Shameful Injustice


January 20, 2017

Shameful Injustice

by KJ John@www,malaysiakini.com

What is the cost of one human life? What if the person is an Islamic State (IS) terrorist? Does his life cost any less? What if the person is a Palestinian? What about an Israeli? Are there different rules of human value for different peoples? What would be that basis? Would it be colour or ethnicity or looks or brains? What then do we humanly mean by rule of law, in any state; is it not more like, all men are brothers, but some are more equal than others?

Recently, a court in Israel found a soldier “guilty of manslaughter, rather than murder”. I do not know the full facts of the case, nor am I really too interested in specifics, but suffice to know that I heard three versions of news reports on the matter; from Al Jazeera, BBC and CNN. To me, it was a simple case story of an act of cold-blooded murder.

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Elor Azria was the Israeli soldier charged with manslaughter after shooting a prone and wounded Palestinian assailant in the head.

All three channels spoke of “obvious and willing killing of the injured Palestinian with a shot through his forehead by that lone soldier”. It was a military court in Israel that found him guilty of manslaughter but my question is, why was it re-framed as “manslaughter” when it was obvious that the criminally convicted soldier knew that the Palestinian was already badly injured and “essentially captured”?

But this soldier still chose to put a bullet through the Palestinian’s forehead. Did we not already deal with such concerns at the Nuremberg Trials? Adolf Eichmann claimed he was following orders and was declared guilty by an Israeli court.

Culture of closing one-eye on facts

The scientific method of verification of truths in a modern court is based on two equally rational systems of fact-finding; one based on evidence-based facts, and then there is a due process of rule-making and decision-taking but all designed to questioning and challenging these methods for certainty assertion. The judges decide finally.

Therefore, when all such due processes are followed, in all matters, the question of how the judgment is received is moot and quite irrelevant! But, in the above specific case, my concern is that “the system had compromised justice even before the case started”. Why do I say this?

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Private Chelsea Manning who leaked classified information to Wikileaks was pardoned by President Barack Obama–A Controversy.

Why would the public prosecutor agree that the original charge made, after police investigations, to be reduced to manslaughter? Why would the Israeli military court allow such a negotiated compromise even before hearing the facts in this case? The soldier shot the injured Palestinian through the forehead 11 minutes after he was lying on the ground. It was murder by most definitions.

Is this ‘really showing grace’ or was this not really ‘an abuse of the due process of law?’ There are already international rules of conduct in public places under non-war conditions. Even if their Israeli mindset is in a constant state of war-mindedness, is such an act and visible breach of human law of mutual regard, by another human being, right, good, and true?

How then can an entire onlooker global and Israeli system choose to close one eye if the appeal of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to abrogate the verdict is subsequently taken seriously? Are we not creating and promoting a culture of obvious wrongdoing and closing one eye to all such wrongs?

High-level collusion for corrupt motives

Whether in Israel, or Myanmar, or ‘Melayusia’; are not a culture of collusion in favour of corrupt values, and the consequent abuse of democracy, a denial of our only real ideal?

In my current lived geography, quite unaware of what they are really doing, a group of vigilantes have been doing almost a similar thing, as follows:

1. Some volunteers formed a society and registered it with the Registrar of Societies (ROS). But their constituent members are only selective members (of only four roads) even though they claim to represent the entire community or settlement with their name ‘Katura’ or Kampung Tunku Residents Association which should theoretically represent all 30 roads of the Kampung Tunku settlement, and not just the selected four.

2. They claim to have got the Petaling Jaya City Council’s (MBPJ) agreement with their ‘illegal and unrepresentative proposal’ to create a pseudo-guarded community made up of only four out of 30 streets.

3. I have registered more than one complaint with the mayor, and another with the council and a third with the police and to date there is still no hope on the horizon for those of us who feel like Palestinians in an Israeli-claimed geography.

4. Recently also, all others who are badly affected by the programme’s road closures are also protesting. These three road closures are affecting drivers who access these roads to get to where they are going. My understanding is that such closures should only be at midnight, but obviously these vigilantes are self-made heroes, right? They follow their own rules.

5. My police report to police HQ by Internet filing no is: RMP.008579. They promised a response in three days and so I will choose to wait before I pursue the matter with them.

My core question to all in local governance is“when was security of our lives privatised to Nepali guards by the Royal Malaysian Police?” When was the Federal Constitution amended to make the this concession? Even the National Security Council (NSC) Act does not allow this, yet.

Privatising motives to ‘illegal others’

Ever since ‘the government’s privatisation policy’ was abused, over time, into a policy for cheating, stealing and lying (CSL), to achieve specific agenda of promoters, those perpetrators began a culture of cheating, stealing, and lying to cover their tracks. But such rape and theft continues unabated in spite of a change of government at the state level. Now, proofs are made available by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) arresting a secretary-general.

I have always labelled such an abusive policy, a ‘piratisation policy’, or a policy that seeks to use public assets and resources for private motives, including for a political party’s sectarian goals or agenda. Public Policy always exists to protect and preserve Public Interest.

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The world-famous Malaysian Official 1 (MO1) is one classic case of such a ‘piratisation’ agenda as revealed by evidences from the US Justice Department (DOJ), the Swiss and the Singapore government agencies.

In fact in a different way, I heard even Dr Mahathir Mohamad say that “such stealing” was not so blatant under his governance of UMNO; he in fact even argued that he was always concerned that more than one trustee was appointed to manage all such UMNO funds. He also claimed that he never allowed such monies into private accounts of any one person.

Now, is my geography also adopting such a CSL policy with impunity? I have acted against these illegal actions every step of the way, in the last 30 years, but I have not been successful to stop this rot and growing culture of corruption. The sad reality is that such abuse has continued, even if at a slower rate, with a different political alliance leading the state. Nonetheless, it still appears like more of the same even if at a slower rate. Power does in fact corrupt all.

If Anwar Ibrahim was charged with abusing political influence wrongly, and for improper motives, my question to the MACC chief commissioner is, while you appear to be a new broom sweeping our dirt clean; why only pick on public servants and not yet the most important politician? And, especially those who by default have been proven to have abused public funds by putting them into personal accounts; even if unknowingly?

By the way, was tax paid for personal funds in the account held by MO1?

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We are Malaysians–Dumb Ones

As a Malaysian, I am also frankly tired of seeing everything wrong with every Israeli action but with an inability to seeing wrong with similar issues in our own country. Actually, we govern ourselves almost exactly like the Israeli’s govern their system with two different sets of laws; one for the governed and another for the governors.

Rakyat Malaysia, how can we change this form of mis-governance for the good of every citizen; and especially those who have greater needs?

UMNO after GE-14


January 17, 2017

Thanks to the fractious Opposition, UMNO after GE-14

by S. Thayaparan@www.malaysiakini.com

“Justice can sleep for years and awaken when it is least expected. A miracle is nothing more than dormant justice from another time arriving to compensate those it has cruelly abandoned. Whoever knows this is willing to suffer, for he knows that nothing is in vain.”

– Mark Helprin (Winter’s Tale)

Image result for Mahathir Vs NajibThe Master Vs Pupil–Advantage Pupil

While I have always been sceptical of anything that comes out of the Penang Institute, I thought Ooi Kok Hin’s article in the Diplomat hit the target but missed the bullseye. I have argued in various pieces that ultimately what would bring down the UMNO house of cards is an economic calamity brought upon by “ketuanan economics” and not any stratagems that the fractious opposition comes up with.

I began the year by saying – “No matter how the government spins it, the economy is in bad shape. And when it gets bad enough, when the money runs out and when political bromides from either side isn’t enough to fill empty bellies, people on their own accord will take to the streets.”

Ooi ends his piece with – “If political change is not sufficient, will it take an economic downturn to bring change in Malaysia, like Indonesia?”

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However, implying the rapid democratisation of Indonesia after despotic rule brought upon by economic instability exacerbated by policy malfeasances as something of a miracle and the only option opposition-voting Malaysians could hope for is intellectually dodgy especially after presenting a fairly cogent argument as to why Chairman Najib will most probably win the next general election.

Ooi made his first three factors as to why Najib Abdul Razak will win the centre-piece of his argument:

(1) Electoral malpractices: Keeping the incumbent in their seats.

(2) Political fragmentation: Weaker and disunited opposition.

(3) Institutional failures: Culture of unaccountability, graft, and state repression,

It is ironic that it is these three points that the opposition keeps harping about that has not gained them any traction with the demographic they claim is keeping the UMNO hegemon in power. Indeed, there is very little the opposition can do against the rigged system (that are those institutional failures) and a frontal assault is akin to attacking a tank with a spear.

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Sarawak-Sabah–The Deciders

Counting on Sabah and Sarawak to deliver us from UMNO is exactly the same kind of bankrupt ideology that UMNO peddles and this meme that West Malaysians are ignorant and less sophisticated displays the hubris of Peninsular oppositional types and the reason why they want us to stay the hell out of their states.

And strategically speaking as long as UMNO has to rely on Sabah and Sarawak to maintain hegemony, the easier it should be to destabilise UMNO in the Peninsula. The fact that this has not happened says more about the opposition then so-called ignorant voters.

What is needed is to derail the tank’s track and this is where Ooi’s fourth factor – Societal fault Lines: One cleavage too many – is worth exploring because it provides the key to bringing down the UMNO hegemon but it is also a record of the opposition’s failure to present a cohesive alternative to not only UMNO but also policies that have no place in an egalitarian Malaysia.

While Ooi rightly argues that everything in Malaysia, is seen through the lens of race and religion, and correctly points out UMNO’s part in this mess, he fails to acknowledge that the opposition has also contributed to the narrative.

While the ‘PAS for All’ fiasco was predicated on the pragmatism of the late Tok Guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat, the systemic oppositional policy of chasing the ‘Malay’ vote by the same means as UMNO has resulted in religion playing an even greater role in mainstream oppositional politics.

By neglecting the secular approach and instead embroiling itself with Islamic, Christian and of late Hindu political and social agitations, the opposition has turned out to be just another Barisan National clone peddling the same kind of manure. People outside the echo chambers are wondering why vote for the clone when the original can get things done not by rule of law but by fiat.

Here is a hint. If you want to stop religious and racial extremism, stop funding – on a state level – institutions that enable such impulses in the guise of reaching out to the Malay-Muslim community. As long as you are held ransom to the idea that in order to defeat UMNO you must use the same tactics to secure the Malay vote, there is always going to be that Malay tilt to UMNO.

Parties dance to UMNO’s tune

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The demonisation of the Chinese community is part of the larger narrative of the reactionary nature of Chinese communal politics. The MCA and DAP have positioned themselves as loudspeakers for the Chinese community hence there is no room for by bipartisanship on any issue, leaving important social, political and economic issues unresolved because these two parties dance to the UMNO tune.

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Hudud? These guys don’t care as long as they can get BR1M and other opiates via “ketuanan economics”

These contradictions of course are not lost on the voting public. While I argued that the MCA for instance “has by far had a more accessible position on this subject (hudud) instead of the conflicting messages coming out of the Muslim wing of the opposition front and their non-Muslim supporters; they stand idly by while the UMNO hegemon sponsors state-sanctioned racial provocations against the Chinese community using the DAP as a proxy.”

Not to mention that now former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad is the de facto opposition leader, he continues reviving the narrative that the “Malays” will lose their land to “Chinese” interlopers, while Chinese opposition types warn against China’s investments because it is bailing out the UMNO hegemon.

So on the one hand we have the narrative of Malays losing their land to Chinese pendatangs and on the other we have Chinese oppositional types confirming that the narrative that the country is being sold to the PRC. So this lens of race and religion is opaque and it is a grave mistake – although it plays well in echo chambers – to simply describe it as something wrong with Umno policy as opposed to describing it as the reality of Establishment – BN and Pakatan Harapan – politics.

Which brings me to Ooi’s most important point and one which is most often overlooked in favor of his other three factors. And this point to me is the one where the opposition could do serious damage to the regime but unfortunately will continue being overlooked.

“There is a visible gap between the politicians, the city folks, the demonstrators who so urgently and desperately want reforms, and the voters outside the cities, who voted for candidates affiliated to Najib’s party” writes Ooi, which is axiomatic but for various reasons goes unnoticed by the power brokers of the opposition.

When Ooi writes, “people don’t mind the status quo as long as they are not affected at the most immediate and personal level,” he is not only speaking plainly but also truthfully and this of course is the reason why this country has endured the long UMNO watch.

 The opposition has a long history of being unable to organise an orgy in a brothel. Speaking plainly, ever since the opposition broke the magical two-thirds barrier, they have been coasting on their success, thinking that UMNO has been playing defence while the reality is that UMNO has only ever played offence.

All politics is local and the opposition has yet to figure out what affects voters ‘outside the cities’ beyond pushing the narrative that they are ignorant and living off UMNO handouts. There really is no excuse for this type of political laziness.

Opposition politicians operating in the rural heartlands tell me that this obsession with urban issues has absolutely no traction in their communities and makes UMNO’s job easier because it makes it seem that the urban elite – meaning us – have no idea what is going on where they live except to think of them as lazy and ignorant.

There are people in the opposition who know exactly what affects these people on an immediate and personal level but these issues do not get the attention that the latest stupid thing a BN potentate says or the latest corruption scandal that is part of the news cycle that plays well in the echo chambers.

Issues facing the folks outside the cities are exactly the kind of issues that UMNO wishes to avoid and the latest outrage that captures the attention of city folks is manna from heaven for an ailing financially-strapped hegemon.

Waiting for miracles to happen absolves the opposition from actually doing the hard work of capturing the hearts and minds of people and allows job security for career opposition politicians.


S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.

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

Economic Crises and the Crisis of Economics


January 17, 2017

Economic Crises and the Crisis of Economics: Economists should learn to be humble and accept their own limitations

by Paola Subacchi@www.project-syndicate.org

Paola Subacchi is Research Director of International Economics at Chatham House and Professor of Economics at the University of Bologna. She is the author of The People’s Money: How China is Building an International Currency.

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Is the economics profession “in crisis”? Many policymakers, such as Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist, believe that it is. Indeed, a decade ago, economists failed to see a massive storm on the horizon, until it culminated in the most destructive global financial crisis in nearly 80 years. More recently, they misjudged the immediate impact that the United Kingdom’s Brexit vote would have on its economy.

Of course, the post-Brexit forecasts may not be entirely wrong, but only if we look at the long-term impact of the Brexit vote. True, some economists expected the UK economy to collapse during the post-referendum panic, whereas economic activity proved to be rather resilient, with GDP growth reaching some 2.1% in 2016. But now that British Prime Minister Theresa May has implied that she prefers a “hard” Brexit, a gloomy long-term prognosis is probably correct.

Unfortunately, economists’ responsibility for the 2008 global financial crisis and the subsequent recession extends beyond forecasting mistakes. Many lent intellectual support to the excesses that precipitated it, and to the policy mistakes – particularly insistence on fiscal austerity and disregard for widening inequalities – that followed it.

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Some economists have been led astray by intellectual arrogance: the belief that they can always explain real-world complexity. Others have become entangled in methodological issues – “mistaking beauty for truth,” as Paul Krugman once observed – or have placed too much faith in human rationality and market efficiency.

Despite its aspiration to the certainty of the natural sciences, economics is, and will remain, a social science. Economists systematically study objects that are embedded in wider social and political structures. Their method is based on observations, from which they discern patterns and infer other patterns and behaviors; but they can never attain the predictive success of, say, chemistry or physics.

Human beings respond to new information in different ways, and adjust their behavior accordingly. Thus, economics cannot provide – nor should it claim to provide – definite insights into future trends and patterns. Economists can glimpse the future only by looking backwards, so their predictive power is limited to deducing probabilities on the basis of past events, not timeless laws.

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And because economics is a social science, it can readily be used to serve political and business interests. In the years leading up to the financial crisis, global economic growth and profits were so strong that everyone – from small investors to the largest banks – was blinded by the prospect of bigger gains.

Economists employed by banks, hedge funds, and other businesses were expected to provide a short-term “view” for their employers and clients; and to dispense their “wisdom” to the general public through interviews and media appearances. Meanwhile, the economics profession was adopting more complex mathematical tools and specialized jargon, which effectively widened the gap between economists and other social scientists.

Before the financial crisis, when so many private interests and profitable opportunities were at stake, many economists defended a growth model that was based more on “irrational exuberance” than on sound fundamentals. Similarly, with respect to Brexit, many economists confused the referendum’s long-term impact with its short-term effects, because they were rushing their predictions to fit the political debate.

Owing to these and other mistakes, economists – and economics – have suffered a spectacular fall from grace. Once seen as modern witch doctors with access to exclusive knowledge, economists are now the most despised of all “experts.”

Where do we go from here? While we should appreciate Haldane’s candid admission, apologizing for past mistakes is not enough. Economists, especially those involved in policy debates, need to be held explicitly accountable for their professional behavior. Toward that end, they should bind themselves with a voluntary code of conduct.

Above all, this code should recognize that economics is too complex to be reduced to sound bites and rushed conclusions. Economists should pay closer attention to when and where they offer their views, and to the possible implications of doing so. And they should always disclose their interests, so that proprietary analysis is not mistaken for an independent perspective.

Moreover, economic debates would benefit from more voices. Economics is a vast discipline that comprises researchers and practitioners whose work spans macro and micro perspectives and theoretical and applied approaches. Like any other intellectual discipline, it produces excellent, good, and mediocre output.

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But the bulk of this research does not filter into policymaking and decision-making circles, such as finance ministries, central banks, or international institutions. At the commanding heights, economic-policy debates remain dominated by a relatively small group of white men from American universities and think tanks, nearly all of them well-versed devotees of mainstream economics.

The views held by this coterie are disproportionately represented in the mass media, through commentaries and interviews. But fishing for ideas in such a small and shallow pond leads to a circular and complacent debate, and it may encourage lesser-known economists to tailor their research to fit in.

The public deserves – and needs – a marketplace of ideas in which mainstream and heterodox views are afforded equal attention and balanced discussion. To be sure, this will take courage, imagination, and dynamism – particularly on the part of journalists. But a fairer, more pluralistic discussion of economic ideas may be just what economists need as well.

The Kindleberger Trap


January 16, 2017

The Kindleberger Trap

by Joseph S.Nye @www.project-syndicate.org

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CAMBRIDGE – As US President-elect Donald Trump prepares his administration’s policy toward China, he should be wary of two major traps that history has set for him. The “Thucydides Trap,” cited by Chinese President Xi Jinping, refers to the warning by the ancient Greek historian that cataclysmic war can erupt if an established power (like the United States) becomes too fearful of a rising power (like China). But Trump also has to worry about the “Kindleberger Trap”: a China that seems too weak rather than too strong.

Charles Kindleberger, an intellectual architect of the Marshall Plan who later taught at MIT, argued that the disastrous decade of the 1930s was caused when the US replaced Britain as the largest global power but failed to take on Britain’s role in providing global public goods. The result was the collapse of the global system into depression, genocide, and world war. Today, as China’s power grows, will it help provide global public goods?

In domestic politics, governments produce public goods such as policing or a clean environment, from which all citizens can benefit and none are excluded. At the global level, public goods – such as a stable climate, financial stability, or freedom of the seas – are provided by coalitions led by the largest powers.

Small countries have little incentive to pay for such global public goods. Because their small contributions make little difference to whether they benefit or not, it is rational for them to ride for free. But the largest powers can see the effect and feel the benefit of their contributions. So it is rational for the largest countries to lead. When they do not, global public goods are under-produced. When Britain became too weak to play that role after World War I, an isolationist US continued to be a free rider, with disastrous results.

Some observers worry that as China’s power grows, it will free ride rather than contribute to an international order that it did not create. So far, the record is mixed. China benefits from the United Nations system, where it has a veto in the Security Council. It is now the second-largest funder of UN peacekeeping forces, and it participated in UN programs related to Ebola and climate change.

China has also benefited greatly from multilateral economic institutions like the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. In 2015, China launched the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which some saw as an alternative to the World Bank; but the new institution adheres to international rules and cooperates with the World Bank.

Image result for thucydides trapSparta Vs Athens–America Vs China

On the other hand, China’s rejection of a Permanent Court of Arbitration judgment last year against its territorial claims in the South China Sea raises troublesome questions. Thus far, however, Chinese behavior has sought not to overthrow the liberal world order from which it benefits, but to increase its influence within it. If pressed and isolated by Trump’s policy, however, will China become a disruptive free rider that pushes the world into a Kindleberger Trap?

Trump must also worry about the better-known Thucydides Trap: a China that seems too strong rather than too weak. There is nothing inevitable about this trap, and its effects are often exaggerated. For example, the political scientist Graham Allison has argued that in 12 of 16 cases since 1500 when an established power has confronted a rising power, the result has been a major war.

But these numbers are not accurate, because it is not clear what constitutes a “case.” For example, Britain was the dominant world power in the mid-nineteenth century, but it let Prussia create a powerful new German empire in the heart of the European continent. Of course, Britain did fight Germany a half-century later, in 1914, but should that be counted as one case or two?

World War I was not simply a case of an established Britain responding to a rising Germany. In addition to the rise of Germany, WWI was caused by the fear in Germany of Russia’s growing power, the fear of rising Slavic nationalism in a declining Austria-Hungary, as well as myriad other factors that differed from ancient Greece.

As for current analogies, today’s power gap between the US and China is much greater than that between Germany and Britain in 1914. Metaphors can be useful as general precautions, but they become dangerous when they convey a sense of historical inexorableness.

Even the classical Greek case is not as straightforward as Thucydides made it seem. He claimed that the cause of the second Peloponnesian War was the growth of the power of Athens and the fear it caused in Sparta. But the Yale historian Donald Kagan has shown that Athenian power was in fact not growing. Before the war broke out in 431 BC, the balance of power had begun to stabilize. Athenian policy mistakes made the Spartans think that war might be worth the risk.

Athens’ growth caused the first Peloponnesian War earlier in the century, but then a Thirty-Year Truce doused the fire. Kagan argues that to start the second, disastrous war, a spark needed to land on one of the rare bits of kindling that had not been thoroughly drenched and then continually and vigorously fanned by poor policy choices. In other words, the war was caused not by impersonal forces, but by bad decisions in difficult circumstances.

That is the danger that Trump confronts with China today. He must worry about a China that is simultaneously too weak and too strong. To achieve his objectives, he must avoid the Kindleberger trap as well as the Thucydides trap. But, above all, he must avoid the miscalculations, misperceptions, and rash judgments that plague human history.

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/trump-china-kindleberger-trap-by-joseph-s–nye-2017-01

Harping on Chinese FDIs in Malaysia


January 16, 2017

Harping on Chinese FDIs in Malaysia

by Josh Hong @www.malaysiakini.com

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A leopard never changes its spots, does it? Having failed to offer a set of alternative policies and convince the general public of their ‘reformist’ credentials, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Zainuddin Maidin and Muhyiddin Yassin are now all back to bashing Najib Abdul Razak along the not-so-subtle racial lines.

Yes, China has been investing aggressively in Malaysia, but the Chinese are not the first ones who came, saw and conquered our market in recent years.

Before that, the Americans, Japanese and Arabs, too, had pursued very proactive business strategies in South-East Asia. With its relatively well-developed infrastructure and affordable land, Malaysia stood to benefit tremendously from their investments for more than three decades.

Since the 2000s, the Arabs, too, have been investing heavily in strategic industries in Malaysia, especially the petrochemical sector and real estate development, with the United Arab Emirates emerging as one of Malaysia’s largest trading partners and among the most vigorous investors in Malaysia’s oil and gas industries.

Mubadala Petroleum is currently setting its sights on Sarawak, while the International Petroleum Investment Company remains a key investor in Malaysia despite the 1MDB debacle. Both Putrajaya and Abu Dhabi maintain bilateral and trade relations are rock solid.

Meanwhile, the Qatar Investment Authority is a big player in Malaysia’s strategic real estate, commodities and energy sector. In 2013, it had plans to develop the Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex in southern Johor that was worth US$5 billion, aimed at making the country a petrochemical regional hub, not too dissimilar from China seeking to help turn Malaysia into a ‘transportation hub’ via Bandar Malaysia and the proposed high-speed rail terminal.

Even less well-known was that an agreement was signed in 2012 to make Qatar Holding a cornerstone investor in Felda Global Ventures Holdings Berhad, no doubt a highly important and vitally strategic global agricultural and agri-commodities company, while the Kuwait Investment Authority invested US$150 million in Malaysia’s IHH Healthcare.

At one time, the Qataris and the Najib government even agreed to build a ‘seven-star’ Harrods Hotel in the Bukit Bintang area in Kuala Lumpur, right next to the upmarket Pavilion shopping mall. The business venture somehow went awry and subsequently called off.

This aside, Saudi Arabia several years ago ranked fifth among Malaysia’s leading sources of investment, just behind Japan, South Korea, the US and Singapore. China was nowhere to be seen then.

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Mind you, PetroSaudi International was deeply involved in the scandal-ridden 1MDB and the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubei even confirmed in April last year that money was wired into Najib’s personal account and it was a “genuine donation with nothing expected in return”.

Now, one may derive from the s statement that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was complicit in corruption on a global scale but did any Malay or Muslim leader in UMNO or outside of it accuse the Saudi government of seeking to undermine Malaysia’s sovereignty or taking over the country? Is Saudi Arabia beyond reproach simply because it is where Mecca, Islam’s holy city is located?

The Arabs have been coming but no-one, certainly not UMNO, Mahathir or his minions in Bersatu, has said a word against investors from the Gulf region.

Nobody is talking about Najib turning the country into an Arab colony except for Marina Mahathir who lashed out at ‘Arab colonialism’ because traditional baju Melayu for women are now more difficult to find than in the old days as compared to the increasingly popular Arab attire. But her father has yet to cast aspersions on Najib selling Malaysia out to the Arabs through all the strategic investments.

Instead, Mahathir has been harping on Chinese nationals buying up lands and properties and blaming it on Najib, hoping that this would heighten the siege mentality of the Malays which would in turn alienate them further from UMNO.

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But Mahathir’s subterfuge can escape anyone but me. After all, it was his alleged racist rhetoric that kept him in power for over two decades, and Malaysia’s complex racial dynamics have created a fertile ground for a cunning strategist like him.

Crafted with the Malay constituency in mind

The messages by Mahathir, Zainuddin and Muhyiddin are not a coincidence, for they are all carefully crafted with the Malay constituency in mind.

They cannot openly demonise the Chinese Malaysian community because they need to ensure the opposition parties including DAP win enough Chinese votes, but at the same time, they are in dire need of denying Najib critical Malay support. So the best way to achieve this is to play up China as a bogeyman.

Mahathir and Bersatu may appear to be concerned over the influx of mainland Chinese capital and money, but their articulation is nothing but a veiled warning to the Malays that continued support for Najib would mean a greater Chinese presence in Malaysia, to the detriment of the ‘indigenous population’, of course.

Why pick on the Chinese when your Muslim brethren from the Middle East are no less commercially greedy and strategically ambitious?

It is not very different from the days when Mahathir ‘cari pasal’ (find fault) with Singapore in order to consolidate the Malay base. Stigmatising Chinese Malaysians comes at too huge a political cost, hence the sudden ‘realisation’ of mainland Chinese investments being a threat.

It is nothing more than a repackaged argument that, in favouring the (mainland) Chinese, Najib would only end up marginalising the Malays, just like the British.

If Mahathir and his cohorts have an issue with excessive foreign investments, they must not just single out China but the Gulf countries also. Mahathir may even question his own national car policy which only resulted in Malaysia becoming almost totally dependent on Japan for spare parts and technology, while failing to make Proton a car giant as he would have dreamed!

I have a problem with Islamic conservatism, but I have no problems with the Muslims; I am sceptical about American expansionism but I am fine with the American people; I am opposed to Israeli policies on Palestine but I don’t hate the Jews; I disagree with Shinzo Abe’s historical revisionism but I appreciate Japan as a wonderful country, and I look askance at communist ideology yet I enjoy the friendship of my mainland Chinese friends.

And I remain very much a leftist and a liberal who considers neo-liberalism a major source of the global chaos today. But unlike Mahathir, I vow not to use race or religion as my weapon even if I am wary of the destructive power of capitalism, because I have always been acutely aware of the hard fact that capital and money have no motherland.

Go on supporting Mahathir and Bersatu if you want, and I won’t shed a tear for you even if one day you find yourself trapped in the quicksand of racial politics and unable to be free.


JOSH HONG studied politics at London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A keen watcher of domestic and international politics, he longs for a day when Malaysians will learn and master the art of self-mockery, and enjoy life to the full in spite of politicians.

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

How to Get Beyond Our Tribal Politics


January 15, 2017

The most-watched made-for-TV movie in American history is “The Day After,” a 1983 portrayal of life in Kansas and Missouri in the days just before and after an all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union. If you’ve had even fleeting thoughts that Tuesday’s election could bring about the end of the world or the destruction of the country, you might want to find “The Day After” on YouTube, scroll to minute 53 and watch the next six minutes. Now that’s an apocalypse.

It’s an absurd comparison, of course, but the absurdity is helpful. It reminds us that no matter how bad things seem, we have a lot to be grateful for. The Soviet Union is gone, and life in America has gotten much better since the 1980s by most objective measures. Crime is way down, prosperity and longevity are way up, and doors are open much more widely for talented people from just about any demographic group. Yes, we have new problems, and the benefits haven’t been spread evenly, but if you look at the big picture, we are making astonishing progress.

Watching “The Day After” also might help Americans to tone down the apocalyptic language that so many have used about the presidential race. On the right, some speak of this as the “Flight 93 election,” meaning that America has been hijacked by treasonous leftists who are trying to crash the plane, so electing Donald Trump to rush the cockpit is the only sane choice. On the left, some think that a Trump victory would lead to a constitutional crisis followed by a military coup, fascism and dictatorship.

Nearly half the country will therefore wake up deeply disappointed on the morning of Nov. 9, and many members of the losing side will think that America is doomed. Those on the winning side will feel relieved, but many will be shocked and disgusted that nearly half of their fellow citizens voted for the moral equivalent of the devil. The disgust expressed by both sides in this election is particularly worrisome because disgust dehumanizes its targets. That is why it is usually fostered by the perpetrators of genocide—disgust makes it easier for ordinary citizens to kill their neighbors.

In short, the day after this election is likely to be darker and more foreboding than the day after just about any U.S. election since 1860. Is it possible for Americans to forgive, accept and carry on working and living together?

We think that it is. After all, civility doesn’t require consensus or the suspension of criticism. It is simply the ability to disagree productively with others while respecting their sincerity and decency. That can be hard to do when emotions run so high. But if we understand better the psychological causes of our current animosity, we can all take some simple steps to turn it down, free ourselves from hatred and make the next four years better for ourselves and the country. Three time-honored quotations can serve as guides.

“Me against my brother, my brothers and me against my cousins, then my cousins and me against strangers.” —Bedouin saying

Human nature is tribal. We form teams easily, most likely because we have evolved for violent intergroup conflict. Our minds take to it so readily that we invent myths, games and sports—including war games like paintball—that let us enjoy the pleasures of intergroup conflict without the horrors of actual war.

The tribal mind is adept at changing alliances to face shifting threats, as the Bedouin saying indicates. We see such shifts after party primaries, when those who backed a losing candidate swing around to support the nominee. And we saw it happen after the 9/11 attacks, when the country came together to support the president and the military in the invasion of Afghanistan.

But with the exception of the few months after 9/11, cross-partisan animosity has been rising steadily since the late 1990s. This year, for the first time since Pew Research began asking in 1994, majorities in both parties expressed not just “unfavorable” views of the other party but “very unfavorable” views. Those ratings were generally below 20% throughout the 1990s. And more than 40% in each party now see the policies of the other party as being “so misguided that they threaten the nation’s well-being.” Those numbers are up by about 10 percentage points in both parties just since 2014.

So what will happen the next time there is a major terrorist attack? Will we come together again? Or will the attack become a partisan football within hours, as happened after the various lone-wolf attacks of the past year? Something is broken in American tribalism. It is now “my brothers and me against my cousins” all the time, even when we are threatened by strangers and even when there is no threat at all.

Democracy requires trust and cooperation as well as competition.

Democracy requires trust and cooperation as well as competition. A healthy democracy features flexible and shifting coalitions. We must find a way to see citizens on the other side as cousins who are sometimes opponents but who share most of our values and interests and are never our mortal enemies.

“Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?… You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”Jesus, in Matthew 7:3-5

Our tribal minds are equipped with a powerful tool: shameless and clueless hypocrisy. It is a general rule of psychology that “thinking is for doing”: We think with a particular purpose in mind, and often that purpose isn’t to find the truth but to defend ourselves or attack our opponents.

Psychologists call this process “motivated reasoning.” It is found whenever self-interest is in play. When the interests of a group are added to the mix, this sort of biased, god-awful reasoning becomes positively virtuous—it signals your loyalty to the team. This is why partisans find it so easy to dismiss scandalous revelations about their own candidate while focusing so intently on scandalous revelations about the other candidate.

Motivated reasoning has interacted with tribalism and new media technologies since the 1990s in unfortunate ways. Social media, hackers and Google searches now help us to find hundreds of specks in our opponents’ eyes, but no technology can force us to acknowledge the logs in our own.

“Nature has so formed us that a certain tie unites us all, but…this tie becomes stronger from proximity.” —Cicero, “On Friendship”

Humans are tribal, but tribalism can be transcended. It exists in tension with our extraordinary ability to develop bonds with other human beings. Romeo and Juliet fell in love. French, British and German soldiers came out of their trenches in World War I to exchange food, cigarettes and Christmas greetings.

The key, as Cicero observed, is proximity, and a great deal of modern research backs him up. Students are more likely to become friends with the student whose dorm room is one door away than with the student whose room is four doors away. People who have at least one friend from the other political party are less likely to hate the supporters of that party.

But tragically, Americans are losing their proximity to those on the other side and are spending more time in politically purified settings. Since the 1980s, Democrats have been packing into the cities while the rural areas and exurbs have been getting more Republican. Institutions that used to bring people together—such as churches—are now splitting apart over culture war issues such as gay marriage.

Ever more of our social life is spent online, in virtual communities or networks that are politically homogeneous. When we do rub up against the other side online, relative anonymity often leads to stunning levels of incivility, including racist and sexist slurs and threats of violence.

So are we doomed? Will the polarizing trends identified by Pew just keep going until the country splits in two? Maybe John Adams was right in 1814 when he wrote, “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself.”

But we have lasted 240 years so far, and both sides agree that America is worth fighting for. We just have to see that the fight isn’t always against each other; it is also a struggle to adapt our democracy and our habits for polarizing times and technologies.

Illustration: Luci Gutiérrez

Some of these adaptations will require changes to laws and institutions. Some will come from improving technology as we fine-tune social media to reward productive disagreement while filtering out trolling and intimidation.

And many of the changes must come from each of us, as individuals who have friends, co-workers and cousins who voted for the other side. How will we treat them as customers, employees, students and neighbors? What will we say to them at Thanksgiving dinner?

If you would like to let go of anger on Nov. 9 without letting go of your moral and political principles, here is some advice, adapted from ancient wisdom and modern research.

First, separate your feelings about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton from your feelings about their supporters. Political scientists report that since the 1980s, Americans have increasingly voted against the other side’s candidate, rather than voting enthusiastically for their own, and that is especially true this time. So don’t assume that most people on the other side like or even agree with their candidate on any particular issue. They may be voting out of fears and frustrations that you don’t understand, but if you knew their stories, you might well empathize with them.

Second, step back and think about your goals. In the long run, would you rather change people or hate them? If you actually want to persuade or otherwise influence people, you should know that it is nearly impossible to change people’s minds by arguing with them. When there is mutual antipathy, there is mutual motivated reasoning, defensiveness and hypocrisy.

But anything that opens the heart opens the mind as well, so do what you can to cultivate personal relationships with those on the other side. Spend time together, and let the proximity recommended by Cicero strengthen ties. Familiarity does not breed contempt. Research shows that as things or people become familiar, we like them more.

Emotions often drive reasoning, so as our hearts harden, our thinking also calcifies, and we become dogmatic. We are less able to think flexibly and address the social problems that we claim to care about. As John Stuart Mill wrote in 1859, “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.” So cultivating a few cross-partisan friendships will make you smarter as well as calmer, even if polarization grows worse.

And if you do find a way to have a real conversation with someone on the other side, approach it skillfully. One powerful opener is to point to a log in your own eye—to admit right up front that you or your side were wrong about something. Doing this at the start of a conversation signals that you aren’t in combat mode. If you are open, trusting and generous, your partner is likely to reciprocate.

Tom Lehane, left, a Trump supporter, has a disagreement with Clinton supporter Hila Minshen before a Trump rally on Sept. 9, 2016 in Pensacola, Fla.
Tom Lehane, left, a Trump supporter, has a disagreement with Clinton supporter Hila Minshen before a Trump rally on Sept. 9, 2016 in Pensacola, Fla. Photo: Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images

Another powerful depolarizing move is praise, as we saw in the second Clinton-Trump debate. After more than 90 minutes of antagonism, a member of the town-hall audience brought the evening to a close with this question: “Would either of you name one positive thing that you respect in one another?”

Mrs. Clinton began with weak praise by saying that she respects Mr. Trump’s children. But then she made it strong and generous by noting how “incredibly able” those children are and how devoted they are to their father, adding, “I think that says a lot about Donald.” Mr. Trump responded in kind: “I will say this about Hillary. She doesn’t quit, and she doesn’t give up. I respect that.”

That brief exchange was emotionally powerful—the only uplifting moment of the night for many viewers. Had it been the opening exchange, might the debate have been more elevated, more constructive?

This has been a frightening year for many Americans. Questions about the durability, legitimacy and wisdom of our democracy have been raised, both here and abroad. But the true test of our democracy—and our love of country—will come on the day after the election. Starting next Wednesday, each of us must decide what kind of person we want to be and what kind of relationship we want to have with our politically estranged cousins.

Dr. Haidt is a social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business, a fellow at the Martin Prosperity Institute and the author of “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.” Dr. Iyer is a social psychologist and data scientist at the website Ranker and the executive director of CivilPolitics.org.