December 23, 2017
Greetings from Kuala Lumpur and Phnom Penh for Xmas and 2018
December 23, 2017
October 18, 2017
With the Inauguration of a new President in the United States some 9 months ago, we have entered a period of global uncertainty. Democracy promoted by The United States since the end of the Second World War, as we taught to know it, is now dysfunctional. The America Dr. Kamsiah and I knew and admired has become a selfish and self- centered fading power.
It is no longer the exceptional and indispensable nation. Under President Trump, America has shown worrying signs of having lost its moral high ground to preach and hector other nations on democracy, justice and human rights. At home, it is ideologically, religiously and racially divided. A House Divided cannot stand, nor can it lead.
New centers of global power have emerged–China, India and resurgent Russia–to fill the gap created by “America First”. My favorite Republican Senator from Arizona and a Vietnam War Hero, John McCain , said it most eloquently just a couple days ago:
“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history. We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad.”
It is an uncertain world ahead as Trump’s America looks inwards purportedly to develop its badly neglected infrastructure and the economy. The vacuum in global leadership is waiting to be filled. The rest of us must now adapt to new players and learn to deal with an enigmatic Donald Trump. It is, therefore, appropriate for us to reflect on the challenges for humanity since these times threaten our common future. What better occasion than Diwali 2017 –The Festival of Lights.
Dr Kamsiah Haider in Kuala Lumpur and I in Phnom Penh take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy Diwali 2017 with lots of Peace and Happiness.
We thank you all for your friendship, support and kind cooperation. We have enjoyed engaging with you on FaceBook and this blog. We may have not agreed with you most of the time, but we pleased that you were able to share your views and ideas with us.–Dr. Kamsiah Haider and Din Merican
October 16, 2017
This moving gut wrenching tribute to my late friend and public intellectual, Pak Kassim Ahmad who passed away October 10, 2017 escaped my attention. It is accounts for why its appearance on this blog was delayed. My sincere apologies for that.
Thayaparan is an interesting writer who is known to say what he means in plain, very readable, and direct English. I enjoy reading his pieces in malaysiakini.com and thank him for this fitting tribute to a man who never forgot his roots from Malaysia’s Rice Bowl Kedah with a passion for knowledge and ideas, a Malaysian who did his best to speak the truth to power. He single-handedly took on Malaysia’s bigoted religious establishment and won, and left an imprint in legal history. –Din Merican
by S. Thayaparan
COMMENT | For Kassim Ahmad, a discourse has no winners or losers, only people interested in discovering their faith.
“According to government data, the objectives of the NEP have yet to be achieved. But I think the Malays have this consensus… these special privileges that have made them comfortable. They have this comfort zone where they face no challenges. Because of this, they don’t see the necessity in putting in the effort to progress. So they are weak and lack competitiveness. It is better to end something that does no good to the people anymore.”
– Kassim Ahmad
There is this meme as to the kind of Muslim the late Kassim Ahmad was. To his admirers, the persecution of this public intellectual demonstrated the fear the state had to what he wrote and said, and this made him the poster child for the kind of Islam they believed was “acceptable” in a multiracial and multi-religious country like Malaysia.
To his detractors, he was a purveyor of falsity that threatened Muslim solidarity and he was a puppet of the “opposition” whose writings and speeches would cause the collapse of Malay/Muslim political and religious hegemony.
Indeed, some opposition supporters would be perplexed of some of the things he said about certain opposition politicians and the UMNO state would be perplexed at some of the positions he advocated after they had branded him a deviant and an “enemy” of Islam.
The truth was that Kassim Ahmad was a devout Muslim who believed that his faith was hijacked by interpreters who had agendas of their own that were not compatible with his own interpretation of what would lead to a liberated world.
He had many young followers of his work who often told me that what was inspiring of his interpretation of Islam was that it did not foster fear but hope and that through questioning of what they were told and taught, they would be liberated from the falsities that were all around them.
He encouraged dissent, especially on his own writings, and he was cognisant that ultimately this was a discourse that had no winners or losers, only people who were interested in discovering their faith.
Unfortunately for him, the world is a cruel place. Those who make the claim that theirs is really a religion of peace do not have the empirical evidence to support such a claim. Indeed, the persecution of Kassim Ahmad was evidence that thinking was verboten.
The duplicity, arrogance, and illegality of the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) in its persecution of this religious scholar is a matter of public record. Indeed, not only was Kassim Ahmad targeted but also his long-time advocate Rosli Dahlan.
There were things he said and wrote about that a person could disagree with. Depending on your own belief system, they were roads that Kassim Ahmad walked that you would have no desire to travel on but what separates Kassim Ahmad from the petty religious bigots that persecuted him was that he would never dream of imposing his beliefs on others.
Indeed, he welcomed discourse. He welcomed the challenges his ideas inspired. He wanted Muslims to think about their religion, but more importantly, think for themselves. His was a quiet revolution of the Muslim soul.
This is an example of what baffled him – “Malaysia happens to be a strong upholder of hadith(s). Sometimes the so-called experts, appearing on the Forum Perdana every Thursday night, quote the hadiths more than the Quran.
“Muslim scholars, Bukhari and five others, collected many thousands of so-called hadiths and classified them as authentic or weak 250 to 300 years after the death of Prophet Muhammad. These are collections of the Sunni sect. The Syiah have their own collections of so-called hadiths.
“To my mind, these fabricated hadiths are a major source of confusion and downfall of Islam.”
If ideology and religion is the lens through which some view the world, it is understandable (for those who know anything about Islam) as to why someone like Kassim Ahmad would find succour in this religion which has been weaponised here in Malaysia and the rest of the world. A religion he thought – which is different from “believed” because he put in a great deal of effort and time into “thinking” about his religion – could be a salvation to the problems of the world.
Here is another snippet in his own words – “In the University of Malaya in Singapore, I joined the leftist Socialist Club and later joined the People’s Party of Ahmad Boestamam, and quickly became its leader for 18 years! Somehow or other, I did not feel real about the power and success of socialism. It was simply to identify myself with the poor to whom I belong.
“I was therefore critical of things I inherited from my ancestors. The first scholar I criticised was Imam Shafi’e for his two principal sources (Quran and Hadis). The book ‘Hadis – Satu Peniliai Semula’ in 1986 became the topic of discussion for two months, half opposed and half supporting me. After two months, it was banned.”
Anyone who has read what this scholar believed his religion was about, would understand that Kassim Ahmad’s sympathies for the marginalised were paramount in his belief structure. You could make the argument that his beliefs gave structure to what he eventually hoped rational Islam could accomplish.
Having the mindset of being critical of what you inherited from your ancestors is the most potent tool an adversary of state-sponsored repression could have. This was why they feared this quiet scholar who simply spoke of things that his interpretation of his religion inspired in him.
His intellectual contribution to Islam was anathema to people who believed that blind faith was true faith and his steadfastness in not disavowing what he said, his noncompliance to the diktats of the state was a wound that would not heal for those who wish to impose their beliefs on others.
When I read of how the state persecuted him, I understand why he posed such a threat. If Muslims realised that their interpretation mattered then the so-called scholars would lose their influence and their hegemony of the debate would vanish. Kassim Ahmad was a constant reminder of what would happen if people embraced a religion that they had thought out for themselves.
In a time when the Islamic world is suffering from a dearth of outlier voices, the passing of Kassim Ahmad is a great loss not only to Malaysians but to the other sparks in the Muslims world waiting to be ignited by people who choose not to subscribe to fear but who genuinely want to understand their religion.
I will end with this quote by Henry David Thoreau. Hopefully, it means something –
“On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfil the promise of our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world.”
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.
October 1, 2017
I personally have great skepticism about the theories extolling the wonders of ‘Asian values’. They are often based on badly researched generalisations and frequently uttered by governmental spokesmen countering accusations of authoritarianism and violations of human rights…”
– Amartya Sen, Foreword to ‘The Passions and the Interests by Albert O Hirschman’ (1996)
COMMENT by S. Thayaparan| Before I begin, I would just like to say that it is not constructive engaging in ad hominems with M Kayveas for presenting a contrarian view – in the alternative press – on celebrating “Asian values”. Indeed, I wish that more space was available (unlike the mainstream press) to pro-establishment types to peddle their views.
I am going to answer all the questions the PPP President posed because the reality is that these questions are rhetorical traps. These traps are deployed by those who would wish to silence people who believe that Malaysians, regardless of creed or race, have rights that the state wishes to infringe on using religious and political norms, all under the guise of “Asian values”.
Kayveas wrote: “So where is the extremism that we are screaming and hurling in every direction, in the wake of this demand to have or have not a beer festival in public space, if I may ask?”
The extremism comes from the so-called security threat that people opposed to this public event pose and the capitulation of the state to these extremists. It really does not matter if non-Muslims enjoy the right to “celebrate” in private, there is no law that says that these rights are denied in public spaces.
“So why do we fight over so-called ‘rights’ to have a beer festival in the public space when we could have gracefully enjoyed to the last drop in private space like a hotel’s grand ballroom?
The “fight” is not about celebrating alcohol. The fight is about our right as non-Muslims/Malaysians to hold activities in public even if those activities may cause “sensitivity” to certain religious groups.
“Should we not be thankful that alcohol is not peddled and celebrated in public venues where our young frequent to chill out?
You just claimed that non-Malays/Muslims enjoy unrestricted access to alcohol and we should be grateful for that. We can assume that young people have access to alcohol in this country. How does holding a public beer festival where young people would be restricted from publicly drinking a bad thing?
“Should we not let our Asian values triumph over this imported foreign carnival fads that often leave much to be desired in comparison to our own rooted Asian values?”
Certain towns in America are dry towns. There are laws that restrict the sale of alcohol in countries in the West. There are laws in the West about public intoxication. Therefore, when you say let our Asian values triumph, what values are you talking about which are distinct from Western values?
“Where do we go from publicly-held beer festivals?”
Yes, we should ask ourselves, what other types of festivals would the state ban and who in the state decides which festivals to ban. What if Muslim agitators decide to ban Christmas carols in public – which has happened – because Christians can listen to their carols in private?
Or what if Hindu processions were deemed “violent” and offended the sensitivities of certain racial and religious demographics? Would the triumph of Asian values still apply?
Selangor MB Azmin Ali (photo) is under pressure from religious extremists as to his decision not to ban Octoberfest in Selangor using that heinous excuse that the majority in Selangor are Malay/Muslims.
This is where we go from here.
“How about fashion festivals as in the likes of carnivals in Rio de Janeiro or Jamaica?”
Do you understand the origins of these festivals? These carnivals are a melding of Portuguese and African culture (after a troubled history of slavery), not to mention a potpourri of other influences.
It is about couture and music, dancing and joy, straight and gay, in other words “this” and “that”, mixing in peace. It is much more than scantily-clad men and women.
Take a look at social media if you want to watch naked Malaysians engaged in various sex acts. However, if you want to have a street party, have a carnival or better yet, a Bersih march.
“Or if you would, some form of revived Woodstock that spills and oozes with drugs in the open?”
Woodstock is a music festival. Music festivals are currently “allowed” in Malaysia. What are you suggesting? That we ban music festivals, too?
I would not worry about people scoring drugs in such events. I would much rather worry of the corruption that allows for the free flow of drugs in this country. The rural meth labs. The drug traffickers who collude with elements from the state security apparatus. They pose more danger than the drugs that ooze out of music festivals.
“Or even a gay festival of sorts now that it is becoming very much a ‘westerner’ penchant?
“Penchant”? Sexuality Merdeka was banned for whatever reason and politicians and extremist activists talked of going after the “gay menace”.
Religious extremists, their apologists and collaborators did not acknowledge that Wikileaks exposed the fact that there are homosexuals in government.
I think a gay festival is exactly what this country needs if only to expose the hypocrisy that defines Asian values.
“…what is so wrong in Malaysians respecting the Asian values of moderation, consideration and believe in the eternal truth that promotes self-restraint, respect and endorsement of everything Asian?
The problem here is you haven’t defined what separates Asian values from so-called Western values. You do not want people having beer festivals. You do not want young people exposed to drugs and alcohol.
You obviously do not like scantily-clad women because you object to Brazilian-style carnivals. You do not want homosexuals having marches and you do not want to be “Westernised”- which is kind of strange because you have no problem wearing nice Westerns suits.
These are not exactly “Asian” values. These are values that are exhibited by groups of people (normally religious) all over the world. There is nothing distinctively Asian about them unless you consider hypocrisy a distinctively Asian trait.
Also, I do not think you understand what you mean when you write this – “All Malaysians know and do cherish our superior Asian values which must remain as the bedrock of a distinctly progressive future.”
A progressive future means abandoning silly ideas about the superiority or inferiority of Asian and Western values and embracing values that do not divide us along racial and religious lines.
I wish I could say that you have voiced the genuine agenda of the UMNO establishment but the reality is that many in the opposition probably support your perspective. Hypocrisy is the most overt trait of religion, and as we can tell, the basis of “Asian” values.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.
June 21, 2017
Dr Kamsiah Haider and I wish all our friends, colleagues, associates and readers of this blog Eid Mubarak. I have tried be fair and objective and provide a forum for meaningful and free exchange of views and ideas to promote understanding among members of the international community.
I devoted my time to bring to you on a timely basis articles, book reviews, commentaries and reports which can stimulate our thinking on issues of the day and enable us to express our views without fear or favour. There is nothing to Fear, but FEAR itself. Thank you for your contributions to my lifelong education. In the process, I have made a lot of cyber-pals.
Politicians in power in Malaysia, members of the ruling elite and their supporters do not like what I say. They want to hear praises and are prepared to buy accolades. Money? What the heck. That is not what I am not prepared to do, but I will acknowledge if they do a good job for my country. It is unfortunate that despite my best efforts I have not had the opportunity to compliment Prime Minister Najib Razak, and his cabinet colleagues and their supporters.There are reasons to be critical instead about corruption and abuses of power.
I do not seek to be popular. My purpose is to be “truthful, factual, not neutral” (to quote my favorite CNN host, Christiane Amanpour). The fact that this blog has a big following assures me that it is okay to disagree. It is a source of encouragement for me to keep it going. Our best wishes.–Dr. Kamsiah and Din Merican
March 4, 2017
by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com
Today, March 4, 12,000 people from Australia and around the world identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer (LGBTIQ) will be proudly participating in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras street parade.
And like millions of Sydneysiders of other sexual persuasions I’ll be watching them with a mixture of particular pleasure and pride.
Pleasure in the fun the marchers will be having showing off the fabulous floats and costumes they traditionally create to dress – or undress – in for the occasion, and pride in being part of a community that doesn’t just tolerate individual difference, but outright celebrates it.
And then there’s the feeling of achievement that comes from seeing that society can change for the better, recalling as I so vividly do that the Australia in which I grew up was so disrespectful of difference that when the Sydney Gay Mardi Gras started in 1978 it was a march of protest against the homophobia that was rampant back then.
Not, of course, that homo- or other phobias are entirely extinct in even this comparatively enlightened year of 2017, or in this comparatively enlightened country of Australia.
As recognised by the theme of this year’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, ‘Creating Equality’, there is still a very long way to go before we achiever the organisers’ stated aim of ensuring that “everyone is treated fairly and equally – and no-one is discriminated against for their sexuality, sex, gender identity, race, beliefs, age or abilities.”
Many of my fellow Australians are as bigoted, racist, sexist and religionist as ever.
In fact the most extreme example of this deplorable reality is the subject of a story in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald.
Neil Prakash, Australia’s most infamous Islamic State recruit
“Neil Prakash, Australia’s most infamous Islamic State recruit,” the story begins, “strode the streets of the Iraqi city of Mosul with four bodyguards and acted as supervisor for the terror group’s medieval punishments.”
Punishments overseen by Prakash, the Melbourne-born son of Fijian and Cambodian parents, reportedly included public beheadings, stoning and whippings conducted in Mosul’s main Bab al-Toub Square, and the throwing of people accused of homosexuality from the top of the 10-storey Orizdy building on one side of the square.
Anathema to the vast majority
Such atrocities are, of course, as anathema to the vast majority of Muslims as to the adherents of other religions or to agnostics like myself.
Hudud –The Barbaric System of Justice
As also, I imagine, or at least hope, are such attitudes as that expressed by state executive councillor Mohamed Fadzli Hassan of Kelantan in his recent announcement of his government’s intention to stage a public-caning demonstration in support of the PAS – or, as I think of it, PUS – party’s push for hudud in Malaysia.
Lest I start to appear unfairly islamophobic here, however, let me make the point that I’m strongly if not violently opposed to all religions whose ‘believers’ consider that as long as they pray to some divinity or another they have a right to prey on other people.
As witnessed in the shocking numbers of Catholic and other Christian clergy that have been revealed as predators on the children in their congregations, and other self-styled ‘conservative’ Christians in right-wing racist, religionist political organisations like Australia’s One Nation and the Christian Democratic Party.
Founder and leader of the Christian Democratic Party, the Reverend Fred Nile, is as ferocious an opponent of homosexuality and thus of the Sydney Mardi Gras as almost any mufti or other berobed cleric of any religion could possibly be.
An observation that brings me to the point that it’s impossible to avoid noticing that clerics of all major religions and significant numbers of the participants in the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras have in common – cross-dressing.
But, paradoxically, priests, monks, muftis, mullahs, archbishops, popes and whatever try and dignify the fact that they’re decked-out in dresses by trying to pass them off as robes, habits, cassocks, vestments or other such euphemisms, most seem opposed, if not outright frocking hostile, to good, honest trannies and others who cross-dress for fun.
Just one more reason why, if I had the choice between watching or joining some religious procession in support or praise of some alleged divinity, or grooving along with the gang at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, I’d go for the latter, any day.
DEAN JOHNS, after many years in Asia, currently lives with his Malaysian-born wife and daughter in Sydney, where he coaches and mentors writers and authors and practises as a writing therapist. Published books of his columns for Malaysiakini include ‘Mad about Malaysia’, ‘Even Madder about Malaysia’, ‘Missing Malaysia’, ‘1Malaysia.con’ and ‘Malaysia Mania’.