Self-Affirmation and Stereotype Threat


April 25, 2016

Self-Affirmation and Stereotype Threat

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California
http://www.bakrimusa.com

Dr. M. Bakri Musa

Our mind’s narrative of the world includes the perception we have of ourselves, and what we believe others have of us. The first is self-affirmation; the second, stereotype. Each of us is a member of some groups or other (race, profession, culture); thus we cannot escape from being stereotyped.

As for self-perception, like all other of our mental patterns this one too grew out of our experiences. Should we encounter something that does not conform to that mental picture we have of ourselves, we react like the patient with Cabgras delusion; we alter or ‘edit’ that information to make it conform to our pre-set pattern.

Our “self” narrative includes the stereotype others have of us, as with the colonialists’ “lazy native.” Not surprisingly, we often perform to those expectations, further reinforcing the stereotype. This vicious cycle continues, each cycle reinforcing earlier ones.

You have to work doubly hard and perform beyond well just to dispel the stereotype. Then even if you do succeed, there is no guarantee of escaping the stereotyping. It is a heavy burden to bear.

Consider girls and mathematics; there are many associated negative stereotypes. Should a girl were to stumble at her first test in college, not an uncommon experience especially at an elite college where all your classmates are top students while in high school, she would risk being a victim of negative stereotype when there could be other and more valid reasons, as with poor study habits or wrong choice of course. This stereotype burden would be worse if she were also to be a member of a visible disadvantaged minority.

Something similar happened to my daughter. She excelled in mathematics in school but she aspired to be a lawyer. Her undergraduate college required all students to take a math (as well as a science) course, the choice of which to be based upon the college’s own placement test. She was assigned one and found the going rough. She had to devote more than her usual effort just to stay abreast. She confided to us her problem, and as concerned parents we suggested that she met with her counselor.

To the horror of her counselor, my daughter was assigned to a class for honors mathematics and engineering majors! Presumably she aced her placement test and was thus assigned the “appropriate” course. It may be appropriate based on her test scores but not for her career aspirations. Fortunately it was early in the academic year for her to switch course. Also luckily for her she had sufficient self-confidence and was not burdened by any possible negative stereotype. Imagine a Malay girl having a similar problem at the University of Singapore or even the University of Malaya.

This stereotype threat is the rationale for having single-sex schools and colleges. This phenomenon is also seen in non-academic settings like sports, as with, “White men can’t jump!”

Stanford’s Claude Steele

Claude Steele, the Stanford psychologist (above) who had studied stereotypes and self-affirmation threats extensively, shared his insights in his book, Whistling Vivaldi. And Other Clues on How Stereotypes Affect Us.

The title itself is intriguing; he had the idea from his fellow African-American student at the University of Chicago. Like at other elite campuses, African-Americans were noticeable for their rarity at such places, then and now. This friend sensed that his fellow students felt uncomfortable by his presence and would purposely avoid him. He overcame this prejudice by whistling Vivaldi (a classical composer, thus indicating a “high brow” taste in the finer things of life) to smooth the way. I can just imagine the horror on the staid white campus had he tried rap music!

There are many negative stereotypes burdening Malays, like our supposed lack of aptitude for mathematics specifically and academics generally. Unfortunately the statistics reinforce this. Consider that when the results of the SPM and other public examinations are announced, the consistent feature would be Malay under-representation among the top scorers.

The tempting conclusion, and not just by non-Malays, would be to believe these ugly stereotypes about Malays. However, consider this. The Sixth Form science class at Malay College I joined in 1961 had been threatened with closure because there were too few students from the college who had passed the entrance examination. And the college supposedly took in only the brightest Malays! That only fed the prevailing ugly stereotype.

It took the initiative of its chemistry teacher, Mr. Peter Norton, a non-Malaysian, to identify the problem and then push to solve it. Malay College boys did poorly in science not because they were Malays rather they were insufficiently prepared. So in 1961 the college vastly expanded it science laboratories and instituted for the first time a pure science stream at the fourth form. For perspective, my old school in Kuala Pilah had been doing this for years. No surprise then that my old school outperformed Malay College in science.

That first batch of “pure science” students at Malay College excelled, as did others following. They are now among the nation’s eminent doctors, scientists and professors, as represented by Ariffin Aton, a University of Leeds PhD in Chemical Engineering, now head of MyIPO, the body concerned with intellectual properties.

Then there was my calculus class experience at Malay College. At Lower Six we had a Canadian “Peace Corp” volunteer as our teacher. Being new to the country he did not harbor any negative stereotypes of or preconceived ideas on Malays, except perhaps that we lived in trees. On finding out that we did not, he proceeded to treat us like his Canadian students.

Mr. Allen Brown began his class with us without any fuss; no dire preamble about how “tough” calculus would be and that we had to “buckle up.” He treated it like any other subject; he assumed we could handle it.

I remember well his first day in class. He began by drawing a series of arcs of from the same center point, each with a longer radius. Then he asked us to comment on the shape. It was obvious; as the radius got longer, the curve became flatter. No mystery there. Then he asked us to imagine an arc with a radius of infinity. That would be very flat, we responded. Then he beamed and exclaimed, “Yes! A straight line is nothing but a curve with a radius of infinity!”

“Now imagine the opposite,” he continued. “Consider two points on a curve that are infinitely close to each other.” Then he began taking a small arc and magnified it serially, and with each magnification the curve became flatter. “As you can see, if I were to magnify a wee tiny part of this curve a zillion times,” as he pretended doing it on the board, “the two points on it would essentially be on a straight line.”

Then he swung around and exclaimed, “There you have it! A curve is nothing but a series of infinitely short straight lines with variable slopes!” He went on to explain that what we had learned about the properties of a straight line would be equally applicable to a curve, or at least an infinitely small part of it.

Thus was the mystery of variable change and calculus revealed, at least to me. I had taken calculus the year before in fifth form and had aced it. Yet I did not fully grasp its concepts. All I did was memorize the formula and then plug in the numbers. The surprise was that I did well just with that.

We had an even greater surprise the following February when the national examination results were announced. The entire class but two had aced it. The two who did not nonetheless scored high “credit” (B plus). It was a record not just for the school but also the country. As we were whooping it up back at the dorm, Mr. Brown came upon us and wondered what it was we were celebrating. To him, it was not a surprise at all; after all he had seen our performances on the many regular tests he had given us during the year. The surprise for him was that we were surprised.

Decades later, I saw the movie “Stand and Deliver” about a teacher, Jamie Escalante, in a predominantly Hispanic Los Angeles inner-city school. He did such an incredible job with his AP (Advanced Placement, college-level) class that the College Board (the examining body) thought his students were cheating and forced them to re-sit the test! They still aced it!

Escalante quickly became a celebrity. Not revealed in that movie were the many monumental as well as petty obstacles placed in Escalante’s path by his principal and others. For example, his principal was against Escalante using the gym to accommodate the large size of his class, and the teachers’ union was against his exceeding the class-size limit. Tellingly, the program collapsed when Escalante left in frustration.

Talk to any dedicated teacher in Malaysia and she would readily identify with Escalante.I too can testify to that culture. Many years ago I visited an elite residential school in Malaysia. I wanted to donate a video microscope for its biology lab. As I also wanted to know of its other needs, I made an appointment to see the headmaster. On three occasions he canceled our meeting at the last-minute as he had “other commitments.” Needless to say, that video microscope was my only gift to that school.

As for the headmaster’s “other commitments,” one was the meeting of the local Koran reading contest committee, the other, planning the reception for a ministerial visit.

Judging from the many social media postings by parents today, things have only gotten worse in our national schools, further reinforcing the burden of self-affirmation and stereotype threats among their students who today happened to be mostly if not exclusively Malays.

Excerpted from the author’s book, Liberating The Malay Mind, published by ZI Publications, Petaling Jaya, 2013. The second edition was released recently in January 2016.

Joko Widodo prefers nuts and bolts approach


April 16, 2016

Joko Widodo prefers nuts and bolts approach

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/b8a0ea4a-0165-11e6-99cb-83242733f755.html#axzz45zKt6k6J

As Joko Widodo clicks through a presentation on infrastructure projects he has launched, an adviser hurries him along, warning that his time is running out. But the Indonesian President is having none of it.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo gestures during an interview with Reuters at the Presidential Palace in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 10, 2016. Indonesia on Thursday opened dozens of sectors to foreign investors in what President Joko Widodo has described as a "Big Bang" liberalisation of its economy, Southeast Asia's largest. Picture taken February 10, 2016. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside - RTX26FW2

“No, it’s better I show you,” he says, pointing at photograph after photograph of port, highway and dam schemes he kick-started after years of delays caused by land acquisition problems and intra-governmental disputes.

Eighteen months into his five-year term as leader of the world’s fourth most populous nation, Mr Widodo is persisting with an approach he honed as a small-town mayor and then governor of Jakarta: driving progress, project by project, through spot checks.

“I’ve already been to the toll road in Sumatra six times to check land acquisition and construction,” he says in an interview with the Financial Times, explaining this was the only way to start work on the much-needed highway after 30 years of abortive efforts.

A rare G20 leader happier talking about cement and building permits than big-picture vision, Mr Widodo’s prosaic style has disappointed some of his most enthusiastic backers. But his focus on managing the budget, building infrastructure and trying to reduce regulation has helped see him through a difficult start to his presidency, which was beset by a slowing economy and political problems.

Investor sentiment towards Indonesia has improved of late, with its stock market and currency among the best performing in Asia this year.

Before departing on Sunday for a trip to Europe to drum up trade and investment, Mr. Widodo insists he will push ahead with his plans to deregulate the economy and accelerate infrastructure development.

“I will continue to make economic reforms, removing excessive permits, licences and restrictions,” he says, speaking sometimes in broken English.

“My commitment is to make Indonesia’s economy open and competitive.”

For much of last year Mr Widodo looked uncomfortable as he stumbled from one political problem to another, while the economy continued to weaken because of reduced Chinese demand for Indonesia’s commodities.

A dispute over the appointment of a graft-tainted police chief damaged his reputation for clean government. Policy U-turns, ministerial infighting and protectionist measures undermined hopes for reform — and his uncompromising defence of the execution of foreign drug traffickers prompted a diplomatic backlash.

Chart: Indonesia growth and the rupiah

 

But now the President who grew up in a riverside shack — the first democratic leader of Indonesia from outside the nation’s crony-ridden elite — is looking more at home in the palace. “I enjoy my job,” the 54-year-old says.

Not a bead of sweat forms on Mr Widodo’s forehead, even though the temperature is well over 30C and the air conditioning in the Dutch colonial-era Independence Palace is off.

A close adviser jokes that the President is a “cool customer”. Perhaps too cool, he adds, because he made a slow start to his presidency. “At the beginning, he did not know many people in Jakarta and many of the ministers initially appointed were not his choice,” he says. “But he is improving.”

Mr Widodo’s preoccupation with the nuts and bolts of road and bridge projects upsets those who were hoping for a bolder figurehead. However, for analysts who have seen previous plans for infrastructure investment and economic reform come up short, his approach is what Southeast Asia’s largest economy needs.

“He is not the guy who wants to come up with a grand plan, but [he is] a doer,” says Ray Farris, Asia strategist at Credit Suisse.

“I will continue to make economic reforms, removing excessive permits, licences and restrictions. My commitment is to make Indonesia’s economy open and competitive.” Mr Widodo’s focus on tactics rather than strategy has proved less effective in tackling Indonesia’s broader social and political problems.

When asked if he is concerned about rising discrimination against homosexuals, Mr Widodo’s perfunctory response is that “we respect human rights but Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country”.

As for the challenge of attracting investment from China while also pushing back against Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, he simply says that “all activities that may increase tension must be stopped”, before adding that it is not only Chinese boats that regularly plunder Indonesia’s fisheries.

After a recent skirmish between Indonesian and Chinese patrol vessels near Indonesia’s Natuna islands, his cabinet members offered wildly conflicting views on how to react. Analysts say the disarray betrayed Mr Widodo’s weakness when it comes to co-ordinating more complicated policy areas.

“The question is whether he can really control his cabinet,” says Yohanes Sulaiman, a political analyst in Jakarta. Others warn that he needs to lay out a more convincing plan to raise the money needed to fund his pet infrastructure projects. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of focus or leadership on addressing the core revenue problem,” says Mr Farris of Credit Suisse.

Unperturbed, Mr Widodo insists that running a country of 255m people and 17,000 islands is ultimately not that different from being mayor of a city of 500,000. But is the bigger-scale job pushing him to become a stronger leader? “It’s better you ask the people,” he says with a chuckle.

Malay-centric Education System– The Bane of Malaysia


January 14, 2016

Our Politicians don’t really care about Us-Michael Jackson

Malay-centric Education System– The Bane of Malaysia

by  Yiswaree Palansamy
rafidah-aziz

Tun Abdul Razak Hussein would have been gravely disappointed today if he knew how Malay-centric the country’s education system currently is, Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz (pic above) said today in her speech at a commemorative seminar for the country’s Second Prime Minister.

Rafidah, a former  MITI Minister known for her outspokenness, accused the present administration of misplacing the notion of nationalism by promoting an overly-Malay system, recalling that during Razak’s time, English was commonly used as a communication tool.

“I always say, Tun Razak will actually turn in his grave if he knew this is what is happening to this country at this point in time.He never thought that education should be so narrowly interpreted as to be only Malay and to hell with the rest of the languages of the world. No, he never spoke that way,” Rafidah said in her speech, receiving loud applause from the hall.

Rafidah noted that in the past, Malaysians, including the Malays, rarely spoke in the Malay language and conversed mainly in English.This, she said, did not mean they disregarded the importance of Bahasa Malaysia as the national language.

“We spoke in English and we rarely spoke in Malay, not that we didn’t put Malay on the pedestal but that was the best way to communicate. We should not misplace nationalism,” she said, adding that the administration should focus instead on having strong national consensus instead.

“The objective is to make Malaysia resilient in facing global competition. We should start thinking as Malaysians first…for heaven’s sake let’s stop this petty, petty factionalism,” the former Wanita UMNO chief said.

She also said that it was time for the administration to admit that “some parts of the system are broken”.“Let’s not deny it,” she said.

The medium of instruction in national schools has been Malay since the 1970s but in 2003, the Policy of Teaching Science and Mathematics in English (PPSMI) was introduced, only to be discontinued seven years later

Critics of the reversal contend that it was made to only appease Malay nationalists and conservative groups who viewed a weak grasp of Bahasa Melayu and a mastery of English to be indicative of disloyalty to the country.

Bill Gates: The Billionaire Book Critic


January 8, 2016

Bill Gates: The Billionaire Book Critic

Evan Thomas, the best-selling biographer of Robert F. Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower and the author of a half-dozen other books, has seen those books reviewed over the years by The New Yorker, The Washington Post and The Atlantic. But with the recent publication of his latest work, “Being Nixon: A Man Divided,” he experienced for the first time a new phenomenon: the Bill Gates bump.

Bill Gates in May 2014. In his Gates Notes blog, he has reviewed books, including: “Thing Explainer,” by Randall Munroe and “The Rosie Project,” by Graeme Simsion. Just before Christmas, Mr. Thomas learned that his book had been favorably reviewed by Mr. Gates on his blog, Gates Notes.

“I’m surprised by the number of biographies I read that paint their subjects in black-and-white terms,” Mr. Gates wrote. “A classic example is former U.S. president Richard Nixon, who is too often portrayed as little more than a crook and a warmonger. So it was refreshing to see a more balanced account in ‘Being Nixon,’ by author and journalist Evan Thomas.” The review was illustrated by a photograph of the book on a desk adorned with objects from the Nixon era, like a rotary phone.

Bill Gates on Books and Blogging

Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, has emerged as a force in the publishing industry, thanks to the book reviews he posts on his blog, Gates Notes. Mr. Gates, who says he reads about 50 books a year, discussed his love of reading, how he makes his selections and what book Warren Buffett recommended. Below are excerpts from a recent email interview.

What role does reading play in your life?

It is one of the chief ways that I learn, and has been since I was a kid. These days, I also get to visit interesting places, meet with scientists and watch a lot of lectures online. But reading is still the main way that I both learn new things and test my understanding.

For example, this year I enjoyed Richard Dawkins’s “The Magic of Reality,” which explains various scientific ideas and is aimed at teenagers. Although I already understood all the concepts, Dawkins helped me think about the topics in new ways. If you can’t explain something simply, you don’t really understand it.

What made you decide to start the books blog and write reviews?

I have always loved reading and learning, so it is great if people see a book review and feel encouraged to read and share what they think online or with their friends.

It also helps to have a platform for talking about the work I’m doing, both through the foundation and separate from it, because I find people are curious about it.

How do you choose the books you read? Recommendations from family/friends/media?

It’s a mix of things. Melinda and I will sometimes exchange books we like. I also get recommendations from friends. After I finish something great, I will often try to find other books by that author or similar ones on the same subject.

Earlier this year Melinda and I saw the musical “Hamilton,” which inspired me to read Ron Chernow’s biography.

What was the process of selecting the books for the best-of-the-year list? Any tough choices?

I didn’t set out to do this intentionally, but when I looked back at the books I read this year, I realized that a lot of them touch on the theme “how things work.”Some, like Randall Munroe’s “Thing Explainer,” are written exactly for that reason. He uses diagrams paired with the most common 1,000 words in the English language to explain complicated ideas.

Other books on my list offer insights into human beings, our values, our strengths and flaws.

Is there one book that was an unexpected choice for you that you unexpectedly loved?

One of the main reasons I started my blog was to share thoughts about what I’m reading. So it is nice to see people sharing their own reactions and recommendations in the comments section of the site.

One book that was especially fun to highlight was “Business Adventures,” by John Brooks. This is the first book Warren Buffett recommended to me after we met in 1991, and it is still the best business book I have ever read. Brooks deserves to be much better known than he is.

Although he wrote in the 1960s, the issues he talks about are still relevant today. “Business Adventures” went out of print decades ago and Brooks died in 1993, but his family was nice enough to let me post one chapter called “Xerox Xerox Xerox Xerox” on my blog.

I don’t read a lot of fiction but was surprised by how much I loved the novel “The Rosie Project,” by Graeme Simsion. Melinda read it first and kept stopping to recite parts of it out loud to me. Eventually, I decided to take a look.

I started it one night at 11 p.m. and stayed up with it until 3 a.m. It is very funny, while also showing a lot of empathy for people who struggle in social situations.After I sent it and the sequel (“The Rosie Effect”) to dozens of friends and wrote about it on my blog, I heard from a lot of people who were touched by it. There is talk of turning it into a movie, which I hope happens. Rosie and Don Tillman would make a great on-screen couple.

I like highlighting the work of Vaclav Smil. He has written more than 30 books, and I have read them all. He takes on huge topics like energy or transportation and gives them a thorough examination.

Smil’s books are not for casual readers and I don’t agree with him on everything, but I like to feature his work because the world would be a better place if more people thought as rigorously and systematically as he does.

Najib Razak’s Apartheid based on Religion by Dr. Syed Farid Alatas


November 11, 2015

Najib Razak’s  Apartheid based on Religion

by Dr. Syed Farid Alatas

http://www.themalaymailonline.com

UMNO in Power

Apartheid is an Afrikaans word which literally means “apart-hood”.  It refers to a system of racial discrimination and segregation that was established in South Africa and derives its notoriety from that case.

As in many countries, racial segregation began in South Africa during the colonial period, first under the Dutch from the end of the seventeenth century and then under the British who took possession in 1795. But, it was only much later in 1948 that racial segregation became an official policy. White Afrikaner minority rule was established through legislation by the National Party which ruled South Africa from 1948 to 1994.

Under apartheid legislation the population was classified into four racial groups—white, coloured, Indian and black. Millions of non-white South Africans were forcefully removed from their homes and relocated to segregated neighbourhoods. There was no political representation for non-whites.

The apartheid system went so far as to deprive South African blacks of their citizenship. Instead, they were to become “citizens” of supposedly self-governing homelands called bantustans.

Non-whites became separate and unequal inhabitants of South Africa, with little rights and poor access to decent public services and facilities. Apartheid ended with the election of Nelson Mandela as South Africa’s first black President in 1994.

Although the term apartheid is mainly associated with South Africa, comparisons have been made with Israel. Many scholars and writers have sought to compare Israel’s treatment of Palestinians with South Africa’s treatment of non-whites during the period of apartheid.

Those who apply the apartheid analogy to Israel say that the institution of controls such as military checkpoints, restrictive marriage laws, unequal access to land and other resources, and indeed the West Bank barrier itself, that West Bank Palestinians are subject to, is evidence of an apartheid-type state.

The American linguist, philosopher and political commentator Noam Chomsky said of the Occupied Territories that “what Israel is doing is much worse than apartheid… What is happening in the Occupied Territories is much worse [than in South Africa]. There is a crucial difference. The South African Nationalists needed the black population. That was their workforce… The Israeli relationship to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is totally different. They just do not want them. They want them out, or at least in prison.”

What is the danger of an apartheid-type system developing in Malaysia? Most historians and sociologists who have studied the pre-colonial Malay world agree that the racial divides that characterize Malaysia today were far less prior to the coming of the Europeans.

There was a great deal of assimilation to Malay culture and inter-marriage, from where we get the Baba or Straits Chinese and the Jawi Peranakan. But, colonial Malaya introduced racism that led to instances of apartheid. For example, the Selangor Club was a whites-only establishment. Locals, along with dogs and other pets, were not granted admission.

Such an environment enabled the British and other Europeans to keep up the illusion of racial purity and superiority, to forget that they were in the East, and to socialize with their own kind. Physical segregation was accompanied by racist views that the British had of the Malayans.

A.R. Wallace, the nineteenth century naturalist, said in his work, The Malay Archipelago, that “[t]he intellect of the Malay race seems rather deficient. They are incapable of anything beyond the simplest combination of ideas and have little taste or energy for the acquirement of knowledge.”

Perhaps the most well-known stereotype was that of the indolence of the Malays. The Malays were stereotyped as lazy and unwilling to perform hard work. The pioneering work of Syed Hussein Alatas, The Myth of the Lazy Native, argued that the characterization of the Malays and other natives such as the Javanese and Filipinos as lazy was part of the ideological justification of the Europeans to rule the colonies as well as import foreign labour.

The Chinese in Malaya were frequently referred to as “greedy Chinamen” who could be found anywhere there was an opportunity to make money. The European view of the Indians was extremely instrumental, looking upon them as a docile population that could be easily exploited as a source of cheap labour.

In the colonial system, racial segregation was not total. Neither was it absent. Indeed it was a system of mini-apartheid that was founded on racist attitudes towards the Malayans. Now we have to be wary that mini-apartheid is being brought back to Malaysia in a different guise, that of religion.

It comes from an excessive sense of impurity and fear of contamination that can only be a reflection of the social and political insecurity that some Malays are currently experiencing.

In such a context, there is a need to live in a way that exaggerates the Islamic identity so that the Malays can feel that not all is being lost. The emphasis on the tudung and other aspects of the dress code are examples of the bid to strengthen religious identity.

It is, of course, understandable that people would attempt to emphasize their Malayness or Muslimness if they felt themselves to be under threat economically or politically. What is horrifying, however, are attempts by the political leadership to capitalize on these fears by introducing apartheid-like measures.

What is unacceptable is to try to differentiate the inhabitants of Malaysia through legislation that would end up segregating people.

Recently it was announced that the Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Ministry is considering a reckless proposal to legislate the segregation of trolleys for halal and non-halal food items in shopping malls. This is ostensibly to alleviate the fears of Muslims regarding the contamination of the food they purchased by non-halal items.

It was suggested that non-halal products could use red trollies while halal products would use trollies of another colour. Well, let us say that the trollies for halal items were green. This would amount to Muslims using green trollies and non-Muslims using red trollies throughout the supermarkets of Malaysia. As if Malaysians were not divided enough, do we have to deal with yet another identity marker, that of trolley pusher?

Making it compulsory for supermarkets to practise such segregation, or even allowing them to do so, sets a very dangerous precedent and puts Malaysia on the slippery slope towards an apartheid-like state. Will the segregation stop with the trollies?

After some time, it may be suggested by some that Muslims feel offended or uncomfortable to see “pork-infested” items being sold in the same supermarkets that they patronize. They may object to seeing alcohol being sold in front of their eyes. They may demand that there be separate supermarkets for Muslims.

This demand may also be extended to kedai runcit and convenience stores. I can also imagine that in future some people may object to non-Muslims eating in halal restaurants. What is to guarantee that these non-Muslims may not inadvertently bring traces of porcine substances into the halal restaurants?

Therefore, it would seem sensible to call for segregated halal restaurants in which Muslims and non-Muslims dined in separate areas and used utensils that were washed and stored separately. There would even be calls to make it compulsory to have separate restaurants for Muslims and non-Muslims. The call for segregation would escalate to encompass more and more areas of life in order that the Muslim consumer would not worry about contamination.

Malay politicians and religious leaders have to take a decision. They can choose to play to the gallery of narrow-mindedness and racism and take advantage of the obsessions of certain unschooled Muslims. They can choose to capitalize on the ignorance of certain sections of the Muslim population of Malaysia. Or, they can take the lead by educating these Muslims on how to live a decent Islamic life, that is, one with a multiculturalist sensibility, that is not ridden with doubts and insecurities.

The last chapter of the Qur’an, entitled Nas or Humankind, asks humans to seek refuge with God from the mischief of Satan, the whisperer of evil (al-waswas) into the hearts or men and women. In this way, Satan attempts to destroy belief by planting psychological anxiety in Muslims, affecting the purity of their faith and way of life.

The duty of the Muslim is to fight this insecurity and live harmoniously with all. Such a spirit of Islam was exemplified by Sayyidina Ali ibn Abi Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of the Holy Prophet and Caliph of Islam, when he advised his governor, Malik al-Ashtar, to have mercy, kindness and affection for his subjects for they are “either your brother in religion or one like you in creation.”

* Dr Syed Farid Alatas is an Assoc Prof at NUS.

 

The Closing of the Japanese Mind


September 26, 2015

Ask not (’tis forbidden knowledge), what our destined term of years,
Mine and yours; nor scan the tables of your Babylonish seers.
Better far to bear the future, my Leuconoe, like the past,
Whether Jove has many winters yet to give, or this our last;
This, that makes the Tyrrhene billows spend their strength against the shore.
Strain your wine and prove your wisdom; life is short; should hope be more?
In the moment of our talking, envious time has ebb’d away.
Seize the present (carpe diem); trust tomorrow e’en as little as you may–

The Odes and Carmen Saeculare of Horace.

The Closing of the Japanese Mind

by Noah Smith
_japan-girl-band_3187236b
Most people who follow news from Japan will be paying attention to the economy, or possibly to the fist-fight that broke out in the Diet over security policy. But there was a huge and very worrying change in Japanese education policy that somehow hasn’t received much public notice.

Essentially, Japan’s government just ordered all of the country’s public universities to end education in the social sciences, the humanities and law.

The order, issued in the form of a letter from Hakubun Shimomura, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, is non-binding. The country’s two top public universities have refused to comply. But dozens of public schools are doing as the government has urged. At these universities, there will be no more economics majors, no more law students, no more literature or sociology or political science students. It’s a stunning, dramatic shift, and it deserves more attention than it’s receiving.

It is also a very bad sign for Japan, for a number of reasons. First of all, eliminating social science could signal a return to a failing and outdated industrial policy. Many observers interpret the change as an economic policy itself, intended to move the Japanese populace toward engineering and other technical skills and away from fuzzy disciplines. But if this is indeed the aim, it’s a terrible direction for Japan to be going.

Japan’s rapid catch-up growth in the 1960s and 1970s was based on manufacturing industries. This is common for developing countries. But when countries get rich, they typically shift toward service industries. Finance, consulting, insurance, marketing and other service industries don’t produce material goods, but they help organize the patterns of production more efficiently — something Japan desperately needs.  Since it’s a country with a shrinking population, it can only grow by increasing productivity.

But Japanese productivity has grown very slowly since the early 1990s, and has fallen far behind that of the US If Japan is going to turn this situation around, it will need more than a workforce of skilled engineers. It will need managers who can communicate with those engineers and with each other. It will need conceptual thinkers who can formulate business plans and strategic vision. It will need marketers who can establish and increase Japanese brand recognition. It will need financiers who can channel savings away from old, fading industries and toward productive new ones. It will need lawyers to sort out intellectual property cases and help businesses navigate international legal systems. It will need consultants to evaluate the operations of unprofitable, stagnant companies and help those companies become profitable again.

In other words, it will need a bunch of social science and humanities students. So the education change is a big step backward economically. But what it signals about Japanese politics and the policy-making process might be even more worrying.

There may or may not be political reasons for the change. Japan’s humanities departments, like those in the US, lean heavily to the political left, and Japan’s conservative administration is in the process of reorienting security policy. More darkly, the change might be part of a wider attempt by social conservatives — Abe’s main power bloc — to move the country in a more illiberal direction by stifling dissent and discussion.

But the main takeaway is that Japan’s policy-making process is arbitrary and dysfunctional. According to Takuya Nakaizumi, an economics professor at Kanto Gakuin University, the changes were probably written not by Minister Shimomura himself, but by more junior members of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. If that is true, it means that sweeping policy changes, which will affect the entire economic and social structure of the nation, are being made by junior officials via an unaccountable and opaque process.

Nakaizumi also suggested to me that the changes might have been made by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, without consulting the Ministry of Finance (MOF) or the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). If so, that is even more worrying. METI and MOF understand the need for Japan to build a robust service-sector economy. But if they didn’t sign off on the education debacle, it means that policy that undermines their goals is being made right under their noses.

That would be very bad news for Japan, since it indicates a confused and disorganised policy-making apparatus. The sudden, sweeping nature of the reform, and the fact that it came from the ministries rather than the legislature, also highlights the woeful lack of checks and balances in the Japanese system. It takes large, expensive popular movements to undo the bad policies made by unaccountable officials in back rooms. Such a movement is already coalescing to fight the education policy changes. But even if that effort succeeds, the policy changes will have created great risk, cost and disruption.

Japan needs to keep educating students in the social sciences and humanities. It needs to avoid a doomed attempt to return to a developing-country model of growth. It needs a more robust, less arbitrary, more transparent policy-making regime. Minister Shimomura’s diktat bodes ill for all of these things. — Bloomberg

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.