HRH Sultan Nazrin reminds public servants

September 29, 2015

Sultan Nazrin reminds public institutions to remain independent

Perak’s Sultan Nazrin Shah has reminded politicians and civil servants particularly Muslims to act as reliable trustees by remaining independent in discharging their duties.

“Here, I cannot but stress to our leaders and administrators who are placed by the public in positions of trust that they should act as reliable trustees and carry out their ‘fardu kifayah’ (collective obligation) and public duty with integrity and ‘taqwa’, on behalf of the rest of us and for the sake of all.

“They should recognise the great importance of preserving and strengthening our institutions and of maintaining their integrity and independence,” the sultan said in his speech at the World Islamic Countries/University Leaders’ Summit 2015 in Putrajaya yesterday.

He said recent developments in the country were God’s “stress test”, adding that upholding public trust was more important during periods of crisis.

“It is when the going gets tough, as Allah reminds us, that we will be able to find out those who truly have integrity. “That is the true test from Allah, the best ‘stress test’ for the institution, the truest measure of whether our institutions can weather the storm.

“Because once lost, once the trustee fails his or her test, once the ‘al-amin’ (the faithful) no longer remains trustworthy, it will be difficult to regain the trust, the integrity and the independence of our institutions, be it in education, administration, the judiciary, the regulatory and enforcement agencies and even the monarchy,” said Sultan Nazrin.

He expressed hope that leaders would improve the quality of the country’s institutions and not allow their integrity be undermined.

The Ruler also spoke on the importance of keeping universities and academic institutions free of materialistic demands of “progress” and industries”. He reminded academic administrators of the original role of education to create a well-balanced graduate, instead of producing cogs for the wheels of industries.

“This traditional humanistic role of universities has changed since the onset of the Industrial Revolution. It has increasingly diverged from its historical mission as a place of human transformation by seeking knowledge and understanding for their own sake, towards becoming a place for training graduates solely to meet the needs of our industries and businesses.

“That original humanistic transformative role of universities may be in danger of extinction if we continue simply to follow the requirements of our material world in its sheer materialism.

“It is for this reason that our university leaders and administrators today, I believe, should not forget that original ‘metaphysical’ mission and pay heed to the transformative role that universities ought to play in society.”

The Sultan also touched on the refugees crisis in Europe, and said Muslim nations should do more to assist them.

“I have been deeply moved by one Syrian refugee who recently compared the German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the Abyssinian Christian King Negus, who famously sheltered Muslim refugees during their first Hijrah in the time of the Prophet.

“And another Syrian refugee eloquently said: ‘We will tell our children that Syrian migrants fled their country to come to Europe when Makkah and Muslim lands were closer to them’.

“I hope the ummah can do better in handling our own refugee crisis,” said Sultan Nazrin.

The Closing of the Japanese Mind

September 26, 2015

Ask not (’tis forbidden knowledge), what our destined term of years,
Mine and yours; nor scan the tables of your Babylonish seers.
Better far to bear the future, my Leuconoe, like the past,
Whether Jove has many winters yet to give, or this our last;
This, that makes the Tyrrhene billows spend their strength against the shore.
Strain your wine and prove your wisdom; life is short; should hope be more?
In the moment of our talking, envious time has ebb’d away.
Seize the present (carpe diem); trust tomorrow e’en as little as you may–

The Odes and Carmen Saeculare of Horace.

The Closing of the Japanese Mind

by Noah Smith
Most people who follow news from Japan will be paying attention to the economy, or possibly to the fist-fight that broke out in the Diet over security policy. But there was a huge and very worrying change in Japanese education policy that somehow hasn’t received much public notice.

Essentially, Japan’s government just ordered all of the country’s public universities to end education in the social sciences, the humanities and law.

The order, issued in the form of a letter from Hakubun Shimomura, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, is non-binding. The country’s two top public universities have refused to comply. But dozens of public schools are doing as the government has urged. At these universities, there will be no more economics majors, no more law students, no more literature or sociology or political science students. It’s a stunning, dramatic shift, and it deserves more attention than it’s receiving.

It is also a very bad sign for Japan, for a number of reasons. First of all, eliminating social science could signal a return to a failing and outdated industrial policy. Many observers interpret the change as an economic policy itself, intended to move the Japanese populace toward engineering and other technical skills and away from fuzzy disciplines. But if this is indeed the aim, it’s a terrible direction for Japan to be going.

Japan’s rapid catch-up growth in the 1960s and 1970s was based on manufacturing industries. This is common for developing countries. But when countries get rich, they typically shift toward service industries. Finance, consulting, insurance, marketing and other service industries don’t produce material goods, but they help organize the patterns of production more efficiently — something Japan desperately needs.  Since it’s a country with a shrinking population, it can only grow by increasing productivity.

But Japanese productivity has grown very slowly since the early 1990s, and has fallen far behind that of the US If Japan is going to turn this situation around, it will need more than a workforce of skilled engineers. It will need managers who can communicate with those engineers and with each other. It will need conceptual thinkers who can formulate business plans and strategic vision. It will need marketers who can establish and increase Japanese brand recognition. It will need financiers who can channel savings away from old, fading industries and toward productive new ones. It will need lawyers to sort out intellectual property cases and help businesses navigate international legal systems. It will need consultants to evaluate the operations of unprofitable, stagnant companies and help those companies become profitable again.

In other words, it will need a bunch of social science and humanities students. So the education change is a big step backward economically. But what it signals about Japanese politics and the policy-making process might be even more worrying.

There may or may not be political reasons for the change. Japan’s humanities departments, like those in the US, lean heavily to the political left, and Japan’s conservative administration is in the process of reorienting security policy. More darkly, the change might be part of a wider attempt by social conservatives — Abe’s main power bloc — to move the country in a more illiberal direction by stifling dissent and discussion.

But the main takeaway is that Japan’s policy-making process is arbitrary and dysfunctional. According to Takuya Nakaizumi, an economics professor at Kanto Gakuin University, the changes were probably written not by Minister Shimomura himself, but by more junior members of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. If that is true, it means that sweeping policy changes, which will affect the entire economic and social structure of the nation, are being made by junior officials via an unaccountable and opaque process.

Nakaizumi also suggested to me that the changes might have been made by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, without consulting the Ministry of Finance (MOF) or the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). If so, that is even more worrying. METI and MOF understand the need for Japan to build a robust service-sector economy. But if they didn’t sign off on the education debacle, it means that policy that undermines their goals is being made right under their noses.

That would be very bad news for Japan, since it indicates a confused and disorganised policy-making apparatus. The sudden, sweeping nature of the reform, and the fact that it came from the ministries rather than the legislature, also highlights the woeful lack of checks and balances in the Japanese system. It takes large, expensive popular movements to undo the bad policies made by unaccountable officials in back rooms. Such a movement is already coalescing to fight the education policy changes. But even if that effort succeeds, the policy changes will have created great risk, cost and disruption.

Japan needs to keep educating students in the social sciences and humanities. It needs to avoid a doomed attempt to return to a developing-country model of growth. It needs a more robust, less arbitrary, more transparent policy-making regime. Minister Shimomura’s diktat bodes ill for all of these things. — Bloomberg

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

Pope Francis: The Man of Faith, Reason, and Temperance at UNGA

September 26, 2015

Pope Francis: The Man of Faith, Reason, and Temperance at UNGA

Pope Francis of The Holy See says:

The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion. In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged, either because they are differently abled (handicapped), or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise, or are incapable of decisive political action. Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste”.

The dramatic reality this whole situation of exclusion and inequality, with its evident effects, has led me, in union with the entire Christian people and many others, to take stock of my grave responsibility in this regard and to speak out, together with all those who are seeking urgently-needed and effective solutions. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the World Summit, which opens today, is an important sign of hope. I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements.–Pope Francis

Thank you for your kind words. Once again, following a tradition by which I feel honored, the Secretary General of the United Nations has invited the Pope to address this distinguished assembly of nations. In my own name, and that of the entire Catholic community, I wish to express to you, Mr Ban Ki-moon, my heartfelt gratitude. I greet the Heads of State and Heads of Government present, as well as the ambassadors, diplomats and political and technical officials accompanying them, the personnel of the United Nations engaged in this 70th Session of the General Assembly, the personnel of the various programs and agencies of the United Nations family, and all those who, in one way or another, take part in this meeting. Through you, I also greet the citizens of all the nations represented in this hall. I thank you, each and all, for your efforts in the service of mankind.

This is the fifth time that a Pope has visited the United Nations. I follow in the footsteps of my predecessors Paul VI, in 1965, John Paul II, in 1979 and 1995, and my most recent predecessor, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in 2008. All of them expressed their great esteem for the Organization, which they considered the appropriate juridical and political response to this present moment of history, marked by our technical ability to overcome distances and frontiers and, apparently, to overcome all natural limits to the exercise of power. An essential response, inasmuch as technological power, in the hands of nationalistic or falsely universalist ideologies, is capable of perpetrating tremendous atrocities. I can only reiterate the appreciation expressed by my predecessors, in reaffirming the importance which the Catholic Church attaches to this Institution and the hope which she places in its activities.

The United Nations is presently celebrating its seventieth anniversary. The history of this organized community of states is one of important common achievements over a period of unusually fast- paced changes. Without claiming to be exhaustive, we can mention the codification and development of international law, the establishment of international norms regarding human rights, advances in humanitarian law, the resolution of numerous conflicts, operations of peace-keeping and reconciliation, and any number of other accomplishments in every area of international activity and endeavour. All these achievements are lights which help to dispel the darkness of the disorder caused by unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness. Certainly, many grave problems remain to be resolved, yet it is clear that, without all those interventions on the international level, mankind would not have been able to survive the unchecked use of its own possibilities. Every one of these political, juridical and technical advances is a path towards attaining the ideal of human fraternity and a means for its greater realization.

Pope Francis at the UNPope Francis of the Holy See@UNGA

For this reason I pay homage to all those men and women whose loyalty and self-sacrifice have benefitted humanity as a whole in these past seventy years. In particular, I would recall today those who gave their lives for peace and reconciliation among peoples, from Dag Hammarskjöld to the many United Nations officials at every level who have been killed in the course of humanitarian missions, and missions of peace and reconciliation.

Beyond these achievements, the experience of the past seventy years has made it clear that reform and adaptation to the times is always necessary in the pursuit of the ultimate goal of granting all countries, without exception, a share in, and a genuine and equitable influence on, decision-making processes. The need for greater equity is especially true in the case of those bodies with effective executive capability, such as the Security Council, the Financial Agencies and the groups or mechanisms specifically created to deal with economic crises. This will help limit every kind of abuse or usury, especially where developing countries are concerned. The International Financial Agencies are should care for the sustainable development of countries and should ensure that they are not subjected to oppressive lending systems which, far from promoting progress, subject people to mechanisms which generate greater poverty, exclusion and dependence.

The work of the United Nations, according to the principles set forth in the Preamble and the first Articles of its founding Charter, can be seen as the development and promotion of the rule of law, based on the realization that justice is an essential condition for achieving the ideal of universal fraternity. In this context, it is helpful to recall that the limitation of power is an idea implicit in the concept of law itself. To give to each his own, to cite the classic definition of justice, means that no human individual or group can consider itself absolute, permitted to bypass the dignity and the rights of other individuals or their social groupings. The effective distribution of power (political, economic, defense-related, technological, etc.) among a plurality of subjects, and the creation of a juridical system for regulating claims and interests, are one concrete way of limiting power. Yet today’s world presents us with many false rights and – at the same time – broad sectors which are vulnerable, victims of power badly exercised: for example, the natural environment and the vast ranks of the excluded. These sectors are closely interconnected and made increasingly fragile by dominant political and economic relationships. That is why their rights must be forcefully affirmed, by working to protect the environment and by putting an end to exclusion.

First, it must be stated that a true “right of the environment” does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Man, for all his remarkable gifts, which “are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology” (Laudato Si’, 81), is at the same time a part of these spheres. He possesses a body shaped by physical, chemical and biological elements, and can only survive and develop if the ecological environment is favourable. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity. Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures. We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good (cf. ibid.).

The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion. In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged, either because they are differently abled (handicapped), or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise, or are incapable of decisive political action. Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste”.

The dramatic reality this whole situation of exclusion and inequality, with its evident effects, has led me, in union with the entire Christian people and many others, to take stock of my grave responsibility in this regard and to speak out, together with all those who are seeking urgently-needed and effective solutions. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the World Summit, which opens today, is an important sign of hope. I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements.

Solemn commitments, however, are not enough, even though they are a necessary step toward solutions. The classic definition of justice which I mentioned earlier contains as one of its essential elements a constant and perpetual will: Iustitia est constans et perpetua voluntas ius sum cuique tribuendi. Our world demands of all government leaders a will which is effective, practical and constant, concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment and thus putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, with its baneful consequences: human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labour, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism and international organized crime. Such is the magnitude of these situations and their toll in innocent lives, that we must avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences. We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective in the struggle against all these scourges.

The number and complexity of the problems require that we possess technical instruments of verification. But this involves two risks. We can rest content with the bureaucratic exercise of drawing up long lists of good proposals – goals, objectives and statistical indicators – or we can think that a single theoretical and aprioristic solution will provide an answer to all the challenges. It must never be forgotten that political and economic activity is only effective when it is understood as a prudential activity, guided by a perennial concept of justice and constantly conscious of the fact that, above and beyond our plans and programmes, we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights.

To enable these real men and women to escape from extreme poverty, we must allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny. Integral human development and the full exercise of human dignity cannot be imposed. They must be built up and allowed to unfold for each individual, for every family, in communion with others, and in a right relationship with all those areas in which human social life develops – friends, communities, towns and cities, schools, businesses and unions, provinces, nations, etc. This presupposes and requires the right to education – also for girls (excluded in certain places) – which is ensured first and foremost by respecting and reinforcing the primary right of the family to educate its children, as well as the right of churches and social groups to support and assist families in the education of their children. Education conceived in this way is the basis for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and for reclaiming the environment.

At the same time, government leaders must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labour, and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom, the right to education and other civil rights.

For all this, the simplest and best measure and indicator of the implementation of the new Agenda for development will be effective, practical and immediate access, on the part of all, to essential material and spiritual goods: housing, dignified and properly remunerated employment, adequate food and drinking water; religious freedom and, more generally, spiritual freedom and education. These pillars of integral human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life and, more generally, what we could call the right to existence of human nature itself.

The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species. The baneful consequences of an irresponsible mismanagement of the global economy, guided only by ambition for wealth and power, must serve as a summons to a forthright reflection on man: “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature” (BENEDICT XVI, Address to the Bundestag, 22 September 2011, cited in Laudato Si’, 6). Creation is compromised “where we ourselves have the final word… The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any instance above ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves” (ID. Address to the Clergy of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone, 6 August 2008, cited ibid.). Consequently, the defence of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman (cf. Laudato Si’, 155), and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions (cf. ibid., 123, 136).

Without the recognition of certain incontestable natural ethical limits and without the immediate implementation of those pillars of integral human development, the ideal of “saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war” (Charter of the United Nations, Preamble), and “promoting social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom” (ibid.), risks becoming an unattainable illusion, or, even worse, idle chatter which serves as a cover for all kinds of abuse and corruption, or for carrying out an ideological colonization by the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people’s identity and, in the end, irresponsible.

War is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment. If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and between peoples.

To this end, there is a need to ensure the uncontested rule of law and tireless recourse to negotiation, mediation and arbitration, as proposed by the Charter of the United Nations, which constitutes truly a fundamental juridical norm. The experience of these seventy years since the founding of the United Nations in general, and in particular the experience of these first fifteen years of the third millennium, reveal both the effectiveness of the full application of international norms and the ineffectiveness of their lack of enforcement.

When the Charter of the United Nations is respected and applied with transparency and sincerity, and without ulterior motives, as an obligatory reference point of justice and not as a means of masking spurious intentions, peaceful results will be obtained. When, on the other hand, the norm is considered simply as an instrument to be used whenever it proves favourable, and to be avoided when it is not, a true Pandora’s box is opened, releasing uncontrollable forces which gravely harm defenseless populations, the cultural milieu and even the biological environment.

The Preamble and the first Article of the Charter of the United Nations set forth the foundations of the international juridical framework: peace, the pacific solution of disputes and the development of friendly relations between the nations. Strongly opposed to such statements, and in practice denying them, is the constant tendency to the proliferation of arms, especially weapons of mass distraction, such as nuclear weapons. An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations, which would end up as “nations united by fear and distrust”. There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the non-proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.

The recent agreement reached on the nuclear question in a sensitive region of Asia and the Middle East is proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience and constancy. I express my hope that this agreement will be lasting and efficacious, and bring forth the desired fruits with the cooperation of all the parties involved.

In this sense, hard evidence is not lacking of the negative effects of military and political interventions which are not coordinated between members of the international community. For this reason, while regretting to have to do so, I must renew my repeated appeals regarding to the painful situation of the entire Middle East, North Africa and other African countries, where Christians, together with other cultural or ethnic groups, and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly, have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, their cultural and religious heritage, their houses and property, and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives, or by enslavement.

These realities should serve as a grave summons to an examination of conscience on the part of those charged with the conduct of international affairs. Not only in cases of religious or cultural persecution, but in every situation of conflict, as in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan and the Great Lakes region, real human beings take precedence over partisan interests, however legitimate the latter may be. In wars and conflicts there are individual persons, our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls who weep, suffer and die. Human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists of problems, strategies and disagreements.

As I wrote in my letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 9 August 2014, “the most basic understanding of human dignity compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities” and to protect innocent peoples.

Along the same lines I would mention another kind of conflict which is not always so open, yet is silently killing millions of people. Another kind of war experienced by many of our societies as a result of the narcotics trade. A war which is taken for granted and poorly fought. Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption. A corruption which has penetrated to different levels of social, political, military, artistic and religious life, and, in many cases, has given rise to a parallel structure which threatens the credibility of our institutions.

I began this speech recalling the visits of my predecessors. I would hope that my words will be taken above all as a continuation of the final words of the address of Pope Paul VI; although spoken almost exactly fifty years ago, they remain ever timely. “The hour has come when a pause, a moment of recollection, reflection, even of prayer, is absolutely needed so that we may think back over our common origin, our history, our common destiny. The appeal to the moral conscience of man has never been as necessary as it is today… For the danger comes neither from progress nor from science; if these are used well, they can help to solve a great number of the serious problems besetting mankind (Address to the United Nations Organization, 4 October 1965). Among other things, human genius, well applied, will surely help to meet the grave challenges of ecological deterioration and of exclusion. As Paul VI said: “The real danger comes from man, who has at his disposal ever more powerful instruments that are as well fitted to bring about ruin as they are to achieve lofty conquests” (ibid.).

The common home of all men and women must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic. This common home of all men and women must also be built on the understanding of a certain sacredness of created nature.

Such understanding and respect call for a higher degree of wisdom, one which accepts transcendence, rejects the creation of an all-powerful élite, and recognizes that the full meaning of individual and collective life is found in selfless service to others and in the sage and respectful use of creation for the common good. To repeat the words of Paul VI, “the edifice of modern civilization has to be built on spiritual principles, for they are the only ones capable not only of supporting it, but of shedding light on it” (ibid.).

El Gaucho Martín Fierro, a classic of literature in my native land, says: “Brothers should stand by each other, because this is the first law; keep a true bond between you always, at every time – because if you fight among yourselves, you’ll be devoured by those outside”.

The contemporary world, so apparently connected, is experiencing a growing and steady social fragmentation, which places at risk “the foundations of social life” and consequently leads to “battles over conflicting interests” (Laudato Si’, 229).

The present time invites us to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society, so as to bear fruit in significant and positive historical events (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 223). We cannot permit ourselves to postpone “certain agendas” for the future. The future demands of us critical and global decisions in the face of world-wide conflicts which increase the number of the excluded and those in need.

The praiseworthy international juridical framework of the United Nations Organization and of all its activities, like any other human endeavour, can be improved, yet it remains necessary; at the same time it can be the pledge of a secure and happy future for future generations. And so it will, if the representatives of the States can set aside partisan and ideological interests, and sincerely strive to serve the common good. I pray to Almighty God that this will be the case, and I assure you of my support and my prayers, and the support and prayers of all the faithful of the Catholic Church, that this Institution, all its member States, and each of its officials, will always render an effective service to mankind, a service respectful of diversity and capable of bringing out, for sake of the common good, the best in each people and in every individual.

Upon all of you, and the peoples you represent, I invoke the blessing of the Most High, and all peace and prosperity. Thank you.

Pakatan Harapan–The New Opposition

September 24, 2015

Pakatan Harapan–The New Opposition takes off on a controversial note

by Joceline

The old arrangement… was inclusive but it was a coalition of conve­nience. The new one is incomplete but the partners have more compatible objectives. The only trouble is that the new politics that was promised in 2008 died with the old coalition.–Joceline Tan

The PKR rank-and-file are still coming to terms with being with a new coalition that excludes PAS, the biggest Malay opposition party.

THE mobile chat groups among PKR members have been on fire. The PKR rank-and-file are quite divided over Pakatan Harapan, the new political coalition, and there has been some pretty fierce commentary about the haste with which the whole thing was rushed through.

Some members of the party’s central lea­dership council or MPP are also pressing for an emergency meeting to debate the issue. They want answers from their President Dato’ Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail as well as Secretary-General Rafizi Ramli, the two leaders who played a prominent part in the formation of Pakatan Harapan.

“They are not upset about the formation of Pakatan Harapan. They are just unhappy that the decision was very rushed. It is a serious matter and many of them wanted more discussion,” said PKR Vice-President Shamsul Iskandar.  But it is a fait accompli and no amount of discussion or debate is going to change anything or reverse the decision.

Where are Azmin Ali and Zuraida Kamaruddin?

“What can an emergency meeting achieve? It is time to move forward,” said one PKR official. Dr Wan Azizah exercised her prerogative as President in deciding on the new coalition and it is unlikely that the MPP can reverse the decision.PKR’s first lady did not respond to any of the chat group discussions but she did say a day earlier that she was praying for everyone’s well-being. Rafizi, as usual, chose to ignore the storm of comments. But silence is the best option given that a segment of his party including its Ketua Umum Dato’ Seri Anwar Ibrahim was not keen on the idea. Rafizi’s detractors said that he does not care about Malay votes because his seat in Pandan is a Chinese majority seat.

However, it was a coup for him to be able to get Dr Wan Azizah on his side given her reputation as an obedient spouse, although some claimed that Rafizi had threatened to quit PKR if Dr Wan Azizah did not go along with him.

Pakatan Harapan has taken off on quite a controversial note. It does not include PAS, the biggest Malay party after UMNO and the only party that reaches into the Malay heartland states of Terengganu, Kelantan and Kedah.

It is conventional wisdom by now that any coalition that wants to capture Putrajaya has to win in the Malay heartland, Sabah and Sarawak. PAS supporters will not vote for Barisan Nasional but they can cause upsets in mixed seats by simply not voting. But the greatest damage they can wreak is to create three-corner fights, thus dividing the pro-opposition votes.

If this happens, the coalition may not be able to hold on to Selangor in the general election. The perception is that Pakatan Harapan serves largely the interest of DAP and that it was created in order to appease the Chinese supporters of DAP who could not accept what PAS stands for.

Excluding PAS is akin to forego an important chunk of votes or forming what one of those at Tuesday’s roundtable discussion described as an “incomplete opposition”. According to the same speaker: “It is better to have an incomplete opposition leadership than not having any leadership.”

Advocates of the new coalition argued du­­ring the roundtable meeting that Pakatan Rakyat had been dysfunctional since the Selangor Mentri Besar crisis when PAS dis­agreed with DAP and PKR on who should replace Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim.

They said voters had high expectations on policies and direction and the opposition parties could no longer hope to win by default. They argued that the opposition parties could not hope to move a vote of no confidence in Parliament if they could not even agree to be together.

The old arrangement, they admitted, was inclusive but it was a coalition of conve­nience. The new one is incomplete but the partners have more compatible objectives. The only trouble is that the new politics that was promised in 2008 died with the old coalition.

Learn from Germany on Race Relations

September 23, 2015

Learn from Germany on Race Relations

by K K Tan

The Racist NaibThe Racist and  The Hypocrite

AFTER a break of several months, I feel compelled to write about the latest race-relations scenario plaguing our multi-ethnic country.

After all, I started a column for this paper writing about race issues in Malaysia and around the world, under the name “Beyond Race” in November 2008, just after the election victory of the first black president of the United States, Barack Obama.

I would like to quote several paragraphs from my first article to show its relevance in the current race debate.

THE election of Barack Obama as the first black president of the United States has inspired people not just in the US but also the world over on the issue of “looking beyond race”. Obama has been elected to represent not just his own “kind” but white Americans and other minorities such as Hispanics and Asians as well.

Our government leaders have welcomed president-elect Obama as someone who is likely to be more sympathetic to developing countries. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said any citizen can be prime minister of Malaysia while Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim added that Obama’s victory proved that Americans were able to look beyond race and religious beliefs in electing their leader.

Open and even rational debates on any race issue have tended to be muted. Even in this so-called modern civilised world, many people are still governed by their baser instincts of irrational fear and insecurity that a person of one race cannot be trusted to truly represent or look after the interests of other races. The use of race and religion in history for politics has tended to reinforce this prejudice till today.

More recently at home, when former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad condemned Zionism and its strong influence in the West at the 10th OIC Summit in October 2003 (just before he stepped down), there were many criticisms against him for being anti-Semitic, especially from the Western media. Hardly anyone came to his defence. I wrote an article in the local press to defend his stand and explain the history and ideology of Zionism (which the UN had even resolved to be a form of racism). I highlighted the terrible injustices against and sufferings by the predominantly Muslim Palestinian people since the creation of the state of Israel.

Dr Mahathir wrote to me to express his gratitude over the article, saying that “not many have done this or argued based on reason”. A non-Muslim friend had questioned me and found it hard to accept that as a non-Muslim, I could be so strong in my stand on what was perceived as basically a Muslim position. My reply was that I am a human being first, everything else next. Fighting injustices and oppression or defending universal rights or values should transcend one’s race, religion or nationality.

In our local scenario, excessive race-based politicking is becoming counter-productive, self-destructive and often plain stupid because they undermine the collective strength of our racial diversity and our economic competitiveness as a nation.

The winds of positive change are sweeping not just the US but the world in general, our country included. With much greater access to education and the freer flow of information and knowledge, the younger generations are also becoming more open minded, less gullible and smarter in looking at various issues.

With the recent changes on the local political landscape, our local race-based parties, which were created out of political expediency during the times of our Independence, will need to reform or even overhaul themselves by “looking beyond race”, otherwise they risk becoming irrelevant.

Red Shirt Poster

Now let’s look at the current debate of the red shirts’ rally versus the Bersih one. Based on reports, many statements (including banners and posters) made at the red shirts rally were rather explicit and if the police and public prosecutor were to strictly apply the Sedition Act, many bloggers, writers, politicians, extremists and social thugs would be charged in court for promoting hatred towards another race.

We have an ex-minister trying to justify racism in the name of Islam and another racial activist proudly proclaiming to be a “constitutional racist”. Such people have no idea what racism or racialism is all about and should learn from the Palestinian people or black South Africans how they have suffered under racism. The public outcry by many decent-minded people against such idiotic remarks shows that there is still sanity in our society. Everyone must realise that any racial conflict is bad for business, the economy and ALL Malaysians regardless of their ethnicity. It would undermine the very interests of their community that they (racial extremists) loudly profess to defend against unproven threats.


There have been no reports of the Bersih rally making any statements on race or religion. But they should have called a spade a spade and called it the “Anti-PM Rally”. Also, the rally should not have gone ahead if they knew that there would be a lack of participation from the Malays or that it would be dominated by the Chinese.

While the political leadership crisis was essentially a power struggle among Malay leaders, it could easily be exploited and manipulated into a racial conflict, which is the last thing our country and economy need. So the non-Malay leaders should not appear to intervene.

Sure, there are broad governance issues involved but many rural Malays in Peninsular Malaysia may not perceive the issues in the same manner as the educated urban middle class and it is so easy to play the race card in our country. It is a no-brainer that even an uneducated bigot would know how to exploit the situation. But we have some smart and educated extremists waiting for the opportunity to cause an ethnic conflict.

History has shown that it does not require many such extremists to cause or escalate any conflict into a racial one, often with the help of some writers and bloggers who are good at playing with words and human psychology to confuse, distract and deceive readers.

The response of the red shirts should not, therefore, come as a surprise. For every action, there is a reaction, the bigger the action, the stronger the reaction. So, the proponents of Bersih should learn how to deal with it in an intelligent manner, without being drawn further into the “race trap”.

I have also written on many occasions on the need to ban race hate speeches and tighten the laws against extremists and opportunists out to exploit or inflame a situation. Unfortunately, the policymakers do not seem to appreciate the urgency or need for such “no-platform” laws which are common even in the more developed democracies.

Germany probably has the toughest laws in the world in banning hate speeches and it has demonstrated that it has learned well from the race-hate policies of its fascist Nazi past. Unlike Japan, it has certainly redeemed itself and set leadership-by-example of a developed country, with its initiative to take in and warmly welcome hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees escaping from the violent sectarian conflicts in Syria and Iraq.

This refugee programme would cost the German taxpayers billions of dollars, even though they have no role in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. These Muslim refugees are not welcome or turned away by the other Muslim countries, so why should the German government reach out in such a significant manner to help these people of another race or religion? This is the best example of looking beyond race when dealing with any crisis or issue.

The writer, CEO of a think-tank and strategic consultancy firm, believes that we have much to learn on how to treat people of another race or religion from Germany today. Comments:

Malaysia’s Leader, Najib Razak, Faces U.S. Corruption Inquiry

September 22, 2015

Malaysia’s Leader, Najib Razak, Faces U.S. Corruption Inquiry

The embattled Prime Minister of Malaysia, facing mounting political turmoil and a parade of inquiries at home and abroad into a sovereign wealth fund that he oversees, is now coming under the scrutiny of American investigators as well.

A federal grand jury is examining allegations of corruption involving the Prime Minister, Najib Razak, and people close to him, according to two people with knowledge of the investigation.

The inquiry, being run by a unit of the Justice Department that investigates international corruption, is focused on properties in the United States that were purchased in recent years by shell companies that belong to the Prime Minister’s stepson as well as other real estate connected to a close family friend, said the people knowledgeable about the case, who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it. Investigators are also looking at a $681 million payment made to what is believed to be Mr. Najib’s personal bank account.

Pressure in Malaysia on Mr. Najib intensified on Monday as two separate courts dealt him legal setbacks. And the Head of the country’s central bank, which is investigating transactions involving the sovereign wealth fund, said it had submitted its findings to the Malaysian Attorney-General.

“Right now, we know that the public wants answers to these questions, and they deserve to get the answers,” said the head banker, Zeti Akhtar Aziz, according to the Malaysian Insider news site.

The Justice Department investigation is still in its early days, and it could take years to determine if any federal laws were broken. It was opened partly in response to an examination by The New York Times of condominiums at the Time Warner Center in Manhattan whose ownership is hidden behind shell companies, according to the people with knowledge of the case.

In one article, The Times documented more than $150 million in luxury residential properties connected either to Mr. Najib’s stepson, Riza Aziz, or to the family friend, a businessman named Jho Low. Mr. Low, The Times found, has also been involved in business deals with Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund, which is a government investment fund.

That fund, called 1MDB, has run into serious financial problems in part because of aggressive borrowing. Investigators in several countries are examining allegations that money from the fund is missing. This month, Swiss authorities said they had frozen several individuals’ bank accounts, and inquiries are underway in Hong Kong and Singapore as well as in Malaysia.

Riza Aziz

Mr. Najib’s office did not comment on the Justice Department inquiry. A representative for Mr. Aziz said he was not involved in any investigation, adding that “there has never been anything inappropriate” about his business activities. A spokesman for Mr. Low said that he had not been notified that he was the subject of any investigations, and that his business “adheres to all relevant regulatory requirements.” A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment.

The details of the corruption allegations involving Mr. Najib and people connected to him are complex and multifaceted. Authorities in each country are focusing on the aspects that fall in their jurisdictions.

In the United States, officials are examining the real estate tied to Mr. Najib’s stepson and to Mr. Low, which could be seized if a case could be made that the properties had been purchased with the proceeds earned in corrupt practices, according to the people familiar with the investigation. The $681 million payment being investigated falls under United States jurisdiction because it was routed through Wells Fargo, an American bank.

The inquiry is being run by the Justice Department’s Kleptocracy Initiative, which has seized properties in the United States owned by relatives of politicians from Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, South Korea and Taiwan.

Questions about where Mr. Low and the prime minister’s stepson — a movie producer behind films including “The Wolf of Wall Street” — obtained money for the United States properties have helped fuel political unrest in Malaysia, where several political leaders in the opposition and in Mr. Najib’s own party have called for the prime minister to step down. In the last month, there have been mass street protests, and a global network of nongovernmental organizations, the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, has joined the call for Mr. Najib’s resignation.

Mr. Najib has held fast, denying the corruption allegations and saying the $681 million payment, reported in July by The Wall Street Journal, was not improper. His office told The Times this year that he was not involved in the American properties connected to his stepson and to Mr. Low.

He has also struck back at his questioners and accusers. Over the summer, he dismissed several members of his administration, including the Attorney-General leading one inquiry, and he has barred several opponents from leaving Malaysia, including a member of his own party who was on his way to New York last week. That politician’s lawyer told The Times that he had planned to meet with the F.B.I.

In July, Mr. Najib also shut down a newspaper, The Edge, because of its reports of payments between 1MDB and Mr. Low. On Monday, though, a court in Malaysia reversed the action, ruling that the paper could resume publication as soon as Tuesday. In a separate decision on Monday, a judge ruled that a lawsuit calling for Mr. Najib to return the money that had been transferred into his personal account, and for seizure of his assets around the world, could move forward.

Najib and ObamaStill buddies?

All of that muddies Mr. Najib’s international standing as he prepares to fly to London this week for a trade convention and then on to New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. Since taking office in 2009, Mr. Najib has drawn his country closer to the United States and has used his annual United Nations trips to promote Malaysia as a moderate Muslim partner in the fight against terrorism and as a strategic “Najib really, really values his international image, and he was going out of his way to curry favor with America and with the Europeans,” said John Malott, a United States ambassador to Malaysia in the 1990s. In the current climate, he added, “he can travel, but is he going to be shunned? Are people going to shake hands with him?”

The $150 million in American properties tied to the prime minister’s stepson and to Mr. Low include a penthouse at the Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle in Manhattan purchased for $30.55 million by a shell company connected to Mr. Low’s family trust. Companies tied to Mr. Low’s family have also purchased a $39 million mansion on Oriole Drive in the Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, the L’Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills and part of the Park Lane Hotel in New York. Through shell companies, Mr. Aziz purchased a $33.5 million condominium at the Park Laurel on 63rd Street in Manhattan, a home in Beverly Hills known as the pyramid house for a gold pyramid in its garden, as well as other properties in the Los Angeles area.

The Park Laurel condo and the Beverly Hills home were owned by shell companies connected to Mr. Low’s family before being transferred to shell companies tied to Mr. Aziz. Shell companies — trusts, limited liability companies and other entities — are commonly used in real estate for privacy, wealth transfer or shared ownership. They also make it difficult, however, for law enforcement authorities and others to discover the true owners of property.

In the case of the Beverly Hills home, the property was transferred without any public filings, with Mr. Low’s family trust selling ownership of the shell company to a corporate entity controlled by Mr. Aziz, The Times found.

Mr. Low’s spokesman said this year that the transfers to Mr. Aziz were done at fair market value and at arm’s length. New York City also appears to be home to at least one other person involved with Malaysia’s 1MDB sovereign wealth fund.

A condo at 23 East 22nd Street was purchased for $4.5 million in 2014 by a shell company called Cricklewood One Madison L.L.C. that listed Ai Swan Loo as its authorized signer, public records show. This summer, Malaysia’s Central Bank announced that a person named Jasmine Ai Swan Loo, a former executive involved with the 1MDB fund, was wanted for assistance in its investigation.

In New York, a lawyer for the Cricklewood declined to comment. Ms. Loo did not respond to a note The Times left for her at the condo building, but the concierge confirmed that a Jasmine Ai Swan Loo lived there.

A version of this article appears in print on September 22, 2015, on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: U.S. Investigating Malaysian Leader Over Property Deals .