Malaysia’s Man of Honour and Integrity: The Forgotten 3rd Premier Tun Hussein Onn


June 18, 2017

Malaysia’s Man of Honour and Integrity: The Forgotten 3rd Premier Tun Hussein Onn

by FMT Reporters

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DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang wants the federal cabinet to make the US Department of Justice’s (DoJ) latest court filings related to 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) a priority agenda in its next meeting.

The Gelang Patah MP said the 36 ministers need to live up to the integrity of the late former Prime Minister Tun Hussein Onn who led the country from 1976 to 1981 and whose son Hishammuddin Hussein is today a part of the cabinet lineup.

Calling the 251-page document in the legal suit “a shocker of shockers”, he said the ministers need to decide how to cleanse and purge Malaysia in light of the allegations made.

He claimed that it revealed not only a “complex web of deceit and treachery in stealing billions of ringgit of 1MDB funds for personal and private use and aggrandisement, but (also) the depths of depravity some Malaysians had been prepared to descend to steal and lavish on themselves billions of ringgit of public funds from the 1MDB scam.”

“I call for a nation-wide people’s campaign for the collective resignation of the cabinet if the 36 ministers cannot do anything at its meeting,” he said, adding that Malaysia needed to be cleared of the “ignominy and infamy” of being regarded as a global kleptocracy.

“Ministers who have not read the updated DoJ’s 251-page kleptocratic action against 1MDB by Wednesday’s cabinet meeting should identify themselves, for clearly they are not fit to be in the cabinet,” he said in a statement today.

The DAP parliamentary leader also asked if there are any “modern-day Hussein Onns” in the current cabinet, referring to the third prime minister who he said had an impeccable personal integrity and abhorrence of corruption.

He added that Hishammuddin, who is the defence minister, was wrong in asserting on Friday that the DoJ filing would divert attention from the government’s larger agenda.

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Integrity is Greek to these UMNO Leaders–PM Najib Razak, Minister of Defence Hishamuddin Tun Hussein Onn and Deputy Prime Minister Dr. Zahid Hamidi

“Hishammuddin could not be more wrong, for there can be no bigger agenda in Malaysia than to ensure that democracy in Malaysia does not mutate into a kleptocracy, and the national imperative to uphold integrity in public life,” he said.

Lim claimed that Hussein would have agreed with him.“I have no doubt that if Malaysia had been accused of being a ‘global kleptocracy’ when Hussein was Prime Minister, he would have made it his top agenda to resolve the matter,” he said.

Hussein would also have had no hesitation in tendering his resignation as Prime Minister if he was unable to clear the nation of such “infamy and ignominy”, Lim added.

“Does Hishammuddin agree with me, or am I wrong in attributing such qualities of uncompromising commitment to public integrity to his father, the third Prime Minister of Malaysia?”

He said Malaysians will know soon whether there are any patriotic ministers who are prepared to make a principled stand to quit if the cabinet is unable or unprepared to respond honourably in the matter.

He said no loyal and patriotic Malaysian can read the legal document without “intense shame, consternation and horror.” He claimed that it represented the nation’s greatest shame in its 60-year history since independence.

In its court filing in California on June 5, the DoJ is seeking to seize US$540 million (RM2.3 billion) in assets, including art works, jewellery, a luxury yacht and film rights purchased with funds allegedly embezzled from 1MDB.

The assets named in the applications included the film rights to the two comedies “Dumb and Dumber To” starring Jim Carrey and “Daddy’s Home” featuring Will Ferrell.

The action follows last July’s civil forfeiture suit by the DoJ which sought to recover all the assets including but not limited to the Park Lane Hotel in New York, a luxury hotel in Beverly Hills, condominiums in New York, a private jet and expensive works of art, as well as finances related to Martin Scorsese’s movie “The Wolf of Wall Street” starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

 

James Comey’s Intellectual History


June 8, 2017

James Comey’s Intellectual History

by Nicholas Schmidle

http://www.newyorker.com

More than three decades before the F.B.I. began investigating whether members of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign had colluded with the Russian government, James Comey—the Bureau’s recently fired director—envisioned a Russian conquest of America. He was then a senior at the College of William & Mary, in Virginia, with a column in the school paper, the Flat Hat. His commentaries satirized everything from crooked politicians to classmates who fretted about life after graduation.

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On December 4, 1981, he parodied Cold War appeasers. “One must pause and reflect upon nuclear holocaust,” he wrote. “I doubt many students have taken the time to consider the ramifications of nuclear conflict.” The school’s gym would surely close, he warned; intramural basketball would cease, and a campus film series would end. “The stakes are too high: It’s time we folded. We should unilaterally disarm.” President Ronald Reagan, Comey wrote, should send the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, a note “offering unconditional surrender.”

Liberals, he implied, would be pleased with a Soviet occupation: “The National Rifle Association would be flushed, crime would decrease, the Pentagon would be a shopping mall, Jerry Falwell would be sadistically tortured.”

Comey is now fifty-six. On Thursday, he is scheduled to testify before the Senate about Russian interference in the 2016 election. He will also likely be asked about the several personal interactions that he had with Donald Trump before May 9th, when Trump fired him. Trump’s view of Comey has oscillated wildly over the past year. In July, he disparaged the F.B.I.’s “phony investigation” of Hillary Clinton after it failed to lead to an indictment. In October, Trump praised Comey’s “guts” for reopening the case. This spring, the President became angry, in part, because in a series of awkward encounters Comey refused to pledge loyalty to him.

On February 14th, Trump cornered Comey after a terrorism-related briefing in the Oval Office. Trump’s national-security adviser, Michael Flynn, had resigned the previous day, and Trump urged Comey to drop the case against Flynn. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting Flynn go,” Trump said, according to remarks Comey prepared ahead of tomorrow’s hearing. Comey did not drop the case. Indeed, because Trump kept meeting with him and discussing the Russia investigation, Comey had become not just a representative for the Bureau but also a kind of witness. Following a meeting at Trump Tower in January, Comey said that he went outside and immediately recorded their conversation on a laptop in an F.B.I. vehicle, adding, “Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward.”

Comey has told associates that he never tried to lure Trump into improprieties. “It wasn’t like Jim was going to the Mob boss, all wired up, trying to secretly extract a confession,” one associate told me. Yet, in Comey’s view, Trump’s behavior toward him repeatedly crossed the line, making him “an obstructor.” Based on Comey’s prepared remarks, his Senate testimony will lay the basis for this legal claim, without explicitly making the charge.

His testimony is likely to be supremely assured. A senior intelligence official said of Comey, “He likes the stage. He takes politicians’ questions apart. He loves the fact that he’s smarter than them.”

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In October, 2003, Comey was asked, at his confirmation hearing to become the Deputy Attorney General, how he might handle a politically charged case implicating an Attorney General who refused to recuse himself. “I don’t care about politics,” he insisted. “I care about doing the right thing.” In a profile published that December in New York, Comey further smudged the lines of his political identity. He said that in his twenties he had been both a Communist and a Reaganite. “I’m not even sure how to characterize myself politically,” he went on. “Maybe at some point, I’ll have to figure it out.”

Over the past year, Comey’s detractors have debated his actions and decisions on normative grounds. Was it proper for him to hold a press conference to announce the F.B.I.’s findings on the Hillary Clinton e-mail case? Should he have sent a letter to Congress, days before the election, notifying them that he was reopening the investigation? Why didn’t he inform voters before November 8th that Trump’s campaign was under investigation for possible collusion with a foreign adversary? Meanwhile, there has been little focus on Comey’s moral and intellectual leanings.

Despite Comey’s protestations that he has no interest in politics, he has signalled some abiding concerns over the years. His college thesis, “The Christian in Politics,” is about power and integrity, and is anchored in a comparison of the political philosophies of Reinhold Niebuhr and Jerry Falwell. Comey concluded that Falwell was a huckster who was inclined to “violate the constitutional separation of Church and State as well as the tax-exempt status of his church.” He was repelled by what he saw as Falwell’s false projection of virtue. Comey considered Niebuhr, however, to be an intellectual giant, one of “the world’s greatest moral and political theologians.” He concurred with Niebuhr that Christians were “essential to the political order,” and that a life led in emulation of Jesus was one “guided by the impossible norm of love,” and that such an existence placed “political institutions under greater possibilities.”

At the same time, Comey noted, Niebuhr recognized that it could be dangerous for a politician to see himself as a moral beacon. “The pretensions of virtue are as offensive to God as the pretensions of power,” Niebuhr said. Earlier this year, Comey, speaking at the University of Texas, echoed Niebuhr’s warning, saying, “John Adams once said to Thomas Jefferson, in one of the great letter exchanges, ‘Power always thinks it has a great soul.’ There’s great danger that I will fall in love with my own virtue.”

Upon graduating, Comey continued to voice political opinions. In May, 1982, the Times published a letter in which Comey criticized an editorial for its “condemnation of Right-to-Lifers” and for its suggestion that the federal government should “pay for abortion through Medicaid.” Comey avoided expressing his personal views on abortion, but he emphasized that Roe v. Wade, in upholding bans on late-term abortions, “explicitly stated that government has an interest in abortion and is therefore justified in exercising authority over the actions of pregnant women.” Comey went on:

The Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade gives all women the right to abortion but not a guarantee to the fulfillment of that right. Most of the rights Americans possess do not include such entitlement. We have a right to travel. Not all can afford to travel. Why then do you not criticize the Government for discriminating against the poor by not providing plane tickets? The same could be said of many elective medical procedures. And abortion is an elective procedure.

Two years later, after the Wall Street Journal ran a piece equating smokers’ rights with a woman’s right to alleviate morning sickness with medication, Comey objected, writing, “We may tolerate cigarette smoking because the threat is to the user, but the potential danger of the anti-nausea drug goes beyond the pregnant woman.” He submitted another letter to the Times, criticizing a proposal in the Albany legislature that would require New York supermarkets to sell New York wine. Such a law, he argued, would reveal a “naked preference” for state-specific economies. Comey had voted for Jimmy Carter in 1980, but his evolution into a Reagan Republican was evident.

After graduating from the University of Chicago Law School, in 1985, Comey clerked for Judge John Walker, Jr., George H. W. Bush’s cousin, in the Southern District of New York. Comey became a Republican. In public, however, he portrayed himself as nonpartisan. In 1996, he became the managing Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia’s Richmond office. He soon oversaw a successful program to crack down on guns in the city. He made a point of declaring that the initiative was “totally apolitical.”

Comey remained a conservative, but he carried an aura of political independence into the next two Administrations. In March, 2004, he became the acting Attorney General when John Ashcroft went into the hospital. After Comey learned that the N.S.A. had established a warrantless domestic-wiretapping program—and that the legal standing for the program was dubious—he told President George W. Bush that he was being “poorly served” by advisers. Prepared to resign over the matter, he quoted Martin Luther: “Here I stand, I can do no other.” In the end, resignation wasn’t necessary: Bush embraced his counsel. Later that year, Comey scolded Thomas DiBiagio, the U.S. Attorney in Maryland, who had pressed his staff to generate “front-page” indictments of Democrats before Election Day; DiBiagio, Comey said, had allowed politics to “taint” the Justice Department’s work. Before Comey left the Bush Administration, in 2005, he appointed a special prosecutor to lead an investigation of leaks that ultimately resulted in the conviction of Scooter Libby, the chief of staff for Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Four years later, Obama reportedly considered Comey for a Supreme Court vacancy. After Comey became the F.B.I. director, in May, 2013, he publicly contradicted the Administration on several issues. He told Congress that he saw no reason why survivors of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, couldn’t testify on Capitol Hill. This undermined the position of the Justice Department, which had argued that such public discussions could jeopardize the F.B.I.’s criminal investigation. Senator Lindsey Graham, who was eager to have high-profile hearings on Benghazi, said, “I was very pleased to hear these comments by the F.B.I. director.”

In 2014, at a forum at the University of Chicago Law School, Comey contradicted Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder by endorsing the idea of the “Ferguson effect”—the notion that crime rates in America were rising, in part, because police were being circumscribed by activist groups, such as Black Lives Matter, which used video evidence to document violent abuse of citizens. “Something deeply disturbing is happening in places across America,” Comey said. “Far more people are being killed in many American cities, many of them people of color, and it’s not the cops doing the killing.” He went on, “Part of the explanation is a chill wind that has blown through law enforcement over the last year, and that wind is surely changing behavior. In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime?” Amnesty International called Comey’s comments “outrageous.”

It wasn’t the first time that Comey had stumbled when addressing racial politics. In 1980, at William & Mary, he set off a campus-wide controversy when he published a series of articles in the Flat Hat about the school’s struggle to increase minority enrollment. The articles were generally balanced, but, in the opening paragraphs of the series, he noted, “There are those at the College who feel that William & Mary does not need to attract more black students, and is in fact practicing ‘massive reverse discrimination.’ ” Comey then quoted a tenured white supremacist in the sociology department, Vernon Edmonds, describing him as “one of a group of social scientists nationwide who believe in the strong possibility of a genetic intelligence gap between races.” (Edmonds was later exposed as a financial supporter of David Duke.) Edmonds, Comey wrote, believed that “affirmative action is a futile attempt only tolerated because ‘social concerns are dominated by feeling, not science.’ ” The Flat Hat received many letters of protest. Professors in the sociology department disavowed Edmonds’s remarks, saying, “We consider Professor Edmonds’s views to be unfounded, ill-advised and clearly insensitive.” Comey responded by suggesting that his reporting was rigorously impartial: “I do not agree with Professor Edmonds’ views. They are intelligently presented by him, however, and are crucial to the issue of affirmative action. Such opinions, though they are in an extreme minority at the College, do exist and must be presented in any balanced piece.”

Comey’s ambition to seem free of political bias was perhaps most tested by the Hillary Clinton e-mail-server case. When two of Comey’s top advisers first told him that classified material might have been at risk, Comey recognized that the case would place the Bureau in a precarious situation. If agents found evidence to prosecute Clinton, the F.B.I. would infuriate half the country; if they failed to find anything, the Bureau would infuriate the other half.

Comey had been acquainted with some of the scandals that had swirled around the Clintons. In the nineteen-nineties, he worked briefly as a counsel on the Senate Whitewater Committee investigation. And in 2002, while serving as the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, Comey directed the investigation of President Bill Clinton’s last-minute pardon of Marc Rich, the fugitive businessman whose wife had donated four hundred and fifty thousand dollars to the Clinton Library between 1998 and 2000. Comey took the pardon as a personal affront. In 1992, he had flown to Moscow and Zurich, attempting to lure Rich back to the U.S. to face trial. When he learned that Clinton had pardoned Rich, perhaps as a favor for the campaign donations, he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “It takes your breath away.”

A year into the Hillary Clinton server probe, F.B.I. agents on the case concluded that they were unlikely to find evidence to prove criminal intent. Comey held a press conference to announce that the case against Clinton was closed, but—perhaps in a clumsy bid to seem impartial—chastised her for being “extremely careless” with her e-mails. Louis DiGregorio, an F.B.I. agent in the New York office at the time, was stunned by the press conference, feeling that the announcement had put the F.B.I. in an awkward bind. (He recently retired.) “I don’t give two shits about politics in Washington,” he told me. “We rarely announce any status of our investigations in public. We might call a target’s or a subject’s lawyer and say, ‘We’re not working on this anymore,’ but we always leave the door open. If you stray from that road, you can come back, but you’ll pay the consequences.”

After the press conference, Breitbart News went on the attack against Comey, suggesting that he was a liberal in disguise. Before joining the F.B.I., Comey had been the general counsel at Lockheed Martin. One Breitbart report noted that he had earned six million dollars the same year that Lockheed Martin had donated money to the Clinton Foundation. This clearly implicated Comey, Breitbart declared, in Washington’s “big-money cronyism culture.”

During the election cycle, it was apparent that the political divisions in the country at large had permeated the F.B.I.’s New York office. “People there really hated Hillary Clinton,” a federal law-enforcement officer told me. (The F.B.I. is more than eighty per cent white, and predominantly male.) The TVs were often locked on Fox News. DiGregorio considered the office, like the rest of the F.B.I., to be “very conservative,” adding, “You’re not going to get Abbie Hoffman signing up for this kind of work.” James Kallstrom, a former F.B.I. agent in charge of the New York office, went on the radio and derided the Clintons as a “crime family,” and called their foundation “a cesspool.” (Kallstrom is a former marine, and his foundation, the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, had received a million-dollar check from Trump.)

In October, Comey learned that agents in the New York office had found thousands of Clinton e-mails on a laptop seized from Anthony Weiner, the former congressman, whose wife, Huma Abedin, was the vice-chairman of Clinton’s campaign. Comey conferred with his aides. Normally, the F.B.I. would conduct such an investigation in silence; secrets were the Bureau’s “lifeblood,” Comey once said. But, according to personal and F.B.I. associates of Comey’s, he was concerned that someone in the New York office might leak this development to the press.

Since Comey had declared the case closed, in July, he felt compelled to announce that it was being reopened. If he did not, he feared, and the news was leaked by Clinton’s many opponents in the Bureau, it could seem as if Comey had been trying to protect her. Comey’s executive assistant for national security, Michael Steinbach, told the Times, “In my mind, at the time, Clinton is likely to win. It’s pretty apparent. So what happens after the election, in November or December? How do we say to the American public: ‘Hey, we found some things that might be problematic. But we didn’t tell you about it before you voted’? The damage to our organization would have been irreparable.” (Comey apparently wasn’t as worried about liberals in the Bureau leaking the news that the Trump campaign was under investigation for possibly colluding with the Russian government.)

On October 28th, Comey sent a letter to Congress revealing that he was reopening the server case. The document almost immediately became public. On Fox News, Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, suggested that the internal threat Comey had felt was real. “Did I hear about it?” Giuliani said about the laptop discovery. “You’re darn right I heard about it.” He added that former agents at the Bureau had told him that “there’s a revolution going on inside the F.B.I., and it’s now at a boiling point.” (The special agent in charge of the Bureau’s criminal division in New York has recently referred to stopping internal leaks as a primary focus of his job, promising to deliver “heads on sticks.”)

Nine days after Comey sent his letter to Congress, the Bureau revealed that the e-mails on Weiner’s laptop amounted to nothing. But during this period the national press fixated on the spectacle, and Clinton’s lead dropped significantly—and, perhaps, decisively—in national polls.

Comey has said that he has no regrets over the server investigation. His testimony on Thursday will no doubt underscore his belief that—no matter what people say about him—he is a figure of impartial justice. In April, USA Network aired the first episode of a six-part documentary titled “Inside the FBI: New York.” Comey, who agreed to let a film crew embed in the New York office for a year, has appeared in several episodes. In a scene deleted from the televised series, he said, “We are never on anyone’s side. Sometimes, in a polarized world, it’s hard for people to even conceive of that.”

 

Remembering Anthropologist Joel S. Kahn


June 6, 2017

Remembering Anthropologist Joel S. Kahn

http://www.newmandala.org/remembering-joel-s-kahn/

 

Joel S. Kahn passed away after a long illness on 1 May, 2017.

Joel had a remarkable career, one marked by an enduring commitment to anthropology, Southeast Asian studies, and comparative social sciences. In recognition of his achievements, Joel was elected a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia in 1995.

Foremost in our minds, though, remains his commitment to the nurturing of young scholars in the field. His considered advice and counsel, dispensed with wisdom and farsightedness, marked his impact on students. As a supervisor he was the calm captain steering PhDs, sometimes at the risk of going astray, back on course to successful completion. Joel’s generosity of ideas and professional support continued beyond our PhDs, as Joel maintained close intellectual and personal ties with many of his former postgraduates.

Joel received his own PhD in Social Anthropology from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1974. He taught briefly at Goldsmith’s College, London from 1972-1974, and at University College London from 1974 to 1986, before moving to Australia to take up the Chair of Anthropology at Monash University from 1986 to 1992. He was appointed Professor of Anthropology at La Trobe University in 1992, a post he held until his retirement in 2007.

As an anthropologist he was always ‘at home’ in multiple places and his fieldwork took him to Indonesia and Malaysia often. In Southeast Asia he found academic collaborators and students to work with him, making lasting friendships and leaving intellectual legacies. In addition, Joel held a number of visiting positions, including Professor of Anthropology at the University of Sussex (1998-2000), Visiting Professor, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore (2004), Visiting Professor in the Department of Sociology and William Lim Siew Wai Fellow in Cultural Studies, National University of Singapore (2010), as well at Humboldt University, Berlin, and Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

Anthropology can be a solitary endeavor and Joel was blessed to have found a partner in life and academic pursuits in Maila Stivens. From the early work amongst the Minangkabau in Sumatra to later work in urban Malaysia, they managed to work together, travel together, and remain together.

 

After his retirement, Joel was appointed Emeritus Professor of La Trobe University and Honorary Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne from 2011-2016.

He never stopped working, or pursuing the great questions of our time. Joel’s scholarship was marked by a critical, comparative approach to modernity. An abiding concern in his work was the need to apply a critical and comparative approach to the analysis of the social and cultural constitution of modernity. Joel did not spare anthropology and modern social theory from his critical gaze; emblematic of his writing is an appreciation of how anthropology is implicated in the culture of modernity and its exclusionary dynamics. His critique of universalising logics, concepts and rights was a hallmark of his work. This lead on to further endeavors to make room for alternative worldviews, be they based on class, race or cultural differences.

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These themes are apparent across the spectrum of Joel’s writings and were a uniting thread across the breadth of interests apparent in his monographs. In general, Joel’s writing can be grouped under the following themes: critical, comparative studies of class and economy (Minangkabau Social Formations: Indonesian Peasants and the World Economy, Cambridge University Press (1980)); the anthropology of modernism and modernity (Constituting the Minangkabau: Peasants, Culture and Modernity in Colonial Indonesia, Berg (1993); Culture, Multiculture, Postculture, Sage (1995); Modernity and Exclusion, Sage (2001)); cosmopolitanism and nationalism (Other Malays: Nationalism and Cosmopolitanism in the Malay World, Asian Studies Association of Australia in association with Singapore University Press, NIAS Press and University of Hawaii Press) (2006)) and modernity and religion (Asia, Modernity, and the Pursuit of the Sacred: Gnostics, Scholars, Mystics, and Reformers, Palgrave (2015)).

Joel helped shape a path forward for anthropology to be critical and situated firmly within its ethnographic field, putting the onus on anthropologists to engage seriously with their interlocutors in an intercultural field or interstitial space we create together. His call for a cosmopolitan anthropology has been heeded and anthropology continues to push the boundaries of what that can mean. Many of Joel’s writings on this subject have had a profound impact on Southeast Asianists and projects to rediscover cosmopolitan histories in times of heightened national and exclusionary discourses. His focus on the quotidian rather than elite cosmopolitanism also redirects how anthropologists in the region have thought about identity and multiculturalism. More importantly, it drew attention to the long history and continued ability of ordinary people to transgress state sanctioned identities.

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Joel was a prolific writer. In addition to publishing 60 journal articles and book chapters, he wrote six sole-authored monographs and edited six books, including (with J.R. Llobera) The Anthropology of Pre Capitalist Societies, Macmillan (1981); (with F. Loh) Fragmented Vision: Culture and Politics in Contemporary Malaysia, Allen and Unwin (Asian Studies Association of Australia series), US edition, University of Hawaii Press (1992); and Southeast Asian Identities: Culture and the Politics of Representation in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (jointly published with Taurus, UK and St Martins Press, USA) (1998).

 

Joel has left a rich and deeply textured set of writings that will continue to resonate and provide insight in the future. His profound knowledge of anthropology, social theory and popular culture gave rise to Joel’s singular ability to see their entanglement in the social and historical processes of modernity both here in the global North as well as the global South.

Joel’s former postgraduates and colleagues will miss his generosity, support, and intellectual acuity. Our lives, too, will be duller without his sense of humour and keen, wry observations on life. Our deepest sympathy go to Joel’s wife and fellow anthropologist, Maila Stivens, as well as to their daughters, Sophie and Jess. Joel cherished his family and, in recent years, the addition of two young grandchildren brought him great joy.

Pictures reprinted with kind permission of Maila Stivens

Dr Gerhard Hoffstaedter is Senior Research Fellow (DECRA) at the University of Queensland.

Dr Wendy Mee is Senior Lecturer and Convenor of Sociology at La Trobe University.

The Criminal 45th POTUS?



May 17, 2017

The Criminal 45th POTUS?

http://www.nytimes.com

After the revelations of the past 24 hours, it appears that President Trump’s conduct in and around the firing of the F.B.I. Director, James Comey, may have crossed the line into criminality. The combination of what is known and what is credibly alleged would, if fully substantiated, constitute obstruction of justice. It is time for Congress and a special counsel in the executive branch to conduct objective, bipartisan inquiries into these allegations, together with the underlying matters involving Michael Flynn and Russia that gave rise to them.

First, the facts. On January 26, Sally Yates, then the acting Attorney General, informed the White House that Mr. Flynn had apparently lied about his conversations with the Russian Ambassador. The next day, President Trump hosted Mr. Comey for a private dinner, during which he allegedly asked Mr. Comey repeatedly whether he would pledge his “loyalty” to him, which Mr. Comey declined to do.

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Sally Yates–Acting Attorney-General

On February 14, the day after Mr. Flynn’s resignation as National Security Advisor, President Trump allegedly held Mr. Comey back after a meeting to say that Mr. Flynn had done nothing wrong and that, “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Mr. Comey declined to drop the investigation, going on in March to confirm before Congress that it was ongoing, and later requesting greater resources from the Department of Justice to pursue it.

Finally, on May 9, President Trump fired Mr. Comey. We were first told he did so because Mr. Comey bungled the F.B.I.’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email. Two days later, President Trump changed his story: “In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’” The day after that, President Trump threatened Mr. Comey on Twitter, warning him against leaking to the press.

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Any one of these facts or allegations, by itself, likely would not constitute obstruction of justice. After all, as the F.B.I. Director himself stated, the President has the undisputed power under the Constitution to hire and fire members of his administration in the normal course of government business.

But what he cannot do is exercise that power corruptly, to spare himself or those associated with him, like Mr. Flynn, from scrutiny and possible criminal liability. To do so would run afoul of a series of federal statutes that define the crime of obstruction of justice. They are variations on the theme that anyone who “corruptly” or by “any threatening letter or communication” tries “to influence, obstruct, or impede, the due administration of justice” will be subject to criminal penalties.

The operative word here is “corruptly.” It means “an improper purpose,” or one that is “evil” or “wicked.” There is no precise formula for defining it; those involved in the administration of justice must continually wrestle with its interpretation.

Here, the evidence strongly suggests that the president acted corruptly. That starts with the demand for loyalty from Mr. Comey, the account of which the White House disputes. That demand can reasonably be understood to mean that Mr. Comey should protect Trump and follow his bidding, rather than honoring his oath to follow the evidence. It is also an implicit threat: Be loyal, or you will be fired.

When Mr. Comey did not seem to take the hint, Mr. Trump made his meaning crystal-clear on February 14: Let the investigation go, and let Mr. Flynn go, too. The president denies this as well, of course, as he has denied so much else that has proven to be true. Who are we to believe: Mr. Comey, who would have no reason to accuse the President of obstruction of justice, and who has apparently preserved meticulous notes of his conversations? Or the President, who fact-checkers have demonstrated has told more lies in less time than any other modern occupant of the Oval Office?

While Mr. Trump might have been within his rights to fire Mr. Comey, this pattern of demands to protect himself and Mr. Flynn, followed by retaliation when the demands were not met, if proven, is a textbook case of wrongful conduct. Add to this the fact that Mr. Flynn was already offering testimony about the Russia connection in exchange for immunity from prosecution, and Mr. Trump’s clumsy attempt to dissemble the cause of the firing, and it is clear that a cover-up was afoot.

Finally, Mr. Trump topped things off with his tweeted threat to Mr. Comey; witness intimidation is both obstruction of justice in itself, and a free-standing statutory offense.

Taken together, this evidence is already more than sufficient to make out a prima facie case of obstruction of justice — and there are likely many more shoes to drop. Mr. Comey reportedly took notes on all of his encounters with the president. If what has emerged so far is any indication, this is unlikely to offer much comfort to Mr. Trump.

And there remains the core question of the President’s motives. Is he withholding his taxes because they show evidence of “a lot of money pouring in from Russia,” as his son once stated, or do they show no such thing, as his lawyers claim? Why is Mr. Trump so fervently protecting Mr. Flynn: out of loyalty to a friend, or because Mr. Trump fears what that friend would say if he received immunity?

We have previously called for Congress to set up an independent 9/11-style commission on the Russia and Flynn investigations, and for the Department of Justice to appoint a special prosecutor. This appointment is necessary because Congress can’t actually prosecute anyone who may have committed crimes, including obstruction of justice, in connection with the Trump-Russia matter. This week’s revelations about the president, the most powerful man in the country, emphasize the need for these independent structures to be erected and to encompass these new allegations.

At least for now, we need not address the question, fully briefed to the Supreme Court during Watergate, but never resolved, of whether a special prosecutor could indict the President; as with Nixon, the question may again be obviated by other events, like the House initiating impeachment proceedings and the President resigning.

In the meantime, the House and Senate must continue their existing investigations and expand them, with the Judiciary Committees of both bodies immediately beginning hearings into the president’s abuse of power. Congress must be prepared to follow the evidence wherever it may lead.

Richard W. Painter, a Professor at the University of Minnesota Law School, is the Vice Chairman and Norman L. Eisen is the Chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics. They were chief White House ethics lawyers for Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, respectively.

A Secular Islam Possible for Malaysia?


May 11, 2017

A Secular Islam Possible for Malaysia?

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee@www.malaysiakini.com

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The recent PAS Muktamar brings to the forefront – yet again – the question of whether secular Islam is a possibility in an increasingly racially and religiously acrimonious and divided Malaysia.

Secularism has been defined as the separation of public life and civil/government matters from religious teachings and commandments, or more simply the separation of religion and politics. It is an evolution that the great majority of the world’s nations have gone through – some quickly, others more slowly.

However, almost all nations, even as they develop at uneven speeds, have inevitably gravitated towards a separation of religion and state.

Today, except for a few countries such as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran and Yemen, most nations – developed and developing – view a religiously-based state as a throwback to a more primitive form of government; and a historical era in which life was nasty, brutish and short, except for the religious elite.

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Secular states in which governments are neutral in matters of religion and public activities, and where the states’ decisions are not dictated or influenced by religious beliefs, are the opposite of theocratic states.

At the same time it needs to be noted that not all secular states are alike. Thus we find states with a comprehensive commitment to secularism; those that are more accommodating to religion; and others that, although committed to neutrality, will selectively actively cooperate with religions.

Whatever the degree of secularity, secular states, except those which morph into totalitarianism or autocratic systems, are committed to the implementation of national and international norms protecting the freedom of religion or belief, and abide by constitutions which guarantee the equal treatment of different communities of religion and belief within society.

In sharp contrast the theocratic state has a God or a particular deity to be the supreme civil ruler. Also the God’s or particular deity’s commandments are held to be the definitive law of the land; and the authorities and their representatives who interpret the commandments claim a superior or divine duty in running the affairs of state and society.

Debates on merits ongoing, but no poll held

Debate on the relative merits of theocratic and secular states has been ongoing for several hundreds of years in both Muslim and Christian worlds. In our era, a poll of the world’s foremost leaders – including religious – on what they may view to be a superior form of government – secular or theocratic – has never been held.

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The Late Karpal Singh is right but when he was Prime  Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir had the audacity to claim that Malaysia is already an Islamic state, while his successor promoted Islam Hadhari and Najib Razak embraced Hadi Awang’s Hududism and Zakir Naik.  As a result, the Malays have become a confused people.–Din Merican

But if one were to be undertaken today, I will not be surprised if the polled group of religious leaders – despite their concerns about the negative impact that a sharp break separating public life from religion could have on their congregations – will agree that a secular state is the correct path to progress and a better life for their religious communities.

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I expect too that few among the religious leaders would want a return to the days when there was a fusion of religious and political authority, even if they may personally benefit from the shift of power in society.

For, make no mistake about it, history – past and current – is replete with examples of how theocratic states, even after co-opting or hijacking secularised concepts of equality and justice, have invariably lapsed into religious tyrannies with dire consequences for all of the citizenry.

As Thomas Paine, one of the founding fathers of the United States noted, “Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst; every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in; but this attempts to stride beyond the grave, and seeks to pursue us into eternity.”

The crisis in Malaysia

Secular Malaysia today is facing a crisis with Muslim politicians from both sides of the political divide seeking to strengthen conservative Islam through castigating its moderate and liberal proponents, and by making the case that supporters of a secular Islam are kaffirs, traitors and enemies of the religion.

The situation has become so bad that few Muslims in the country are willing to take a public stand on the issue or declare support for secular Islam for fear of reprisal by religious extremists.

The sole exceptions that have stood out have been non-political figures, such as Mariam Mokhtar, Noor Farida Ariffin and some other members of G25, Syed Akbar Ali, Marina Mahathir, Haris Ibrahim, Din Merican, and Farouk Peru, and an even smaller number of politicians, notably Zaid Ibrahim and Ariff Sabri.

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One sees in their messages to fellow Muslims in this country some of the same concerns that are animating liberal and secular Muslims in other parts of the world, viz:

  • The rejection of interpretations of Islam that urge violence, social injustice and politicised Islam;
  • The rejection of bigotry and oppression against people based on prejudice arising from ethnicity, belief, religion, sexual orientation and gender expression;
  • Support for secular governance, democracy and liberty; and
  • Support for the right of individuals to publicly express criticism of Islam (see ‘Muslim Reform Movement’ by M Zuhdi Jasser and Raheel Raza et al).

Unfortunately, these messages – partly because they are communicated in English and partly because the mainstream Malay (and English ) media have chosen to ignore them – are unable to reach the Malay masses – whether in rural or urban communities. They have even failed to elicit support from the unknown number of open-minded and liberal Muslims who are now openly branded as “deviants” by Islamic religious authorities.

In the Malay world, it is Malay politicians and the Islamic elite and bureaucracy who have a monopoly over the variant of Islam that is propagated to the masses. It is a variant that is currently feeding on heightened ethnic and religious insecurities and jealousy, so as to make it much more difficult, if not impossible, to have a rational discourse on secular Islam, save that advocated by Umno and PAS.

LIM TECK GHEE is a former World Bank senior social scientist, whose report on bumiputera equity when he was director of Asli’s Centre for Public Policy Studies sparked controversy in 2006. He is now CEO of the Centre for Policy Initiatives.