Jamal Khashoggi’s Final Words—for Other Journalists Like Him


October 20, 2018

Jamal Khashoggi’s Final Words—for Other Journalists Like Him

On October 3rd, the day after Jamal Khashoggi disappeared, the Washington Post received a final column left behind with his assistant when he went off to Turkey to get married. It was, in seven hundred words, poignant and personal and epically appropriate, considering his fate. “The Arab world was ripe with hope during the spring of 2011. Journalists, academics and the general population were brimming with expectations of a bright and free Arab society within their respective countries,” he opined. “They expected to be emancipated from the hegemony of their governments and the consistent interventions and censorship of information.” Instead, rulers grew ever more repressive after the short-lived Arab Spring.

Today, hundreds of millions of people across the Middle East “are unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives,” Khashoggi wrote. They are either “uninformed or misinformed” by draconian censorship and fake state narratives. As the headline of his last published words asserted, “What the Arab world needs most is free expression.”

In his death, Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and former government supporter who became a vocal and fearless critic of the current Saudi crown prince, has galvanized global attention far more than he was able to do during his life. The horrific details of his murder and dismemberment have had an effect he would never have imagined—putting into serious question the fate of a Saudi leader, the state of U.S.-Saudi relations, American foreign-policy goals in the world’s most volatile region, and even policies that have kept dictators in power. The repercussions are only beginning.

But Khashoggi was hardly a lone voice decrying political repression in the Middle East, as he acknowledged in his final Post column. Saudi Arabia may be the most cruel and ruthless government in the region, but it uses tactics embraced by dictators, sheikhs, and Presidents across twenty-two countries.

In 2014, Egypt’s military-dominated government seized all print copies of the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, whose name means “The Egyptian Today.” Al-Masry Al-Youm is that rare private newspaper in the Arab world where young reporters once dared to question government policies in hard-hitting editorials and groundbreaking journalism. “The Egyptian government’s seizure of the entire print run of a newspaper, al-Masry al Youm, did not enrage or provoke a reaction from colleagues. These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community,” Khashoggi wrote. “Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence.”

The world, particularly the West, is partly culpable for looking the other way, he wrote. It is a tragic irony that the world is paying attention to Khashoggi’s death, yet still not making an issue of a sweeping problem that could determine the future of a region of twenty-two countries and four hundred million people. On Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin, announced that he would not attend the Saudi investment conference known as “Davos in the Desert,” which is pivotal to the crown prince’s plans to modernize the kingdom’s oil-reliant economy. The British trade minister, the French and Dutch finance ministers, and the president of the International Monetary Fund also backed out after Khashoggi’s disappearance. But no foreign government is addressing the broader political practices in any other country, or any other case, in the region.

In his column, Khashoggi drew attention to imprisoned colleagues who receive no coverage. “My dear friend, the prominent Saudi writer Saleh al-Shehi, wrote one of the most famous columns ever published in the Saudi press,” Khashoggi noted. “He unfortunately is now serving an unwarranted five-year prison sentence for supposed comments contrary to the Saudi establishment.” Shehi, who had more than a million followers on Twitter, was charged with “insulting the royal court” for his statements about widespread government corruption in his columns for the newspaper Al Watan and on a local television program.

 Image result for Michael Abramowitz, the President of Freedom House

Michael Abramowitz, the President of Freedom House and a former national editor at the Washington Post, told me that Khashoggi rightly identified the broader stakes. “Khashoggi’s final column accurately pinpointed the appalling lack of political rights and civil liberties in much of the Arab world, especially the right to freely express oneself,” he said. Khashoggi began his last piece by citing Freedom House’s 2018 report—and the fact that only one Arab country, Tunisia, is ranked as “free.” Abramowitz told me, “What is especially sad is that, while we are properly focussed on the outrageous actions by the Saudi government to silence one critic, we must also remember that countless other bloggers, journalists, and writers have been jailed, censored, physically threatened, and even murdered—with little notice from the rest of the world. And, in some cases, notably Egypt, conditions have deteriorated.”

Image result for Michael Abramowitz, the President of Freedom House

In the Gulf states, Human Rights Watch chronicled a hundred and forty cases—a number chosen based on the original character limit on Twitter, though there are actually many, many more—where governments have silenced peaceful critics simply for their online activism. Among the most famous is Raif Badawi, a young Saudi blogger who ran a Web site called the Saudi Liberal Network that dared to discuss the country’s rigid Islamic restrictions on culture. One post mocked the prohibition against observing Valentine’s Day, which, like all non-Muslim holidays, is banned in Saudi Arabia. In 2014, he was sentenced to ten years in prison, a thousand lashes, and a fine that exceeded a quarter million dollars. (I wrote about his case in 2015.)

Badawi’s sister Samar—who received the 2012 International Women of Courage Award at a White House ceremony hosted by Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—was arrested in July. When the Canadian Foreign Minister, Chrystia Freeland, tweeted her concern about the Badawi siblings, in August, the kingdom responded by expelling the Canadian Ambassador, recalling its envoy, freezing all new trade and investment, suspending flights by the state airline to Toronto, and ordering thousands of Saudi students to leave Canada. (I wrote about the episode that month.)

In Bahrain, Nabeel Rajab, one of the Arab world’s most prominent human-rights advocates, is languishing in jail after being sentenced to five years for tweeting about torture in the tiny sheikhdom and criticizing Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. In the United Arab Emirates, Ahmed Mansoor, who ran a Web site focused on reforms, was sentenced to ten years for social-media comments calling for reform.

“The Arab people are desperate for real news and information, and Arab governments are desperately trying to make sure they never get that,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division, told me. “Uncensored communication on social media promised journalists and writers in the Middle East the greatest hope to freely exchange ideas and information, but it’s also why Arab governments, so terrified of the voices of their own citizens, rushed to pass laws criminalizing online communications and jailing writers and activists for mere tweets.”

Image result for crown prince mohammed bin salman

The wider world bought into the Saudi narrative that Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince and de-facto ruler, was intent on opening up the kingdom. Perhaps tellingly, it is the free press elsewhere in the world that first asked questions about Khashoggi’s October 2nd disappearance, in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he had gone to get papers so he could marry. “The world should take note that it is the free press, not the Saudi government or the White House, that has doggedly searched for the truth about what happened to Mr. Khashoggi,” the Democratic senator Patrick Leahy, of Vermont, said in a statement. “It reminds us, once again, that a free press is an essential check against tyranny, dishonesty, and impunity.”

 

“Compassion or Toleration? Two Approaches to Pluralism”


October 198, 2018

“Compassion or Toleration? Two Approaches to Pluralism”

On October 4th, 2018, Karen Armstrong, writer and religious historian, delivered the sixth Annual Pluralism Lecture titled “Compassion or Toleration? Two Approaches to Pluralism”.

Please to listen to Karen’s lecture and reflect. Egoism is our problem. God is always Great.  –Din Merican

 

Daniel Kahneman on The Machinery of the Mind


October 18, 2018

Daniel Kahneman Explains The Machinery of Thought

https://fs.blog/2014/07/daniel-kahneman-the-two-systems/

Daniel Kahneman

Israeli-American psychologist and Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman is the founding father of modern behavioral economics. His work has influenced how we see thinking, decisions, risk, and even happiness.

In Thinking, Fast and Slow, his “intellectual memoir,” he shows us in his own words some of his enormous body of work.

Part of that body includes a description of the “machinery of … thought,” which divides the brain into two agents, called System 1 and System 2, which “respectively produce fast and slow thinking.” For our purposes these can also be thought of as intuitive and deliberate thought.

The Two Systems

Psychologists have been intensely interested for several decades in the two modes of thinking evoked by the picture of the angry woman and by the multiplication problem, and have offered many labels for them. I adopt terms originally proposed by the psychologists Keith Stanovich and Richard West, and will refer to two systems in the mind, System 1 and System 2.

  • System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.
  • System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.

If asked to pick which thinker we are, we pick system 2. However, as Kahneman points out:

The automatic operations of System 1 generate surprisingly complex patterns of ideas, but only the slower System 2 can construct thoughts in an orderly series of steps . I also describe circumstances in which System 2 takes over, overruling the freewheeling impulses and associations of System 1. You will be invited to think of the two systems as agents with their individual abilities, limitations, and functions.

System One

These vary by individual and are often “innate skills that we share with other animals.”

We are born prepared to perceive the world around us, recognize objects, orient attention, avoid losses, and fear spiders. Other mental activities become fast and automatic through prolonged practice. System 1 has learned associations between ideas (the capital of France?); it has also learned skills such as reading and understanding nuances of social situations. Some skills, such as finding strong chess moves, are acquired only by specialized experts. Others are widely shared. Detecting the similarity of a personality sketch to an occupational stereotype requires broad knowledge of the language and the culture, which most of us possess. The knowledge is stored in memory and accessed without intention and without effort.

System Two

This is when we do something that does not come naturally and requires some sort of continuous exertion.

In all these situations you must pay attention, and you will perform less well, or not at all, if you are not ready or if your attention is directed inappropriately.

Paying attention is not really the answer as that is mentally expensive and can make people “effectively blind, even to stimuli that normally attract attention.” This is the point of Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons in their book The Invisible Gorilla. Not only are we blind to what is plainly obvious when someone points it out but we fail to see that we are blind in the first place.

The Division of Labour

Systems 1 and 2 are both active whenever we are awake. System 1 runs automatically and System 2 is normally in a comfortable low-effort mode, in which only a fraction of its capacity is engaged. System 1 continuously generates suggestions for System 2: impressions, intuitions, intentions, and feelings. If endorsed by System 2, impressions and intuitions turn into beliefs, and impulses turn into voluntary actions. When all goes smoothly, which is most of the time, System 2 adopts the suggestions of System 1 with little or no modification. You generally believe your impressions and act on your desires, and that is fine— usually.

When System 1 runs into difficulty, it calls on System 2 to support more detailed and specific processing that may solve the problem of the moment. System 2 is mobilized when a question arises for which System 1 does not offer an answer, as probably happened to you when you encountered the multiplication problem 17 × 24. You can also feel a surge of conscious attention whenever you are surprised. System 2 is activated when an event is detected that violates the model of the world that System 1 maintains. In that world, lamps do not jump, cats do not bark, and gorillas do not cross basketball courts. The gorilla experiment demonstrates that some attention is needed for the surprising stimulus to be detected. Surprise then activates and orients your attention: you will stare, and you will search your memory for a story that makes sense of the surprising event. System 2 is also credited with the continuous monitoring of your own behavior—the control that keeps you polite when you are angry, and alert when you are driving at night. System 2 is mobilized to increased effort when it detects an error about to be made. Remember a time when you almost blurted out an offensive remark and note how hard you worked to restore control. In summary, most of what you (your System 2) think and do originates in your System 1, but System 2 takes over when things get difficult, and it normally has the last word.

The division of labor between System 1 and System 2 is highly efficient: it minimizes effort and optimizes performance. The arrangement works well most of the time because System 1 is generally very good at what it does: its models of familiar situations are accurate, its short-term predictions are usually accurate as well, and its initial reactions to challenges are swift and generally appropriate. System 1 has biases, however, systematic errors that it is prone to make in specified circumstances. As we shall see, it sometimes answers easier questions than the one it was asked, and it has little understanding of logic and statistics. One further limitation of System 1 is that it cannot be turned off.

[…]

Conflict between an automatic reaction and an intention to control it is common in our lives. We are all familiar with the experience of trying not to stare at the oddly dressed couple at the neighboring table in a restaurant. We also know what it is like to force our attention on a boring book, when we constantly find ourselves returning to the point at which the reading lost its meaning. Where winters are hard, many drivers have memories of their car skidding out of control on the ice and of the struggle to follow well-rehearsed instructions that negate what they would naturally do: “Steer into the skid, and whatever you do, do not touch the brakes!” And every human being has had the experience of not telling someone to go to hell. One of the tasks of System 2 is to overcome the impulses of System 1. In other words, System 2 is in charge of self-control.

[…]

The question that is most often asked about cognitive illusions is whether they can be overcome. The message of these examples is not encouraging. Because System 1 operates automatically and cannot be turned off at will, errors of intuitive thought are often difficult to prevent. Biases cannot always be avoided, because System 2 may have no clue to the error. Even when cues to likely errors are available, errors can be prevented only by the enhanced monitoring and effortful activity of System 2. As a way to live your life, however, continuous vigilance is not necessarily good, and it is certainly impractical. Constantly questioning our own thinking would be impossibly tedious, and System 2 is much too slow and inefficient to serve as a substitute for System 1 in making routine decisions.

The best we can do is a compromise: learn to recognize situations in which mistakes are likely and try harder to avoid significant mistakes when the stakes are high. The premise of this book is that it is easier to recognize other people’s mistakes than our own.

Image result for daniel kahneman

Still Curious? Thinking, Fast and Slow is a tour-de-force when it comes to thinking.

 

Dr. M’s UNGA Address should hit right home


September 30, 2018

Dr. M’s UNGA Address should hit right home

Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad’s Address to the United Nations General Assembly was poised, articulate and to the point.

He did not mince his words when he spoke about global political, economic, social and environmental conditions since his last address 15 years ago, in 2003.

The gist? That the world has not changed much in terms of reform; that the developing world is still being bullied by powerful nations; that the trade war between the US and China continues to impoverish poorer and smaller countries; that there is a growing ambiguity of social values, and that the notion of freedom has become skewed, at best.

Intellectually-sharp and laudable, Dr. Mahathir delivered his poignant message, that the “new Malaysia” is not naive. He told the UN General Assembly that Malaysia will continue to soldier on with other countries, through the United Nations, to make the world a better place, economically, politically, socially and environmentally.

In foreign policy jargon, Mahathir delivered a warning against the acts of dangerous, threatening Hitlers and the misconceptions of peaceful, law-abiding allies.

Overall, his Address championed the aspirations of the developing world and smaller non-aligned nations. However, there is more that we should take away from his Address, in order to render his thoughts more relevant in the domestic Malaysian context.

There are three key areas the new Malaysia should focus on. Mahathir spoke of global terrorism. Although he did not specify the actual definition of the term (or of the word “terrorist”), one can read between the lines. He lamented that there is “something wrong with our way of thinking, with our value system. Kill one man, it is murder, kill a million and you become a hero”.

What he actually means is that the powerful have the capacity to define concepts in order to justify certain acts. Terrorism, as coined by the powerful, is a notion applied to non-state actors, jihadists and transnational communities of oppressed people who react violently to achieve justice.

Powerful states have the sole purpose of pushing their economic and political agendas and so a global understanding of the concept of terrorism was born after 9/11.

Yes, about 3,000 died mercilessly at the World Trade Center in 2001. But almost 130,000 (mostly civilians) perished in one day, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in 1945. This is more than 43 times the death toll at the hands of the so-called Islamic terrorists.

Yet, throughout the decades after World War Two, the acceptable narrative describing US geo-political advances (and those of her allies) was never termed “terrorist” or “terrorism”.

I am not condoning such acts as no mass killing of civilians can be considered civilised behaviour. However, we must consider here the socio-political manipulation of labels.

In the Malaysian context it is happening all around us to the detriment of the common people. For instance, the notion of “the rights of Malays” and “the welfare of the Malays”. What rights are we focusing on? The right to get a job based on race or the right that all qualified and capable Malays should be appropriately awarded?

For me, it is the latter. Yet, certain politicians still choose to speak about the unfair treatment of the Malays and that the new Pakatan Harapan government should be tasked to help bring them up to greatness and to be protected.

The label of “rights” is bandied around but its meaning is deliberately couched in ambiguity for an ulterior political motive.

Using Mahathir’s example of the plight of the Rohingyas, his message was an appeal for “caring”; that just because a nation is independent it does not mean the world should close an eye to domestic suffering and injustice.

He reiterated that nations need to solve the problems of global conflict, racism and bigotry by going back to the root causes.

Similarly, the state of Malaysia’s education system needs care and we need to identify the root causes of the inequality that exists in our schools and universities.

Agreed, our teachers and professors are not being massacred, and neither are our students. But mentally, the massacre began 61 years ago.

The public university leadership has failed to produce thinking professional graduates and to my mind, this is humanity’s greatest form of oppression.

We are all aware that our public university leadership is more concerned with national and international rankings, administrative positions of the academic staff, titles and research funding.

But are the research funds, for instance, channeled into meaningful projects to help society overcome real problems of poverty and discrimination?

Are the researchers and academics “caring” enough to plan such research even though they may not be awarded a future government contract or a datukship?

This brings me to my next point: values. Mahathir commented that there is something wrong with our way of thinking.  To my mind, the sole purpose of an education is to instil good values. These include moderation, dignity, integrity, hard work, perseverance and honour. No matter what religion or creed one belongs to, these are universal values.

In post-election Malaysia, this topic has surfaced many times. But I fear it is just a narrative with no substance.

There are many issues that have surfaced since PH took over. From the appointment of key ministerial positions, to presidents of universities, to the PD move, to child marriage, the list goes on.

Nepotism, cronyism and corruption still loom over us but it is not too late for values reform. What better way to start than to realise that, while it is important for us to preach values to the international community, we should apply this to our own society.

There is a need for all Malaysians to delve deeper into Mahathir’s UNGA Address because he was not only sending a message to the superpowers and their allies.We should also see his message as a warning to tackle our own domestic crises; problems that have arisen as a result of past mistakes, on-going stubbornness to address those mistakes and a lack of foresight.

Dr.Sharifah Munirah Alatas is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

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Dr. Fareed: Why I Talk to Bono


September 23, 2018

Dr. Fareed: Why I Talk to Bono

Image result for Bono and Fareed Zakaria

When confronting a challenging problem, it’s sometimes useful to listen to someone who looks at it from an entirely different angle. That’s why I found it fascinating to talk about the rise of populism and nativism with Bono last weekend at a summit in Kiev. The Irish singer-activist-philanthropist sees the same forces that we all do, particularly in Europe, but he zeroes in on something intangible yet essential. The only way to counter the dark, pessimistic vision being peddled by nationalists and extremists, Bono says, is to have an uplifting, positive vision. Homing in on the trouble in his part of the world, he told me, “Europe needs to go from being seen as a bore, a bureaucracy, a technical project, to being what it is: a grand, inspiring idea.”

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To that end, Bono’s band, U2, has been choosing a moment during its concerts to unfurl — wait for it — the flag of the European Union. “Europe is a thought that needs to become a feeling,” Bono wrote in a recent op-ed in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine. He is trying to give that feeling meaning. To him, Europe is about the ability of countries that were once warring to live in peace, for people of many different lands and languages to come together. “That idea of Europe deserves songs written about it, and big bright blue flags to be waved about,” he wrote.

Image result for Bono and Fareed Zakaria

Bono admits that Europe is a “hard sell” today. The continent is ablaze with populism. These forces have taken control in Hungary, Poland and Italy and are steadily gaining ground elsewhere, including Germany and Sweden. It seems that everywhere the fuel is the same: hostility toward strangers, foreigners, anyone who is different. In April, NPR’s Joanna Kakissis reported on a Hungarian sociologist, Endre Sik, who had polled Hungarians about allowing asylum seekers into the country. He found strong resistance to accepting particular groups such as Romanians, Chinese and Arabs, and then he decided to ask about the “Pirezians.” The Pirezians are a fictional ethnic group of Sik’s own creation, yet Hungarians roundly refused to take them in. Sik told NPR, “The Hungarian form of xenophobia is, let’s say, the classic form: ‘They are different, we don’t know them, therefore we hate them.’ That’s the beast in us.”

Bono’s message resonated because I had been reading Francis Fukuyama’s new book, “Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment.” Fukuyama argues that identity stems from humans’ deep-seated psychological need to be recognized as possessing dignity. In recent decades, in the understandable search for recognition, persecuted minority groups (blacks, Hispanics, gays) have celebrated their identity — and so have working-class whites, who now feel ignored and forgotten. The answer, Fukuyama says, is not to reject identity politics but to construct broad identities that can embrace others and unify different groups.

The founders of the E.U., he argues, spent too much time building the technical aspects of the project — laws, rules, tariffs. They neglected to nurture an actual European identity, something people could believe in not for rational reasons but for emotional and idealistic ones. In the American case, he argues, the anti-populist forces have to create a broad identity centered on core American ideas and values rather than narrow ethnic, racial or religious ones. Thus, we need a much greater focus on assimilation, on the celebration of American identity, on the things that make us all love being American. We need to connect with people in their guts, not just in their heads.

The European challenge might seem much greater than the American one, but in fact, distrust of foreigners doesn’t necessarily mean a rejection of Europe. Even in Poland and Hungary, where ethnonationalist sentiments run high, support for the E.U. is quite high. According to the latest European Commission surveys, 71 percent of Poles say they feel attached to the E.U., more so than Germans or Spaniards, while 61 percent of Hungarians feel attached, outstripping the French, Swedes and Belgians. The problem is, it isn’t a deep, emotional bond — they are three to four times more likely to feel very attached to their own nation than to the E.U.

Image result for Fareed Zakaria talks to BONO

What people in Europe and the United States ought to be proud of, what they should celebrate, are the remarkable achievements of diversity. “I love our differences,” wrote Bono, “our dialects, our traditions, our peculiarities. . . . And I believe they still leave room for what [Winston] Churchill called an ‘enlarged patriotism’: plural allegiances, layered identities, to be Irish and European, German and European, not either/or. The word patriotism has been stolen from us by nationalists and extremists who demand uniformity. But real patriots seek unity above homogeneity. Reaffirming that is, to me, the real European project.”

And, I would add, the American project as well.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

 

Mahathir the Disappointed Leader–Father


September 12, 2018

Mahathir the Disappointed Leader–Father

Opinion

by Nathaniel Tan

 

COMMENT | Over the (very many) years, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed has kept a fairly consistent tone regarding what I suppose he might term the Malay Dilemma – a tone that we saw again during the recently held Future of Bumiputeras and the Nation Congress (KBN 2018), at the Bersatu anniversary,  and a recent interview.

I suppose I might term this tone that of the Disappointed Leader–Father.

I have this image in my head of Mahathir, himself a successful bumiputera, looking down and shaking his head while sighing, maybe face in hand, constantly disappointed at what he sees to be an endemic failure of his fellow bumiputeras to live up to his hopes and expectations.

We get the sense that Mahathir has a very clear idea of the kind of attitude and character you need to succeed as an individual and as a community, and that a big part of his persona seems to be having to deal with his view that the bumiputera do not live up to these standards.

Mahathir’s favourite counterpoint appears to be the Japanese, a fact reiterated by his recent visit to Japan and specifically named once again in the interview, where once he again he has held them up as the paragons of self-sacrificing patriots whose self-worth is tied to how diligently they can contribute to the betterment of their nation.

He then likes to ask: “Why can’t the Malays be more like the Japanese?”, in the same tone perhaps a dad would ask his kid, “Why can’t you be more like your older brother?”

Unhelpful comparisons

Mahathir’s other big go to, of course, is to compare Malays with other ethnic groups, notably the Chinese. A common theme of his seems to be something along the lines of the Chinese are successful because they are hardworking, and the Malays are not, because they are lazy.

“Mahathir’s sincerity is not doubted, and he has a great many strengths. Effective motivation, however, may not be one of them. His recent comments show that while he has changed in many positive ways, he still seems to rely on a certain amount of BN era fearmongering, his trademark sarcasm, and a degree of condescension.”

Most recently, at KBN 2018, Mahathir has taken this a step further:

Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad today questioned whether the bumiputera will be able to compete with a new wave of skilled and business-savvy entrepreneurs from China making their way to Malaysia.

Speaking during a dialogue session on bumiputera economy, Mahathir said the new wave of immigrants will be unlike early Chinese settlers in Malaysia – who were then mostly involved in small businesses, and whose children have now gained control of major developments in the cities.

“These are the Chinese already in Malaysia whose attitudes we can accept. But if we bring in three million more people from China, what will happen to us?” he asked.

“They are hardworking and skilled in business. The ones who are coming, they are not labourers, but those who are already successful. Will we be able to compete with them?” he said in response to a question on China nationals buying property in Malaysia.”

In the West nowadays, this kind of framing would likely be denounced as having considerable elements of racism. Sadly, the truth is that this rhetoric retains the culture of fearmongering perpetrated by UMNO over so many decades – a variation on the theme that the bumiputera are under constant threat by other ethnic groups.

Mahathir’s approach is marginally better in that his conclusion is not “Therefore you need UMNO to protect you” but “Therefore you need to work much harder.” Of course, this is not to say that Mahathir’s tone has not changed at all. He now says that it is foolhardy to blame other races for the shortcomings of the Malays. On the whole, though, we should ask: is this a truly helpful approach?

Has Mahathir’s approach worked?

Mahathir’s sincerity is not doubted, and he has a great many strengths. Effective motivation, however, may not be one of them. His recent comments show that while he has changed in many positive ways, he still seems to rely on a certain amount of BN era fearmongering, his trademark sarcasm, and a degree of condescension.

If you have ever been on either end of questions like “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” being repeated over and over, I think you know the ultimately negative end result – a lot of resentment, and almost never any actual change towards becoming like the said brother.

After all the years of Mahathir’s Look East Policy, do we actually see any significant movement of Malays or Malaysians adopting Japanese values? (Anime does not count.)

I am also most curious as to where this idea of letting in three million new Chinese nationals came from. Is this a thing? Or was it plucked from thin air, to be used as the convenient bogeyman?

It’s true that global competitiveness should always be a cause for concern, but bringing up the sceptre of some sort of invasion by foreigners who bear a striking resemblance to Chinese Malaysians in a Malay-only conference could easily be seen as striking the wrong note.

The dichotomy of the ‘successful’ Chinese nationals of today compared to the ‘inferior’ Chinese labourers from whom today’s Chinese Malaysians descended could also rub people the wrong way.

Inspire hope, don’t fearmonger

Some say that the biggest two motivators are hope and fear. One might have hoped that a coalition named Pakatan Harapan might be intrinsically inclined towards one instead of the other.

At the end of the day, Malaysians are Malaysians, and the Japanese are Japanese. Each has their strengths and weaknesses, and each can learn something from one another.

If, however, you keep expecting one to become the other – something they simply are not – only disaster awaits. Your children may be siblings, but they are each unique individuals.

Instead of constantly berating or belittling Malays with fearmongering, unflattering comparisons or sarcastic jibes at every turn, think about how you can motivate them positively.

It is good that we start addressing practices like Ali Baba schemes out in the open, but why not focus more on success stories? Highlight successful bumiputera entrepreneurs and how and why they succeeded. Use them as inspiration.

Sometimes all that is needed is the reminder that having only ‘becoming rich’ as the goal is a recipe for failure.

We need only look at the lives of successful Malaysians – from any ethnic group at all – to see that the right goal is to develop the attitude, character and habits that breed success, and that once that goal is achieved, riches come fairly easily.

Abandoning the racial lens

As a Malaysiakini commentator correctly said, it is in the interests of all Malaysians for Malays to be successful. That said, perhaps a big part of the problem is looking at it as a Malay or bumiputera problem.

 

Perhaps what we need to solve racial inequality, somewhat counterintuitively, is to stop seeing everything through a racial lens, and stop obsessing about comparing one ethnic group with another.

If, for example, you have never met a lazy Chinese, you simply haven’t met enough Chinese.

It’s not accurate to go so far as to say that culture plays zero role in the welfare of a community. Sometimes, historical factors such as living in harsh climates where saving for the winter is essential to survival, breeds a slightly different work ethic than living in temperate climates, where food is easily available all year round.

That said, any type of biological determinism is inherently unhelpful, and not relevant to the question of how we can best move forward.

Play to each individual’s and community’s strengths

People react much better to being inspired and encouraged than they do to being belittled or scared–especially when it comes to becoming self-motivated achievers. Every sibling has unique strengths and talents to contribute.

The role of the parent is to play to those strengths, encourage those talents, and help each child maximise their potential – on a road that they themselves determine.

Ultimately, helping each Malaysian achieve their unique potential is the single best way to help the Malaysian family as a whole.

The way to do this is to reverse this habit of public dressing downs and bemoaning, and adopt instead an approach that does not ignore reality, but acts on that reality in a manner that is less negative, and more one of positive encouragement.


NATHANIEL TAN is eager to serve.

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