Towards a New National Ethos NOW

February 6, 2016

Towards a New National Ethos NOW

by R B Bhattacharjee

The current generation of Malaysians have an extraordinary opportunity to chart new pathways for the country in light of the ground shift that is taking place in its political, social and economic spheres.

Currently, the multiple crises that are playing out on the national stage present a rather disturbing picture of the state of the nation – reflecting a breakdown in accountability, misallocation of resources, radicalisation of cultural norms and a growing ethical deficit. In total, the trend is distinctly downhill.

Nevertheless, while the near term will tend to be chaotic, it is important that we do not succumb to negativity but focus our energies on nurturing a vision for Malaysia that will put the country on a path towards excellence.

To achieve this, we will need to find inspiration to transcend the petty squabbles, narrow viewpoints and selfish instincts of self-serving pressure groups in our midst that have kept our nation in a constant state of anxiety.

It is clear that these divisive voices occupy a public space that is disproportionately large because opinion leaders with a more wholesome vision have not given life to a holistic worldview that all Malaysians can espouse as their own.

This then is our challenge today: can we supplant the narrative of the extremists with an ideal of a plural, tolerant and progressive society? Failure will mean condemning future generations to a dismal fate under the tyrannical control of self-appointed guardians of society.

So, it is not only vital to invest in the socialisation of a common, yet diverse value system, this generation has a solemn responsibility to succeed in that endeavour.

As societal transformation often occurs on an inter-generational time frame, a key challenge will be to plant the seeds of this new thinking in institutions that involve the young – particularly the educational system, sports organisations and youth movements.

A vital measure in this context is to reform the school environment to promote the concept of egalitarianism as a basis for a just society. This will require a mindset change at a fundamental level to create a new sense of national consciousness.

There must also be a readiness to reinterpret the intent of constitutional provisions on issues like the special rights of the Malays, among other things, to align prevalent views on the nation’s charter with universal concepts of human aspirations.

The terrain is fraught with perils including racial and religious sensitivities that can derail attempts to explore alternative pathways that are more conducive to Malaysia’s progress as a contemporary society in the era of borderless exchange and globalisation.

Yet, we must find the courage to venture into forbidding areas of our composite nationhood in order to lay to rest musty ideas about inter-ethnic relations and mutual suspicions about acculturation, hidden agendas and an assortment of other hobgoblins.

Difficult as it may seem to discard old ways of thinking about ethnicity and cultural differences, it is worth noting that many Malaysians already incorporate colour-blind practices in significant aspects of their lives.

Children who are enrolled into international schools, for example, experience diversity and multiculturalism as integral elements of their learning environment.

Similarly, employees in multinational firms imbue policies promoting equal opportunity and cultural sensitivity as part and parcel of the organisational ethos.

People working in fields like the health services, engineering, research and management benchmark their performance to international standards and protocols that are insulated from ethnic markers of any kind.

These examples show that a significant segment of Malaysians are already operating in a universal framework of values, and that the time is really overdue for a bigger swathe of the population to be co-opted into this broader paradigm.

What remains is to overcome the inertia of our current trajectory and steer the country away from its disastrous current pathway towards a national vision that is open to the best virtues of an interdependent new world.

Nothing would be more tragic for the nation than to remain shackled by its self-inflicted deficiencies instead of leveraging on its natural advantages to build a dynamic, open and forward-looking society.

To realise that potential, we must be ready to undo past mistakes and adopt a fresh ethos that all Malaysians would want to buy into.

To find our bearings again, we only need to reaffirm the best aspects of our diversity that promote our common well-being and discard those habits that divide and separate us. It really ought to be a simple choice.

Malaysia: The Extent to which Fawning Officials Go to Please The Boss

February 5, 2018

Malaysia: The Extent to which Fawning Officials Go to Please The Boss

by Anisah Shukry

An outpouring of solidarity for dissident artist Fahmi Reza in the form of posters shared online, after a warning from Malaysian police over his caricatures of the prime minister. – Fahmi Reza Twitter pic, February 5, 2016.

Images of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak dolled up in chalk-white makeup, with a bright red gash for a smile and neon green (or occasionally lush orange) hair, greet visitors to the Facebook community page called Grupa.

It is an acronym for “Grafik Rebel Untuk Protes & Aktivisme”, or “Rebel Graphics for Protests and Activism”, which brought together several graphic designers and digital artists to design posters for last year’s Bersih protest in Kuala Lumpur.

Now, they have set their sights on a new project: flooding the social media with pictures of a clown-faced Najib – sometimes grinning, sometimes sad, and sometimes with a rose dangling from between his lips – along with the hashtag #KitaSemuaPenghasut (we are all seditious).

In Malaysia, where an award-winning cartoonist was censured for drawing satirical comics on the Prime Minister and his wife, Grupa’s antics are more than just a colourful dig at Najib.

They told The Malaysian Insider they were risking arrest to stand up for fellow graphic artist Fahmi Reza, who posted the first clown caricature of Najib on his own Twitter on January 31, and promptly attracted police attention.

In Fahmi’s debut clown poster of Najib, he drew a fang-like smile on the Prime Minister’s face and sinister-looking eyebrows, with the caption: “In 2015, the Sedition Act was used 91 times. Tapi dalam negara yang penuh dengan korupsi, kita semua penghasut (but in a country that is full of corruption, we are all seditious).”

It was in response to the Attorney-General’s decision to close investigations into the RM2.6 billion found in Najib’s personal bank accounts.

Not impressed, the newly-set up Twitter account for the Police’s Cyber Investigation Response Centre (@OfficialPcirc) warned him that he was being watched.

“My first reaction was shock,” Fahmi told The Malaysian Insider as he recalled receiving the tweet.

“I didn’t know the existence of that police cyber unit, PCIRC, until they tweeted me that warning.”

But that feeling quickly turned to outrage when he read its tweet, especially the words “Gunakan dgn berhemah&berlandaskan undang2” (use properly and in accordance with the law).

Big Brother is watching

Defiant, Fahmi immediately wrote a post on Facebook in Malay, which translates to, “In a country that uses laws to protect the corrupt and oppress those brave enough to speak out, it is time we abandon all niceties when fighting the corrupt rulers”.

He also posted another satirical artwork on Twitter, using the police’s words against them in the caption, along with the hashtag #BigBrotherIsWatchingYou, an ode to George Orwell’s 1984.

The activist, who recalled his arrest 12 years ago for drawing a poster on police brutality, didn’t expect the Internet’s graphic artist community to rise up with him in solidarity this time around.

The #KitaSemuaPenghasut movement was a “new wave graphic rebellion against the Old Order”, he said, and the response has been overwhelming.

“It was beyond my expectations. It proved to me that I was not alone. There were others who share my outrage.In the past, graphic designers have largely kept themselves out of the limelight when it came to politics and activism. Grupa is a breath of fresh air,” said Fahmi.

On Grupa’s Facebook, fresh caricatures of Najib are posted every hour, and social media users are lapping it up.”Make a shirt of it, I’d buy it,” urged Facebook user Apisz Fumi in the comments section.

“That is one frightening image,” observed Richard Lee, to a digitally edited picture of Najib baring rotten, bleeding teeth and a cheerfully bright red clown nose.

Grupa said the movement came about when they decided to produce clown-faced posters of Najib to show solidarity with a fellow graphic artist and disgust at the ruling class for “constantly abusing the law”.

“We started releasing several posters on our Facebook page and before we knew it, we even had the public submitting their own versions of Clown Najib to us. To date, we have released 46 posters depicting Najib as a clown,” the group said, adding that they received dozens of paintings from “the citizenry” a day through email.

But the group, as well as Fahmi, risk running afoul of the law, more specifically Section 233 of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998.

A conviction could land the artists a fine of up to RM50,000, a year’s jail, or both.And as if to drive this point home, @OfficialPcirc’s only tweet since issuing the warning to Fahmi comprised an image breaking down that same law.

But the prospect of having the police cyber unit clamp down on them doesn’t seem to perturb Grupa, even though they risk courting more trouble than Fahmi, given the flood of caricatures on their page.

They said they were frightened of just one thing: being trampled over should they not voice out.

“So far, no authorities have contacted us, but that may change. We are looking forward to it,” they added.

Global attention

The BBC report on Fahmi Reza and the solidarity shown to him by fellow graphic artists. – BBC pic, February 5, 2016.

For the time being, the group plans to continue sharing clown images of the Prime Minister as long as it believes citizens are being repressed and denied their right to free speech and freedom of expression.

Besides receiving Facebook likes and shares, they gained international publicity with a BBC report on them titled “PM left red nosed by censorship protest”.

Grupa said they were left “humbled and surprised” by the attention.

“We didn’t expect it to go big…Actually we did lah, I mean, you mess with freedom of expression this is what you get lah, blowback,” they quipped.

Despite this, the group is strict about maintaining anonymity. “We are an anonymous collective group of graphic designers and digital artists who work as a team devoid of a formal hierarchy. There is no one in charge as we feel that our artwork should do the talking for us.You can say that our posters are in charge.”

Fahmi said he was ecstatic by the Malaysian graphic design community’s strong spirit of resistance.”It shows that they can ban a poster, but they can’t ban the idea behind the poster. Because ideas are bulletproof.”

And he is confident Malaysia’s #KitaSemuaPenghasut movement will herald a change in society.

“The outpouring of solidarity posters from graphic artists with their own versions of a clown-faced Najib despite the police warning against it was a clear act of defiance and represents a shift in the way ordinary people react to police intimidation.

“When people are emboldened to defy and stand up against injustice, it chips away at the power structure that keeps people docile.”

Clearly emboldened by the movement, Fahmi shared the BBC report on his Twitter yesterday, with the caption, “#KitaSemuaPenghasut has spread. The rebellion has begun.”

He told The Malaysian Insider: “That BBC took interest in the story shows how preposterous it is to consider a satirical graphic featuring the Prime Minister to be a threat.”

Kassim Ahmad: MAN–What is MAN?

February 6, 2016

Kassim Ahmad: MAN–What is MAN?

What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! In form and moving, how exspress and admirable! In action, how like an angel! In apprehension, how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me – no, nor woman neither.                                                                                                    HAMLET,  Shakespeare.

Recently I promised my readers to write on Man. In the Bible, God said that He created man in His own image. In the Quran, man is His vicegerent on Earth (Arabic: khalifah). The meaning is essentially the same: ruler. Man is the ruler and the re-maker of the Universe. That has, of course been done. Man has created cities and civilizations, from ancient Babylon and Egypt, through ancient Greece, and Rome, through modern Arabian monotheism, and lastly through modern Europe and its extension in the United States of America.

In a beautiful allegory in the second chapter of the Quran, the angels protested against the creation of Man, saying that Man is a shedder of blood and spreader of corruption in the world. God simply said that He knew better. (See Quran, 2: 30)

The angels were partially right. Man did shed blood in the two World Wars. (God forbid that there will be a third!). After the Second World War, there was a period called “Cold War” when a strategic balance was struck between the American-led so-called Democratic block and the Soviet-led Eastern block. In the meanwhile, Man’s knowledge advance, slowly at first, then by leaps and bounce, and we are now at the threshold of colonizing outer space. In two generations we shall indeed be living in outer space!

So it does seem that God’s optimism about Man has been amply demonstrated. If I am not mistaken, more miracles are coming. Anti-aging, for one. We shall soon be forever young!

Public intellectual Kassim Ahmad or  Village Preacher Hadi Awang: Pak Kassim is my Choice by a Mile–Din Merican

There is no doubt that man cannot escape reaping the harvest of what he had sowed. He will be punished to the extent of his criminality, i.e. disobedience to his own Maker.  Unless my reading of the Quran is at fault, this means man will punish his own wrong-doing. What incredible beauty!

 In the end, man will have punished himself enough, and he will be freed from his own Hell, and enter Paradise. Such is God’s incredible power and wisdom. No wonder we are asked always to remember God’s graciousness and mercy.–

Myanmar– The NLD’s Iron-fisted Gerontocracy

February 4, 2016

Myanmar– The NLD’s Iron-fisted Gerontocracy


This column was published in The Myanmar Times on Monday, 1 February 2016

Photo: AFP / Ye Aung THU 

All the speculation about who will hold the nation’s top jobs should come to an end this month. With newly elected legislators taking their Nay Pyi Taw seats, the specifics of further compromises between the National League for Democracy and the military will become clearer.

Before long, the speakers will pick up their gavels for the first time, the president and vice presidents will take up their palatial residences, and a clutch of new ministers will try to get to grips with their responsibilities. Nay Pyi Taw will hum with the fresh energy of a government with much to do.

It will be easy to get caught up in the surge of enthusiasm; the story of the NLD’s success is one for the ages. But the busy months since the November 2015 election have already revealed a lot that will temper expectations.

For a start, there is the degree of difficulty. Since its election triumph, the NLD has been quietly getting ready for power. There is no point in sugar-coating the task. They are finding it tough.

Unravelling decades of military rule was always going to prove a frustrating and inconsistent process. Nobody could pretend that there was a simple or fast way of re-engineering the political machinery to reflect the people’s will.

Last year, I wrote that the party of democratic struggle “needs to lift the standard” if it hopes to create a long-term platform for Myanmar’s success. For now, plenty of people are prepared to make excuses on its behalf.

Mistakes are inevitable. Old habits of blaming the military for every problem will be hard to break. Where possible, the NLD should try to learn from its missteps.

Yet one of the major issues confronting the NLD will be harder to explain away.The irony is that even at the best of times the NLD is far from a model of transparency or democratic management. The authoritarian instinct starts at the top, with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s iron grip on decision-making.

For the past quarter-century, she struggled, peacefully and with immense resolve, against the army’s dominance. There is no question about her courage, commitment or charisma.

The last five years have also required some adjustments in her personal approach, especially in Naypyitaw where she has got up close with senior military figures.

What has not changed is her requirement for intense personal loyalty and her need to remain the final authority. The NLD is her vehicle and, as its revolutionary leader, she makes no apologies for taking charge.

Whether or not this is good for Myanmar’s long-term development is not on the agenda for discussion. In any case, there is no short-term alternative. The hard electoral reality is that by cultivating such an intense following and an unrivalled personal aura, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has given the people something to believe in.

Under orders from the top, the NLD has been reluctant to share details about its plans, even with the voters who elected the party. Control of the appointment strategy has been severe, even paranoid. This cone of silence isn’t exactly a departure from old-style dictatorial practice.

Then when aspects of reputed NLD plans have dribbled into the press, the party has sought to crack down on speculation, seemingly unable to comprehend the extra interest that its secrecy creates.

A further problem is that almost nobody in the top party echelon has direct experience governing. The Central Executive Committee, stacked with veterans of the struggle for democracy, has a well-earned reputation for gerontocracy.

One of the only senior NLD figures with a track record of running a major component of government activity is U Tin Oo. A long-time fixture at the party’s high table, he was the socialist regime’s minister of defence and commander-in-chief until purged from those positions in March 1976, almost 40 years ago.

The old general, decorated for gallantry in battles against the Kuomintang, is still talked about as a potential presidential proxy if Daw Aung San Suu Kyi remains excluded from that high office. It would be a remarkable final chapter in U Tin Oo’s incredible career, but also a further indication of what ails the NLD.

For its future viability, the party will benefit from a historic injection of youthful vigour among its decision-making group. Party stalwarts have resisted this revitalisation, while deference to elders makes it hard for the young guns to have their voices heard.

Among the newly elected rank-and-file – who have already been told that they are expected to make up the numbers – the party’s strict discipline will be hard to maintain. Under these conditions, new problems will emerge.

What this analysis implies is that in its elitist culture, the NLD keeps to familiar patterns of hierarchy and subservience. With time, this might change. For now, it would be good to see strong signals that the party’s mandate will mean more democracy in Nay Pyi Taw.

Nicholas Farrelly is Director of the Myanmar Research Centre at Australian National University and the co-founder of New Mandala


Mukhriz Mahathir Quits as Menteri Besar, Kedah

February 3, 2016

Mukhriz Mahathir Quits as Menteri Besar, Kedah

by Joceline Tan

Kedah Menteri Besar Dato’ Seri Mukhriz Mahathir is believed to have agreed to resign after a dramatic fortnight full of political twists and turns.

The pressure on Mukhriz reached a new level yesterday when he was asked for the third time in a week to sign the resignation letter. Highly-placed sources indicated that Mukhriz was presented with the prepared resignation letter a little after 6pm.

The third attempt to have him sign the letter came after the three members of the Regency Council huddled in a closed-door discussion among themselves in the Regency Council office located at Wisma Darul Aman. After that, the state secretary and the state legal adviser met with Mukhriz regarding the resignation letter.

The Menteri Besar is believed to have agreed to go although it could not be established at press time whether he has actually signed the letter.

However, the Regency Council is still adamant against accepting Dato Seri Ahmad Bashah Md Hanipah as the replacement. Ahmad Bashah is the deputy state UMNO chairman, a senator and ­deputy minister.

The royal council is said to prefer Guar Chempedak assemblyman Dato’ Dr Ku Rahman Ku Ismail who has a PhD from a British university.

It is understood that the Prime Minister has been in touch with HRH Tunku Temenggong Tunku Sallehud­din ibni Almarhum Sultan Badlishah (pic below), the Head of the Regency Council, to iron out the details. The Regency Council has had a dramatic few days that included meeting all the Kedah assemblymen in Alor Setar as the media camped outside waiting for news on the latest development on the crisis.

The Royal Body had earlier taken the unusual step of calling for individual meetings with all 15 opposition assemblymen in the afternoon to assess their opinion on whether they were with or against the Menteri Besar.

The session did not produce any surprises and ended after only an hour with all of them believed to have expressed a common preference for a special state legislative assembly sitting to determine Mukhriz’s position.

There are eight assemblymen from PAS, four from PKR, two from DAP and one from Amanah. Opposition leader Dato’ Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail had earlier set the tone when she stated that the Opposition preferred an assembly sitting to put the matter to a vote.

The Regency Council, which represents HRH Sultan Abdul Halim Mu’adzam Shah who is also the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong, comprises the Agong’s two brothers and his daughter.

Throughout the whole of yesterday, the Kedah Barisan Nasional leaders and politicians were holed up at the Alora Hotel, with some of them expecting the worst.

But shortly before the maghrib prayer, their mood lightened when word came that there had been a breakthrough and Mukhriz had agreed to resign.

An announcement on the likely end of the crisis is expected to be announced this morning.The session with the Opposition members came a day after the royal body met individually with 19 of the 21 Barisan assemblymen.

The 19 assemblymen had signed statutory declarations last week stating that they would go along with the leadership’s decision to replace the Menteri Besar.

However, Mukhriz had argued that some of those who signed did it under duress, prompting the Regency Council to take matters into its own hands.

During the Royal Body’s meeting with the Barisan side, two assemblymen were believed to have expressed support for Mukhriz. They are Dato’ Suraya Yaakob (Sungai Tiang) and Dato’ Norsabrina Mohd Noor (Bandar Baharu), who are also state exco members.

However, sources said Norsa­brina had changed her mind and elected to toe the party line. Mukhriz also has the undivided support of another state exco member Dato’ Aminuddin Omar.

The crisis erupted after the leaders of 14 UMNO divisions in the state held a press conference on January 20 to declare that they had lost confidence in Mukhriz’s leadership.


February 3, 2016


By: Kassim Ahmad

I am a patriot, a plain Kassim Ahmad, who a long time ago politely refused an UMNO offer for a datoship.Being from a poor oppressed classed, I began early as a rebel (with causes, of course!) and soon became the leader of the Malayan People’s Socialist Party (1968-1984). In 1984, seeing the collapse of international socialism in the world I left the party and made a strong patriotic statement by joining UMNO in 1986. My aim of reform could not take off. I am still an UMNO member, albeit very critical of UMNO.

On the same day when my UMNO memberhip application was approved, my widely discussed book Hadis – Satu Penilaian Semula was released. After two months of extensive discussions, including an ABIM-organized public dialogue, it was banned by the religious establishment in the country.

Several state muftis penned books to rebut my book, repeating their old and tired arguments, which I have already refuted in the first place. However, I wrote another book entitled, Hadis – Jawapan kepada Pengkritik (1992), briefly dismissing the muftis’ several books, but at the same time giving more details about the Quran.

This started the movement for the review of Hadith as well as for going back to the Quran, not only in Malaysia, but internationally. Hadis – Satu Penilaian Semula has since been translated into English and Arabic. I am glad to say that today the Turkish Government is undertaking a major project of Hadith re-evaluation.

I admit that I was a rebel, and still is. At the core of Malaysia’s problems is  corrupt UMNO, the backbone of its ruling BN Government. In 1946 when UMNO was first formed it was a poor idealistic Malay party embraced en mass by the Malays in their enthusiasm and quest for Merdeka.

To cut the story short, via the bloody May 13, via great Razak’s Mageran (the Council for the  Regeneration of the Country) and his extraordinary vision, Malaysia is what it is today, one of the most progressive countries among the developing world.

At the same time, as it is wont in human affairs, deterioration sets in, as complacancy grows among the ruling elite. UMNO became corrupt, and has perhaps reached the point of no return today. In this atmosphere of gloom when financial scandles abound, pessimism is in the air. Oh Lord! Do we need a second Mageran, ask the thinking part of Malaysia?

The people ask, “What are we to do? Can anything be done? Such voices rise from the depth of the soul of the people, voiced by their intellectuals, the likes of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Dr. M Bakri Musa, HRH Sultan of Johor, HRH Sultan of Perak Dr. Nazrin Shah and HRH the Crown Prince of Johor Tunku Ismail.

Yes, indeed. What is to be done? Can corrupt UMNO be reformed? Can weak Pakatan Rakyat take over? Where is our Saviour? Where is our Imam Mahdi? When is the Second-Coming (of Jesus Christ)?

Unfortunately, all these wailings are of no avail. Man has been created as God’s vicegerent on earth, to rule the earth and change it to His liking. Oh Man! Rise up to your calling! “I created you free,” God said. So wait no more! Act!

Enumerate the things you must do in order of importance. First, you must reform UMNO. Once the difficult task of reforming of UMNO is over, all other problems will be resolved: wastage in manpower in Government, increasing productivity by optimum use of assets, trimming the Government, the need for good governance, increasing salaries of lower-rung Government servants, overcoming periodic floods in some states, eliminating traffic jams by decreasing private cars and increasing and improving public transport, and doing away with tolls, and such like actions to make life more comfortable for all Malaysians.

KASSIM AHMAD is a Malaysian author. His website is