The Tyranny of Malaysian Democracy


October 3, 2017

The Tyranny of Malaysian Democracy

For better or for worse, our hope lies in this bunch of former political enemies (Mahathir, Kit Siang and Anwar) pulled together by fate and a common foe. We cannot afford to take the wrong road again.

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When we cease to think and act, we lose our identity and dignity

COMMENT by Cogito Ergo Sum*| Like everybody else, I am subjective. And like most reasonable Malaysians, I am now more than a little concerned about the current trends and future direction our nation seems to be hurtling towards.

I am as old as Malaysia and have witnessed this nation grow from a fledgling, newly independent state to one that has become a regional and international player in sports, diplomacy and the world economy. It was also, at one time, a paragon of multicultural tolerance and showcased that diversity and unity could be one.

The government of the day, for most of the days in the past, was a benevolent one that provided a vision and clear direction for us to progress with the times technologically, socially and economically.

Along the way, something went terribly wrong. We are now a nation of bigots where once tolerance flourished. Prejudices based on race, religion, gender, creed and colour are now the order of the day, not the exception.

Democratic Leadership of the Corrupt Sort

Despite the institutionalized apartheid policies in the guise of affirmative action that were constructed, people were still able to eke out a decent living and make enough to put aside for a rainy day. And give their kids good education with moral values.

But all that changed almost suddenly. We are now well-known for repressing dissent, jailing social activists and opposition members, 1MDB, and GST. And the list goes on.

A Nation in Debt

We now have a domestic debt of over 80 percent, which means that 80 percent of salaries and wages are set aside for debt repayment and the balance for food, shelter, transport and health. It is impossible to save anything, much less to even have a decent meal once a month.

To exacerbate the problem, we seem to be jailing and punishing the very people who have championed the struggles of the people. Two days ago, Tian Chua (centre in photo), the PKR MP for Batu in Kuala Lumpur, was jailed for being present in a police restricted area.

Malaysian Law is an Ass when our Judges are slaves to Political Power

But his defence was that he was forcibly brought into the restricted area after taking part in an elections reform rally, Bersih in 2012. Surely common sense must prevail. If the facts are correct, according to Tian Chua, the courts should have found the charge defective and released him, even if he withdrew his appeal. What has happened to the concept of judicial review?

Desperation and depravation

In any democracy, the ballot becomes the silver bullet for ills ailing society. If a government fails in its elected duties, you change it in the next polls. But that hope for a fair and clean poll is now fading. Disingenuous and not so subtle methods are underway to ensure that the incumbents are returned, come hell or high water.

Gerrymandering and altering election boundaries are in full swing and there are efforts to stop them by various NGOs and individuals. But the courts do not seem to be very impressed with these efforts and neither do they seem too keen to upset the apple cart.

As desperation turns into depravation, the ruling regime is conscious that for the very first time in 60 years, dissent and dissatisfaction are now rampant, cutting across racial, religious, and social barriers. And that it could be facing a catastrophic and historic defeat is a very real possibility now.

The desperation becomes more and more apparent by the ludicrous replies given by various officials and ministers to genuine concerns and questions by the opposition and pressure groups.

Joy Ride  on a Military Aircraft at Taxpayers’ Expense

One such reply that stands out is the use of military assets to fly Sarawak chiefs to Putrajaya to thank them for fighting the communist some 47 years ago!

One wonders what four Prime Ministers were doing in four decades of being in power and all of them seem to have forgotten to reward the Sarawak chiefs.

Our “fixed deposits” seem to have garnered no interest in forty years. That latest gaffe is just the tip of the iceberg of a slew of idiotic responses to come out of the corridors of power over the last two years or so.

Thrust into power again

Our hope lies in the fabric of our political set-up. We now have an opposition that seems to have recovered from its own internal squabbles, cobbled together by a motley crew of ageing and youthful leaders.

For many, the resurgence and leadership of Dr Mahathir Mohamad are as repulsive as the idea of Malaysia being led by the current Prime Minister. His chairing of the opposition Pakatan Harapan seems like a fait accompli after the jailing of Anwar Ibrahim, the former opposition leader.

While the opposition has many young leaders in the likes of Nurul Izzah Anwar, Liew Chin Tong and Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman who will be the next generation of lawmakers, they do not as yet have the political acumen to defeat the juggernaut that is Barisan Nasional. For that, Harapan needs the wiles and cunning strategies of older leaders who have been to the brink and back like Mahathir, Lim Kit Siang and others to out-think and out-fox an aging old and wounded wolf.

Mahathir’s Legacy–A Broken System of Governance

Many institutions of governance today suffer the symptoms and ills of 22 years under Dr Mahathir’s leadership. It is not an exaggeration to say that many challenges today are the 92-year-old’s making. However, there were moments of glory and achievement as well.

The people were not taxed beyond what they could bear. Short of apologising for the past, he has, by his actions and words, shown a genuine interest in getting this once beautiful and tolerant nation back onto its feet.

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Whether he has other motives or not, at this present time, we do not know. What we do know is that we lack salt and experienced leaders in the opposition.

 

When our poets, satirists, cartoonists, songwriters and social activists are persecuted, prosecuted and jailed for speaking up, when opposition voices are silenced by the very parliament they have been voted into, we know that democracy has become tyrannical and kleptocratic.

Zunar–The Cartoonist and Freedom Fighter

Harapan needs to tell the people what its game plan is. They need to know and know now, what corrective economic and social measures they have planned after winning over Putrajaya. General broad strokes are no longer enough. The rakyat needs a concrete hope and the brass tacks of programmes for them to believe in.

For better or for worse, our hope lies in this bunch of former political enemies, pulled together by fate and a common foe. We cannot afford to take the wrong road again.

*COGITO ERGO SUM is a Malaysiakini reader.

Increasing Islamisation will trigger mass hijrah


October 2, 2017

Increasing Islamisation will trigger mass hijrah

by Dr. M.Bakri Musa
Morgan-Hill, California

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This is what will remain in Malaysia with increasing Islamization

In his recent blog “Hijrah To London,” Datuk Zaid Ibrahim wrote on the Erasmus Forum lecture he attended celebrating Martin Luther. Zaid highlighted the exemplary humanist qualities of both great Christian leaders. He went on to make a short side comment urging young Malays to emigrate.

He had a torrent of responses, not on Erasmus or Luther, the focus of his essay, rather his side commentary, which was more an expression of his despair and frustration over the increasing role of Islamist extremists in Malaysia, as well as Malay (and thus Muslim) leaders’ egregious corruption and mind boggling incompetence.

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Zaid urged young Malays not to repeat his mistake in not undertaking Hijrah (emigrating).

For Muslims, following the seerah (the Prophet’s sayings and practices) is the highest expression of faith. Malay men already ape it with gusto in such areas as having long beards and multiple wives. So why not hijrah?

Zaid is no ordinary Malay, Malaysian, or mortal. After qualifying at a local MARA institution, he went on to London University to get an additional law degree. He later founded Malaysia’s largest law firm, and the first to have foreign branches. He is also an entrepreneur and philanthropist.

Zaid remains unique in that he is the only Malaysian Minister to have resigned on a matter of principle. To be historically meticulous, Dr. Ismail did too, but he was ailing and had contemplated retiring. More telling, Zaid’s reputation soared with his resignation. No minister or even prime minister could claim either point.

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PAS’Nik AbduhA Member of P.Ramlee’s Tiga Abdul (remamed Abduh)

Boundaries are meaningless in today’s globalized world. In practice however, that’s true for only two groups. First are the poor, destitute, and desperate. For them, survival comes ahead of visas and passports, or political boundaries, as Western Europe now discovers. Second are gems like Zaid. With their wealth, language fluency, entrepreneurial flair, and social graces, they are welcomed in London, Sydney, and New York, or even Dubai and Bahrain.

Most Malays, young or old, male or female, are not like Zaid. Most lack skills, could speak only the local kampung dialect, and have minimal entrepreneurial desires. The Rempits, both Mat and Minah, are more typical. No country would want them. Even Malaysia would be better off without them. At least the Minah Rempits could work abroad as maids, a la the Filipinos and Indonesians. The Mat Rempits are but a road menace.

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Mat and Minah Rempits–By-Product of Islamisation

After over sixty years of Malay rule, with the sultans, prime ministers and most ministers being Malays, and public institutions in Malay control, how come we produce a glut of Rempits and scant few of Zaids? If you leave things alone, simple momentum would dictate that the Zaids would grow in number, his sterling success inspiring others.

It would not be far wrong to suggest that it is not incompetence, stupidity, or even dereliction of duty by Malay leaders that we are inundated with the Rempits and not blessed with the Zaids, rather a deliberate policy, the willful intent of Malay leaders, incredulous as that may sound.

In mid 1960s in Canada, I met a Malay graduate student from Brunei who would later become his country’s top educator. I remarked on the splendid educational opportunities afforded young Canadians and added that wouldn’t it be wonderful if a rich country like Brunei were to do likewise for its young. Then Brunei could again assume its pivotal role in Malay civilization.

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The Father of Mat Rempit-ism

I was stunned when he disagreed, and with atypical Malay forcefulness. Educating them would only make them uppity, dissatisfied, and rebel, he thundered. Brunei had then gone through a near-successful coup with Ahmad Azahari sending the sultan scooting off to Singapore. He would have remained there if not for the Gurkhas.

Such a sentiment was also shared by my kampung folks. Educate your children, especially daughters, and they will marry someone from outside the village and never return. Who would then take care of you in your old age?

I was tangentially associated with Universiti Kebangsaan in 1976. I suggested then that it drop its proposed MMed program and instead have its trainees sit for the FRCS and MRCP. Those learned Malay professors, all from English-medium universities, disagreed. They would then migrate, one academic sniffed. He was no different from my fellow villagers or that Brunei guy.

Perhaps UKM was traumatized when its first Professor of Surgery, one Hussein Salleh, absconded to Australia the moment his received his professorship.

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The language nationalist Nik Safiah Karim (pic above), also the product of English education right up to her doctorate, asserted that Malaysia needs no more than five percent of her population to be English-fluent. Rest assured that her children and grandchildren would be in that select group.

Tun Razak too exhorted the masses to support Malay schools, but then sent his to England! His children, today’s leaders, and others like Khairy Jamaluddin, are doing likewise. Hypocrisy is a now the norm with Malay leaders.

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Those Malay leaders remind me of the ancient Chinese who bound the feet of their infant daughters so when they later got married, they could not run away from their husbands. Trapping by handicapping.

While I share Zaid’s concerns, I have a contrarian take. Let the likes of Zakir Naik, Hadi Awang, and that Perak Mufti loose. Their zeal would force Malays, young and old, and especially the Mat and Minah Rempits, to grab the nearest sampan to escape Malaysia.

Millions of Muslims today are forced to undertake their Hijrah not by the crusaders and atheists invading but by their own leaders. Millions are forced out of Syria not by the Israelis or Americans but by Islamic radicals.

Zaid is on to something profound. Ironically, the current frenzy of Islamization may just be the tipping point for a Malay mass hijrah.

Anticipating that, young Malays should prepare themselves for the global stage; the old kampung panggung won’t take you far. Learn another language, acquire some skills, and go beyond mere tolerating to embracing the differences we have with others.

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UMNO’s Islamic Imam–An Fugitive from India

To non-Malays, encourage Malays to be consumed with hadith and revealed knowledge. The fewer of them pursuing STEM, the less the competition for you. Support them when they want to build more Tahfiz schools, introduce hudud, or ban modern banking and finance. Not only would that make you a hero to Malays, you would also make tons of money. Malaysia’s increasing Islamization is not a crisis but an opportunity, and a very lucrative one.

Hugh Hefner, Playboy, and the American Male


October 1, 2017

Hugh Hefner, Playboy, and the American Male

by Adam Gopnik

https://www.newyorker.com/

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The careers of certain cultural figures follow a predictable arc: first young and brazen, then oddly revered, then overly familiar, and then, at last, obsolete. Frank Harris had a career with a shape something like this: a cowboy and a lawyer before becoming the leading London newspaper editor of the eighteen-nineties, he then became known only as the author of a scandalous, multi-volume sexual memoir, ending up merely notorious. Hugh Hefner, the publisher of Playboy, who died on Wednesday, at the age of ninety-one, at the Playboy Mansion, in California, was another such figure. It is as hard now to recapture the period during the nineteen-sixties and seventies when Hefner actually seemed, if not exactly a cultural presence to be reckoned with, then at least a publishing magnate to be recognized, as it would be to return his magazine, Playboy, to the distinctive place, high up on the newsstand, that it once occupied. At one point, George Will could compare Hefner to Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby—not an entirely bad notion, given that the essential vulgarity of Gatsby’s taste, obvious to his creator, has been eclipsed by the retrospective glamour that has been placed on the book. But something like the opposite has taken place with Hefner. There was a time when his excursions into the Playboy philosophy, which was not quite as ridiculous a document as its title makes it sound, were, though never taken seriously, at least seen as significant. Now, they seem not merely quaint but predatory.

What Hefner did was, in one way, as old as sex itself: he took the heterosexual male gaze and commodified it. He took the universal straight-male appetite for pictures of semi-naked women and found a way to feed it that became acceptable enough to attract conventional advertisers. But his real touch of opportunistic American genius was the reverse spin that he pioneered: he took commodities and attached them to the male gaze. He took all the goodies of mid-century American life—the hi-fis and the stereo LPs and the nascent color TVs and the Flokati rugs—and made them part of a plausible seeming whole. The “Playboy man” of Hefner’s imagination was as much a creature of his living room as of his lusts. Desire became inseparable from decoration, carnality from consumerism. Only the bachelor with the right Breuer chair could hope to have an active bedroom. Hefner, as someone once said, made the indoors to the mid-twentieth century what the outdoors had been to the nineteenth—the place where you showed yourself worthy of the idea of a man.

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Playboy Magazine featured Marilyn Monroe that launched Hugh Hefner’s Publishing Career

The feminist critique of Playboy came early, sharp, and loud. It was certainly political, and it was also correct. However much Miss July might be asked to list her intellectual attributes alongside her measurements, it was as a measurement alone that she was being displayed. The pictorials came accompanied by a rhetoric of female empowerment, or at least sexual empowerment, but it was in every way a measured empowerment. Proposing Hefner’s ideal as the most desirable body type was not just repellant but in many ways noxious. The anxious adolescent coyness that the enterprise never escaped—in part because anxious adolescent coyness was Hefner’s true signature emotion, a silk dressing gown and a pipe being exactly an anxious adolescent’s idea of sophistication—was essentially anti-sex, replacing the real thing with a synthetic substitute.

Let it be said that Hefner hired and helped many women. Alice K. Turner was the magazine’s fiction editor for two decades. (Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Joyce Carol Oates all wrote for Playboy.) Hefner handed over the reins of the operation to his daughter, Christie, who for a while was one of the more prominent women C.E.O.s in the country and a major supporter of progressive causes. And, of course, many fine and important things were published in the magazine. The fiction tended to be second-rate work by first-rate names, but the interviews that Hefner published were often major events: Miles Davis, Malcolm X, Vladimir Nabokov, Ayn Rand, Martin Luther King, Jr., Fidel Castro, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, George McGovern, Jimmy Carter, and the very last testament of John Lennon.

The case could even be made—Hefner himself certainly wanted to make it—that, by sponsoring a broadly libertarian view of culture, Hefner and Playboy played a pivotal role in bringing an end to imprisoning ideas of gentility. In one of those carom shots of which cultural history is full, by announcing feminine sexuality as a good thing for the girl next door—however comically self-interested the announcer’s motive—Hefner may indeed have played an unintentional role in the assertion of female sexuality and autonomy. After all, he reminded many women of what they didn’t like about the way they were portrayed, and that they might have something to say about it.

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The Sex Symbol of the 1950s and 1960–Marilyn Monroe (dec. 1962)

But, in the end, the American fable his life most resembled was not “Gatsby” but “Citizen Kane.” By the time Hefner died, seemingly as isolated in his mansion as Kane was in his Xanadu, his empire had been vastly reduced—by both time and fashion. Even before the Internet levelled the world of libidinal gazing, the titillation that Hefner’s imagery evoked had already mostly vanished. The ironic triumph was that the Internet, which achieved Hefner’s dream of instantly accessible and publicly acceptable erotica, undid the old man. Punching a few keys on a keyboard could provide the entire range of human desire and, as pornography took on a truly democratic character, it nearly bankrupted many of its tycoons in the bargain.

The relation of erotic libertinism and political liberty is one of the most vexed in all of modern history. But when social histories of the last half of the past American century are written, the pipe, the pajamas, and the self-invented playboy who held them will still demand their moment of attention, their acute and not entirely dismissive gaze.

Adam Gopnik, a staff writer, has been contributing to The New Yorker since 1986. He is the author of “The Table Comes First.”

East Timor’s “Red Rosa”


October 1, 2017

East Timor’s “Red Rosa”

http://www.newmandala.org

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Rosa “Muki” Bonaparte Soares

When East Timor gained its independence in May 2002, after a 24-year struggle against Indonesian occupation, how to compensate those who fought was one of the first decisions the new government had to make. By September of that year, two commissions had been established to register veterans of the armed struggle. Almost 40,000 people registered at the time, and a further 76,000 registered when another commission was established two years later. Veterans’ benefits are a sensitive issue in East Timor. Misgivings about favouritism were partly behind the 2006 violence that spread throughout the nation, while a significant chunk of the state budget is still today handed over for pensions, not without politically-motivated reasons.

But more aggrieved than most were the women of East Timor. In the first two commissions, out of 36,959 registered individuals only 13 were women. At the 2004 commission, which was intended for those who had fought in the clandestine resistance, 10,337 of the 76,061 registered were women—roughly 13%. This is despite some estimates that as many as 60% of the clandestinos (as they are known) were female.

On August 6, 2010, Lourdes Maria Alves de Araujo, Secretary General of the Popular Organisation of East Timorese Women (OPMT), brought attention to this issue. “It is now ten years since we have restored our independence but the leaders have forgotten the contribution and values [that women brought to the independence struggle],” Araujo began. Did the legacy of the women who died during the independence struggle die with them, she then asked, and will their recognition be only that “as the wife of a deceased combatant or cadre? If so, this is unfair, particularly when we want to create a complete history of our people.”

 

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When I visited Dili in 2015, an idle afternoon provided me the time to wander the city. Under a sedulous sun, I stopped to rest in a small, unassuming park that I later discovered is dedicated to Rosa “Muki” Bonaparte Soares, a little known but important figure of the early nationalist movement. Back home, I consulted the books I own on East Timorese history: Bonaparte’s name arose only in either a long list of other names from the period or as a passing reference to her stewardship of the OPMT. Academic essays bore more fruit. Perhaps the finest exploration of Bonaparte’s life, and of the East Timorese women’s movement during the 1970s, is Hannah Loney’s essay, “The Target of a Double Exploitation: Gender and Nationalism in Portuguese Timor, 1974–75”, published in 2015.

“Previous studies of early East Timorese nationalism have not adequately accounted for the roles and experiences of women within the formation of nationalist ideology and in practice,” Loney wrote, adding that when these experiences are assessed, women’s “participation is an aside to the wider nationalist movement and to the unfolding story of Indonesian oppression”.

While undeniably true, Bonaparte also best embodies the problems faced by female participants in the independence struggle—first against Portugal, then Indonesia—for the simple reason that she knew sectarian issues (namely women’s emancipation) were at the same time hindering and intrinsic to the struggle.

Bonaparte was born in Manatuto, a small city on the northern coast, about 70 kilometres from the capital. (I am unable to locate her date of birth though it must in the records in Dili). After graduating from a Canossian school she earned a scholarship to study in Lisbon in the early 1970s. At the time East Timor had been under Portuguese colonisation since the beginning of the 18th century. Completing an introductory course in commerce, she gravitated towards political activism, joining the Movimento Reorganasative de Proletariat Portuguese (MRPP), a Maoist group dwarfed by Soviet-backed Portuguese Communist Party. The East Timorese student population in Lisbon, at the time, must have been claustrophobic. Forty at the most, many lived together in a house in the city’s suburbs they named Em Casa Timor. Here, the Timorese students, including Bonaparte, met regularly to discuss politics and anticolonial activism, often joined by dissidents from other Portuguese territories, like Angola and Mozambique.

Life, however, was interrupted on 25 April 1974, when military officers ousted the Portuguese leader Caetano in what became known as the Carnation Revolution. It was clear from then on that the sun was finally setting on the Portuguese empire. The Carnation Revolution allowed, for the first time, East Timorese political parties to come out in the open as legal entities. One, the Timorese Social Democratic Association (ASDT), took up the mantle of autonomy and independence. The Timorese Popular Democratic Association, however, favoured integration with Indonesia, while the Timorese Democratic Union preferred continued relations with Lisbon.

Bonaparte returned home in September 1974, the same month the ASDT changed its name to the Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor, or FRETILIN. She was among many former Em Casa Timor students who took part in FRETILIN’s grass roots mobilisation and, known for her oratory skills, participated in the negotiations with the Portuguese Decolonisation Commission in Dili in May 1975. It has been said that on 28 November 1975, when FRETILIN made its proclamation of independence from Portugal, Bonaparte was the one to unfurl the brand new flag of the Democratic Republic of East Timor.

Bonaparte was one of only three women—along with Maria do Céu Pereira and Guilhermina Araújo—to be part of FRETILIN’s original 50-strong central committee. And, on 28 August 1975, she was named Secretary General of the first East Timorese women’s organisation, the OPMT. It wasn’t long before organisation chapters spread across the half-island nation, with 7,000 members within weeks. Free classes were provided to illiterate women and, for the first time, taught in the Timorese language, Tetum, and crèches were established for child-care.

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However, Bonaparte’s life, like East Timor’s first taste of independence, was cut short. On 17 December 1975, Indonesian forces invaded. The following day, Bonaparte and a colleague, Isabel Barreto Lobato, the wife of Nicolau Lobato, were taken to the waterfront in Dili and shot. Jill Jollife, an Australian journalist who witnessed the invasion, wrote:

“They [the Indonesian soldiers] were dragging women on to the barges. One woman wouldn’t go. She was Muki… Small, intense, very Timorese, the Portuguese called her “the petite revolutionary” and “Rosa Luxemburg” for her contribution to the talks. When she resisted the Indonesians she was shot on the wharf and her body thrown into the harbour.”

Of the few photographs of Bonaparte that exist, by far the most illustrative is one taken by Jolliffe in 1975. Standing alongside Mari Alkatiri, Nicolau Lobato and Mau Laka—the senior figures of FRETILIN—Bonaparte stares off in the distance, her head covered by a small white hat. Most of the surviving photos from this period are of men in action, with prim fatigues and rifles dangling from the shoulder, but in this photograph they are motionless and defiant more. Bonaparte stands as tall as Mari Alkatiri, making the “petite revolutionary” moniker slightly more patronising, and clichéd, than heartfelt.

Interesting, too, if Bonaparte was ever known affectionately as “Rosa Luxemburg” it would have been as much a compliment as an encumbrance. A Polish-born communist, Luxemburg was one of the most original Marxist thinkers of her time, so much so that people would once deemed themselves to be Luxemburgists. She too was killed before her prime, shot dead by the German Freikorps in 1919. And, with an instance of history’s unfortunate repetition, her body was also dumped into water: Berlin’s Landwehr Canal.

While Luxemburg left behind a considerable body of work, Bonaparte’s surviving oeuvre consists of a few articles written for the Jornal do Povo Maubere, the FRETILIN newspaper, and another, first published in a Trotskyist journal, which was later reprinted by the Australian solidarity movement bulletin, East Timor News, two years after her death. However, her finest words are found in a manifesto she published on 27 September 1975, for the OPMT. Entitled “Analysis of the Situation of Timorese Women”, it was the only known document which established a theoretical basis for the struggle of East Timorese women at the time. She wrote:

“It is incredible that in a country where more than 50 percent of the population consists of women, that they would not take part in the liberation struggle…To participate in combat does not just mean to take up arms, though this is superior. The participation of Timorese women in the fighting takes various forms: gather information about enemy movements, their fighting potential, and so on.”

Here, of course, she was not talking about the resistance against the Indonesian occupation (she knew only one day of that) but of the struggle against Portugal and for FRETILIN’s survival in power. Nonetheless, she was prescient for what was about to come. FRETILIN, itself, was divided about the “proper” role women should play in the independence struggle. Rogerio Lobato, a FRETILIN Central Committee member and Commander-in-chief of FALINTIL, its armed wing, said in a 1978 interview:

“Many people cannot understand that women should take up arms against the Indonesians. They see women as only in traditional roles; looking after the house, rearing children, and so on… But women form half the population and they must be involved in the struggle on all fronts, including the armed struggle.”

As mentioned earlier, Bonaparte acknowledged that armed combat was a “superior” form of participation. Nonetheless, she thought women’s participation in the armed resistance was not just a means of relinquishing their traditional roles, but that the struggle was a way in which traditional roles would be expunged altogether. An emancipatory consciousness would be found through the struggle and emancipation achieved once national freedom was assured. However, as with other women engaged in nationalist activity, her thoughts were sensitive to questions of priorities and the possibility of sectarian values interfering with the common goal. In her 1975 manifesto, she stated:

“The principal objective of women participating in the revolution is not, strictly speaking, the emancipation of women as women, but the triumph of the revolution, and consequently, the liberation of women as a social being who is the target of a double exploitation: that under the traditional conceptions and that under the colonialist conceptions”

Here, it is not clear what “revolution” she was speaking about: a ‘national’ revolution for independence or a ‘socialist’ revolution. She almost certainly had Marxist sympathies, given her political education in Lisbon in the mid-1970s when she joined the Maoist MRPP, and her participation with the leftist FRETILIN (though it would only formally adopt a Marxist-Leninist platform in 1977, supposedly from pressure by Roque Rodrigues and Antonio Carvarinho, also members of the MRPP in Lisbon).

Still, Bonaparte was correct that Portuguese colonisation enforced strict gender roles in society. Before the Europeans’ arrival, distinctions between work and housework (or male work and female work) were hardly existent, though this isn’t to say in pre-Portuguese Timor there was genuine equality. But the gendered division of labour was enforced early by Portuguese missionaries and, come the era of Fascist Portugal, only worsened. Timorese men were conscripted into labour forces, Bonaparte wrote, separating women from their husbands, leaving them to care for the children and without the means to raise them. By removing colonial powers, she thought it would also expel the mindset the colonialists had instigated, allowing for the blossoming of a new culture. However, as many East Timorese women know today, it was possible for colonisation to be defeated without traditional concepts of gender also being erased.

Something else that catches the eye is Bonaparte’s view on the actual praxis for bringing about gender consciousness among East Timorese women. A number of the MRPP activists in Lisbon supported the beliefs of the Guinea-Bissauan intellectual Amílcar Cabral, who, in what he called “class suicide”, believed that the bourgeois revolutionary should destroy all vestiges of his or her own class. It was pure Maoism. But as only one of three female members of FRETILIN’s original central committee, Bonaparte might, in modern parlance, be described as an “elite”. Indeed, she was of relatively privileged birth and fortunate enough to be educated at the women’s schools run by Italian Canossian missionaries. (The first school for women in Portuguese Timor was opened by the Canossians in 1902 in Ainaro, a small mountain town on the southern coast.) She also received a scholarship to study in Lisbon, an opportunity available for only a few dozen Timorese at the time.

In her 1975 manifesto, she wrote that it was the responsibility of “the more active and conscious women” to “awaken those [women] who are passive and submissive.” This vanguard theory of female political awakening reflected in FRETILIN’s vanguard position of the independence struggle (another indication of Marxist-Leninist roots). It has a lasting legacy in the modern day discussion on gender equality in East Timor.

Despite boasting one of Asia’s highest percentages of female parliamentarians (38% at the last count, though it likely increased at last month’s general election) many have put this down to affirmative action laws that require a percentage of female candidates to stand in elections. A law introduced in 2006, for example, requires political parties to nominate one woman for every group of four candidates at national elections. Does this, some ask, just merely create an appearance of progress?

In a 2011 paper, “Hakat Klot, Narrow Steps”, Sara Niner, an anthropologist at Monash University, wrote, “although Timor has one of the highest levels of female parliamentary participation in the world, many of these women are often ineffective and viewed merely as token representatives (possibly forced on the Timorese by the idea of a foreign quota system).” Moreover, Niner added: “There is often tension within the women’s movement about… priorities and a divide between less-educated rural women and middle class urban women with a more feminist agenda.” Bonaparte was not one to confuse compassion with patronising. She was clear: it was the duty of the more educated to raise the consciousness of the lesser-educated. Backwardness and tradition were the impediments to emancipation of women and just as essential to be expunged as the vestiges of colonisation, she thought.

Perhaps—too Marxist in her overtones; too concerned with nationhood than gender identity; too utopian—her words and thoughts appear somewhat atavistic today. Though, by no means are they to be ignored nor overlooked. And in plaintive awareness of what Perry Anderson once called the “history of possibility”, one cannot read Bonaparte’s writings without the fanciful imagination of what she might have been able to add to the struggle against Indonesian occupation (and East Timor’s democracy today) if she wasn’t one of its first casualties.

David Hutt is a journalist and writer based in Phnom Penh. He is also the Southeast Asia Columnist for The Diplomat, and a contributor to numerous regional publications. You can follow him on Twitter at @davidhuttjourno.

 

The Public Prosecutor, Politics and the Rule of Law


September 30, 2017

The Public Prosecutor, Politics and the Rule of Law

by Walter Woon For The Straits Times

http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/the-public-prosecutor-politics-and-the-rule-of-law

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Former Attorney-General of Singapore Walter Woon and the brilliant Ambassador at Large Tommy Koh

The Attorney-General occupies the hottest legal seat in Singapore. This is because the Attorney-General is the public prosecutor. Under Article 35(8) of the Constitution, the Attorney-General “shall have power, exercisable at his discretion, to institute, conduct or discontinue any proceedings for any offence”.

In recent times, we have seen the President of a country, which is not shy about wagging its finger at others while lecturing about the rule of law, threatening to remove prosecutors and special counsel when investigations cut too close to the bone for comfort.

Closer to home, there has also been loose chatter online and off that question the Attorney-General’s decisions to prosecute. This is based on a misunderstanding of the Attorney-General’s function as public prosecutor. Ignorant criticism is unfair to the Attorney-General and his officers. Misinformation, deliberate or otherwise, erodes confidence in the system of justice.

It is necessary first to understand the nature of prosecutorial discretion. As a preliminary matter, a distinction must be made between a prosecution and a civil suit. When a person defames someone else, for instance, the “injured” party (the plaintiff) may seek compensation by means of a civil suit.

The public prosecutor is not involved in this. The commencement of civil litigation is a matter solely for the plaintiff. No one can stop him from suing. If he wins, he gets compensation (which does not have to be a substantial sum). If he loses, he pays the defendant’s costs.

Criminal defamation is an offence under the Penal Code. It is up to the Attorney-General to decide whether or not to lay charges. This is termed a prosecution, in contrast to civil proceedings. The object is not to obtain compensation for an injured party but rather to protect society’s interests by imposing some sort of punishment, often as a deterrent to others.

As provided in the Constitution, the Attorney-General has discretion over this. The accused person (defendant) and the injured party (complainant) are not involved in the decision. The defendant might tender an apology and offer to pay damages to the complainant, but the public prosecutor may decide to press on regardless if he thinks that there is a public-interest issue involved. The complainant cannot “drop the charges”, contrary to popular misconception.

Not every offence is prosecuted in court. If it were mandatory to prosecute every time an offence is committed, the courts would be jam-packed with jaywalkers and litterbugs. This is where prosecutorial discretion comes in. The public prosecutor can decide whether or not to prosecute. The question is, on what grounds?

It is obviously not possible for the Attorney-General to look at every individual file to decide whether to prosecute.

In practice, that is left to deputy public prosecutors (DPPs). There are currently two prosecution divisions in the Attorney-General’s Chambers: the Criminal Justice Division, and the Financial and Technology Crime Division. The legal officers posted to these two divisions are designated DPPs.

Generally, investigatory agencies (for example, the Central Narcotics Bureau, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, the police, to name a few) send investigation papers to one of the prosecution divisions. A junior DPP will then make recommendations as to whether charges should be laid, and, if so, what charges. The recommendations are considered by more senior DPPs -the heads of the various directorates, the chief prosecutor of the division, the Solicitor-General, the Deputy Attorney-General. The most serious cases end up on the desk of the Attorney-General, where the buck stops. In most cases, however, the buck stops far down the line from the Attorney-General.

Steps towards prosecution

In deciding whether or not to prosecute, there are, in general, four steps:

•Step 1: Find out what happened. This is the job of the investigatory agencies. It is the stuff of novels, TV and films. The DPP can ask for clarifications or further investigation.

•Step 2: Ascertain if an offence has been committed and, if so, what offence. This is a legal question – it is the reason DPPs have to go through four years or more of law school. Laypersons are seldom, if ever, qualified to appreciate the intricacies of Singapore criminal law.

•Step 3: Can the elements of the offence be proven in court? The prosecution must prove the case against the accused beyond reasonable doubt. It is not for the accused to prove his innocence.

At Step 3, the DPP has to decide whether there is enough evidence that will stand up in court. It is often possible to piece together what happened with a fair degree of certainty. However, there are cases where witnesses will refuse to testify in open court. In other cases, a witness may implicate others when questioned, but when it comes to actually testifying, he will have an attack of selective amnesia.

If the DPP thinks that the witnesses cannot be relied on, the prosecution will probably be dropped. If he decides to carry on, there is a chance that the judge may not be convinced beyond reasonable doubt. In that case, the defendant is acquitted.

Again, contrary to popular misconception, a verdict of “not guilty” is not synonymous with “innocent”. In some cases, it just means that there is a reasonable doubt. Thus, for instance, in a rape case the man may contend that the “victim” consented. The woman may be equally vehement in denying that she did consent. If the judge cannot be sure, then the accused is found “not guilty”, even though it may, in fact, have been rape.

Assuming that we have got past Steps 1, 2 and 3, the final step is: Should there be a prosecution at all?

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The writer notes that the Attorney-General of Singapore has two roles: first, that of the Government’s legal adviser and, second, public prosecutor. ST FILE PHOTO

Prosecute or not prosecute

The public prosecutor must decide whether it is in the public interest that the matter should be laid before a judge in open court. He has discretion over this.

This is where the biggest problems arise. For good or ill, the public prosecutor must make a judgment call. There are many reasons why a decision may be taken not to prosecute.

The offence may be a trivial one, not worth tying up prosecutorial and judicial resources over. A person who drops torn-off tabs from parking coupons on the ground may be guilty beyond reasonable doubt of an offence but, in most cases, this will not end up in court. Composition fines may be imposed instead.

Sometimes, the prosecutor may decide that the accused should be given a second chance. For example, if two teenagers are caught having consensual sex, this is an offence if the girl is under 16 years of age. But would it be in the public interest to prosecute a 17-year-old boy for having sex with his 15-year-old girlfriend?

The prosecutor may (note, “may”, not “will”) decide that, under the circumstances, a conditional warning is better. If the boy does not heed the warning and repeats the offence, he will be prosecuted for the previous offence as well as the new one. But if he mends his ways, then there is no prosecution.

When Politics may cloud the picture

Politically charged cases are often a source of controversy.

Suppose that an opposition politician is charged with deliberate incitement of racial unrest. It is a given that his supporters will scream that the prosecution is politically motivated.

When one analyses the issue dispassionately, if the accused is indeed guilty of deliberately inflaming racial feelings, it does not matter whether the decision to prosecute is politically motivated. But the fact that it is perceived to be so undermines the credibility of the public prosecutor, especially if ruling party politicians are not similarly treated.

The public is not stupid. People have a sense of justice. That sense is outraged if double standards are practised – a lenient one for the rich and politically influential, a stricter one for ordinary persons and the strictest one for oppositionists. The public prosecutor has to maintain a scrupulous neutrality so as to avoid being accused of partiality.

Take a purely hypothetical example: Say that a powerful minister is accused of embezzling a substantial sum of money from a government-linked company. How does he avoid retribution? Bribing judges is risky – this can backfire spectacularly. Interfering with investigations is more promising, but in the age of social media, this may not stop the process. The best bet is to nobble the prosecutor.

There are many ways to pressure the public prosecutor. In some places, the threats are physical. I attended a conference of prosecutors in Canada some years ago. Several of my colleagues said that they carried guns for protection. One colleague from a Caribbean country did not even live there – his life would have been worth nothing in his home country.

But physical threats are crude. There are better ways.

The favoured way, as seen in some countries elsewhere, is to appoint as Attorney-General someone who can be counted on to bend when pressure is applied. If the Attorney-General decides that charges will not be laid, no one can challenge that decision. Not even the Chief Justice can compel him to prosecute, legally and practically.

So the question is: What can be done to strengthen the system? We accept it as a given that judges should be politically neutral and not take instructions from politicians.

I would argue that the same must hold true for the public prosecutor. Indeed, one should remember that if the public prosecutor declines to prosecute, the case will never reach a judge, even if there has been a blatant breach of the law.

Two Roles of the A-G

Many people mistakenly think that the Attorney-General is part of the political executive. This may have been so in colonial days, but under our present Constitution, it is not so.

Unlike in many other countries, the Attorney-General of Singapore is not a party politician or a member of the Cabinet. This mistake arises because the Attorney-General has two roles: first, that of the Government’s legal adviser and, second, public prosecutor.

When giving advice on civil cases by or against the Government, on legislation, on matters of international law, the Attorney-General is the Government’s Attorney-General. He is obliged to defer to the Cabinet when it comes to issues pertaining to civil litigation, international law and the drafting of legislation. If he is instructed to fight a case, he must follow his client’s instructions just like any other lawyer, even if he thinks the case cannot be won or that it is ill-advised.

But when it comes to his role as public prosecutor, the Attorney-General is not the Government’s Attorney-General. He is given discretion over prosecutions by the Constitution. It cannot be the case that he should just prosecute if a senior minister wants that to be done.

The rule of law is not the natural state of human society. For most of history, in most societies, the system has been rule by the powerful. The rule of law cannot be imposed by force or governmental decree. Citizens must accept it and actively cooperate in upholding it. Prosecutions are a tangible manifestation of the rule of law.

When the prosecutorial machinery is abused for political ends, ordinary citizens’ faith in the rule of law is shaken. If people do not believe that the system is fair, they will subvert it. Building a society based on the rule of law takes a generation and more – tearing it down can be the work of a single electoral term.

A quick look at the state of the world will show that pressure on prosecutors is common, even in countries that consider themselves to be shining examples of the rule of law.


It is foolish to wait until a hurricane hits you to strengthen your roof. Fix it now, when the sun is shining and the dark clouds have not gathered.

If one accepts the premise that the public prosecutor should be independent, the first step is to separate the two functions of the Attorney-General. As the Government’s legal adviser, he must take instructions from the Cabinet, whatever his own judgment may be. Take this function away from the Attorney-General. Give it to the Solicitor-General, for example. The three non-prosecution divisions of the Attorney-General’s Chambers – civil, legislation and international affairs – can come under the Solicitor-General or whoever is designated as the Government’s legal adviser.

The prosecutorial function should be left with the Attorney-General, who would have the two prosecution divisions in his charge. It is necessary for the Attorney-General to be the public prosecutor. A certain stature is required to resist politicians, foreign diplomats, domestic pressure groups and non-governmental organisations, not to mention the assorted people who try to influence prosecutions. In the legal hierarchy, the Attorney-General ranks immediately after the Chief Justice.

The next question is: Who should appoint the Attorney-General? At present, the Constitution provides that the Attorney-General is appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. The President does not have to accept the Prime Minister’s advice, which is the major safeguard against blatant abuse by appointing a political hack to the post.

Since the President has an independent mandate from the people and constitutional discretion, he (or she) should be the one to make the decision, ideally in consultation with the Chief Justice and the incumbent Attorney-General. This will ensure that, optically, the Attorney-General is not seen to be a political creature of the ruling party.

This is a vital consideration. All too often, when someone who opposes government policy is prosecuted, accusations will be made of political motivations.

Even where it is clear that the accused has broken the law (for example, by making a nuisance of himself in public), there will always be those who will say that the Government is trying to silence the opposition.

People posing as human rights activists will attract the knee-jerk support of foreign human rightists. Prosecute a journalist or blogger for insulting religions and you can be sure that there will be howls at home and from abroad about political persecution and restriction of freedom of speech.

These criticisms will be flung even if the Attorney-General has acted in good faith and the politicians have scrupulously avoided trying to influence him. This is grossly unfair to the Attorney-General and his officers, not to mention the politicians themselves. If the public prosecutor is truly independent and seen to be so, it will go a long way towards refuting such criticisms.

Finally, the Attorney-General’s term of office should be long enough to be useful. The Constitution originally envisaged that the Attorney-General would serve until the age of 60.

This provision was amended to allow the appointment of an Attorney-General for a fixed term. The norm in recent years has been two to three years.

Frequent changes of the Attorney-General are disruptive and not good for the morale of the DPPs. Different attorneys-general have different views about how prosecutorial discretion should be exercised. For the sake of stability, I would suggest a five-year term, renewable by the President at his or her discretion.

Some may ask, why change the system at all? If one believes that all is well and that the system will not buckle in future under the pressure of an unscrupulous powerful executive , then fine, don’t change anything.

But if the system can be abused, then the right thing to do is to address the weakness before it does become a problem. A quick look at the state of the world will show that pressure on prosecutors is common, even in countries that consider themselves to be shining examples of the rule of law.

It is foolish to wait until a hurricane hits you to strengthen your roof. Fix it now, when the sun is shining and the dark clouds have not gathered.


  • The writer, a Senior Counsel, is a former Nominated MP who was also attorney-general and public prosecutor of Singapore from 2008 to 2010.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2017, with the headline ‘The public prosecutor, politics and the rule of law’. Print Edition

 

Technology–The Liberator and Great Equalizer, says Dr. Bakri Musa


September 19, 2017

Technology–The Liberator and Great Equalizer

by Dr. M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

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The challenge for Malays and non-Malays in this global era is to cultivate an open mind because the alternative means depriving yourself of new opportunities.–Dr. M Bakri Musa

Modern technology, specifically digital, brings us to the outside world, and it to us. Today what happens in the isolated caves high in the mountains of Kabul can be recorded on a cell phone and then posted on the Web for the whole world to see. Even a repressive regime like China could not control the dissemination of images of its tanks bulldozing innocent citizens back at Tiananmen Square in 1989, though not for lack of trying.

The success of the Arab Jasmine Revolution owes much to this digital revolution. Through social networks like Facebook and Twitter, ordinary citizens communicated with each other in real time to organize massive demonstrations that brought down powerful leaders like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.

I assert that the digital technology is a much more powerful and consequential instrument of liberation than the AK47, hitherto (still is) the favorite with not-so-bright revolutionaries worldwide.

Eygpt’s Hosni Mubarak was derailed not by a gunman, like his predecessor Anwar Sadat, but by a social revolution made possible by the online social network. If there were to be a leader of that movement, it would be Google executive Wael Ghonim. Unlike earlier Arab revolutionaries who were military officers, this guy was, for lack of better word, a geek. What an incredible achievement what he had done! No one could have predicted that Hosni Mubarak, who only a few months previously was the most powerful man in the Arab world, would face charges of premeditated murder for the deaths of those protestors.

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Digital technology is not the only modern agent of liberation. Modern transportation has reduced if not removed the barrier of geography. Today I can fly from San Francisco to Kuala Lumpur in less time than it took my sister to get from Kuala Pilah to Teachers’ College in Kota Baru via Malayan Railway back in the 1950s.

Travel, in so far as it affords one the opportunity to experience different cultures and realities, can be liberating. While the digital revolution might afford a virtual reality on the convenience and safety of your sofa, travel lets you experience reality in its raw, unfiltered physical form.

The liberating effect of travel works both on the traveler as well as the host. This liberating result, however, is not guaranteed. Seeing how the rest of the world operates may not necessarily open up minds; in some it would result in the exact opposite.

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The Chinese Emperor of the 15th Century sent out explorers out to the vast Pacific and Indian Oceans. Far from opening up Chinese minds, those exotics foreign expeditions merely reaffirmed their smug superiority that they had nothing to learn from the barbarians outside, a manifestation of a collective “confirmation bias” at the societal level.

The Chinese were so confident of their superiority that they eschewed the need for further foreign explorations. They went further. They ordered the dismantling of their advanced and massive maritime infrastructures and banned the building of boats, declaring that to be frivolous and resource-wasting exercises.

Meanwhile the Europeans continued with theirs. The scale was considerably much less, their ships pale imitations of the Chinese. The length of Columbus’s flagship Santa Maria was less than half the width of Cheng Ho’s.

Unlike the ancient Chinese, the medieval Europeans had no pretensions of grandeur; they explored the world with an open mind. They had no delusions about their ways being the best; instead they observed in those foreign lands things they could take home, like tea and spices. It did not take them long to recognize the enormous potential in trading those commodities by introducing new culinary experiences to European palates. The Europeans also soon discovered that the Chinese had a voracious appetite for opium, which the Brits could secure with ease from India. Lucrative commercial domination soon led to the political variety, and thus colonialism was born.

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Why one culture reacted a certain way and another, the very opposite, is intriguing. In the final analysis, it boils down to a culture’s openness to new ideas and experiences, its collective open mindedness. The ancient Chinese had closed minds; the medieval Europeans, open.

Today some foreigners arrive in a new country, and on encountering an alien culture would retreat, fearing it would “contaminate” their pristine values. They would close ranks and congregate in their own little ghettoes, refusing to integrate with the native majority. We see this in America as well as Malaysia.

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“…the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Technology and Digitization) is empowering the empowering the economically disadvantaged by giving them access to digital networks, increasing the efficiency of organisations, improving medical care with personalised drugs and providing a technological solution to climate change”.–Dr. Kao Kim Hourn, President, The University of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.

 

Others view their new experiences as open opportunities and endless learning. Some are simply grateful to be given a new lease on life after escaping the wretchedness of their native land. Eastern Europeans who came to America early in the last century were grateful and thus more than eager to join the American mainstream. They readily gave up their old ways to integrate as quickly as possible into their new society. They learned English quickly and changed their names to make them sound more Anglo-Saxon, with Pawlinsky morphing into the less jaw-breaking Paul.

Even when they were actively discriminated against, and the early Jews, Irish and Italians in America definitely were, they continued to adopt American ways. They did not rush to build Italian or Jewish schools; instead they built their own English schools so their children would not be handicapped in integrating into mainstream American society. They did not consider such actions as repudiating or denigrating their own culture. Far from it! They realized that their own culture and ways of life would more likely survive if were to thrive and be successful in their adopted land.

Today St. Patrick Day and Octoberfest are celebrated more exuberantly in Chicago and Milwaukee respectively than in Dublin or Berlin.

It is tempting to attribute the contrasting reactions of early immigrants to America from Europe to later ones from Asia and Latin America to the differences in circumstances that prompted them to emigrate. The Europeans were forcibly thrown out of their native lands through pogroms or wars. In contrast, recent Asian and Latin American immigrants cross the border voluntarily, for the most part (the South Vietnamese being the most recent notable exception). The Europeans did not ever want to return to their homelands. By contrast, many recent Hispanics consider their stay in America temporary, remaining just long enough to accumulate some money so they could return and live comfortably back in their native land. As such, they do not feel compelled to learn English or in any way integrate into American society.

A similar “temporary abode” mentality occurred with immigrants from China and India into Malaysia early last century. Brought in by the colonials to work the tin mines and rubber plantations, their mindset was to work hard, accumulate enough savings, and then balik Tongsan (return to their motherland, China). Hence there was little need to learn the local language or adapt to local culture. They remained insular, xenophobic, and closed-minded.

They were completely different from the Chinese men and women who much earlier voluntarily settled in the Straits Settlement, the Peranakan. They absorbed many of the elements of Malay culture, including the language and attire. They were not obsessed with balik Tongsan. When the British were in charge, those Chinese learned English; in independent Malaysia, they worked with the majority Malays.

The challenge for Malays and non-Malays in this global era is to cultivate an open mind because the alternative means depriving yourself of new opportunities.