Excellence: A Point of View

October 18, 2016

Excellence: A Point of View

COMMENT: Everyone in Malaysia talks about the pursuit of excellence and some pretend to know what it means, especially  our mediocre politicians in power and men in the public service who are tasked to implement our national education policy and Blue Ocean Strategy.

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We employ snake oil consultants  and experts to write glossy blueprints and reports at horrendous cost to taxpayers but fail to execute them.  We create institutions like Pemandu to promote Najib’s deformation agenda, and Permata for bright kids, while our Chief Secretary to the Government makes himself advocate-in-chief of the Blue Ocean Strategy concept to suck up to Najib Razak. In reality, we do not know what excellence is, what it takes and how to get there.

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Excellence is a simple idea if we are serious about it. All we need to do is change our attitude. Talk is cheap. Stop it and start taking action.

Malaysia has an attitude problem and it is our greatest obstacle to our future as a people and a nation. Where to begin? It has to be first fixing our education system to become a nation of high achievers and second we must stop playing politics  with the education of our future generation. But we are not doing that because UMNO politicians are afraid of  smart and pushy Malays in particular.

I wish to share with you A C Grayling’s thoughts on Excellence. This philosopher is endowed with the ability to communicate with ordinary men and women in clear and concise language. Read his article and share your comments.–Din Merican

Grayling on Excellence

When Matthew Arnold wrote Culture and Anarchy over a hundred years ago, he described the pursuit of excellence in the fostering of culture as “getting to know, on all matters that most concern us. the best which has been thought and said in the world, and through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits.”

Arnold was an inspector of schools, and a champion of higher education, and he believed in excellence in education as the way not only to staff the economy but to produce an enculturated society which would live up to the ideal in Aristotle’s noble dictum about the educated use of our leisure.

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From China to France, every country that is or aspires to be developed has an elite educational stratum, aimed at taking the most gifted students and giving them the best intellectual training possible. In China this is done at an early age, with special schools for the brightest children. In France the system of Hautes Ecoles–superior universities, entry to which is fiercely competitive–creams off the outstanding minds and subjects them to a rigorous discipline. The aim in all cases is to enhance the best in order to gain the highest quality in science, engineering, law, national administration, medicine and the arts.

Few could object to the rationale behind this, save those for whom universal mediocrity is a  price worth paying for social equality (or in the case of Malaysia where mediocrity is a means of political control, added by Din Merican). But there is the danger to which meritocratic means to the cultivation of excellence – or what should be solely such – fall prey. It is if, after the establishment of the means, merit by itself ceases to be enough, and money and influence become additional criteria. In many, perhaps most, countries in the world, money and influence are the determiners of social advancement, even where meritocratic criteria still apply too: in America money is needed to gain social advantages, in China it helps to be a Party member.

The rich and the well connected are not the kind of elite an  education system ought to be fostering. It is easy for popular newspapers and populist politicians to make pejorative use of the term ‘elite’ to connote these elites of injustice; but they are just as quick to complain if doctors, teachers, or sportsmen playing for national sides fail our highest expectations- if, in short, they are not elite after all, in the proper sense of the term.

Although there are few if any true democracies in the world– most dispensations claiming that name are elective oligarchies–the democratic spirit nevertheless invests Western life, for good and ill both. The good resides in the pressure to treat everyone fairly, the ill resides in the pressure to make everyone alike. The latter is a levelling tendency, a downward thrust, which dislikes excellence because it raises mountains where the negative-democratic spirit wishes to see only plains.

But democracy should not aim to reduce people and their achievements to a common denominator; it should aim to raise them, ambitiously and dramatically, as close as possible to an ideal. And that means, among other things, having institutions, especially of learning, which are the best and most demanding of their kind.

The Meaning of Things–Applying Philosophy to Life by AC Grayling (London: Weidenfeld &Nicolson, 2001) pp.160-161

September 12, 2016

Waiting in Dar al-Islam, the House of Islam

by Cmdr (rtd) S Thayaparan


Image result for Zahid Hamidi and ISIS Threat

To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.”

– Raymond Williams

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi wants to tell people that the Islamic State (IS) threat is real. All I can say is that I have been trying to tell people the same for the past couple of years. The UMNO Number Two also reassured the rakyat that the IS threat “was not a manipulation, publicity stunt or fiction,” which is just goes to show you the level of cynicism of most Malaysians right-thinking folks when it comes to official statements from Putrajaya.

But hang on a minute. The DPM made two extremely cynical statements that only justifies the level of cynicism thrown UMNO’s way. The first statement, “…the people in the country who joined the militant group did not have strong religious or educational background” and the second “They are people who are frustrated over something which only they know. So this disappointment is translated into a form of escapism.”

With regard to the first statement, while it may be true that youths signing up for jihad with IS are disenfranchised in terms of education, nobody could argue that their religious sympathies were anathema to the ideology of IS.

In my piece ‘The Merchants of Hate’, I wrote, “For years, the Biro Tatanegara (BTN) courses told Malays that they were under siege. This is not a defensive posture. In reality, this is exactly what extremist groups like IS need. They need young, foolish men filled with a sense of superiority fueled by unearned self-righteousness to carry out barbaric acts in the name of promulgating their scared religious beliefs. This, coupled with the rampant corruption and all-consuming hypocrisy, is fertile ground for groups like IS.”

Furthermore, when it comes to Islamic terrorism, Malaysia has produced its fair share of “educated” Muslim psychopaths who have blazed a trail of destruction and waged war against their fellow Muslims in South-East Asia. The BBC obituary for Noordin Mohammad Top for instance reminds us: “Officials believe the Malaysian-born former accountant orchestrated a series of attacks across Indonesia. Noordin was thought to be a key recruiter and financier for the regional Islamist militant group, Jemaah Islamiah, but analysts say he formed his own more hard-line splinter group.”

Therefore, I will say it again. With UMNO and the opposition funding Islamic entities who moral police the Muslim polity, with federal and state apparatus used to define Islam as monolithic for political purposes and lastly but definitely not least, the inclusion of an Islamic cult – PAS – into mainstream Malaysian politics – and both UMNO and the opposition are to be blamed here – can anyone seriously argue that Malaysia is not fertile ground for idiots wanting to join IS?

As for the second statement, does Zahid really expect us to believe that he, and by extension the government, does not understand the motivations for people joining IS?

Forget the sex slaves – it sure beats dating – that is promised to repressed young men who join the jihad (was that the escapism that the UMNO Deputy President was alluding to?), the reality is that when the state-endorsed Islam rejects diversity, when the state-endorsed Islam encourages Muslims to reject other forms of Islam, when the state-endorsed Islam cannot account for the class divisions and the resulting inequalities, you are going to get young men – educated or otherwise – joining movements that promise an Islamic paradise here on earth.

Why do you think that PAS’ Islamic propaganda is extremely effective in rural populations who see the decadence in UMNO? Why do you think a religious leader like the late tok guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat and his austere Islam was attractive to a voting demographic who rejected the materialism and corruption of UMNO?

In study after study of failed or failing Islamic governments, the recurring theme is how secular governments are unable to address systemic inequalities and corruption, which allowed the Islamists to gain the moral high ground.

Image result for Zahid Hamidi and ISIS Threat

In one of my answers to questions raised by PSM’s Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, I said, “I recognise (as do many other Malaysians, including Muslims) that Islam in this country is affected by the petrodollars of the Saudi regime, as evidenced by the so-called donation to our current Prime Minister for defending Islam. I recognise that there is a deliberate effort by the House of Saud and its tributaries to silence the diversity in Islam. I recognise that the religious schisms within Islam affect minority Islamic brethren the world over and that, being true to their faiths, they are being hampered by the stratagems from palaces in Saudi Arabia.”

This, of course, brings us back to the question of the meddling Middle Eastern influence that plagues Islam in this country. We do not have to look far to understand why Indonesia has movements that reject this interference. Last year the BBC ran an article titled ‘Is Indonesia winning its fight against Islamic extremism?

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The article was interesting in many ways, especially in its description of Archipelago Islam (AI) or Islam Nusantara, but what should be acknowledged is the overt manner in which Indonesian political and social bodies reject the influence from the House of Saud.

Consider what Yenny Wahid, daughter of the late Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) and activist, said, “We’re not just coming up with a counter narrative, we are coming up with a counter identity, and that’s what AI is all about. We believe we’re good Muslims but to be a good Muslim we don’t have to accept the recipes that are handed out by some radicals from the Middle East.”

In a 2004 piece, titled ‘The religious sources of Islamic terrorism’, Shmuel makes the argument that the West and Muslims have to tackle the problem in tandem. While some readers, especially Western ones, take exception to some of his arguments about reassessing certain sacred ideological cows, Malaysian readers should take note of the section titled ‘The dilemma of the moderate Muslim’.

Malaysians would understand where Shmuel is coming from when he writes, “Facing the radical Weltanschauung, the moderate but orthodox Muslim has to grapple with two main dilemmas: the difficulty of refuting the legal-religious arguments of the radical interpretation and the aversion to – or even prohibition of – inciting an Islamic Kulturkampf which would split the ranks of the ummah.”

Shmuel outlines the argument that many Malaysians can relate to in the section titled ‘Fighting hellfire with hellfire’, where he writes, in essence, the radical narrative, which promises paradise to those who perpetrate acts of terrorism, must be met by an equally legitimate religious force which guarantees hellfire for the same acts. Some elements of such rulings should be, inter alia:

  • A call for renewal of ijtihad as the basis to reform Islamic dogmas and to relegate old dogmas to historic contexts.
  • That there exists no state of jihad between Islam and the rest of the world (hence, jihad is not a personal duty).
  • That the violation of the physical safety of a non-Muslim in a Muslim country is prohibited (haram).
  • That suicide bombings are clear acts of suicide, and therefore, their perpetrators are condemned to eternal hellfire.
  • That moral or financial support of acts of terrorism is also haram.
  • That a legal ruling claiming jihad is a duty derived from the roots of Islam is a falsification of the roots of Islam, and therefore, those who make such statements have performed acts of heresy.

Somehow, I doubt we will ever see these types of fatwas coming from either the opposition or UMNO.

Writer’s note 1: Dar al-Islam means House of Islam as opposed to Dar al-Harb, which translates, to House of War.

Writer’s note 2: Anonymous_1388826428, is correct. House of War is Dar al-Harb. It was an editorial mistake made by me – the author – when transcribing from my notes. I thank Anonymous_1388826428 for pointing out this mistake.

Malaysia: UMNO apes the Taliban

September 12, 2016

Malaysia: UMNO apes the Taliban

by Tay Tian Yan


Image result for The Three Chimps

This is Positive Thinking ala Malaisie

Fanaticism knows no limits, from the Middle East to the rest of the world. Often the boundary between fanaticism and insanity is equally blurred.

Many years back when the fanatical Taliban ruled Afghanistan, many world-shocking events took place there, such as the shocking demolition in the name of  Islam of statues of Buddha in Bamiyan.

For thousands of years, the Bamiyan Valley was a regular stop on the Silk Road for travellers from China, India, Persia and Europe. Bamiyan was an important hub of Buddhist learning. Thousands of monks and craftsmen erected countless awe-inspiring Buddha statues on the walls of the cliffs in the valley, the biggest of which stood at 38m and 58m tall.

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The Bamiyan Valley

Aesthetically, these were masterpieces attesting to the pinnacle of cultural eminence. From the historical point of view, they were priceless legacies of human civilisation. For over a thousand years, these two enormous Buddha statues stood over this land and the many historical developments taking place under their noses.

Unfortunately such godly artistic creations were blown up and reduced to rubble by the Taliban in a matter of hours. Similarly, after Islamic State fanatics captured parts of northern Iraq, they blew up 3,000-year-old Assyrian relics and statues in the ancient city of Nimrud.

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They also destroyed the Temple of Bel and Baal Shamin in the 4,000-year-old city of Palmyra in northern Syria they subsequently captured, smashing up the invaluable ancient animist relics.

Khaled Asad, director of Palmyra Antiquities Museum, was executed by the IS. Taliban and IS prohibited idolatry on the pretext of defending their religion, destroying priceless statues and relics without taking into consideration their enormous historical value.

What has been brought down can never be restored; neither can pieces of history be duplicated. The fanaticism and insanity of these people have shocked the world and brought tears to millions.

What has this to do with Malaysia? The eagle statue in Langkawi and the statue of fallen heroes at the National Monument have received media coverage of late. Some clerics who thought they were safeguarding their religion called for their demolition to preserve the sanctity of the religion and stub out idolatry.

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A Popular Tourist Attraction on the Island of Langkawi, Kedah

The eagle is but a symbol of Langkawi and a popular sightseeing spot. No one is going to worship an eagle statue anyway. As for the National Monument, it was built in honor of the warriors sacrificing their precious lives for the nation, and was meant to inspire Malaysians to be patriotic. Similarly, no one is going to deify and idolize them either.

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Remember the Men and Women who gave their lives so that we may live in Peace. That Peace is now under threat from ultra Malay Islamic Extremists and Najib’s pursuit of existential politics–Din Merican

Narrow-minded and radical interpretations of such people have religionised everything that crosses their minds and banished all who are not with them. This is the crudest manifestation of the pride and prejudice born out of such fanaticism.

If by chance their wayward thinking gets approved and legitimised, the country’s diversity and universal values will be completely uprooted.

Is the Malaysia project a non-starter?

August 23, 2016

Is the Malaysia project a non-starter?

by Dr. KJ John


In the Seven (7) Habits series, Stephen Covey’s central thesis is that we must grow or develop habits for growth and development in meaningful and significant ways. He argues that all human or organic systems must first grow from total dependence (and appreciate all its full meanings) to independence or human freedoms, and then, finally and fully appreciate interdependence with others of like-heart and mind. This is also the Hearts and Mind agenda of our NGO.

Full understanding and appreciation of real and true meaning of interdependence must belong to every one of the stakeholders and partners in a shared and common enterprise. It must become a shared vision for posterity; and never to be compromised.

Whether it is the UN or the EU, or even federated states like the US or Malaysia, or our simple OHMSI Sdn Bhd; interdependence properly understood and stewarded defines real and true meanings of the so-called freedom we ‘pretend to enjoy’, it then becomes real ‘merdeka’.

Covey’s 7-Habits

Habit 1: Be Proactive
Habit 2: Begin with the End in Mind
Habit 3: Put First Things First
Habit 4: Think Win-Win
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood
Habit 6: Synergise
Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw”

– Stephen R Covey, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’

Malaysia-Land of Beauty

I will try to evaluate our Malaysia project, not simply from a historical perspective, but more importantly from a worldview perspective and see what Covey might be saying to us. Such a perspective puts a very high premium on human values for growth within the ethics and culture of lived life; in seeking to move organic systems from the full dependence towards voluntary and volitional inter-dependence.

The Malaysia project

Malaysia came into existence on September 16, 2016. But, that fact is not clearly taught in history. Not many of us today can change that false reality interpreted today. Before that date we had four independent states called Federation of Malaya, Singapore, and the North Borneo States of Sarawak and Sabah; each with their own unique story about the movement from dependence towards independence and now interdependence.

Rightly or wrongly, for reasons of their own, in August 1965 Singapore chose to leave Malaysia by mutual agreement and consent between the leaderships of Malaysia and the island state. I am not sure if and whether Sarawak and Sabah or the United Kingdom had any direct say in this matter.

Therefore, after a short marriage of two years, Singapore exercised their ‘move from total dependence from the United Kingdom towards independence from the new Malaysia’. They wanted to learn and grow the experience and freedom with true independence.

Sarawak and Sabah may have had views about such a move by Singapore, but I do not know those facts, but they too surely want to experience movement from full dependence towards true independence. And their growth experiences will be surely very different.

Sarawak and Sabah’s self-governance experience

Have the Sarawak and Sabah governments and their political leadership learned true independence and interdependence from their many years as a one-third partner of Malaysia; even as the Malaysia Agreement gave them some clear and separate jurisdictions?

Many of these legal rights and privileges were captured within the revised Federal Constitution of Malaysia and including recognition of their 18 and 20 point submissions. Was there ever consensus on those two documents by the political leadership of Malaysia?

But why therefore, after more than 50 years within Malaysia, do they now put their foot down about Petronas’ governance and staff recruitment strength and raise issues about employment permits? As a public policy person, I am simply wondering loudly.

What have they really learnt about independence, or interdependence, or is it still merely dependence, if anything at all? Or, do these jurisdictional governance regimes feel like, we the Malayans, have thoroughly abused them altogether?

Learning from Covey

In my Pet Theory R, relationships are an important and elemental R. Therefore, building and growing our knowledge about ‘nurturing and growing mature relationships’ using the Covey’s three-step process and applying them to his seven habits for Sarawak and Sabah relationships with Malayans may be instructional:

  • Malaya was proactive in nurturing a relationship with Sarawak and Sabah; Brunei however did not respond in the same way. Why? We still grew Malaysia. Did we ask Indonesia at all?
  • Our end in mind was always National Unity and regional stability; and more recently, we have added words like integration and integrity. I call that agenda: integration with integrity.
  • What is our First Things First? Is it Malaysia, ‘Melayusia’, or ketuanan bumiputra for now or centre versus periphery in governance of lived life and stewardship of resources; including all human beings especially citizens?
  • Do we think win-win every time we have bilateral issues in our relationships concerns? Or, can we really begin to think win-win-win to endure stewardship as the third win for the sake of all human beings?
  • Do we seek to understand before we seek to be understood? I did not understand Sarawakians until I met the Kelabits earlier and now, after I spent 10 days in Baram Valley. Maximus Ongkili, Beth Baikan and Bernard Dompok taught me to learn to understand Kadazans.
  • Have we really learnt to synergise? Why then is the Malaysian Public Service still more than 80 percent made up of peninsular Malays (non-Malays are less than 10 percent I believe)? This issue is reflective of the Petronas case story. Synergy would allow for creating new values; not simply depreciating existing values.
  • Finally, from my experience on the ground, and meeting so many smart and equally ambitious Orang Ulu Sarawak and Kadazans; these questions are my Covey test for all of Malayans to sharpen our saw or ‘tools of execution and evaluation’ so that we can see and learn the real meaning of Malaysian interdependence and not allow it to become a foolhardy project.

KJ JOHN, PhD, was in public service for 32 years having served as a researcher, trainer, and policy adviser to the International Trade and Industry Ministry and the National IT Council (NITC) of the government of Malaysia. The views expressed here are his personal views and not those of any institution he is involved with. Write to him at kjjohn@ohmsi.net with any feedback or views.

‘Deep’ Malay cultural psychology

August 11, 2016

‘Deep’ Malay cultural psychology

by Clive Kessler

About the Author

Clive Kessler is Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. He is well known for being unimpressed by postmodernist theory and analytical practice while being adamant that people, especially the champions and exponents of that now almost mandatory approach, should understand its origins and basis in twentieth century French social, cultural, intellectual and political history. The vast majority, he insists, alas do not. He is himself not such an enthusiast, but in the course of his scholarly career, he has made it his business, often in the hard way over years of serious investigation and study, to find out.


In modern Malaysia,  attitudes born in the traditional village, as well as Islam, are being used to defend against threats to the Malay world’s important symbolic boundaries.

I ended some recent remarks on the current political situation in Malaysia with an allusion to what I call ‘deep’ Malay cultural psychology.  I noted that:

They, so many of them, would rather have to themselves, unshared and exclusively ‘on their own terms’, 100 per cent of a small and dubious inheritance — to squabble over interminably among themselves — than to have and enjoy a substantial stake in a thriving enterprise that they must share, sensibly, in both material gratitude and human generosity, with others.  More on this ‘Malay cultural psychology’ another time…

Well, that time came sooner than I expected, so I have written on the subject. This is not a final statement but should be considered a first draft. Note well and bear that in mind as you read it.

First, let’s be  clear about what I am not talking about here. I am not talking about the now standard clichés, even these days generally  ‘received ideas’, promoted and popularised by Tun Dr Mahathir in his The Malay Dilemma (subsequently recycled, little changed or modified, in some parts of his memoir, Doctor in the House).

Nor am I speaking of the important ideas and debates that Tun Dr Mahathir should have been aware of (but probably was not) when he wrote The Malay Dilemma. These included the controversy that briefly raged in the late 1960s, especially between the economist Brian Parkinson and the anthropologist William Wilder Jr, about the non-economic aspects and sources of what was then called ‘Malay economic backwardness’.

I am not talking about the key ideas upon which that debate rested, found especially in the work of the anthropologist Michael G Swift exploring the formative sociocultural groundings and cultural-psychological dimensions of Malay economic attitudes and behaviour.

Nor am I speaking here about the bearing upon these same questions at the time and since of Syed Hussein Alatas’s critique of ‘the Myth of the Lazy Native’ in the wider Malay world of Southeast Asia.

Neither am I alluding to some more general ideas upon which that debate and those arguments in part rested: ideas, again, to which people now habitually have recourse in discussing many issues of this kind, while remaining totally innocent and ignorant of any idea of their origins. These are namely the clichés  — so much a part of the fateful policy debates of 1969-1970 leading up to the declaration of the New Economic Plan — of a ‘limited pie’ , of ‘dividing up the cake’ and of ‘increasing the size of the economic cake’ to be shared.

These expressions and ideas had their origins in a once famous but now largely forgotten essay by the anthropologist George M Foster on “Peasant Society and the Image of the Limited Good”.  These are ideas about whether it is better to argue about the proportional sharing, or division, of a given fixed quantum (‘zero sum’ thinking in Game Theory talk) or to work instead to increase the size of the overall yield that is to be shared among a number of parties.

These ideas are often, in one way or another, drawn into the discussion about Malay and Malayan and Malaysian society: into arguments about ethnic relations, separation, competition and Malay anxieties and fears of being out-competed by (non-Malay) others.

But important as these ideas are, in general, and in the modern Malaysian policy and political context, I am not talking here simply about those things, but something much deeper.

So, what then am I talking about? I am calling attention here to matters that anybody who has ever spent a night, or several, or a week or several, in a Malay village — and especially anybody who has spent a few evenings, and long nights until dawn, with some Malay village bomoh (or shaman) as they have gone about their special business — will know about. And if you haven’t, you probably won’t. But need to.

This has to do with a fundamental Malay cultural sense of ‘beleaguerement’, and of the ensuing need of Malays to huddle close together — sometimes behind physical barricades such as bamboo perimeter fences and often behind less tangible protective barriers — in mutual support.

These ideas, upheld as experientially powerful cultural imperatives, long predate, and have much deeper sociocultural origins than, what we may call modern plural society social dynamics and stresses — though they may well feed into modern historical and now also contemporary Malay ideas about, attitudes toward, and anxieties concerning economic competition and fears of social displacement and marginalisation.

I am talking here about matters that were once of interest and concern to that largely forgotten, and now widely scorned field of knowledge — old-fashioned (pre-postmodernist) social and cultural anthropology.

If you have ever been in a ‘conventional’, quasi-traditional Malay village at nightfall, as the evening suddenly closes in and the swooping dark suddenly envelopes people at day’s end, as senja (dusk) arrives with all its mambang (hauntings) and other strange, disquieting mystical forces, you will know what I am talking about.

A perceptible apprehensive hush descends, and with it a fear of disturbing who knows what. Understandably, the villagers think (or that is how things were), they hope and trust in the idea, that there is safety in numbers. So they try to huddle together defensively, united in protective agreement against those fears, spoken and unspoken. It gives them strength, or a feeling of strength, it makes them feel secure.

When Malay villagers in former times felt themselves threatened — by human enemies, by wild animals, by plague and illness, by the supernatural terrors of the surrounding jungle, by the dark and all the unseen dangers that it might conceal — they would huddle together for strength. They would find assurance in and seek protection from the spirit-challenging jampi (spell) of a bomoh and would recite do’a, Islamic pleas and prayers. Together, they would chant especially potent verses and sura from the Quran for protection from encroaching evil.

In a similar way, overall, to that older village social universe, the Malay political world in Peninsular Malaysia these days huddles together for reassurance, in kampung-like strength and solidarity, behind a barrier and fortification that is afforded largely by Islam — an Islam under royal patronage and protection and of constitutionally guaranteed standing. It is the old strategy of kampung defence, now writ large.

Through recourse to Islam, threats to the integrity of the Malay world’s important symbolic boundaries can be contained. Islam is used to insulate the boundaries of Malay society against non-Malay intrusion, penetration and subversion — to separate Malay society symbolically and morally from, and elevate it beyond the reach of, its threatening, even contaminating, wider social environment.

We are all familiar with the concept and historical creation of Malay Reservation Land. More recently the same process of space-management has been extended to other areas, to virtual space. Specifically, to linguistic space.

In the contentious ‘name of Allah’ dispute — and notably in then Court of Appeals Justice Apandi Ali’s astounding landmark decision in the matter — as well as in the case of words such as agama, ibadah, iman and the 30 or more others that are now on Malaysia’s quasi-papal index of religious terms (istilah) that are for exclusive Muslim use only, and not to be applied to the discussion of any and all non-Muslim religious life, we see this process not just advancing but assiduously and officially promoted.

We now have, and people are asked to recognise and accept, an entire new privileged zone that has been set aside, that of “Bahasa dan Istilah Rizab Melayu”, of a quarantined Malay Reservation in language and terminology. A Malay semantic protectorate. One with Islamically patrolled and fortified boundaries.

This barrier of protective prohibitions is the modern equivalent of the recourse of Malay villagers to chanting do’a in the dark to ward off wild beasts, malign spirits, strangers or encroaching outside plagues such as cholera.

These modern practices, this array of duly gazetted bureaucratically sustained prohibitions, also provide a protective barrier, an insulating buffer device, enabling beleaguered Malays (or those who feel that way, and who have the power to impose their ways, likes and fears authoritatively on others, on all Malays) to huddle together, secure among their own kind, for reassurance and distancing protection.

As my friend. Dr. M Bakri Musa said, you can take the Kampong out of the Malay, but you can never  remove the Kampong in  the Malay

This is what, at the deep cultural and psychological level, lies behind, informs and drives the continuing Malay determination to live huddling together for comfort and strength — rather than being eager, ready, or just prepared to engage with others and seek sensibly to share the world with them. They would rather have a smaller, narrower world, but one that is their own, entirely their own, that they may inhabit and hold exclusively on their own cultural terms.

The outside world, the world that surrounds the Malay world, closes in upon it, and asks Malays to engage with it on its broader and more inclusive terms is, somehow, the analogue and functional equivalent of, and is psychologically isomorphic with, the non-human, asocial, non-Malay world of mambang and ghosts, of spirits and wild animals, of strangers and the unknown, that closed in upon the ‘little Malay world’ of the village every night.

Clive Kessler is Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. He is the author of many works in this area, most notably Islam and Politics in a Malay State: Kelantan 1838-1969

Ramadan, Einstein, and a Memory

New York

June 23, 2016

Ramadan, Einstein, and a Memory

by Dr. Azly Rahman

Father Time-The Great Leveler and Equalizer, always fair to we The Living

Yes indeed the Muslim kids in Malaysia today have it easy during the fasting month; their conversations with Time is as speedy as the speed of the ‘Internet of Things’ (the IoT). Time is compressed in this global village characterised by the rapidisation of things. Relativity is the key word here as we speak of how the mind, body, spirit, and soul respond to the demands of the worldview of Ramadan.

Technology to ease the suffering of hunger and thirst has today progressed in Einsteinian proportions, as how the advancements have been made since Einstein scribbled his grand theory of everything, of Relativity and Black Holes, Worm Holes, and quasars and pulsars and said, in his broken German-English accent to the world:

“Here it is, my proof of the existence of black holes. One day (yes, about a hundred year later in 2015) and after the release of James Cameron’s movie Interstellar, you’ll have the proper instruments and a couple of great scientists mainly from Columbia University in the NYC to build that machine to see black holes. One day you’ll see my calculations come alive.”

How fast technology has changed and our conversations with modernity and hyper-modernity in this post-post-post Age of Techno-humanism have advanced, too. For Ramadan, today’s Muslim kids can sit in an air-conditioned room the whole day and play video games and check their Internet phones every six minutes and go take a two-hour nap, and next go back to the AC room and next, it’s break fast – or Bukak Posa Time!

Time is compressed. Technology has a life of its own, ‘a technologically-deterministic being’ it has become, as Marx predicted and alluded to in his magnum opus with Friedrich Engels, ‘Das Kapital’.

I remember my childhood days of Ramadan when technology in my house in my gangsta Malay village in Johor Baru was still in its Neanderthal stage. One step backward and it was the Age of No Tech, Low Tech, and one more step behind was the Age of the Perak Man… the age of the early man who got lost trying to decide which way to go: Bota Kanan or Bota Kiri. He went bald thinking hard.

Perak Man

The Original Perak Man in pieces–Harmless

The Perak Man 2 and The Pekan Man still around to entertain and irritate us

He died waiting at the junction, at the crossroad of human evolution. He gave up. Although he was said to be a determined man who lived for hundreds of years (we need to check his birth certificate though), he gave up right there near Changkat Jering, now a dangerous highway. He was a brave man – he walked from Africa alone and didn’t know where he was going and ended up in Perak. Hence the name Perak Man.

But that is another story of why he walked out of Africa. I saw him once in the National Museum in Kuala Lumpur, a few years back. He was lying in an enclosed glass bed, tired from the long walk to freedom. He was all bones. He was bald.

Twelve hours felt like twelve months

I remember my childhood Ramadan of the sixties. It was pure torture. It was a Buddhist experience of samsara. Of a life of suffering. Of denouncing water, food, and other childhood Earthly pleasures. Although the suffering was about twelve hours, it felt like twelve months of dying, of the experience of the Perak man’s marathon solo-walking. Herein lies Einstein’s Relativity.

I had no iPhone nor iPad to play with, no PlayStation Seventeen to play games that have me shoot people. no blasting high-fi air-conditioning machine to ease the cells in my body and to freeze them pleasurably so that they would not wilt like raisins in the sun, as how Langston Hughes said about the self in his poem ‘Dreams’.

And I didn’t have 700 channels of junk on TV to help me escape the reality of suffering and to bring me to this Hollywood or Bollywood nirvana.

 None of these I had. Nor was I as a kid fasting the full swing of 30-day delight as strong as our man, the Perak man. Every day of the journey, I felt my body slowly getting weak and turning into that Malay pancake called ‘lempeng’; a sorry state of beingness with the feel that by the Time the bilal hit the ‘kentong’ (sounding ‘tong… tong… tong…) or that bamboo ‘break fast announcement instrument from the kampong masjid yonder’ and next, by the time I heard the imam clearing his throat at the microphone like Matt Monroe or Louis Armstrong, ready to azan or ‘bang’ (not banging people’s head, mind you… but ‘bang’ means calling for the maghrib prayer – signifying the end of suffering,) and lastly… by the time she announced, “Lekas, boleh berbuka kita… orang dah bang tu...” (Let us now break our fast as the imam has called for prayer – by the Time all these happened, I thought I had already died, ready to be reincarnated the next day for another round of the hunger game.

So – it seems like – in Ramadan death cometh daily. The madman Mansur Al-Hallaj said that, too, running around the street yelling, “Ana al Haq… Ana al Haq… I am the Truth… I am the Truth”.And then I would be alive again. Time. Time. Time. Relative is Time.

As the Quranic verses go: “Time. Verily, Man is in a state of Loss and Utter Despair. Except those who do Good and Keeps the faith and remind others to do Good.” In other words: To promote peace and to keep peace and to build peace, after making peace with the self.

So – with no AC, how did I ease the suffering? Here is what I did daily. The tempayan was my friend, I’d go to the bathroom and climb into the huge earthen-ware pot, turn on the tap, water would flow through the mouldy green hose, the tempayan/pot would fill up to the brim, and I’d be sitting in there as cool as the Perak Man in the Pahang River. Cooling myself with water coming to the level of my neck.

Liiikkk kau buat apa lama lama dalam bilik air tu, nak… Dah dekat sejam.

My mother would call out after an hour of wondering if I had drowned in the gigantic pot and died and perhaps transported to Africa and walked with the Perak man and get confused like him at the junction of Bota Kanan or Bota Kiri.

Lik mandi mak… sekejap lagi habis. Nak sabun badan ni. (I am bathing, mother. Now is the soap-ing part…)”

Ultimate goal is the finishing line

I was happy for that Einsteinian hour in that day on the month of extreme test of spiritual endurance. For about twelve hours daily, I was both the Perak man and Siddharta Gautama or the ‘Buddha Matrieya’, wandering like Moses in an exodus for 40 years in the desert of my hyper-consciousness, in this Hunger Game called fasting – a game whose ultimate goal is the finishing line… to still be alive to hear the ‘tong… tong… tong…” sound of the masjid’s kentong. Mind-body-spirit game.

I suppose Einstein would agree. Life is not about finding happiness. It is about evading pain. Not about suffering. But to find victory in the battle within. The jihad within – and only within. And that jihad is Love and nothing else. In memory of the greatest Love – my mother.

Today, sixteen hours of my journey of the Perak man, in the blazing saddle heat of the New York Indian Summer Ramadan… I have felt nothing. I only eat one simple meal a day. A dead simple minimalist meal.

Thank you to the memory of the Perak man. And of course the tempayan, the huge pot in the bathroom. And the sound of the tong tong tong… I could still hear – from more than a thousand miles away!