December 17, 2018
By: Pithaya Pookamans
December 17, 2018
By: Pithaya Pookamans
When I first saw this book by Warren Reed, a onetime Australian spy and my former colleague in Tokyo diplomatic circles, I was intrigued by its unusual title. It is actually an old Malay proverb, meaning that someone can see a louse as far away as China but is unaware of the elephant on his or her nose. The saying sits nicely in the story, where it is used to measure where the non-Asian world stands today in trying to understand the new power plays underway in the Asian region and the rise of China.
The author has a 50-year association with the region, which began with three years studying international law and politics at the University of Tokyo, all in written and spoken Japanese. He was part of a generation of young Australians who ventured to seek knowledge and wisdom in Asia rather than automatically heading for North America or Europe.
Most of Reed’s life after his initial contact with Japan has involved getting to know the rest of Asia as well. It shows in this contemporary story, which is built around a positive theme of spies with vastly different backgrounds crossing cultural and civilizational fault-lines in the region for a common cause: to thwart a terror attack on Tokyo, a conurbation of some 40 million people. The implications of this devious plot would stand alongside the horrors of 9/11 in the United States, and that’s not only for Japan but for the global community as a whole.
An outstanding feature of this story is how these spies cooperate with each other. This is no simple story of the good guys chasing down the bad guys, and winning. This is the first novel I have read that delves into matters cerebral, rather than merely outlining the mind games that spies often play with their targets.
John La Carre does that eminently well. But Elephant goes a number of steps further. It looks at how the spies involved, and under great pressure, mix and meld their intellects to provide a combined brain power much greater than their number. In a way, it is reminiscent of Bletchley Park in England during World War II when some thousands of British experts, mathematicians, creators of crosswords, spies and many others with a bent for problem-solving came together like a giant human computer to break crucial enemy codes.
Whether Britain would have avoided invasion without this outstandingly successful feat is beyond doubt. Not only did Britain survive but most of the Free World as well.
This is a fascinating attribute of the story. It’s not just a tale of intellectual, linguistic, and technical coordination. It goes far beyond that, delving into a greater challenge: that of building trust across borders seldom traversed. Indeed, in this story, the gravitational pull of history and political ideology work against fruitful cooperation at almost every turn.
Former spies who go on to write spy thrillers obviously have a treasure trove of experiences to draw upon in creating credible story lines and believable characters with which to furnish them. Those who inhabit Elephant are delightfully real. They’re not just clever at what they do, but have foibles and weaknesses like the rest of us.
Despite this, they exercise their strengths to ensure success in ways that most of us never get to appreciate about a spy’s life. How do they suppress their emotions to focus their minds clearly on the task at hand? How do they tackle the challenge of minimal or no sleep while keeping their minds razor-sharp? This story ranges over those dimensions of a spy’s life in a way that is not only real but readily understandable.
James Fallows, the national correspondent for The Atlantic in Washington, who also has had a lifetime of intimate contact with the Asian world, has described An Elephant on Your Nose as “pulling off the trick of being brisk-paced and absorbing while conveying larger truths about the new power game in Asia.” He said he read it straight through, which is what I did. It certainly is a page-turner, not just because of the rapidly evolving story line but mainly because of the characters. You feel you’re with them all the way. It’s a great read and is packed with information on, and insights into the spy world that are unique.
October 5, 2018
“In this crucible of power politics, of bullying and posturing and rage, no one has been more severely tested than Judge Kavanaugh. If he believes himself innocent of sexual assault — if he is innocent of sexual assault — the test, to him, can only appear monstrous.
Yet unfair as the test might seem to the judge and his supporters, senators who want to preserve the credibility of the Supreme Court cannot now look away from the result: Judge Kavanaugh failed, decisively.”–The Editorial Board,
The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, as much as any development in the challenging era of Donald Trump, is testing America’s politicians and its civic institutions. Few, so far, have met the test.
Not Republican senators, who, after denying one president his legitimate authority to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court, are now rushing their own nominee through, uninterested in the truth, while weeping crocodile tears about other people’s partisanship.
Not Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who tainted the process by bringing forward damaging allegations against Judge Kavanaugh only at the last minute.
Not the F.B.I., which either of its own volition or because of constraints imposed by Republicans failed to interview many of the key witnesses who could speak to the accusations against Judge Kavanaugh. And not President Trump, to absolutely no one’s surprise.
In this crucible of power politics, of bullying and posturing and rage, no one has been more severely tested than Judge Kavanaugh. If he believes himself innocent of sexual assault — if he is innocent of sexual assault — the test, to him, can only appear monstrous.
Yet unfair as the test might seem to the judge and his supporters, senators who want to preserve the credibility of the Supreme Court cannot now look away from the result: Judge Kavanaugh failed, decisively.
How? First, he gave misleading answers under oath. Judges — particularly Supreme Court justices — must have, and be seen as having, unimpeachable integrity. The knuckleheaded mistakes of a young person — drinking too much, writing offensive things in a high school yearbook — should not in themselves be bars to high office. But deliberately misleading senators about them during a confirmation process has to be.
If Judge Kavanaugh will lie about small things, won’t he lie about big ones as well?Indeed he already has: During the course of his confirmation hearings, he claimed, implausibly, that he was not aware that files he received from a Senate staff member, some labeled “highly confidential” or “intel,” had been stolen from Democratic computers.
Even the small lies, of course, aren’t so small in context, since they relate to drinking or sex and thus prop up his choir-boy-who-indulged-now-and-then defense.
Second, confronted with the accusations against him, Judge Kavanaugh made recourse not to reason and methodical process, but to fury and the rawest partisanship. Judges — particularly Supreme Court justices — must strive to be, and be seen as, above politics.
As Judge Kavanaugh said in a 2015 speech, “to be a good judge and a good umpire, it’s important to have the proper demeanor.” He added: “To keep our emotions in check. To be calm amidst the storm. On the bench, to put it in the vernacular, don’t be a jerk.”Wise words. He wasn’t able to live by them when it mattered. At last week’s hearing, Judge Kavanaugh was a jerk. He spun dark visions of a Democratic conspiracy of vengeance against him. He yelled at Democratic senators, interrupted them frequently, refused to answer questions directly and, at one point, confronted Senator Amy Klobuchar, who had asked him whether he had ever blacked out from drinking.
“I don’t know,” Judge Kavanaugh sneered. “Have you?” This contempt came only moments after Ms. Klobuchar told Judge Kavanaugh about her father’s struggles with alcoholism.
Was Judge Kavanaugh truly out of control, in rage and pain, as he appeared, or had he calculated that a partisan attack would rally President Trump and Republican senators to his side, as it did? (We all know he was capable of a more temperate response to the accusations: He’d demonstrated that just a couple of nights earlier, in his interview with Fox News.) For purposes of Senate confirmation, it shouldn’t matter. Such a lack of self-control, or such open and radical partisanship, ought to be unacceptable in a judge.
And indeed, on Thursday, the retired Justice John Paul Stevens, who was appointed by a Republican president, took the astonishing step of saying that Judge Kavanaugh’s performance before the Judiciary Committee should disqualify him from the court. “Senators should really pay attention to it,” he said.
Judges are human beings, not ideological blank slates, but the American legal system depends on their being fair and open-minded to all who come before them. Judge Kavanaugh failed to show that he can do this, or that he even would want to.
That’s a disappointment, but maybe not a surprise to anyone who knew of his life before he joined the bench. He was a fierce Republican warrior in some of the most politically charged battles of the past two decades — including the investigation that led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, in which he sought to expose the most intimate details of Mr. Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. He also played a role in the most controversial policies of the George W. Bush administration, including the torture of detainees and warrantless wiretapping. (How much of a role we may never learn, since Senate Republicans still refuse to release more than 90 percent of the documents related to Judge Kavanaugh’s work in the Bush administration.)
While many of Judge Kavanaugh’s defenders leapt to exonerate him of sexual assault or excused his rage-bender as understandable, virtually no one has tried to deny his rank partisanship. Yet after last week’s testimony, how could any self-identified Democrat, or leftist, or sexual-assault victim, or anyone who is not identifiable as a Republican, expect to get a fair shake from a Justice Kavanaugh? If he is confirmed, that will pose a profound problem for the court.
It is quite a tribute to Christine Blasey Ford that she has presented the one image of dignity and calm in this howling maelstrom. Dr. Blasey testified last week that a drunken Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a 1982 party while they were in high school. Her testimony was credible, and the F.B.I. inquiry was too cursory to substantiate or discredit it. Judge Kavanaugh denies the accusations, and in a court of law — and, we hope, in his life as an American citizen — he is entitled to the presumption of innocence.
He is not, however, entitled to a seat on the Supreme Court. Republican senators have repeatedly said they respected Dr. Blasey and were sympathetic to her; but to vote to confirm Judge Kavanaugh now is to declare that her accusations mean nothing.
Presidents have the prerogative to name Supreme Court justices who reflect their values and views of the Constitution. President Trump has no shortage of highly qualified, very conservative candidates to choose from, if he will look beyond this first, deeply compromised choice.
Some Republicans have warned that if Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination fails, no decent person will ever want to be put up for the Supreme Court again. This, like so much nonsense in recent weeks, is political hysteria. For starters, consider these seven names: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, John Roberts Jr., Samuel Alito Jr., Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Neil Gorsuch.
All were seated on the court since 1991, the last time a Supreme Court nominee faced credible allegations of sexual misconduct. In that case, Clarence Thomas got the job, even in a Democratic-controlled Senate. Since then, not a single nominee has faced allegations of the sort leveled at Judge Kavanaugh.
The only failed nominations since 1991 both came at the hands of Republicans: President George W. Bush’s choice of Harriet Miers, who Republicans said was unqualified; and President Barack Obama’s pick of Merrick Garland, a respected federal judge whose only disqualification was being named by a Democrat. Republicans refused to even grant Judge Garland a hearing. Meanwhile, if Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed, 15 of the last 19 Supreme Court justices will have been chosen by Republican presidents, and the court has had a Republican-appointed majority for nearly half a century.
The Supreme Court, coequal with Congress and the White House, takes up the most important issues facing the country. Its rulings are often decided by a single vote, and they can affect the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans. Yet the source of the court’s power is not tangible. It holds neither the sword nor the purse, to paraphrase Alexander Hamilton. The court’s legitimacy is founded instead in an act of national faith, of confidence in the integrity and fairness of the justices. It is that confidence that ratifies the court’s decisions as the final word on American law.
That confidence has already been shaken. The court’s party-line vote in Bush v. Gore, which effectively decided the 2000 presidential election, led many Americans to wonder if the justices were nothing but politicians in robes. Sixteen years later, Republicans made the balance of the court more clearly a political prize by blocking Judge Garland.
This confirmation battle has been awful for everyone. It has exposed to the country a depth of partisan grievance and connivance within the Senate that should embarrass and worry every American. It is a terrible reality that, at this point, either confirmation or rejection of Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination by a narrow and overwhelmingly partisan margin will dismay and anger millions of Americans. But only by voting no, by asking Mr. Trump to send someone else for it to consider, can the Senate pass its test of institutional character and meet its obligation to safeguard the credibility of the Supreme Court.
September 23, 2018
The Constitution once united a diverse country under a banner of ideas. But partisanship has turned Americans against one another—and against the principles enshrined in our founding document.
by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld
The U.S. Constitution was and is imperfect. It took a civil war to establish that the principles enumerated in its Bill of Rights extended to all Americans, and the struggle to live up to those principles continues today. But focusing on the Constitution’s flaws can overshadow what it did achieve. Its revolutionary ambition was to forge, out of a diverse population, a new national identity, uniting Americans under a banner of ideas. To a remarkable extent, it succeeded.
Even at the country’s founding, Americans were a multiethnic, polyglot mix of English, Dutch, Scots, Irish, French, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Greeks, and others. They tended to identify far more strongly as Virginians or New Yorkers than as Americans, complicating any effort to bind the new nation together with common beliefs. Early America was also an unprecedented amalgam of religious denominations, including a variety of dissenters who had been hounded from their Old World homes.
The Constitution managed to overcome these divisions. The way it dealt with religion is illustrative. Colonial America had not embraced tolerance; on the contrary, the dissenters had become persecutors. Virginia imprisoned Quakers. Massachusetts whipped Baptists. Government-established churches were common, and nonbelievers were denied basic civil and political rights. But in a radical act, the Constitution not only guaranteed religious freedom; it also declared that the United States would have no national church and no religious tests for national office. These foundational guarantees helped America avoid the religious wars that for centuries had torn apart the nations of Europe.
“Living in a society that was already diverse and pluralistic,” Gordon Wood wrote in The Radicalism of the American Revolution, the founding generation realized that the attachments uniting Americans “could not be the traditional ethnic, religious, and tribal loyalties of the Old World.” Instead, as Abraham Lincoln put it, reverence for the “Constitution and Laws” was to be America’s “political religion.” Americans were to be united through a new kind of patriotism—constitutional patriotism—based on ideals enshrined in their founding document.
The dark underside of that document, of course, was racism. Alone among modern Western democracies, the United States maintained extensive race-based slavery within its borders, and the Constitution protected that institution. Only after the cataclysm of the Civil War was the Constitution amended to establish that America’s national identity was as neutral racially and ethnically as it was religiously. With the postwar amendments, the Constitution abolished slavery, established birthright citizenship, guaranteed equal protection under the law, and barred racial discrimination in voting.
The significance of birthright citizenship cannot be overstated. We forget how rare it is: No European or Asian country grants this right. It means that being American is not the preserve of any particular racial, ethnic, or religious subgroup. The United States took another century to begin dismantling the legalized racism that continued unabated after the Civil War. Nonetheless, the core constitutional aspiration—in the 1780s, the 1860s, the 1960s, and the present—has been to create a tribe-transcending national identity.
When we think of tribalism, we tend to focus on the primal pull of race, religion, or ethnicity. But partisan political loyalties can become tribal too. When they do, they can be as destructive as any other allegiance. The Founders understood this. In 1780, John Adams wrote that the “greatest political evil” to be feared under a democratic constitution was the emergence of “two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.” George Washington, in his farewell address, described the “spirit of party” as democracy’s “worst enemy.” It “agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.”
For all their fears of partisanship, the Founders failed to prevent the rise of parties, and indeed, it’s hard to imagine modern representative democracy without multiparty electoral competition. They were right to be apprehensive, as is all too clear when you look at the current state of America’s political institutions, which are breaking down under the strain of partisan divisions.
The causes of America’s resurgent tribalism are many. They include seismic demographic change, which has led to predictions that whites will lose their majority status within a few decades; declining social mobility and a growing class divide; and media that reward expressions of outrage. All of this has contributed to a climate in which every group in America—minorities and whites; conservatives and liberals; the working class and elites—feels under attack, pitted against the others not just for jobs and spoils, but for the right to define the nation’s identity. In these conditions, democracy devolves into a zero-sum competition, one in which parties succeed by stoking voters’ fears and appealing to their ugliest us-versus-them instincts.
Americans on both the left and the right now view their political opponents not as fellow Americans with differing views, but as enemies to be vanquished. And they have come to view the Constitution not as an aspirational statement of shared principles and a bulwark against tribalism, but as a cudgel with which to attack those enemies.
Of course, Americans throughout history have criticized the Constitution. Progressives have tarred it as plutocratic and antidemocratic for more than a century. In 1913, in An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, Charles A. Beard argued that the “direct, impelling motive” behind the Constitution was not “some abstraction known as ‘justice,’ ” but the “economic advantages” of the propertied elite.
In recent years, however, the American left has become more and more influenced by identity politics, a force that has changed the way many progressives view the Constitution. For some on the left, the document is irredeemably stained by the sins of the Founding Fathers, who preached liberty while holding people in chains. Days after the 2016 election, the president of the University of Virginia quoted Thomas Jefferson, the school’s founder, in an email to students. In response, 469 students and faculty signed an open letter declaring that they were “deeply offended” at the use of Jefferson as a “moral compass.” Speaking to students at the University of Missouri in 2016, a Black Lives Matter co-founder went further: “The people vowing to protect the Constitution are vowing to protect white supremacy and genocide.”
Just a few decades ago, the cause of racial justice in America was articulated in constitutional language. “Black activists from Martin Luther King, Jr., to the Black Panthers,” wrote the law professor Dorothy E. Roberts in 1997, “framed their demands in terms of constitutional rights.” Today, the Constitution itself is in the crosshairs.
Many progressives, particularly young ones, have turned against what were once sacrosanct American principles. Freedom of speech is an instrument of the dehumanization of women and minorities. Religious liberty is an engine of discrimination. Property rights are a shield for structural injustice and white supremacy. In a recent poll, two-thirds of college-age Democrats said that “a diverse and inclusive society” is more important than “protecting free speech rights.” Only 30 percent of Americans born in the 1980s believe that living in a democracy is “essential,” compared with 72 percent of Americans born in the 1930s.
Several progressive organizations, including the ACLU, remain staunch defenders of the Constitution. At Yale Law School, where we teach, students working in our clinics have won important courtroom victories vindicating constitutional rights. But a significant generational shift appears to be in progress. One of our students told us: “I don’t know any lefty people my age who aren’t seriously questioning whether the First Amendment is still on balance a good thing.
On the right, open hostility to the Constitution is less common; most mainstream conservatives see themselves as proud defenders of the document. But majorities on the right today are nonetheless beginning to reject core constitutional principles.
President Donald Trump routinely calls the media “the enemy of the American people,” and his view seems to have currency in his party. In a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center, less than half of Republicans said that the freedom of the press “to criticize politicians” was “very important” to maintaining a strong democracy in the United States. In other 2017 surveys, more than half of Trump supporters said the president “should be able to overturn decisions by judges that he disagrees with,” and more than half of Republicans said they would support postponing the 2020 presidential election if Trump proposed delaying it “until the country can make sure that only eligible American citizens can vote.” If these views became became reality, that would be the end of constitutional democracy as we know it.
The problem runs deeper still. Since the 2004 publication of Samuel P. Huntington’s Who Are We?—which argued that America’s “Anglo-Protestant” identity and culture are threatened by large-scale Hispanic immigration—there have been calls on the mainstream right to define America’s national identity in racial, ethnic, or religious terms, whether as white, European, or Judeo-Christian. According to a 2016 survey commissioned by the bipartisan Democracy Fund, 30 percent of Trump voters think European ancestry is “important” to “being American”; 56 percent of Republicans and a full 63 percent of Trump supporters said the same of being Christian. This trend runs counter to the Constitution’s foundational ideal: an America where citizens are citizens, regardless of race or religion; an America whose national identity belongs to no one tribe.
As professors specializing in constitutional law and comparative politics, we’re often asked whether there’s another country that could serve as a model for the United States as it attempts to overcome its divisions. We always respond no—America is the best model.
For all its flaws, the United States is uniquely equipped to unite a diverse and divided society. Alone among the world powers, America has succeeded in forging a strong group-transcending national identity without requiring its citizens to shed or suppress their subgroup identities. In the United States, you can be Irish American, Syrian American, or Japanese American, and be intensely patriotic at the same time. We take this for granted, but consider how strange it would be to call someone “Irish French” or “Japanese Chinese.”
Most European and all East Asian countries originated as, and continue to be, ethnic nations, whose citizens are overwhelmingly composed of a particular ethnic group supplying the country’s name as well as its national language and dominant culture. Strongly ethnic nations, such as China and Hungary, tend to be less embracing of minority cultures. But even a diverse, multiethnic democracy like France differs markedly from the United States. France has a powerful national identity but insists that its ethnic and religious minorities thoroughly assimilate, at least publicly. (Many believe that France’s attempts to force assimilation, including its infamous “burkini” ban, have backfired with the country’s Muslims, contributing to social unrest and radicalization.) As former French President Nicolas Sarkozy put it in 2016, “If you want to become French, you speak French, you live like the French, and you don’t try and change a way of life that has been ours for so many years.”
America is not an ethnic nation. Its citizens don’t have to choose between a national identity and multiculturalism. Americans can have both. But the key is constitutional patriotism. We have to remain united by and through the Constitution, regardless of our ideological disagreements.
There are lessons here for both the left and the right. The right needs to recognize that making good on the Constitution’s promises requires much more than flag-waving. If millions of people believe that, because of their skin color or religion, they are not treated equally, how can they be expected to see the Constitution’s resounding principles as anything but hollow?
For its part, the left needs to rethink its scorched-earth approach to American history and ideals. Exposing injustice, past and present, is important, but there’s a world of difference between saying that America has repeatedly failed to live up to its constitutional principles and saying that those principles are lies or smoke screens for oppression. Washington and Jefferson were slave owners. They were also political visionaries who helped give birth to what would become the most inclusive form of governance in world history.
This article appears in the October 2018 print edition with the headline “The Threat of Tribalism.”
August 31, 2018
Steve Oh’s Message to Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s 7th Prime Minister
“There is no independence in the true sense of the emancipation of a nation until the people are free to think, act and exist in a total state of freedom.
May God bless Malaysia still. May Mahathir live longer still and have the humility to walk with God and the people, act justly and have the wisdom of Solomon to govern the nation.
May the government carry out its duties with diligence, honesty, fairness and utter competence. Merdeka then is meaningful.”
COMMENT | Merdeka 2018 is momentous.
I hope for the sake of Malaysia, it will be the final time citizens celebrate their national day with the exhilaration of deliverance from an oppressive political yoke still fresh in their minds.
In 1957, the country was set free from British colonialists. There was a similar euphoria. But the fledgling nation, after deposing the affable first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman, was recolonised by a new group of myopic local leaders led by Razak Hussein that included Mahathir Mohamad, Musa Hitam and other UMNO young Turks . The neocolonialists imposed upon the people a yoke heavier than the British yoke.
Fast forward to 2018, and the nation will reverberate once again with freedom and shouts of acclamation on August 31.
After May 13, 1969, she was hijacked and subjected to a lifetime of abuse. Race, closely accompanied by religion, constricted the nation. The nation still forged ahead economically but became tangled in draconian laws and discriminatory policies; was pitifully abused, serially raped and treacherously plundered. Polarisation of the people was purposely planned and executed.
It is treachery of the worst kind when a government led by Najib Razk betrays the trust of the people, divides and steals from them and tries to get away with deception, conspiracy and lies.
Preaching unity and the usual platitudes, it carried out an agenda of subversion, undermining the rule of law and brought the nation to the brink of economic and social disaster. The courts of power became the circuses of clowns, and like Nero the Roman emperor, fiddled away the nation’s future.
Many became cynical, others despondent, yet many never lost hope and worked for change. Still others prayed.
Then the “miracle” the people had worked and prayed for took place on May 9 this year. The nation was emancipated from the abusers, the rapists and the thieves. The treacherous king of kleptocrats now faces justice and the long arm of the law. Those who are culpable will be punished.
The blood spilled and lives taken of innocent victims will be vindicated. The masterminds of the much-publicised slayings of Altantuya Shaariibuu, Kevin Morais (photo) and Hussain Ahmad Najadi, among others, will face justice. The true kidnappers of Pastor Raymond Koh and others will be revealed.
Like many others in a religious Malaysia, I believe in God and the universal law of reaping what you sow. Nothing escapes the truth of time. In time, the truth will surface. And the guilty will be shamed. They will never evade divine justice.
God answers prayers still. For nearly 30 years, even in a faraway land, without fail when I water-hosed my potted plants, I asked God to destroy the evil that had gripped the nation. God answered. He has changed the course of history and saved Malaysia from certain ruin.
Many unsung heroes cried to God for deliverance and he heard their pleas. Often, over the years, I wrote in Malaysiakini of the “higher official who watches over the officials” and will intervene to achieve his purpose. I make no apology for my utter confidence in the God of Justice.
A Good and Decent Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Badawi turned out to be considering the plunder of the Malaysian state under Najib Razak
Malaysia is a unique nation and deserves to succeed. Former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi hit the nail on the head when he lamented the nation’s “third-world mindset” despite its “first-class infrastructure”.
What will derail the nation is not the cessation of Chinese railway projects but the constricting ideas of the misguided. I’m glad there are “watchmen” – including women – over the country who sound the alarm against the extremists.
The danger of religion is that it can be abused to lead a nation down the slippery slope. To the credit of concerned Muslims like those in the G25 group, their voice of reason resounds through the corridors of power and the public arena.
When religion slices through the heart of a nation and splits it in two, when self-proclaimed defenders of faith become a threat to those they purport to protect, it is time for the state to act and rein in the bigots.
When my father died two years ago at 96, I did not shed a tear. Deep in my heart I know he lived a full life and, in faith, I shall see him again in the place I know. I miss him nearly every day.
Yet, three days ago, the tears welled in my eyes and I felt a tautness in my heart after watching a video I received through WhatsApp.
It was a social experiment organised by Media Prima that took place in the vicinity of Pavilion Shopping Centre in Kuala Lumpur. A giant elevated electronic screen positioned above the crowds came to life with the audible sounds of a talking man and stopped the passersby in their tracks. The presenter asked them some simple questions, one after another.
“Who likes nasi lemak?” ‘Who has a close friend from another race?’ ‘Who knows how to sing the national anthem Negara-ku?’ They were asked to gather in a marked square if they answered in the affirmative. In the end, the square was filled with the biggest group of Malaysians of all races.
I saw in the video the heartfelt joy of diverse Malaysians – young men and women of different races and religions – unified in their love for their country. They were evidently overjoyed to share so many things in common despite their ethnic and religious differences. The only other time I saw a similar display of spontaneous kinship across race and religion was at the Bersih 5 rally.
Successive governments, leaders, groups and individuals have harped about the uniqueness of Malaysia. Yet the nation still flounders and has yet to come to grips with the devil they know that threatens to derail the nation – the abuse of race and religion. Leaders have yet to act decisively and concretely against the perpetrators of the doctrines that divide, that destroys and that is against the spirit of national unity.
Malaysians know who the devil is that tears the nation apart. Their political sponsors have been sent packing from Putrajaya.
The fire has been put out. But the cinders are still smouldering, their smoke choking the nation and threatening to start bonfires here and there. The nation’s threat lingers and loiters at the corridors and closets of power.
The 1957 Merdeka freed the nation from a foreign yoke. The 2018 “Merdeka” freed the nation from the home-grown yoke.
Will a future “Merdeka” free the nation from the yoke of race and religion that constricts, divides and destroys the unity of the nation?
Believe it or not, the Pavilion event revealed the truth about Malaysia, that the diverse religions and races do co-exist in harmony despite the differences.
Rid the nation of the subversives – those who use race and religion as political weapons to gain the political ascendancy – and you end up with a Malaysia united, prosperous and peaceful.
It is time the new government be bold, be true and be honest in dealing the devil of disunity a fatal blow. Who will it be? Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Pakatan Harapan de facto leader Anwar Ibrahim, or some eminent Malay leader?
The metamorphosis of Merdeka is a long journey. It is a historic event as much as an ongoing process. Getting out of jail is one thing, staying out of jail is another. Gaining independence is one thing, giving the people their independence is another.
There is no independence in the true sense of the emancipation of a nation until the people are free to think, act and exist in a total state of freedom.
May God bless Malaysia still. May Mahathir live longer still and have the humility to walk with God and the people, act justly and have the wisdom of Solomon to govern the nation.
May the government carry out its duties with diligence, honesty, fairness and utter competence. Merdeka then is meaningful.
Happy Merdeka 2018, Malaysia!
STEVE OH is the author of the novel “Tiger King of the Golden Jungle” and composer of the musical of the same title. He believes in good governance and morally upright leaders.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.
July 27, 2018
By Dr. Azly Rahman@ Columbia, NYC
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
July 1, 2018
by Cmdr (rtd) S. Thayaparan
“Najib’s rights are far more numerous and superior in comparison with the rights and powers of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.”
– Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad on the National Security Council law
COMMENT | I just don’t get it. The current Pakatan Harapan grand poobah says because they (Harapan) thought they could not win the elections, they made strong promises. Bersatu supreme council member Rais Hussin claims that the promises were not plucked out of thin air but instead the election manifesto was the efforts of a wide range of political operatives and various stakeholders. Now the disputed debt in this country is the Harapan excuse as to why their 100-day promises cannot be met.
Malaysiakini columnist P Gunasegeram and Rais Husin and anyone actually reading the Harapan 100-day manifesto would understand there is a whole load of promises that could be kept in the first 100 days which would not incur any expenses. I once wrote that if Harapan manages to do quarter of what they said they would do, they would be a better government than BN.
Now it is all about rebranding or reshuffling. BN government agencies and programmes that were supposed to bring ruination to this country have been rebranded Harapan-style, with the expectation that nobody cares because of the euphoria – as Rais calls it, I say Kool-Aid – is strong and folks who think otherwise are kicked to the curb.
I get it. I really do. When people are baying for the blood of people from the establishment and Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad says that certain people are needed to remain in place, even if they did something wrong, that is the reality of politics. You do not destroy the bureaucracy by burning it to the ground. That is stupid. However, this should not be used as an excuse to shy away from promises made which does not incur expenses and that gives democracy back to the people.
Now Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu (popularly known as Mat Sabu) says that the National Security Council (NSC) Act is supposed to be “reshuffled”. It’s all about how this Act is actually a “good vehicle” for government minions to serve the state. All that is needed is a few legal provisions to be “reshuffled”.
What the hell have they been giving him to smoke in the Defence Ministry? This is especially when people like his boss, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang and just about all the big guns in Harapan had previously argued that the Act would be used on the opposition, usurped the power of the Agong and as Kit Siang claimed, with this law, Malaysia would replace Myanmar as a rogue state.
This is what he said – “When the Najib government regards democracy and human rights activists as bigger threats than ISIS terrorists as envisaged by the monstrous NSC bill, Malaysia is replacing Myanmar as the rogue nation in Asean.”
Okay, I am not an objective person when it comes to the NSC Act. My public statements on this issue were brazen calls for street demonstrations and my frustrations as to why this never happened are a matter of public record. When Mahathir first started attacking this law as diminishing the powers of the Agong, he met with pushback from Universiti Malaya Professor Shad Saleem Faruqi, who is now in the Council of Eminent Persons, or whatever it is called.
Shad said – “In sum, the grounds of challenge against the NSC Act mentioned by Tun Mahathir may not be sustainable in law.” But he also wrote – “The NSC Act is an ordinary law passed by a simple majority under Parliament’s ordinary law-making powers. It is not a law under Article 149 (to combat subversion). As such, several issues of fundamental rights violation are relevant.”
Of course, as former Federal Court judge Sri Ram Gopal and others point out, this law did bypass the consent of the rulers.
Why keep the law?
So, two points. The first point of this law, as many Harapan advocates claim, diminishes the power of the Agong and the second, that it violates basic human rights and legitimises the authoritarian power of the state in the hands of one person.
Recent events and the shocking behaviour of royalty before and after the elections demonstrate that perhaps we are better off with formalising certain powers of the executive which further curtail the powers of the royalty. Those issues which Mahathir – and yes, people like me – claimed were being taken away from the royalty are perhaps better left in the hands of the executive without any need of consultation with the royalty.
And if this is the case then, why retain this law? Just pass laws which further restricts the powers of the royalty and for further more definite issues, wait till you can amend the constitution with the necessary two-thirds majority. Indeed, reshuffling what aspects of the law?
Which brings us to point two. We have a load of draconian laws in this country which Harapan claimed that they would end. For heaven’s sake, there was even waffling on the Anti-Fake News law a few weeks ago and Harapan decided that it was not worth the public anger to retain such laws. So, this idea of tweaking a law which Harapan had claimed was destroying the role of the Agong is absurd.
Why even reshuffle the bad parts of this law? What does the Council of Eminent Persons, which Shad Faruqi is part of, think of this new development? Does Harapan want its grand poobah to have powers superior to the Agong? Maybe it should be this way. After all, a former UMNO autocrat, and now Harapan big cheese, has been doing that for years?
We have enough “security laws” to deal with the type of warfare – including psychological – against the kind of extremism – Islamic – that poses a danger to this country. Not to mention, willing partners and assets which have been sidelined for far too long, because the former regime was mired in corruption scandals.
There are Harapan leaders willing to go on record stating clearly that this law has to be removed. For the life of me, I cannot fathom why Mat Sabu would even consider such a move. Maybe some folk in Harapan really do not understand why this piece of “monstrous” legislation needs to be removed or maybe, just maybe, they think it is a good thing, now that there is really no opposition in this country.
S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.