Racist Politics in Malaysia–Blame the Whole Shebang


February 19, 2017

Racist Politics in Malaysia–Blame the Whole Shebang

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

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It was obvious that bigotry was never a one-way operation, that hatred bred hatred!”

– Isaac Asimov, ‘Pebble in the Sky’

COMMENT: Readers interested in what I write should consider this a companion piece to my article describing how non-Malay Malaysians (specifically) are a tolerant lot.

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Mahathir’s First Carma (Cari Makan) Journalist–A Kadir Jasin

De facto opposition leader and former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad casually mentioned last week that he was partly to blame for the demonisation of DAP. I suppose this went together with veteran journalist A Kadir Jasin’s admission that he was part of the brainwashing that went, and goes on, in UMNO. They say admitting you have a problem is the first step, but I doubt that the indoctrination of Malay youths will cease any time soon when the opposition is made up of Islamic groups determined to use Islam as a political tool.

I wrote the last part of the above paragraph after the opposition had suffered a setback in the by-election where the current UMNO grand poobah was supposed to receive a black eye but apparently, the opposition punched itself in the face. A reader had emailed and asked if the schadenfreude tasted good, especially since I had predicted the results.

I take no pleasure in any opposition defeat and neither do I take pleasure in a UMNO win. This is the bitter taste of having to choose between the lesser of two evils. Furthermore, when I say “evil”, do not get your panties in a twist because it is an expression and not a description of either political fronts. These days I cannot tell the difference between winning and losing when it comes to “saving Malaysia”.

As I have argued before, a country can recover from corruption scandals, but it rarely recovers from that type of Islam that neutralises the democratic imperative. In Malaysia, where race and religion are not mutually exclusive, the threat from Islamists is coupled with ethno-nationalism.

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The  First Malay Nationalist (or is it Racist?)

The de facto Opposition Leader is right when he says that he demonised DAP as DAP and other opposition parties had demonised him. However, the reality is that these political parties were not only demonising their political rivals, they were demonising entire communities.

So, when you want to win, and you demonise your political opponents, and by extension whole communities, the political terrain becomes a battleground for competing racial interests instead of ideological or policy ideas.

This is why I have always been sceptical of the opposition propaganda about voting across racial lines. In one of my numerous articles about race relations in this country, I wrote: “In addition, this idea that voting across racial lines as some sort of evidence of burgeoning multiracial solidarity is complete bunkum. The real test is when people vote across ethnic and religious lines in support of ideologies that run counter to the interests of their communities and by this, I mean egalitarian ideas that run afoul of constitutional sacred cows and social and religious dogma.”

While the former Prime Minister (and now de facto Opposition Leader) and the system contributed to Malay fear of DAP, the whole political system and voting patterns of Malaysians is also culpable for this sad state of affairs. UMNO succeeded because the majority of Malaysians voted for race-based parties. Racial preoccupations were the currency that sustained BN politics and still does.

The problem is that because we do not have an alternative, BN politics is the only game in town. Non-Malay oppositional voices and voters do not demand an alternative but rather that the system continues but in a more “fairer” manner.

DAP and MCA furiously battle for the Chinese vote. Meanwhile Malay-dominated so-called multicultural parties battle with UMNO and now PAS for the Malay vote. Until the former Prime Minister showed up, there was no central theme that united the Opposition.

While the charismatic Anwar Ibrahim and the late Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat discovered that populism does not necessarily mean racial or religious preoccupations when it comes to cobbling together a formidable coalition, the emergence of the former Prime Minister as the de facto opposition leader has given the current UMNO regime an opportunity to:

1) Revisit history.

2) Dredge up the financial scandals of the former Prime Minister.

3) Point out that their strategies for securing the Malay vote is based on his strategies that kept him in power for decades.

If anyone is wondering why questions of race always revolves around the Malay and Chinese dialectic, it is because… well, if you are going to ask this question, you have obviously not being paying attention.

All are participants in race game

When I argued that Malaysians were a tolerant lot, the thrust of the piece revolved around how systemic inequalities were a detriment to the non-Muslim population but I failed to emphasise how the non-Malay communities were active participants in the race game in this country.

Voting for race-based parties meant that we did not have to concern ourselves with egalitarian concepts that would have been the basis for a more democratic system. It was not that we were “immature” or “uneducated”, it was just easier to vote for a political hegemon that provided security and stability for decades but not the rights and responsibilities that are part and parcel of a functional democracy.

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UMNO’s Money Stealing Grand Poobah

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Tolerance may have been a one-way street, it was also the street where we stopped by the sidewalk and spat at the “Malays”. There is the other narrative of non-Malays engaging in subtle and overt racism, all the while supporting racial political parties that claimed inclusiveness.

The majority of us did this to ensure that our racial preoccupations were satisfied by a plutocrat class instead of demanding for an accountable and transparent government, but more importantly demanding for a principled opposition who fearlessly made their positions clear instead of championing communal causes under the guise of “multiracial/culturalism”.

The private sector was (is) dominated by Chinese polity who were perpetuating their own form of systemic inequalities and contextualising this reality as a response to the systemic inequality perpetrated by the UMNO Malay state.

While I think, there is generally “a live and let live” vibe between Malaysians, it would be a mistake to assume that this is some sort of national identity or some form of stable unity. I realise that this is political incorrect to say, but the hard truth is that while race relations have been manipulated by establishment (both UMNO and the Opposition), the reality is that there was always tensions between the various races of this country.

This is why talking about “race” in this country is such a demoralising endeavour. Appeals to emotion replace rational discourse. The fact that our constitution is compromised, the system itself is predicated on maintaining racial and religious superiority, makes any discussion about how the non-Malays react to such a system, their complicity in sustaining the system difficult to articulate.

The fault of UMNO and the Opposition is that nobody offered an alternative and Malaysians never expected anything better.

You know what the big difference is between the corruption scandals of UMNO back in the day and the one now is? The difference is that a vast majority of Malaysians kept voting UMNO-BN back then than they do now. This is a testament to not only the political strategies of Mahathir but also the apathy of the Malaysians. This of course is a boon for the Opposition because Mahathir seems to be the only person who can galvanise the opposition. The more things change, the more they remain the same.

 

Trump, Najib and The Controlled and Free Media


February 18, 2017

Trump, Najib and The Controlled and  Free Media

 

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

Prime Minister of Malaysia (PMOM) Najib Abdul Razak must be feeling tremendously superior to his alleged erstwhile golfing buddy and recently-elected President of the United States (POTUS) Donald J.Trump, even without a chance to play a round with him recently.

Because, however many courses Trump owns, and however close to scratch his game might be, he’s competing at world-class level according to US and international rules in full view of a global gallery, and thus has no chance of hiding just how green, gruesomely handicapped and doomed to defeat that he thus far appears to be.

Whereas Najib plays mostly for Malaysia on a minor circuit restricted to such similar small-timers as North Korea and Zimbabwe, who all consider themselves winners because they not only make-up the rules of the game and fake their own scorecards, but also feel free to club anyone who dares criticise or oppose them into silence or submission.

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Or, in some special cases, to death, as in the current case of the alleged hit on a member of North Korea’s Kim family at the KL International Airport 2, or the murder and C4 dismemberment of Mongolian ‘model’ Altantuya Shaariibuu (pic above) in Kuala Lumpur a decade ago.

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No wonder POTUS Trump is so mightily teed-off at the way he’s thwarted at every stroke as he strives to triumph over obstacles like that mother of all sand-traps, the Middle East, and looming water hazards like the South China Sea, while simultaneously trying to deal with domestic challenges ranging from hostile Democrats and disaffected Republicans to hostile news media and intractable courts.

At least you’d imagine that a golfer as avid as Trump so evidently is would be aware of Theodore Roosevelt’s proverbial advice to himself and successive US Presidents to ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’.

But apparently not, as in the blustering press conference he held recently to praise his own allegedly ‘fine-tuned’ administration’s bumbling, stumbling performance in its first few weeks, he seemed rather to be still resorting to speaking glibly because he’s getting so much stick.

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Najib’s Team of Goofers

And if he’s even slightly sincere in his avowed desire to ‘make America great again’, he can look forward to getting even more stick in the future, in light of the fact that two of the principal principles that have contributed most to America’s self-perception as ‘great’ are the freedom of the press and the doctrine of the separation of powers underpinning the independence of the Judiciary.

And it is right here, of course, where Najib’s UMNO-BN regime, North Korea’s Kim dynasty, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe-figure eaded Zanu-PF gang and the similar dominant players in countless other no-account countries well and truly have the wood on Trump attempts to run the US.

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Because while Trump can only endlessly and impotently repeat his lying refrain about the forces of ‘fake news’ that he claims are so ‘unfairly’ ranged against him, Najib, the Kims and Mugabes can, as they so efficiently have done, abolish independent news media, fake or otherwise, and create fake news in their own favour.

Thus, to refer back to the headline of this column, Najib easily trumps Trump in the management of negative or hostile news and views by the simple expedient of making sure there aren’t any. None that can be printed or broadcast, at least, as  UMNO-BN owns and controls all of Malaysia’s ‘mainstream’, or in other words, traditional news media. In contrast in the United States, freedom of expression is guaranteed by The First Amendment, making the media an independent and countervailing force in American society.

This blacking-out of bad news about Malaysia’s ruling regime is reinforced by an Official Secrets Act so severe as to cover virtually every activity of the government, the public services and crony based ‘government-linked corporations’ (GLCs), and of course backed-up by regime domination of the Judiciary which should by rights be Malaysian citizens’ final bulwark against the misrule of their country by the UMNO-BN ‘kleptocracy’.

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At least you’d imagine that a golfer as avid as Trump so evidently is would be aware of Theodore Roosevelt’s proverbial advice to himself and successive US presidents to ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’.

But apparently not, as in the blustering press conference he held recently to praise his own allegedly ‘fine-tuned’ administration’s bumbling, stumbling performance in its first few weeks, he seemed rather to be still resorting to speaking bitingly because he’s getting so much stick.

And if he’s even slightly sincere in his avowed desire to ‘make America great again’, he can look forward to getting even more stick in the future, in light of the fact that two of the principal principles that have contributed most to America’s self-perception as ‘great’ are the freedom of the press and the doctrine of the separation of powers underpinning the independence of the Judiciary.

And it is right here, of course, where Najib’s UMNO-BN regime, North Korea’s Kim dynasty, Zimbabwe’s Mugabe-figureheaded Zanu-PF gang and the similar dominant players in countless other no-account countries well and truly have the wood on Trump attempts to run the US.

Because while Trump can only endlessly and impotently repeat his lying refrain about the forces of ‘fake news’ that he claims are so ‘unfairly’ ranged against him, Najib, the Kims and Mugabes can, as they so efficiently have done, abolish independent news media, fake or otherwise, and create fake news in their own favour.

Thus, to refer back to the headline of this column, Najib easily trumps Trump in the management of negative or hostile news and views by the simple expedient of making sure there aren’t any. None that can be printed or broadcast, at least, as UMNO–BN either or both owns and controls all of Malaysia’s ‘mainstream’, or in other words traditional news media.

From left: Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Steve Mnuchin and Sen. Jeff Sessions have all been nominated to high-profile positions in President-elect Trump’s Cabinet. Alex Wong/Getty Images; F. Carter Smith/Bloomberg via Getty Images; Drew Angerer/Getty Images; Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This blacking-out of bad news about Malaysia’s ruling regime is reinforced by an Official Secrets Act so severe as to cover virtually every activity of the government, the civil services and crony so-called ‘government-linked corporations’ (GLCs), and of course  backed-up by regime domination of the Judiciary which should by right be Malaysian citizens’ final bulwark against the misrule of their country by the UMNO-BN ‘kleptocracy’.

One tiny flaw

Admittedly this game-winning strategy has one tiny flaw, which is that former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the man who devised and from whom Najib has inherited it, was so keen to create a world-class IT complex he grandly conceived as ‘Cyberjaya’ that he promised global players like Apple and Microsoft that he wouldn’t censor the Internet.

Cyberjaya, like so many of Mahathir’s alleged megalomanic projects, never really took off. But at least the Internet has surprisingly remained relatively free in Malaysia, and thus I can write what I like, or rather what my editors deem not so dangerously politically provocative as to get Malaysiakini raided or banned, in this column.

But Najib and his UMNO-BN accomplices and supporters are apparently quite prepared if not happy to tolerate this relatively minor annoyance, as it gives them a pretext on which to pretend they permit at least some slight degree of press freedom.

And in any event they must figure that however much bad news gets out about them, they can keep buying enough voters to keep them in power with money they SK1M from the public purse to fund annual hand-outs billed as BR1M, which Najib recently boasted increases in amount every year.

Or, to put this another way, there are always enough Malaysians prepared to be so D1M as to accept BR1M and in return to pretend that they’re unaware that Najib, like every one of his fellow UMNO-BN members and cronies, is a KR1M.

In short, though Najib Abdul Razak might seem to the embarrassed, embarrassing and deeply-embattled Donald Trump to be a winner in the contest between himself and the essential democratic institutions of truth, transparency and justice, the Malaysian people are the ‘sure-fire losers’.

Just as the American people will be if Trump and his goofers can’t be persuaded or if necessary forced to finally get themselves on the ball, stop playing around like dimwit banana-republic demagogues and realise that there’s as huge a gulf between their performance so far and true world leadership as between hit-and-giggle golf and the real thing.


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’.

Malaysians are a tolerant and docile lot


February 15, 2017

Malaysians are a tolerant and docile lot over Najib Razak, bigotry, racism, corruption

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

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“The difference between fundamentalists and moderates – and certainly the difference between all ‘extremists’ and moderates – is the degree to which they see political and military action to be intrinsic to the practice of their faith. In any case, people who believe that Islam must inform every dimension of human existence, including politics and law, are now generally called not ‘fundamentalists’ or ‘extremists’ but, rather, ‘Islamists’.” – Sam Harris

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak described (an example of) the beauty of Malaysia as the Chinese waiting (uncomplaining) for Muslim potentates while they prayed when an official function was about to begin. This really sums up the concept of “moderation” in this country. The non-Muslims do not complain and indeed make pacts with Islamists, and life carries on as usual as long as there is money to be made.

In this country, “tolerance” is a one-way street. It is a street only used by the non-Malay population. The claim that the constitution guarantees certain rights is a complete sham. Mind you, the word “tolerance” is in itself a loathsome word. It is a word lacking empathy, simpatico, goodwill or camaraderie. The word implies, “enduring” instead of “accepting” and “understanding” – all those sentiments that denote a sense of belonging.

When it comes to race and specifically religion, I wrote – “…The reality is that the only people who find themselves disturbed by another religion are the non-Muslims. If there is a disparity in treatment, a lack of fairness, outright persecution or double standards, it is faced by non-Muslim communities.”

The post-69 history of Malaysia is the history of non-Malays non-complaining, as we allowed our country and our politics to be hijacked by charlatans who promised security, stability and prosperity if we continued tolerating everything that deep down inside we knew was destroying this country.

Image result for Najib Razak QuotesThat’s a lot bull, Prime Minister Najib, you betrayed our Trust, and one day you are going to pay the price for doing so.–Din Merican

When the Prime Minister of this country claims that “The Federal Constitution stresses that we must respect our difference in diversity in terms of culture, language and religion”, I double up in laughter because the constitution is meaningless without people who actually believe in discovering and enforcing the intent of the constitution.

Honestly, this is the same regime where a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department wanted to crack down on religious pluralism (amongst others) because “They are trying to do this by putting pressure on our country to surrender and adhere to what they said as ‘international standards and laws’ to allow total freedom of human rights, which contravenes the principles and teachings of Islam, the cultures of our multiracial people, and the spirit of the Federal Constitution.”

This has never been about a government of equals. This has always been about creating a monolithic community under the yoke of UMNO. Always remember what the Pahang mufti said after he backtracked form his genocide comment – “We are not forcing but I urge non-Muslims to convert to Islam to be safe in the afterlife and for unity in Malaysia. There will be no more chaos and we can focus on development” – which is the canard that Muslims shove down one another’s throats in attempt at solidarity.

So yes, we are a “tolerant” people. And if you are Malay and feel the same way about what non-Malays have tolerated, then perhaps you understand the situation deeper than the average establishment supporter.

Unilateral conversions

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The man who destroyed our institutions–Can Malaysians think?

We tolerated a great many things. Here are some of things I think we tolerate.We are tolerant that a specific race is defined in our constitution. We are tolerant that race determines privileges. We are tolerant that a religion is deemed superior and this is codified in our laws and constitution. We are tolerant that the security apparatus in our country determines which laws to follow. We are tolerant when our religions are mocked and we are branded traitors because we defend our rights which are supposedly enshrined in our constitution.

We are tolerant when religious personalities imply that oppositional political parties are the enemies of Islam and thus open to war-like retribution. We are tolerant when our public spaces are invaded by a state-sanctioned religion. We are tolerant when we are warned not to interfere in the state-sponsored religion even though it has been objectively proven that the same religion interferes in our rights.

We are tolerant when our children are indoctrinated in our public schools. We are tolerant when our politicians play the race-and-religion card at every opportunity. We are tolerant when men convert to the state’s religion to vindictively attack their wives and children. We are tolerant when public spaces are raided by religious officials and our fellow countrymen and women are dragged out and humiliated. We are tolerant when the propaganda organs of the state lie and disseminate fake news vilifying Malaysians as “racist”, “chauvinist” and “anti-Islam”.

We are tolerant when members of the so-called opposition claim that they have to use the same tactics as UMNO to remove the current grand poohbah. We are tolerant when voices tell us that we should be grateful for being allowed to live here. We are tolerant when our history is distorted.

We are tolerant when foreign Islamists came to this country and mock our religions. We are tolerant when we are warned by the mainstream political establishment that we can never assume to lead this country because this would hurt the sensitivities of the majority. We are tolerant when the natives of this land are abused and expelled from their ancestral homes.

We are tolerant of unilateral conversions. We are tolerant of attacks against the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community. We are tolerant of attacks against liberalism and progressive ideas. We are tolerant when our education system is used as a petri dish. We are tolerant of quotas in our education system. We are tolerant of quotas in our civil and security services. We are tolerant of deaths in custody. We are tolerant when laws are created that would give the executive unlimited powers. So yes, we tolerate a great many things.

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The UMNO racists

The UMNO state understands that the non-Muslims would not do anything about it. Sure, a majority of non-Muslims would like to see Najib go and they would be joined by Muslims with the same cause, but ultimately the UMNO state knows when the chips are down, the opposition will not do anything to challenge UMNO hegemony on race and religion.

Indeed, the regime is extremely confident that the Malaysian non-Malays will tolerate this, too.

S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

Stop Rampant Misogyny and take an honest look in the mirror


February 12, 2015

Message to Najib Razak and Hadi Awang and Malay Muslims-Stop Rampant Misogyny and take an honest look in the mirror

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by Nadia Jalil@www.themalaymailonline.com

“Misogyny, in combination with a repressive and perverse attitude towards sexuality, has contributed to Malays having the highest rates of incest, rape, and unwed pregnancies.”–Nadia Jalil

Malaysian Muslims should struggle against anything in Malaysian culture which does not protect dignity and equality of human being.” — Tariq Ramadan, Kuala Lumpur, January 2015

Looking at developments in the US, I think there are few Muslims who would be unmoved by the large-scale protests against the #MuslimBan there. I wonder, though, how many of us Malay Muslims who have felt touched and inspired by the sight of non-Muslims in a “non-Muslim country” defending Muslims against oppression, felt a twinge of guilt at the fact that we have been complicit in, if not active participants of, oppression in our own country.

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Barack Obama’s Moderate Muslim Najib Razak and Islamic Extremist Hadi Awang  with India’s disciple of Sayyid Qutb. They are exploiting  ISLAM for their political survival.

Quite apart from the “special position” of Islam in Malaysia, which has been used to exert a kind of dominion over members of other faiths—from the major, such as the illegal expropriation of Orang Asli lands in Kelantan and elsewhere, to regular microaggressions like calls to boycott businesses owned by non-Muslims—it has now become very obvious that we have a very sick society.

Malay culture has become one of judgment over mercy. We have abandoned the precepts of hikmah in da’wah and adab when we indulge in amar ma’ruf nahi munkar (enjoining good and forbidding evil). Indeed, more often than not, we relish in public undertakings of nahi munkar and barely enjoin good at all. Social media may not be a perfect yardstick, but given that Malaysians are one of the most active users of social media in the world, it’s a pretty reliable measure of social attitudes. Observe, for instance, the public shaming that occurs when a Malay Muslim is judged to have strayed from accepted mores, particularly in cases where women do not follow conventions in terms of dress.

This behaviour is tied to a development that goes unnoticed in our communities: rampant misogyny. Universities host “cover your aurat” week in which women who do not don the hijab are shamed and harassed, sometimes physically. While a lot of the conversations surrounding the return of a deported serial rapist have centred on safety concerns, another, more worrying, trend is Malay men indulging in victim-shaming—informing women that if they wish to be safe, they should police their dressing and their behaviour. At the extreme end some have wished that the serial rapist would rape women who do not police themselves. We have movies that turn rapists into heroes, and cases where rape survivors have been forced to marry their rapists, a ‘solution’ that is condoned by the community.

This misogyny seems to be founded on a culture of patriarchy that has been given an Islamist sheen. In official and unofficial sermons, women are constantly told that we must be subservient to men, that the one and only way to heaven is by serving the men in our lives, whether they are our husbands, our fathers or our brothers. Exposure to this male chauvinism starts from a young age: in mixed-gender schools, boys are encouraged to be leaders, girls their followers. By contrast, we don’t teach our boys that men, too, have duties and responsibilities to their wives, mothers, and sisters.

Al-Tirmidhi Hadith 3252 Narrated by Aisha ; Abdullah ibn Abbas Allah’s Messenger (saws) said, “The best of you is he who is best to his family, and I am the best among you to my family.” 

This attitude stands in stark contrast to the fact that Islam is a religion for which the last Messenger’s (pbuh) first wife was a successful businesswoman and his employer, while another is widely acknowledged as one of the major narrators of hadith, for whom it is said, “the implications of her actions for women’s participation in scholarship, political life, and the public sphere clashed with later conservative conceptions of the role of women”.[1] Indeed, Islam revolutionised the role of women in 7th century Arabia: where once women were thought of as nothing more than chattel and female infanticide common, Islam proclaimed that they were equal to men in God’s eyes.

Misogyny, in combination with a repressive and perverse attitude towards sexuality, has contributed to Malays having the highest rates of incest, rape, and unwed pregnancies. There has been no recognition that this is the direct result of a patriarchal and misogynistic culture that objectifies women, in addition to a refusal to educate children on sexual health and reproductive rights. Rather, proposed solutions again tend to focus on victim shaming and increasingly punitive measures.

We have now become a people who emphasise religiosity over spirituality, good deeds and good conduct; obsessed over the trivial and ritualistic. We are constantly preoccupied by perceived incursions into our ‘rights’ by non-Muslims, and this siege mentality permeates our interactions with them: a clearly non-Halal pork burger restaurant gives one of its dishes a traditionally Malay name, and we are up in arms, claiming it an insult to our religion.

Where, then, are similarly vociferous outcries in matters of grave injustice? We police outward shows of religiosity—what we eat and what we wear, and demand that our rights supersede those of others, always. As citizens of a multicultural country we ignore the rights of others and public interest (maslahah) in order to chase “religious points”. We stand quietly by as an Islamist State government destroys Temiar lands and punishes members of the tribe who are protecting their homes and trying to stop the environmental devastation that occurs through excessive logging.

We don’t question massive embezzlement of public funds, even when we know that those funds are used to finance people going for Haj and Umrah—which seems to me a very perverse way of “spiritual money laundering”. We allow for the fact that many of our mosques are not sanctuaries but places where the most vulnerable amongst us are turned away.

Our preoccupation with religiosity is aided and abetted by an institutionalised religious infrastructure that infantilises Muslims by claiming that only it can “defend the honour of our faith” and “protect Muslims from becoming confused”. We are constantly told that only the official way is religiously acceptable, even if some rulings rely on a narrow and highly literal interpretation of Scripture. Any form of questioning, however slight, or criticism, however valid, is automatically labelled deviant, and an attack on Islam. In addition, we have a moral police that has been known to harass suspects to the point of causing death—how is this following the precepts of ‘adab?

The fact that Islam in Malaysia is now represented by moral policing, religious bigotry and misogyny has contributed to resentment among non-Muslims, giving rise to Islamophobia. Many non-Muslims lauded Trump for his anti-Muslim views because they have been presented and oppressed by this narrow, intolerant and sometimes, absolutely distorted version of Islam their whole lives.

There are other challenges, but the final one I would like to put forth is the rise in violent extremism. According to IMAN Research, as at August 2016, 236 Malaysians have been arrested by the authorities for joining ISIS, including a 14-year-old girl.[2] This is not surprising, given the fetishising of violent jihad above all other types of jihad, not only in some Madrasahs, but in ‘mainstream’ environments as well. In addition to that, official efforts by the establishment to counter violent extremism contrasts jarringly with domestic bigotry that continuously otherises those in the minority.

I highly suspect that part of this behaviour is due to the heavily politicised nature of Islam in this country, where UMNO and PAS regularly try to “out-Islam” the other, and all other political parties have to play along with this narrative. Thus has our faith been hijacked by rank politics and conflated with the bigoted ideology of Malay supremacy.

Of course, it can be argued that these are generalisations, and “not all Muslims” subscribe to these behaviours and have these views. I emphasise again that these are norms, in the sense that we have become desensitised to them and, apart from the statements made by more temperate Muslim organisations and our own private protestations, they continue on, generally unremarked and tolerated, if not accepted.

I am not at all questioning the position of Islam as the official religion of this country. Instead, what I am calling for is the end of this distorted misrepresentation of our faith. As those who are privileged to be in the majority, we have a duty to end oppression committed in the name of Islam.

I fully realise that I am preaching to the choir in an amplified echo chamber. However, ours is a more dissonant than harmonised, whereas those promoting a narrow and intolerant Islam far removed from the vibrancy and openness of the Muslim civilisations which continue to be our inspirations—of the Abbasids, Umayyads and Cordoba—are concentrated and organised. We have let this go on for far too long. If you care for an Islam in Malaysia that is representative of our faith’s beauty, ideals of justice, and rahmah, I submit that we have to act now.

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Islam is also not conformity and compulsion, but reason and compassion

Firstly, we need to arm ourselves with knowledge. Of Islam, of other faiths, of socio-political and economic developments. Knowledge is, as always, power. If you choose to be devout, as Tariq Ramadhan, the Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University, has exhorted, “(i)f you want to be good Muslims, instead of preventing people from believing, you become better believers. Don’t be scared of people who are not Muslim. Be scared, be afraid, be worried about our own lack of consistency.”[3] 

Secondly, we need to strengthen our own communities, and get organised. We need to overcome petty disagreements surrounding minute differences in opinion and support those organisations that are already working to promote a tolerant Islam that fights oppression. We need to form alliances, and yes, we need to go beyond the echo chamber.

Finally, we need to act against oppressions conducted in our name. Loudly speak out and strongly act against bigotry, fight for the vulnerable and marginalised, insist that our mosques are opened as sanctuaries, promote Islam as it truly is.

We need to get to work.

*This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.


[1] ‘15 Most Important Muslim Women in History’, https://ballandalus.wordpress.com/2014/03/08/15- important-muslim-women-in-history/ extracted on 10 February 2017.

[2] ‘The Allure of ISIS’, IMAN Research August 2016, https://issuu.com/theaffair/docs/newsletter- isis_1_aug2016 extracted on 10 February 2017.

[3] “Look in the mirror, Muslim don tells Malaysians critical of Western discrimination”, The Malay Mail Online, 1 February 2015, http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/look-in-the-mirror-muslim-don-tells- malaysians-critical-of-western-discrimi#sthash.lwflqwTZ.dpuf

Malaysia: Into the Future Together


February 5, 2017

TN50, 1Malaysia and other else, Mr. Najib–Time to Get back to Basics and Stop your Political and Racist Nonsense–Into the Future Together and embrace Rukun Negara

by Zainah Anwar@www.thestar.com.my

Make no mistake the project to create a new ideological infrastructure for Malaysia has been many years in the making. If the leaders continue to ignore this real threat or to be complicit in this for short-term political gain, and the rakyat continue to be blinded by demagogues who abuse ethnicity and religion for narrow sectarian interests, then we will end up fighting for crumbs indeed come 2050, or even earlier. —Zainah Anwar
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Najib Razak–Malaysia’s No. 1 Problem

AS we stumble into 2017 in a Malaysia and a world full of uncertainties, and a US President shooting from his hip, causing global turmoil, I am glad that there are actually two important discussions taking place now in Malaysia on the kind of country we want to live in.

One is the TN50 series of national dialogues with young people on the Malaysia they envision by 2050. The other is the effort to make Rukunegara the preamble to the Constitution. And I believe they should feed into each other.

Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin who is leading the TN50 dialogue, rightfully said this process is not just about defining policies for national development, but importantly, also about defining our national identity.

That many politicians (led by none other than the  narcissistic Prime Minister himself) are still determined to use ethnicity and religion to not only define us, but to divide us remains a dominant leitmotif of Malaysian politics to this day.

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In his recent interview with The Star, Khairy (pic with his wife Nori Tun Abdullah Badawi) stated that one of the areas of engagement in TN50 will be the subject of “an inclusive, vibrant and open society”. This, he hopes, will lead to a discussion on values and what a Malaysian identity should be.

I hope these dialogue sessions will be a platform where diverse groups of stakeholders can get to listen to each other and think. And in this process the “I” can become a ‘We” – we, Malaysians.

Over the years, ethnic and religious polarisation has gotten from bad to worse in Malaysia. The sad thing is that much of this divisiveness is driven by desperate politicians who manufacture fears and threats in order to maintain their power and privilege, and by non-state political ideologues burning with self-righteousness about establishing an Islamic state and syariah and Malay supremacy.

Never mind if such strategies lead to the destruction of the Malaysia we know and love, and the Malaysia that our founding fathers envisioned. That vision remains valid today.

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Malaysia’s Ills–Greed, Corruption and Incompetence

I have always believed that this country is big enough, and blessed enough for us all to share. That was how the founding fathers saw it as they developed a political system and policies where political power and economic wealth of the nation could be equitably shared.

As other ethnically divided countries fell apart, Malaysia stood in stark contrast because of a fundamental belief that this country has no other path to follow for its survival and well-being, but for its people to choose to live together in peace and to share the wealth of the nation.

To continue to label the Chinese and Indians as pendatangs, to portray them as threats, to regard other religions as a threat to Islam when the Constitution is clear in recognising Islam as the religion of the Federation and for other religions to be practised in peace and harmony, is nothing but a deliberate and mischievous attempt to manufacture a new ideological infrastructure for an exclusivist Malaysia to serve the short-term interest of the privileged few.

With all the corruption scandals perpetrated by those elected and appointed to protect the supposed interests and rights of the bumiputras, it is time that we start to think beyond our own ethnic and religious boundaries.

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Sebab sSaya nak songlap duit rakyat lagi

For there are larger interests for the national well-being that can unite us. So I welcome the TN50 dialogue initiative which I hope will start a national conversation on the kind of Malaysia we aspire to by 2050. Will it buttress the recognition of Malaysia’s plurality in the 1957 Constitution or submit to the demands for an exclusive identity based on ethnicity and religion, and even then, one that embraces only a certain kind of Malays and Muslims, while others are labelled deviants?

Will we continue to see our diversity as our strength rather than a curse and a threat as these extremists portray? Do we want to live in fear or in hope?

The proponents of the initiative (I am one of them) to make the Rukunegara the Preamble to the Constitution is embarked on an effort to reinvigorate and reaffirm this national commitment and turn it, in the words of Alexis de Tocqueville, into “habits of the heart”.

The objectives and principles of the Rukunegara, carefully crafted after the trauma of 1969 and launched by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on National Day in 1970, were designed to rebuild a sense of national unity and purpose – of a government and its citizens committed to building a democratic, just and progressive society with a liberal approach to her rich and diverse cultural traditions.

They contain values that recognise our diversity and represent our commitment to inclusiveness, and our belief in democracy, justice, equity, and unity.

While some of us embrace these values until they become “habits of the heart”, too many others in powerful positions, in their rhetoric and actions, are determined to upend the best in the Malaysian character to refashion a new identity where those different are demonised and labelled, and therefore to be feared and excluded.

Make no mistake the project to create a new ideological infrastructure for Malaysia has been many years in the making. If the leaders continue to ignore this real threat or to be complicit in this for short-term political gain, and the rakyat continue to be blinded by demagogues who abuse ethnicity and religion for narrow sectarian interests, then we will end up fighting for crumbs indeed come 2050, or even earlier.

As expected, any effort to be inclusive, consultative, realistic in facing the challenges of today and the future, is regarded as a threat by these ethno-religious extremists.

Revitalising the Rukunegara to make it the preamble to the Constitution is damned as an effort to erode the special status of the Bumiputeras and undermine Islam as the religion of the Federation.

Dialogues to provide a platform for young people to envision the Malaysia they want by 2050 is criticised for not using Islam as its framework.

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Malaysia’s Gutsy Public  Intellectual

Such myopic attitudes reveal the intent of these supremacists to turn Malaysia into a mono-ethnic and mono-religious country or at least, one that serves the interest of only one group of citizens.

We want to move forward and embrace the values and ideals of the Rukunegara that remain relevant today, if not even more.

We want to explore new ideas and build new understandings that will keep us together and promote our collective well-being as we face the difficult and complex challenges of an uncertain new world order.

We want to stride into the future with knowledge and confidence, not with self-inflicted fear and myopia.

Democracy — People Power in South Korea


February 1, 2017

Democracy — People Power in South Korea

by Kim Kee-seok

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/01/30/solving-the-puzzle-of-park-geun-hye/

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People Power. Thousands of South Koreans took to the streets of Seoul  Picture: Jeon Heon-Kyun-Pool/Getty Images Source:Getty Images

The Park Geun-hye scandal of 2016 brings both despair and hope for South Korean democracy.

Despair comes from the abuse of presidential power that would seem implausible in a democratic republic. President Park is accused of transferring a substantive part of her official power to an old friend Choi Soon-sil — who held no formal position in the government — and allowing her to wield undue and wide-reaching influence over state affairs.

 

Key presidential aides, members of the ruling party and high profile governmental officials all failed — or never tried — to check or control this absurd behaviour. As a result, President Park has been impeached by the parliament by an overwhelming margin and South Korea’s ruling party (the Saenuri Party) split into two.

Image result for Park Geun-hyePresident  Park Geun-hye in the UK to Her Majesty The Queen

Hope comes in that the scandal showed the remarkable tolerance and democratic consciousness of the South Korean people. The candlelit demonstrations — triggered by Park Geun-hye’s unappreciative apology statements — spread to 10 million people by the end of 2016. Every weekend, millions of demonstrators in major cities across the country — including Gwanghwa-mun Square in Seoul — called for President Park’s resignation or her parliamentary impeachment.

But to the surprise of most international media outlets, no violent incidents occurred throughout the duration of the protests. The protestors showed genuine democratic citizenship — sublimating violence into peace, anger into festivities, and humiliation into parody and laughter. This leaves an unprecedented historical example that is rarely found in the experiences of any age, country or nation.

The real puzzle is why and how the unlikely reconciliation of such desperate derailment of democracy and democratic citizenship was possible in South Korea. Why did the South Korean people elect a bizarre president like Park Geun-hye, and why didn’t the democratic checks and balances work while such an absurd power transfer existed for more than three and a half years?

While Park had already showed problems such as incompetence, political disillusionment and weak communication skills during her 2012 presidential campaign, South Korean voters ignored these negative signals and elected her as president. Furthermore, even after her inauguration, an array of clear policy failures — such as the Ferry Sewol tragedy, the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) incident and the incessant personnel and diplomatic difficulties — were not reflected in Park’s (abnormally) high approval ratings.

Resolving this important puzzle will be one of the key challenges for South Korean politics and democracy in 2017 and beyond. Without sound leadership, South Korea faces numerous challenges, including deepening socio-economic polarisation, serious economic downturn, mounting household debt, icy relations with North Korea, and changes in international affairs following the election of US President-elect Trump.

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Forthcoming political processes include the special prosecutor’s investigation of Park and Choi Soon-sil (pic above), the Constitutional Court’s deliberation over the presidential impeachment motion and the presidential election. Most importantly, South Korea should search for a systematic solution to its democracy puzzle. It needs to identify and reform the factors that misled voters to elect a bizarre president and to support her regardless of repeated policy failures.

In general, the puzzle has much to do with the over-concentration of political power in the President’s position — the ‘emperor president’ complex — and the economic wealth of the chaebols (South Korea’s family-owned business conglomerates). The President’s influence misled authorities — such as prosecutors, police, the National Intelligence Service and mass media — into having a pro-government bias, since the president holds strong influence on the leadership formation in each organisation. This concentration of power has systematically undermined Korean democracy.

Constitutional amendment is likely to become a key tool in the search for an answer to this puzzle. South Korean society seems to have achieved a sort of social consensus that the current constitution — which was established as a result of democratisation in 1987 — is outdated and needs to be amended to establish a more solid democratic framework. But there is currently no consensus on any alternative or superior political economic system. Rather, the beginning of serious debate on constitutional amendment — combined with the struggle for a new president — will introduce intense political competitions and conflict.

In the process, which of the desperate or hopeful faces of Korean democracy appears on the surface will decide the future of Korean democracy – rosy progress, or gloomy decay.

Kim Kee-seok is a Professor of Comparative Politics at the Department of Political Science, Kangwon National University.