Happy Diwali, 2015

November 9, 2015

Happy Diwali, 2015

Dr Kamsiah and I wish all friends of the Hindu Faith a Happy Diwali. May the Day of Kam and Din latestLight bring a hope and happiness to all men and women of goodwill. Let us strive for a better Malaysia. Our is a great country and we must together build a country for all. Let no one split us asunder.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican from Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Diwali 2015

The Globalisation of our Discontent

November 5, 2015

The Globalisation of our Discontent

by Dennis Ignatius

COMMENT: The Chinese Ambassador’s September visit to Petaling Street on the eve of the red shirt rally continues to reverberate across the political landscape.

Last week, the Cabinet, after dithering for several weeks, finally decided to summon the ambassador to apparently learn what he did or did not say. No doubt this is just another ‘sandiwara’ that only confirms how hopelessly muddled, dysfunctional and amateurish our government has become.

It cannot even manage a decent pretence of defending national face – summoning an Ambassador while being almost apologetic about it! More importantly, these developments also serve to highlight the increasing globalisation of our discontent.

Frustrated by their inability to obtain justice at home and having lost all confidence in the government to fulfil its constitutional responsibilities, Malaysians have increasingly gone global with their concerns, setting the stage for an unprecedented level of international scrutiny and involvement.

Prisoner of conscience

Hindraf 2007In 2007, for example, Hindraf appealed directly to the Prime Minister of Britain for help over the plight of Malaysia’s ethnic Indians, while in 2013, a coalition of Malaysian NGOs earned the displeasure of the government when they highlighted during the UN’s universal periodic review process in Geneva serious lapses on the part of the government in upholding basic human rights.

More recently, former UMNO leader Khairuddin Abu Hassan, pressed his case for a thorough investigation into the 1MDB scandal in major capitals of the world. He was arrested and jailed before he could take his case to Washington.

Partly as a result of his efforts, investigations have been launched in a number of different jurisdictions that have the potential to seriously embarrass Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, if not bring down his administration.

The full extent of the 1MDB scandal in turn came to light partly because unknown insiders were so distressed by what was going on that they felt compelled to blow the whistle.

And knowing how bootless our justice system has become, they went global via groups like the UK-based Sarawak Report. The rest is history.

N IzzahLembah Pantai Member of Parliament Nurul Izzah, for her part, has appealed to leaders across the globe to condemn the criminalisation of Malaysia’s opposition. On a visit to Washington, she also raised the plight of Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim, her imprisoned father and an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, and pleaded with the Obama administration and the US Congress not to support an abusive government.

Angry over the injustice of Anwar Ibrahim’s imprisonment, Malaysian groups have also pressed the international community to get involved, resulting in a series of stinging international rebukes for the government, the most recent being that of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Meanwhile, Opposition leader Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail has urged the US Embassy to stop negotiating with Malaysia on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), arguing that with the US now investigating the 1MDB scandal, Najib might be vulnerable to US pressure.

UMNO TrioEven Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who has always been prickly about perceived slights and foreign meddling in the past, has taken to dreaming out loud about the possibility that some foreign power might solve the political impasse in Malaysia by arresting Najib.

Growing foreign influence

While the globalisation of our discontent is, of course, understandable, and in some instances even entirely appropriate, it is not without risks.

The surprise and sudden intervention of the Chinese Ambassador in the Petaling Street affair, for example, has certainly made China a player to be reckoned with in our evolving domestic political situation.It also appears to suggest that China now considers the protection of all ethnic Chinese, irrespective of their nationality, part of its core responsibilities. This could have profound domestic and regional implications.

It was also disquieting that some commentators went so far as to invoke the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ [R2P] doctrine in defending the Chinese Ambassador’s intervention. R2P gives major powers the moral mandate to intervene, by force if necessary, to protect minorities facing genocide.

This is surely not the case in Malaysia, as worrying as the situation is. To give the Chinese Ambassador, or any Ambassador for that matter, that kind of cover to meddle in our affairs is unjustified, dangerous and foolhardy, to say the least.

Undoubtedly, any expansion of Chinese influence in a strategically-located nation like Malaysia isn’t likely to be welcomed by Washington, particularly at this time when the two powers are going head to head in the Asia-Pacific region. We also have the spectacle of Singapore openly taking sides in Malaysian politics by coming out in support of Malay (read UMNO) dominance. It is a cheap attempt at currying favour with a beleaguered government in the hope of advancing its own strategic interests.

MALAYSIA-SINGAPORE-DIPLOMACYAs other commentators have pointed out, a weak and divided government in Kuala Lumpur, of course, suits Singapore just fine. As well, we have a convicted murderer sitting in an Australian prison with an explosive story to tell, a story that could well bring down the government. Imagine the leverage that that gives Australia in its dealings with the Najib administration.

And, of course, UMNO, by its own seemingly proud admission, is now beholden to some foreign potentate who apparently financed the party’s electoral victory. It’s a scary thought that we might have a government that has been bought and paid for by a foreign power.

The dangers are real

Though we may be too caught up in the heat of the moment to worry about all the implications of foreign interference, the dangers are real enough. History is full of examples of the terrible consequences that befall nations when foreign powers start meddling in domestic affairs.

Nations, after all, rarely if ever, act out of altruism. When it comes to national interests, countries, even friendly countries, tend to behave more like predators than anything else, seeking only to expand their influence for their own benefit.

In many ways, it is a zero sum game; the more influence they gain over our domestic affairs, the more we lose.

They may give great speeches about justice, upholding international law and respecting the rights of others, but only the very naive would take what they say at face value.

The Chinese Ambassador, for example, made much of his country’s opposition to ‘any form of discrimination’ while conveniently forgetting his government’s own dismal treatment of minorities at home.

Beijing itself would very likely go ballistic if the Malaysian Ambassador to China were to repeat in Lhasa or Ürümqi Ambassador’s Huang’s exact same words about opposing all forms of discrimination.

The US is no different either. In an appalling act of hypocrisy, it whitewashed Malaysia’s human trafficking record even as mass graves were being uncovered in the jungles of Malaysia.

The Obama administration so badly wants Malaysia on board the TPPA, and in its bailiwick, that it is prepared to overlook a shocking human rights scandal. Perhaps there’s an unspoken trade-off: in exchange for joining TPPA without question, all skeletons will be buried.
A weak and divided nation

The Scandal that ate MalaysiaAnd so, after almost six decades of independence, we now find ourselves weak, disunited and more vulnerable to foreign meddling than ever before.This is what the long years of ‘UMNOcracy’ have wrought upon the nation. If we don’t get our act together, if real political change doesn’t come soon, Malaysia will increasingly become the region’s next battleground for big power rivalry.

Canada’s Paul Anka–The Entertainer of My Generation

November 2, 2015

Paul Anka-The Entertainer of My Generation

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Paul Anka

I present to you the Composer, Singer and Entertainer of my generation from Canada, Mr Paul Anka. He composed songs for Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davies Jr et.al. He is a great talent. Let him show you what I mean. Please have a restful evening with my good wishes from Phnom Penh, Cambodia.–Din Merican


Poetry: Ode on a Grecian Urn

October 18, 2015

How I miss John Keat’s Ode on a Grecian Urn


        “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”–John Keats

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Singapore: In search of Singaporeanness

October 13, 2015

Singapore: In search of Singaporeanness

by Patrick Sagaram


Lee Kuan Yew-LeaderBefore sovereignty, Singapore was a nation of immigrants, meaning that there was no ‘Singaporean nationalism’. Instead there was an excess of rival ethnic (Chinese, Malay, Indian) and national (Malayan) sentiments.

Void of a mythical, legendary past and lacking the elements of a romantic struggle against oppression, Singapore did not possess the resources for the psychological creation of a national imagined community in which the people are connected to their land and each other through shared heritage.

To counter this, the Chinese, Malay, Indian and Others (CMIO) race categorisation in Singapore was designed, cultivating a system of cultural representation and giving impetus to the myth of Singaporeaness.

This origin story is based on a shared identity whereby members of the country’s various ethnic communities are progressively integrated into the wider population and become Singaporeans not only by law but also in their hearts and minds.

It is the government’s pluralist approach to managing cultural differences and ensuring inter-racial harmony and authentic ‘Asianess’ (whatever that may mean).But like most categories, CMIO is starting to come under scrutiny, particularly when challenged by the complexities of the 21st century and an increasingly global world.

Speaking at a conference last week, Professor Chan Heng Chee, a former Ambassador to the United States, argued against scrapping the categorisation. She claimed that that jettisoning the category would be a cause for contention among the minority races even today.

“The majority community doesn’t feel uncomfortable. It’s the minority community where you have to keep emphasising its equal language, religion, culture and race,” she told the audience. Professor Chan argued that CMIO, an umbrella identity created through housing, education and national service policies, assures minority races that their place in society is not under threat. However, to truly share a common identity, Singaporeans must  think about ourselves in terms of nationhood rather than ethnicity.

One of the problems of CMIO is that every Singaporean is racially classified at birth. A child is assigned his father’s ‘race’ and other ambiguities are not taken into account. Additionally, the state recognises every citizen as a ‘hyphenated Singaporean’. For example, every Singaporean citizen is identified as Singapore-Chinese, Singapore-Malay.

The problem with this classification is that it encourages Singaporeans to only associate with their own culture and ethnicity. The paradox of this logic is that there is no culturally defined notion of Singaporeanness.

We should also consider making adjustments to our policy of bilingualism in education. Rationalised as a means for students to preserve their cultural connection the policy has been criticised fortifying ethnic autocracy. Once presented as a celebration of genuine cultural heritage, this policy is an unauthentic construct of Singapore’s cultural outlook.

As Chua Beng Huat states in the article Multiculturalism in Singapore: an instrument of social control, the notion of a ‘mother tongue’ automatically assumes that both parents are from the same racial group. With more inter-racial marriages among Singaporeans, children adopt the father’s race by law and may take the mother’s language as their second language in school. This choice may be motivated by economic factors.

But most disquieting is the fact that elite Chinese students have enjoyed an added advantage in the education system through the Special Assistance Plan (SAP). Launched in 1979, SAP schools are extremely prestigious secondary schools that place a strong emphasis on Chinese culture. In 2008, the Ministry of Education introduced enhancements and opportunities for SAP schools to deepen their learning of Chinese language and culture.Similar Malay or Tamil elite schools were not created.

This perpetuates an intellectually superior ‘Chinese Singapore’, and such inequalities are undoubtedly inconsistent with the spirit of what Professor Chan terms as ‘CMIO Singaporeans’.

It is arguable that our brand of racial categorisation can be considered both as ‘faux’ and ‘manufactured’ – both the government and the people are sycophantic about Singapore as a multicultural/multiethnic society.

While liberal democratic traditions such as Canada and Australia allow issues such as race, ethnicity and identity to be open to consistent debates and deliberation, Singapore’s stance on these issues tend to languish in a pristine ideological space.

The late Mr S Rajaratnam, who penned Singapore’s national pledge, was a strong proponent of creating a ‘race of Singaporeans’. A society that is able to transcend the estrangement of primordial sentiments.

From a pragmatic standpoint, it would be arduous and even seemingly impossible. But, at least we should try. Because in years time to come, we would have created something close to a truly Singaporean Singapore. 

Patrick Sagaram lives and works in Singapore  as a teacher.

Malaysia: During the Japanese Occupation, there were No UMNO Malays

October 6, 2015

Malaysia : During  the Japanese Occupation, there were No UMNO Malays

by Dr M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, Californa

M. Bakri MusaThe Japanese Occupation briefly interrupted British colonial rule. Japanese troops landed in Kota Baru in the early morning of December 8, 1941, and surrendered some 43 months later. That was only a blink in our history but to those who suffered through that terrible period, it was eternity. As brutal as it was, Malays as a culture and community survived.

There was one significant but not widely noted disruption and humiliation of Malay culture during that period. The Japanese, despite their reverence for their own Sun God Emperor, had little use or respect for Malay sultans. At least the British maintained the facade of respect even though those sultans were essentially colonial puppets.

The colonials saw in the institution of Malay sultans an effective means of indirect rule. The British knew full well the reverence Malays had for our sultans. The British must have learned a thing or two from observing kampong (village) boys herding their kerbaus (water buffaloes). Pierce a ring through the lead buffalo’s nose and then even a toddler could effectively control the herd by pulling on the rope tied to that lead beast’s ring.

That essentially was the British approach to controlling the Malay herd; pierce a ring through their sultan’s nose. The rope may be of silk and the ring of gold, but the underlying dynamics are the same.

The Japanese on the other hand totally ignored the sultans. They did not even bother going through a formal ceremony of “de-recognizing” the sultans. The surprise was not how quickly and easily the sultans ceded their power, rather how unceremoniously those sultans lost their honor and prestige among their own subjects.

I once saw a documentary shown in the village by the Information Department about the royal installation of the first Agong. He happened to be the Yang di Pertuan Besar of Negri Sembilan, my state. The next morning I overheard a group of Malay women chatting with my mother. They were making fun of the pompous ceremony depicted in that film.

Those villagers did not see a Queen as the rest of the country did. Instead they saw their former fishing mate made pretty and regal. They remembered her only as a woman wrapped in her wet tattered sarong arguing over a fishing spot in the river during the Occupation. Neither pretty nor regal! My mother remembered her as particularly inept with her tanggok (fishing net). If not for the generosity of fellow villagers, the future queen and her husband would have starved during the Occupation.

Najib Tipu MelayuThe No 1 UMNO Malay

There was something else amazing about those shared fishing trips my mother and the other villagers had with the future queen, and that was the obvious absence of royal fuss or protocol. Only a few months before the Japanese invasion, those members of the royalty could with a click of their fingers command a villager to do their bidding. He would then have to stop whatever he was doing, stoop low, crawl towards the raja and express what a great honor it was to be a slave of the sultan! And if he were to inadvertently make eye contact with the sultan, may Allah have mercy on him for the sultan certainly would not.

All that royal pomp and ceremony together with other elaborate palace rituals vanished overnight under the Japanese. The remarkable thing was, and the villagers did not fail to notice this, how quickly those former royals adapted to their new plebian status! They were not above bickering over a coconut or their favorite fishing hole.

The Japanese also had a profound effect on the behavior of ordinary Malays, especially the youths. Once as a youngster a few years after the war, my father and I were strolling in the village when we encountered a bunch of unemployed Malay boys hanging around and making a nuisance of themselves. Behind them was an abandoned field covered with overgrown brush.

My father commented that such a scene would have been unthinkable during the war. Those idle youths would have been conscripted and sent to work on the infamous Death Railway in Burma, never to return. So everyone, especially able-bodied young men, knew better than to loiter. Likewise the owners of idle but otherwise tillable land; they risked being punished and their land confiscated.

Yes, the Japanese did all those terrible things, scaring young men to go into hiding. However, boys will be boys; they will defy authorities despite the cruelty of the punishments. Indeed if you keep the young repressed for too long, they will eventually blow up, as we saw in Egypt and Tunisia recently, and what Malaysia is now experiencing.

The Japanese were smart enough to go beyond simply meting out cruel punishments. They set up many vocational training centers and those youths eagerly enrolled. Whether that was out of passion for learning and acquiring useful skills or merely fear of being caught idle, I know not. Perhaps both! Whatever it was, they became highly skilled.

My cousin, an unemployed teacher during the war, took up carpentry. He became sufficiently accomplished to build for his family a fairly decent house. Another villager became a tailor, and he continued his business after the war. Yet a third became a radio repairman and later expanded into heavy equipment, a skill he learned from the Japanese. All those young men became productive, each with their own enterprises. There were no GLCs or a benevolent government ready to employ them; they started their own businesses.

UMNO MalayThe Fun Loving Malay

As revealed in a recent History Channel documentary, P. Ramlee’s talent was first discovered and honed while attending a Japanese Naval College in Penang. To “catch” these young men, the Japanese used the ruse of giving out free movie tickets. After the movie those young Malays were then led to waiting trucks to be sorted according to their abilities. Young Ramlee was fortunate not to be sent to work on the Death Railway. That was a tribute to the Japanese skill in spotting talent.

During the Japanese Occupation every square inch of tillable land was cultivated. Even poor soil was tilled, to grow the hardy ubi kayu (tapioca), a cheap but not very good source of starch and calorie. Consumed too much and you would get beri-beri from Vitamin B deficiency. Similarly, every inch of the rice field was cultivated. Had the Japanese discovered short-season rice then, there would have been double and triple plantings per year.

Malays worked very hard then; there were no “lazy natives” despite all the produce going to the Japanese. The consequences of being idle were too horrendous to contemplate.

Even my father, who always complained of how difficult it was for him to learn English, quickly became facile with Japanese and proficient with kanji. The reason for my father and other Malays becoming fast learners was clear; the very effective Japanese teaching technique – learn, or else! That “or else” was the most powerful motivator!

As for our cultural values during that terrible period, I refer readers to that wonderful movie “A Town Like Alice,” based on Nevil Shute’s novel of the same title. It is the story of a group of British women who were abandoned by their husbands in the rush to escape the onslaught of the Japanese. Those women later found refuge in a Malay village and were subsequently adopted en mass by the villagers.

Earlier I mentioned my Chinese-looking friend. In the villages today there are plenty of such individuals of my vintage, especially women. Their parents had given them up during those trying times. Those were the lucky ones.

The Chinese were not the only ones to do that; so did some Europeans. They willingly gave up their babies and young ones to escape the Japanese unencumbered. There was the spectacular case (spectacular because she triggered a deadly riot in Singapore after the war) of Maria Hertogh or Nadra Binte Ma’arof, depending upon your biases and sympathies.

Tan-Sri-Mohd Ali Rastam

Ahmad Maslan at Red Shirt eventThe Malay Racists

Her Dutch mother gave her up for adoption to a Malay family during the war. When it was over she tried to reclaim her child who by now had become fully attached to her adopted family. The ensuing ugly court battle spilled into the community, pitting the natives against the ruling colonials. In the end the ruling colonial trial judge followed his tribal instinct instead of the evidence presented, and awarded custody to the biological mother. In so doing the judge ignored the now important sociological concept of parenthood.

Han Suyin’s gripping novella Cast But One Shadow, though under a different setting, re-chronicles that drama.

The Japanese Occupation, terrible though it was, offered many useful lessons. It also revealed many positive and resilient aspects of Malay culture. For one, as mentioned earlier, there were no lazy Malays then; we were all very productive. For another, as can be seen from the movie “A Town Like Alice,” even during times of severe deprivation we maintained our values and willingly shared whatever little blessings we had with others, including those who were once our oppressors.

There is one other significant aspect to the Japanese Occupation now forgotten but nonetheless bears highlighting. That is, the Japanese effortlessly destroyed a significant part of Malay culture – our institutions of royalty. The Japanese did not purposely do so; they simply found no significance to the sultans and simply ignored them. Yet our culture and society survived. That should tell us something of the value and utility of these sultans.

Today when I see these sultans and other members of the royal family lording it over the rest of us, I wish someone would kindly remind them of their fathers’ and grandfathers’ fate during the Occupation. If that could happen then, it could happen again. Such a reminder might just curb some of their excesses.