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.

When a sophisticated Jordan trained Islamic Scholar becomes a Bigot and Racist: Taking on the Malaysian Indians/Hindus


April 24. 2017

When a sophisticated Jordan trained Islamic Scholar becomes a Bigot and Racist: Taking on the Malaysian Indians/Hindus

by Mariam Mokhtar@www.malaysiakini.com

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Dr Maza–Zakir Naik bootlicker

Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but when a supposedly learned religious man makes an ‘incorrect’ analysis of another faith, the damage he causes is worse than if the remarks had come from an ignorant oaf.

Of all the muftis in Malaysia, the one from Perlis, Dr Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin (Maza), was considered the most progressive and respected, whose insights resonated with many Malaysians.

His views on Act 355 were applauded when he said that this ruse was just another political ploy by PAS and UMNO Baru. He disagreed with the use of khalwat squads to test people’s morality. He said that non-Muslims had a right to use the word ‘Allah’.

Maza opposed forced conversions of children, when one parent decided to convert to Islam. He blasted the syariah courts for taking years to reach a decision on divorce cases. He courted controversy when he said that religion should not be forced on Muslims.

Whilst Maza’s reputation soared, that of other muftis plummeted. The respect Maza enjoyed ended when he published his poem on Facebook last week. He allegedly claimed the Hindus worshipped cows and practised ‘suttee’.

Maza exposed his poor understanding of Hinduism and its practices. Hindus do not worship cows and suttee has been outlawed for almost two centuries. We cannot say the same about some ‘Muslim’ practices, like female genital mutilation.

Maza’s back-pedalling did not help him. First he said that his poem was directed at Narendra Modi, the nationalist prime minister of India. That simply exacerbated the problem, so he said that Malaysian Hindus should ignore his remarks, because they did not apply to them.

He also alluded to “our preacher” being handed over to a tyrannical government. Was he referring to Zakir Naik, the controversial Muslim preacher who is purportedly seeking refuge in Malaysia to escape two arrest warrants issued by the Indian authorities? Why does Maza harbour a soft spot for Zakir, who seemingly likes to stoke religious fires amongst Malaysians?

Maza’s work and opinions are highly valued and sought after. He is also human and it is possible he made a mistake, and should apologise. The only positive aspect of Maza’s debacle is that he has put the spotlight on Malaysia’s marginalised Indian community.

When government-linked companies (GLCs) took over British rubber estates, they converted land into housing developments, golf courses and oil palm plantations. The displaced Indians drifted to urban areas to form Indian ghettos, which became breeding grounds for gangsters.

Bumiputra policies and quotas denied Indians access to education and work opportunities. Places in local universities were limited and Indian graduates claimed they face discrimination when applying for jobs.

Lack of self-confidence

With so much against them, is it any wonder that the Indian community suffers from a lack of self-confidence, low self-esteem, the highest rates of suicide and low performance in business, equity ownership and employment in professional sectors and the civil service?

A few have escaped the poverty trap, and at the other end of the social spectrum, there are many qualified and successful Indian professionals, who form a large proportion of the country’s top lawyers and doctors.

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Restrictions on places of worship mean that Hindu temples are forced to be built without planning permission. The Indians could only watch in silence when Hindu temples of historical and cultural importance were demolished.

In 2000, TimeAsia reported that Indians had the lowest share of the nation’s corporate wealth – 1.5 percent compared to 19.4 percent for the Malays and 38.5 percent for the Chinese.

In 2003, The Economist reported that Indian Malaysians comprised “14 percent of juvenile delinquents, 20 percent of wife and child abusers, 14 percent of its beggars, and that under 5 percent of successful university applicants were Indian.”

In 2011, the erstwhile MIC Deputy President, Dr S Subramaniam, claimed that Indians were ashamed of their community, were looked down upon by the other races, and that 45 percent of the country’s crimes involved Indians.

The Indians are viewed as an afterthought, because if Chinese or Malay communities were treated as badly, there would have been a severe backlash; but with Indians, the common response, is “Who cares? They are only Indians. Even their own politicians fail to promote their cause.”

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Zakir Naik granted PR status by Nalaysian authorities

Zakir Naik was granted permanent resident (PR) status, but many Indians remain stateless, and do not have birth certificates or identity cards. The Indians form the highest percentage of deaths, whilst in police custody. The poorest Indians survive on a ‘hand to mouth’ existence.

Ironically, Maza’s faux pas has highlighted the plight of Indian Malaysians/Hindus. Will he help make Malaysians understand that we cannot alienate the Indians? Issues which affect the Indian community are not solely an Indian problem; they are a Malaysian problem.

To Chief Chimp Najib and his UMNO Chimpanzees –Stop your limitless chumpery


April 2, 2017

To Chief Chimp Najib and his UMNO Chimpanzees –Stop your limitless chumpery

by Dean Johns@www.malaysiakini.com

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Way back in the days when I still blindly and thoughtlessly aped the opinions (apinions?) of my fellow self-perceived ‘humans’, I blithely perceived April 1 or ‘April Fool’s Day’ as simply an opportunity for us all to play amusing pranks or practical jokes on each other.

But growing political awareness eventually alerted me to the fact that, as I’ve mentioned many times before in Malaysiakini and elsewhere, most of us on Planet Earth are treated like April fools every day of every year by countless governments that, like China’s fake Communist Party, North Korea’s Kim dictatorship and Malaysia’s UMNO-BN ‘kleptocracy’ and countless others, are nothing but jokes at their citizens’ expense.

Even more dire, however, as I have gradually come to realise, all of us humans, whether we’re playing the fool every April 1 or being played for fools every day of every year by bleeders posing as leaders, have been busily fooling both each other and ourselves for the past couple of million years.

Ever since, in fact, our emergence as a new species of chimpanzee evidently equipped with such superior manual, intellectual and linguistic abilities as to enable us to see, define and declare ourselves as superior to not only other chimps, but also the rest of creation.

‘Creation’ being the crucial word in this discussion, as, paradoxically, the superior intellectual powers that enabled us perform and perceive ourselves as champs failed to replace all our instincts to think, feel and act like chimps.

And the complex of confusions and conflicts that this intellectual/instinctive, human/animal duality produced has rendered us uniquely and incurably capable of thinking and behaving like not only champs or chimps, but chumps. It would take several books to do even the slightest justice to a discussion of humankind’s seemingly limitless capacity for chumpery.

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And in case you’re interested, several of the many books I’d recommend on the subject included Jared Diamond’s ‘Guns’, ‘Germs and Steel’ and ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee’; Philippe Gigantès’ ‘Power & Greed: A Short History of the World’; and Yuval Noah Harari’s ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’. Not, I presume, that readers in Malaysia will be able to find the latter volume in bookstores, as its author hails from Israel.

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But that’s another story, in light of the issue I’d like to focus on in this mercifully brief column, Immanuel Kant’s concept of mankind’s promotion of satiable animal needs with insatiable human greed.

Humanimals are insatiable

Kant argues that, while sharing with all other animals basic needs like that can be at least temporarily satisfied, like nutrition, excretion and reproduction, we humans, or, if you prefer, we humanimals, as a result of our conception of the future and capacity for identifying or inventing additional ‘wants’, are insatiable.

Insatiable for the better, perhaps, in our apparently boundless capacity for inventing new, more efficient or otherwise apparently beneficial products, processes and social institutions.

But equally for the worse, or at least strongly arguably so, as evidenced, for example, by the sordid spectacle of the rich lusting for more riches despite the increasingly desperate impoverishment of both poor and disadvantaged people and the rapid depletion of Planet Earth’s resources.

As reprehensible and indefensible as such greed for tangible wealth and its attendant status and power may be, however, to me by far the most damaging human insatiability is that for such imagined entities as immortality.

The invention of some invisible and every other way unknowable omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent entity or group of entities that can be sufficiently entreated, begged, adored or worshiped into to support us in this life and grant our allegedly ‘immortal souls’ eternal life in some ‘other world’ has long been, and continues to be, a curse on the human race.

How many billions of lives have been blighted and wasted, not to mention cruelly ‘sacrificed’ since the dawn of human history in the service of ‘gods’ and ‘religions’ allegedly guaranteeing to assuage people’s fear of death by feeding their greed for life in some hereafter, while really only serving to empower and enrich their inventors and promoters, is anybody’s guess.

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The Faithful UMNO Mongkees–All For Few Pennies

As is why the self-proclaimed ‘faithful’ can so deny their human intelligence by not only believing the loads of irrational, incredible trash presented to them as ‘theology’, but also allowing themselves to be preyed-on by all the professional peddlers of such slop, and oppressed by potentates who cling to power by piously pretending to ‘protect’ their abject subjects from the adherents of rival sects.

Such travesties of human avarice are, as ever, still unfolding virtually everywhere on earth. Most obviously, of course, in those locations where the neediest in this life are preyed-on by Islamic State, Boko Haram, the Taliban and other groups so driven by their greed for power both here and in the ‘next’ life that they’ll happily kill and die for it.

Less overtly vicious, though far more common and thus arguably just as evil, are a great many allegedly ‘religious’ governments, or, like Malaysia’s Umno/BN regime, governments comprising people who claim to be ‘believers’, that are said to be riven with corruption and other forms of criminality behind their veils of piety.

And lest I appear to show a bias against Islam in this regard, I must make the point that, having myself suffered and thankfully recovered from early indoctrination into one of the countless so-called Christian sects, I’m especially cross that so many ‘conservative’ politicians in Australia, the US and elsewhere in the West who claim to be Christians are nothing of the sort.

In fact, as opponents in the social sphere of the Christian virtues of tolerance and compassion, and the supporters of the crassest forms of free-market capitalism in economics, they’re double-Crosstians, or, if you like, Crasstians.

But, thank goodness, it seems to me that, at least in Australia, all the signs are that so many people are so fast losing faith in these fakes that by this time next year when the next election is near, it’ll be them and the hard core of humanoids who ape them and their attitudes who will be feeling like April fools.


DEAN JOHNS, after many years in Asia, currently lives with his Malaysian-born wife and daughter in Sydney, where he coaches and mentors writers and authors and practises as a writing therapist. Published books of his columns for Malaysiakini include ‘Mad about Malaysia’, ‘Even Madder about Malaysia’, ‘Missing Malaysia’, ‘1Malaysia.con’ and ‘Malaysia Mania’.

GDP or GNH (The Bhutan Way)?


March 24, 2017

GDP or GNH (The Bhutan Way)–Maybe it’s Time to screw the  Economists and start looking at alternative ways to measure what makes life worthwhile

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Listen to this TED presentation by Chip Conley and reflect. I enjoyed it and wonder why we continue to measure only the measurable (the tangibles) and ignore the intangibles. As  someone who is trained in Economics (and does being taught this academic discipline make a economist?), I am wonder how it is that  I can be so misled and still have not abandoned GDP as a measurement of national wealth if I know it is misleading when intangibles matter more today. Maybe it is a force of habit. Should be I Aristotelian or Maslowian?  Let me know what you think.–Din Merican

 

On the Twitter Man in The White House


March 15, 2017

The Epic of Donald Trump–The Twitter Man

by  Garrison Keillor

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-epic-of-donald-trump/2017/03/14/4a206218-08cf-11e7-93dc-00f9bdd74ed1_story.html?hpid=hp_no-name_opinion-card-b%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.21c356aa8b80

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The Twitter Man in The White House

The $54 billion bonus heading for the Pentagon is a beautiful thing, and so far I haven’t heard a dog bark against it, even though we don’t appear to have $54 billion worth of new enemies and we’ve now come to admire former enemy Vladimir Putin, and the idea of throwing billions at the Islamic State is like going after bedbugs with bazookas, so there it sits, a big lake of cash waiting for water skiers.

Base pay for a private first class these days is around $22,000 and, granted, it is not rocket science — aerospace engineers can earn a hundred grand or more — but a Radio City Rockette earns about $1,500 per week. Should we be paying more for precision tap-dancing than for the defense of our country? Meanwhile, apple pickers are hauling down around $23,000 while orange pickers get $20,000. I’d say our soldiers are due for a big raise. Those caissons don’t roll themselves, you know. The shores of Tripoli are an ever-present threat to our security. And the halls of Montezuma are out for revenge.

I just hope that my good friends in the Pentagon will stop and think about the value of the arts and literature to our national defense. Some of that money, perhaps $3 billion or $4 billion, would be well spent encouraging writers and artists to cast a warmer light on our uniformed services than what we’ve seen the past century or so when, aside from George M. Cohan’s “Over There” (1917) and Frank Loesser’s “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition” (1942), the arts have been decidedly anti-war.

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When was the last time a great poet wrote an ode to the importance of following orders? 1854, that’s when. Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote, “Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die,” immortalizing Lord Cardigan’s botched mission in the Battle of Balaclava — “The Charge of the Light Brigade.” Tennyson was England’s poet laureate at the time and felt obliged to turn a military disaster into something heroic. No American poet laureate ever wrote anything similar, and maybe that’s because they’re paid $35,000 a year. Make that $350,000 and give the laureate the rank of major general and a cap with a plume and see if the tune doesn’t change.

Our Nobel laureate Bob Dylan could have written (but did not):

Well it ain’t no use to sit around the barracks

And ask why you must drill.

Or ask why we have to carry rifles:

They are to injure, maim and kill.

Get out of bed at the break of dawn,

Put your helmet and your uniform on,

You’re not a bishop, son, you’re just a pawn.

Don’t think twice, it’s all right.

It’s no wonder that wealthy New York real estate heirs shopped around for physicians to diagnose heel spurs to exempt them from the draft. For a century, nobody has written a great work of literature celebrating America’s military — “Slaughterhouse-Five”? “Catch-22”? “The Naked and the Dead”? “The Things They Carried”? I don’t think so. Nobody read “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and went down to the recruiting office to sign up.

It was not always thus. Look at what Homer did for the Greeks with his “Iliad.” It’s an action epic, one hero after another, Agamemnon, Odysseus, Achilles, Ajax — no introspective nonconformist in the ranks, wondering, “Why are we brutalizing each other? Why can’t we sit down and talk through our differences?” Because we are us and they are them, and it’s one for all and all for one, so grab your spear and go puncture those Trojans, son.

What we need to make America great again is American literature about greatness. Look at Leo Tolstoy. He could’ve just written “Peace” but he wrote “War.” too, both of them, glorifying General Mikhail Kutuzov, who engineered the defeat of Napoleon. Spending some of that $54 billion on the arts would be an excellent investment. If they need someone to write an epic poem, here I am, my pen is poised.

Media to the right of him,

Media to the left of him,

Democrats embittered.

Loud was his battle cry,

The man with long red tie,

Onward he twittered.

Rising in early dawn,

Turning his smartphone on,

Texting he bravely fought,

Tweet after tweet he shot

With his red hat on,

Looking like George C. Scott

Playing George Patton.

It’s the story of a man who overcame his heel-spur handicap by playing golf regularly and eventually took command in his bomber jacket and led the country to greatness. It’s going to be fantastic. I promise you.

Garrison Keillor is an author and radio personality.