Cambodia and China: Chinese Investment and Aid


July 18, 2015

Cambodia and China: Chinese Investment and Aid

by Heng Pheakdey, EISD

The China–Cambodia relationship has reached new peaks in recent years. China is now Cambodia’s largest foreign investor, a major donor of aid and an increasingly important trading partner. But this growing relationship is also accompanied by renewed controversies.

China undeniably plays a crucial role in Cambodia’s economic development. China invested a total of US$9.17 billion between 1994 and 2012. Chinese investment in the textiles industry has increased Cambodia’s exports and created employment for thousands of women in rural areas, while investment in the energy sector, particularly in hydropower development, has helped reduce Cambodia’s chronic energy shortages. China is also a major source of foreign assistance for Cambodia. By 2012, Chinese loans and grants to Cambodia reached US$2.7 billion, making it the country’s second-largest donor after Japan. Cambodia has been using China’s so-called ‘no strings attached’ aid to build roads and bridges, helping to improve the country’s much needed infrastructure.

But behind these impressive numbers lie hidden agendas and serious social and political implications. While Chinese investment and aid is much needed for economic development, China’s unquestioning approach to how its aid and investment money is distributed and used has exacerbated corruption, deteriorated good governance and human rights, and ruined Cambodia’s resources and natural environment. Human rights activists have often accused Chinese textile factories of abusing worker’s rights, while China’s hydropower investments have destroyed protected areas, forest biodiversity and wildlife habitat.

Samdech Techo Hun Sen

In return for its generous financial aid, China has exerted its influence on Cambodia to propel its own political interests. Cambodia’s decision to deport 20 ethnic Uyghur asylum seekers to China upon Beijing’s request in 2009 is a clear example of this. In another instance, after receiving millions of dollar in pledges from China last year, Cambodia refrained from discussing the South China Sea disputes during the ASEAN Summit, which was harshly criticised by the international community and resulted in the failure by ASEAN’s foreign ministers to issue a joint communiqué for the first time in ASEAN history. Cambodia has also been accused of favouring Chinese investment, putting China’s investment interests above that of other nations. According to a report by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, 50 per cent of the land concessions granted since 1994 — totalling 4.6 million hectares — were given to Chinese companies to invest in mining, hydropower and agriculture in Cambodia.

There are concerns that the government is at risk of losing its autonomy. If it were to rely solely on China, Cambodia also risks losing face and trust from the international community, and its role in ASEAN might be marginalised if it continues to put China ahead of ASEAN.

There is no doubt that Cambodia needs China’s assistance to further its economic development. Likewise, China sees Cambodia as an important ally for exercising greater influence in Southeast Asia and counterbalancing the United States. Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia Pan Guangxue recently said that the positive relationship China and Cambodia have built over the years serves as a role model of friendship between countries of different social systems. He is convinced that, with the careful guidance of its leaders and the efforts of its people, China and Cambodia can further deepen their mutual trust for one another and improve cooperation, so as to develop the relationship to a greater level.

To ensure this long-lasting relationship is mutually beneficial, the two nations must work together to improve transparency, promote participatory and inclusive development by involving all relevant stakeholders, and minimise environmental degradation. Cambodia must strengthen its institutions, implement policies that encourage responsible investment and link aid to poverty reduction. China needs to rebuild its image as a good neighbour and international citizen — one that is accountable for its foreign investment and promotes sustainable development.

Heng Pheakdey is a doctoral researcher at the UV University Amsterdam and Founding Director of Enrich Institute for Sustainable Development.

Next Steps for U.S.-South Korea Civil Nuclear Cooperation


east-west-center-asia-pacific-bulletinNumber 316 | July 1, 2015

July 2, 2015

ANALYSIS

Next Steps for U.S.-South Korea Civil Nuclear Cooperation

by James E. Platte

On June 15, U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se signed a new agreement on civil nuclear cooperation (a so-called “123 Agreement”) between the two countries, and U.S. President Barack Obama submitted the proposed 123 Agreement to the U.S. Congress the next day. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee will have 30 days to review the agreement, and then the whole Congress will have 60 days for review. The proposed 123 Agreement will enter into force unless Congress enacts a joint resolution opposing the agreement, and the South Korean Ministry of Government Legislation also will review the proposed agreement.

The new 123 Agreement comes after several years of difficult negotiations and represents a step forward for bilateral nuclear cooperation, but this does not mark the end of negotiations and debates between Washington and Seoul in the civil nuclear energy field. South Korea and the United States have a long, robust history of civil nuclear cooperation, going back to the Atoms for Peace program and the initial 123 Agreement in 1956. Since then, the United States has played an integral role in the development of South Korea’s civil nuclear industry, which now comprises 24 operational reactors that generate about 30 percent of South Korea’s electricity.

South Korea has become virtually self-sufficient in nuclear reactor design, construction, and operation but still relies on U.S. firms for some nuclear fuel and engineering services. In addition, South Korea and the United States cooperate on numerous bilateral and multilateral nuclear research and development projects. All of this cooperation is facilitated by the 123 Agreement. The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 requires that a 123 Agreement be in place for the United States to cooperate with international partners on peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Given the importance of nuclear power to the South Korean economy, maintaining civil nuclear cooperation with the United States is vital for Seoul. Yet, negotiations on the new agreement were difficult and lasted nearly five years.

In 2013, the two sides even approved a two-year extension of the previous 123 Agreement, which was set to expire in 2014, in order to give them more time to work out a deal. The major sticking point in the negotiations was over uranium enrichment and reprocessing technologies, which have the ability to produce fissile materials either for civilian nuclear fuel or for nuclear weapons.

The previous 123 Agreement was signed in 1974 and prohibited South Korea from enriching or reprocessing. Two other developments around that same time entrenched U.S. nuclear cooperation policy toward South Korea. First, the Indian nuclear test in 1974 changed U.S. nonproliferation policy in general, shifting from promoting reprocessing abroad to staunchly opposing the spread of enrichment and reprocessing technologies. Second, Washington found out about then-South Korean President Park Chung-hee’s clandestine nuclear weapons program in the mid-1970s and applied significant diplomatic pressure to stop that program. The U.S. government has consistently opposed granting South Korea consent to enrich or reprocess ever since.

Seoul pushed hard to gain that consent from Washington in the new 123 Agreement for several reasons. First, South Korea wants reprocessing technology in order to manage the country’s growing stocks of spent nuclear fuel. All spent fuel currently is kept on-site at reactors in temporary storage facilities, but some of these facilities may soon reach capacity, as early as 2016 according to one estimate, which would cause reactors to shut down. An interim solution is needed to alleviate this situation, but South Korea sees a type of reprocessing called pyroprocessing as a long-term solution to spent fuel management.

Siting radioactive waste storage facilities has been difficult in densely populated South Korea, but Seoul believes that pyroprocessing could significantly reduce the volume of waste and necessary storage time. Second, Seoul wants enrichment technology to support its nuclear reactor export business. South Korea won a $20 billion contract in 2009 to build four reactors in the United Arab Emirates and is looking to secure contracts in other countries, too. Because South Korea has no enrichment capability, the UAE contracted with North American and European companies to source natural uranium and supply enriched uranium for Korean companies to fabricate into fuel. Third, Seoul desires to be viewed on an equal footing as the other major nuclear technology suppliers, especially Japan, to which the United States granted consent for enrichment and reprocessing in 1987.

Despite a strong diplomatic push by Seoul, the new 123 Agreement does not give South Korea advanced consent for enrichment or reprocessing, at least not yet. The new 123 Agreement facilitates the continuation of a ten-year Joint Fuel Cycle Study (JFCS) between South Korea and the United States that was launched in 2011. The stated purpose of the JFCS is to assess the “…technical and economic feasibility and nonproliferation acceptability…” of technologies related to reprocessing and spent fuel management. A separate Nuclear Technology Transfer Agreement governs the transfer of technologies during the course of the JFCS, and the new 123 Agreement establishes a High-Level Bilateral Commission (HLBC) to enhance cooperation and address issues related to spent fuel management, fuel supply, and nuclear security.

Taken together, these agreements and mechanisms formed since 2011 significantly upgrade U.S.-South Korea civil nuclear cooperation, and they provide South Korea with formal channels to conduct research on reprocessing technologies and request consent for using these technologies in their civilian nuclear industry. They also set up times in the future that likely will see U.S. and South Korean negotiators once again discussing enrichment and reprocessing.

In 2018, the U.S.-Japan 123 Agreement, with advanced consent for Japan’s reprocessing program, is set to automatically renew unless either party calls for renegotiation, which appears unlikely, and this could be a time when Seoul asks, through the HLBC, why they also do not have advanced consent.

Three years later at the scheduled conclusion of the JFCS in 2021, Seoul may request permission to use the reprocessing technologies developed during the course of the study. The next foreseeable milestone is in 2032, when the new 123 Agreement requires the two parties to consult on whether to pursue an extension. Other developments, such as particularly acute spent fuel storage problems or more reactor export deals for South Korea, may also spur new talks over enrichment and reprocessing. Thus, the new 123 Agreement is a step forward for U.S.-South Korea civil nuclear cooperation, but the bigger steps regarding enrichment and reprocessing for South Korea remain yet to be taken.

About the Author: James E. Platte, PhD is an Asia Studies Visiting Fellow at the East-West Center in Washington, DC and a non-resident Sasakawa Peace Foundation Fellow with Pacific Forum CSIS. He holds a doctorate in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He can be reached at jeplatte@gmail.com.

The East-West Center promotes better relations and understanding among the people and nations of the United States, Asia, and the Pacific through cooperative study, research, and dialogue.

Established by the US Congress in 1960, the Center serves as a resource for information and analysis on critical issues of common concern, bringing people together to exchange views, build expertise, and develop policy options.

The Asia Pacific Bulletin (APB) series is produced by the East-West Center in Washington.

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Leadership by moral legitimacy


June 7, 2015

Leadership by moral legitimacy

by Graham Harris*

*After completing a degree in Botany and PhD in Plant Ecology atgraham_harris Imperial College, London in the late 1960s, Professor Graham Harris worked at McMaster University in Canada for 15 years where he became a Professor of Biology and carried out research on the ecology and management of the Laurentian Great Lakes.

He came to Australia in 1984 and worked for CSIRO for over 20 years where he held many research management and senior executive appointments. Graham has worked in a range of disciplines including plant ecology, freshwater and marine ecology, space science and remote sensing. He was the foundation Chief of Division for CSIRO Land and Water, and until 2003 he was Chairman of the CSIRO Flagship Programs. After completing this task he stepped down as Flagships Chair and was made a CSIRO Fellow. He left CSIRO in early 2005.

Graham is the Director of ESE Systems Pty. Ltd., a consulting company specialising in research into, and the management of, complex environmental, social and economic systems. He is an advisor to a range of universities, research agencies, private companies and government jurisdictions both in Australia and overseas.

Graham is an Affiliate Professor at the Centre for Environment, University of Tasmania and an Honorary Research Professor in the Sustainable Water Management Centre at Lancaster University, UK. He was awarded the CSIRO Chairman’s Gold Medal in 1996 and was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering in 1997. In 2002 he was elected a life member of the International Water Academy, Oslo. He was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal in April 2003 for services to environmental science and technology. Graham has published more than 140 papers, and three books. His latest book Seeking sustainability in an age of complexity was published by Cambridge University Press in June 2007.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/leadership-moral-legitimacy-graham-harris

The_Thinker_in_NTHU_TaiwanThe Thinker @NTHU, Taiwan

We still seem to be fighting Cold War battles over whether neoliberalism and individualism – the “bottom up” strategy – is the best model for modern democracies, or whether more state intervention – the “top down” control model – is preferable. The debate in the West is quite brutal with polarized politics and biased media coverage frequently providing only a partial view.

[The Web does however provide an antidote to the prevailing ethos by providing access to other points of view; blogs by George Monbiot and Harry Shutt for example.]

When confronted by complexity most of the decisions we must make are not just uncertain they are logically un-decidable (see Pascal Perez’s comments on my last post). The fundamental problem is that “facts” and models in such situations are under determined; they are inevitably supported by beliefs about what counts as evidence and what constitutes a proof, and values creep in. Without an appropriate moral stance to aid decision-making these limitations are becoming ever more obvious.-G. Harris

As we find we have to deal more and more with systems of systems – which requires both systems thinking and an appreciation of complexity – we are finding that simple slogans and remedies do not suffice (even though the air waves and the Web are flooded with them). To quote H.L. Mencken “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” The predominant debate is too simplistic and does not provide sufficient nuances or sophistication.

I am reminded of David Berlinski’s concluding words in “On systems analysis: an essay concerning the limitations of some mathematical methods in the social, political and biological sciences” (1976): viz. “Grand efforts brought low by insufficient means”.

When confronted by complexity most of the decisions we must make are not just uncertain they are logically un-decidable (see Pascal Perez’s comments on my last post). The fundamental problem is that “facts” and models in such situations are underdetermined; they are inevitably supported by beliefs about what counts as evidence and what constitutes a proof, and values creep in. Without an appropriate moral stance to aid decision-making these limitations are becoming ever more obvious.

Faced with such a situation we have both a knowledge problem and a collective action problem – and they are inextricably intertwined. The conjunction of constraints, complexity and community provides us with a perfect epistemological, political and moral storm. There is a moral space for communities to fill, but it is presently vacant. We require a new approach.

David Colander and Roland Kupers in “Complexity and the art of public policy: solving society’s problems from the bottom up” (2014) – hereafter C&K – have provided an alternative – middle ground – view on how to organise institutions and economics in a complex world. They favour what they call laissez-faire activism – combining both top down and bottom up innovation and facilitation. In a complex system of systems knowledge will always be partial, and neither the market nor state regulation will be able to provide complete solutions. History shows us the truth of this.

We can do without the brutal debates between the political right and left (they are more and more indistinguishable anyway), between the positivists and the relativists or between, say, the followers of Hayek or of Keynes. Indeed C&K show how the debate has been engineered to deliberately polarise the political and economic landscapes. The original positions of many intellectual luminaries were much more nuanced and sophisticated than is now made out. It is the old story: the messiah got it right – just beware the disciples.

Through the air waves and the Web we are flooded with emotivism. The polarised Western debate is no more than this. Statements of the form “this is good” can be taken to mean “I approve of this: do so as well”. Our moral debate consists mostly of shrill, impersonal assertions; our language of morality is in a state of disorder.–G. Harris

As Kwame Anthony Appiah has argued in “Cosmopolitanism: ethics in a world of strangers” (2006) the prevalent liberalism and positivism favours the belief in value free (scientific) “facts” because we can hold and assert our own individual beliefs. Values, on the other hand, are more about things we share and how we deal with each other in communities. So values require us to discuss and debate their context and efficacy, but because the mantra is “there is no such thing as society” we rarely do this.

C&K take an optimistic view of people as “smart and adaptive” and argue that the role of government is to set norms for behaviour and to provide leadership by moral legitimacy. They agree with Kwame Anthony Appiah who argued in “The honour code: how moral revolutions happen” (2011) that it is morality and values – our shared norms – that best regulate how we deal with each other and our environment.

Alasdair MacIntyre in “After virtue” (2007, 3rd Ed.) has argued that one of the main failures of modernity has been the demise of morality and the instrumental behaviour of bureaucrats and corporate managers in commercial and institutional settings. There is much confusion of means and ends and people and the environment frequently get used and abused. This is also true of politicians and politics and it explains why there is an evident and rapid decline in trust.

Through the air waves and the Web we are flooded with emotivism. The polarised Western debate is no more than this. Statements of the form “this is good” can be taken to mean “I approve of this: do so as well”. Our moral debate consists mostly of shrill, impersonal assertions; our language of morality is in a state of disorder.

At the moment there seem to be few sanctions for unethical or even criminal behaviour in many spheres of public life. Despite clear indications of criminal activities associated with the financial crash of 2008 and of irregularities in global markets since – collusion and market rigging – very few sanctions or criminal prosecutions have been pursued. Worse there is no evidence that anyone feels shame or remorse. The guardians have been inactivated.

Environmental degradation is, likewise, a moral issue. No amount of attempts to monetise environmental values or design market-based instruments will alter this. Easily quantifiable substances like water and carbon dioxide may be traded, but for complex 2nd order cybernetic entities like ecosystems everywhere is different. Concepts like markets for ecosystem services and biodiversity offsets are therefore a fraud. We cannot swap like for like and ill-defined incommensurate values cannot be monetised. Offset payments to a conservation fund are a sop for the conscience.

To arrest the decline in trust and moral behaviour Appiah and MacIntyre argue that we need a return to concepts of virtue, honour, shame and esteem. To grease the wheels of society we need a debate about codes of honour that are compatible with morality and professional ethics. We can have positive regard for people who meet certain standards of behaviour and we can sanction those who do not. Those standards need to be debated, clearly stated and enforced.

C&K see a key role for government in providing the leadership and in setting those norms. Geoffrey Brennan and Philip Pettit have noted in “The economy of esteem: an essay on civil and political society” (2005) that because we all (should) have a stake in making society work the cost of policing an honour world is very low and we do not have to worry about who is guarding the guardians. We all have a role to play.

Now I am sure some will argue that liberalism and modernism have defeated such outdated concepts, but the failings of Western politics since the 1970s are now clear: instrumental reason, rising inequality, environmental degradation, lack of political will and moral corruption. Governance and leadership by moral authority and legitimacy? Now wouldn’t that be something to behold!

On Taib Mahmud and The Rape of Sarawak


January 25, 2015

Taib Mahmud: Money Logging and The Rape of Sarawak

http://sarawakheadhunter.blogspot.com/2015/01/taibs-kleptocracy-money-logging-on.html

Also READ

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/01/150111-borneo-rainforest-environment-conservation-ngbooktalk/

Book Review on Money Logging By Lukas Straumann, Bergli 

A sad tale of the Asian timber mafia and the man who did more than anything to create it, Abdul Taib Mahmud.

On October 3, 2011, a depressed and paranoic former Chief Operating Officer for a San Francisco-based property company called Sakti International named Ross Boyert slipped a plastic bag over his head, taped it tight and suffocated himself to death in a Los Angeles hotel room. He was 61.

But Boyert, however delusional he was when he died, left behind him an explosive legacy – the details of virtually all of the properties owned by Abdul Taib Mahmud, the longest-serving public official in Malaysia.

It is a breathtaking collection according to the documents that Boyert – who was fired by the Taib interests — gave to a crusading journalist named Clare Rewcastle Brown. They show that Taib, through nominees, family members and other subterfuges, is worth in excess of US$21 billion.

Taib and Timber

Taib is not mentioned on the Forbes list of Malaysia’s richest, but if he were, he would be worth almost twice as much as the man listed as richest — Robert Kuok, whose fortune is in property, sugar, palm oil and shipping. He would also be about halfway up the list of the world’s 50 richest billionaires although his name is not mentioned there either.

That is because, according to this book by Lukas Straumann, Taib amassed his entire fortune illegally, as undoubtedly a handful of others have around the world that remains hidden. Nonetheless, according to Boyert’s documents and the research by Rewcastle Brown and Straumann, he is an engine of corruption the likes of which the world has never seen.

Taib built his real estate empire in Canada, the United States, Australia and the East Malaysia state of Sarawak on timber. In the process, in his 33 years as Chief Minister, he staged some of the most depressing environmental destruction on the planet. An estimated 98 percent of the old-growth timber of Sarawak, a state three times the size of Switzerland, is gone, sold via timber permits to logging companies, many of them connected to him, that shipped the logs to Japan, China and across much of the rest of the world.

Using the documents furnished by Rewcastle Brown, and with considerable additional reporting, the story of Taib’s looting of Sarawak is told by Straumann, the Director of the Basel-headquartered Bruno Manser Fund, an NGO named for a Swiss naturalist who fought to save the indigenous Penan tribe from the depredations of the loggers’ bulldozers, and who disappeared into the forest in 2000 and has never been found.

Sarawak--Rape of the ForestMassive Deforestation in Sarawak

It is an explosive book. Taib has threatened to sue Amazon if it distributes it. So far, Amazon has backed away from delivering it.

The book, Money Logging: On the Trail of Asia’s Timber Mafia, published by Bergli Books, also of Basel, tells the story of Taib’s rise to power, starting in 1965 as Minister of Agriculture and Forestry.

By the end of that decade, he would be Sarawak’s richest politician. Today he holds interests in property companies that own prestigious buildings in Seattle, San Francisco, Ottawa, London, Adelaide and in Malaysia itself. The major companies he controls through family members or by proxies, according to Boyert’s documentation, include Sakti International, Wallyson’s Inc., Sakto Group, Citygate International, Ridgeford Properties, Sitehost City and literally scores of smaller ones. He is believed to control more than 100 companies.

One of the most important things about this story is that Taib was first anointed by Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Father of Malaysia and the country’s first Prime Minister. Abdul Rahman was followed in office by five other prime ministers who sat in Kuala Lumpur and later the Putarjaya government complex and did nothing about him.

It was hardly a secret that he was both looting the country and stealing, on a breathtaking scale, the resources that belonged to the Dayak, Murut, Penan and other local tribes that make up the peoples of Sarawak.

Nothing was done about him because he developed a political machine that could deliver votes to the Barisan Nasional, the ruling national coalition in Peninsular Malaysia. Taib is a Muslim. Most of the Sarawak tribes are either Christian or animist. And, to the government across the South China Sea, it would have been unthinkable to have a non-Muslim government leader in charge.

Later, during the current administration of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak, it became clear that the Barisan’s very survival depended on Taib and his fellow kleptocrat, Musa Aman, who continues stealing the people of the neighboring state of Sabah blind, although on a smaller scale.

What’s worse is that Taib’s activities in Sarawak, according to the book, spawned a series of giant timber companies including Concord Pacific, Samling, Shin Yang, WTK and Ta Ann Holdings – all of which have received backing from the international banking community including HSBC and others – and have expanded far outside of Malaysia to Cambodia, Australia, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Congo-Brazzaville, Papua New Guinea and just about every other country with less than reputable governments and tropical timber to loot.

“Virtually all of this timber (from Papua New Guinea) was exported to China in the form of logs and other Asian destinations and the trickle-down of wealth in the country itself remained minimal,” Straumann writes. That is true of virtually every country in which the Malaysia-based lumber companies operated.

There is one more sad corollary to this story. As a December. 23, 2014 story in the New York Times about Costa Rica’s rainforests demonstrates, tropical forests will regenerate, and, given the space of time, return to their former state. The forests of Sarawak, if not all of Borneo, once one of the world’s greatest green lungs, will not. Sarawak’s forests are being replaced with oil palm plantations.

Taib has stepped aside as Chief Minister and is now the state’s governor. He ostensibly is under investigation by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission after the Swiss government forwarded allegations to the Malaysians of money-laundering into Swiss banks.

Straussman

“It is up to his successors (as Chief Minister) to correct the state’s course of action and the government’s condescending attitude towards its indigenous peoples,” Straumann writes. “Now, the Malaysian Judiciary and Anti-Corruption authorities need to live up to their responsibility. While it is a good thing that Sarawak’s last ‘White Rajah’ has finally stepped down, he does not belong in the governor’s residence. He belongs in jail.

P.S: That last sentence is sadly unrealistic. Malaysia’s Anti-Corruption Commission and the Attorney-General have no intention of doing anything about Abdul Taib Mahmud. He remains far too valuable to the ruling coalition in Putrajaya to keep the state in loyal hands.

Charlie Hebdo and the Ugly side of Religious Zenophobia


January 11, 2015

Charlie Hebdo and the Ugly side of Religious Zenophobia

by Lim Teck Ghee@www.themalaymailonline.com

teck-ghee-limAs they went on their rampage, the men who killed 12 people in Paris this week yelled that they had “avenged the prophet.” They follow in the path of other terrorists who have bombed newspaper of ices, stabbed a filmmaker and killed writers and translators, all to mete out what they believe is the proper Koranic punishment for blasphemy. But in fact, the Koran prescribes no punishment for blasphemy.

US-FRANCE-ATTACKS-MEDIA-DEMOLike so many of the most fanatical and violent aspects of Islamic terrorism today, the idea that Islam requires that insults against the Prophet Muhammad be met with violence is a creation of politicians and clerics to serve a political agenda. (—Fareed Zakaria, “Blasphamy and the Law of Fanatics,” January 8, 2015.)

The recent massacre of journalists and other innocents in Paris by Muslim extremists has resulted in a spontaneous and universal wave of sympathy, mourning and concern.

Leaders and ordinary people all over the world have joined in widespread condemnation of these dastardly killings; and rightly so. These are acts of twisted minds. There is no way in which the actions of the Muslim jihadists can be justified.

Political satire has a long and honoured tradition in France and in other democratic nations. The satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo — the target of the cold-blooded massacre – has mocked people of all faiths and backgrounds. One cover of the magazine in April 2011 has listed the major religions by rolls of toilet paper marked “Bible,” “Torah” and “Coran” and has the headline “In the toilet, all religions…”

This irreverence towards all and sundry who are in power or authority is one of the distinguishing features of the democratic system that French Muslims have fled towards and now call their own.

One would expect that the Muslim community would be amongst the first to cherish and protect the secular and democratic way of life in France.

If Charlie Hebdo has lately been seen as paying more attention to lampooning Muslim politicians and Islam, it is because both the religion and their adherents have drawn public attention and scrutiny to themselves. In doing so, in standing up for the freedom of expression, the staff of Charlie have had to pay the ultimate price. All thinking and good people must pay tribute to the murdered cartoonists and their colleagues and unreservedly condemn the barbaric acts aimed at silencing them.

Putrajaya and opposition response

So what has been the response of Malaysia and Malaysian Muslim leaders to this abominable act.On the one hand, we have the correct and restrained response of Putrajaya and the opposition parties.

Kudos to our Prime Minister. In a posting on his Twitter account, Najib said that Malaysia, a Muslim ­majority country, stands in unity with France after the attack at the publication’s Paris office. He tweeted “Msia condemns in the strongest terms all acts of violence. We stand in unity with the French people. We must fight extremism with moderation.”

Kudos also to Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad who said that the sensitive nature of Charlie Hebdo’s controversial cartoons on Islam cannot be used as a reason to justify the multiple killings of the satirical magazine’s staff members. He said terrorism is a far greater evil than satirical comments and articles against Islam, and that although PAS does not agree with the French magazine’s works, the party believes extremism is not the way to protect the religion.

Anwar Ibrahim, leader of Pakatan and PKR, perhaps belatedly recognising that the source of Islamic religious intolerance and hate is embedded in the leadership of the religion, has urged Muslim leaders across the globe to denounce such acts of terrorism “in the strongest possible terms.”

His colleague, Azmin Ali has noted that “[t]he culprits who committedAzmin Ali these murders purportedly in the name of Islam are actually the enemies of Islam…” Azmin has also been forthright in stressing that “such acts of terrorism and sheer cruelty are completely unacceptable in Islam and we reiterate the paramount importance of justice and moderation and reject all forms of violence and fanaticism.”

Two who are not with Charlie

That’s one end of the spectrum in which our leaders have shown by their measured response that they are or can be part of the civilised world. At the other end of the scale, we have two political leaders — one retired, and the other an up and coming — who have made public comments which are reprehensible and irresponsible.

Khairy_Jamaluddin_(cropped)The first is Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin who mocked the need to protect satire that is “racist, xenophobic, bigoted.” Posting on Twitter in response to the US Embassy Kuala Lumpur which said satire should be protected because it is “intended to provoke thought,” Khairy alluded that exceptions had to be made when the content of the satire is offensive. “Even racist, xenophobic, bigoted satire? Please. I condemn the murders. Like I condemned the cartoons,” he posted on Twitter.

This response coming from the UMNO Youth Chief is beneath contempt. It will deservedly haunt him for the rest of his political life. If he thinks that people or organisations that are racist, xenophobic and bigoted deserve to be murdered in cold blood, he needs to look into the mirror himself before he repeats this message.

The other Malaysian whose response is reverberating over the internetDr.Mahathir is former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad. He has said that Charlie Hebdo had on numerous occasions showed disrespect towards Islam and often derided Prophet Muhammad via caricature.

“Is there a need for them to ridicule Prophet Muhammad knowing that they are offending Muslims? We respect their religion and they must respect our religion,” he said when commenting on the killings.

By his stance, Dr Mahathir is implying, even if he is not directly saying it, that violence is justified against those who do not accord the respect towards Islam that he and his fellow Muslims think the religion deserves. Dr Mahathir has made a great many cynical, inflammatory and instigative statements in the past. This set of comments must rank amongst his most odious.

In some ways, the attack on Charlie can be considered to be the equivalent of the United States 9­11 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. Like the Twin Tower event, the impact of the killings will be long lasting. It will lead to the hardening of European and world public opinion towards Muslims and Islam. That cannot be good.

Unfortunately the comments by Dr Mahathir and Khairy are not helpful in any way. They will lead to the stigmatisation of Muslims even as they embolden Muslim extremists to engage in “revenge” acts aimed at punishing those (including from their own religion) who do not show the proper respect or are perceived to be disrespectful towards their religion.

http://www.themalaymailonline.com