ISTAC and The Closing of the Malay Mind (?)


September 6, 2018

ISTAC and The Closing of the Malay Mind (?)

 

Dr. Maszlee Malik was appointed Minister of Education to enhance Pakatan Harapan’s Malay-Islamic credentials

COMMENT | Any specialist on think tanks will tell you that 80 percent of the think tanks in the world were formed right after 1950. This was a period marked by the ascendance of the Cold War.

When Cold War ended in 1989, think tanks remained. Some tried to reinvent themselves by holding marquee events like the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.

In Japan, the Nikkei Asia Review does not have a think tank but is nevertheless made more pronounced by the annual Nikkei Asia Conference which Dr Mahathir Mohamad never seems to miss.

In China, the Boao Forum for Asia in Hainan Island was formed with the goal to supplant and replace WEF while the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore seeks to gather all the defence ministers in one spot over a period of three days or less.

At last week’s Bumiputera Empowerment Congress, which in 1962 and 1965 spawned the creation of MARA and Bank Bumiputera (now absorb by CIMB Bank Group), there were a series of resolutions that read like a laundry list of motherhood statements.

This is usually the first sign that things are about to fail. When driven to the extreme, where ideas are sparse, just pull any proverbial rabbits out of the hats.

Among others, it affirmed the centrality of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC) as the prime vehicle to transmit the right values to help Malays and bumiputeras become competitive again.

Yet, ISTAC has had a checkered history. When it was first created in 1987, its location was just a stone’s throw away from the old International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) campus in Petaling Jaya.

Image result for Istac's Syed Naquib Alatas

 

Professor Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas (pic above) was the leading founder of Istac.  His goal was to revive the salience of the philosophy of Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali. Anyone who failed to abide by this dictate was not considered his ‘murid’ (student).

Subsequently, it was moved to its own campus in Damansara Heights, adorned with its own Spanish Muslim or Andalusian motifs to give it a sense of crowning intellectual glory.

Before ISTAC could establish itself as a world-class institution, the politics of 1998 had thrown a curve ball at it.

ISTAC found itself embedded into IIUM’s new Gombak campus once more, and towards the end of the tenure of Najib Razak tenure as prime minister, most of the professors in Istac were either retired, or impelled to leave; some sadly were teaching three credit hours a year.

So much for respecting the intellectual authority and pre-eminence of the academics. It was Rais Yatim, as the IIUM President, who tried to add a dash of relevance by connecting ISTAC to the Malay world.

After all, rather than a singular focus on Imam al-Ghazali, the same intensity can be zeroed in on Hamzah Fansuri, a top spiritual thinker in Aceh, Indonesia, in the 16th century.

Malay, Islam, or both?

Image result for Istac's Syed Naquib Alatas

When the authorities resort to moving the goalpost once too often, what is originally a sound academic institution would be enveloped by a foreboding atmosphere of fear and intellectual intimidation. Should we focus on Islam or the Malay world or both? In other words, academics who signed on to teach in ISTAC would be immediately aware of its sketchy history.

Instead of challenging the students to think in a critical and creative manner, the academics themselves would be looking over their shoulder if any authorities are watching over them when they teach subjects that are seemingly politically or ethnographically incorrect.

Must they teach Islam alongside with Malay history when the two can be separate disciplines?

The sciences of Quran and Hadith, for example, have their strong and long pedigree. But so does Sufism of various strands. Would a scholar be punished for teaching Ibn Arabi, instead of Ibn Farabi? No one knows. Precisely because the prior failed experimentation with creative Islamic thought had sent Muslim thinkers careening into various directions.

Do they just stick to their jobs and teach run-of-the-mill courses dictated by the authorities above or do they take the risk of teaching thoughtful and challenging subjects?

When scholars themselves are enveloped in an atmosphere of uncertainties, the process of transmitting the right values to the students are usually facile, fake, and artificial.

Not surprisingly, IIUM produced two groups of students in the last 20 years. Some were committed to reforming Malaysia, others who worked alongside Najib, saw no wrong in the kleptocratic excesses of the regime.

How can IIUM students fail on such a simple moral issue? Stealing was wrong yet many went with it at the Prime Minister’s Office. When scholars cannot predict their own fate, how can they help students grapple with their own?

Way to move forward

Indeed, Neil Postman, a top critic and educator, affirmed that the classroom is a seat of “negotiation”. When students and staffs are trapped in the same classroom, they have to challenge and confront one another’s ideas, albeit differently.

What emerges from the austere setting of the classrooms are not just information and knowledge per se, but the appetite to ask even more questions in the following days or weeks.

Paul Freire, a Brazilian thinker, argued in ‘The Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ that if students and staff members do not resort to outright argument and counter-argument, they would be importing all the logic of domination – and hegemony – that are all too apparent out there into their own mental conditioning.

If Malays are deemed as an “uncompetitive race” and this notion is left unchallenged in the future classes of ISTAC, then the students and staff members would not be able to break the chain of such mind-numbing stereotypes that are transported into the academic setting.

Students and faculty members would be attempting a safe and septic way to put their views across, which for the lack of better word, is what the late Professor Allan Bloom pointed out in the American campuses at the start of his ‘The Closing of the American Mind’ – no one wants to ask hard questions.

Indeed, the Bumiputera Empowerment Congress can lead to the Closing of the “Malay mind” too.

At the one-day conference, where the leaders talk down to the audience, where the latter in turn pretends to listen out of the polite fiction to portray their sheer compliance to the new government of Pakatan Harapan, there is no “breakthrough” at all.

Indeed, even if Education Minister Maszlee Malik as the IIUM president wants to focus on transforming Istac, the latter is an institution that is distinguished by two mediums of instructions – Arabic and English.

Malays were at their phenomenal best in MARA, subsequently, Bank Rakyat and Bank Negara, when they could excel in Malay and English, only then Arabic. If it is the latter, a third language, one would have to spend a considerable time memorising the grammar, syntax and rich vocabularies.

While learning a third language is good, the issue at play is economic competitiveness of the bumiputeras and Malays now, which means they have to make their proficiency in Malay and English work first, only then a mastery of Arabic. Either way, they must compete in an Anglo-Saxon world.

Mahathir and Anwar Ibrahim are not masters of Arabic. Neither is Daim Zainuddin. In fact, none of our previous prime ministers or education ministers has had any command of the Arabic language, except perhaps Maszlee who did a language stint in Jordan. But one cannot expect a first-term minister to lionise the whole country at the first instance. He can’t. The struggle over black shoes versus white shoes was enough to reflect the difficulties that he may have found himself dragged into.

To be sure, the idea of using ISTAC to transfuse the right values into the bumiputeras is a lovely premise. But a wrong one.

Anyone who has been associated with ISTAC in any way and form will also know that the institution does not normally cater to large segment of students. They offer advanced graduate classes at Masters and PhD levels. How can bumiputeras and Malay graduates be transformed only at the top, when those howling for help and jobs are those at the heap of the bottom?

Somehow the proposition on Istac as the locomotive of ‘revolusi mental’, or mental revolution, seems like a return to the 1990s when the Malaysian and global economy both moved so far along to produce platform, honeycomb, sharing, and gig economy – all of which are driven by artificial intelligence, algorithm, big data analytics and automation.

How can ISTAC transform Malays and bumputeras to adopt Industrial Revolution 4.0 when the focus on ISTAC itself, both institutionally and otherwise, remain unclear?

The success of MARAa has proven that Malays are quite adept at learning the best technologies, sciences and communication media; without which Malaysia would not have produced a capable group of officers and captains of industries.

But ISTAC has to either be merged with MARA, or converted into an entity that can cater to the bumiputera and Malay masses.

When it does, ISTAC has to then cultivate an ethic to learn, unlearn, and relearn, without fail, as futuristic Alvin Toffler and Heidi Toffler warned. Without such a curiosity, it will be another project that is high on rhetoric and low on delivery.


PHAR KIM BENG was a multiple award-winning Head Teaching Fellow on China and Cultural Revolution in Harvard University.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Real Merdeka is when the Malay is freed from Mental Bondage


September 3, 2018

Real Merdeka is when the Malay is freed from Mental Bondage

by  Mariam Mokhtar

Image result for Malay students in Madrasa

The Malay:In Timidity, he only survives, In Malay Leaders, he trusts  and In Poverty and Ignorance, he stays, and In Desperation, he runs amuck.

COMMENT | We may have achieved our second independence, at GE-14, but we can only claim to have attained true Merdeka when the Malay mind is liberated from its mental cage. The Malay sees, but fails to observe. He hears, but does not listen.

It was hard work trying to persuade the rakyat to kick UMNO-Baru from power, but we succeeded in removing the mental block that made many think change was impossible; but many of us have realised that it is even harder to convince some people to think and act as Malaysians.

After GE-14, I have had many conversations with Malays, from all walks of life; the conversations have been most revealing and confirmed many of my suspicions. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the uneducated, or the rural folk who pose the greatest danger to our community.

The well-heeled, widely-traveled urbanites, and the so-called enlightened middle-class Malays, who have easy access to the internet, do not seem to be willing to empower themselves, or to seek the truth and improve themselves. Why is this?

One young Malay law student in a local university said, “The Malay is comfortable, so why should he work hard, or change his behaviour? Remove his sources of comfort, and he might be forced to act. He will be reluctant at first, but in the end, he may realise what is good for him.”

A Malay mother said that it all boils down to choice. “The Malay has made a choice, even if you disagree with his decision. You may think that he has done nothing to improve his sorry plight, but that is still his choice. You may not think he has done enough, or done anything, but as far as he is concerned, he has already made his choice. You may think that he is in blissful ignorance, but again, that was his choice.”

A young single mother said that she was too busy trying to provide for her family to care. “In my case, I have no choice. The syariah court has chosen not to enforce the law, so I and my three young children are forced to suffer.

“My ex-husband does not pay maintenance for his children. He is comfortable, but we are not. He has enough money to take on a new bride, and when I complain to the syariah court, I am told that his choice to remarry is provided for in Islam.”

 

One former teacher, who is from Penang, described how some Malay parents in her circle did not value education and allowed their teenage children to stop schooling.

Image result for zakir naik

Follow his injunction and Malaysia will be destroyed, Mr. Prime Minister of Malaysia.

“It starts off with the child playing truant. After a certain number of days absence, the child’s teacher will visit the parents, and try to persuade them to send their child to school.

“In most cases, the parents will say that they uphold their child’s decision to leave school, because it is a waste of money and time. They may also claim there will always be a place in the warung (hawker stall), for the child to make drinks or take orders, and help in the family business.

“If we teach the parents the value of education, we see some positive results. More importantly, we will have helped the child to choose a better future,” the former teacher said.

Decades of brainwashing

Decades of brainwashing have created a powerless, and helpless, Malay. He is a victim of his circumstance. He finds it difficult to talk to other races. He finds it hard to forgive. He thinks it is impossible to love those who are not of his race, or religion or creed.

At times he cannot differentiate between right and wrong. He is afraid to offer an opinion. He does not think he should apologise. His culture tells him that he cannot question his elders, or others, and so he bottles things up, until he can no longer stand it – and he then runs amuck.

He spends his life keeping score, and covets the few privileges accorded to the non-Malays and then claims that these are not fair, because he has been deprived of his rights.

Our collective silence has created a nation in which the Malays and non-Malays have become strangers. Many Malays have been so molly-coddled that they have become de-sensitised to the needs of others. They are easily offended. Many non-Malays are fearful of being branded “interfering”, and keep quiet.

It is not all doom and gloom. There is hope. We need to show the enslaved Malay – not tell him, but show him with our deeds and actions, how he can be set free from his mental shackles.

One way is by talking to him. Next time, you attend a dialogue or forum, drag a Malay to the event. Engage him in conversation. Initiate simple discussions.

If you say you have no Malay friends, then find one. Anyone who claims he has no Malay friend is contributing to the problem.


MARIAM MOKHTAR is a defender of the truth, the admiral-general of the Green Bean Army and president of the Perak Liberation Organisation (PLO). Blog, Twitter.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Malaysia: Time for radical thinkers in our varsities


August 18, 2018

Opinion

Malaysia: Time for radical thinkers in our varsities

Dr.Azly Rahman
 

“Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.”

– Plato

 COMMENT | I once taught Thinking Skills, Foreign Policy, and Ethics. My approach towards teaching thinking was about increasing the capacity of the mind to explore newer perspectives, make critical judgement, and envision a scenario of a society of peace and justice, based on the principles of multiculturalism.

Image result for Biro Tata Negara

Maybe it is Biro Tata Negara (?)

I value such an experience and have grown with it. We need to create and nurture a culture of thinking in a world that is increasingly hostile to radical and ethical ideas.

What could be even more important now as we enter a new phase of Malaysian intellectual evolution, at a time when we hear stories of vice-chancellors are enemies of the people’s mind and are being removed?

In my teaching, the approach combines universal ethical values, creativity, critical thinking and problem solving, and futuristics. I think there is value in such an approach.

If we can radicalise student thinking, teach them to stand for their rights, give them choices in thinking, have them articulate great ideas in their own words, we can make them better graduates.

We can train them to become good ethical revolutioners who will remove oppressive and corrupt leaders and redesign a society that will continue to rejuvenate itself. We can teach them to continue to demand the resignation of corrupt leaders – or even have an entire cabinet resign.

We can also teach them to punish polluters, especially corporations that dump poison into our rivers or release deadly smoke into our environment. We can create socially-conscious futurists out of our children.

Image result for plato on education

 

Futurists conjure scenarios of societies they want to have – build from the ruins of one that has crumbled out of the need for greed and economic speed.

Radical futurists create newer social order reconstructed out of the ruins of the ones ruled by leaders addicted to raw power; power employed to rape the environment and humanity these leaders are entrusted to “govern”.

But first, we must have the teachers and lecturers prepare for all these as well. We have many bright, young, academics eager to explore newer perspectives on politics, economic, and cultural aspects of our world. Can they do these in a cognitively-controlled environment? How do we help them?

Critical thinking is not about ‘criticising’

It seems that there is a deeper meaning to “critical thinking” than just “criticising” something or anything.

It is a process of the personal evolution of metacognition (beyond cognition itself); to understand one’s own thinking process and to govern it with the tools one acquires through interacting with the environment and processing information that will become meaningful through the complex neural connections made in the brain.

There has to be a good repertoire of knowledge in one’s consciousness in order to understand the “dialectical and dialogical” aspect of thinking.

Image result for Harold Bloom on How to read

Our education system must encourage this development through the love of reading – the exploration of good and great books taught by teachers who love books and have the passion to challenge students to think and think.

Thinking must be encouraged; students must live their daily lives in classrooms without fear of being punished or ridiculed for thinking critically and creatively.

Image result for Harold Bloom on How to read

Our classrooms must encourage dialogues and debates even if the subject matter is sensitive, difficult, painful, and intellectually challenging. We must have good teachers to groom students to become brave thinkers and communicators of ideas.

These professors themselves must embody the virtues of radical thinking and become beacons of hope for newer thinkers, much like what Socrates was to the Athenians in fifth century BC.

Image result for socrates plato aristotle painting

Thinkers of the Axial Age–Socrates, Plato and Aristotle

Radical thinkers must be celebrated and honoured, not imprisoned and shamed. Only a shameless government doing shameful acts would jail good, ethical, socially-conscious thinkers who speak truth to power.

If in our universities, thinking means thinking about what the state dictates and students are being punished for speaking out on issues that concern their role as future inheritors of their society, we have a got a national problem. How do we make our universities even free from the dictates of the new regime?

Higher order thinking

The essence of higher order thinking skills is the “Why” question and the “What if” and “Why not this”. These questions help our students to critique dominant paradigm and allow them to conjure newer perspectives, much like what radical social futurists would do.

What is the culture of critical thinking in our Malaysian classrooms these days? Is it enabling the culture of thinking or retarding it?

Image result for The Godfather of the Trumpian America First Age

The Defender of the Trumpian Age–Where was this Italian American educated?

Critical thinking is also not about running in the streets screaming for this or that change; it is a process of intellectual embodiment and the democratisation of one’s personal understanding of the intellectual basis of change.

For too long we have seen our students doing that, yet the nature of protests could be traced to what politicians wanted or use the students to advance this or that politician’s desire for total power.

Thinking is a process subjective and individually unique in nature, first and foremost. The great American feminist and anarchist Emma Goldman once said, “If I cannot dance to it, it is not my revolution.” Such is a reminder of thinking as an existential act.

Today it must not be about blindly supporting the dying regime of Najibism nor the re-surfacing of Mahathirism. It has to be an act of deconstructing both and unshackling the prison-house of one’s thinking.

It is a process of constructing a “republic of virtue” in which each citizen is a philosopher-ruler in her own right. Each individual, perhaps like the notion held by the Buddhist, is “aware” of the surrounding, mastering her own environment, aware of cause and effects of beingness, to identify oppressive signs and symbols that govern her and others, to destroy structures that are shacking, to essentially be able to look at her life like a crystal ball.

Is this idea of creating world-wise radical intellectual and movers and shakers possible in our Malaysian educational system?

This is the greatest challenge of this century, for our nation especially. If we wish to remove, the University and University Colleges Act (UUCA) which has in it the ‘Pledge of loyalty to the state’, and remove all acts that are anathema to a healthy thinking culture, we must rethink how we think.

We owe a good education system to our children – a system that will encourage children to systematically revolt against systems, especially against those which still want to divide and rule based on race and religion. Especially against yet another regime that might also use the tools of colonialism and apartheid, even against its own people, retarding the grown of a progressive generation.

We are not yet free. We might still be moving from one totalitarian system to another. Hegemony in transition, as the Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci would say.

I think, therefore I exist (cogito, ergo, sum) Rene Descartes said. I’d say we think, therefore we revolt – we must work towards that.


 

Dr. AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books. He grew up in Johor Bahru, and holds a Columbia University doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in five areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, and creative writing.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Education and Schooling–What’s Our GPS?


July 27, 2018

Education and Schooling–What’s Our GPS?

By Dr. Azly Rahman@ Columbia, NYC

Image result for Bertrand Russell on Education

COMMENT | Education, that gentle profession, that conveyer belt of social reproduction, that process called schooling, and that idea of “educare” (from the Latin) or to draw out human potential is again, a main topic of concern for us Malaysians these days. A very serious journey, often treacherous, requiring good stewardship.

Where is our global positioning system (GPS)? Where are we heading? What is our reading of the global sustainable development goals and how do we use that understanding to plan for mega-structural changes?

What areas must we focus on in order to see these five years as ones where we make drastic changes to renew prosperity in education – beyond this current political-economic malaise, the World Bank report, at times disheartening results of PISA or TIMSS surveys, fragmented and divisive schooling, pursuit of trivialities in maiden-steps of reform, and endless ethnic and religious politicisation further threatening the hope for national reconciliation (if not “unity”)?

What would be the nature of the systemic change and renewed philosophical orientation we need, in order to capture the nobility of multiculturalism/pluralism as the best way to include all Malaysian citizens in this gentle journey called ‘education’?

How do we bring back learning into the classroom and put the child back in the centre of attention so that we may again see human self-flowering and flourishing?

I have addressed these issues in the past through the seven volumes of writing published over the last five years. My passion for translatable concepts in education, critical consciousness, and “cultural action for freedom” (borrowing the Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire’s words) has made me become worried if we are indeed seeing Malaysian educational leaders asking the right questions, let alone attempt to focus on systemic, structural changes that would bring the desired measurable sense of equity, equality, and equal opportunity to our children, regardless of race, religion, color, creed.

Image result for Plato on Education

I wrote an open letter to Malaysia’s future education minister the week the new government assumed power. I wasn’t sure if the opinions were what leaders and policy makers were interested in paying attention to, but that was not my concern. I wrote out of deep passion and concern of what we have gone through in trying to find meaning in education and national development, and the shape of what we will continue to chart.

Focusing questions

What are we to do with our educational mission, philosophy, ideology, paradigm, pedagogy, process, passion, and the possibilities of a truly progressive and reflective nation? We must reconstruct, rejuvenate, and reconfigure the entire gamut of learning and teaching, from each brain cell/neural connection to the collective building of a civilisation based on the principles of cosmopolitanism, from the womb to the grave – in order to affect radical changes.

These considerations are not new, but to translate into sustainable effort of seeing progress through and through will be a novel agenda.

Essentially these are the considerations that are missing in the Malaysian education system, albeit the grand and elegant language of systemic change and yes, the world ‘systemic’ needs to first be reconstructed, as in any work that needs to be done on the reconstruction of philosophy.

The big questions by way of a ‘backward design’ or with the end in mind, are, “what will be the shape of society we envision collectively as Malaysians”, and “what kind of cognitive, emotional, and spiritual evolution do we wish to see in each child”, and how must schooling respond to these twin demands of a vision.

In the late 80s when I started this gentle and passionate profession called “teaching”, I was fortunate to be involved in an effort to create a highly engaging environment and cultural context of learning, working with other dedicated educators day in, day out to prepare determined and dedicated youth to secure places, by their own achievements, in top-ranking institutions in the United Sates, the UK, and other countries.

Image result for columbia university

These are some the places they were accepted into: Princeton, Columbia, Harvard, Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Wharton School of Business in U Penn, Stanford, University of Paris – Sorbonne, Carnegie Mellon, Monash, Australian National University, London School of Economics, Warwick, Royal Institute of Surgeons in Ireland, Australian National University, and many other places of academic repute – an effort worth replicating should one know the proper ingredients and recipes of educational success framed evolvingly and contributing to the idea of “human and social engineering”.

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Greedy Rosmah Mansor– Product of a Malaysian Failed Education System

In short, how do you design a system that will bring bright and eager-to-learn children from the rubber estates, the city slums, the kampungs, into the classrooms of the most prestigious universities in the world? This is not a simple task of parroting the rhetoric of “world-classism” alone that we must all work together in crafting.

Highest quality for all

There has to be a renaissance or a rebirth in the way we conceptualise the schools we wish to build for children of all Malaysians. Many are asking this question: Why must parents be made to worry about the future of their children by way of economic worry?

Why must good and safe schools that ensure learning happens be prohibitively expensive and reserved for children from parents whose major worry is when to get a new Bentley, Maserati, or the latest Jaguar or a private jet in the way they move around and about in this world?

Or even worse, to get a US$20 million diamond ring or a US$30 million apartment in New York in the way they consume themselves whilst the poor are not just neglected, but asked to think positive about price hikes and to be less lazy.

Image result for The Village Boy in Malaysia

Our brainstorming session on such hope in educational renewal must begin with these simple questions:

“What kind of schools does each Malaysian child deserve?” And, “how must we be true to ourselves in making sure that our children have the best teachers, technology, and tender loving care, as soon as they enter schools?”

“How do we turn them into the everyday geniuses and make them love the country, be productive enough to care for their fellow men and women?

These are philosophical, political, and psychological questions we must address if we are to build schools that will not turn out to be “successful failures”.

This should be our topic for the great national school debate for this new regime we have some hope for. Otherwise we will, again, be lost and be fighting endlessly for the directions to get out.


Related image

AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books. He grew up in Johor Bahru, and holds a Columbia University doctorate in international education development and Master’s degrees in five areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, and creative writing.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

 

Malaysia: Race-based power sharing coalition is here to stay?


July 6, 2018

Malaysia: Race-based power sharing  coalition is here to stay?

By Darshan Singh@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

“Whether we like it or not, Malaysia’s political fundamentals are anchored in a race-based power sharing ideology, thus race politics will stay and BN is an established structure to effectively serve that purpose. All that BN needs is to adopt a moderate and inclusive approach moving forward.”–Darshan Singh

Image result for umno barisan nasional and pakatan harapan

A lot has happened since May 9, when Malaysians decided to alter the political landscape of the country, electing a loosely formed coalition called Pakatan Harapan (PH) into government. A devastating blow landed on the once mighty UMNO-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition when, for the first time in over 60 years, it lost the mandate to rule.

Never had I thought that this would be possible in my lifetime. I expected BN to lose a couple more seats but to win the election as usual.

While the majority of non-Malays were expected to vote for the PH coalition, what surprised me was the fact that a sizeable percentage of the Malay electorate decided to ditch BN as well. Traditionally, the majority of the Malay population had voted for BN, fearing a loss of political power if they did otherwise. This trend was expected to continue but unfortunately this time, it didn’t. Dr Mahathir Mohamad had successfully provided the necessary comfort in assuring that Malay rights and privileges would continue to be protected even if BN was no longer in power. After all, it was Mahathir who had indoctrinated the concept of supremacy during his previous 22 years as prime minister.

It will be interesting to see if the Malay electorate continues to vote for PH post-Mahathir in GE-15.

Image result for UMNO Baru under Zahid Hamidi

UMNO Baru: More of the same racist politics under Dr. Achmed Zahid Hamidi from Pornorogo–Hidup Melayu

Personally, I think it was the inability of the former Prime Minister to offer any reasonable explanation for his alleged involvement in financial scandals which influenced the end result. It is a little far-fetched that BN did not expect to lose power, and even more amazing that the former Prime Minister was detached from ground realities.

Warning signs were all over that the people were disappointed and angry with the BN brand of politics, which was plagued by alleged corrupt practices and abuse of power and complete disregard for the principles of transparency, accountability and good governance. The only democratic value left was probably holding general elections on time.

True enough, with the seizure of hundreds of millions in cash and belongings from premises linked to the former Prime Minister, public perception on embezzlement is slowly becoming reality.

Since losing power, BN has been in disarray, desperately trying to recover from the shock election defeat. In such a situation, it does not help when one-time allies decide to jump ship and walk away with those who have newly acquired power. Effectively, there are only three parties left in the BN coalition, and at this point in time, it is not even certain if it will stay this way. There are obvious cracks visible even among its surviving members.

In reality, this election defeat should be viewed positively as an opportunity for BN to review its structure and ideology, correcting the mistakes of the past and emerging stronger. Being in the opposition can be useful to test the newly laid foundation which can be continuously improved until the next general election is called. People will surely appreciate an opposition which roars responsibly in Parliament.

Image result for  Zahid Hamidi

UMNO Baru’s Malay First President

Whether we like it or not, Malaysia’s political fundamentals are anchored in a race-based power sharing ideology, thus race politics will stay and BN is an established structure to effectively serve that purpose. All that BN needs is to adopt a moderate and inclusive approach moving forward.

The majority will continue to claim rights and privileges while the minority will scream racism. This will not change even if the odds are tilted in any other way as we are a selfish and racist society.

Darshan Singh is a FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

 

Our Infant Information Revolution


June 15, 2018

Our Infant Information Revolution

 

In the middle of the twentieth century, people feared that advances in computers and communications would lead to the type of centralized control depicted in George Orwell’s 1984. Today, billions of people have eagerly put Big Brother in their pockets.

Toddler concentrated with a tablet

 

CAMBRIDGE – It is frequently said that we are experiencing an information revolution. But what does that mean, and where is the revolution taking us?

Information revolutions are not new. In 1439, Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press launched the era of mass communication. Our current revolution, which began in Silicon Valley in the 1960s, is bound up with Moore’s Law: the number of transistors on a computer chip doubles every couple of years.

Information provides power, and more people have access to more information than ever before, for good and for ill. That power can be used not only by governments, but also by non-state actors ranging from large corporations and non-profit organizations to criminals, terrorists, and informal ad hoc groups.–Joseph S. Nye

By the beginning of the twenty-first century, computing power cost one-thousandth of what it did in the early 1970s. Now the Internet connects almost everything. In mid-1993, there were about 130 websites in the world; by 2000, that number had surpassed 15 million. Today, more than 3.5 billion people are online; experts project that, by 2020, the “Internet of Things” will connect 20 billion devices. Our information revolution is still in its infancy.

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The key characteristic of the current revolution is not the speed of communications; instantaneous communication by telegraph dates back to the mid-nineteenth century. The crucial change is the enormous reduction in the cost of transmitting and storing information. If the price of an automobile had declined as rapidly as the price of computing power, one could buy a car today for the same price as a cheap lunch. When a technology’s price declines so rapidly, it becomes widely accessible, and barriers to entry fall. For all practical purposes, the amount of information that can be transmitted worldwide is virtually infinite.

The cost of information storage has also declined dramatically, enabling our current era of big data. Information that once would fill a warehouse now fits in your shirt pocket.

In the middle of the twentieth century, people feared that the computers and communications of the current information revolution would lead to the type of centralized control depicted in George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. Big Brother would monitor us from a central computer, making individual autonomy meaningless.

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Instead, as the cost of computing power has decreased and computers have shrunk to the size of smart phones, watches, and other portable devices, their decentralizing effects have complemented their centralizing effects, enabling peer-to-peer communication and mobilization of new groups. Yet, ironically, this technological trend has also decentralized surveillance: billions of people nowadays voluntarily carry a tracking device that continually violates their privacy as it searches for cell towers. We have put Big Brother in our pockets.

Likewise, ubiquitous social media generate new transnational groups, but also create opportunities for manipulation by governments and others. Facebook connects more than two billion people, and, as Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election showed, these connections and groups can be exploited for political ends. Europe has tried to establish rules for privacy protection with its new General Data Protection Regulation, but its success is still uncertain. In the meantime, China is combining surveillance with the development of social credit rankings that will restrict personal freedoms such as travel.

Information provides power, and more people have access to more information than ever before, for good and for ill. That power can be used not only by governments, but also by non-state actors ranging from large corporations and non-profit organizations to criminals, terrorists, and informal ad hoc groups.

This does not mean the end of the nation-state. Governments remain the most powerful actors on the global stage; but the stage has become more crowded, and many of the new players can compete effectively in the realm of soft power. A powerful navy is important in controlling sea-lanes; but it does not provide much help on the Internet. In nineteenth-century Europe, the mark of a great power was its ability to prevail in war, but, as the American analyst John Arquilla has pointed out, in today’s global information age, victory often depends not on whose army wins, but on whose story wins.

Public diplomacy and the power to attract and persuade become increasingly important, but public diplomacy is changing. Long gone are the days when foreign service officers carted film projectors to the hinterlands to show movies to isolated audiences, or people behind the Iron Curtain huddled over short-wave radios to listen to the BBC. Technological advances have led to an explosion of information, and that has produced a “paradox of plenty”: an abundance of information leads to scarcity of attention.

When people are overwhelmed by the volume of information confronting them, it is hard to know what to focus on. Attention, not information, becomes the scarce resource. The soft power of attraction becomes an even more vital power resource than in the past, but so does the hard, sharp power of information warfare. And as reputation becomes more vital, political struggles over the creation and destruction of credibility multiply. Information that appears to be propaganda may not only be scorned, but may also prove counterproductive if it undermines a country’s reputation for credibility.

During the Iraq War, for example, the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay in a manner inconsistent with America’s declared values led to perceptions of hypocrisy that could not be reversed by broadcasting images of Muslims living well in America. Similarly, President Donald Trump’s tweets that prove to be demonstrably false undercut American credibility and reduce its soft power.

Public diplomacy and the power to attract and persuade become increasingly important, but public diplomacy is changing. Long gone are the days when foreign service officers carted film projectors to the hinterlands to show movies to isolated audiences, or people behind the Iron Curtain huddled over short-wave radios to listen to the BBC. Technological advances have led to an explosion of information, and that has produced a “paradox of plenty”: an abundance of information leads to scarcity of attention.–Joseph S. Nye

The effectiveness of public diplomacy is judged by the number of minds changed (as measured by interviews or polls), not dollars spent. It is interesting to note that polls and the Portland index of the Soft Power 30 show a decline in American soft power since the beginning of the Trump administration. Tweets can help to set the global agenda, but they do not produce soft power if they are not credible.

Now the rapidly advancing technology of artificial intelligence or machine learning is accelerating all of these processes. Robotic messages are often difficult to detect. But it remains to be seen whether credibility and a compelling narrative can be fully automated.

Joseph S. Nye, Jr., a former US assistant secretary of defense and chairman of the US National Intelligence Council, is University Professor at Harvard University. He is the author of Is the American Century Over?