Standing Up for Matthias Chang, Azmi Sharom and UMNO’s Gutsy Khairuddin

October 9, 2015

MY COMMENT: We have Azmi Sharom, a respected Universiti Malaya academic, UMNO’s gutsy Khairuddin, and now Lawyer cum activist Mathias Chang, how many more? Soon, there will not be enough room in our prisons for dissenting Malaysians and the Police will be so pre-occupied that they will lose sight of the primary duty to protect us from criminals and the real enemies of the state.

Azmi, Khairuddin and Matthias are deemed to have committed acts of defiance against the corrupt regime led by Najib Razak, our besieged  Prime Minister. Is standing up for justice a violation of the law?  No one in his right mind can condone this Police action.

It is plain to say that these moves against our courageous Malaysians are intended to divert our attention from IMDB and the RM2.6 billion that went into the Prime Minister’s bank accounts. The law is being used to create a climate of fear and prevent legitimate dissent against the regime that continues to act with impunity. It will not work as Malaysians have overcome the fear of intimidation and prosecution.

For most us, our country comes first. We are stakeholders with fundamental rights to freedom of speech and freedom of expression. We no longer tolerate self-serving leaders and their apparatchiks who misuse the law for their political ends.

For how long does Najib think he can get away with being corrupt  and irresponsible by abusing the power of his office. He should learn from the Khir Toyo story. At some point, he will have to contend with the consequences of his actions. Malaysians are no longer going to keep quiet. Even our Rulers who have spoken up.

Please get the message and that is come clean on 1MDB and focus on sorting our economic mess before it is too late. There is a limit to what we Malaysians can take. Soon our timid rural folks will take to the streets when their pockets dry up and Najib can longer dish our state funds to buy their support. Our Prime Minister should be well advised not to take us for granted.–Din Merican

Standing Up  for Matthias Chang, Azmi Sharom and UMNO’s Gutsy Khairuddin

M ChangAbout 30 people – mostly lawyers – stand in solidarity outside of the Dang Wangi district police headquarters for detained lawyer Matthias Chang.

Led by Bar Council president Steven Thiru, the group lighted candles to protest against Chang’s arrest this afternoon under the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma). Steven decried Chang’s arrest under Sosma and urged the Police not to harass and intimidate any lawyer who is doing his duty.

“Attacks against any lawyer who is performing his or her duty is an attack towards the Bar. We will not let it happen,” he told Malaysiakini tonight.

Chang was arrested under the security law for accompanying his client Khairuddin Abu Hassan, who has lodged complaints about 1MDB with enforcement agencies abroad. Khairuddin is also detained under Sosma, which provides for detention without trial for up to 28 days.

Steven also said that there is “no basis whatsoever” for the police to use Sosma for Chang as he has already cooperated and even went twice to give statements to the Police.

“Absolutely not; no basis whatsoever (for using Sosma). Sosma was meant for something else – essentially terrorism; not for the allegation of having lodged police reports and does not come under any penal code that we know of. Police should not use Sosma.”

Among the attendees are former Bar President Ambiga Sreenevasan; DAP’s Segambut MP Lim Lip Eng and Seputeh MP Teresa Kok; and human right lawyers Latheefa Koya and N Surendran, who is also PKR’s Padang Serai MP.

Kok lamented that with the arrest of Khairuddin and Chang, there is the danger of anyone who criticised the government to be detained under Sosma as well.

“I’m happy to see the lawyers come together. I was actually from an embassy function and I want to see (the vigil) and show our support. This is utterly ridiculous for the lawyer (Chang) to be detained under Sosma. That means you and I, all can be detained under Sosma. Gila (It’s crazy)!” she said.

Meanwhile, former president of Catholic Lawyers Society Kuala Lumpur Francis Pereira urged colleagues to join forces to fight against using Sosma as a political tool. “The impunity with which the actions against civil society NGOs, including lawyers, clearly reflects the state of the country. How much lower can we go? When will all this end? Society needs to be enraged by these actions,” he said.

They dispersed at 10.30pm, leaving lit candles in front of the police station.

China’s Unconventional Diplomacy

September 28, 2015

MY COMMENT: Yes, the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a country isDin Merican7 accepted by all members of the United Nations. It is a cardinal principle embodied in the UN Charter. ASEAN members too must sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia which contains this non-interference clause, and so must its dialogue partners in the ASEAN Regional Forum.

But the world has changed since human rights violations in UN member countries have become common throughout the world where governments fail to protect their citizens; in stead they have committed untold cruelties including genocide against  their own people. Bosnia, Rwanda and  Cambodia  come to mind.

So today, the concept of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) is increasingly being talked about  as an alternative to dealing with  rouge regimes. This means that while it is the solemn  duty the State to prevent and halt genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass atrocities, the international community has a role that cannot be blocked by the invocation of sovereignty. Sovereignty no longer exclusively protects States from foreign interference; it is a charge of responsibility where States are accountable for the welfare of their people. This principle is enshrined in Article 1 of the Genocide Convention and embodied in the principle of “sovereignty as responsibility” and in the concept of R2P.

Of course, the present situation in Malaysia where the Malays in red shirts are given a free hand to threaten Malaysian Chinese  does warrant intervention from the international community under R2P.

I see no harm for an Ambassador to express his concern on behalf of his government  or in his personal capacity over ultra Malay extremism against the Chinese community which has been doing business in the Petaling Street area of Kuala Lumpur for generations. It is, in fact, is shameful that the MCA, Gerakan and Chinese business tycoons did not react but are complicit in this UMNO sponsored madness.

Ambassador Dato Ignatius is overreacting to Ambassador Huang’s comments. ‘The Chinese Ambassador, a seasoned diplomat, was a guest at the Moon Cake Festival function by businessmen and shopkeepers in Petaling Street. He was merely reminding the Najib Administration of the need to exercise caution and prudence.  Despite the unfortunate MH370 tragedy, Malaysia and China enjoys close and harmonious trade and investment relations for more than 30 years since Tun Abdul Razak established diplomatic relations with that country in 1974.

Wisma Putra is correct to reverse its decision to summon Ambassador Huang to protest ” his unwarranted interference in our domestic affairs”. Let us not make a mountain out of a molehill and allow our emotions to get the better of us.–Din Merican

China’s Unconventional Diplomacy

by Dato’ Dennis Ignatius

COMMENT Wisma Putra is right to summon Ambassador Huang Huikang of China to protest his unwarranted interference in our domestic affairs. Huang’s symbolically-charged visit to Petaling Street, in the heart of Chinatown, and his insensitive remarks, broke a long-standing taboo in Malaysia-China relations.

Today’s report that the acting Foreign Minister has reversed the decision to summon the Ambassador is utterly disgraceful and shows just how weak and indecisive the Najib Abdul Razak administration is. The signal it sends is that Malaysia can be pushed around without consequences. It is yet another shameless abrogation by the government of its responsibilities.

Contentious bilateral issues

In the arduous negotiations leading to the normalisation of bilateral relations in 1974, the most contentious issues involved China’s policy towards overseas Chinese, as they were then called.

China had always considered Chinese living abroad as overseas citizens with special rights and obligations. It was not the loyalty of Malaysian Chinese that was in question but China’s insistence in demanding their allegiance. The other issue was China’s support for the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM). Radio Suara Revolusi Malaya, the Voice of the Malayan People’s Revolution, was based in China.

It was only after these two contentious issues were satisfactorily resolved – with China agreeing to fully respect the sovereignty and independence of Malaysia – that full normalisation of relations could proceed and, subsequently, blossom.

Viewed against this historical background, Ambassador Huang’s visit to Petaling Street on the eve of another red shirt rally was an unprecedented breach of a solemn undertaking.

An unwarranted intrusion

His statement that China would “not sit idly by” over any “infringement on China’s national interests, violations of legal rights and interests of Chinese citizens and businesses which may damage the friendly relationship between China and the host country” was particularly astonishing.

What legitimate Chinese national interest was at stake in the Petaling Street issue? Which legal rights of Chinese citizens were violated by the proposed red shirt rally? How do tense race relations in Malaysia impinge on friendly relations with China, unless, of course, China still considers itself the overlord of all ethnic Chinese, whatever their citizenship?

No question that the behaviour of people like Jamal Yunos and Ali Tinju was utterly disgraceful. And shame on Prime Minster Najib Abdu Razak and Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi for not acting decisively against the red shirts and discharging their constitutional responsibility to protect and defend Malaysian citizens, irrespective of their ethnic background.

If only Najib or Zahid had taken a page from the Ambassador’s playbook and gone to Petaling Street to reassure the people there, perhaps it might not have come to this.

Nevertheless, none of the above justifies Ambassador Huang’s intervention. Besides, he should know that the struggle that is unfolding in Malaysia today is not about race – as the red-shirts want it to be – but about good governance, an end to endemic corruption and building a strong, united and democratic nation.

Huang’ visit, with all its racial connotations was, therefore, as unwelcome as it was unhelpful. I hope he has now noted the overwhelming rejection by Malaysian Chinese themselves of any involvement by Beijing in our domestic politics. It should underline the fact that China has absolutely no role to play in the evolution of our political system.

A dangerous precedent

China’s interference also carries with it the danger that others might feel similarly tempted to get involved in Malaysia’s evolving political situation. Imagine the Saudi Ambassador threatening unspecified consequences if hudud is rejected. Or the Indian ambassador mediating between the perpetually warring MIC factions. Or the Indonesian ambassador insisting that any criticism of Najib or Zahid, both of whom are of Indonesian origin, might negatively impact bilateral relations.

Unfortunately, some UMNO leaders themselves have set the precedent by claiming that a wealthy Arab ruler essentially paid Najib millions of dollars for “his anti-Jewish stance”. Is our foreign policy now for sale to the highest bidder? Are policies initiated to serve the national interest or merely to enrich a select few? If that doesn’t compromise our independence, what does?

Pressure tactics

More ominously, given the way China’s bureaucracy works, Ambassador Huang’s actions would almost certainly have been cleared at the highest levels of government in Beijing and might well signal a more assertive strategy towards Malaysia.

Could China now be trying to exploit Malaysia’s internal difficulties to advance its own interests? It is no secret, for example, that China has been unhappy with the Najib administration’s close military cooperation with the United States as well as the government’s support for the highly controversial American-inspired Trans-Pacific trade deal.

Seen from this perspective, China might well be warning Najib against too close a relationship with the US. Whatever it is, the threat about “not sitting idly by” is reminiscent of the kind of language that Beijing has used in the past to warn recalcitrant governments of tough action unless it gets its way.

To now hear a Chinese Ambassador use those words against Malaysia is nothing short of outrageous. It is cheap swagger, a crude bully attempt and completely unacceptable.

I suppose this is what happens when we have a weak, scandal-plagued government whose policies have divided the nation, weakened our economy, undermined our resilience and rendered us vulnerable to external interference.Wisma Putra’s backtracking on the summons just proves this point.

Is Wisma Putra up to the challenge?

I certainly hope Wisma Putra is fully awake to the challenges that China poses and is up to the task of managing relations with such an increasingly assertive neighbour. A prompt review of our relations with China would certainly be appropriate now. In the meantime, Ambassador Huang’s unacceptable behaviour requires a firm response: Wisma Putra, if it truly concerned about protecting our national interests, should request his prompt removal.

DENNIS IGNATIUS was a career foreign service officer who served in London, Beijing, Washington, Santiago, Buenos Aires and Ottawa. He retired as High Commissioner to Canada in 2008.

China’s Ambassador Tells Malaysia to Stop the Racism

September 26, 2015

China’s Ambassador Tells Malaysia to Stop the Racism

by John

china_ambassador_huang_mugshot_tmiAmbassador Huang

Huang Huikang, the Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia, is expected to be summoned to the country’s Foreign Ministry on September 28 for a remarkable visit last Friday to the center of a Chinese area threatened by Malay-supremacy thugs to say the Chinese government is opposed to terrorism, extremism and any forms of discrimination based on race.

Such an action by an Ambassador, not just in Malaysia but anywhere, is virtually unheard of. By any measure, it constitutes unprecedented interference in domestic politics and is viewed by critics as a raw assertion of Chinese power. China is now Malaysia’s second-largest trading partner, with bilateral trade amounting to US$28.2 billion in 2014 and may well be the largest, since Malaysia’s trade with Singapore is US$33.3 billion and Singapore acts largely as an entrepôt, shipping goods on to other countries including China.

Huang’s stroll through Chinatown was a clear indication that China would not tolerate any form of criminal intimidation. But it has also raised serious concerns in the ethnic Chinese community that what is regarded as mainland ham-handedness could make it worse for them rather than better.

Nonetheless, despite the allegations of affront, Huang’s visit to the Petaling Street area appears to have played a role in bringing to a halt, however temporary, growing threats and intimidation by so-called Red Shirts led by a United Malays National Organization Division Chief named Jamal Md Yunos against Chinese hawkers and merchants in the area, the epicenter of the urban Chinese community, home of the historic 127-year-old central market and to hundreds of Chinese street hawkers and traders. Police arrested Jamal Yunos and warned Red Shirt protesters against marching through the area. The Red Shirts had been scheduled to march through Petaling Street today, Sept. 26 amid outright threats of violence.

The Red Shirt protest is closely tied to Malaysia’s deteriorating political situation, in which critics say the Prime Minister is attempting to use a perceived threat by the Chinese, who dominate the economic landscape, to attempt to dominate the political one as well via the Democratic Action Party, the predominant ethnic Chinese party. Najib’s position is threatened by not just the domestic political equation, but by investigations into allegations of money laundering and corruption by the US, Swiss, UK, French and Singaporean governments. 

He and UMNO officials have responded by blaming an international conspiracy to bring down parliamentary democratic rule in Malaysia. Add that international conspiracy the Chinese community. On Aug. 29, the good government NGO Bersih brought hundreds of thousands of protesters against to the streets in a two-day rally dominated by the Chinese, giving UMNO the opportunity to characterize the rally as a DAP stratagem to wreck the Barisan Nasional, the ruling national coalition.

As tensions have grown, the Red Shirts have flung insults including Cina babi, meaning “Chinese are pigs,” seemingly with the support of officials linked to UMNO. Last week, police had to use water canon to drive back Red Shirt protesters attempting to force their way into the Petaling Street area, allegedly to demand that authorities raid traders allegedly selling fake goods or running other illegal activities.

Mahathir Mohamad, the 90-year-old former prime minister attempting to bring down Najib, charged last week that Najib is paying the protesters to distract from charges that US$861 million had mysteriously appeared in his personal bank account in 2013. Some of the protesters have acknowledged that they have been paid although Najib, in New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, denied he had done so.

Huang, wearing a batik shirt, presented mooncakes to the traders in recognition of the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, which begins on Jan. 29. Reading from a prepared statement, he said that: “Nobody has the right to undermine the authority of the law or trample on the rule of law. The Chinese government has always pursued peaceful co-existence in international relationship and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. But with regard to the infringement on China’s national interests, violations of legal rights and interests of Chinese citizens and businesses which may damage the friendly relationship between China and the host country, we will not sit by idly.”

“I think Najib has brought (the Ambassador’s action) upon himself,” said Din Merican, a longtime academic and blogger now teaching at a university in Cambodia. “His racist rhetoric is raising international concerns since in a globalized world, there are many stakeholders. Najib must show that he can protect the interest of foreign investors who have stakes in Malaysia. Fanning the flames of racial hatred and Islamic bigotry is not an option for him. China is sending a message to Najib to stop going overboard with his racism.  The non-interference argument can no longer be used when human rights are being abused with impunity. The Red shirts are Najib’s paid proxies. The besieged Prime Minister is looking for a pretext to declare emergency rule to extend his political life. He knows that UMNO and Barisan Nasional will lose the general election in 2018 if he remains Prime Minister.”

Ambassadors “don’t do that,” said Wong Chin Huat, a political scientist and fellow at the Penang Institute in Penang. “I find it extraordinary because Ambassadors don’t do things in public.You go make a call, you don’t leave a trace”. Wong pointed out that the Ambassador didn’t make a clear distinction whether he was speaking for Chinese nationals or Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese as well.

“That is a no-no in Malaysia,” Wong said. “Some ethnic Malays feel uncomfortable with the idea that a Chinese Ambassador is acting in a way that he appears to be representing the Chinese here. I would be offended myself if he is saying that. If he wants to express concern, he should be doing it privately.

Najib catches much of the blame from observers over Huang’s move, although Gerakan and the Malaysian Chinese Association, two ethnic Chinese component parties in the Barisan Nasional, the ruling national coalition led by UMNO, come in for their own share of criticism.

“Najib is fomenting this to save his political skin,” said a Malay businessman who declined to be quoted by name. “But Gerakan and the MCA haven’t got the balls to stand up to him.”

“Malaysia views his remarks seriously,” a foreign ministry official told local media. “It is tantamount to interfering in Malaysia’s domestic affairs.”

Armand Azha Abu Hanifah,  a member of UMNO’s youth wing executive committee, demanded an apology from Huang for both the government and the Malaysian people.

Pope Francis: The Man of Faith, Reason, and Temperance at UNGA

September 26, 2015

Pope Francis: The Man of Faith, Reason, and Temperance at UNGA

Pope Francis of The Holy See says:

The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion. In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged, either because they are differently abled (handicapped), or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise, or are incapable of decisive political action. Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste”.

The dramatic reality this whole situation of exclusion and inequality, with its evident effects, has led me, in union with the entire Christian people and many others, to take stock of my grave responsibility in this regard and to speak out, together with all those who are seeking urgently-needed and effective solutions. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the World Summit, which opens today, is an important sign of hope. I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements.–Pope Francis

Thank you for your kind words. Once again, following a tradition by which I feel honored, the Secretary General of the United Nations has invited the Pope to address this distinguished assembly of nations. In my own name, and that of the entire Catholic community, I wish to express to you, Mr Ban Ki-moon, my heartfelt gratitude. I greet the Heads of State and Heads of Government present, as well as the ambassadors, diplomats and political and technical officials accompanying them, the personnel of the United Nations engaged in this 70th Session of the General Assembly, the personnel of the various programs and agencies of the United Nations family, and all those who, in one way or another, take part in this meeting. Through you, I also greet the citizens of all the nations represented in this hall. I thank you, each and all, for your efforts in the service of mankind.

This is the fifth time that a Pope has visited the United Nations. I follow in the footsteps of my predecessors Paul VI, in 1965, John Paul II, in 1979 and 1995, and my most recent predecessor, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in 2008. All of them expressed their great esteem for the Organization, which they considered the appropriate juridical and political response to this present moment of history, marked by our technical ability to overcome distances and frontiers and, apparently, to overcome all natural limits to the exercise of power. An essential response, inasmuch as technological power, in the hands of nationalistic or falsely universalist ideologies, is capable of perpetrating tremendous atrocities. I can only reiterate the appreciation expressed by my predecessors, in reaffirming the importance which the Catholic Church attaches to this Institution and the hope which she places in its activities.

The United Nations is presently celebrating its seventieth anniversary. The history of this organized community of states is one of important common achievements over a period of unusually fast- paced changes. Without claiming to be exhaustive, we can mention the codification and development of international law, the establishment of international norms regarding human rights, advances in humanitarian law, the resolution of numerous conflicts, operations of peace-keeping and reconciliation, and any number of other accomplishments in every area of international activity and endeavour. All these achievements are lights which help to dispel the darkness of the disorder caused by unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness. Certainly, many grave problems remain to be resolved, yet it is clear that, without all those interventions on the international level, mankind would not have been able to survive the unchecked use of its own possibilities. Every one of these political, juridical and technical advances is a path towards attaining the ideal of human fraternity and a means for its greater realization.

Pope Francis at the UNPope Francis of the Holy See@UNGA

For this reason I pay homage to all those men and women whose loyalty and self-sacrifice have benefitted humanity as a whole in these past seventy years. In particular, I would recall today those who gave their lives for peace and reconciliation among peoples, from Dag Hammarskjöld to the many United Nations officials at every level who have been killed in the course of humanitarian missions, and missions of peace and reconciliation.

Beyond these achievements, the experience of the past seventy years has made it clear that reform and adaptation to the times is always necessary in the pursuit of the ultimate goal of granting all countries, without exception, a share in, and a genuine and equitable influence on, decision-making processes. The need for greater equity is especially true in the case of those bodies with effective executive capability, such as the Security Council, the Financial Agencies and the groups or mechanisms specifically created to deal with economic crises. This will help limit every kind of abuse or usury, especially where developing countries are concerned. The International Financial Agencies are should care for the sustainable development of countries and should ensure that they are not subjected to oppressive lending systems which, far from promoting progress, subject people to mechanisms which generate greater poverty, exclusion and dependence.

The work of the United Nations, according to the principles set forth in the Preamble and the first Articles of its founding Charter, can be seen as the development and promotion of the rule of law, based on the realization that justice is an essential condition for achieving the ideal of universal fraternity. In this context, it is helpful to recall that the limitation of power is an idea implicit in the concept of law itself. To give to each his own, to cite the classic definition of justice, means that no human individual or group can consider itself absolute, permitted to bypass the dignity and the rights of other individuals or their social groupings. The effective distribution of power (political, economic, defense-related, technological, etc.) among a plurality of subjects, and the creation of a juridical system for regulating claims and interests, are one concrete way of limiting power. Yet today’s world presents us with many false rights and – at the same time – broad sectors which are vulnerable, victims of power badly exercised: for example, the natural environment and the vast ranks of the excluded. These sectors are closely interconnected and made increasingly fragile by dominant political and economic relationships. That is why their rights must be forcefully affirmed, by working to protect the environment and by putting an end to exclusion.

First, it must be stated that a true “right of the environment” does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Man, for all his remarkable gifts, which “are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology” (Laudato Si’, 81), is at the same time a part of these spheres. He possesses a body shaped by physical, chemical and biological elements, and can only survive and develop if the ecological environment is favourable. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity. Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures. We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good (cf. ibid.).

The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion. In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged, either because they are differently abled (handicapped), or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise, or are incapable of decisive political action. Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste”.

The dramatic reality this whole situation of exclusion and inequality, with its evident effects, has led me, in union with the entire Christian people and many others, to take stock of my grave responsibility in this regard and to speak out, together with all those who are seeking urgently-needed and effective solutions. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the World Summit, which opens today, is an important sign of hope. I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements.

Solemn commitments, however, are not enough, even though they are a necessary step toward solutions. The classic definition of justice which I mentioned earlier contains as one of its essential elements a constant and perpetual will: Iustitia est constans et perpetua voluntas ius sum cuique tribuendi. Our world demands of all government leaders a will which is effective, practical and constant, concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment and thus putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, with its baneful consequences: human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labour, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism and international organized crime. Such is the magnitude of these situations and their toll in innocent lives, that we must avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences. We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective in the struggle against all these scourges.

The number and complexity of the problems require that we possess technical instruments of verification. But this involves two risks. We can rest content with the bureaucratic exercise of drawing up long lists of good proposals – goals, objectives and statistical indicators – or we can think that a single theoretical and aprioristic solution will provide an answer to all the challenges. It must never be forgotten that political and economic activity is only effective when it is understood as a prudential activity, guided by a perennial concept of justice and constantly conscious of the fact that, above and beyond our plans and programmes, we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights.

To enable these real men and women to escape from extreme poverty, we must allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny. Integral human development and the full exercise of human dignity cannot be imposed. They must be built up and allowed to unfold for each individual, for every family, in communion with others, and in a right relationship with all those areas in which human social life develops – friends, communities, towns and cities, schools, businesses and unions, provinces, nations, etc. This presupposes and requires the right to education – also for girls (excluded in certain places) – which is ensured first and foremost by respecting and reinforcing the primary right of the family to educate its children, as well as the right of churches and social groups to support and assist families in the education of their children. Education conceived in this way is the basis for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and for reclaiming the environment.

At the same time, government leaders must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labour, and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom, the right to education and other civil rights.

For all this, the simplest and best measure and indicator of the implementation of the new Agenda for development will be effective, practical and immediate access, on the part of all, to essential material and spiritual goods: housing, dignified and properly remunerated employment, adequate food and drinking water; religious freedom and, more generally, spiritual freedom and education. These pillars of integral human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life and, more generally, what we could call the right to existence of human nature itself.

The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species. The baneful consequences of an irresponsible mismanagement of the global economy, guided only by ambition for wealth and power, must serve as a summons to a forthright reflection on man: “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature” (BENEDICT XVI, Address to the Bundestag, 22 September 2011, cited in Laudato Si’, 6). Creation is compromised “where we ourselves have the final word… The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any instance above ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves” (ID. Address to the Clergy of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone, 6 August 2008, cited ibid.). Consequently, the defence of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman (cf. Laudato Si’, 155), and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions (cf. ibid., 123, 136).

Without the recognition of certain incontestable natural ethical limits and without the immediate implementation of those pillars of integral human development, the ideal of “saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war” (Charter of the United Nations, Preamble), and “promoting social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom” (ibid.), risks becoming an unattainable illusion, or, even worse, idle chatter which serves as a cover for all kinds of abuse and corruption, or for carrying out an ideological colonization by the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people’s identity and, in the end, irresponsible.

War is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment. If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and between peoples.

To this end, there is a need to ensure the uncontested rule of law and tireless recourse to negotiation, mediation and arbitration, as proposed by the Charter of the United Nations, which constitutes truly a fundamental juridical norm. The experience of these seventy years since the founding of the United Nations in general, and in particular the experience of these first fifteen years of the third millennium, reveal both the effectiveness of the full application of international norms and the ineffectiveness of their lack of enforcement.

When the Charter of the United Nations is respected and applied with transparency and sincerity, and without ulterior motives, as an obligatory reference point of justice and not as a means of masking spurious intentions, peaceful results will be obtained. When, on the other hand, the norm is considered simply as an instrument to be used whenever it proves favourable, and to be avoided when it is not, a true Pandora’s box is opened, releasing uncontrollable forces which gravely harm defenseless populations, the cultural milieu and even the biological environment.

The Preamble and the first Article of the Charter of the United Nations set forth the foundations of the international juridical framework: peace, the pacific solution of disputes and the development of friendly relations between the nations. Strongly opposed to such statements, and in practice denying them, is the constant tendency to the proliferation of arms, especially weapons of mass distraction, such as nuclear weapons. An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations, which would end up as “nations united by fear and distrust”. There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the non-proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.

The recent agreement reached on the nuclear question in a sensitive region of Asia and the Middle East is proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience and constancy. I express my hope that this agreement will be lasting and efficacious, and bring forth the desired fruits with the cooperation of all the parties involved.

In this sense, hard evidence is not lacking of the negative effects of military and political interventions which are not coordinated between members of the international community. For this reason, while regretting to have to do so, I must renew my repeated appeals regarding to the painful situation of the entire Middle East, North Africa and other African countries, where Christians, together with other cultural or ethnic groups, and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly, have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, their cultural and religious heritage, their houses and property, and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives, or by enslavement.

These realities should serve as a grave summons to an examination of conscience on the part of those charged with the conduct of international affairs. Not only in cases of religious or cultural persecution, but in every situation of conflict, as in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan and the Great Lakes region, real human beings take precedence over partisan interests, however legitimate the latter may be. In wars and conflicts there are individual persons, our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls who weep, suffer and die. Human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists of problems, strategies and disagreements.

As I wrote in my letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 9 August 2014, “the most basic understanding of human dignity compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities” and to protect innocent peoples.

Along the same lines I would mention another kind of conflict which is not always so open, yet is silently killing millions of people. Another kind of war experienced by many of our societies as a result of the narcotics trade. A war which is taken for granted and poorly fought. Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption. A corruption which has penetrated to different levels of social, political, military, artistic and religious life, and, in many cases, has given rise to a parallel structure which threatens the credibility of our institutions.

I began this speech recalling the visits of my predecessors. I would hope that my words will be taken above all as a continuation of the final words of the address of Pope Paul VI; although spoken almost exactly fifty years ago, they remain ever timely. “The hour has come when a pause, a moment of recollection, reflection, even of prayer, is absolutely needed so that we may think back over our common origin, our history, our common destiny. The appeal to the moral conscience of man has never been as necessary as it is today… For the danger comes neither from progress nor from science; if these are used well, they can help to solve a great number of the serious problems besetting mankind (Address to the United Nations Organization, 4 October 1965). Among other things, human genius, well applied, will surely help to meet the grave challenges of ecological deterioration and of exclusion. As Paul VI said: “The real danger comes from man, who has at his disposal ever more powerful instruments that are as well fitted to bring about ruin as they are to achieve lofty conquests” (ibid.).

The common home of all men and women must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic. This common home of all men and women must also be built on the understanding of a certain sacredness of created nature.

Such understanding and respect call for a higher degree of wisdom, one which accepts transcendence, rejects the creation of an all-powerful élite, and recognizes that the full meaning of individual and collective life is found in selfless service to others and in the sage and respectful use of creation for the common good. To repeat the words of Paul VI, “the edifice of modern civilization has to be built on spiritual principles, for they are the only ones capable not only of supporting it, but of shedding light on it” (ibid.).

El Gaucho Martín Fierro, a classic of literature in my native land, says: “Brothers should stand by each other, because this is the first law; keep a true bond between you always, at every time – because if you fight among yourselves, you’ll be devoured by those outside”.

The contemporary world, so apparently connected, is experiencing a growing and steady social fragmentation, which places at risk “the foundations of social life” and consequently leads to “battles over conflicting interests” (Laudato Si’, 229).

The present time invites us to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society, so as to bear fruit in significant and positive historical events (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 223). We cannot permit ourselves to postpone “certain agendas” for the future. The future demands of us critical and global decisions in the face of world-wide conflicts which increase the number of the excluded and those in need.

The praiseworthy international juridical framework of the United Nations Organization and of all its activities, like any other human endeavour, can be improved, yet it remains necessary; at the same time it can be the pledge of a secure and happy future for future generations. And so it will, if the representatives of the States can set aside partisan and ideological interests, and sincerely strive to serve the common good. I pray to Almighty God that this will be the case, and I assure you of my support and my prayers, and the support and prayers of all the faithful of the Catholic Church, that this Institution, all its member States, and each of its officials, will always render an effective service to mankind, a service respectful of diversity and capable of bringing out, for sake of the common good, the best in each people and in every individual.

Upon all of you, and the peoples you represent, I invoke the blessing of the Most High, and all peace and prosperity. Thank you.

Pope Francis of The Holy See: Message to US Congress

September 25, 2015

Pope Francis of The Holy See: Message to US Congress

Pope FrancisIt is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).–Pope Francis

Pope Francis became the first Pontiff to deliver an address to a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday. Here is the text of his remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Mr. Vice-President,

Mr. Speaker,

Honorable Members of Congress, Dear Friends,

I am most grateful for your invitation to address this Joint Session of Congress in “the land of the free and the home of the brave”. I would like to think that the reason for this is that I too am a son of this great continent, from which we have all received so much and toward which we share a common responsibility.

Each son or daughter of a given country has a mission, a personal and social responsibility. Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.

Yours is a work which makes me reflect in two ways on the figure of Moses. On the one hand, the patriarch and lawgiver of the people of Israel symbolizes the need of peoples to keep alive their sense of unity by means of just legislation. On the other, the figure of Moses leads us directly to God and thus to the transcendent dignity of the human being. Moses provides us with a good synthesis of your work: you are asked to protect, by means of the law, the image and likeness fashioned by God on every human face.

Today I would like not only to address you, but through you the entire people of the United States. Here, together with their representatives, I would like to take this opportunity to dialogue with the many thousands of men and women who strive each day to do an honest day’s work, to bring home their daily bread, to save money and –one step at a time – to build a better life for their families. These are men and women who are not concerned simply with paying their taxes, but in their own quiet way sustain the life of society. They generate solidarity by their actions, and they create organizations which offer a helping hand to those most in need.

I would also like to enter into dialogue with the many elderly persons who are a storehouse of wisdom forged by experience, and who seek in many ways, especially through volunteer work, to share their stories and their insights. I know that many of them are retired, but still active; they keep working to build up this land. I also want to dialogue with all those young people who are working to realize their great and noble aspirations, who are not led astray by facile proposals, and who face difficult situations, often as a result of immaturity on the part of many adults. I wish to dialogue with all of you, and I would like to do so through the historical memory of your people.

My visit takes place at a time when men and women of good will are marking the anniversaries of several great Americans. The complexities of history and the reality of human weakness notwithstanding, these men and women, for all their many differences and limitations, were able by hard work and self- sacrifice – some at the cost of their lives – to build a better future. They shaped fundamental values which will endure forever in the spirit of the American people. A people with this spirit can live through many crises, tensions and conflicts, while always finding the resources to move forward, and to do so with dignity. These men and women offer us a way of seeing and interpreting reality. In honoring their memory, we are inspired, even amid conflicts, and in the here and now of each day, to draw upon our deepest cultural reserves.

I would like to mention four of these Americans: Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton.

freedom-abraham-lincolnThis year marks the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, the guardian of liberty, who labored tirelessly that “this nation, under God, [might] have a new birth of freedom”. Building a future of freedom requires love of the common good and cooperation in a spirit of subsidiarity and solidarity.

All of us are quite aware of, and deeply worried by, the disturbing social and political situation of the world today. Our world is increasingly a place of violent conflict, hatred and brutal atrocities, committed even in the name of God and of religion. We know that no religion is immune from forms of individual delusion or ideological extremism. This means that we must be especially attentive to every type of fundamentalism, whether religious or of any other kind. A delicate balance is required to combat violence perpetrated in the name of a religion, an ideology or an economic system, while also safeguarding religious freedom, intellectual freedom and individual freedoms. But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners. The contemporary world, with its open wounds which affect so many of our brothers and sisters, demands that we confront every form of polarization which would divide it into these two camps. We know that in the attempt to be freed of the enemy without, we can be tempted to feed the enemy within. To imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place. That is something which you, as a people, reject.

Our response must instead be one of hope and healing, of peace and justice. We are asked to summon the courage and the intelligence to resolve today’s many geopolitical and economic crises. Even in the developed world, the effects of unjust structures and actions are all too apparent. Our efforts must aim at restoring hope, righting wrongs, maintaining commitments, and thus promoting the well-being of individuals and of peoples. We must move forward together, as one, in a renewed spirit of fraternity and solidarity, cooperating generously for the common good.

The challenges facing us today call for a renewal of that spirit of cooperation, which has accomplished so much good throughout the history of the United States. The complexity, the gravity and the urgency of these challenges demand that we pool our resources and talents, and resolve to support one another, with respect for our differences and our convictions of conscience.

In this land, the various religious denominations have greatly contributed to building and strengthening society. It is important that today, as in the past, the voice of faith continue to be heard, for it is a voice of fraternity and love, which tries to bring out the best in each person and in each society. Such cooperation is a powerful resource in the battle to eliminate new global forms of slavery, born of grave injustices which can be overcome only through new policies and new forms of social consensus.

Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776). If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.

selma-montgomery-marchHere too I think of the march which Martin Luther King led from Selma to Montgomery fifty years ago as part of the campaign to fulfill his “dream” of full civil and political rights for African Americans. That dream continues to inspire us all. I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of “dreams”. Dreams which lead to action, to participation, to commitment. Dreams which awaken what is deepest and truest in the life of a people.

In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants. Tragically, the rights of those who were here long before us were not always respected. For those peoples and their nations, from the heart of American democracy, I wish to reaffirm my highest esteem and appreciation. Those first contacts were often turbulent and violent, but it is difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present. Nonetheless, when the stranger in our midst appeals to us, we must not repeat the sins and the errors of the past. We must resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our “neighbors” and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity, in a constant effort to do our best. I am confident that we can do this.

Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12).

This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.

This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.

dorothy-dayIn these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.

How much progress has been made in this area in so many parts of the world! How much has been done in these first years of the third millennium to raise people out of extreme poverty! I know that you share my conviction that much more still needs to be done, and that in times of crisis and economic hardship a spirit of global solidarity must not be lost. At the same time I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes. I know that many Americans today, as in the past, are working to deal with this problem.

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3). “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14).

In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (ibid., 139). “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology” (ibid., 112); “to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power” (ibid., 78); and to put technology “at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.

Merton3A century ago, at the beginning of the Great War, which Pope Benedict XV termed a “pointless slaughter”, another notable American was born: the Cistercian monk Thomas Merton. He remains a source of spiritual inspiration and a guide for many people. In his autobiography he wrote: “I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Merton was above all a man of prayer, a thinker who challenged the certitudes of his time and opened new horizons for souls and for the Church. He was also a man of dialogue, a promoter of peace between peoples and religions.

From this perspective of dialogue, I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility. A good political leader is one who, with the interests of all in mind, seizes the moment in a spirit of openness and pragmatism. A good political leader always opts to initiate processes rather than possessing spaces (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 222-223).

Being at the service of dialogue and peace also means being truly determined to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world. Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.

Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God.Four representatives of the American people.

I will end my visit to your country in Philadelphia, where I will take part in the World Meeting of Families. It is my wish that throughout my visit the family should be a recurrent theme. How essential the family has been to the building of this country! And how worthy it remains of our support and encouragement! Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and the family. I can only reiterate the importance and, above all, the richness and the beauty of family life.

In particular, I would like to call attention to those family members who are the most vulnerable, the young. For many of them, a future filled with countless possibilities beckons, yet so many others seem disoriented and aimless, trapped in a hopeless maze of violence, abuse and despair. Their problems are our problems. We cannot avoid them. We need to face them together, to talk about them and to seek effective solutions rather than getting bogged down in discussions. At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.

A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.

In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.

God bless America!

Knowledge, Power and Moral Leadership

September 21, 2015

COMMENT: I agree with Haridas on the quality of our present leadership. The pursuit of power without a moral compass can lead us all to unmitigated disaster. Najib’s politics has undermined public confidence and trust and soiled our image abroad.

The Wall Street Journal reported that FBI is probing 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) for alleged money-laundering activity. Journal (WSJ) reported today citing an anonymous source. Najib is the Chairman of 1MDB’s Advisory Board. It also pointed out that its previous report alleging that US$700 million (RM2.6 billion) was funnelled into Malaysian Prime Minister Dato’ Seri Najib Razak’s accounts involved two deposits made via US banks, a Swiss international bank and Wells Fargo in New York. It followed up last month with another report alleging that US$1.4 billion in payments from 1MDB to a UAE sovereign fund were missing from the Middle Eastern firm’s accounts.

The July report, in particular, appeared to trigger of a series of events in Malaysia that eventually led to the amount being declared a donation from the Middle East while local investigations into 1MDB were also either suspended or redirected. Improprieties involving 1MDB and its transactions are also being investigated in Switzerland, the SAR of Hong Kong, and, most recently, the United Kingdom. How long more can our county endure the toxicity of corruption, racism, and greed? –Din Merican

Knowledge, Power and Moral Leadership

by K. Haridas
The Racist NaibMoral Leadership for All

Instead of providing the moral leadership that Malaysians are looking for, our present leaders seem focused on retaining power that is poisoned by collective bad faith and polluted by unfettered greed. When the Prime Minister blatantly and unashamedly exploits racial sentiments, it is clear that he has little to offer our nation and is ready to play with fire to sustain his position.

What does this mean for the rest of us? Are we going to condone such actions and let it be because at the next occasion this may mean ethnic strife and violence? Will we only learn when it is too late? These are critical questions that we cannot just wish away.

We see evidence of a leader who is all things to all people, a democrat now, a moderate later and a racist when it suits him, and one who unconsciously speaks with a forked tongue displaying that he stands for nothing and falls for everything.

At the opening ceremony of the Muar UMNO building, he said that UMNO is not a racist party. The fact is that all member parties of the ruling coalition are racist parties. Barisan Nasional (BN) is a coalition of race-based parties where the whole (BN) is weaker that the parts. They are not a multi-racial party unlike PKR or DAP. These are independent stand-alone multi-ethnic parties.

It is this confusion in the mind of the Prime Minister that makes him and his cronies act different roles depending on the situation and the audience. The language of the “red shirts” and their stance was racist in essence and for the PM to endorse and support such a cause defeats the notion of 1Malaysia.

Maruah M2

The fact that BN has not transformed to become a multi-ethnic party is the cause of the incongruence between what is espoused and the reality on the ground. Every transcending idea be it the Rukun Negara, Vision 2020 or 1Malaysia has failed because racist parties are imprisoned within their own narrow thinking.

Malaysians must stand up and be clear about what is acceptable. It is sad that other members of the BN coalition have not taken a strong and clear stand on this issue. We have had some rambling from the Youth wing of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the Gerakan party and the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC).

If members of the ruling coalition are not going to take a stand on divisive ethnic issues stoked by an imaginary hurt to the dignity of UMNO Malays then the ghetto mentality will continue to breed negative sentiments within a sector of Malaysians.

Well, to some extent we are all to blame. For too long we have rationalised the role of BN under slogans of stability and moderation only to realise time and again that these are just political gimmicks without substance.

Understanding and respect for coalition members is fundamental. However, the bullying tactics by the first among equals, UMNO, and the reactions from the other component parties has led to an overall loss of support for BN. As a result of their poor showing in the last general election, these parties are referred to by some UMNO leaders as “pendatang” or “penumpang”, that is immigrants or free travellers.

Every component party within BN is riddled with corruption issues. We have all read about the Bank Bumiputra issue, the MAS scandal, issues with GLCs like Sime Darby, the PKFZ crisis not to mention the MAIKA scandal. How this country remains where it is despite these numerous scandals is a mystery.

This raises the poignant question as to what keeps the coalition united in their disunity. Is it money, power, position and titles or a commitment to a large and big enough cause that moves this nation altogether in the direction of greatness? The evidence seems to be that the former holds them together.

It is acknowledged that our diversity is our strength and Malaysian tourism highlights this point. Malaysia has the opportunity to showcase to the world a democratic multiracial nation that works and where diversity is respected and opportunity is shared. However the structure often defines the form and in this instance BN has failed because it has not evolved to respond to the multi-ethnic needs of the nation.

Political relationships require a measure of decorum and an understanding of boundaries. That UMNO has rough shouldered the other coalition members is most evident from the loss of support at the last general election. Race does not provide reason enough to support an inclusive cause. The coalition must accept the fact that they have failed.

An ethnic coalition represents a party where ethnic interests are protected and shared. When such a coalition is based on money and economic interests, then a time will come when greed takes over. The party as a whole becomes unable to deliver and meet the needs and expectations of its constituency.

The antagonisms regularly expressed at annual general meetings of these coalition parties assign blame for the lack of delivery to meet expectations. At these occasions one party will naturally feel that the other is asking too much and the rhetoric that follows stirs deep ethnic feelings and reactions.

The sense of respect and friendship gets thrown out of the window and stark and hurtful comments follow. As the “first amongst equals”, UMNO must take responsibility for the worsening ethnic relations within the coalition and in the nation.

There comes a time when race or ethnicity can no longer be the raison d’etre for a political party. The present political formulae have been with us for over five decades. The disenchantment is obvious. BN themselves have lost their two-thirds majority in the lower house of Parliament. They are in power purely because of gerrymandering.

The question that many Malaysians are asking is whether the time has come for us to make a shift. To move away from ethnic politics and to spell out a commitment based on meeting the needs and promises made to all Malaysians.

Politics should drive such an agenda. We need Sabah and Sarawak as equal partners and at this time of crisis we need brave souls who will lead to make such a shift possible. Interracial harmony in Sarawak could provide meaningful lessons for all of us.

The agenda should not only be about autonomy but an undertaking to honour the 20 point agreement. Sabah and Sarawak have an opportunity to take advantage of this window to ask and ensure that their cause is met. In so doing they will also need to hitch their wagon to a political cause beyond race and religion.

They hold the trump card. Will they miss this chance to make a singular contribution and bring a difference to the politics of the nation, one based on governance and justice? We must trust that what is right and best as well as sensitive can be fashioned by Malaysians – provided we move away from ethnic-based thinking to one based on justice and fairness. This calls for negotiations, discussions and consultations.

The motivations of the present government make this nigh impossible. Malaysia is suffering from a serious credibility crisis and the time has come for individuals and parties to re-negotiate their priorities. The present situation is untenable and in the long run, distrust and loss of confidence will grow daily from within the nation and in the international arena.

Those who represent Malaysians in the Dewan Rakyat have serious questions to ask, for it is at a time like this when history is in their hands. Will new combinations be formulated on the basis of what is best for Malaysians as a whole, our democratic traditions and the future of our children? We cannot continue doing what has been done for five decades and expect to get different results.

Those in power will have to take initiatives to bring change. We know that our Parliament is a mere rubber stamp, our judiciary is not independent and we have an autocratic executive that is unable to address the serious corruption and mismanagement issues that are evident. There are too many skeletons in the cupboard of the prime minister and he is suffering from a serious lack of personal dignity brought about by his actions.

Will our parliamentarians stand up and make a difference? They must join hands in a bipartisan manner and undertake what is best for the nation. We must take steps to address the present serious national crisis. Where are the leaders, where are the Malaysians of conscience, where are the patriots who will together take on this initiative?

Francis Bacon’s thought that knowledge is power is perhaps correct from an individual perspective. A nation flourishes when both are combined in the same individual but faces a grave crisis when some have knowledge and others have power.