Great Anniversary, Malaysiakini

December 1, 2016

Great Anniversary, Malaysiakini

Premesh Chandran, Steven Gan, Fathi Aris Omar and the great team of talented and brave journalists, you are very special Malaysians. My wife Dr. Kamsiah Haider and I admire your determination to bring to us in Malaysia and others around the world news and views on a timely basis. Please accept our sincere good wishes for many more years of exemplary journalism.

We  stand with you and, as loyal subscribers, we thank you for keeping us posted on developments about our country. You will remain our web-paper of first choice because you are the best in the business. 

To mark the occasion, your 17th Anniversary, Dr. Kamsiah Haider and I dedicate Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ulysses”  Tennyson to you all, our fellow travelers in search of the truth. Yes, we are not faultless. But we are Malaysians who care for our country and are not afraid to speak the truth to power.  May Alfred  Lord Tennyson inspire you to continue on a journey to do your best for Malaysia, and never to yield.–Dr. Kamsiah Haider and Din Merican

 Seventeen years of Courageous Journalism


A long road traversed, dodging potholes, negotiating sharp bends as well as running into roadblocks and litigation hurdles.

Borne out of the intention to break the government’s monopoly on truth, Malaysiakini has helped provide a space for voices that are often unheard and ignored. Not surprisingly, the often-hurled allegation is that the news portal is pro-opposition. The answer is of course an emphatic ‘No!’

Image result for The Malaysiakini Team

The dedicated Malaysiakini Team

Such allegations stem from what is known as the law of the excluded middle, where what is not white must therefore be black – there is no third alternative. In other words, if you are not with us, you must be against us.

Detractors argue that since greater prominence is given to those critical of the government, as opposed to others, Malaysiakini must therefore be taking sides.

The first part of the argument is valid, but this does not lend credence to the notion that the editorial team therefore comprises opposition cheerleaders.

There are two reasons for this.

The first is that those in the opposition are more productive in generating media statements and more active in engaging with the media, compared to their ruling counterparts, where apart from a handful, the rest choose to remain silent or prefer to confide in acquiescing media organisations.

The second, and more important factor, is that the media, as the fourth estate, must help create a level-playing field in the information arena.

Image result for Najib Razak

The undeniable fact in Malaysia is that the ruling BN and its component parties still control the narrative in almost all major newspapers, radio and TV stations.

In addition, despite repeated denials, the actions of certain powerful individuals helming institutions of supreme importance in our country suggest clear bias in favour of the government.

When the chasm of disparity in influence is so wide, it would be a disservice to justice if Malaysiakini provided equal space to all.Indeed, when power is so lopsided, giving equal coverage to both sides only maintains injustice. To overcome this, media organisations must give a greater say to those without a voice, those without power, and those without influence.

We seek to challenge unequal power structures, not to reproduce them. However, if and when the scales are level, Malaysiakini too will provide a balanced space for both sides.That said, Malaysiakini is non-partisan. Our role is to tell truth to power and hold them to account, be they BN or opposition politicians.

But that doesn’t mean we are apolitical. We take strong editorial stance on many issues we hold dear – good governance, anti-corruption, independence of the judiciary, press freedom and the like.

However, this does not mean Malaysiakini provides the opposition with a carte blanche. The news portal recognises that the opposition is no longer a voice in the political wilderness but rather a government-in-waiting – it is already in power in some states – and therefore it too must be held accountable.

And while Malaysiakini supports freedom of expression, it must be stressed that such liberties come with responsibility – for both writers and readers.

Malaysiakini encourages the contestation of ideas, but it is just as important to ensure that this democratic process is carried out in a civil manner, without resorting to personal attacks, racist and sexist remarks or lewd comments.

One of the most common complaints against Malaysiakini is that the news portal spins articles, ostensibly to further a certain agenda.

More often than not, it is the politician who does a 180-degree turn after shooting his or her mouth off – and then blames the media when the heat is turned on.

But does this mean Malaysiakini is faultless?The answer is ‘No’. We do make mistakes. But unlike politicians, we admit and apologise instead of blaming others.


UMNO: Using Scare Tactics to subdue the Malays in the name of Unity

June 6, 2016

UMNO: Using Scare Tactics to subdue the Malays in the name of Unity

by Mariam Mokhtar

Many pro-government NGOs and politicians who keep talking about uniting the Malays lack political maturity and leadership qualities. They call for such unity by using scare tactics. They talk of a government takeover by non-Malays and invasions by foreign powers, and they decry some Malays’ alleged treachery and ingratitude to institutions like MARA.

The common thread is the emotional blackmail of the Malays. The idea is to make them think that their community is under threat and that it is incumbent upon every Malay to preserve racial unity.

In 2012, at a meeting with the then Deputy PM, Muhyiddin Yassin, some foreign visitors were reported to have praised Malaysia for being an exemplary Muslim country. They apparently were eager to put into practice in their countries what they had seen in Malaysia.

Did these foreigners accept corrupt Muslim leaders who use ingenious methods to cling to power? Were they not told about the teachers who were racist towards their pupils and who warned students not to interact with people of different faiths? Did they not know that our women are treated shabbily?

All became clear when it was revealed that the visitors were from war-torn nations like Afghanistan, Palestine and Somalia. By their standards, Malaysia is marvelous. Would they have been as full of praise if they had come from Muslim countries like Indonesia or Turkey?

Before GE13, the film “Tanda Putera” was frequently used as a tool to incite hatred of the Chinese and at the same time frighten the Malays. The screening was restricted to Malay audiences and the message was clear. The viewers were frightened into thinking that an opposition victory in the election would pave the way for the Chinese, Christians and communists to overrun Malaysia.

Instead of using “Tanda Putera” to foment hatred of the Chinese, the government should take up a suggestion made by Suaram Advisor Kua Kia Soong and make public the details of the May 13 incident.

Kua alleges that the racial violence of May 1969 was orchestrated. His allegations are based on declassified documents kept in the British Public Record Office.

In 2012, the Perkasa chief, Ibrahim Ali, warned the late Karpal Singh to respect the Muslims’ right to have hudud laws introduced in the country. Despite his rhetoric of hatred and his fear-mongering, Ibrahim was not censured by the authorities.

He said that opposing hudud was like “stepping on the heads of Muslims”. According to him, it is the Malays’ democratic right to have whatever they want because they form the majority of the Malaysian population.

He also attacked those he considered as “liberal Muslims”, saying, “When other races insult Islam, they don’t speak out against them. Why didn’t they say something when pig heads were hurled into a mosque? But when paint is splashed onto a church, they make a lot of noise.”

Calling people traitors is a tactic frequently used to control the Malays. NGOs like Perkasa like to pick on Malays who criticise fellow Muslims who attack people of other faiths. They label the critical Malays as people who have “gone against Islam” and are ungrateful for the opportunities the government has given them to improve their lives.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

A Poem to end a Weekend

February 28, 2016

The Second Coming–An Ode to The Middle East(Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan)

By William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Source: The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989)

Poetry: Ode on a Grecian Urn

October 18, 2015

How I miss John Keat’s Ode on a Grecian Urn


        “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
                Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”–John Keats

Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

The Big University

October 7, 2015

The Big University

by David Brooks

John HarvardJohn Harvard-Founder

“Education…means emancipation. “It means light and liberty. It means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth, the light only by which men can be free. To deny education to any people is one of the greatest crimes against human nature.”–Frederick Douglass

Many American universities were founded as religious institutions, explicitly designed to cultivate their students’ spiritual and moral natures. But over the course of the 20th century they became officially or effectively secular.

Religious rituals like mandatory chapel services were dropped. Academic research and teaching replaced character formation at the core of the university’s mission.

Administrators and professors dropped spiritual language and moral prescription either because they didn’t know what to say or because they didn’t want to alienate any part of their diversifying constituencies. The humanities departments became less important, while parents ratcheted up the pressure for career training.

Universities are more professional and glittering than ever, but in some ways there is emptiness deep down. Students are taught how to do things, but many are not forced to reflect on why they should do them or what we are here for. They are given many career options, but they are on their own when it comes to developing criteria to determine which vocation would lead to the fullest life.

But things are changing. On almost every campus faculty members and administrators are trying to stem the careerist tide and to widen the system’s narrow definition of achievement. Institutes are popping up — with interdisciplinary humanities programs and even meditation centers — designed to cultivate the whole student: the emotional, spiritual and moral sides and not just the intellectual.

Yale CampusYale University@New Haven

Technology is also forcing change. Online courses make the transmission of information a commodity. If colleges are going to justify themselves, they are going to have to thrive at those things that require physical proximity. That includes moral and spiritual development. Very few of us cultivate our souls as hermits. We do it through small groups and relationships and in social contexts.

In short, for the past many decades colleges narrowed down to focus on professional academic disciplines, but now there are a series of forces leading them to widen out so that they leave a mark on the full human being.

The trick is to find a way to talk about moral and spiritual things while respecting diversity. Universities might do that by taking responsibility for four important tasks.

University-of-Chicago-Becker-Friedman-Institute-courtesy-Ann-Beha-ArchitectsUniversity of Chicago–Becker-Friedman Institute

First, reveal moral options. We’re the inheritors of an array of moral traditions. There’s the Greek tradition emphasizing honor, glory and courage, the Jewish tradition emphasizing justice and law, the Christian tradition emphasizing surrender and grace, the scientific tradition emphasizing reason and logic, and so on.

Colleges can insist that students at least become familiar with these different moral ecologies. Then it’s up to the students to figure out which one or which combination is best to live by.

Second, foster transcendent experiences. If a student spends four years in regular and concentrated contact with beauty — with poetry or music, extended time in a cathedral, serving a child with Down syndrome, waking up with loving friends on a mountain — there’s a good chance something transcendent and imagination-altering will happen.

Stanford@Palo AltoStanford University@ Palo Alto, California

Third, investigate current loves and teach new things to love. On her great blog, Brain Pickings, Maria Popova quotes a passage from Nietzsche on how to find your identity: “Let the young soul survey its own life with a view of the following question: ‘What have you truly loved thus far? What has ever uplifted your soul, what has dominated and delighted it at the same time?’ ” Line up these revered objects in a row, Nietzsche says, and they will reveal your fundamental self.

To lead a full future life, meanwhile, students have to find new things to love: a field of interest, an activity, a spouse, community, philosophy or faith. College is about exposing students to many things and creating an aphrodisiac atmosphere so that they might fall in lifelong love with a few.

Fourth, apply the humanities. The social sciences are not shy about applying their disciplines to real life. But literary critics, philosophers and art historians are shy about applying their knowledge to real life because it might seem too Oprahesque or self-helpy. They are afraid of being prescriptive because they idolize individual choice.

But the great works of art and literature have a lot to say on how to tackle the concrete challenges of living, like how to escape the chains of public opinion, how to cope with grief or how to build loving friendships. Instead of organizing classes around academic concepts — 19th-century French literature — more could be organized around the concrete challenges students will face in the first decade after graduation.

It’s tough to know how much philosophical instruction anybody can absorb at age 20, before most of life has happened, but seeds can be planted. Universities could more intentionally provide those enchanted goods that the marketplace doesn’t offer. If that happens, the future of the university will be found in its original moral and spiritual mission, but secularized, and in an open and aspiring way.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on October 6, 2015, on page A31 of the New York edition with the headline: The Big University.

Culture–The Social Glue and Identity

July 7, 2015

Culture–The Social Glue and Identity

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

culture-and-exportingEvery group of humans whether dwelling in the same cave or working for the same corporation must share some common goals, values, and worldview, as well as everyday routine practices. This is what culture means; it is the social glue that binds the members together and differentiates them from others. Far from being society’s oppressor, culture is its savior.

The human baby is not born a carnivorous hunter or a vegetarian ascetic anymore than it is born an Aryan or Chinese. The baby may have Aryan characteristics (sharp nose, blond hair, and blue eyes) or that of a Chinese (moon face, jet black hair, and epicanthic folds) but those features do not make what it will be. Whether that baby will turn out to be a proud bearer of a swastika or marches the streets waving Mao’s Little Red Book depends upon the culture in which it has been raised.

Tune to BBC News. If you close your eyes you would assume the announcer to be a lithe English lassie. Look at the screen and your preconceived images would be shattered for behind that flawless British voice might be a lady of African descent or a Semitic-looking Arab woman, minus the purdah of course.

The process by which a group instills its collective ways and values upon its new members – acculturation – is by nature conservative, to uphold prevailing norms and standards. The dark-skinned BBC announcer could not possibly sound so elegantly authoritative had she been brought up in Southside Chicago or a Soweto township.

I had a childhood friend back in the old village. Born as I was during the terrible deprivation of the Japanese Occupation, his family, like so many poor Chinese families in rural Malaysia at that time, was forced to give him up. Growing up in his adopted Malay family, he was no different from the rest of us. I was not even aware that he was adopted despite his obvious non-Malay features.

Later as a teenager he became extremely chauvinistic, espousing fanatical sentiments of Malay nationalism. Even that did not trigger any irony on my part. On one occasion he was particularly virulent in his denunciations of the immigrants while within hearing distance of my parents. When he was gone my father laughed, remarking that someone ought to hold a mirror to my friend’s face whenever he was indulging in his racial demagoguery. Only then did it register on me that he was Chinese looking. The incongruity of his being a Malay supremacist.

My digressing short story here must have an uplifting ending. My friend did indeed outgrow his adolescent delusions and become a successful businessman with a multiracial and international clientele. Today he is the paragon of the liberal, progressive Malay, the ones the PERKASA (the acronym of a Malay ultra right-wing group) types love to hate.

Just as my friend’s upbringing (his acculturation) turned him into an insular, chauvinistic nationalist, his later vocation reformed him into an open, worldly businessman. Later, I will pursue this unappreciated but important role of trade and commerce in liberating minds.

The Dayak WarriorCulture provides the backdrop for much of our learning and experiences, as well as the environmental (both physical and social) stimuli that our brain is exposed to. These are what shape our view of reality, or in the language of neuroscience, the subsequent patterns of neural networks. Culture conserves the values and norms of that society and transmits them unchanged to the next generation.

Culture is also internally consistent even though to outsiders some of its norms and practices may appear destructive or non-productive. To the Mafia of southern Italy, being violent and vengeful are valued traits, to maintain family ‘honor.’ In not-so-ancient China members of the triad maintained their strict code of silence through uncompromising and merciless enforcement; the price for breaching being gruesome death. Then there are the “honor killing” of the Pashtuns and the self-immolation suttee where a widowed Indian would throw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.

Those destructive acts must have served some purpose otherwise the culture would have abandoned them long ago. The Chinese code of silence was perhaps a protective reaction to the brutish local warlords, while “honor killing” and suttee were meant to demonstrate the supreme value of family honor and marital fidelity. In that culture a widowed woman would be treated so harshly and discriminated against so mercilessly that she would be driven to prostitution or home wrecking.

To someone from a culture where infidelity is the norm (if we can believe Hollywood movies and the scandals involving Bill Clinton and Arnold Schwarzenegger), suttee and honor killing seem barbaric and way out of proportion.

Likewise hudud’s stoning to death for adultery; to Muslims it reflects the sanctity of marriage and the high premium we place on marital fidelity. Humans being human, the culture does provide an outlet to minimize the possibility of imposing this harsh penalty; thus multiple wives or even “temporary” ones. The ancient Chinese accepted concubines.

As an aside, despite hudud’s current notoriety, it is well to remember that during the four centuries of Ottoman rule, the actual number of cases of “stoning to death” was only one. Compare that to the number of deaths through suttee burning and gentleman’s duel.

The Anglo Saxons’ “duel unto death” is on the same plane as suttee and honor killing; the difference merely in means and methods. The underlying principle and end result are the same – a matter of “honor” and the senseless taking of a life respectively. It illuminates my point that culture is internally consistent. It is futile for anyone, especially outsiders, to pick and choose a particular element of a culture and pronounce it regressive or uncivilized. The true and only meaningful test of a culture is how it prepares its people to stresses and changes, especially when those are sudden and dramatic, or imposed from the outside.