Never-ending bumi policy dashes hope for ‘New Malaysia’


December 31, 2019

by Dr.Kua Kia Soong 

Never-ending bumi policy dashes hope for ‘New Malaysia’

COMMENT | We will be starting the New Year with our hopes for a New Malaysia dashed by the announcement of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mahathir that the bumiputera agenda (expiry date 1990) will continue.

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The NEP stays for as long as The Malays have political power. Let us not kid ourselves. It is non-negotiable, although I believe it is a major obstacle to Malay economic advancement. Discrimination on the basis of race is a fact.–Din Merican. 

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As in 1970 when the New Economic Policy started, and again in 1990 when the New Economic Policy was replaced by the National Development Policy which then morphed into the New Economic Model in 2010, we are treated to the same ludicrous doublespeak.

Doublespeak has been defined by some as “the ability to accept two conflicting beliefs, opinions, or facts as valid and correct, simultaneously. Doublespeak may happen because of someone being willfully perverse or as a result of faulty logic.” It is of course a word coined by George Orwell in the novel 1984.

Consider this. In the process of announcing the continuation of this Never-ending Bumiputera Policy, the Prime Minister tells Malays to stand without the ‘tongkat’ that the government is going to continue to provide them.

Even more doublespeak was the Bersatu President Muhyiddin Yassin’s pious wish that the implementation of the new bumiputera agenda as part of the Pakatan Harapan government’s core policy “must contribute towards economic growth with benefits enjoyed by all Malaysians”.

Why is it not possible to have an Affirmative Action Policy for the B40?

I find it remarkable that after more than 60 years of affirmative action for the bumiputera, we still cannot find intellectuals who can devise a race-free affirmative action policy! Our scholars and intellectuals have been schooled in the best universities overseas but they still cannot come up with a policy that does not discriminate on the basis of race.

An exception is economist Dr. Mohamed Ariff, who spoke out against such racially discriminatory policies in 2013:

“The NEP had outlived its usefulness and the government must move affirmative action policies from race-based to needs-based. This policy shift will ultimately benefit the Malays as they form the bulk of 40 percent of households in the lower-income bracket… The government’s policies seem to be populist in nature and not focused… hand-outs should only be given in crises, such as famine, as they remove the incentive to work hard. The Malays would not be able to compete in a globalised environment if they continued to depend on hand-outs.”

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Prof Terence Gomez has often questioned the race-based criteria for wealth distribution:

“Why the continuing fixation with numbers when many Malaysians, among them even members of BN component parties, have questioned the veracity of these government-released ownership figures? Even if bumiputera equity ownership is increased to 30 percent, would this mean that wealth has been more equitably distributed among members of this community or between them and other Malaysians? And, most importantly, should we continue to perpetuate a discourse on equitable wealth distribution among Malaysians along racial lines?”

At the Bersatu general assembly, the Prime Minister has justified the continuation of this racially discriminatory policy on the grounds that more than 70 percent of the B40 are bumiputera. If that is so, why not have an affirmative action policy for the B40, which would be race-free and would be agreeable with our Icerd obligations? Why practise racial discrimination and be noted as one of the few pariah nations in the world community that do not ratify Icerd?

What happened to the slogans for ‘New Malaysia’, ‘Asian Renaissance’, ‘Malaysian Malaysia’? Have these all been empty slogans? The other leaders of Pakatan Harapan – Anwar Ibrahim, Lim Kit Siang, Mohamad Sabu, P Waythmoorthy, who have condemned racial discrimination in the past – have not said a word about the continuation of the bumiputera agenda announced by the prime minister. Does silence signify consent or indifference?

Litany of crony capitalists

Given the Pakatan Harapan manifesto, it was shocking, though sadly not surprising, to hear Bersatu vice-president Abdul Rashid Abdul Rahman (photo above) supporting delegates at its general assembly by calling for government resources to help the party. The former Election Commission chief said Bersatu must do all it could to win elections “by hook or by crook”. He said, “Looking at the situation now, we cannot defend our position as the governing party because the division chiefs are being left out of contracts.” Right, so contracts for the boys!

And was it surprising that throughout the years of the bumiputera agenda, Malaysia has featured high on The Economist’s crony capitalism index. Uncontrolled rent-seeking has allowed politically well-connected billionaires to double their wealth, thereby posing a threat to the free market, The Economist said. These rent-seeking industries include those easily monopolised, and that involve licensing or heavy state involvement, which it said was “prone to graft”.

This skewed bumiputera agenda is at the heart of the kleptocracy problem the Harapan government claims it wants to fix after the GE14.

From the 80s on, Mahathir’s privatisation of state assets ensured the divestment of state capital into the hands of favoured Malay crony capitalists. The success of the NEP in restructuring capital has, in the process, increased class differentiation within the Malay community. Thus, instead of targeting and providing strategic aid to the poor of all ethnic communities, the Umno ruling elite has continued to use the tried and trusted strategies of race-based cash aid and uplift plans aimed at bumiputeras.

Authoritarian populism of the Malaysian state

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The truth is, as Anne Munro-Kua has analysed in her book, the Malay ruling elite in Malaysia has relied on an authoritarian populist style of rule to stem the possibility of the peoples from different ethnic communities uniting into a class-based political force and to simultaneously ensure the continued political domination of the Malay-led coalition.

  • A communal populist approach continues to be used to deflect the economic grievances of the Malay labouring classes against capitalist exploitation into a race-based ideological allegiance to the Malay ruling elite. The results from the GE14 will further ensure Harapan rely on such populist policies to try to capture the Malay rural votes.

While bumiputera policies are intended to benefit all bumiputera, the reality is that these policies have been usurped by the privileged Malay elite whose weak enterprise culture and expertise has had damaging consequences for the economic health of the nation. The bureaucracy has grown in tandem with the populist measures by the state capitalist class to carve out bigger and bigger slices of the rural and urban economic pie.

Institutional obstacles to attaining high-income status

According to an IMF working paper, Malaysia, as compared to other Asian countries, faces a larger risk of slowdown stemming from institutional and macroeconomic factors. A recent Asia Foundation Report also points to a compelling need for Malaysia to shift from a race-based to a needs-based policy in order to address imbalances in society and improve the democratic process to ensure good governance and that the rule of law prevails. It points out that poor institutions could deter innovation, hamper the efficiency of resource allocation and reduce the returns to entrepreneurship.

The report goes on to reason that despite the numerous bold policy measures and long-term plans introduced by the government over the years, Malaysia’s economic progress continues to be plagued by a lack of innovation and skills, a low level of investments in technology, declining standards in education, relatively high labour cost and sluggish growth in productivity. These lagging factors can be traced to the continuation of a backward racial discriminatory policy.

Thus far, Malaysia’s education system has failed to produce the skills and talent required to take the country’s economy to the next level. A key obstacle lies in the government’s failure to promote a fair and open economy. The bumiputera policy and insufficient checks and balances continue to hamper the country’s economy, leading to poor practices in governance. Reforms, especially the replacement of racial discriminatory policies with race-free inclusive policies are critically needed to rally the nation to achieve its economic objectives.

Affirmative action based on need, not race

In Malaysia, since the passing of the deadline for the NEP in 1990, it makes developmental sense to implement a new socially just affirmative action policy based on need or class or sector. Thus, if Malays are predominantly in the rural agricultural sector, the poor Malay farmers would be eligible to benefit from such a needs-based policy while the rich Malay land-owning class would not. Only such a race-free policy can convince the people that the government is socially just, fair and democratic.

The cost and consequences of the racially discriminatory policy in Malaysia have been immense especially since the NEP in 1971. It has caused a crippling polarisation of Malaysian society and a costly brain drain.

While the Chinese middle and working classes in Malaysia have largely adapted to this public sector discrimination by finding ways to make a living in the private sector, this has not been so easy for working class Indians.

Many Malaysian Indians have found themselves marginalised, much like the African Americans in the US were, especially after the destruction of the traditional plantation economy. The cost of preferential treatment has also seen greater intra-community inequality, with higher class members creaming off the benefits and opportunities.

More potentially dangerous and insidious is the effect this widespread racial discrimination has had on ethnic relations in this country. Unity can only be promoted through an affirmative action policy based on need, sector or class, never on race.


KUA KIA SOONG is adviser to human rights NGO Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)..

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

UN man dumbfounded by Malaysia’s resistance to ICERD


December 26, 2018

UN man dumbfounded by Malaysia’s resistance to ICERD

Gün Kut says there is a misunderstanding over ratifying ICERD in Malaysia.

KUALA LUMPUR: A member of a United Nations (UN) committee tasked with monitoring the implementation of ICERD said Malaysia is now seen globally as accepting racial discrimination by not ratifying the international treaty.

This follows Putrajaya’s decision not to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) this month, which led to a mammoth rally to give “thanks”.

“When the United Nations Human Rights Council asked me to come to Kuala Lumpur to talk about ICERD, I had no idea I would be falling in the middle of a serious controversy. I thought it would be a standard meeting,” Gün Kut, a Turkish national who is part of the 18-member Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) based in Geneva, Switzerland, told a forum here.

He questioned how ICERD could become extremely politicised in Malaysia when it is an international convention for the protection of individuals against racial discrimination.

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“Racism and racial discrimination is everywhere, so no state, country or government can claim there is no discrimination.

“When you look close enough you may find cases often unheard of… yet it’s there,” Gün, speaking in his personal capacity, told a forum last week on strengthening national unity through the Federal Constitution and ratifying ICERD, organised by the Malaysian CSO-SDG Alliance at the Royal Lake Club here.

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Gün said Malaysia now found itself facing more pressure than ever because it seemed as if it did not accept non-discrimination.

“Which is not the case,” he said. “All I see is a misunderstanding”.

He said he still found it difficult to understand why Malaysia refused to sign the treaty.

“We look at who is not signing it (ICERD) and why. I have an explanation for Nauru. I have an explanation for North Korea. But what should I think about Malaysia?” he asked.

Gün lumped together Nauru, an island country in Micronesia northeast of Australia, North Korea and Malaysia as three countries which had not ratified ICERD without a good reason.

ICERD obliges parties to eliminate racial discrimination in all forms, including in public institutions as well as in government policies, the issue at the heart of the opposition from a number of Malay groups.

They say ratifying ICERD would undermine the special position of the Malays and the natives of Malaysia, including provisions to allow quotas in public institutions.

They also oppose the ICERD’s timeline on member countries to end affirmative action programmes and benefits, which they say would sound the death knell for Malaysia’s decades-old pro-Bumiputera policy.

But Gün said the treaty would never “insist” on a time frame for affirmation action policies to be stopped as that discretion lay with the respective member states.

“It is up to the government to decide how they wish to act on our recommendations. This is not a peace treaty. It is a convention which creates a mechanism for states to voluntarily follow international standards.

“It is for the government to commit itself (to ICERD) vis-a-vis its own people.”

He said governments voluntarily signed ICERD “according to the letter and spirit of the convention” while dealing with “issues in their territories” on racial discrimination, saying this could be customised.

“But if it is seen as something that gives a defined group preferential treatment forever, that’s a different matter,” Gün said.

“If positive measures go beyond redress for victims of one particular group… then… that would be discrimination.”

However, Gün said ICERD could intervene in issues that intersected with race, such as religious conflicts among ethnic groups “provided that there is discrimination on the basis of race that so happens to involve religion”.

Asked why CERD did not seek an audience in Parliament to explain to MPs about ICERD, Gün said this would make it seem like the UN was pushy.

“It would be difficult to promote ICERD to a non-signatory state and put pressure on member states. It would backfire, and seem as though the UN is imposing something (forcefully),” he said.

The debate over the ICERD followed a speech by Dr. Mahathir Mohamad at the United Nations General Assembly in September, 2018 where he said his government would ratify the remaining human rights conventions endorsed by the world body.

But the Prime Minister admitted that this would be difficult to do, and his office later announced that ICERD would not be ratified.

Malaysia has only signed three UN treaties since 1995.

 

 

New hopes or old fears for Malaysia?


December 24, 2018

New hopes or old fears for Malaysia?

by  Clive Kessler, UNSW

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2018/12/23/new-hopes-or-old-fears-for-malaysia/

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 Against the odds, and against most informed predictions, Malaysia’s 14th general elections in May 2018 produced a change of government. The Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition under Najib Razak, which had been in power since 1957, was ousted by the opposition Pakatan Harapan (PH) consortium led by Mahathir Mohamad, a now second-time Prime Minister. What had long seemed Malaysia’s permanent government was humbled, and its anchor party — the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) — has been thrown into disarray.

The new government — a ruling bloc without a clear agenda brought together by Mahathir’s political wiliness, experience and familiarity with the Malaysian state — entered office largely unprepared. PH prevailed not upon its own political strength but as the vehicle and beneficiary of a groundswell of growing civil society activism.

In its first six months in power, PH has signalled its key intentions by unshackling the long-suborned judiciary and initiating the prosecution of those responsible for the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) financial scandal. It has also made strong appointments to key positions, including the Attorney- General and Chair of the Election Commission.

 

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Speculation continues about the timing and implications of the political succession from Mahathir to Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the People’s Justice Party.

But its long-term strategic course remains vague. Speculation continues about the timing and implications of the political succession from Mahathir to Anwar Ibrahim, leader of the People’s Justice Party. Whereas Mahathir has long pulled the levers of state power, Anwar is less experienced. While Mahathir is a more single-minded promoter of Malay interests, he is viscerally a religious anti-clericalist. Anwar may be inter-communally more inclusive, but he is a soft and sentimental Islamist who has been amenable to hard Islamist influence.

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As the PH regime feels its way forward, its adversaries are biding their time, waiting for it to stumble. But PH has some breathing space for the moment. It is hugely benefiting from the post-election collapse of the once commanding UMNO. Many of its elected state and federal representatives are defecting to the component parties of PH. Others are gravitating towards the Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS).

But the longer-term implications of this tendency are towards the polarisation of Malaysian society and political life. There is a brutal contest between the fragmented forces of social democratic pluralism within the PH and religiously-driven Malay ethno-sectarians, made up of what is left of the UMNO and PAS.

Momentum is with the Malay ethno-sectarians. They are reviving efforts that began under Najib’s pre-election entente with PAS to gradually affirm the equal standing of the sharia and civil courts. Through new statutory reform of the civil law, they aim to increase the punishments for violations of Islamic criminal law — such as the consumption of alcohol and daytime eating during the fasting month — that the sharia courts may impose.

Such initiatives by the PAS–UMNO opposition will be used to place growing pressure on the authority of a divided, uncertain, unstable, and hesitating PH ruling bloc. The PH government arose from bottom-up mobilisation, not coherent opposition party strength. Its adversaries now seek to bring it down by recourse to far more rowdy and intimidating forms of the same strategy.

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As 2018 ends, the new government’s will is being jointly tested by PAS and UMNO, who marked the annual UN Human Rights Day by mobilising demonstrations and street-level opposition against the PH-promised proposal to ratify the UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. PAS and UMNO argue that ratification is incompatible with the Malaysian Constitution, whereas PH says it is not.

The division here turns upon the revisionist interpretation of the Constitution that UMNO began to promote in the 1980s, when its ideologues confected the notion that entrenched within the 1957 independence constitution — as the key tenet of the nation’s founding ‘social contract’ — is the principle of Ketuanan Melayu (Malay ascendancy). This view embodies the Malay instance of so-called ethnic nationalism: the powerful political fantasy of living exclusively among one’s own people, people of one’s own kind, on one’s own preferred cultural and historical terms, undiluted and undisturbed by strangers and outsiders.

The PH government’s opponents proclaim that Islam is in peril, and that no one will save it but the Malays. They also argue that Malays, and their stake in the country, are in jeopardy and they can only be upheld through Islam. Devised to promote the UMNO–PAS entente since 2013, this rhetoric is now the theme of the growing opposition assault upon the PH government. It will provide the leitmotif of this new political era.

Clive Kessler is Emeritus Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of New South Wales.

This article is part of an EAF special feature series on 2018 in review and the year ahead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Riddance to 2018


December 23, 2018

Good Riddance to 2018

Those who oppose democracy, the rule of law, and multilateralism have had a good year. But there have also been signs suggesting that those who uphold these principles have not lost the will to fight back.

MADRID – Sadly, 2018 will not be remembered as a year of political and diplomatic success. Though the international order had already begun to erode in 2017, the global political environment became downright chaotic, combustible, and hostile this year. That is no coincidence, as these are perhaps the three adjectives that best describe the United States under President Donald Trump.

Since January 2018, when the Trump administration announced tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines, the year has been marked by an escalating “trade war,” waged primarily – but not exclusively – by the US against China. The ongoing tariff disputes have seriously undermined the World Trade Organization and deepened mutual distrust in Sino-American relations.

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For its part, China this year eliminated presidential term limits, raising fears that President Xi Jinping’s so-called new era will end the period of collective leadership ushered in by Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, which were themselves a corrective to Mao’s cult of personality. This move could also herald a further deviation from Deng’s trademark foreign-policy restraint.

Similarly, Russian President Vladimir Putin was reelected in March, to no one’s surprise. Under Putin, Russia has been re-emerging as a geopolitical force. And yet, its economy is essentially stagnant, owing in part to its excessive dependence on hydrocarbons. In the absence of growth, Putin has relied on foreign policy to shore up his domestic popularity.

For example, Putin’s campaign press secretary welcomed the British government’s response to the nerve-agent attack on Sergei and Yulia Skripal, because it may have mobilized Putin’s supporters in the run-up to the presidential election. And the Kremlin’s recent decision to blockade Ukrainian ports in the Sea of Azov may also have been designed to boost Putin’s domestic approval rating, among other goals. The danger now is that both the US and Russia will cease to implement the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, posing a new and acute threat to Europe in particular.

 

Meanwhile, the Middle East has continued to serve as a battlefield for some of the world’s most violent conflicts. Though the Islamic State (ISIS) has continued to lose ground, it is far from defeated – contrary to what Trump has claimed – and the death toll in Syria’s civil war continues to climb. Likewise, the humanitarian calamity in Yemen has deepened, though negotiations that ran aground in 2016 have at least resumed and made some progress. In Afghanistan, what is widely regarded as the longest-running war in US history continues, and it is estimated that the Taliban now controls more territory than at any time since their government was overthrown in 2001.

Despite some recent developments in the aforementioned conflicts, the underpinnings of the Trump administration’s general strategy in the Middle East remained intact in 2018. The US has reaffirmed its support for the axis of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, which it regards as a bulwark against Iran. In May, the Trump administration moved the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. That same month, it abandoned the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and announced an abusive re-imposition of extraterritorial sanctions, which reflects the increasing .

Moreover, by siding with the Saudi government over his own intelligence agencies in the of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October, Trump has made clear that opposing Iran and purchasing US arms is one of the quickest ways to his heart. The result of his broad approach to the Middle East has been to empower military hardliners throughout the region. In fact, Israel and Iran this year engaged in their first-ever direct military encounter.

 

Trump has also contributed, in one way or another, to the advance of populism around the world in 2018. In Latin America, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro have shown that “populism” can encompass diverse ideologies. While both claim to speak for “the people” against “the elites,” the leftist AMLO was elected partly as a rebuke to Trump, whereas Bolsonaro embraces a Trump-like brand of right-wing nationalism, and enjoys the support of many Brazilian elites.

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Trump has also contributed, in one way or another, to the advance of populism around the world in 2018. In Latin America, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) and Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro have shown that “populism” can encompass diverse ideologies. While both claim to speak for “the people” against “the elites,” the leftist AMLO was elected partly as a rebuke to Trump, whereas Bolsonaro embraces a Trump-like brand of right-wing nationalism, and enjoys the support of many Brazilian elites.

The Russian philosopher Aleksandr Dugin, often regarded as one of the Kremlin’s main ideologues, argues that “populism should unite right-wing values with socialism, social justice, and anti-capitalism.” This “integral populism,” he believes, is perfectly illustrated by Italy’s current governing coalition, which comprises the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the nationalist League party.

In October, Italy’s government instigated a conflict with the European Union (which has fortunately subsided) by proposing a budget that defied EU fiscal rules. Italy’s leaders justified their policies in the name of an outdated interpretation of “sovereignty,” one similar to that of the United Kingdom’s Brexiteers, whose haphazardness has left the UK’s future shrouded in uncertainty.

There were a few positive developments in 2018. Certainly, the easing of tensions between the US and North Korea, and the even deeper rapprochement between North and South Korea, should be welcomed. Much credit belongs to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who used the occasion of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang to reach out to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Trump’s subsequent turn toward diplomacy – which led to his historic summit with Kim – should also be applauded, though his administration has yet to achieve anything more than symbolic progress toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

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The result of the US midterm elections was also good news. Democratic control of the House of Representatives means that, from January 2019, there will be more checks on Trump’s policies. And there have been welcome developments in the Republican-controlled Senate, where a recent resolution condemning Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of Khashoggi, and another to end US support for the Saudi campaign in Yemen, passed with bipartisan support.

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In Europe, the prospects for 2019 will depend primarily on three factors: Brexit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron’s push for EU reform, and the European Parliament election in May. In each case, one hopes that the supporters of democracy, the rule of law, European integration, and multilateralism will prevail.

Those who oppose these principles have had a rather good year. But they would be mistaken to think that those who uphold them have lost the will – and the ability – to cultivate a spirit of cooperation and harmony.

*Javier Solana was EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Secretary-General of NATO, and Foreign Minister of Spain. He is currently President of the ESADE Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics, Distinguished Fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Europe.

 

 

The dangers of feudalism in Malaysian society


December 7,2018

The dangers of feudalism in Malaysian society

 

Image result for dr syed hussein alatas--"Intellectuals in Developing Societies”.
 

We Malaysians are so used to feudalism. The culture of patronage and neo-feudalism is firmly entrenched in the 21st century Malaysian mindset. A feeding tube, through which “bebalisma” trickles, regularly nourishes this culture.

Bebalisma is a concept encompassing the notions of foolishness, idiocy, brainlessness, irresponsibility, unintelligence and half-wittedness. The late Syed Hussein Alatas, lexiconnoisseur par excellence, devoted an entire chapter to bebalisma (Chapter 3) in his masterpiece, “Intellectuals in Developing Societies”.

Image result for dr syed hussein alatas--"Intellectuals in Developing Societies”.

A Corrupt and Disgraced feudal  Malay Politician

The development of Malaysia’s post-colonial politics has been chequered by these notions. Our political history exposes an intellectual development that has gone awry. We can blame none other than our enduring culture of patronage and neo-feudalism. It continues to be the assembly line in which bebalisma is efficiently manufactured, packaged and recycled for eager market consumption. Post-May 9 political transformations have not been spared. I take note of a few developments post-GE14 to demonstrate that feudalism is very much alive despite prevailing anti-corruption, anti-racist and anti-bigotry sentiments that brought the Barisan Nasional administration to its knees.

In October, the central leadership of DAP rightfully called for the prohibition of elected representatives and councillors from accepting titles and awards while still in active political service. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong and state rulers were informed of DAP’s decision that titles and awards should be accepted only after the awardees have proven themselves in active service with positive results.

Awards during service is unjustified and leads to complacency. Given the feudal mentality of Malaysian society, a Datuk, Datuk Seri, Tan Sri or Tun has the upper hand in many aspects of governance including access to corrupt practices. We have seen in the previous administration how this abuse gained momentum, and the attention it was given by the media. For instance, in 2017 a series of print and online newspapers carried stories of “Datuks breaking the law”. One newspaper even suggested that at the rate so many Datuks and Datuk Seris are getting into trouble, “the Prison Department might have to build a new wing just to house these VIPs”. The editor of that newspaper had a welcoming tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. However, such humour is premised on acceptable norms but unacceptable cultural values.

Datuks and Tan Sris are VIPs, but whether they are given preferential treatment or not as criminals should not be open to debate. I would like to see more of our media focusing on the phenomenon that our feudal past should stay in the past. Furthermore, the donning of the notorious “orange lock-up” attire is befitting for all criminals, irrespective of whether they were former leaders in government. A criminal is a criminal. Society was cheated, individuals were hurt, citizens’ rights were looted. A title should not have the power to minimise such violations of societal values.

The general public and the ruling elite must change the prevailing perception of what it means to be respected in society. Feudal notions of respect are superficial and empty. An individual earns respect based on services rendered, not on how many lines your name is.

These services have to benefit a majority rather than a select minority with vested interests. The feudal attitude that is so prevalent in Malaysia has resulted in what Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has bemoaned for a long time, more so since he took office in May this year. The sense of shame among Malaysians is at an all-time low.

But how can one feel ashamed of being corrupt or committing academic fraud if punishment is going to be only skin-deep? Feudalism dictates leniency. Since the release of the National Unity Consultative Council blueprint in October this year, there has been a renewed urgency to tackle racial and religious tensions. Last week’s disturbing incident in Seafield, USJ 25 (Sri Maha Mariamman temple), though, tells me more about the misperception of values as opposed to politicking based on race and religion. Let me explain.

Six civilians were injured, including a policeman and a firefighter. The latter caught the media’s attention as his injuries were critical, apart from him being Malay. What caught my attention though were the appeals made by readers in the comment sections of many online media portals. Many called for an end to senseless bickering by politicians, and an end to politicising race and religion by the opposition. Some made visceral attacks targeted at Malays, while others from various races appealed for normality. One non-Malay reader commented that the Malays are a peace-loving, kind, polite and “soft” people, implying that the temple fracas had nothing to do with race or religion.

I agree, but I also worry that these positive Malay traits are fodder for the perpetuation of a feudal mindset in our society. Manipulators will certainly take advantage of such noble characteristics to claim subservience from the hinterland. Rural folk revere their leaders, especially those with titles. They are regarded as orang besar. The reality is that most rural Malaysians have blind loyalty for their titled heroes. Ongoing support for the likes of our previous leaders and their respective parties is a strong case in point. However, the values of being a kind, polite and “soft” people must be divorced from the backward feudal ideology that has been etched into the Malaysian mindset. The only way we can evolve from this feudal pit of inequality is through education.

Our schools should continue teaching universal moral values. Religious education should be separate from our national education curriculum. More time and resources should be devoted to the teaching of the negative aspects of feudalism and its detrimental effect on the social contract.

Education Minister Maszlee Malik’s call to include the 1MDB scandal in Malaysian history is welcomed. However, if this is not deeply thought through, young minds will fail to see a connection between feudal patronage and corruption. After all, the 1MDB scandal was engineered by many orang besar. Similarly, Malaysians are taught in school to be polite from young, but they should also be taught that stating the honorific Datuk or Tan Sri many times in a single sentence when addressing an orang besar is unnecessary. It does not make the conversation more polite or morally elevated. All it does is prolong an irrational hierarchy in social interaction.

Feudalism being what it is – reverence of a leader, a personality rather than adherence to an ideology – opens society to blatant manipulation. Citizens’ representatives should also be given the choice of whether to accept an honorific or not, without any character assassination should he/she refuse it. In our culture, it is believed that not accepting such awards would be an insult to the Agong or the rulers. On the contrary, I see such a refusal as humble, and an example of a dedicated and selfless “servant” of society. These values should be revered. Such an act of refusal demonstrates great integrity and decency. A feudal mind, however, would think otherwise. A feudal mind would value the financial perks and parking in a no-parking zone.

The overwhelming feeling of privilege and self-deservedness among Malaysians is staggering. For instance, in the world of academia, the highest award given is Emeritus. In Malaysia, we also have Profesor Ulung and Profesor DiRaja, both of which do not make any sense in the global scholarly arena.

On an international level, a professor has reached the highest level of scholarly achievement in a particular academic field based on the decades he or she has devoted to teaching, research and publishing. Recognition of profound academic achievement is also given if students of such professors have achieved their own pristine level of scholarship. Both student and mentor are highly regarded, irrespective of who has been awarded the honorific.

Also, merely the quantity of publications should not be the litmus test of success or failure in the academia. Internationally, academics are given high recognition for quality publications – articles and books that offer cutting-edge discoveries, new theories and creative interpretations that can potentially improve the way we live. An academic could write only a single magnus opus throughout his or her career, and yet go down in history as a legendary scholar and a great mind.

The award of Professor Emeritus should not be dished out irresponsibly. At the monthly staff assembly in the Prime Minister’s Department earlier this week, Dr.Mahathir reminded the government and members of the administration that the power bestowed on them means that they should feel great responsibility to avoid self-benefit and self-interest. Instead, “with great power comes great responsibility”.

Chapter 4 of Alatas’ “Intellectuals in Developing Societies” is entitled “The Fools in Developing Societies”. A serious expose is presented on a somewhat “foolish” topic. The state of being a fool in society is prolonged by titled individuals. These decorated individuals come a dime a dozen. If the deserving are honoured, there would be fewer fools in society. If we learn to appreciate the value of excellence and hard work, we would create a society that strives for such an achievement. In the process the level of competency in all aspects of society will be raised.

In the current Malaysian context, H.G Wells’ “martian red weed” (in “The War of the Worlds”) represents how bebalisma has encroached into every nook and cranny of our lives. It is proving to be a herculean task to re-programme such a mindset.

Many in the top political intelligentsia, the business community and society in general seem oblivious to the “invisible hand” of feudalism. We complain a lot about corruption, racism, bigotry, poor quality of education, the increase in consumer prices, high road accident rates, lack of academic freedom, etc. I hope we will continue to find solutions to these serious problems by invoking a more anti-feudalism, anti-bebalisma narrative.

Thankfully there are segments of Malaysian society which have consciously rejected this feudal hierarchy of “idol worship”. However, our education system must become more involved as the young need to be taught that feudalism is not acceptable just because it is part of our tradition.

* The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

 

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A Tale of Two Malays


December 5, 2018

A Tale of Two Malays

by Tajuddin Rasdi

www. freemalaysiatoday.com

Image result for Asri and Mahathir

In this article I present my views on the different responses and approaches of two Malay and Muslim educated leaders to raise questions about nation building. The two personalities  are Prime Minister Dr Mahathir. Mohamad and the “respected” mufti, scholar and academic Dr. Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin.

The scenario in question is the recent Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman temple incident. I do not view the temple incident as a racial one even though the police have established that the clash was between 50 Malay “hired thugs” and the devotees of the temple.

Image result for Asri and Mahathir

From the excellent police report and Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin’s statement, we can gather that these Malays were hired to solve the problem of vacating the land in order for commercial development to take place. The company to which the land belongs has since denied it was involved in hiring thugs.

Image result for Malay thugs

I have heard whispers of this kind of thuggery being undertaken to resolve the problem of vacating people from state and private land. I have also heard whispers that police often turn a blind eye to such actions. I hope these whispers are not true but the glaring events at the Seafield temple have confirmed my personal fears that there may be truth to many of them.

Whatever the real and intended purpose of the Malay “thugs”, I am convinced it was not a racial conflict but a simple “Melayu-thugs-for-hire” one. But politicians, clerics and opportunists have grabbed on to this incident to colour it as a racial conflict. When I read that 70 Malays turned up later that day, I feared the worst but thankfully, our police force was at its best.

When Asri came out with a forceful statement about taking a harsh approach in dealing with “illegal temples”, I feared it would only aggravate the situation, especially with sentiments over the ICERD still strong.

Although Mahathir has reversed the government’s earlier decision to ratify the UN treaty, many, including the “respected” cleric, seem to be egging on a demonstration that I fear could pull this country apart. We know the damage that was done by the previous Jamal Yunos-led Red Shirts rally.

Here I wish to draw attention to the approach of Mahathir on the temple issue: he showed exemplary leadership in putting Malaysian, “Malaysianness” and nation building above the idea of “Malayness”, “Islamicness” and “Tanah Melayu-ness” of those in PAS and Umno, and now – sadly – Asri.

One excellent character trait of Mahathir that I admire is that he can stand firm, no matter what the ulama, royalty and politicians throw at him. From his writings, speeches I have heard and media statements, Mahathir does not come out as a simplistic “my race above all” thinker like Zahid Hamidi and Ibrahim Ali, nor does he comes off as an “Islam above all” thinker like Hadi Awang or Asri.

He has his own personal views of Islam which I have read, his own idea about Malaysia’s history as well as his own personal formula on how Malays should change. He even admitted his failure to change the Malays, giving as proof the vast corruption by Malay elites, including in UMNO and the civil service. He dumped UMNOo… twice! Yes, UMNO dumped him once, but he did it twice. He is even said to be engineering UMNO’s elimination and a reboot of his own version of “Malay-Malaysianess” in PPBM.

Personally, I think it will never work as he is too old and may not have time to train Malays in the new “Malay-Malaysian ideology” so that they become progressive and critical-minded Muslims with a Japanese work culture.

That model of “Malay-Malaysianess” never took off even when he was the leader of UMNO.

But what I admire most about the way Mahathir handled the Seafield issue is that he was decisive and humanitarian and he did it with a Malaysian finesse. The government has ordered the status quo to be maintained and for the rule of law to take effect.

The matter has been taken to the courts again by some devotees, and a few millionaires have started a campaign to raise funds to buy the land from the owner. I suspect Mahathir may have had a hand in the idea of buying the land.

Mahathir may have lost his credibility as a Malay, a Muslim and a leader among kampung-educated Malays, bandar-educated Malays and university-educated Malays. But he has won my respect and that of the non-Malays and the very, very few thinking Malays.

He has lost the Malay political mileage that is badly needed to restabilise Malaysia as well as prop him up as the PPBM and Pakatan Harapan leader. I think it is a costly price that he has paid personally, but Mahathir is no stranger to such sacrifices.

What matters to him is a clear and unadulterated vision of where Malaysia should be heading, a vision very few Malays understand and are willing to follow, both in the opposition and in the government. Mahathir has put his political career on the line for the sake of a peaceful Malaysia.

The same can be said about the ICERD issue. Many have criticised him for “backtracking” from his tough talk at the UN but I think it takes guts and a visionary leader to go against one’s “reputable standing” and make decisions within a dynamically changing socio-political scenario. Other politicians would have taken more time to weigh the political cost and delay their decision, but Mahathir was quick, decisive and clear over both the ICERD and Seafield issues.

In contrast, let us look at how Asri responded to the temple issue. A day after the reported clash, I was shocked to read his harsh statements encouraging the authorities to come down hard on the Indians with regard to the many “kuil haram” on land not belonging to that community. Although many Muslims I know will side with him in this very popular statement, I think it is selfish and immature with respect to the idea of nation building.

Although I have admired Asri for his academic and religious views framed in an intellectual stand on many issues, his statements suggest his stand on Indians is far from friendly. The first clue to this attitude was given in his Facebook posting about Hindus attacking Muslims in India as well as the burning of widows. He made those statements in defending controversial preacher Zakir Naik, who is wanted in India. I have also heard his veiled attempts at making Hinduism look bad by associating it with the abhorrent caste system.

I will answer his criticism of the Hindu religion by giving three points. Firstly, it is most difficult to discern the principles of a religion from the cultural practices of the adherents. Until I read 20,000 hadiths, I never knew that Malays were practising “Melayu-Islam” and not the Prophet’s Islam. When Asri criticised harshly many of the attitudes and practices of the Malays using hard textual evidence, many Malays despised him but I agreed 100% with what he said concerning this matter.

I have read the hadiths and so I know. Most Malays do not read and they depend on clerics like Azhar Idrus or Zamihan Mat Zin to fill them in on what Islam is. I am 200% behind Asri in his “war” against the Malays and their ethno-centric interpretation of Islam.

Having said that, I have to ask: does Asri know enough about Hinduism to separate the cultural practices or attitudes from the philosophical teachings of that religion? I have read several books on Hinduism, including the Bhagavad Gita and the meditative techniques stemming from that faith, and I find them filled with the wisdom of the ages.

Hindus dissected the self, the ego and the mind long before Prophet Muhammad was born. Much of the concept of “self” by Muslim scholars such as al-Ghazali and Rumi echo the same teachings – not because they have been “influenced” but because of the generality and universality of the messages.

Most Muslims have a narrow window, framed in the 1,400-year scholarship of Islam, and refuse to take a walk outside of that box into the world of human civilisation and strive to understand who they are and how best to behave or act in a community of communities.

Secondly, with respect to the caste system, most societies, even the Malays, practise them. Abdullah Munshi detested the difference in punishments meted out to peasants, guards of the Rajas, the bangsawan or aristocrats and the Rajas, saying they were un-Islamic. To him all men were equal under Allah. I have many Hindu friends and I have never heard of widow burning or the imposition of the caste system; neither have I heard them threaten people of other faiths.

Thirdly, if Asri considers all Hindus as terrorists for atrocities committed against Muslims by some, then what of the Islamic State fanatics bombing here and bombing there, using lorries and other vehicles to knock down and kill non-Muslim civilians? Certainly Asri would point out that Islam the religion is free from such heinous acts and that those who do these things do not reflect Islam which offers a message of peace.

If that is so, why can’t Asri see the “terrorist Hindus” as a party totally different from Malaysian Hindus such as P Ramasamy and P Waytha Moorthy who are fighting peacefully in the political arena for the betterment of their own race? Clearly Asri has not acted with wisdom or out of consideration for the peace and safety of the many Malaysians in making such statements. He thought only about his own race and faith.

Thus, in conclusion, we can see two sons of Malaysia, two sons of the Melayu culture and two sons of Islam having two divergent approaches and attitudes towards the idea of building a peaceful nation.

One of them cares about all life in Malaysia while the other seems to care only about those of his race and religion. One has a long view of Malaysia’s future in the global community while the other has views limited to what is important to his own faith.

Malays have to decide who they should follow.

* The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

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