Public Intellectual Kassim Ahmad tells disgraced Najib Razak to resign

July 26, 2015

Public Intellectual Kassim Ahmad tells disgraced Najib Razak to resign

by Kassim Ahmad

After the indirection mention of his name with two others related to him by the United States Department of Justice two days ago, it is best that Prime Minister Najib resigns. There can be no use whatsoever for him to continue to hold office, seeing the financial scandals that have surfaced involving him and his cronies. He should own up and ask for forgiveness from the Malaysian people. The Malaysia people are known for their magnanimous treatment of repentant wrongdoers.

The UMNO supreme council should call into session an extraordinary UMNO general assembly which will accept his resignation and recommends the calling of the 14th general elections. Our Parliament should convene and call for the General Election.

An UMNO general assembly should also elect new delegates and a new supreme council. This new general assembly should pass a resolution to root out corruption completely from the party and the government. If Singapore can do it, why cannot we?  A system of cadre-and-leader training must be instituted to bring about a zero corruption system by giving rise to principled politicians. Our people must not and should not accept less than that. We should base ourselves on the shining example of Prophet Muhammad, the leader who wrought an exemplary vessel of statecraft

Our Federal Constitution should be changed to reflect a just system of governance, as ordered by God in the Quran. This would better suit our constitutional stipulation that “Islam is the religion of the Federation.” With due respect to the famous jurists of the Reid Commission which drafted our constitution, they seemed unaware of the Prophet’s seminal constitutional document, known as the Medina Charter, the first written constitution in the world.[1]

It should be noted that the Medina Charter assigns the autonomous administration of religions to their respective its adherents, thus at one stroke of the pen eliminates religious conflicts. The state does not concern itself with religion.

Kassim Ahmad–The Rebel  and Fellow Kedahan I admire and disagree from time to time–Din Merican

Government, as are other affairs,  is carried out through consultation by the community. This is far more satisfactory than the Western concept of checks and balances. It is strange that the two hand that God gave us is made to fight one another! Why can they cooperate to enjoin good and prevent evil? More over this checks-and-balances theory has not been able to prevent the rise of colonialism and the creation of the Zionist State of Israel, a clear illegal and unjust occupation of Arab Palestine.

Remembering D J Enright–The Mendicant Professor in Singapore (1960)

July 21, 2016

I am about to complete my reading of Irene Ng’s  excellent, intimate and moving 575 page biography on S. Rajaratnam titled The Singapore Lion, where she mentioned the iconic Foreign Minister’s handling of the Professor D J  Enright Affair when he was Minister of Culture as follows:

“The laborious effort to give birth to a collective identity at times brought out an uncharacteristic edginess in Raja. It was manifest in his reaction –or rather, overreaction–to British poet academic DJ Enright who had dismissed the government’s effort to create a Malayan culture as “futile”at his inaugural lecture at the University of Malaya on 17 November, 1960.”(p.327)

I recommend this biography to all Singapore afficionadoes. It tells the story of Malayan from Seremban who made a fateful decision to go into politics from journalism and become a patriot of his adopted country. Raja’s onslaught on academic freedom in the early years of the PAP government was indeed controversial. But the issue of academic freedom remains relevant today. I think it is worth reviving it for our discussion.  –Din Merican

Remembering D J Enright–The Mendicant Professor in Singapore (1960)

by Edgar Liao

Few young Singaporeans today would know of Dennis Joseph Enright, a name that might ring only faint bells to some from older generation. As Professor of English at the University of Malaya in Singapore, he had taught for a decade between 1960 and 1970. Enright is inadvertently remembered for his role as key antagonist in the conflict with PAP Ministers Ahmad Ibrahim, S. Rajaratnam, and eventually Lee Kuan Yew, over his alleged criticisms of the newly-enthroned PAP government’s cultural policies in November 1960, published in then colonial-owned Straits Times.

Decades after Enright had left the University in 1970, the occasional mention of his name in the press would invariably evoke his ‘connection with the so-called ‘Enright Affair’’, for example in a Straits Times special feature on the event of his candidacy for the British Poet Laureateship; during a week-long visit in 1994; and in eulogies in remembrance of Enright by two of his ex-students, Robert Yeo and Ban Kah Choon.[1] Enright’s name also merits an entry in the recently-published Singapore: The Encyclopedia:

….he angered the newly elected People’s Action Party (PAP) government in his inaugural lecture when he attacked the government’s plans to curb so-called ‘yellow culture’ by banning jukeboxes and pornography…he almost lost his work permit; but a conciliatory letter to Lee Kuan Yew and mediation resolved the controversy, and Enright remained in Singapore until 1970.[2]

This representation of “the Enright Affair” belies its complexity. The politics of decolonization and culture during the tumultuous post-Japanese Occupation period provoked a vehement governmental response to published comments by a renowned British writer-academic who believed that culture and cultural production constituted a domain distinct and separate from politics.

The cultural policies Enright derogated were aimed at forging a homogenous ‘Malayan culture’, synthesized from the cultural traditions of the main ethnic groups in Malaya and Singapore with Malay as the national language, in order to resolve the twin menaces of communalism and chauvinism which the PAP moderates viewed as the most pressing impediment to their desired political goal of achieving Singapore’s independence through Merger. Concomitantly, the public rebuke of an impertinent Englishman was consistent with the PAP’s constantly-voiced hostility towards foreign interference in local politics, and necessitated by its fierce anti-colonial stance, demanded by the fervently leftist and anti-imperialist Chinese-educated masses that constituted the party’s support base.

D J Enright–The Poet of Humanism

Crucially, the Affair subsequently involved the English-educated students of the University of Malaya. A section of this group had already been politicized by the Japanese Occupation and the tide of decolonization in the region. Other than overt political activism, another expression of their politics was their staunch defence of the inter-woven ideals of university autonomy and academic freedom. Governmental violation of the two principles had been a subject of the students’ ire since at least 1951, when British authorities raided the university’s grounds to apprehend members of the Anti-British League.

After ascension to power in 1959, pointed gestures by the PAP directed at the university only exacerbated the students’ fear of the university losing its autonomy. Perceiving the rebuke of a professor as another intolerable infringement of academic freedom, over five hundred students voted at an Emergency General Meeting to publicly condemn the government’s action against Enright.

While the Enright Affair is one of many incidents in Singapore’s past which has remained absent from the official discourse of Singapore’s history, the event had acquired historical significance within a diverse yet inter-related range of discourses. It is occasionally extricated from its context and evoked as a metaphor and symbol by different individuals and groups who attached different meanings to the event in accordance to their own identification with the underlying issues. For the PAP for example, the Affair became an occasional metaphor for the students’ over-idealistic defense of abstract principles that hindered their participation in nation-building. In a speech to University students in 1966, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew invoked the Enright Affair to express his frustration with the students’ persistence in defending an abstract notion of academic freedom.[3]


The Students Mobilize [Extracted from The Malayan Undergrad, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Dec., 1960), pp.4-5]

On the other hand, the Affair is remembered generally as a trace of the PAP government’s paternalistic style of governance. For the staff and student members of the University, it is embraced as a symbol of increasing governmental interference in the university and the PAP’s infringements of university autonomy and academic freedom. In his Memoirs of a Mendicant Professor, Enright complained about the unremitting persistence of people he met, within and without the University, in associating him with the Affair, and about being taken by the University ‘as a symbol of academic freedom in its quarrels with an increasingly intrusive government.’[4]

On the occasion of a University of Singapore lecturer alluding to the Enright Affair at a university forum on university autonomy and academic freedom in July 1966, which was reported by the Straits Times, Enright sent the Straits Times a letter in which he sought for ‘remission of symbolism’ and expressed his wish that the battle for the two ideals be waged on ‘firm and on firmly remembered ground’, instead of an event that had become ‘mythical’ in his opinion.[5]

The entrenchment of the Affair’s symbolism accompanied the government’s assertion of its authority over the University, from the Sreenivasan Affair in 1963 to the eventual modifications made to the Constitution of the University and the Students’ Union in 1976 that marked ‘the end of student activism’.[6] Roland Puccetti depicts the Affair as one of the ‘Ghosts from the Past’ that illuminated the tensions between the university and the state as he recounted the demonstration of PAP belligerence within the University during his tenure in the University’s Philosophy Department.[7] The Enright Affair would also continue to be referred to by the students during clashes with the government over university autonomy.University of Singapore Students’ Union Handbooks, presented to freshmen every new academic year, laud the Students’ Union’s place in defending the University from threats to its autonomy, and unwaveringly cite the Enright Affair as the first of several rows with the government.[8]

In 1966, a writer in the Malayan Undergrad, the organ of the university’s Students’ Union again invoked the Affair as an example of the government’s continued violation of the university’s autonomy.[9]Professor Koh Tai Ann, herself part of a generation of English-language writers and cultural commentators who continue to bear fond memories of their erudite Professor of English, sees the Affair as ‘another instance of student opposition’ in the series of conflicts between the PAP government and the University’s student body, which made university and academic freedom ‘very lively issues’ among the students.[10]

With the effective depoliticization of the University of Singapore after 1976 however, the Enright Affair’s relevance to the University faded, along with radical student activism that perturbed relations between the two institutions of state and university. In reflecting on his days as a student activist in the early years of University of Malaya, Dr M.K. Rajakumar spoke of his amazement at his cohorts’ ‘idealism and innocence’, which contrasted strongly with a prevailing sense of apathy among university students today.[11] Similarly, Professor Koh would compare Singapore’s university students today with the students of her era who ‘did not have the same total awe of politicians who came to persuade us to support what they were doing.’[12] Yet, more than four decades after the Enright Affair, and in a radically altered environment of student political activity, the event would be deployed as a meaningful metaphor, ‘perhaps the most high-profile clash between an academic and the Government’, invoked in a newspaper review addressing the question of the existence of academic freedom in Singapore after Britain’s Warwick University decided against establishing a local branch campus in October 2005 because of the ‘worries over the lack of academic freedom.’[13]

Enright’s memorialization within the institutional memory of the University itself encounters dissonance and hints at the shifting identities of NUS. An earlier commemorative history focused on charting the University’s growth and development in tandem with the Singapore nation-state planted responsibility for the initial conflict squarely on Enright’s shoulders, for ‘taking a dig at the policy to create a national culture’, which was unacceptable to a new government ‘full of fervour for social reform’. In this representation, the dramatic aftermath and involvement of the students were whitewashed by a single statement that ‘in the ensuing fracas, the Enright camp appealed for the right to speak freely in an academic institution.’[14]

It was only in a recent centennial commemorative volume, significantly titled Imagination, Openness & Courage, that he was embraced as one of ‘Three Wise Men’, and a more balanced portrayal of the event presented.[15] This depiction may have been enabled, and in fact welcomed in light of the Warwick University issue, by NUS’ re-corporatization and acquisition of greater autonomy from 2005 onwards, and its interest in formulating and privileging an institutional heritage in which to root, buttress and accompany an identity as a global knowledge enterprise which transcends, without necessarily sacrificing, its role as a ‘national university’. One pervasive theme is ‘openness’ and NUS would naturally be interested in reconciling itself with chapters of its history in order to exorcize ghosts from its past which may haunt it, for example its record with university autonomy and academic freedom, even as it projects an image of being an open institution which encourages intellectual ferment and creative freedom.

Another retrospective reading of the Affair would see it become associated with the Singapore government’s repression of oppositional voices. In a book which emphasizes the PAP’s record of crushing dissent, Chris Lydgate presents a slanted representation of the Affair to suit his scathing condemnation of PAP’s assault on “yellow culture” as an ‘assault on free expression’. He also portrays Enright as a dissenter who was ‘upbraided’ by the PAP.[16] The Affair is also remembered in relation to the government’s restriction of intellectual space. Political scientist Chan Heng Chee had written a harsh piece criticizing the PAP’s treatment of intellectuals critical of government policy in the 1970s.[17] Twenty-four years later, Professor Koh would refer to Chan’s article to comment on the role of intellectuals in civil society. She locates the Enright Affair together with the Catherine Lim Affair of 1994 to underline a lack of alteration in PAP’s intolerance towards intellectual criticisms of state policies with regards to cultural or political governance.[18] More poignantly, local poet Alfian Sa’at alludes to the Enright Affair in a section of his poem “Singapore you are not my country”:

How dare you call me a chauvinist, an opposition party, a liar, a traitor, a mendicant professor, a Marxist homosexual communist pornography banned literature chewing gum liberty smuggler?…[19]

Although he knew little about the Affair, it had acquired significance for him because of how ‘it seemed to presage the Catherine Lim affair’ and resonated with the banning of performance art and Forum Theatre in 1994. He identified with the issue of the curtailment of intellectual space engendered in the Affair in two principal ways – firstly that ‘one could apparently be discredited if one is not somehow a legitimate commentator’ and secondly that ‘the Enright case can be seen as one of those episodes which in a sense pitted the artist against the State’, including the Josef Ng case.[20] Thus, despite being unaware of the details of the Affair, Sa’at read both political and cultural meanings in it and positioned it within a series of state repressions of cultural producers and intellectuals.

While the Affair was remembered by others for its political implications and ramifications, other cultural commentators position the Affair in relation to the cultural concerns that had provoked the altercation between Enright and the PAP stalwarts in the first place – the campaign against yellow culture and the attempt to forge a national culture. After the turn of the century, when the issue of culture seemed to be re-invigorated with a new intensity, Yao Souchou and C.J.W.-L Wee situate the Enright Affair within a discourse of PAP’s search for ‘a new Asian identity’ and a ‘“East Asian modernity”’ in a postcolonial world via modifying or discarding cultural and ideological traditions inherited from the West.[21]

Similarly, Professor Philip Holden sees the debate between Enright and Rajaratnam’s positions on culture decades ago as resonant with ‘the current debates over East Asian modernity and “Asian values in embryo.’[22] Wee too discusses the Affair as an incident which revealed PAP’s rejection of ‘any organic thinking on national culture’ and preference for a view of culture as ‘a key part of what nation-building meant and still means in the country’ – the creation of a national culture ‘is a matter of practical politics… [and] nation-building.’[23]

The “Enright Affair” resonates within several intersecting discourses which reveals tensions within and between the Singapore state and society across different domains and contexts. As an example of PAP’s interference with university autonomy, the Enright Affair had been positioned as the first major clash between the PAP and the University, not least because the students viewed their strong stand in the conflict as a mark of triumph. Others viewed the Affair as a precedent demonstrating PAP’s disdain for foreigners’ intrusion into domestic politics or for dissenting voices, and its strict insistence on cultural management and keeping tight reins on cultural production. How different subjectivities have remembered and connected this past event to the present illuminates both their positions and concerns in the present and the relevance of discovering the multifarious connections between Singapore’s national university and the broader state and society through examining the hitherto marginalized moments of the University’s past. Some salient issues underpinning and engendered by the Enright Affair remain starkly alive and relevant today, albeit within differing contexts and circumstances, for example the ideological distance between the government and local university students that seemed to have re-opened in recent years and the divide between Singapore’s cultural producers, and the state on certain aspects of cultural production in Singapore. It becomes fitting to recount an anecdote told by Professor Holden, from the same department Dennis Enright headed decades ago.

In a class on the place of writers in Singapore, his students were asked to consider Enright’s offending remarks and views on cultural freedom and to participate in a discussion of two positions. The first was Enright as a ‘residual colonialist’ who did not understand ‘the importance of cultural autonomy in Singapore’ and thus was ‘unwittingly patronizing’, and the second ‘an idea of artistic liberation or autonomy that transcended the immediate specifics of the case’. Despite having made known the historical circumstances surrounding the Affair:

What I was surprised by was that no one in a quite active class was willing to entertain position 1), and there was a great deal of sympathy for Enright’s views, despite the fact that we’d already been over and critiqued Arnoldian views of the transcendental nature of art. When I pushed students further, I remember one saying that if you looked at today’s context in Singapore, Enright’s views were still very relevant and indeed correct–coming to a Singapore situation, students (and not all were Singaporeans–we had a couple of quite good international students) tended to prefer not to read the incident in its historical context but rather in terms of how it related to present-day policy in the arts.[24]



[1]Straits Times 23.10.1994; Straits Times 24.10.1994; Straits Times 11.01.2003.

[2] Tommy Koh [et al.], Singapore: The Encyclopedia. (Singapore : Editions Didier Millet, 2006), p. 143.

[3] Speech by the Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, On Academic Freedom and Social Responsibility at the Historical Society, University of Singapore, November 24 1966.

[4] William Walsh, D. J. Enright : Poet of Humanism (London: Cambridge University Press 1974), p. 18; Koh Tai Ann, “The Mendicant Professor” in Jacqueline Simms (ed). Life by Other Means: Essays on D. J. Enright (New York : Oxford University Press 1990), p. 21.

[5] Dennis Joseph Enright, Memoirs of a Mendicant Professor (London : Chatto & Windus 1969), pp. 147-148.

[6] C.M. Turnbull, A History of Singapore: 1819-1988 (Singapore : Oxford University Press 1989), p. 309. The Sreenivasan Affair of 1963 saw the Vice-Chancellor of the University, Dr. B.R. Sreenivasan, fiercely resisting the government’s attempt to force the University to reject students deemed or suspected of being subversive from admission into the University. Sreenivasan’s justification was that university admission should be based on academic merit and not political considerations. He eventually resigned after the government, in response, made unmasked threats about the severance of funding to the university.

[7] Roland Puccetti, “Authoritarian Government and Academic Subservience”, inMinerva, Vol. X No. 2 (April 1972), p. 224.

[8] USSU Union Handbooks 1961-1972.

[9] Malayan Undergrad Vol. 15 No. 3 March (April 1966), p. 7.

[10] Koh Tai Ann, “The World of the English-educated in the 1960s and 1970s: An Interview with Koh Tai Ann”, transcribed by Teng Siao See; translated by Lee Chih Horng, Sng Tuan Hwee, Goh Sin Hwee. Tangent, No. 6 (April 2003), pp. 265-267.

[11] Dr. M.K. Rajakumar in P C Shivadas (ed), University of Malaya : 1949-1989(Kuala Lumpur : Organising Committee of the Fortieth Anniversary of the Founding of University Education in Malaysia and Singapore 1989), p. 64.

[12] Koh Tai Ann, “The World of the English-educated in the 1960s and 1970s”, p. 267.

[13] Straits Times 22.10.2005.

[14] Edwin Lee & Tan Tai Yong, Beyond degrees : the making of the National University of Singapore (Singapore : Singapore University Press 1996), pp. 131-132.

[15] NUS, Imagination, openness & courage : the National University of Singapore at 100 (Singapore : NUS 2006), p. 143. See Appendix 4.

[16] Chris Lydgate, Lee’s Law: How Singapore Crushes Dissent (Melbourne : Scribe Publications 2003), pp. 34-36.

[17] Chan Heng Chee “The Role of Intellectuals in Singapore Politics: An Essay” in Verinder Grover (ed), Singapore: Government and Politics, (New Delhi : Deep & Deep 2000), p. 126.

[18] Koh Tai Ann , “The Role of the Intellectuals in Civil Society: Going Against the Grain?”, in Gillian Koh & Ooi Giok-ling (eds), State-society relations in Singapore(Singapore : Institute of Policy Studies : Oxford University Press 2000), p. 14. The Catherine Lim affair refers to the case of local writer Catherine Lim being chided by the government for writing an article criticizing the government for being more authoritarian than consultative.

[19] Alfian Sa’at, One Fierce Hour (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1998), p. 38

[20] Email correspondence with Alfian Sa’at. The Josef Ng case refers to the incident where a performance artist, Josef Ng snipped his pubic hair in public as a protest against punitive police tactics. He was fined by the government, which also banned all performances without fixed scripts.

[21] Yao Souchou. Singapore: The State and the Culture of Excess (Oxon : Routledge 2007), p. 62; C.J.W.-L. Wee, Culture, empire, and the question of being modern (Lanham, Md. : Lexington Books 2003), p. 204.

[22] Philip Holden, “On the Nation’s margins: The Social Place of Literature in Singapore”, in Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, Vol. 15, No. 1, (April 2000), pp. 37-38.

[23] Wee, Culture, Empire and the Question of Being Modern, p. 204.

[24] Email correspondence with Professor Philip Holden.

Edgar Liao is currently pursuing his M.A. in the Department of History, NUS and is studying the political, ideological and cultural dimensions of student politics and activism in the University of Malaya/Singapore.

Tags: cultural politics, education, student activism

Once Upon a Time, a Mendicant Professor in Singapore: Remembering the Enright Affair (November 1960)

Failure of Turkey’s coup was victory for autocracy

July 2016

Failure of Turkey’s coup was victory for autocracy

by Jeff Jacoby

Americans tend to assume that the only good military coup is a failed military coup. But Turks might have been better off if last week’s coup had succeeded. Erdogan, already a dangerous strongman, is now more unfettered than ever. That is bad news for Turkey, and for us.–Jeff Jacoby

Erdogan –Turkey’s Autocrat. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely (Lord Acton)

Democracy is like a streetcar,” said Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he was the Mayor of Istanbul in the 1990s. “When you come to your stop, you get off.”

Erdogan got off the democracy streetcar quite a few stops back. As the leader of an Islamist political party, the AKP, Erdogan was careful to demonstrate a commitment to democratic norms when he first won office as Prime Minister in 2003. But the more entrenched his power has grown, — the AKP won general elections in in 2007 and 2011, and Erdogan was chosen as president in 2014 — the further those democratic norms have receded.

With the collapse of the attempted military coup last weekend, they are now receding even further. Turkish newspapers hailed the suppression of the revolt as “Democracy’s Victory.” It was anything but.

Erdogan’s crackdown has been swift and ruthless. The botched coup, he gloated, was “a gift from God” that would free him “to cleanse our army.” The “cleansing” began immediately, and went far beyond the military officers who had sought to force him from power. Lists of people to be purged, it is now clear, had been compiled by Erdogan loyalists in advance. Within 48 hours, at least 35,000 individuals were rounded up or dismissed from their positions.

Among those expelled: more than 6,000 soldiers, 9,000 police officers, and 1,500 Finance Ministry staffers. Thirty regional governors and more than 50 high-ranking civil servants were also fired. On Tuesday, more than 15,000 education ministry personnel were sacked, along with 1,577 university deans. Especially ominous was the arrest of nearly 3,000 judges and prosecutors, including two jurists on the country’s highest court.

Little remains of democratic liberty, the rule of law, or political checks and balances in Turkey. Even before the uprising, the country was well on its way to becoming a full-blown Islamist autocracy. In its latest global survey, Freedom House rated Turkey only “partly free,” citing the government’s “intense harassment of opposition members and media outlets” and the “violence and intimidation” faced by opposition parties. According to another watchdog organization, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Turkey imprisons more journalists than any nation on earth. Even expressing an opinion deemed “insulting” to Erdogan is a felony in Turkey, one for which even a high school boy and a former Miss Turkey have been arrested.

In a prescient post four months ago, the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Rubin speculated that Turkey was ripe for a coup. He cited the spreading sense that Erdogan, more paranoid than ever, was out of control. “He is imprisoning opponents, seizing newspapers left and right, and building palaces at the rate of a mad sultan or aspiring caliph,” Rubin wrote. Even Erdogan’s “most ardent foreign apologists” were coming to recognize “the depth of his descent into madness and autocracy.”

Thuggish megalomaniacs are not a new problem in the Middle East — think of Saddam Hussein or Bashar al-Assad — but Turkey is a member of NATO. There is no room in the Western alliance for an Islamist dictatorship, yet increasingly that seems to be where Erdogan is determined to drive Turkey. Jihadist sentiment in the country is on the rise, fueled by Erdogan’s promotion of Sunni Islamism in public schools. His government supports Hamas and regularly cooperates with ISIS. In the words of one analyst, Efraim Inbar of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Erdogan’s Turkey is a “Trojan horse” that can no longer be trusted as an American ally.

Washington and NATO aren’t about to unilaterally dump Turkey. During the coup, the White House issued a formal statement professing “unwavering support” for the “democratically elected civilian government” in Ankara. But Erdogan’s sweeping crackdown has alarmed Western leaders. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a veiled reminder that non-democratic regimes are not eligible for NATO membership. His spokesman pointedly added that “it’s too soon to say that [Turkey’s] membership is at risk” — implying thereby that it may not be too soon.

Americans tend to assume that the only good military coup is a failed military coup. But Turks might have been better off if last week’s coup had succeeded. Erdogan, already a dangerous strongman, is now more unfettered than ever. That is bad news for Turkey, and for us.

Jeff Jacoby is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Jeff_Jacoby.


ASEAN Chair Laos faces a serious test in Diplomacy

July 20, 2016

ASEAN Chair Laos faces a serious test in Diplomacy

by Caitlin McCaffrie


At a time when the region faces a multitude of challenges, some are questioning whether the chair is up to the job.

2016 is a big year for ASEAN. It began with the quiet launch of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which was followed by the Sunnylands Summit; the first time all ASEAN leaders met a US President on US soil. Now the region is facing intense scrutiny over its approach to the South China Sea dispute, as well as severe droughts threatening the Mekong region.

However, there are many who doubt whether this year’s chair of ASEAN is up to the job. The role of ASEAN chair rotates annually, and this year it has fallen to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic: a one-party, authoritarian state with no political opposition, dismal media freedom and rampant corruption.

ASEAN is a quiet organisation that takes pride in not making too many waves. It makes decisions by consensus, and all members have the equal capacity to block a policy proposal, with the chair mainly serving as a coordinator and host-nation for summits. For a long time, the identity of the chair was never cause for much international interest. That changed in 2012, when Cambodia took its turn.

2012 has gone down in ASEAN history as its least functional. It was the first time that the group failed to agree on language to include in their final joint statement concerning the South China Sea, a fact which has been widely attributed to Chinese pressure on Cambodia to stymie such language. At the time China was one of Cambodia’s biggest aid donors.

After Cambodia’s disastrous chairmanship, Brunei, Myanmar then Malaysia have taken the reins, without major incident. However, the South China Sea issue has been dominating regional debates this year, and the issue is currently before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague.

Laos takes over as ASEAN Chair from Malaysia

A ruling on the Philippines’ argument disputing the validity of China’s nine dash line claims is expected by June 2016, but China has refused to participate in proceedings and has made it clear it will not recognise any ruling made by the court.

In February ASEAN announced the group was “seriously concerned” over China’s actions in the South China Sea, however the real test will come after the ruling is issued. Should the PCA find in favour of the Philippines’ claim, as many are predicting it will, the question will be whether ASEAN will support the Philippines in any attempt to enforce the ruling against China.

Laos’ significant economic reliance on China will likely put it in the same position as Cambodia was four years ago. With Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines each claiming part of the sea, if Laos does bow to Chinese pressure on the nine dash line, ASEAN will face potentially destructive internal division.

Another issue that ASEAN would do well to tackle this year is the severe drought that has hit the Mekong region, where temperatures are soaring and the monsoon season has been delayed. On this issue, Laos may have to tread carefully, as their Don Sahong and Xayaburi dams are two of the most controversial of the 70 new dams expected to be operational along the Mekong by 2030.

Experts have suggested that the dams could jeopardise the livelihoods of the estimated 60 million people. Laos’ vested interest in hydropower brings its ability to deal with the drought impartially into question.

2016 is also a critical year for ASEAN as it has launched the AEC, a community 10 years in the making, whose future currently rests on Laos’ shoulders. The AEC is very ambitious for ASEAN, usually a cautious institution. However, the announcement of the launch of the AEC was only a first step, and it is still very much a work in progress.

Questions have been raised over whether Laos is equipped to deal with the range of issues it faces as chair this year. Already international media groups are asking whether they will be given sufficient access to cover the many ASEAN meetings which will be held in Vientiane. Laos is known for being a harsh climate in which to be a foreign journalist, announcing in January 2016 that the Foreign Ministry has to vet all articles produced by foreign media and journalists need to apply for visas 15 days in advance (when non-journalists can get a visa on arrival).

The Laos government denied it restricts foreign media, offering the illuminating statement: “We don’t have restrictions but procedures,” clarifying that the above rules only apply to film-makers, but that journalists covering the summits would need to be escorted by officers and have their questions and subjects vetted by the Foreign Ministry.

Some have labelled 2016 as Laos’ “coming of age”, and others have warned of the threat the country’s chairmanship poses to the region as a whole. Either way, it is certain that a great many challenges face Laos as it chairs ASEAN this year. There is certainly no guarantee that it is in a position to effectively manage the competing priorities of 10 member states.

Caitlin McCaffrie lives and works in Phnom Penh and has a major interest in Southeast Asian politics.


SakSaMa: Opening An Eastern Front in Malaysia’s Politics

July 19, 2016

SakSaMa: Opening An Eastern Front in Malaysia’s Politics

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee

Sabah and Sarawak have been seen as Barisan Nasional’s fixed deposits since the formation of Malaysia.

But instead of rewarding the two states for their loyalty to the ruling coalition, the two states, especially Sabah, have been treated like step children and unequal partners in what, under the terms of the Malaysia agreement signed in 1963, has been viewed by the Borneo side as a federation of three equal components comprising the two East Malaysia states and the states of Peninsula Malaya as a whole.

The list of perceived injustices, discriminatory treatment and broken promises endured by the two states at the hands of an UMNO dominated Barisan polity runs to more than a few pages. According to pro-autonomy activists, it includes the following:

  • disproportionally meager returns from the two states’ oil and gas resources.
  • de-secularisation and creeping Islamisation
  • internal colonization by the federal civil service establishment which has marginalized local Sarawakians and Sabahans in the running of their own states
  • Putrajaya’s collaboration with corrupt leaders which has enriched a small minority and despoiled the environment at the expense of the native communities
  • Dr Mahathir’s infamous “project IC” which resulted in a massive influx of illegal immigrants, their registration as voters in Sabah, and the consequential adverse repercussions on the local citizenry.

Resistance to what some critics see as a Kuala Lumpur-orchestrated “new colonialism” has been smoldering intermittently and ineffectively during the past 50 years.

This resistance has now reached a new stage with the formation of Gabungan Rakyat SakSaMa, the latest of opposition coalitions to emerge in the country but with the key difference in that it is the East Malaysia partners that are playing the leading role in this, the most recent attempt to break the nation free from the monopoly of Barisan rule.

SakSaMa, the new pact of political parties from Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia for now includes Sarawak Reform Party, Parti Sejahtera Angkatan Perpaduan Sabah (Sapu), Pertubuhan Perpaduan Rakyat Kebangsaan Sabah (Perpaduan), Parti Rakyat Bersatu Malaysia (MUPP), Parti Kebangsaan Sabah (PKS), Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS) and Parti Alternatif Rakyat from the peninsula. It may include more parties such as Parti Bansa Dayak Sarawak (PBDS Baru).

Individually the present grouping can be regarded as ‘mosquito’ parties. Collectively, can it amount to more? And if the grouping is able to make an impact, what kind of change can it help bring to a nation that is tired out by the poisonous Peninsula brew of race and religious politics and the surfeit of 1MDB and associated scandals?

Individually the present grouping can be regarded as ‘mosquito’ parties. Collectively, can it amount to more? And if the grouping is able to make an impact, what kind of change can it help bring to a nation that is tired out by the poisonous Peninsula brew of race and religious politics and the surfeit of 1MDB and associated scandals?

Why East Malaysia Can Make a Difference

In the aftermath of the implosion of Pakatan Rakyat and the weakness of the newly formed Pakatan Harapan, the announcement of the new front has left many analysts unconvinced that SakSaMa can make a difference. Some analysts have predicted a quick demise. Others have noted that the new coalition may in fact strengthen the Barisan by further dividing the opposition vote.

For now, little has been publicly disclosed of the ideology of the new coalition. But one of its leaders has provided an inkling of its political objectives and how it aims to carve out a niche in national politics.

According to Lisa Soo, President of the Sarawak Reform Party (Reform) which is part of the seven-member Saksama, the new coalition would be happy to join forces with “other parties from Malaya” who have the same agenda, that is, for a better Malaysia. “But such [a] pact must be on the principle of three equal partners comprising the regions of Sarawak, Sabah and peninsular Malaysia in accordance with the Malaysia Agreement signed in 1963,” she said. “Therefore, opposition political parties from the peninsula must respect our regional status by not going to Sarawak and Sabah. Likewise, we, in Sarawak, will not be putting up candidates in the peninsula or Sabah. We will confine ourselves to our turf.”

This uncompromising stand has been accompanied by the warning of a “free for all” in East Malaysia in the next general election should Pakatan Rakyat and SakSaMa fail to reach agreement on seat allocation and a common platform.

Hopefully cooler heads among the other SakSaMa partners will prevail because there is no possibility of Saksama having a future without the cooperation and support of the more established Pakatan parties, even if they may be perceived as less committed to the cause of Borneo rights.

Should the two opposition coalitions be able to avoid conflict, what is being injected into Malaysian politics by SakSaMa’s strong stand on the Borneo states’ rights issue and other concerns related to the failings and misgovernance of Barisan rule based in Kuala Lumpur will be less a game changer for the opposition Pakatan Harapan than it is for the ruling Barisan coalition.

This is because, together with the new Sarawak Government’s attempt, under Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem, to quietly press for devolution of power to the state in key areas such as internal affairs, taxation and education, in addition to the open demand of a larger share of development funds and increased oil and gas revenues, the two Borneo states push for greater autonomy could portend a sea change in our political landscape.

A resilient and growing SakSaMa, should it survive the initial turbulence and avoid the pitfalls of narrow regional parochialism, together with Adenan’s quiet diplomacy to re-balance power between the federal center and Sarawak, have potentially far reaching consequences for our national politics and its center of gravity that appears hopelessly mired in the politics and political personalities of the peninsula states.

No less momentous could be its implications for a wide range of issues – socio-cultural, economic and environmental where the unitary federal system has a history of mismanagement, retrogressive policies and bad outcomes and where local interests have been sacrificed or ignored.

Personally, I view any potential consequence as positive. But we must also anticipate attempts by diehard UMNO leaders and supporters of a narrow Malay nationalism to demonize these initiatives from the East Malaysia states as unacceptable, subversive or anti-national.

We live in more interesting times than what many had hoped can emerge from the 1MBD and the personal donation scandals. This – perhaps – could be the real history in the making.

The Evils of Theocracy

July 17, 2016

 Shafiqah Othman Hamzah

The Evils of Theocracy


UMNO’s showy Muslims

What is a theocracy? A theocracy is a government in which God or a Higher Being is seen as the supreme ruler and government officials are regarded as divinely guided. In a theocracy, religion or faith plays the dominant role.

While I am perfectly aware that constitutionally, Malaysia is a secular country, it makes me uncomfortable to see the attempts certain elitists have made to slowly turn our beloved country into a theocracy. They started by demonising the terms “secularism” and “pluralism”; two ideas that promote the harmonious co-existence of different faiths and beliefs.

This is all an attempt to establish an Islamic caliphate while failing to realise that Islam has never provided a blueprint for what an Islamic state should be. Even when the Prophet was the leader of Medina, he never claimed that it was a divine rule. He ruled based on principles of justice and equity, and that was as Islamic as an Islamic state should be.

Perhaps theocracies can work in minor-scaled governance, but a country under theocratic rule is bound to fail and history has shown us that many times.

Since a theocracy sees no separation between government and religion, your religion becomes your government and your government becomes your religion. Political religion must die because people should be able to stand against their government without being seen as standing against religion.

I do not and will never support a theocratic government, not because I do not believe in Islam as a way of life, but because it has been proven time and time again that religion has been used as a pretext for conflict and oppression.

At the heart of every religion is the aim to cultivate spiritual well-being and inner values such as kindness, honesty, patience, and forgiveness; all values that promote unity. However, when religion becomes institutionalised and politicised, it becomes an ultimate evil.

Theocracy heavily excludes religious pluralism, something which is essential to a multi-cultural and multi-religious country like Malaysia. Where religion is supposed to promote the idea of humility, theocracies promote the idea of superiority whereby one religion is better than the rest.

There is absolutely nothing wrong in believing that your religion is the Divine Truth, but giving it precedence over all other faiths by law automatically creates a society filled with xenophobia, intolerance and hostility.

Religion is submission to a Higher Being. A theocracy, even though it claims to be religious, is submission to a government, no more no less. Especially in Malaysia, people should be allowed to point out foul politics without being seen as attacking Islam.

Religion being used in politics is nothing new, even in Islamic history, such as the Umayyads (the largest theocracy in history) prosecuting, and even executing, the Qadaris, who stood against their tyranny, by using the ideology of the Jabriyyah who justified their rule as divinely sanctioned.

Religion was used as a tool to silence anyone who was against the government or their plans. Some examples of that being done today would be when a JAKIM sermon says that anyone who defies the government will be damned by God, or when Pahang Mufti Datuk Seri Dr Abdul Rahman Osman called DAP kafir harbi for opposing hudud.

Ever since we were young, we were taught not to question religion, so when we grew up, we blindly accept the religious rulings and sayings made by the elites. What we were not allowed to question was not religion per se, but the version of the religion practised and propagated by the ruling party.

In a society that stigmatises rational thinking, a theocratic government is especially dangerous because they can very easily control its people.

Not only does a theocratic government give precedence to one religion, it gives precedence to only one version of that particular religion. In the case of Malaysia, that version would be mazhab Shafie of Sunni Islam. We end up not only discriminating against other religions but also our own brothers and sisters in faith who do not follow the same version of Islam. This is against the inclusive spirit of Islam itself.

The saddest thing about Malaysia is that our governance is at a constant tug-o-war between secular and theocracy, and we’re slowly losing to the latter.I have always believed in using religious values in politics but do not politicise religion.

I salute and admire those who have fought long and hard to save Malaysia from ever going down the same road as the likes of Iran. This is a fight we should not be giving up anytime soon. So who’s with me?

Rejoinder: Exposing Isma’s theocratic acrobatics–The Sheer Hypocrisy of it all

Farouk A. Peru


I was most unsurprised to see that the confused racist/Islamofascist group, ISMA, had responded to my fellow MMO columnist Shafiqah Othman Hamzah.

Shafiqah had  an article on the evils of theocracy where she exposed the pretences of the Islamic priestly class. What did surprise me, however, was how ISMA defended its case. ISMA declared that Islam is not consistent with a theocracy and proceeded to paint a rosier than rosy picture of Shariah. It then proceeded to call our Constitution “Islamic constitutionalism”! These arguments were nothing more than theocratic acrobatics, as far as I am concerned, and their shambolic nature needs to be exposed.

A Model Incorruptible Malaysian Muslim courting Wahhabism. No wonder he has many young rent seeking fans who share his “Cash is King” political philosophy–Din Merican.

The author of this essay calls herself a “Wanita Isma activist.” Norhidayah begins with a snarky remark to Shafiqah, claiming she “googled” her definition of “theocracy.” Shafiqah chose a literal definition of the term but it was not an impractical one. It was a definition wholly consistent with the attitudes and practices of the Islamic priesthood who see themselves as walking deities on Earth even if they do not explicitly say so. They even style themselves as warith al-anbiya (inheritors of the Prophets) claiming that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) had deemed them so.

Norhidayah, on the other hand, chose to distance herself from a literal definition, preferring to look towards European history for hers. From that tradition, she found definitions by historians and policies and practices by the Catholic Church which she equates to as theocracy, something which is “not consistent with Islam.” Let us analyse these policies and practices one by one.

The first of these is that the Catholic Church broke its adherents down to castes and classes, the nobility and the peasant. Does this not occur under the Islamofascist Shariah law? Of course it does but under another guise.

Under the classical theory of the Islamic State (which Daesh is fighting for today), non-Muslims cannot participate fully in society. They cannot be judges nor even soldiers let alone leaders of states. Not only that, they cannot even marry Muslims without first converting to Islam. Therefore Norhidayah’s argument is totally invalidated here.

This man has a RM1 billion budget to play around with

The second policy and practice led to the position of wealth and power for the priestly class. They were wealthier and more powerful than kings, says Norhidayah. I would respond with the following: Malaysia is not even a theocracy now, as Norhidayah would admit, yet our ulamas have tremendous wealth and power. Even our pendakwah bebas can drive luxury cars and command five-figure fees for their lectures (so much for following the Sunnah of austerity!). JAKIM, the ultimate ulama organisation, has a budget of a billion ringgit and yet cannot or will not produce its accounts. That is a heady dose of power. So how are Muslims different from the Catholic Church?

Norhidayah’s rosy view of Shariah is either utterly delusional or an audacious lie. Next, she claims that Islam operates under the parameters of given texts. Hence, Islam cannot be considered a theocracy because rulers cannot operate on their own whim claiming to be acting on God’s behalf.

Who does he think he is, this Islamic simpleton?  Harussani is a danger to Malaysia.To think that  the erudite HRH The Sultan of Perak entertains him.

Let us accept her premise for now before we deconstruct it below. If rulers cannot operate on their own whims and Islamic texts are considered divine, who is doing the ruling? The answer would be “God.” Therefore, by Norhidayah’s own reasoning, Islam is quite literally a theocracy. God has the power. But it’s not really God who is ruling.

Norhidayah also seems to forget the glaring factor of interpretation. She quoted the hadith of Muadh ibn Jabal which claims that Muslims are to rule with the Quran and Sunnah. This is technically incorrect. Muslims are forever bound to rule by their interpretation of the two. There is far from a single volume of Shariah codes which all Muslims follow. And Muslims are not restricted by them either.

In Shariah law, there are mechanisms through which one may “remove” the boundaries of Shariah. For example, the sole legitimacy of Islam (Quran Chapter 3 Verse 19). Some scholars see this verse as “abrogated” by verses which acknowledge the validity of other faiths (2/62 and 5/69).

Therefore, they were not “bound” by the Quran. They simply manipulated it to suit their political agenda, the way ISMA is doing so today. Had they been bound by it, they would have to formulate an interpretation which harmonises the two ideas but instead, they simply cancelled out what did not suit them. My own understanding is that the word “Islam” is simply the path to peace, present in all religions.

Lest we forget: this man who first declared that Malaysia is an Islamic state and Anwar Ibrahim supported him before he was unceremoniously removed by his political mentor in 1998. UMNO and PAS politicians are the same. So, “Those who live by the sword, shall die by the sword”.  –Din Merican

So is Malaysia a theocratic or religious country? We need to consider the following – under the theocracy we are considering (the classical Islamic one), there is no half way point. Either you are fully Islamic (that is, operating fully under Shariah law) or you are not Islamic at all. That is why PAS whose ulama are all from the same mindset strives to establish their Negara Islam. It is indeed all or nothing for them. That is the only way they can find employment.

Therefore with that thinking, Malaysia is currently a secular nation. As Shafiqah asserted though, we are experiencing a creeping theocracy. The current stage we are in is on the level of psychological influence. The increased number of Malay-Muslims who are followers of Islamofascist scholars have increased. And this is what we need to reverse if we are to retain our sovereignty.