Malaysia’s Elections Commission– Makes a Mockery of the Electoral Process


October 19,2017

Malaysia’s Elections Commission–Makes a Mockery of the Electoral Process

by Dennis Ignatius

The Elections Commission: helping or hindering fair elections

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Vote UMNO-BN and you will get a bargain –Two in One Political Synergy–and a Disaster for Malaysia.

Election commissions (EC) play a critical role in any democracy. They have a constitutional responsibility to ensure that the will of the people is properly expressed through the ballot box by guaranteeing free and fair elections.

Since they serve as the referee, the final arbitrator, in the electoral contest between competing political parties, their independence, integrity and impartiality is of the utmost importance.

A principled EC empowers the democratic process; a less than honest one makes a mockery of it.

Facilitators of democracy

To this end, ECs in democracies go out of their way to facilitate voting. Registration processes and voting procedures have been simplified and voting hours extended so that every citizen will have the opportunity to vote as conveniently and efficiently as possible.

New technologies and security protocols have also been harnessed to facilitate electronic registration and voting. In Estonia, one can even vote via mobile phone from anywhere in the world.

What this says is that the political process in these countries respects and honours the right of their citizens to freely and fairly elect their leaders. And beyond that, it allows citizens to fully hold their elected representative accountable through the ballot box.

Just another government agency?

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This guy will make sure that Prime Minister Najib Razak wins GE-14

In Malaysia, on the other hand, there is, rightly or wrongly, a widespread perception that the EC is just another government agency structured to ensure that those in power stay in power regardless of the will of the people, part of an elaborate deception designed to maintain the fiction of free and fair elections while ensuring the ruling party continues to prevail.

Whether it is about Sabahans and Sarawakians living in Peninsula Malaysia, Malaysian citizens living abroad or voter registration, the EC is often more a hindrance than a help. Indeed, one has to wonder whether they are even capable of acting competently and professionally.

Last year, for example, I went to one of those special registration counters that the EC had set up in a shopping mall to update my registration from an absentee voter to a resident voter. Apparently my application form never made it to wherever it was supposed to go to, obliging me to go through the whole process again.

If elections are called any time soon, I would be effectively disenfranchised because of the incompetence of the EC. How difficult is it to update voter information? Are all those voter registration exercises just for show? How many other voters are experiencing such frustrations and have to put up with similar inconvenience and hassle just so they can vote?

Rigged and biased

Then, of course, there is the well-documented penchant for gerrymandering in which anticipated political allegiances and ethnicities are manipulated to give the ruling party the edge.

Largely non-Malay, opposition-held constituencies appear to keep growing larger and larger while government-held constituencies remain conveniently small. According to reports, there are proposals to create 13 “super constituencies” with over 100,000 voters each, mostly in opposition-held areas.

In the opposition-held Damansara parliamentary constituency, gerrymandering reached new heights with a proposed mega-constituency of over 150,000 voters. A single voter in Putrajaya, which has no more than 18,000 voters, would now carry the same weight as eight voters in Damansara.

What this means is that many Malaysians, particularly opposition supporters and minorities, are being progressively disenfranchised with their votes counting for less and less with each re-delineation exercise.

Unsurprisingly, given this kind of malapportionment, UMNO-BN was able to retain a majority of parliamentary seats even though it lost the popular vote in the last elections.

One has to wonder whether free and fair elections are even possible under such a patently biased and rigged electoral system.

A mockery of the electoral process

Clearly, many Malaysians have lost confidence in the EC and will have no hesitation in endorsing the Bersih 2.0 chairperson’s recent call for the elections commissioner to be sacked because he has failed to deliver clean and fair elections.

If Malaysia is to survive as a democracy, an independent EC is clearly necessary. Indeed, the establishment of an independent EC should be one of the pledges that every politician who seeks our vote in the upcoming elections should commit to.

Sacred duty

In the meantime, Malaysian citizens will have to display far greater tenacity and determination than they have thus far when it comes to voting. We might have to put up with bureaucratic hassles and inconvenience and we might have to live with the reality that our votes will count for less and less but we must not be deterred or discouraged.

Out vote is still the most powerful tool we have to bring about peaceful change and national renewal; it must be effectively and thoughtfully utilised.

Every Malaysia should, therefore, consider it his or her sacred and patriotic duty to register and vote no matter what. As well, they should take nothing for granted: check and keep checking to ensure that no one deprives them of their right to vote.

This is the most important thing we can do for our nation at this time.

China: Zero Tolerance for Academic Freedom, not unlike Malaysia


October 18, 2017

China: Zero Tolerance for Academic Freedom, not unlike Malaysia

Translated from the French by Alice Heathwood for Fast for Word.

Universities will be closely scrutinised, professors will be evaluated and the Party will punish those lacking ideological firmness. Such is the program released by Xi Jinping’s government to coincide with the Communist Party congress, where Xi is seeking to reinforce his authority as a world leader.

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Dr Bill Chou Kwok-ping, a political scientist who was last month elected vice-president of Macau’s biggest pro-democracy group is the second Macau academic to lose his job after intervening in political debates in as many months, stirring concerns about academic freedom in the former Portuguese colony.

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Efforts to control universities and disregard academic freedom are also taking place abroad. In early September, Reuters and The Guardian exposed efforts by Chinese authorities to partially restrict access to the American Political Science Review from within China. The Review, one of the most reputable journals in its field, is published by the prestigious Cambridge University Press (CUP). Ultimately the publishing house resisted the Chinese pressure, but the news has sparked upset, coming just a few weeks after another controversy that shook the foundations of academia.

The “China Quarterly” affair

In August, China scholars from around the world learnt that Beijing had demanded that Cambridge University Press withdraw 315 articles and book reviews from China Quarterly, produced by University of London’s respected School of Oriental and African Studies and published by CUP.

These articles dealt with topics considered sensitive by the Chinese government: the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests; Mao Zedong and China’s Cultural Revolution; ethnic tensions in Tibet and Xinjiang; Taiwan; and anything relating to democratic reform.

CUP complied, pulling the offending articles from their Chinese site, explaining that it would rather withdraw a small number of articles of interest to a handful of academics, in order to ensure the continued availability in China of its numerous other academic and educational publications.

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Led by China Quarterly editor Tim Pringle, academics and NGOs expressed outrage that CUP would favour its own commercial interests above academic freedom, and threatened to boycott the publishing house.

Faced with protests, the Chinese government defended its actions in an editorial published in the August 20 edition of the Global Times, stating that, while it respects academic freedom in the UK, China has the right to decide what can be published within its borders.

Three days after the censorship came to lighy, CUP had a sudden change of heart, and made the 315 articles available again.

Around the same time, the US-based Association of Asian Studies (AAS) revealed it had received a similar demand but did not comply.

Ideological battle

The controversy highlights the oppressive nature of the government of the People’s Republic. Despite the undeniable international character of Chinese universities, higher education and research must tow the party line.

Deng Xiaoping’s late-1970s policies of economic reform and opening-up enabled the country to become a laboratory of ideas in the last quarter of the 20th century. But for the past decade or so, China appears to be engaged in an ideological battle against the West.

Following the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, China overtook Japan as the world’s second largest economy, behind the US, which was itself weakened by the 2007-2008 financial crisis and the resulting severe recession.

Yet China quickly found itself facing dissatisfaction from those steamrollered by a policy of growth at all costs, in spite of the country’s economic and diplomatic successes. Many Chinese intellectuals began to think the lot of their fellow citizens should be improved with a final – political – reform.

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Led by writer, Nobel laureate and university professor Liu Xiaobo, one of the key activists of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, hundreds of intellectuals signed the Charter 08, a manifesto in favour of democratising the regime. For this Liu was sentenced in 2009 to an 11-year prison term. He was released in July 2017 and died a few days later.

Document #9, the “anti-subversion kit”

Xi Jinping’s rise to power in 2012-2013 signalled a new era in the curtailing of freedom of thought. Fearing any threat to the purity of their ideology, Communist Party of China (CPC) leaders released a handbook listing the subversive ideas to be eradicated, the infamous Document #9.

The following topics are now banned from public discussion: western constitutional democracy, the universal nature of human rights, the empowerment of civil society, multiple interpretations of history, and anything questioning the validity of Chinese economic reforms and socialism.

Image result for  China Quarterly editor Tim Pringle

While post-Mao China was not free of taboos, they were usually limited to the “three Ts”: Taiwan, Tiananmen and Tibet. Several things have changed since 2012. Firstly, the publication of Document #9 expanded the scope of unacceptable ideas: any subject, without exception, could now be censored.

Secondly, Chinese universities are now the reluctant front-line soldiers in this ideological battle: in 2015, the Minister for Education urged universities to ban the use of textbooks promoting Western values. Lastly, any contravening of the new norm is now subject to severe repression, and the CPC has no qualms about openly resorting to totalitarian tactics.

A violent crackdown

On top of routine intimidation, 248 human rights advocates were rounded up in a brutal mass arrest in July 2015. In the resulting atmosphere of fear, liberal intellectuals no longer think it wise to answer questions from foreign journalists; they practice broad self-censorship and, when possible, wind up living in exile abroad. For those who remain, harassment is commonplace.

These attacks against fundamental rights and specifically academic freedom are now extending beyond mainland China, starting with the special administrative regions. In 2014, several Macau professors were abruptly dismissed; in Hong Kong, the 2015 disappearances of five book-sellers and publishers is still unresolved. These cases reveal the widening cracks in the “one country, two systems” model. Yet Beijing’s influence does not stop there.

n the summer of 2014, the European Association for Chinese Studies had several pages of its program ripped out by the Confucius Institute the day before its biannual conference in Portugal.

The institute apparently objected to advertising from Taiwanese sponsors. That same year, the American Association of University Professors initiated calls for the closure of Confucius Institutes, claiming they undermine freedom of speech on US university campuses.

Last month Australia acknowledged Chinese government interference in its universities. Beijing has been carrying out unprecedented influence and control operations targeting Chinese students as well as Chinese and non-Chinese professors. In response, the Group of Eight (Go8), a coalition of the top eight universities in Australia, has called for a coordinated and measured response.

In 2016, more than a quarter of the 550,000 overseas students enrolled in Australian universities came from China. They represent a significant financial boon for Australian universities, who don’t want to offend the Chinese government. The question is, can the core values of academic institutions be preserved without incurring the wrath of Party leaders?

This article was originally published in French

 

China’s Xi Jinping–The World’s Most Powerful Man


October 17, 2017

THE ECONOMIST

China’s Xi Jinping–The World’s Most Powerful Man

Xi Jinping has more clout than Donald Trump. The world should be wary

Do not expect Mr Xi to change China, or the world, for the better

Print edition | Leaders

Oct 14th 2017

One-man rule is ultimately a recipe for instability in China, as it has been in the past—think of Mao and his Cultural Revolution. It is also a recipe for arbitrary behaviour abroad, which is especially worrying at a time when Mr Trump’s America is pulling back and creating a power vacuum. The world does not want an isolationist United States or a dictatorship in China. Alas, it may get both.

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Two Giants of Asia–Xi and Modi–Friends or Foes

AMERICAN Presidents have a habit of describing their Chinese counterparts in terms of awe. A fawning Richard Nixon said to Mao Zedong that the chairman’s writings had “changed the world”. To Jimmy Carter, Deng Xiaoping was a string of flattering adjectives: “smart, tough, intelligent, frank, courageous, personable, self-assured, friendly”. Bill Clinton described China’s then president, Jiang Zemin, as a “visionary” and “a man of extraordinary intellect”. Donald Trump is no less wowed. The Washington Post quotes him as saying that China’s current leader, Xi Jinping, is “probably the most powerful” China has had in a century.

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Mr Trump may be right. And were it not political suicide for an American president to say so, he might plausibly have added: “Xi Jinping is the world’s most powerful leader.” To be sure, China’s economy is still second in size to America’s and its army, though rapidly gaining muscle, pales in comparison. But economic heft and military hardware are not everything. The leader of the free world has a narrow, transactional approach to foreigners and seems unable to enact his agenda at home. The United States is still the world’s most powerful country, but its leader is weaker at home and less effective abroad than any of his recent predecessors, not least because he scorns the values and alliances that underpin American influence.

The President of the world’s largest authoritarian state, by contrast, walks with swagger abroad. His grip on China is tighter than any leader’s since Mao. And whereas Mao’s China was chaotic and miserably poor, Mr Xi’s is a dominant engine of global growth. His clout will soon be on full display. On October 18th China’s ruling Communist Party will convene a five-yearly congress in Beijing (see Briefing). It will be the first one presided over by Mr Xi. Its 2,300 delegates will sing his praises to the skies. More sceptical observers might ask whether Mr Xi will use his extraordinary power for good or ill.

World, take note

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On his numerous foreign tours, Mr Xi presents himself as an apostle of peace and friendship, a voice of reason in a confused and troubled world. Mr Trump’s failings have made this much easier. At Davos in January Mr Xi promised the global elite that he would be a champion of globalisation, free trade and the Paris accord on climate change. Members of his audience were delighted and relieved. At least, they thought, one great power was willing to stand up for what was right, even if Mr Trump (then President-Elect) would not.

Mr Xi’s words are heeded partly because he has the world’s largest stockpile of foreign currency to back them up. His “Belt and Road Initiative” may be puzzlingly named, but its message is clear—hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese money are to be invested abroad in railways, ports, power stations and other infrastructure that will help vast swathes of the world to prosper. That is the kind of leadership America has not shown since the post-war days of the Marshall Plan in western Europe (which was considerably smaller).

Mr Xi is also projecting what for China is unprecedented military power abroad. This year he opened the country’s first foreign military base, in Djibouti. He has sent the Chinese navy on manoeuvres ever farther afield, including in July on NATO’s doorstep in the Baltic Sea alongside Russia’s fleet. China says it would never invade other countries to impose its will (apart from Taiwan, which it does not consider a country). Its base-building efforts are to support peacekeeping, anti-piracy and humanitarian missions, it says. As for the artificial islands with military-grade runways it is building in the South China Sea, these are purely defensive.

Unlike Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President, Mr Xi is not a global troublemaker who seeks to subvert democracy and destabilise the West. Still, he is too tolerant of troublemaking by his nuke-brandishing ally, North Korea (see Schumpeter). And some of China’s military behaviour alarms its neighbours, not only in South-East Asia but also in India and Japan.

At home, Mr Xi’s instincts are at least as illiberal as those of his Russian counterpart. He believes that even a little political permissiveness could prove not only his own undoing, but that of his regime. The fate of the Soviet Union haunts him, and that insecurity has consequences. He mistrusts not only the enemies his purges have created but also China’s fast-growing, smartphone-wielding middle class, and the shoots of civil society that were sprouting when he took over. He seems determined to tighten control over Chinese society, not least by enhancing the state’s powers of surveillance, and to keep the commanding heights of the economy firmly under the party’s thumb. All this will make China less rich than it should be, and a more stifling place to live. Human-rights abuses have grown worse under Mr Xi, with barely a murmur of complaint from other world leaders.

Liberals once mourned the “ten lost years” of reform under Mr Xi’s predecessor, Hu Jintao. Those ten years have become 15, and may exceed 20. Some optimists argue that we have not yet seen the real Mr Xi—that the congress will help him consolidate his power, and after that he will begin social and economic reforms in earnest, building on his relative success in curbing corruption. If he is a closet pluralist, however, he disguises it well. And alarmingly for those who believe that all leaders have a sell-by date, Mr Xi is thought to be reluctant to step down in 2022, when precedent suggests he should.

Reasons to be fearful

Mr Xi may think that concentrating more or less unchecked power over 1.4bn Chinese in the hands of one man is, to borrow one of his favourite terms, the “new normal” of Chinese politics. But it is not normal; it is dangerous. No one should have that much power. One-man rule is ultimately a recipe for instability in China, as it has been in the past—think of Mao and his Cultural Revolution. It is also a recipe for arbitrary behaviour abroad, which is especially worrying at a time when Mr Trump’s America is pulling back and creating a power vacuum. The world does not want an isolationist United States or a dictatorship in China. Alas, it may get both.

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “The world’s most powerful man”

The Demise of A Secular State


October 16, 2017

The Demise of  A Secular State

by S. Thayaparan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

“What the State can usefully do is to make itself a central depository, and active circulator and diffuser, of the experience resulting from many trials. Its business is to enable each experimentalist to benefit by the experiments of others, instead of tolerating no experiments but its own.”
John Stuart Mill, “On Liberty”

Malaysiakini columnist P Gunasegeram ends his latest piece, ‘I am a pendatang and proud of it,” with the appropriate “And know that I am here to stay whether you bloody like it or not because this country is mine too!” which is exactly how most non-Malay/ non-Muslims feel whenever they read about the use of the weaponised Islam in this country.

All you have to do is read the comments on social media when Johor’s HRH Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar stands up for what is right and decent when it comes to countering the agendas of Islamists in this country, who would use religion as a demarcation line to understand the frustrations non-Malays have with a system that on the one hand, finds utilitarian value in non-Malay contribution to this country, and on the other, is disgusted by their very existence as Malaysians with hopes and agendas of their own. These agendas are not necessarily different from each other but are anathema to the agendas of these state-sponsored Islamists.

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Johor’s HRH Sultan Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar stands up for what is right and decent when it comes to countering the agendas of Islamists in this country. The Malaysian Opposition led by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and his sidekick DAP’s Lim Kit Siang is deaf and dumb on this issue.
 

People often miss the larger narrative when it is easier to digest sound bites. When a religious school burns down, this should have been an opportunity for a national discussion on why these religious schools exists in the first place, what values they are promoting, how safe are they and the corrupt practices that goes in the creation and maintenance of these schools. Instead, nobody was really interested in this, but carried on putting all their eggs in the 1MDB basket.

The Muslims-only launderette issue becomes about how:

1)HRH The Sultan of Johor was the line in the sand when it comes to this type of religious mischief because politicians offered only mild condemnation which sounded more like bemusement, and

2) the relevance of an institution like Jakim (Islamic Development Department) to state religious bodies is questioned by the moves of the Johor Sultan, who, by cutting off contact between the federal religious authorities and his state’s religious department, is making it clear that – for the time being at least – he does not want religious extremism from the federal level contaminating Islamic moderation at the state level.

Where is our glorious opposition in all of this? As I said before – “If you are waffling on your commitment to a secular state, then you have to make your case for an Islamic state and this is where the trouble begins and ends. If oppositional Muslim political operatives and their allies would just stop using religion as the basis of critique and concentrate on furthering the agenda of the secular state, oppositional Muslim MPs would not have to worry about attempting to ‘out-Islam’ their rivals because this would not be the grounds on which they battle for votes.”

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Prime Minister Ayahtollah Najib Razak, Malaysia Al-Islam

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Ayahtollah Abdul Hadi Awang–Deputy Prime Minister, Malaysia al-Islam

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki  reminds us that BN – not Umno but BN – is committed to make Malaysia an Islamic state and of course, we will not hear anything from the MCA and MIC about this glorious agenda. Neither will we hear anything from our doughty opposition, because they have convinced themselves that they need to be “Islamic” to win the votes of the majority of the Malay community to replace the current Umno poohbah who is apparently the enemy of the state.

Which brings up the uncomfortable question of what kind of state? The enemy of an Islamic state or a secular state?

Forsaking the Constitution

Communications and Multimedia Minister Salleh Said Keruak blathers on about how we should embrace new politics – whatever that means – and not abandon the Constitution, but the reality is that by chipping away at the Constitution which is what Umno is doing in its attempt to create an “Islamic” state, it is just further evidence that the Constitution is not worth the paper it is printed on.

Meanwhile, the opposition is doing nothing about this. Nobody in the opposition has ever made statements that reaffirm the primacy of the Constitution or the opposition’s agenda of ending the Islamisation process. We do not even know if this is one of the reforms that would “save Malaysia” that the opposition intends to carry out.

 

Remember, “this meme that by benching UMNO, we as Malaysians, whatever our religion or credo, would be safe from the machinations of Islamic extremists, is irrational considering that we neither have a committed secular opposition nor Muslim politicians who openly commit to secular agendas. As long as this remains the default setting of Malaysian politics, there will never be a period where secularism is safe from encroaching Islamic extremism.”

I mean really, this whole idea of making Malaysia an “Islamic” state is really about making Malaysia more like Saudi Arabia. And you know what the Johor sultan thinks about that, right? Here is a reminder – “If there are some of you who wish to be an Arab and practise Arab culture, and do not wish to follow our Malay customs and traditions, that is up to you. I also welcome you to live in Saudi Arabia.”

But what I really want to know is, what does the opposition think of that? Does the opposition think that Malay culture should emulate Arab culture and if so, does the opposition advocate that Malays who don’t want to follow “Malay” customs and traditions are welcome to live in Saudi Arabia?

Depending on your point of view, the balkanisation of Malaysia is something that is a very real possibility because of this agenda of turning Malaysia into an “Islamic” state. This is not something that any rational person would want and I am including the Malays in this equation, because if they really wanted to live in an Islamic paradise, they would have voted for PAS a long time ago.

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Young Malaysians on a Mission: #TangkapNajib

Writing for Malaysiakini has presented me with opportunity to talk to young people from all over Malaysia. This is purely anecdotal, but what young people tell me is that they are disgusted by politics in this country. They voted for change and even on a state level, this has not happened. Most, if not all, of them say that if UMNO stops “playing” with race and religion they will vote BN because they know all over the world politicians are corrupt.

A common complaint or some variation of the same, is that Pakatan Harapan is not doing anything to stop Malaysia for becoming an Islamic state. Most young people who choose to leave do not leave because of corruption, but because of race and religion.

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Pakatan Harapan is not doing anything to stop Malaysia for becoming an Islamic state.

I am beginning to realise that the idea of voting for the opposition to create a two-party system and the almost zealous advocacy (mine?) of such, is an idea of diminishing returns.

The passing of Kassim Ahmad, the quiet Public Intellectual


October 16, 2017

NOTE:

This moving gut wrenching tribute to my late friend and public intellectual, Pak Kassim Ahmad who passed away October 10, 2017 escaped my attention. It is accounts for why its appearance on this blog was delayed. My sincere apologies for that.

Image result for kassim ahmad and din mericanAn Iconoclast and Quiet Revolutionist, Jebat and Rebel with a Cause but most of all a devout Muslim

 

Thayaparan is  an interesting writer who is known to say what he means in plain, very readable, and direct English. I enjoy reading his pieces in malaysiakini.com and thank him for this fitting tribute to a man who never forgot his roots from Malaysia’s Rice Bowl Kedah  with a passion for knowledge and ideas, a Malaysian who did his best to speak the truth to power. He single-handedly took on Malaysia’s bigoted religious establishment and won, and left an imprint in legal history. –Din Merican

The passing of a quiet Public Intellectual

by S. Thayaparan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

COMMENT | For Kassim Ahmad, a discourse has no winners or losers, only people interested in discovering their faith.

“According to government data, the objectives of the NEP have yet to be achieved. But I think the Malays have this consensus… these special privileges that have made them comfortable. They have this comfort zone where they face no challenges. Because of this, they don’t see the necessity in putting in the effort to progress. So they are weak and lack competitiveness. It is better to end something that does no good to the people anymore.”

– Kassim Ahmad

There is this meme as to the kind of Muslim the late Kassim Ahmad was. To his admirers, the persecution of this public intellectual demonstrated the fear the state had to what he wrote and said, and this made him the poster child for the kind of Islam they believed was “acceptable” in a multiracial and multi-religious country like Malaysia.

To his detractors, he was a purveyor of falsity that threatened Muslim solidarity and he was a puppet of the “opposition” whose writings and speeches would cause the collapse of Malay/Muslim political and religious hegemony.

Indeed, some opposition supporters would be perplexed of some of the things he said about certain opposition politicians and the UMNO state would be perplexed at some of the positions he advocated after they had branded him a deviant and an “enemy” of Islam.

The truth was that Kassim Ahmad was a devout Muslim who believed that his faith was hijacked by interpreters who had agendas of their own that were not compatible with his own interpretation of what would lead to a liberated world.

He had many young followers of his work who often told me that what was inspiring of his interpretation of Islam was that it did not foster fear but hope and that through questioning of what they were told and taught, they would be liberated from the falsities that were all around them.

He encouraged dissent, especially on his own writings, and he was cognisant that ultimately this was a discourse that had no winners or losers, only people who were interested in discovering their faith.

 

Unfortunately for him, the world is a cruel place. Those who make the claim that theirs is really a religion of peace do not have the empirical evidence to support such a claim. Indeed, the persecution of Kassim Ahmad was evidence that thinking was verboten.

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The duplicity, arrogance, and illegality of the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Department (Jawi) in its persecution of this religious scholar is a matter of public record. Indeed, not only was Kassim Ahmad targeted but also his long-time advocate Rosli Dahlan.

There were things he said and wrote about that a person could disagree with. Depending on your own belief system, they were roads that Kassim Ahmad walked that you would have no desire to travel on but what separates Kassim Ahmad from the petty religious bigots that persecuted him was that he would never dream of imposing his beliefs on others.

Indeed, he welcomed discourse. He welcomed the challenges his ideas inspired. He wanted Muslims to think about their religion, but more importantly, think for themselves. His was a quiet revolution of the Muslim soul.

Blind faith

This is an example of what baffled him – “Malaysia happens to be a strong upholder of hadith(s). Sometimes the so-called experts, appearing on the Forum Perdana every Thursday night, quote the hadiths more than the Quran.

“Muslim scholars, Bukhari and five others, collected many thousands of so-called hadiths and classified them as authentic or weak 250 to 300 years after the death of Prophet Muhammad. These are collections of the Sunni sect. The Syiah have their own collections of so-called hadiths.

“To my mind, these fabricated hadiths are a major source of confusion and downfall of Islam.”

If ideology and religion is the lens through which some view the world, it is understandable (for those who know anything about Islam) as to why someone like Kassim Ahmad would find succour in this religion which has been weaponised here in Malaysia and the rest of the world. A religion he thought –  which is different from “believed” because he put in a great deal of effort and time into “thinking” about his religion – could be a salvation to the problems of the world.

Here is another snippet in his own words – “In the University of Malaya in Singapore, I joined the leftist Socialist Club and later joined the People’s Party of Ahmad Boestamam, and quickly became its leader for 18 years! Somehow or other, I did not feel real about the power and success of socialism. It was simply to identify myself with the poor to whom I belong.

“I was therefore critical of things I inherited from my ancestors. The first scholar I criticised was Imam Shafi’e for his two principal sources (Quran and Hadis). The book ‘Hadis – Satu Peniliai Semula’ in 1986 became the topic of discussion for two months, half opposed and half supporting me. After two months, it was banned.”

Anyone who has read what this scholar believed his religion was about, would understand that Kassim Ahmad’s sympathies for the marginalised were paramount in his belief structure. You could make the argument that his beliefs gave structure to what he eventually hoped rational Islam could accomplish.

Having the mindset of being critical of what you inherited from your ancestors is the most potent tool an adversary of state-sponsored repression could have. This was why they feared this quiet scholar who simply spoke of things that his interpretation of his religion inspired in him.

His intellectual contribution to Islam was anathema to people who believed that blind faith was true faith and his steadfastness in not disavowing what he said, his noncompliance to the diktats of the state was a wound that would not heal for those who wish to impose their beliefs on others.

When I read of how the state persecuted him, I understand why he posed such a threat. If Muslims realised that their interpretation mattered then the so-called scholars would lose their influence and their hegemony of the debate would vanish. Kassim Ahmad was a constant reminder of what would happen if people embraced a religion that they had thought out for themselves.

In a time when the Islamic world is suffering from a dearth of outlier voices, the passing of Kassim Ahmad is a great loss not only to Malaysians but to the other sparks in the Muslims world waiting to be ignited by people who choose not to subscribe to fear but who genuinely want to understand their religion.

I will end with this quote by Henry David Thoreau. Hopefully, it means something –

“On the death of a friend, we should consider that the fates through confidence have devolved on us the task of a double living, that we have henceforth to fulfil the promise of our friend’s life also, in our own, to the world.”

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

 

Jomo Kwame Sundaram–Need to Speak Truth to Power


October 16, 2017

Jomo Kwame Sundaram–Need to Speak Truth to Power

by Malaysiakini Team

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Tomorrow: Jomo on why Malaysians are worse off today

INTERVIEW | Jomo Kwame Sundaram, former Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development at the United Nations, talks about the need to “speak truth to power,” among others.

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Question: In a recent speech, Prime Minister Najib Razak accused you of taking “every opportunity to attack me and my policies, from our participation in the TPPA, to the administration of welfare payments, to foreign investment in Malaysia.” What do you have to say?

Jomo: What can I say? One should not read him out of context. He said this as proof of freedom of speech and democracy in the country. Obviously, I appreciate his commitment to freedom of speech, and presumably, freedom after speech [laughs]. In fact, some people now tease me as the PM’s “poster boy” for free speech in Malaysia.

But unfortunately, his fact-checkers did not do their homework, or perhaps facts don’t matter in this age of fake news. As many know, I have also been criticised by the PM’s critics for supporting several of his policy initiatives, most notably BR1M (Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia) and the minimum wage policy.

BR1M goes directly to beneficiaries and is hence much appreciated by recipients. Understandably, as with the mid-year deal for Felda settlers, opposition politicians see BR1M as bribing the electorate, but one should not condemn BR1M itself.

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However, labour market interventions, such as the minimum wage policy, have been far more significant for improving a lot of low-income earners although the public may not realise it.

I recently lauded the Health Ministry initiative to get an affordable Hepatitis C treatment, for a small fraction of the US price, for the almost half million Malaysians who suffer from it.

So factually, his speechwriters were wrong. But he was right to say that I do not blindly support everything his government has done, and have been critical of specific policies, which I have done for decades, long before he became PM.

Najib said you have been critical of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

Jomo: He is correct that I have long been critical of the TPPA. Before I came back to Malaysia last year, I joined some UN colleagues to critically assess the TPPA. The report was launched in Washington DC in early 2016, soon after I left the UN.

That work was not focused on Malaysia, and simply pointed out that the methodology used simply assumed away the problems the TPPA would generate, including for the US. In the US, both Democrats and Republicans cited our work to oppose the TPPA.

After returning to Malaysia, I felt obliged to point out that the gains promised by the TPPA, even by its most fervent US advocates, were actually very modest and exaggerated by its Malaysian proponents.

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I also pointed out that most of the gains to the US were at our expense. Strengthened intellectual property rights (IPRs) would raise the costs of medicines, for example.

The TPPA’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions would allow private tribunals to make rulings in favour of powerful foreign corporations at potentially great expense to the Malaysian government.

Even now, although the TPPA is dead in law because President (Donald) Trump rejected it, there are those trying to push TPP 11 through while the government and public are distracted by other matters.

This would be worse as it would sell out the national and public interest for next to no gain. My concern throughout has been the Malaysian public interest, including the government interest.

What about foreign investments?

Jomo: As for foreign investment, again he is correct that I am concerned about how the government is encouraging foreign portfolio investment, as in the period before the 1997-98 crisis.

Unlike Thailand and Indonesia then, the government and Malaysian corporations had not borrowed very heavily from abroad. But we were vulnerable because of the sudden exit of mainly foreign holdings from the Malaysian stock market.

Such investments have grown so much in the last decade that some estimates suggest that they exceed foreign share ownership in the mid-1970s, more than four decades ago. It is also misleading to think that because Malaysians have been encouraged to invest abroad, we should encourage foreign portfolio investments here.

 

Greenfield foreign direct investments are a different story as they may bring in new productive capacities and capabilities, including technology, management and market access. But my concern remains that Malaysian industrial capacities and capabilities remain modest, and we still have relatively few internationally competitive industrial firms.

My concerns have been expressed with the country’s interests and future progress foremost. I pray that the space for such discussion and debate will be expanded, not diminished. The PM’s affirmation of freedom of speech should, therefore, be welcomed, not feared.

So, what inspires you to do what you do?

Jomo: Many people have inspired me. Those who fought to free us from imperialism, oppression and exploitation. While in school, especially at the Royal Military College, I was inspired by Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Yasser Arafat, Kwame Nkrumah, Ho Chi Minh and Nelson Mandela.

And yes, I do not identify with the other man I was named after – Jomo Kenyatta, father of Kenya’s current president, who was unfairly jailed by the British from 1952 until 1959, but became increasingly corrupt and tribalistic after becoming president in 1963.

Chinua Achebe’s writings turned from the disruptive colonial impact to the gangrene of corruption. Then, in 1983, I was shaken by the brutal torture and murder of my senior in school, the late Jalil Ibrahim, in Hong Kong.

We are all enjoined to “speak truth to power.” Initially, when I was at UKM (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) with the late Ishak Shari, Osman Rani and Ismail Muhd Salleh, and later with others after I moved to Universiti Malaya.

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During Dr Mahathir (Mohamad)’s long tenure, I was also known as a critic, even though I appreciated many aspects of particular policy initiatives. Although I was quite outspoken in those days, BN politicians did not harass me.

 

Rather, petty university administrators who had ambitions or agendas of their own were the vindictive ones. But most left me alone as I had no ambitions in terms of university positions.

Also, there is no personal animus on my part towards the Prime Minister. As is well-known, I greatly admire his late father (Tun Abdul Razak )for many reasons. In fact, I wrote an article early last year, just after leaving the UN, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of his untimely passing.

As a student then, in the cold winter of early 1976, we organised a memorial meeting at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to honour his contributions soon after he passed.

Tomorrow: Jomo on why Malaysians are worse off today