – the union’s legal advisor.

Persuaded to enter politics, he joined the People’s Action Party (PAP) a few days after it was formed in 1954. Mr Othman won his first electoral battle in 1963, but was to learn that achieving racial harmony was easier said than done.

Following Singapore’s merger with Malaysia, racial tensions between the Malay and Chinese communities, stoked by fiery speeches by extremist Malay leaders from Kuala Lumpur, came to a head during the 1964 procession to celebrate the Prophet Mohamed’s birthday.

“UMNO had a meeting on July 19 at Pasir Panjang, (a) talk about racialism and all that by Jaafar Albar. He made a very strong communal speech at that gathering which included UMNO members from across the Causeway that they ferried down to Singapore by buses and lorries,” recalled Mr Othman. “And these people, after that meeting on the 19th, didn’t go home … they were used to cause trouble.”

Mr Othman, who led the contingent of Malay MPs and PAP supporters at the procession, recalled how trouble broke out: “When my contingent arrived at Kallang Bridge, there was this old Chinese man on a bicycle, on the left side. Some Malay youths came from the front, caught hold of him, beat him up with sticks and threw his bicycle into the drain. He was severely injured.”

For the rest of Mr Othman’s life, the horrific images would return whenever he shared his experiences.

“People were being beaten up, houses were being burnt, vehicles being burnt – all pictured in my mind at that time. I was involved in it, I saw it with my own eyes,” he said. “It is just like a film being played again and again to me. I was very sad. This is racial riot between the communities, the Chinese and the Malays. And before that they were very friendly.”

In the aftermath of the riots, it was clear that concerted and strenuous efforts were needed to rebuild relationships between the races, as racial polarisation was evident, even at relief centres.

“The Chinese didn’t go to where the Malays went – the police station; they went to other police stations, so became segregated again,” said Mr Othman. “And my ministry had to prepare food for these refugees. Every day we cooked, in our central kitchen, and I went around in our lorries together with my staff, and we found that for example, I went to Paya Lebar Police Station, they were all Malays there, no Chinese. Then I went to another police station, Serangoon at that time, they were all Chinese there, no Malays.

“So we decided after the riots that this should not go on – polarisation between the two communities. We had to let them live together. So at that time, we (were) building flats so we moved them, mixed (them) together. It was not an easy thing to do but eventually they began to learn how to live as good neighbours.”

At the height of the 1964 tensions, Mr Othman himself became the principal target of verbal abuse among some segments of the Malay-Muslim community.

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The late Mr Lee Kuan Yew said of Mr Othman: “I remember your staunch loyalty during those troubled days when you were in Malaysia and the tensions were most severe, immediately before and following the bloody riots in July 1964.

“At that time, the greatest pressures were mounted by UMNO Malay extremists who denounced you and Malay PAP leaders – especially you – as infidels, “kafirs” and traitors, “khianat”, not to Singapore but to the Malay race.

“I heard it, the crowds said it, bunches of them. They were designed to intimidate him and the other Malay leaders in PAP. Because of the courage and the leadership you showed, not one PAP Malay leader wavered and that made a difference to Singapore.”

On the incident, Mr Othman simply said: “I was surprised, because not only I, but my Malay colleagues in the PAP stood together and faced the onslaught together with the Prime Minister, because we were fighting for what we believed in.

“So that accolade to me, I thought, was also for my colleagues because they faced the same danger, they faced the same accusation and criticism from the Malay community at that time.”

Singapore’s Mr. Cool

Mr Othman’s loyalty to Singapore was tested again in 1965, when they were faced with the critical decision to support or oppose separation from Malaysia.

“PM called me. He said: ‘Othman, come with me to the next room.’ And he said to me: ‘Would you sign this separation agreement?’ I said I would. I told him: ‘PM, the only worry I have is the Chinese in Singapore – what I meant was the communists in Singapore.’ ‘Oh,’ he said. ‘It’s my problem, I will handle it. You have nothing to worry.’ That was what he said to me.

“But my feeling when it was announced was, internally, you know, relief. After those two years of bickering, the pressure on me, my colleagues, the Malays in the PAP, on the government, I say it was a relief. No more pressure against us.”

And the next year, when an independent Singapore held its first National Day Parade, Mr Othman made sure he was there – a proud member of the People’s Defence Force.

Mr Othman was to serve for 17 years, 14 of them as Minister for Social Affairs.Promoting racial harmony was a key responsibility, as was the promotion of sports among the masses and encouraging athletes to represent Singapore.

Said SS Dhillon, former Secretary-General of the Singapore Olympic Council: “Mr Othman Wok – I always to refer to him as Mr Cool. He has a very cool personality, he is very approachable, very kind, very loving and he used to go around sportsmen and coax them to participate. Train harder and he encouraged them in that way.”

It was also Mr Othman who got the National Stadium built. “When you think back to those times, those were very economically hard times, and yet he could push this through Parliament and get it passed,” said former Olympian sprinter C Kunalan. “So I think more importantly it was not how he fired us up but how he fired up the Cabinet to get the approval for all the plans that he had.”

“Always be loyal to your country. You’re a Singaporean, you will always be a Singaporean.”–Othman Wok

As Minister overseeing the Malay-Muslim community, Mr Othman’s legacy includes the setting up of the Mosque Building Fund as well as the Islamic Religious Council or MUIS, which sees to the welfare of Muslims in Singapore.

“Through this fund, we managed to build a first mosque at Toa Payoh,” said Mr Othman. “A modern, better, multi-purpose mosque, not like the old ones, only for prayer; (there were) other activities. And people came to support and it was not difficult to get people to contribute. We had the contribution by deducting their salaries, voluntarily if they wanted to, through the CPF. It started with S$0.50. They could write in to say: ‘I don’t want to contribute’, but the majority, all I think the Muslims who worked with the Government then, contributed and they were able to build one mosque after another.”

After retiring from active politics in 1980, Mr Othman served as Singapore’s Ambassador to Indonesia and also on the Singapore Tourism Board and Sentosa Development Corporation.

The born storyteller also published his collections of horror stories as well as his autobiography, Never In My Wildest Dreams.

But for the man who lived through the race riots of the 1960s, unity among Singaporeans was an enduring mission, and Mr Othman continued to serve well into his 80s, giving talks on National Education to civil servants.

“Even with this terrorism problem, some of these young people do not take it seriously because it has not happened in Singapore,” said Mr Othman. “The test will come when a bomb explodes in Singapore, people are killed … What happens, do we tighten our bonding, become a united front of faith or we disintegrate? This is the test that we have to face if the real thing happens. I hope not. Because today when there are disasters in other countries, Singapore came together to help. I am sure were this to happen in Singapore, we will get together, to face it and solve it. I have that confidence.”

He added: “Always be loyal to your country. You’re a Singaporean, you will always be a Singaporean.”

Mr Othman leaves his wife and four daughters.

– Channel News Asia

Fond Farewell to my good friend, Phang Tat Cheam


March 9, 2017

Fond Farewell to my good friend, Phang Tat Cheam

I was shocked and saddened today to learn on Facebook of the passing of Phang Tat Cheam. He was 82. My friendship with Phang goes back a long way to the 1960s when I was with Ismail Md. Ali’s Bank Negara.

We kept in constant touch as I used to meet up with him  at the Lake Club and the Royal Selangor Golf Club. He was a keen golfer and fierce competitor on the links. He enjoyed listening songs of Fifties and Sixties. His favourite female vocalist is Joni James, who is also mine. He enjoyed Dean Martin, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Pat Boone, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Cliff Richard, and others of our generation.

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Phang, you will be missed. So today, in my tribute to your memory, I am honored to present Joni James with some of her popular tunes.

May you rest in peace,my dear friend and fellow Malaysian. You and I never let our ethnicity and religion come between us. I know how sad you are to see a divided nation as you leave this world. You and I never expected to witness our country  become a failed and corrupt nation under Prime Minister Najib Razak. That said Phang, I will never forget you for your counsel, compassion, generosity and optimism.

To his bereaved family, my wife Dr. Kamsiah Haider and I convey our heartfelt condolences on the untimely demise of Phang Tat Cheam.–Dr. Kamsiah Haider and Din Merican