Education as a Political Institution

November 29, 2015

Education as a Political Institution

by Bertrand Russell

June 1916 Issue

The Atlantic

“Education should not aim at a dead awareness of static facts, but at an activity directed toward the world that our efforts are to create.”

No political theory is adequate unless it is applicable to children as well as to men and women. Theorists are mostly childless, or, if they have children, they are carefully screened from the disturbances which would be caused by youthful turmoil. Some of them have written books on education, but without, as a rule, having any actual children present to their minds while they wrote. Those educational theorists who have had a knowledge of children, such as the inventors of kindergarten and the Montessori system, have not always had enough realization of the ultimate goal of education to be able to deal successfully with advanced instruction. I have not the knowledge either of children or of education which would enable me to supply whatever defects there may be in the writings of others. But some questions concerning education as a political institution are involved in any hope of social reconstruction, and are not usually considered by writers on educational theory. These questions only I wish to discuss.

The two principles of justice and liberty, which cover a very great deal of the social reconstructionBertie required, will not give much guidance as regards education. Tolstoy tried to conduct a village school without infringing liberty; but when anybody except Tolstoy was teaching, the children all talked to each other, and when he himself was teaching, he secured order only by untheoretically boxing their ears in a fit of temper. It is clear that a literal adherence to the principle of liberty is quite impossible if the children are to be taught anything, except in the case of unusually intelligent children who are kept isolated from more normal companions. This is one reason for the great responsibility which rests upon teachers: the children must, unavoidably, be more or less at the mercy of their elders, and cannot make themselves the guardians of their own interests. Authority in education is to some extent unavoidable, and those who educate have to find a way of exercising authority in accordance with the spirit of liberty.

Where authority is unavoidable, what is needed is reverence. A man who is to educate really well, who is to bring out of the young all that it is possible to bring out, who is to make them grow and develop into their full stature, must be filled through and through with the spirit of reverence. It is reverence that is lacking in those who advocate ma­chine-made, cast-iron systems: militarism, capitalism, Fabian scientific organization, and all the other prisons into which reformers and reactionaries try to force the human spirit. In education, with its codes of rules emanating from a government office, with its large classes and fixed curriculum and overworked teachers, with its determination to produce a dead level of glib mediocrity, the lack of reverence for the child is all but universal. Reverence requires imagination and vital warmth; it requires most imagination in respect of those who have least actual achievement or power. The child is weak and superficially foolish; the teacher is strong, and in an everyday sense wiser than the child. The teacher without reverence, or the bureaucrat without reverence, easily despises the child for these outward inferiorities. He thinks it his duty to ‘mould’ the child; in imagination he is the potter with the clay. And so he gives to the child some unnatural shape which hardens with age, producing strains and spiritual dissatisfactions, out of which grow cruelty and envy and the belief that others must be compelled to undergo the same distortions.

The man who has reverence will not think it his duty to ‘mould’ the young. He feels in all that lives, but especially in human beings, and most of all in children, something sacred, indefinable, unlimited, something individual and strangely precious, the growing principle of life, an embodied fragment of the dumb striving of the world. He feels an unaccountable humility in the presence of a child—a humility not easily defensible on any rational ground, and yet somehow nearer to wisdom than the easy self-confidence of many parents and teachers. He feels the outward helplessness of the child, the appeal of dependence, the responsibility of a trust. His imagination shows him what the child may become, for good or evil; how its impulses may be developed or thwarted, how its hopes must be dimmed and the life in it grow less living, how its trust will be bruised and its quick desires replaced by brooding will. All this gives him a longing to help the child in its own battle, to strengthen it and equip it, not for some outside end proposed by the state or by any other impersonal authority, but for the ends which the child’s own spirit is obscurely seeking. The man who feels this can wield the authority of an educator without infringing the principle of liberty.

It is not in a spirit of reverence that education is conducted by states and churches and the great institutions that are subservient to them. What is considered in education is hardly ever the boy or girl, the young man or young woman, but almost always, in some form, the maintenance of the existing order. When the individual is considered, it is with a view to worldly success- making money, or achieving a good position. To be ordinary, and to acquire the art of getting on, is the idea which is set before the youthful mind, except by a few rare teachers who have enough energy of belief to break through the system within which they are expected to work. Almost all education has a political motive: it aims at strengthening some group, national or religious or even social, in the competition with other groups. It is this motive, in the main, which determines the subjects taught, the knowledge which is offered, and the knowledge which is withheld. It is this motive also which determines the mental habits that the pupils are expected to acquire. Hardly anything is done to foster the inward growth of mind and spirit; in fact, those who have had most education are very often atrophied in their mental and spiritual life, devoid of impulse, and possessing only certain mechanical aptitudes which take the place of living thought.


Some of the things which education achieves at present must continue to be achieved by education in any civilized country. All children must continue to be taught how to read and write, and some must continue to acquire the knowledge needed for such professions as medicine and law and engineering. Except in such matters as history and religion, the actual instruction is only inadequate, not positively harmful. The instruction might be given in a more liberal spirit, with more attempt to show its ultimate uses; and of course much of it is traditional or dead. But in the main it is necessary, and would have to form a part of any educational system.

It is in history and religion and other controversial subjects that the actual instruction is positively harmful. These subjects touch the interests by which schools are maintained; and the interests maintain the schools in order that certain views on these subjects may be taught. History, in every country, is so taught as to magnify that country: children learn to believe that their own country has been always in the right and almost always victorious, that it has produced almost all the great men, and that it is in all respects superior to all other countries. Since these beliefs are flattering, they are easily absorbed, and hardly ever dislodged from instinct by later knowledge.

To take a simple and almost trivial example: the facts about the battle of Waterloo are known in great detail and with minute accuracy; but the facts as taught in elementary schools will be widely different in England, France and Germany. The ordinary English boy imagines that the Prussians played hardly any part; the ordinary German boy imagines that Wellington was practically defeated when the day was retrieved byBlucher’s gallantry. If the facts were taught accurately in both countries, national pride would not be fostered to the same extent, neither nation would feel so certain of victory in the event of war, and the willingness to fight would be diminished. It is this result which has to be prevented. Every state wishes to foster national pride, and is conscious that this cannot be done by unbiased history. The defenseless children are taught by distortions and suppressions and suggestions. The false ideas as to the history of the world which are taught in the various countries are of a kind which fosters strife and serves to keep alive a bigoted nationalism. If good relations between states were desired, one of the first steps ought to be to submit all teaching of history to an international commission, which should produce neutral textbooks free from the patriotic bias which is now demanded everywhere.

Exactly the same thing applies to religion. Elementary schools are practically always in the hands, either of some religious body, or of a state which has a definite attitude toward religion. A religious body exists through the fact that its members all have certain definite beliefs on subjects as to which the truth is not ascertainable. Schools conducted by religious bodies have to prevent the young, who are often inquiring by nature, from discovering that these definite beliefs are opposed by other equally definite beliefs which are no more unreasonable, and that many of the men best qualified to judge think that there is no good evidence in favor of any definite belief. When the state is militantly secular, as in France, state schools become as dogmatic as those that are in the hands of the churches; I understand that the word ‘God’ must not be mentioned in a French elementary school. When the state is neutral, as in America, all religious discussion has to be excluded, and the Bible must be read without comment, lest the comment should favor one sect rather than another. The result in all these cases is the same: free inquiry is checked, and on the most important matter in the world the child is met with dogma or with stony silence.

It is not only in elementary education that these evils exist. In more advanced education they take subtler forms, and there is more attempt to conceal them, but they are still present. Eton and Oxford set a certain stamp upon a man’s mind, just as a Jesuit college does. It can hardly be said that Eton and Oxford have a conscious purpose, but they have a purpose which is none the less strong and effective for not being formulated. In almost all who have been through them, they produce a worship of ‘good form,’ which is as destructive to life and thought as the mediaeval Church. ‘Good form’ is quite compatible with superficial openmindedness, with readiness to hear all sides, with a certain urbanity toward opponents. But it is not compatible with fundamental openmindedness, or with any inward readiness to give weight to the other side. Its essence is the assumption that what is most important is a certain kind of behavior: a behavior which minimizes friction between equals, and delicately impresses inferiors with a conviction of their own crudity. As a political weapon for preserving the privileges of the rich in a snobbish democracy, it is unsurpassa­ble. As a means of producing an agreeable social milieu for those who have money with no strong beliefs or unusual desires, it has some merit. In every other respect, it is abominable.

The evils of ‘good form’ arise from two sources: its perfect assurance of its own rightness, and its belief that correct manners are more to be desired than intellect or artistic creation or vital energy, or any of the other sources of progress in the world. Perfect assurance, by itself, is enough to destroy all mental progress in those who have it. And when it is combined with contempt for the angularities and awkwardnesses that are almost invariably combined with great mental power, it becomes a source of destruction to all who come in contact with it. ‘Good form’ is itself dead, static, incapable of growth; and by its attitude to those who are without it, it spreads its own death to many who might otherwise have life. The harm which it has done to well-to-do Englishmen, and to men whose abilities have led the well-to-do to notice them, is incalculable.

The prevention of free inquiry is unavoidable so long as the purpose of education is to produce belief rather than thought, to compel the young to hold positive opinions on doubtful matters rather than to let them see the doubtfulness and be encouraged to independence of mind. Education ought to foster the wish for truth, not the conviction that some particular creed is the truth. But it is creeds that hold men together in fighting organizations: churches, states, political parties. It is intensity of belief in a creed that produces efficiency in fighting: victory comes to those who feel the strongest certainty about matters on which doubt is the only rational attitude. To produce this intensity of belief and this efficiency in fighting, the child’s nature is warped, its free outlook is cramped, inhibitions are cultivated in order to check the growth of new ideas. In those whose minds are not very active, the result is the omnipotence of prejudice; while those whose thought cannot be wholly killed become cynical, intellectually hopeless, destructively critical, able to make all that is living seem foolish, unable to supply themselves the creative impulses which they destroy in others.


Certain mental habits are commonly instilled by those who are engaged in educating: obedience and discipline, ruthlessness in the struggle for worldly success, contempt toward opposing groups, and an unquestioning credulity, a passive acceptance of the teacher’s wisdom. All these habits are against life. Instead of obedience and discipline, we ought to aim at preserving independence and impulse. Instead of ruthlessness, education ought to aim at producing justice in thought. Instead of contempt, it ought to instill reverence, the attempt at understanding– not necessarily acquiescence, but only such opposition as is combined with imaginative apprehension and a clear comprehension of the grounds for opposition. Instead of credulity, the object should be to stimulate constructive doubt, the love of mental adventure, the sense of worlds to conquer by enterprise and boldness in thought. Contentment with the status quo, subordination of the individual pupil to political aims, indifference to the things of the mind, are the immediate causes of these evils; but beneath these causes there is one more fundamental, the fact that education is treated as a means of acquiring power over the pupil, not as a means of fostering his own growth. It is in this that lack of reverence shows itself; and it is only by more reverence that a fundamental reform can be effected.

Obedience and discipline are supposed to be indispensable if order is to be kept in a class, and if any instruction is to be given. To some extent, this is true; but the extent is much less than it is thought to be by those who regard obedience and discipline as in themselves desirable. Obedience, the yielding of one’s will to outside direction, is the counterpart of authority, which consists in directing the will of others. Both may be necessary in certain cases. Refractory children, lunatics, and criminals may require authority, and may need to be forced to obey. But in so far as this is necessary, it is a misfortune: what is to be desired is the free choice of ends with which it is not necessary to interfere. And educational reformers have shown that this is far more possible than our fathers would ever have believed.

What makes obedience seem necessary in schools is the large classes and overworked teachers demanded by a false economy. Those who have no experience of teaching are incapable of imagining the expense of spirit entailed by any really living instruction. They think that teachers can reasonably be expected to work as many hours as bank clerks. The result is intense fatigue, irritable nerves, an absolute necessity of performing the day’s task mechanically. And the task cannot be performed mechanically except by exacting obedience.

If we took education seriously, we thought it as important to keep alive the minds of children as to secure victory in war, we should conduct education quite differently: we should make sure of achieving the end, even if the expense were a hundredfold greater than it is. To many men and women a small amount of teaching is a delight, and can be done with a fresh zest and life which keeps most pupils interested without any need of discipline. The few who do not become interested might be separated from the rest, and given a different kind of instruction. A teacher ought to have only as much teaching as can be done, on most days, with actual pleasure in the work, and with an awareness of the pupil’s mental needs. The result would be a relation of friendliness instead of hostility between teacher and pupil, a realization on the part of most pupils that education serves to develop their own lives and is not merely an outside imposition, interfering with play and demanding many hours of sitting still. All that is necessary to this end is a greater expenditure of money, to secure teachers with more leisure and with a natural love of teaching.

Discipline, as it exists in schools, is very largely an evil. There is a kind of discipline which is necessary to almost all achievement, and which is perhaps not sufficiently valued by those who react against the purely external discipline of traditional methods. The desirable kind of discipline is the kind which comes from within, which consists in the power of pursuing a distant object steadily, foregoing and suffering many things on the way. This involves the subordination of impulse to will, the power of directing action by large creative desires even at moments when they are not vividly alive. Without this, no serious ambition, good or bad, can be realized, no consistent purpose can dominate. This kind of discipline is very necessary. But this kind can result only from strong desires for ends not immediately attainable, and can be produced only by education if education fosters such desires, which it seldom does at present. This kind of discipline springs from within, from one’s own will, not from outside authority. It is not this kind which is sought in schools, and it is not this kind which seems to me an evil.

Ruthlessness in the economic struggle will almost unavoidably be taught in schools while the economic structure of society remains unchanged. This must be particularly the case in the middle-class schools, which depend for their numbers upon the good opinion of parents, and secure that good opinion by advertising the success of their pupils. This is one of many ways in which the competitive organization of the state is harmful. Spontaneous and disinterested desire for ‘knowledge is not at all uncommon in the young, and is easily aroused in many in whom it remains latent. But it is ruthlessly checked by teachers who think only of examinations, diplomas, and degrees. For the abler boys, there is no time for thought, no time for the indulgence of intellectual taste, from the moment of first going to school until the moment of leaving the university. From first to last it is simply one long drudgery of examination tips and textbook facts. The most intelligent, at the end, are disgusted with learning, longing only to forget it and to escape into a life of action. Yet there, as before, the economic machine holds them prisoners, and all their spontaneous desires are bruised and thwarted.

The examination system, and the fact that instruction is treated entirely as training for a livelihood, leads the young to regard knowledge from a purely utilitarian point of view, as the road to money, not as the gateway to wisdom. This would not matter so much if it affected only those who have no genuine intellectual interests. But unfortunately it affects most those whose intellectual interests are strongest, since it is upon them that the pressure of examinations falls with most severity. To them most, but to all in some degree, education appears as a means of acquiring superiority over others; it is infected through and through with ruthlessness and glorification of social inequality. Any free disinterested consideration shows that, whatever inequalities might remain in a Utopia, the actual inequalities are almost all contrary to justice. But our educational system will conceal this from all except the failures, since those who succeed are on the way to profit by the inequalities, with every encouragement from the men who have directed their education.


Passive acceptance of the teacher’s wisdom is easy to most boys and girls. It involves no effort of independent thought, it seems rational because the teacher knows more than his pupils, and it is the way to win the favor of the teacher unless he is a very exceptional man. Yet the habit of passive acceptance is a disastrous one in later life. It causes men to seek a leader, and to accept as a leader whoever is established in that position. It makes the power of churches, governments, party caucuses, and all the other organizations by which plain men are misled into supporting old systems which are harmful to the nation and to themselves. It is possible that there would not be much independence of thought, even if education did everything to encourage it; but there would certainly be more than there is at present. If the object were to make pupils think, rather than to make them accept certain conclusions, education would be conducted quite differently: there would be less rapidity of instruction, more discussion, more occasions when pupils were encouraged to express themselves, more attempt to make education concern itself with matters in which the pupils felt some interest.

Above all, there would be an en­deavor to rouse and stimulate the lo of mental adventure. The world in which we live is various and astonishing: some of the things which seem plainest grow more and more difficult the more they are considered; other things, which might have been thought forever undiscoverable, have been laid bare by the genius and industry of the men of science. The power of thought, the vast regions which it can master, the much more vast regions which it can only dimly suggest to imagination, give to those whose minds have traveled beyond the daily round an amazing richness of material, an escape from the triviality and wearisomeness of familiar routine, by which the whole of life is filled with interest, and the prison walls of the commonplace are broken down. The same love of adventure which takes men to the South Pole, the same passion for a conclusive trial of strength which makes some men welcome war, can find in creative thought an outlet which is not wasteful or cruel, but full of profit for the whole human race, increasing the dignity of man, incarnating in life some of that shining splendor which the human spirit is bringing down out of the unknown. To give this joy, in a greater or less measure, to all who are capable of it, is the supreme end for which the education of the mind is to be valued.

It will be said that the joy of mental adventure must be rare, that there are few who can appreciate it, and that ordinary education can take no account of so aristocratic a good. I do not believe this. The joy of mental adventure is far commoner in the young than in grown men and women. Among children it is very common, and grows naturally out of the period of make-believe and fancy. It is rare in later life because everything is done to kill it during education. Men fear thought as they fear nothing else on earth – more than ruin, more even than death. Thought is subversive and revolutionary, destructive and terrible; thought is merciless to privilege, established institutions, and comfortable habits; thought is anarchic and lawless, indifferent to authority, careless of the well-tried wisdom of the ages. Thought, real thought, looks into the pit of Hell and is not afraid. It sees man, a feeble speck, surrounded by unfathomable depths of silence; yet it bears itself proudly, as unmoved as if it were lord of the universe. Thought is great and swift and free, the light ofthe world, and the chief glory of man.

But if thought is to become the possession of many, not the privilege of the few, we must have done with fear. It is fear that holds men back: fear lest their cherished beliefs should prove delusions, fear lest the institutions by which they live should prove harmful, fear lest they themselves should prove less worthy of respect than they have supposed themselves to be. Should the working man think freely about property? Then what will become of us, the rich? Should young men and young women think freely about sex? Then what will become of morality? Should soldiers think freely about war? Then what will become of military discipline? Away with thought! Back into the shades of prejudice, lest property, morals, and war should be endangered! Better that men should be stupid, slothful, and oppressive than that their thoughts should be free. For if their thoughts were free, they might not think as we do. And at all costs this disaster must be averted. So the opponents of thought argue in the unconscious depths of their souls. And so they act in their churches, their schools, and their universities.

No institution inspired by fear can further life. Hope, not fear, is the creative principle in human affairs. All that has made man great has sprung from the attempt to secure what is good, not from the struggle to avert what was thought evil. It is because modern education is so seldom inspired by a great hope that it so seldom achieves a great result. The wish to preserve the past, rather than the hope of creating the future, dominates the minds of those who control the teaching of the young. Education should not aim at a dead awareness of static facts, but at an activity directed toward the world that our efforts are to create. It should be inspired, not by a regretful hankering after the extinct beauties of Greece and the Renaissance, but by a shining vision of the society that is to be, of the triumph that thought will achieve in the time to come, and of the ever-widening horizon of man’s survey over the universe. Those who are taught in this spirit will be filled with life and hope and joy, able to bear their part in bringing to mankind a future less sombre than the past, with faith in the glory that human effort can create.

ASEAN needs the support of its Leaders and the private sector

November 29, 2015

COMMENT: It is true that ASEAN has come a long way, makingDin Merican@Rosler considerable inroads in its effort to bring together all peoples in Southeast Asia. Since its founding in Bangkok in 1967, it has grown into an organisation that is taken seriously by Australia, China, the European Community, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, the United States and other nations.

All ASEAN leaders and officials too are working hard on the basis of mutual trust and renewed self belief in the pursuit of peace, sustainable socio-economic development, and cooperation.

Success poses a challenge, one of managing high expectations from the business sector, civil society and the people. Right now, the ASEAN Secretariat is working on a shoe string budget and with limited professional staff. It is time for the secretariat to be strengthened. While we should avoid being another Brussels, we should at least ensure that the secretariat is given the resources needed to carry out its awesome tasks more effectively.

One of its biggest challenge is how to bridge the development gap between the original ASEAN-5, Brunei, and the CLMV countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam). It is time for ASEAN Leaders to consider the creation of an ASEAN Development Fund for the development of the CLMV region. Enough with the rhetoric and let us put money where it counts since high-sounding words and slogans are meaningless.

Laos as the next chair can take the initiative to propose this idea as part of its agenda in 2016-2017. Make the ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together document a living reality.

It is necessary for the private sector to take a very proactive role in promoting cross borders investments and intra-regional  trade since ASEAN is a huge market of some 300 million people with rising incomes due to strong economic growth. So, I expect dynamism, entrepreneurship, and risk taking from the private sector since the ASEAN Free Trade Area is in existence.

An effective partnership between ASEAN governments and the private sector is vital if we are to promote economic integration and give meaning to the big ideas  as contained in the aforementioned ASEAN 2025 documents.


I welcome Dr. Munir’s idea that we should ” [T]each ASEAN history. Organiseinternship programmes for university students and for vocational and technical trainees”. More than that is required.  For example, at the University of Cambodia’s Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations with which I am actively involved as Associate Dean and Professor of Political Philosophy and International Relations, on the initiative of our President, Dr. Kao Kim Hourn we are offering ASEAN studies at the Doctoral and Masters levels.

Dr Kao Kim Hourn
The University also organises courses leading to degrees in English Literature and Humanities, and conducts English-speaking courses for young Cambodians. All our degree courses are conducted in Khmer and English.

The University has established an ASEAN Leadership Center which has received books, research papers, reports, and publications from the ASEAN Secretariat, some ASEAN countries, Asian Development Bank, World Bank, IMF, UNDP, and friends and associates.We need contributions and support for our resource center, and grants for research in ASEAN studies.

We hope to form collaborations with reputable universities  and public policy schools in our region  and beyond for capacity building and faculty exchange. It is our intention to welcome researchers and scholars to our campus in Phnom Penh.

There is  a lot of work to advance the ASEAN Economic Community project. From here on,  ASEAN will be judged by results. Will we take the challenge or are content with business as usual with countless meetings, golf,  and durian eating sessions and expensive dinners funded by taxpayers; money? –Din Merican

ASEAN needs the support of its Leaders  and the private sector to move purposefully FORWARD

by Dr. Munir Majid*

Najib and ASEAN Leaders

Simple things must be done. These have been outstanding for such a long time that people wonder if ASEAN leaders are bothered about them. Make it easier for them to travel. Make them recognise things they have in common such as with food. Teach ASEAN history. Organise internship programmes for university students and for vocational and technical trainees.–Dr. Munir Majid

The region has come a long way and can point to many achievements, says Dr. Munir Majid of the London School of Economics.

ASEAN is an association of states seeking to become a community of nations. There is no surrender of authority or sovereignty to any ASEAN supranational body. ASEAN works by consensus. Every member state in the association has to agree before any agreement can be said to have been concluded.

Yet ASEAN has come a long way and can point to many achievements. Many agreements on greater integration have been concluded. And there have been no major conflicts between or among ASEAN states since the association’s establishment in 1967 precisely to achieve peace and stability so that there can be economic and social progress.

The absence of war is a good sign of the ethic of cooperation which points to potential formation of community. While there can be debate over how much the existence of ASEAN contributed to the avoidance of conflict, it cannot be denied meeting regularly and working together towards regional cooperation provide strong incentives towards peaceable rather than conflictual relations.

In the economic sphere there is the ASEAN Free Trade Area whatever the non-tariff barriers that may be said to exist as indeed, they exist everywhere in the world. While much has been made of the unsatisfactory level of ASEAN trade, since the AEC 2007 Blueprint it has increased by US$1 trillion, and at US$2.5 trillion the 24% share is well above that of second placed China at 14%.

The single market and production base is well on its way. With size and growth of ASEAN economies expected to achieve 7% above baseline by 2025 through greater integration, and the reshuffling of manufacturing and services base from economic development, a greater complementarity that is currently not the case will definitely boost intra-ASEAN trade further.

ASEAN's Time

Just imagine if there was better progress in the flow of investment and capital and of skilled labour as well, ASEAN would surely be on the way towards becoming that fourth-sized global economy which even now attracts more FDI (foreign direct investment) than China, an 11% share of total global flows, when not too long ago it was the fear that ASEAN would fall between the two stools of China and India.

Another positive development not often credited, on the socio-cultural side, is the participation of social activists and NGOs in the ASEAN decision-making process who would otherwise not get the time of day in a number of national jurisdictions.

These groups and activists interact with leaders, ministers and officials at ASEAN summits – like the one a week ago – and also organise their own events and activities. As the ASEAN Business Advisory Council chair this past year, I have also been trying to accommodate them at private sector meetings, as there are many issues, such as treatment of migrant labour and responsible business practice, which have a bearing on the economy that need to be thrashed out. They are not political or purely social issues alone.

Of course no one is satisfied. Not the geopolitical strategist, the businessman or the social activist. When you call yourself a community, you raise expectations. You cannot expect to go round telling everyone to be grateful for small mercies. You have promised them big.

Dr Munir Majid

Whenever I am asked about the ASEAN community or the AEC, by local or foreign media representatives, the question is always framed in a skeptical manner. There is a lot of cynicism whatever the leaders and officials say.

Even when the numbers are thrown out, there is suggestion that they would have been attained without ASEAN integration which is characterised more by what has not than what has been achieved.

Even businessmen who have benefited by what has been achieved complain about all those barriers that remain. So do social activists who are dissatisfied particularly by human rights violations in the region which do not obtain ASEAN reprimand and by evident inability to work together to address transnational problems such as the smog (euphemistically called the haze).

There is no sense of being ASEAN, especially among the people the governments are supposed to serve. Simple things that can make them feel ASEAN have been outstanding for years. As usual, it is felt, it is big business that is getting the lion’s share of the integration attention.

If this distance between what the people feel – or not feel – and the high level integration process continues the ASEAN community will be nothing but hyperbole.

Simple things must be done. These have been outstanding for such a long time that people wonder if ASEAN leaders are bothered about them. Make it easier for them to travel. Make them recognise things they have in common such as with food. Teach ASEAN history. Organise internship programmes for university students and for vocational and technical trainees.

So many have been suggested so many times in so many reports. If by the end of its first year the ASEAN community does not see these simple things materialising, its future development will be bleak. No point talking about a milestone in a process if the process at the people level does not move.

The 27th ASEAN summit ended last Sunday with a lofty declaration full of many promises. The ASEAN 2025 document pushes out much of the unfinished business while being loaded with some highly qualitative objectives for the next 10 years.

If with the quantitative ASEAN falls short, how will it do with the qualitative? There was a great sense of urgency running into the end of 2015. Now that’s over, however what has been achieved is felt and perceived, is there going to be a similar drive now that there are 10 years to play with?

Every ASEAN summit promises something. This last one of course the most. About community. After the song and dance, and the lofty declarations and linking of arms, ASEAN decamps. Everyone goes home. It feels like the morning after the night before.

But there is so much work to be done. There must be continued drive. Not just Laos, the next chair of ASEAN.

All member states. Association and community. High level and people-centric. Official and private. Relaxed and delirious. Developed and much less developed. Politically stable and not so stable. Closer to China and closer to the US.

There are always two parts to ASEAN. Diversity is a challenge. Convergence does not come of itself. The community must not have a split personality.

Where the differences have been most pointed is with regard to China’s claim to almost all of the South China Sea. ASEAN Foreign Ministers failed to issue a joint communique for the first time in July 2012, exposing the fissures in the association on the matter. What will happen in 2016 when Laos takes the chair?

The most work has to be done where the greatest differences exist. The South China Sea is one such area. The foreign ministries have to work to fashion what can be a common position, and not just rush in and out of negotiations. Who is taking the lead, many people wonder.

So much work remains to be done. So many differences remain among member states. Without drive and leadership ASEAN will not get anywhere just because the ASEAN community has been inaugurated. ASEAN can have no morning after the night before.

Tan Sri Munir Majid, chairman of Bank Muamalat and visiting senior fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute.

Only Competent Ministers can save Malaysia from Muddles

November 28, 2015

Only Competent Ministers can save Malaysia from Muddles

by Syerleena Abdul Rashid
Najib-It takes a worried man

A Muddled and Dishonest Prime Minister

William Shakespeare once said, “Confusion hath now made his masterpiece and in our country it has reached stellar heights”. For Malaysians, it seems as though confusion has found a permanent friend in our local political scene and never has such words seem so true.  A majority of us, regrettably, think politics has become nothing more than a constant battle in confusion – the ministers appointed and elected by the voters are the ones confusing a large number of us to no end.

Recently, a minister was caught eating a bunch of turtle eggs – consuming anything endangered is illegal and this is just common sense. Unfortunately, the minister in particular claimed he had no idea and tried to reason with the public that no one in their right mind would ever eat eggs with a fork. Well, no one in their right mind would be caught in that position in the first place and no one in their right mind would dare to come up with that sort of excuse.


Turtle Egg Eating Minister Ismail Sabri

Our ministers get caught up in this wasteful game we call politicking while brazenly claiming that they have our best interests in heart.

Some ministers try their very hardest to justify certain policies no matter how draconian or how antediluvian or how bigoted they may seem. They validate the massive restrictions imposed upon us by reminding the importance of security – Malaysia is under constant threat of rising religious fundamentalism, liberalism, LGBT , electronic cigarettes, yoga, K-pop, Jews, pluralism and Valentines Day.

It seems as though several of our esteemed ministers tend to pacify debates with this mind-fumblingly abstruse template of confusion, which became apparent during the whole “Allah” conundrum. In a just and sound society such an issue would not have seen the light of day, but it did, and this is nothing more than an obvious game created by the powers that be to ensure that they hold the key to Putrajaya (and the whole system) for a very long time.

They use fear mongering tactics and instill hate mongering methods in our society and into our psyche because, after 58 years of rule, this is the one art they have perfected to a tee. The control they have on some of those in our society is astounding but nonetheless, not impossible to undo.

Socrates, Plato and Aristotle

Think Critically–Socrates

Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates believed that one of the best forms of teaching is to question everything. The core concept was to develop a level of critical thinking that can help distinguish what humans believe we know and what we don’t know.

This type of questioning highlights the importance of discourse and discussions – how we perceive an issue, how others may have differing ideas and our reasons for thinking the way we do.

Questions force our thoughts and make us deal with many of life’s complexities. It also enables us to digest information and the quality of important facets. The relevance to evaluate truth and to test accuracy forces us to judge how we are forming our thoughts and our little worlds together.

Malaysians must be reminded that thinking commences with respect and the understanding that while differing views are unavoidable, logic and sound judgement must always prevail in any discourse that may ensue.

When an individual has to make educated choices on complex matters, can they truly be considered truly competent. If we want to stimulate change, rational dialogue and an all out socio-political reform, we must not allow ourselves to become bewildered by the barrage of confusing statements often made by some of our ministers.



Lessons from NEP Architect–James J. Puthucheary

November 16, 2015

Lessons from  NEP Architect–James Puthucheary

by Adam Reza


Writing in 1960, a key architect of the New Economic Policy (NEP),   the late James J. Puthucheary, author of Ownership and Control in the Malayan Economy, made an astute observation about the troubles brewing within the seemingly idyllic setting of rural Malaya.

Ethnic Malay paddy farmers had found themselves trapped in a vicious cycle of low productivity and mounting debt. Defaults were widespread and the ensuing transfer of land to the hands of mostly ethnic Chinese creditors prompted the government to intervene.

In a bid to prevent land from changing hands through debt to non-Malays, the government introduced the Malay Reservation Ordinance. Unfortunately, this did nothing to solve the key underlying problem of low productivity. The farmers continued to default and the only difference was that the beneficiaries of the land were a small group of Malay elites.

This chapter of our economic history illustrates the perils of viewing developmental problems from a racial lens. Affirmative action done right yields positive results as our Malaysian experience shows. Done wrong, it ends up benefiting an elite few without solving the root cause of the issue.

The lessons are clear, but as is so often the case, men and indeed politicians rarely draw the right lessons from the past.In the context of today, over 40 years since the inception of NEP, it is clear to see how little we have learned.

For a start, the rhetoric has not changed. The old narrative remains ubiquitous: Chinese interests continue to dominate the economy, justifying the continuation of far-reaching affirmative action policies. It is often highlighted that inter-ethnic income gaps still exist and that the Bumiputeras are ill-equipped to compete in today’s economy.

These are valid concerns that should be looked at, but the question remains, why after over 40 years since the NEP’s implementation are Bumiputeras still ill-equipped to compete?

Now, this is not to say that NEP has been a failure. A big part of NEP’s initial success was in creating a new middle class through accelerated involvement in the great leveler of society – education, thus creating a new middle class.

Indeed, access to quality education was critical in the realisation first prong of NEP, the eradication of poverty regardless of ethnicity.This is something that is lacking today. It is no secret that education standards have declined. Rankings in our institutions of higher education are slipping, academic freedom remains illusive, and 400,000 graduates find themselves without jobs.

Like Puthucheary’s rural Malaya, the problem today is low productivity and perhaps the issue here is not so much a lack of affirmative action but more a failure to provide quality education and hence a lack of upward mobility, a situation which affects all of us regardless of our ethnicities. More needs to be done in this respect and hopefully our education blueprints will be executed well.

Second, is there any justification for continuing affirmative policy measures in business particularly for SMEs? According to Development economist  Tan Sri Kamal Salih, although noble in its intentions, it is on the execution side that we have found lacking and more often than not, the beneficiaries have not been the entrepreneurs.

A study by Dr. Terence Gomez of University of Malaya finds that programmes to nurture Bumiputera entrepreneurs were hardly successful as they were based on selective patronage, in turn sealing off non-Bumiputera owned companies access to domestic and foreign markets.

Again, we are caught in a situation where the industrious and innovative are left behind and the elite few and politically well-connected are rewarded. We need to be more transparent in this respect, ensuring that those with political interests do not exploit the system.

Perhaps we could take a leaf from our successes in the start-up industry, where more of those who are innovative and industrious have been allowed to succeed regardless of ethnicity or political connections.


Now, this is not to say that positive discrimination is completely uselesss. Where it may remain relevant is in the case of recent evidence of discrimination in hiring by the private sector in a study done by  Dr. Lee Hwok Aun and Dr. Muhammad Khalid.

Alternatively, we might want to consider is what the Conservative government is doing in the United Kingdom today, with name-blind job applications.

Yet at the same time, if our priorities are truly about creating a more diversified workplace, we need to address issues such as under-representation of non-Malays in the public sector where for me the need for diversity is most acute.

I would like to think that increasingly we want policy to be shaped from a more inclusive multi-cultural perspective. Suggestions that non-Malays ostensibly shun the civil service due to low pay are a complete hogwash.

Take the significant number of non-Malays in the government-led Perdana Fellows programme recently or my fellow millenials who shun the more high paying jobs to participate in initiatives like Teach for Malaysia. Clearly there is more to Gen Y than dollars and cents.

Moving forward, our future developmental solutions must continue to have the Bumiputera agenda in mind but must also be more inclusive.For starters, we need to go back to the core of what Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak proposed in 2010: an urgent revision of the NEP, towards a national development strategy that is more transparent, merit driven, and market friendly, and towards a new needs-based affirmative action.

That is the right way and we must not lose track of the end goal that affirmative action should be temporary in the first place.

As Tun Dr Ismail once said:

“The special privilege or position accorded to the Malays under the Constitution is mainly intended to enable them – to borrow an expression from the game of golf – ‘to have a handicap’, which would place them in a position for a fair competition with better players. Therefore like a golfer, it should not be the aim of the Malays to perpetuate this handicap but to strive to improve his game, and thereby reducing, and finally removing, their handicap completely.”

As an ethnic Malay myself who believes that we can be the community of aspiration and hope, I long for this day.


Why JAKIM must go

November 13, 2015

Din Merican@Angkor2

COMMENT: Research on bureaucracy has shown that once created, an agency is difficult to dismantle. I have never heard that Malaysia has in recent times where the Prime Minister has declared an agency redundant and has the courage of his convictions to shut it down. For example, of what use are institutions like FAMA, Majuikan, RISDA, Felcra, Biro Tata Negara, to name a few? Even the Prime Minister’s Department should be up for a serious and thorough clean up. Talking about reducing the operating budget, this one obvious way to do it. Just downsize and increase productivity of civil servants to maximise value from taxpayer money.

I, therefore, share the view expressed by my friend, Tawfik Ismail and will go along with Mr. Peru that JAKIM should be disbanded. I wish to add that the Halal certification business should be privatised and given to Tan Sri Azmi Khalid, former Public Accounts Committee Chairman and Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi’s brother. Hakimi Hamidi. We do not need a presumptuous and a holier than thou moral policeman to interfere in the private lives of Malaysian muslims. Prime Minister Najib would improve his popularity by a few notches if he also sacks his overzealous Minister of Religion and fellow Kedah, Major-General (Rtd) Dato’ Seri Khir Baharom and uses his moral suasion to tame our Islamic mullahs aka muftis. Religion should be a private matter.–Din Merican

Disband Islamofascist JAKIM?

by Farouk A. Peru
G25Tawfik Ismail

I was enthralled to read Tawfik Ismail’s statement a few days ago which called for the abolishment of the Jabatan Kemajuan Islam Malaysia (JAKIM). I am a keen supporter of Tawfik’s nephew, Tariq Ismail and his constitutionalist movement and feel that this is all we need for a national revitalization. His uncle Tawfik Ismail’s call therefore is long overdue.

Despite its name (and the operative word being ‘kemajuan’ or development/growth/advancement) JAKIM has not contributed anything worthwhile to the development of Islam in Malaysia. Their Facebook and Twitter accounts have no discussion at all on Islamic philosophy, but is rather about puerile pictures!

On the other hand, they have practiced Islamofascist policies which have repressed Malaysian Muslims than anyone else and turned them into religious consumers.


Jamil Khir should be sent back to Yan, Kedah

The claim that JAKIM is needed arises from the constitutional provision that ‘Islam is the official religion of the federation’. However, this is a non-sequitur. Islam being the religion of the federation has absolutely no link with the formation of JAKIM. This provision could be interpreted in many other ways, namely the idea that Islam is the identity of the majority of the people of the Federation or even that Islamic values are the values which carry the nation. Again, the interpretation of what constitutes ‘Islamic values’ is a matter of personal and interpretation.


The notorious Harussani should be retired

Nowhere does the constitution state that the conservative fraternity of ulama is the sole guardian of the Faith, let alone in charge of Malay-Muslim lives. ‘Tangkap khalwat’ is most certainly absent from the list, yet it’s Jakim’s favourite activity.

As stated in the outset, JAKIM includes the term ‘Kemajuan’ (development, growth, advancement). What, pray tell, has JAKIM actually contributed to the development of Islam in the nation? The morale of Malay-Muslims are at their lowest ebb. From the point of view of education, JAKIM has not been able to motivate them towards stellar educational achievements. They may argue that this measurement is unfair considering that JAKIM is meant to be a religious establishment and should not affect ‘secular’ matters, but if this is true, then JAKIM has no jurisdiction outside the mosque!

Sadly, they would like to have their cake and eat it as well. JAKIM’s “protectionist” approach to Islam in the nation is not meant for the Malay-Muslims, but for their own rice bowl. When Tawfik Ismail made his clarion call, JAKIM officials were quick to point out that Jakim is needed for the protection against Shia-ism, liberal Islam and ISIS.

These claims are highly dubious for the following reasons. Shiaism is a recognised form of Islam and has been since the beginning of Islamic civilization and culture. No less that the former Egyptian mufti himself (and de facto head of Al-Azhar, the oldest existing Islamic university in the world) acknowledged Shiaism as the ‘fifth school of Islamic law’.

In Malaysia, Shiaism has been proliferating for decades and arguably for centuries (if one considers reverence of the Prophet’s family as Shia doctrine). Malay Islam (what Jokowi calls ‘Islam Nusantara’) has had no problem with Shiaism until now.

Since the rise of Saudi Arabia with its money and influence, Shia-phobia has also risen accordingly. There are many Wahabi influenced priests in JAKIM and it is only UMNO’s myopia which prevents them from understanding the implications of Shia-phobia.

UMNO (led by the now deposed hero Muhyiddin Yassin) rode high on this Shia-phobia a year ago and even wanted to change the constitution to provide that ‘Islam’ in the constitution meant their own brand of Islam. This shows that this parochialism was never intended to begin with.JAKIM’s hostility towards ‘Liberal Islam’ arises from the fact that the latter empowers Muslims to think for themselves and thus render JAKIM redundant. Are they really protecting Muslims or in reality, like their manoeuvres against the Shia, simply protecting themselves?

Their declaration against ISIS is even more dubious than the first two. ISIS’ brand of Islam is not much different from JAKIM’s own. The only difference is the level of violence involved. While ISIS is totally uninhibited about the use of violence, JAKIM has to operate under secular law. If it did not, then it would be operating under the very same ancient Arab cultural laws as ISIS. Ask a JAKIM official what should be done to people who leave Islam and you will see.

One must ask this question though – if JAKIM really is for the protection of Islam, why do they not utter a single peep against the racist doctrines of Ketuanan Melayu and Bumiputraism. Why did JAKIM charge Nik Raina for a crime she did not commit. Arguably, this should be the first fatwa they issue because, if they are to protect the akidah (faith, theology), then being the so-called stellar experts that they are, they should know that racism is utterly deplorable in Islam (notwithstanding the Red shirts rally recently where a Minister said he was proud to be an Islamic racist). Perhaps that is also why PERKASA, the ultra racist Malay organization, was the first to ask Tawfik to retract!

It is the same with the austere living of the Prophet. If JAKIM really was following in the footsteps of the Prophet, they would not need billions of ringgit to run their activities. They should be content by simply living in the most frugal manner. However, it seems that they even allow for VVIP ablution areas in the mosques! This shows that their religiosity is perverted. In the mosque, the rich and power pray along side the downtrodden to God because in the eyes of the Almighty God we are created equal. Do we have separate cemetery for VVIPs?

JAKIM needs to be reformed or failing that, be totally disband. They can reform by bringing in scholars from other disciplines (such as philosophy, sciences) in order to balance their religious parochialism. Organize open dialogues with Shia, Ahmadiyya, Liberal, Quranist and other Muslims. Include other faiths or even people of no faith at all and discuss how best to benefit humanity.

Regaining Society’s Fundamentals

November 2, 2015

Regaining Society’s Fundamentals

by Jahaberdeen Mohamed Yunoos

I am now in Ruby Koi Farm, the biggest Koi fish distributor in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, sipping the famous cafe soda while being soothed by sounds of the water flowing into the Koi pond. Sitting here watching the fish swimming, all the positive thoughts enter your mind and you wonder why is it that some people who are more blessed than others make life difficult for many more.


The world is always shaped by a select minority for the silent and passive majority. The so-called educated ones in a society are usually about three per cent of the population. This small percentage then ends up filling up important positions in society as government servants, lawyers, doctors, teachers, religious and political leaders, judges, corporate managers and so on.

These are the people who are not only going to shape society but also determine the “habitat” under which the rest of us are going to live. It is not only their educational qualifications that will determine whether our general quality of life will be better but more importantly, it will be the attitudes and the values that they have.

In this sense, therefore, the quality and content of our educational system are important. The standard of the curriculum is important to ensure that we produce high quality graduates who are not only efficient and knowledgeable in their respective fields but also have creative thinking abilities.

Creative thinking is necessary to ensure research abilities and adaptability and upgrading of one’s knowledge as knowledge develops in the respective fields. If our educational levels and standards are inferior, we will be producing mediocre graduates who will in turn make the society suffer because of their mediocrity.

Can you imagine what happens to the quality of life of the general masses if we have a mediocre minister or a mediocre ketua pengarah in important positions?

Society will suffer

Quite apart from pure educational qualifications, a strong sense of ethics, good values and humanistic attitudes is fundamental. By this, please do not think that I am referring to blatant religious indoctrination.

My own observation over the years tells me that religious indoctrination actually leads to another form of oppression and gives the follower a completely warped perspective of life. I am referring to time-tested universal values such as compassion, empathy, honesty, diligence, humility, sense of humanity, and recognition that the environment and us are inter-twined.

These are values that are able to curb evil activities such as corruption, abuse of power, wastage of resources, irresponsibility or even indolence.

We seriously and urgently need to infuse these values into our school system by focusing on them through a Malaysian lens and not through so-called moral classes for non-Muslims and religious classes for Muslims. We have to embark and work on it so that it will become a national culture. Most often, it is our current, general “informal” pervasive culture that prevents us from becoming the best human being possible.

These values are vital to prevent us from building a nation like a metaphorical luxurious looking house, full of termites infesting the structure behind the facade. Slowly but surely, the nation collapses in the long run and the people will suffer.

However, for these values to be a national culture, since the majority are silent most of the time, there must be political will among the leaders. Will our current crop of political leaders be courageous, consistent and diligent enough to push for a humanistic and ethical national culture that embodies the values I alluded to earlier? Can the general masses be persuaded to understand its significance? These are the challenges.

It is equally unfortunate that in the past 35 years or so, in our quest for physical development, we seem to have side-stepped the development of the “human” in us. We have allowed our society to be consumptive, superficial and non-critical in culture and, our Malaysia bolehness does not seem to encompass the achievement of greater ideals and values.

We have made a big mistake and continue to allow religiosity, ala Middle Eastern cultures, to permeate into our culture.

I observe that, due to political tensions and contests, the country has been sliding downhill for the past 16 years in many ways, including losing a culture of empathy and compassion. Unfortunately, this has been artificially engineered by politicians for pure political ends.

We keep witnessing the worse expression of human behaviour among our so-called community leaders and even religious leaders. It is as if these select few want the country ablaze with general hatred and for all of us to lose our sense of humanity.

It becomes urgent to keep the discourse on the nature and content of the national culture alive and active until it slowly evolves into a reality that we can be proud of. Hopefully, one day when I come back to Ruby Koi Farm, they have love and respect for me instantaneously simply because I am Malaysian.

Now, that will also be the best door opener for forging international and business relationships.