To post or not to post – by all means post

May 31, 2016

To post or not to post – by all means post

 by Fanny Bucheli

In today’s virtual world, we are fast and forthcoming with our opinions about pretty much everything we read by liking, sharing, commenting or offending friends and strangers alike.

Shakespeare’s dejected Prince Hamlet utters the most famous of all soliloquies – to be or not to be -while complaining about his unjust and painful life. In an updated version, Hamlet 2.0 would have to contemplate his virtual life, the one he posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat, and measure its worth by the number of clicks, likes and retweets he gets.

Imagine 21st century Hamlet, 2.0 for short, navigating the treacherous realm of his new social but virtual kingdom. His FB-“friends” Rosencrantz and Guildenstern seem to be attending parties, to which 2.0 has somehow not been invited. His mother Queen Gertrude looks toned and tanned on the Snapchats of her and King Claudius’ state visits abroad. His one true friend Horatio posts a harsh reply to Hamlet’s invitation to attend his upcoming duel with Laertes, brother to his girlfriend Ophelia. Hamlet blocks his friend’s posts over this disagreement. Gertrude gets involved, retweets the invite and ‘likes’ it. Claudius is outraged and promptly unfriends his wife.

Prince 2.0, in a bid to avenge his mother’s honour, stabs the king with his own, poisoned, ‘unfriend’ button. Both he and Laertes, busy with all this commotion, neglect to like each other’s pre-duel status updates, which in turn, earns them a stabbing with the poisoned button of virtual death. In his last tweet, Hamlet 2.0 proclaims, “the rest is silence”, and dies. And Horatio? He publishes his first ebook, “Chronicles of a virtual death” on Instagram.

Today, we look upon the story lines of the great classical tragedies à la Hamlet, Macbeth and Dr Faustus with a mildly benevolent eye and find them hugely exaggerated. We might have to revisit their features though, and compare them to our modern, net-driven narrative with a more critical appreciation.

Veteran users of the first hour will remember a time when Facebook kept us informed about the simple facts of life; our friends were up, had breakfast, or lunch, and ventured into the neighbourhood shopping mall. And we didn’t care; or we were just happy to know that someone had a good day.

Boy, how times – and posts – have changed! In today’s virtual world, we are all fast and forthcoming with our opinions about pretty much everything we read. We like, we share, we comment and we offend, on friends’ and strangers’ walls alike. But how do we offend, or even worse, get offended, so easily?

Shakespeare knew that “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” as he has Hamlet explain to Rosencrantz. In philosophical terms this means that nothing is real, except in the mind of each individual, and therefore the same statement can and will be perceived differently by different individuals.

We post our relative truth on social media for the world to see, a sort of passive-aggressive exhibitionism, and open up a plethora of avenues for unwanted argument, while all we ask for is a “like”, a sign of consent. Translating playground etiquette to grownup social networks has created a virtual world of sissies, where we are to approve, agree and acknowledge everything others say.

We eliminate the ability to be critical, the right to criticise; we create intellectual ‘safe spaces’. Back when we only posted the enlightening fact of eating breakfast, such safe spaces served us just fine. But today, as activists and news channels compete for views and clicks and entire presidential campaigns are fought on social media, safe spaces are dead spaces; they hinder intellectual progress.

Instead of shielding behind the walls of our padded virtual world of mutual and undifferentiated acceptance, we should embrace the opportunity to cross – again virtual – swords with friends and with the world at large and learn how to properly use, respectfully express and intelligently accept a critically thought out argument.

Hamlet killed his critics with a sword and Macbeth stabbed them with a dagger. Today, we use a thumbs-up or the lack of one. To post or not to post? By all means, post, and be part of a new kind of classical tale, but don’t let it turn into a tragedy.

Fanny Bucheli is an FMT columnist.

Cambodia: The Rise of the Young Entrepreneur

April 29, 2016

Cambodia: The Rise of the Young Entrepreneur

by Scott Rawlinson

A new crop are bursting onto the country’s business scene and showing the way for sustainable economic growth, reports Scott Rawlinson.

On  March 16,  Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed his disappointment at foreign journalists who, painted Cambodia as a sort of “hell”. At the same time, democracy and human rights forecasts for the Southeast Asian nation are frequently gloomy. For example, see this report from USAID published in January.

Regardless of the merits of either side of the argument, the story of Cambodia since the fall of the Khmer Rouge is one that is much more complicated and multifaceted, defying easy and universal classification. In fact, there is not so much a Cambodian story as a multitude of Cambodian stories.

In particular, young Cambodians without memories of the Khmer Rouge’s brutal reign are forging new narratives. Since the 2013 National Assembly elections, and the shock experienced by the long-incumbent Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), the need to appeal to youth and capture their imaginations has risen in the party’s political agenda and strategies.

Prior to the 2013 election, the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) made effective use of various social media platforms, gaining much support from young urbanites in Phnom Penh and its surrounding areas. In response, the CPP, and in particular Prime Minister Hun Sen, became much more active on Facebook, giving users the chance to watch live streams from various public works and graduation ceremonies as well as the opportunity to follow the day-to-day activities of the Prime Minister and his interactions with — often young — Cambodians.

Nevertheless, it would seem that young Cambodian entrepreneurs are taking matters into their own hands. At a special public lecture hosted by the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies (CISS) I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation on the ASEAN Economic Community and its implications for Cambodian entrepreneurs delivered by HE Dr Sok Siphana — an advisor to the Royal Government of Cambodia.

Following the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime infrastructure and business, among many other things, had to be rebuilt from scratch. Throughout the Vietnamese occupation, the intervention of the UN and the shift towards privatisation, Cambodia witnessed the (re-)emergence of powerful business tycoons as well as the smaller family-run stalls that remain a common site throughout the country.

According to Dr Sok Siphana (above), what many of these early businessmen and women lacked was formal education and training, robust accounting procedures, and the ability to communicate in the languages of international trade, particularly English.

This state of affairs underwent huge changes in the post-1993 era. The provision of scholarships to talented Cambodian youths, giving them the opportunity to study abroad, raised the human resources and capacity available to Cambodia. Now a number of Cambodians study in universities elsewhere in Asia, the European Union, the US and Australia, attending a number of prestigious institutions.

Of course there remains the issue of a possible “brain drain”. It is not always guaranteed that Cambodian students who opt to study abroad will necessarily wish to set up their business or work back in Cambodia once their degrees are completed.

However, with this growth in the number of tertiary-level educated Cambodians and the enthusiastic embrace of social media and other new technologies that act as business aids, young Cambodian entrepreneurs with knowledge and business plans are already and likely to continue to transform the nation’s economy.

Additionally, organisations such as the Young Entrepreneurs Association of Cambodia (YEAC) provide a community for accomplished and aspiring businessmen and women to exchange ideas and advice with one another.

There are a few notable success stories. A perfect example is Brown Coffee a thriving coffee and bakery chain with a number of outlets across Phnom Penh and which was co-founded by five young Cambodians with formal education, practical skills and a robust business model. One of its co-founders, for instance, studied education and communications, another is an architect, still another a pastry chef as well as two structural engineers. While serving both expatriates and locals it employs many local Cambodians.

Whether legislation from the government keeps up the pace with the private sector and the influx of ideas-full prospective entrepreneurs is something we will discover in the future.

It would be naïve to think that Cambodia has solved all of its social and political issues and ills that act as a hindrance to a more equal form of national development. However, young Cambodian entrepreneurs are lighting the way for a more sustainable and localised form of economic growth.

I hope that success stories like Brown Coffee act as an inspiration for this and the next generation of young Cambodian entrepreneurs.

Scott Rawlinson received his MA in South East Asian Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. He is currently a Fellow, and Coordinator for Fellows, at the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies (CISS), Phnom Penh, and will commence his PhD at SOAS in September 2016. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute. 


Let institutions educate, but don’t suffocate them

April 29, 2016

Let institutions educate, but don’t suffocate them

by Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz

“Real education enhances the dignity of a human being and increases his or her self-respect. If only the real sense of education could be realized by each individual and carried forward in every field of human activity, the world will be so much a better place to live in.”– A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

A recurring theme in this column is the importance of institutions in building the nation: in particular those preserved and established by the Federal Constitution and other laws.

Tunku Abidin Muhriz and Associates

But nation-building can also rest in institutions that are not established by statesmen, constitutionalists or hacks seeking a narrow political objective: in particular, those created by educators.

Over the past week, I have been reminded of this in powerful terms visiting schools and universities in the United Kingdom that — despite their academic accolades, graduate employment statistics or state-of-the-art facilities — still speak proudly and passionately about their histories and traditions. On their students they impart not only knowledge, but an institutional heritage too.

At the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, where my father was last week conferred an Honorary Fellowship, it was clear how proud they are of their founding in 1505, and their central role in the development on the profession itself. A story to which they have devoted a large (and sometimes macabre) museum.

At Aberystwyth University, where my father was an undergraduate and was made an Honorary Fellow in 2014, they spoke beamingly of how the university pioneered certain disciplines and enthusiastically shared their plans to renovate their Old College building.

At the University of South Wales, where my father received an Honorary Doctorate in Law in 2013, a connection was made between the latest facilities in the aerospace engineering faculty and the origins of the two establishments that merged to form the current university — a mechanics institute founded in 1841, and a school serving the coal mining industry founded in 1913.

These visits were short, but still their peculiarities shone through. When talking to Malaysian students at the three universities, their focus was no doubt on how the knowledge and skills acquired will contribute to their goals in support of their families, employers or country (there were many government scholars), but still they were aware that they have become ambassadors for their universities and not just ambassadors for Malaysia while there.

More so than universities, in terms of instilling a unique identity and character building, are secondary schools, especially boarding schools. At my old school, Marlborough College, on the way back to London, a brief walk around campus reminded me of the hours I spent reading history books, imagining glacial formation, getting my head round quadratic equations and practising Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu, and also an entire vocabulary of school-specific terms that I haven’t had to use since 2000.

St John’s Institution is once again known by its old name. — Picture by  Malay Mail

St John’s Institution is once again known by its old name.

The Penang Free School (Founded in 1816) will celebrate its 200th Anniversary on October 21, 2016–Fortis Atque Fidelis. The name is back too. UMNO Politicians, known to mess everything up, tried to call it Sekolah Menengah Penang Free.

I realise now how crucial this was in fostering a deep camaraderie. Some critics condemn such institutions as elitist and exclusionary, and their reaction is to favour uniformity: to remove the things that make specific establishments unique: to make most people get the “same” treatment.

This ultimately results in a centralising tendency in which bureaucrats, rather than principals and teachers, make many of the decisions that directly impact on the student experience. Thus, instead of having educational institutions that are inspired by their own ethos and history, we have schools and universities that have to operate within over-prescribed limits.

We have already seen the effects of this, from the reduction in diversity between schools and the reduction of diversity within them. That is why so many who were educated at English national-type schools want them to return, because they attracted Malaysians of all races.

Most tragic is the loss of institutional memory in our historic schools, where simply the passage of time, the relocation of campuses or name changes have been used to erase aspects now deemed undesirable.

There does seem to be some resistance:  St John’s Institution just won the right to revert to its original name after a campaign from its alumni. Even this needed to be cleared by the ministry, though.

Earlier this month, I was at Tuanku Muhammad School in Kuala Pilah (which my father attended in the 1950s) to witness the unveiling of its centenary landmark, and there too I saw different generations reminisce about the classrooms they were taught in, the food they ate, the corridors they walked.

But recently, in much newer schools too I have seen how innovative principals have used what they can to endow some unique characteristics for their pupils, from the names of their houses, or even the murals on the walls. I hope that such phenomena will be seen as beneficial by our politicians and bureaucrats.

Great educational institutions may have their idiosyncrasies. And in being so, they prepare young people for real life: to endow the idea that as workers and citizens, it’s the shared experiences that create unspoken bonds, that everyone is bound by the rules, and that traditions matter.

* Tunku ‘Abidin Muhriz is Founding President of IDEAS.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.


BOOK REVIEW: Benjamin Disraeli–The Novel Politician

April 21, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Benjamin Disraeli–The Novel Politician

by Norman Gelb

David Cesarani’s succinct new biography of preeminent Victorian statesman and novelist Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), Disraeli: The Novel Politician, challenges the commonly held view of Disraeli as having played a heroic role in Jewish history. Instead, Cesarani portrays Disraeli as a political opportunist “infused with a contempt for traditional Judaism,” whose literary writings “sketched the first draft of the Jewish world conspiracy theory” and made a “fundamental contribution to modern literary anti-Semitism.” Disraeli, who has erroneously been called Britain’s first Jewish prime minister, was baptized by his father into the Anglican Church when he was 12 years old. However, he never actually denied his Jewish heritage. Instead, he skillfully manufactured a myth of aristocratic Jewish origins that he would pragmatically exploit when convenient and completely ignore when not.

Disraeli: The Novel Politician is the late English historian’s final book. David Cesarani, who died of cancer last October at age 58, was considered the foremost British historian of the modern Jewish experience of his generation.

Countless historians before him have documented Disraeli’s rise to power and his importance as a politician. Disraeli entered the House of Commons in 1837, and in the 1850s and 1860s served first as Chancellor of the Exchequer and then as Leader of the House of Commons. After a brief first term as prime minister in 1868, Disraeli regained office in 1874. A major player on the international stage, Disraeli was enormously popular at home for expanding and consolidating Britain’s position as a worldwide imperial power. He was credited with reuniting the divided Conservative Party and was instrumental in its development as a modern political force. He was the driving force behind legislation that improved social conditions for the most vulnerable populations in Britain, including new laws to regulate public health and others designed to prevent the exploitation of workers and improve the general public’s access to education. He was close personal friends with Queen Victoria, who made him the Earl of Beaconsfield and reportedly wept when he died.

Cesarani’s biography follows a newer trend of historians viewing Disraeli through a more critical lens. Until comparatively recently, with the exception of a few anti-Semites, scholars have fairly uniformly viewed Disraeli as an admirable and effective, if exotic, British statesman. But lately, the perception of him as a worthy public benefactor has come under fire.

British historian Robert Blake, who wrote a very comprehensive biography of Disraeli, conceded that the man’s political career was an impressive one but added that “there is no need to make it seem more extraordinary than it really was,” since other political figures deserved much of the credit for achievements attributed to Disraeli. Another recent biography of Disraeli, by Douglas Hurd and Edward Young, described his contribution to British politics as “vast, transformative and special” but also portrayed Disraeli as a manipulative man for whom politics was “always a game in which pieces were moved about to…outflank the enemy. It had no moral content.” And British historian John Vincent has called Disraeli “a politician of very few principles or beliefs… He spent much of his life scheming.” 

Cesarani, unlike previous biographers of Disraeli, spends relatively little time on his subject’s dynamic and often controversial political life. Instead, he devotes his attention to another key aspect of Disraeli’s persona: his vaunting of his supposedly aristocratic Jewish origins and the special distinction he claimed they conferred on him. But despite Disraeli at times making a calculated use of his Jewish background, Cesarani shows that in actuality Disraeli’s relationship to Judaism and to issues facing Britain’s Jews was a deeply troubled one.

Disraeli was the grandson of Jewish immigrants to Britain from Italy and was born in London to Jewish parents. Even though he converted to Christianity, attended church on a weekly basis and was an avowed champion of the Anglican Church, Disraeli faced anti-Semitism throughout his adult life, including claims that his prime motivation in politics was to “pursue an alien agenda” and advance “Hebrew” causes.

Disraeli’s conversion permitted him, upon election, to evade bans on non-Christians becoming members of Parliament. Disraeli knew when and how to invoke his Jewish origins. At times, he proudly boasted of his exalted “racial” Jewish birthright. When scornfully called a Jew by a fellow parliamentarian, he cuttingly replied that when his accuser’s ancestors “were savages on an unknown Island, mine were priests in the Temple of Solomon.” And Cesarani notes that in his fictional writing, Disraeli sometimes played up “the glories of the Jewish race.”

Cesarani dismisses Disraeli’s public exaltations of his Jewish origins as a mere affectation, stating that as a politician “he was insensitive or insensible to a range of Jewish issues” and was, at best, inconsistent with regard to Jewish matters. In December of 1837, soon after his first election, Disraeli uncharacteristically kept his head down while other MPs heatedly debated whether Sir Moses Montefiore or any other Jew should be allowed to hold political office. And unlike many other British leaders, he remained completely silent during “the Damascus Affair,” a blood libel charge against a dozen prominent Syrian Jews that resulted in widespread riots against the Jewish community in Damascus and triggered protests around the Jewish world.

Even as Prime Minister, says Cesarani, Disraeli chose to completely ignore “vicious [verbal] attacks on the Jews” by establishment figures and, in his many travels to Europe and the Middle East, made no effort to seek out Jewish sites or groups. He generally seemed to have little knowledge of, or interest in, Jewish history. Cesarani notes that Disraeli, in one of his early writings, said Britain enjoyed great freedom under the Plantagenet monarchs, but made no mention of the fact that under Plantagenet rule, Jews “suffered exploitation and massacre.” 

Cesarani offers nuanced revisions and correctives to prior scholarship on the nature of Disraeli’s Jewishness. For instance, in The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt suggests that Disraeli’s “Jewish obsession was a strategy to combat his own sense of social inferiority…as an outsider in upper class Tory circles….” [He invented] “the myth of Jewish racial superiority” to match the perceived nobility of members of the British aristocracy.” Cesarani contends that “the chronology of this explanation does not work” because, he notes, Disraeli was able to “[rub] shoulders with both raffish and respectable aristocrats” early on, “even if he was not yet invited to their country houses.”

Few other historians fully concur with Cesarani’s view on this; Arendt’s suggested explanation for Disraeli’s Jewish exhibitionist behavior is now part of a well-trodden path. In his biography of Disraeli, Columbia University scholar Adam Kirsch says that to find a way to be both English and Jewish, he “had to convince the world, and himself, that the Jews were a noble race, with a glorious past,” turning “his Jewishness from something generally considered disgraceful and embarrassing into a strength.”

In Benjamin Disraeli: The Fabricated Jew in Myth and Memory, Bernard Glassman also agrees that Disraeli exploited his background to demonstrate the nobility of his ancient heritage and the superiority of his ancestral origins over those of his opponents: “Rather than deny his roots, he chose to make them an integral part of his mystique.” In Disraeli’s Jewishness, an anthology of essays edited by Todd Endelman and Tony Kushner, Endelman says his Jewish obsession “constituted a bold, if unusual, strategy to combat his own sense of special inferiority as an outsider in aristocratic Tory circles.”

But in that anthology, Kushner cautions that Disraeli’s parading his Jewish pride is “perhaps in danger of being overstated at the cost of many other features that made up this remarkable figure.” And Glassman asserts that, although Disraeli’s support of Jewish causes was “problematic,” his growing prominence attracted the admiring attention of Anglo-Jews who needed a hero to validate their own Englishness, and that gradually, in spite of Disraeli’s baptism, English Jews (numbering around 50,000 at the time) accepted him as a true representative of their faith and culture. Louise de Rothschild, a member of the famous Jewish banking family and a contemporary of Disraeli, was recorded to have said she felt “a sort of pride in the thought that he belongs to us, that he is one of Israel’s sons.”

Such exculpation does not impress Cesarani, who makes very few references to anything positive in Disraeli’s relationship to Judaism. He concludes his study of Disraeli with a further harsh assessment of his subject: “Ultimately, he fits squarely in modern Jewish history for the worst of reasons: he played a formative part in the construction of anti-Semitic discourse.” Disraeli’s racial stereotyping of Jews became part of the foundation of a prominent theme in modern anti-Semitic writings and speechifying by figures including Adolf Hitler. “At best,” says the implacable Cesarani, Disraeli “was a tragic, transitional figure; at worst, he was a reckless egoist.”

 Norman Gelb is a London-based historian and author. His most recent book is Herod the Great: Statesman, Visionary, Tyrant.

Can the US-ASEAN Connect Initiative Create Stronger US-ASEAN Economic Relations?

April 7, 2016

Asia Pacific Bulletin

Number 339 | April 7, 2016

Can the US-ASEAN Connect Initiative Create Stronger US-ASEAN Economic Relations?

by Sanchita Basu Das

In February 2016, at the special US-ASEAN Leaders Summit at Sunnylands in California, the US-ASEAN Connect initiative was launched. The initiative consolidates the work of a number of existing mechanisms, including the US Trade and Development Agency, the US-Asia-Pacific Comprehensive Energy Partnership, the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, and the US-ASEAN Trade and Investment Agreement. The initiative joins two other Obama administration initiatives, US-ASEAN Expanded Economic Engagement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, in efforts to enhance economies ties.

US-ASEAN Connect has four pillars. First, Business Connect will link information and communication technology and infrastructure firms across the US and ASEAN. Second, Energy Connect will assist ASEAN in developing its power sector with efficient and innovative technologies. Third, Innovation Connect will encourage ASEAN entrepreneurs through policy and knowledge exchanges with US practitioners. Finally, Policy Connect will generate a trade and investment friendly ecosystem in ASEAN countries. US-ASEAN Connect also promises three centers in Jakarta, Singapore, and Bangkok, in order to coordinate US economic engagement in the region and to create a network among policy makers, entrepreneurs, investors, and businesses.

The US and ASEAN already share a strong economic connection. The trade between the two sides totaled $254 billion in 2014, up from $161 billion in 2006 and US businesses are the largest cumulative source of foreign direct investment in ASEAN. However, the aggregate figures fail to convey the country-specific nuances in US-ASEAN relations. While Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand are the top three trading partners of the US in ASEAN and account for similar levels of goods and services trade, Singapore is the prime destination for US investment by a wide margin, due to the city-state’s friendly investment policies and developed business infrastructure.

The idea of Policy Connect, covering capacity building and technical support exercises for ASEAN members, attempts to ameliorate this asymmetry. Policy Connect also covers measures for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), customs modernization, and product standards cooperation for regional trade facilitation.

US business engagement in Southeast Asia spans several industries, such as hospitality, oil and gas, aerospace, energy services, electronic manufacturing, infrastructure, and financial services, but businesses are cautious, especially in the less developed countries. These countries lack human resources and institutions, are still developing their investment rules, or have political uncertainties. In order to raise US investors’ confidence in the region, Business Connect, in conjunction with Policy Connect, aims to develop a policy infrastructure for US firms to engage in the recently established ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

Energy Connect emphasizes ASEAN’s Energy Cooperation Plan 2015-2025 and the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, thereby hinting at the US desire to be actively involved in ASEAN’s power projects. The International Energy Agency predicts that the electricity demand in ASEAN will triple by 2040. Infrastructure development, including for power, is a priority among ASEAN countries. Almost all of them are striving to develop a Public-Private Partnership infrastructure program to finance the planned projects. However, US companies occupy only about 13 per cent of this market and are hesitant to expand further due to concerns over investment protection, long-term returns, host country regulations, and governance.

The US does not utilize practices similar to China and Japan when it comes to infrastructure funding. China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Japanese promise of an additional $110 billion for Asian infrastructure projects are more recent initiatives, but have yet to make a visible impact in the region. Hence, US interest in energy infrastructure, along with its initiatives under Policy Connect and Business Connect, are a welcome step toward a more significant investment in long-term projects in ASEAN.

Finally, Innovation Connect will encourage entrepreneurship and innovation in ASEAN. The idea focuses on people and promotes a culture of inclusive and sustainable growth. The measure is pertinent, given that ASEAN’s youth population is much larger than that of more developed nations, as well as the fact that most of the jobs are created by SMEs. At a basic level, Innovation Connect will address the common barriers faced by young entrepreneurs everywhere — access to capital, lack of business and management skills, and lack of mentorship support.

Beyond its four pillars, US-ASEAN Connect will serve strategic purposes, too. The three new centers are expected to act like one-stop-shops for different US stakeholders to coordinate and market their activities. The growing competition between China and Japan to invest in ASEAN infrastructure projects necessitates the US to be actively engaged in order to maintain relevance in the region. The three US-ASEAN Connect centers could also be viewed as small but physical manifestation of the “strategic pivot” in foreign policy towards a greater focus on ASEAN that was called for by the Obama administration in 2011.

On the whole, US-ASEAN Connect is likely to facilitate a deeper, rules-based economic integration among the ten ASEAN nations. Because the AEC is a work-in-progress and there are several regional measures that are yet to be translated to national policies, the four pillars of US-ASEAN Connect may provide the extra impetus and the necessary resources for the member countries to comply with the regional commitments. While for ASEAN, this will make the region more competitive compared to China and India, for the US, a strong and developed ASEAN can help to diversify US investment in Asia and can lessen the influence of an economically rising China, especially in regional organizations like the ASEAN+3 and the East Asia Summit.

US-ASEAN Connect, through a series of US-ASEAN trade workshops, should also pave the way for other ASEAN members to join TPP in the future. Only Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam are signatories now. If US-ASEAN Connect facilitates the remaining ASEAN countries to join TPP, it will silence critics who suggest the US is dividing ASEAN through its trade policy. Indeed, the US seems to be working for a stronger ASEAN amid growing geo-political and economic uncertainty.

About the Author

Sanchita Basu Das is Fellow and Lead Researcher (Economic Affairs) at the ASEAN Studies Centre of ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore. She can be contacted at

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

APB Series Editor: Dr. Satu Limaye, Director, East-West Center in Washington.
APB Series Coordinator: Alex Forster, Project Assistant, East-West Center in Washington.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the East-West Center or any organization with which the author is affiliated.

For comments/responses on APB issues or article submissions, please contact

East-West Center | 1601 East-West Road | Honolulu, HI | 808.944.7111
East-West Center in Washington | 1819 L Street, NW, Suite 600 | Washington, DC | 202.293.3995

East-West Center in Washington, 1819 L Street, NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20036

Wake Up Call for Malay Muslim Men and Ulamas

April 5, 2016

Wake Up Call for Malay Muslim Men and Ulamas

by Mariam Mokhtar

Why? The Malays who made Malaysia proud around the world are successful, intelligent and articulate women. The Malay men, whose faces have been splashed over foreign newspapers, have proven to be an embarrassment to the nation.

Malay women remember their fathers’ advice about gaining an education, to liberate themselves from the shackles of Malay parochial attitudes and bondage.

If Malay men are a disappointing failure, then it is time that Malay women took the initiative and metaphorically whipped their men into good behaviour. The nation is suffering because of the actions of a few Malay men, and the apathy of the rest of the Malay community.

Astrophysicist Dr. Mazlan Othman

The list of infamous Malay men is headed by someone who is unashamed about name dropping and receiving foreign ‘donations’. In New Zealand, a junior military man, on his first overseas posting, faces a charge for sexual assault and for defecating in public. In Australia, a convicted attention-seeking criminal revels in teasing the nation about the murderer of the Mongolian model, Altantuya Shaarriibuu.

The achievements of the Malay women are a joy to read. A PhD physicist at the University of Glasgow, 28-year-old Hafizah Noor Isa’s research, made significant contributions in physics. Her team may qualify for a Nobel Prize.

Gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi, 21, won six medals, including two gold, at the South-East Asia Games at Singapore. Her withering remark that “empty tin cans make the most noise” to the religious bigots who attacked her for wearing a leotard, won her even more praise.

It must have infuriated the Perak mufti, Harussani Zakaria, who is remembered for his statement about wives refusing to have sex with their husbands when on the top of a camel.

Farah Ann is as nimble with her limbs as with her tongue.Pahang born, 18-year-old Hajar Nur Asyiqin Abdul Zubir, was awarded a Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) scholarship to read Chemistry at The University of Oxford. The nation heaped praises on her, but the religious bigots tried to undermine her confidence, and attacked her for not wearing a tudung.

If tudung-wearing is a sign of chastity, why is there a high percentage of tudung-wearers who are unwed, teenage mothers? Using emotional blackmail on Facebook, one man warned Hajar Nur that her father would have to bear her sins, because she did not wear a tudung.

Why have the bigots not told Najib Abdul Razak’s spouse that she should cover her hair?

In 2014, the Chevalier De La Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest award, was conferred upon Zainah Anwar, the co-founder of Sisters in Islam (SIS), in recognition of her services in defending the rights of women. The French Ambassador said, “By helping Muslim women, Zainah in turn has helped all women around the world.”

Despite the recognition, the conservative Muslims and PAS do not appreciate the good work done by SIS.

Malay men feel threatened by successful and vocal Malay women. G25’s Noor Farida Ariffin, a former lawyer and ambassador, received a rape threat for her remarks about the moral police and invasion of privacy. Aisyah Tajuddin, a journalist with independent radio station BFM, who mocked hudud law, received death and rape threats. The men’s best defence is violence and sexual assaults, instead of intelligent discourse.

Entitled to more rights than others?

There is an arrogance about many Malay men that will never endear them to the public. Did the Ketuanan Melayu agenda train him to be aggressive, by misleading him that he is entitled to more rights than others?

The Malay man will never admit any wrongdoing. He thinks that to say sorry is sign of weakness and an admission of defeat.

So, how does one explain his insecurity and low self-confidence? In the Malay community, some families ‘value’ their sons more than their daughters. Sons are spoilt. Sons do not have to help around the house.

When they grow older, their girlfriends and later, their wives, take over from their mother, and spoil them rotten. When the men venture into the big bad world, the New Economic Policy (NEP) is their metaphorical mother, giving them what they desire, without any effort.

When confronted with a ‘strong’ woman, Malay men are shocked. How dare she tell him what to do? How dare she have an opinion? How dare she not behave like a timid mouse and pay him the homage that is his due?

Perak’s Harussani Zakaria–The Fatwa Sultan

The Malay man’s thinking is steeped along traditional race, religious and cultural lines. This is his Achilles heel. Malay women have always had to work twice as hard to be recognised, both within and outside the home. Despite this, they still fail to get the respect they deserve.

A makcik once said about her household, “If you want something done, ask a woman to do it”.The Malays need a mental renaissance before the community and nation can embrace change.