One would think that fake news happens only in cyberspace and that mainstream/traditional news organisations are somehow not subject to reporting fake news. But that’s not necessarily true because when the media space is controlled like it is here, it produces an atmosphere which spews out fake news in billows.–P. Gunasegaram
QUESTION TIME | One would think that fake news happens only in cyberspace and that mainstream/traditional news organisations are somehow not subject to reporting fake news. But that’s not necessarily true because when the media space is controlled like it is here, it produces an atmosphere which spews out fake news in billows.
In its simplest form, fake news is just manufactured news but there are degrees. Some are outright lies while others combine untruths with elements of true news to project an image which is not wholly correct while appearing to give the impression that it comes from accurate news sources.
It is most easy to do this online by setting up websites and/or blogs to propagate the news and manufacture news to the benefit of the sponsoring authority. Thus, political parties and candidates up for election pay so-called cyber troopers large amounts of money to boost their image in the eyes of the public.
Simultaneously they engage in activities to drag down the image of the opponents through smear campaigns, sometimes unearthing true stories and twisting the context and at other times broadcasting outright lies.
In Malaysia, as elections loom large and have to be held by August next year, this whole idea of fake news, especially on social media, has grabbed the attention of politician and layman alike, especially when US President Donald Trump, who has propagated fake news against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, accuses US mainstream media of fake news in repeated tweets.
But in Malaysia, the situation is very different. We have had fake news with us for decades now, especially during general elections, when more or less the entire regulated media industry gets commandeered by the ruling government – BN and its predecessors.
Look at for instance, how newspapers either directly owned by political parties or those close to them behave at election time – UMNO’s Utusan group, MCA’s The Star, as well as New Straits Times, RTM1, RTM2, TV3, and even ntv7, the other broadcast media.
It is as if the government can do no wrong, it is as if the opposition is a major threat to the unity of the country. The only viable party that can rule the country is, of course, the BN, everyone else will take the country to ruin.
So the heavily-controlled mainstream newspapers, magazines and broadcast organisations not just spewed fake news but engaged in regular propaganda blasts about how the government was so great, with documentaries about what it did, and through advertisements. The poor opposition is denied any airtime or space in the newspapers while the ruling party of the day runs riot over the opposition in all the various broadcast and print media.
Is it any surprise that the ruling party thrashed the opposition soundly in almost all the elections since 1969 (until the tide turned in 2008) when the opposition denied the ruling party two-thirds majority for a while? BN regained it following the collapse of many opposition parties into BN in the aftermath of oppressive measures following the May 13 riots shortly after the elections, riots which many consider to have been manufactured.
And then came 2008 – BN did not lose but soundly lost its two-thirds majority and five states in the general elections, its biggest setback yet. And the opposition finally began to think about riding into Putrajaya in triumph. In 2013, despite all of Prime Minister Najib Razak’s efforts, BN did not regain the two-thirds majority although UMNO did better.
So what made the change in 2008 and 2013? In two words, social media, which remained largely uncensored and unregulated and which gave the opposition a lot more space than it ever did before – there was a new medium to send news out instead of just print and broadcast and it was accessible to all.
A game changer
The control of the print and broadcast media no longer ensured that only some news of the favourable kind reached the general public. In Malaysia’s case, social media stopped the avalanche of fake news spewing out of the mainstream manufactured news factories.
But unfortunately, with fake news making such an impact on social media in the US for instance, with Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the polls significantly attributed to it, the importance of social media is being increasingly recognised as a game changer for elections in Malaysia.
Thus, both Najib and his deputy have been increasingly talking about fake news on social media and the need to counter it effectively. But in all probability what they mean is that the true news is coming out from many sections of the social media, so we have to do something about it.
Their thinking goes something like this: We have to counter all these things which are true which are coming out from social media – we can blank it out from the print and broadcast media but we need a social media attack to counter these truths with lies.
Thus, we see Najib claiming in his blog rather preposterously that 1MDB will save RM200 billion in 20 years for Malaysia when the truth is that it has in all probability it has already lost as much as RM40 billion.
Expect this broadside by the BN on social media in Malaysia to increase – in the US, fake news may have reached epidemic proportions already, but in Malaysia, the process is just beginning but will increase very rapidly.
It is not going to be easy to differentiate the truth from the fake news but if you stick to respected and established online new organisations such as … – you know who they are, I don’t have to tell you – you will be safe.
Stick to independent news organisations who have a strong tradition of respect for truth, accuracy and balance and who cover both what the government as well as what the opposition has to say. Look at who are behind news portals – if they are not specific enough about ownership and editorial team, be suspicious.
Verify and crosscheck sources of information. Much is passed on over social media websites such as Facebook and WhatsApp with not even a mention of the source. If you want to check the source, type a key extract into a search engine and look at the results.
Please remember, especially at election time – you are more likely to get fake news and inadequate news of the right kind from mainstream media who have had a long track record compared to some of the online news portals who may not have as long a record.
And finally, please support those who supply good, fair information at reasonable prices (less than 60 sen a day) by subscribing to them (instead of sharing passwords indiscriminately), and take out advertisements with them and donating to them. It’s a small price to pay.
The sad truth is that information that is free is more likely to be tainted. Now, who was it who said that there is no such thing as a free lunch?
P GUNASEGARAM says truth often lies hidden under a pile of lies. E-mail: email@example.com.
“When I hear the word ‘culture,’ I reach for my revolver.” This philistine wisecrack is often attributed to Air Marshal Hermann Goering, or some other Nazi notable. Benjamin Martin sets us straight on its source: the 1933 play Schlageter by the Nazi Party member Hanns Johst, in which a character says: “When I hear the word ‘culture’ I release the catch on my Browning.”
Martin’s illuminating book The Nazi-Fascist New Order for European Culture shows how badly astray this famous quip leads us: cultural concerns were in fact vital to the imperial projects of Hitler and Mussolini. We do not normally associate their violent and aggressive regimes with “soft power.” But the two dictators were would-be intellectuals—Adolf Hitler a failed painter inebriated with the music of Wagner, and Mussolini a onetime schoolteacher and novelist. Unlike American philistines, they thought literature and the arts were important, and wanted to weaponize them as adjuncts to military conquest. Martin’s book adds a significant dimension to our understanding of how the Nazi and Fascist empires were constructed.
German power and success gave the Nazi case particular salience. The special meaning of Kultur in Germans’ evaluation of themselves is an important part of the story. According to a famous essay by Norbert Elias, the meaning of Kultur for Germans is hardly comprehensible without reference to a particular historical development.*Kultur, he explains (along with Bildung, or education), denoted in pre-unification Germany those qualities that the intellectuals and professionals of the small, isolated German middle class claimed for themselves in response to the disdain of the minor German nobles who employed them: intellectual achievement, of course, but also simple virtues like authenticity, honesty, and sincerity.
German courtiers, by contrast, according to the possessors of Kultur, had acquired “civilization” from their French tutors: manners, social polish, the cultivation of appearances. As the German middle class asserted itself in the nineteenth century, the particular virtues of Kultur became an important ingredient in national self-definition. The inferior values of “civilization” were no longer attributed to an erstwhile French-educated German nobility, but to the French themselves and to the West in general.
By 1914, the contrast between Kultur and Zivilisation had taken on a more aggressively nationalist tone. During World War I German patriotic propaganda vaunted the superiority of Germany’s supposedly rooted, organic, spiritual Kultur over the allegedly effete, shallow, cosmopolitan, materialist, Jewish-influenced “civilization” of Western Europe. Martin’s book shows how vigorously the Nazis applied this traditional construct. Hitler invested considerable money and time in the 1930s, and even after World War II began, in an effort to take over Europe’s cultural organizations and turn them into instruments of German power. These projects had some initial success. In the end, however, they collapsed along with the military power they were designed to reinforce.
In a parallel and even less enduring effort, Mussolini’s Fascist regime tried to establish the primacy of Italian culture under the umbrella of Hitler’s conquests. Mussolini’s cultural executives, such as his Minister for Press and Propaganda Dino Alfieri, asserted that the Mediterranean and classical tradition of Italy was the proper foundation of a European “cultural Axis.” Having thrown in their lot definitively with Hitler, the Italians could hope to be the contemporary Greece to Germany’s new Rome, but the Nazi leaders never entertained the slightest doubt that German Kultur was the foundation stone of the “new cultural order” for Europe.
An extensive network of international cultural organizations already existed before Hitler came to power. They had been greatly expanded after 1919 in the orbit of the League of Nations. Hitler saw them cynically as instruments of French cultural influence and as a reinforcement of Allied hegemony. Just as he planned to overthrow the political system set up by the victorious Allies after World War I, he was determined to overthrow the democratic cultural network. He intended to replace it with his own organizations headquartered in Berlin and dedicated to spreading throughout Europe the Nazi conception of the unique racial character of each national culture.
The word “international” acquired a special meaning in its usage by Nazi and Fascist cultural officials. The Allies’ international cultural associations had rested on a set of liberal democratic assumptions: that works of art and literature should be evaluated by universal standards of quality; that masterpieces were the product of individual creativity; and that no national culture deserved hegemony over another. The Nazi and Fascist dictators reversed all of these assumptions. They measured the merit of works of art and literature by their significance within unique national cultural traditions. Masterpieces, in their view, grew out of community roots. And national cultural traditions were ranked in a natural hierarchy, with the German and Italian ones at the top.
Hitler concerned himself with cultural matters as soon as he became chancellor of Germany in January 1933. He purged the German section of PEN International of “leftist” and Jewish writers. When PEN International protested, Hitler dissolved the German section altogether at the end of 1933. During this dispute the president of the Italian PEN club, the provocateur Futurist intellectual Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, supported the German position. Thus from the earliest days, Nazi cultural projects proved capable of enlisting foreign support.
Hitler made his ambitions for German culture clear from the beginning. At a Nazi Party Congress on Culture in September 1933 he promised that the Nazi state would intervene more actively in cultural matters than the Weimar Republic had done, in order to make art an expression of the “hereditary racial bloodstock” and to transform artists into defenders of the German Volk.
Hitler left the daily tasks of his bid to reorganize European culture under German dominance to his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels—another would-be intellectual and a failed novelist—threw his frenetic energy, his ideological passions, and a generous budget into spreading abroad the Nazis’ racialist and nationalist approach to the arts.
Disaster strikes when men do nothing about tyranny and abuses of power
Cinema was the Nazi leaders’ first cultural target. Goebbels and Hitler were as obsessed with movies as American adolescents are today with social media. Convinced that cinema was their era’s main engine of cultural influence, they tried to control filmmaking as far as their influence could reach. At the Venice Film Festival in 1935, at Goebbels’s instigation, delegates of twelve nations agreed to create an International Film Chamber (IFC) designed to establish a continent-wide system of film exchange and regulation. As the possessor of the continent’s largest and most powerful film industry, Germany became the dominant force in the IFC. Fascist Italy, however, assured for itself a strong second position by exploiting its considerable film-producing assets, such as the technologically advanced studios of Cinecittà and the Venice Film Festival, which continued to be the main venue of IFC activities.
The IFC was a genuinely European organization, and even had a French president in 1937. Its inspiration had been German, however, and its organizational form was less international than something Martin usefully calls “inter-national,” a federation of national arts organizations on the model of the Reich Film Chamber, which Goebbels had formed in July 1933 on corporatist principles. Corporatist doctrine required that capital, management, and labor abandon their separate advocacy groups and sit down together to find their common interests, alongside state representatives. Corporatism smothered internal conflict in film production and gave determining influence to the state rather than to the market.
Each IFC member nation was expected to have a national film organization similar to the Reich Film Chamber. Within Germany the Reich Film Chamber became the instrument through which the Nazi regime controlled an increasingly concentrated German film industry purged of Jews. In 1942, the largest production companies, such as UFA and Tobis, were merged into one state-controlled entity.
Benjamin Martin shows most interestingly that the Nazi and Fascist “inter-national” organizations had authentic appeal to some European intellectuals and arts executives who were not themselves Nazis or Fascists. These organizations promised material as well as intellectual advantages. The IFC provided access to a market of continental dimensions, a feature particularly attractive to European filmmakers who all suffered from the limited size of their national audiences. It also simplified thorny problems of cross-boundary payments and differing copyright laws.
The main role of the IFC was to combat the Hollywood menace. The dominance of American films had troubled European filmmakers and intellectuals from the beginning. By 1928 54 percent of all films shown in France, 72 percent in Britain, and 80 percent in Italy came from Hollywood. Already in the 1920s most European countries had imposed quotas on American films or limited them by reciprocity agreements. The respite given to European films by the arrival of “talkies” in 1929 had been brief, as expert dubbing soon allowed Hollywood films to predominate again. Many Europeans endorsed the IFC position that American films were trivial entertainment designed to make money, while European films were artistic creations that deserved protection. Although the British and Dutch refused to join, IFC membership extended by 1935 “from Belgium to Hungary [and] revealed a Europe,” according to Martin, “ready to accept German leadership.”
German military conquests early in World War II enabled the Nazis to tighten even further their control of European cinema. In August 1940 they banned American films altogether in the territories they occupied. A similar ban within Germany itself followed in 1941. The Fascist regime had already reduced the number of Hollywood films shown in Italy by the “Alfieri law” of 1938 that created a state monopoly with sole authority to buy and show foreign films (Hollywood’s four biggest studios withdrew from the Italian market in response). The unintended result of such protectionism was to give Hollywood films the allure of forbidden fruit and to prepare their triumphant return to Europe in 1945. In Jean-Pierre Melville’s Resistance film Army of Shadows, two underground leaders are smuggled out of France to consult personally with Free French leader General Charles de Gaulle. The first thing they want to do in London, after eating a filling meal, is to go see Gone with the Wind.
Beyond cinema, the Nazis meant to reorganize the whole range of German cultural activities along corporatist lines. The Reich Chamber of Culture contained subgroups for music, literature, theater, press, radio, and so on. The Nazis soon tried to extend the reach of these cultural corporations to the entire European continent, according to their geopolitical vision of a world divided into blocs, or “great spaces,” continent-scaled, self-sufficient economic systems aligned with the appropriate cultural associations protected by authoritarian states. Their European “New Order” was meant to be cultural as well as economic and political.
Music was a realm that Germans felt particularly qualified to dominate. But first the German national musical scene had to be properly organized. In November 1933 Goebbels offered Richard Strauss the leadership of a Reich Music Chamber. In June 1934 Strauss invited composers from thirteen countries to the annual meeting of the German Music Association in Wiesbaden. The delegates created a Permanent Council for International Cooperation among Composers.
The Permanent Council grew by exploiting an aesthetic rift in European musical culture. Since the early twentieth century a generation of gifted innovators had created new musical languages, such as Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique. Organized in the influential International Society for Contemporary Music, the avant-garde had come to have a powerful influence on the European musical scene. Traditional composers resented the modernists’ celebrity, and the Nazis (Mussolini remained more open to modernism) attracted conservative support by attacking the avant-garde as internationalist, rootless, and Jewish. In a famous speech in December 1934 Goebbels derided “an atonal noise maker,” by whom he was generally assumed to mean the composer Paul Hindemith (who was not Jewish). Goebbels organized in Düsseldorf in 1938 a presentation of “degenerate music” following the better-known 1937 exhibition of “degenerate art.”
Most of the composers who were affiliated with the Permanent Council, advocates generally of a national, rural, or folklorist approach to musical composition, are forgotten today. The council did draw some prestigious composers who were not really Nazi or Fascist, like Jean Sibelius and Albert Roussel. The presence of Richard Strauss, a onetime moderate modernist who resented the decline of his fame, gave legitimacy to the IFC. He continued to preside over it even after he had been removed from the Reich Music Chamber in 1935 in a dispute over his continued association with Stefan Zweig, who had written the libretto for his opera Die schweigsame Frau.
The Permanent Council’s attention to composers’ material problems was an additional attraction. These included inconsistencies among different national copyright codes, problems of international royalties payments, and droit moral—the right claimed by authors and composers to assure that their work was not presented in a deformed way or with offensive associations. Thus the Permanent Council was able to fill a busy schedule of concerts in various European capitals through the late 1930s.
The Nazi organization of European literature came later, but by similar tactics: a federation of national corporative bodies. German authors already gathered annually in Weimar. In connection with the 1941 Weimar authors’ meeting, Goebbels invited fifty foreign writers to visit the city of Goethe and Schiller at the expense of his Propaganda Ministry (an indulgence that caused many of them trouble after the war). The following October authors from fifteen European countries met at Weimar to found a European Writers’ Union.
As with music, the Nazis were able to attract writers outside the immediate orbit of the Nazi and Fascist parties by endorsing conservative literary styles against modernism, by mitigating copyright and royalty problems, and by offering sybaritic visits to Germany and public attention. Some significant figures joined, such as the Norwegian novelist Knut Hamsun, winner of the 1920 Nobel Prize in literature, but most were minor writers who employed themes of nationalism, folk traditions, or the resonance of landscape. Martin unravels these multinational connections with clarity and precision, aided by research and reading in at least five European languages.
Painting and sculpture, curiously, do not figure in this account of the cultural fields that the Nazis and Fascists tried to reorganize “inter-nationally,” perhaps because they had not previously been organized on liberal democratic lines. Within Germany, of course, modernists could not show or sell their work, but this was not the case in occupied Paris, where Picasso and Kandinsky painted quietly in private and Jean Bazaine organized an exhibition with fellow modernists in 1941. Nazi cultural officials thought “degenerate” art appropriate for France.
Hitler made effective use of some German intellectuals’ resentment at being shut out of international cultural institutions after 1919. Martin seems to accept this sense of victimhood as legitimate, but it is difficult to square with the prestige of German cinema, music, and science in the 1920s.
Science would have made an interesting case study, a contrary one. Germany dominated the world of science before 1933. Germans won fifteen Nobel Prizes in physics, chemistry, and physiology or medicine between 1918 and 1933, more than any other nation. Far from capitalizing on this major soft power asset, Hitler destroyed it by imposing ideological conformity and expelling Jewish scientists such as the talented nuclear physicist Lise Meitner. The soft power of science is fragile, as Americans may yet find out.
Without specifically setting out to do so, Martin casts interesting light on soft power and the conditions for its success. Nazis and Fascists turned out to be poor at it. Inherent contradictions undermined their attempts at cultural dominance. Dictatorial methods clashed with literary and artistic independence. Nazis had burned books, and both Germany and Italy had excluded prominent writers and artists. Their evident desire to put their own cultures first undermined their lip service to “inter-national” cooperation.
Within the “cultural Axis,” the relationship between Germany and Italy was strained. Martin was right to include the Italian case, even if Mussolini’s parallel bid for cultural power, like his parallel war, accomplished little. Hitler always accepted that Mussolini was his forerunner—the Duce’s bust stood on his desk—and while always ready to try to upstage him never let him drop. And so his “inter-national” organizations often attributed a strong second role to the Italians. But the Italians worked from within to subvert German claims to primacy.
A major obstacle to the success of Axis “inter-national” cultural organizations—especially with the Nazis—was their ideological narrowness. While an alignment with militant antimodernism attracted conservative writers and artists, these generated little excitement compared to the modernists. Hitler’s efforts to stem the mass appeal of Hollywood films and jazz only made them (as Martin suggests) more seductive and, in a final irony, prepared for the triumph of American music, jeans, and film in the postwar world by trying to make them taboo.
Soft power seems to have thrived best without direct military occupation. The global influence of French language, manners, and ideas began in the seventeenth century, and depended little on the conquests of Louis XIV and Napoleon. The ascendancy of the English language began with the commercial and financial power of the City of London in the nineteenth century, and owed little to conquest or colonial occupation, though those helped. The soft power of the United States, the most successful yet, spread far beyond direct American military presence. It prospered by appealing to mass popular tastes in music, dress, and entertainment, while the “cultural axis” aimed at conventional forms of high culture. The United States government did not ignore high culture—consider the activities of the United States Information Agency and the Congress for Cultural Freedom after World War II. But American soft power thrived mostly through the profit motive and by offering popular entertainment to the young.
Far from reaching for a revolver to deal with “culture,” Hitler (with Mussolini struggling behind) tried with at least some initial success to use international cultural organizations to enhance his military power. This story has been approached mostly, if at all, in individual national terms, but Martin has brought the whole Axis cultural project admirably into focus.
Norbert Elias, “Sociogenesis of the Antithesis Between Kultur and Zivilisation in German Usage,” in The Civilizing Process: Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations, revised edition (Blackwell, 2000). ↩
Le Mooch–Trump’s Lapdog–Hatchet Man. Scaramucci seems to have been installed to carry out Trump’s form of personnel management—to help demean and get rid of retainers who have proved disappointing or threatening to his interests.
Customarily, when you are in the first couple of weeks of a new job, it’s best to learn the names of the people around you, absorb the rudiments of your new workplace, maybe figure out the lunch situation. This was clearly not the way of Anthony Scaramucci, the new communications director for the Trump White House. The Mooch is a man in a hurry. But while he looks to most like someone racing into a wall, he is, to his patron, doing precisely what is required.
Within moments of arrival, Scaramucci was declaring his everlasting fealty to the President (“I love the President”), erasing the digital evidence of his previous contempt for the President (“an inherited money dude from Queens County”), and comparing his relationship with Reince Priebus, the White House Chief of Staff, to that of Cain and Abel, the killer and the killed. And then, the other night, he called Ryan Lizza, of The New Yorker. First, Scaramucci tried in vain to unearth the source who revealed that he had dined at the White House, and wrongly presumed it was Priebus. He then went on an obscene tirade about Priebus’s mental stability, Steve Bannon’s dorsal flexibility, and, most alarming of all, his intention to “fucking kill all the leakers” by employing the capacities, human and technological, of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“O.K., the Mooch showed up a week ago,” Scaramucci told Lizza. “This is going to get cleaned up very shortly, O.K.? Because I nailed these guys. I’ve got digital fingerprints on everything they’ve done through the F.B.I. and the fucking Department of Justice.” He then ended the nearly nine-minute colloquy by saying, “Yeah, let me go, though, because I’ve gotta start tweeting some shit to make this guy”—meaning Priebus—“crazy.”
The reaction to all this was predictable. It roiled, yet again, the sense of vertigo that has accompanied the Trump era. And there were laughs all around, can-you-top-this jokes on Twitter, gleeful one-liners on late-night television, grave pronouncements on the morning shows. And yet the reaction that matters most was that of Scaramucci’s patron, the President of the United States. Mike Allen, the co-founder of the Web site Axios, wrote, “We’re told the President loved the Mooch quotes.”
Of course he did. After all, Scaramucci was, in language and in manner, channeling Trump himself. What about Scaramucci’s rant could possibly have offended Trump’s sense of propriety, dignity, or politics? As so many audiotapes, tweets, interviews, and speeches have made clear, Trump has no compunction about treating people, even his most self-abnegating loyalists, as vassals; he speaks in the language of obscenity and contempt. What previous President could have delivered an oration so filled with political bile that his host, the Boy Scouts of America, would find it necessary to apologize to anyone who might have been offended? He is unique.
Scaramucci, who was endorsed by Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, seems to have been installed to carry out Trump’s form of personnel management—to help demean and get rid of retainers who have proved disappointing or threatening to his interests. Sean Spicer. Reince Priebus. Steve Bannon. Jeff Sessions. And, ultimately, Robert Mueller.
In other words, the Mooch matters because the Mooch–The new White House Iago- helps to clarify what matters most to the President and his family. What matters most is Trump’s grip on his base voters and his survival in office. Everything else—a sane health-care policy, the dignity of the transgender people who have volunteered to serve their country, a rational environmental policy, a foreign policy that serves basic democratic values, rule of law—is of tertiary interest.
Trump’s focus is not impossible to divine. He is increasingly anxious that Mueller and congressional investigators are exploring the details of his business transactions and financial holdings, and how they might have exposed him to being targeted by the Russian government.
In the meantime, Trump’s capacity to demean and diminish everyone in his proximity continues apace. H. R. McMaster, the national-security adviser, is said to have an increasingly rocky relationship with the President, and to have been on the receiving end of his contempt; Secretary of Defense James Mattis was informed of the ban on transgender soldiers merely as a courtesy; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson finds himself in a turf battle with Trump’s son-in-law, who believes himself capable of untold diplomatic achievements. How long can these people last? Priebus, Bannon—if they are swept away, do not expect them to be replaced by models of probity.
Lapdog Le Mooch and his Master, Donald J. Trump–The 45th POTUS
Last week, while Trump was battling to repeal Obamacare, Scaramucci told CBS, “I don’t know if he’s going to get what he wants next week, but he’s going to get what he wants eventually, because this guy always gets what he wants. O.K.?” Scaramucci matters because he has divined what Donald Trump wants, and he is speaking in his language. Last night, John McCain and many others refused to be cowed or intimidated. They acted in favor of the most elemental notion of rationality and principle. Who else will follow?
Video: How Trump Could Get Fired
The Constitution offers two main paths for removing a President from office. How feasible are they?
The normalisation of Racism in Malaysia–Thanks Farouk for Socking to Insolent Nik Abduh and Biro Tata Negara
by Farouk A. Peru
A Member of P.Ramlee’s Tiga Abdul (remamed Abduh)
In a week that saw Nik Abduh advising Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to spend his remaining years on the prayer mat seeking forgiveness, I thought I had seen my fair share of ludicrous remarks for the week at least.
Nik Abduh has taken over his late father’s place as the purveyor of silly comments, it seems. He told Tun Dr M that the latter’s time was short and so he should spend it in worship. How does Abduh know how much time anyone has left? And why should anyone spend it solely on the prayer mat when he could be helping society? Is Abduh saying Islam is only practised on the prayer mat? If so, he should withdraw from politics and spend it on the prayer mat himself.
The UMNO-sponsored BTN Troopers are told that” racism is a good thing”
But even Abduh’s comment could not overshadow those by the Biro Tata Negara (BTN) or National Civics Bureau in terms of ludicrousness. BTN used to be very sheepish about its institutional racism. After all, being racist is a shameful thing.
Around six years ago, one of its officers was caught using derogatory racial epithets to describe Malaysian Chinese and Indians. At the time, the usual excuses were given. Misquoted, misunderstood etc. Though I doubt anyone actually believed those excuses at the time, at least there was a sense of shame about it.
Fast forward to the present and BTN is actually saying that racism is good to bring about unity! There were no more excuses or being sheepish about it. This is a blatant, audacious and brazen proclamation: racism is a good thing!
I had to read the headline a few times to ensure I got it right; it had occurred to me that language may have betrayed them. Perhaps they meant “racialism” instead of “racism.” “Racialism” is the focus upon a particular racial group to benefit them but does not entail oppressing other racial groups. Call it cultural empowerment, if you will. Perhaps BTN meant this instead of racism. Except they did not.
They actually meant racism. They contrasted this racism with the fact that other races had their fair share of human rights (notwithstanding child abduction and bodysnatching for the purposes of religion, of course). They even said that most of the wealthiest people in the nation were Chinese as if this somehow absolves us of the sin of robbing others of educational and economic opportunities.
Apparently, they had lifted this concept of racism from the Arab nationalist tendencies of “asabiyyah” which was discussed by ibn Khaldun. Perhaps, in their uncritical approach which accepts anything Arabic as “Islamic”, they failed to understand that Ibn Khaldun was a sociologist and not a theologian.
Khaldun’s ideas were not necessarily Islam. In fact, the Quran does not condone any kind of racism or even nationalism. It sees our cultural diversity as a means of recognising one another (49/13) and that human disunity only came out of exploitative tendencies. That should sound very familiar to the BTN and their overlords, UMNO.
Let us now take a rational perspective. Can racism actually bring about any benefit? The proof of the pudding is in the eating and after nearly 50 years of affirmative action supposedly benefitting the Malays, even our leaders admit that they have grown used to their crutch! Instead of developing our competitive capacities in the wider world, we have chosen to create a controlled environment full of jaguh-jaguh kampungs. Kings of the small pond who would get devoured in the wider world.
These racist policies have had a terrible effect on the Malay mindset. We have come to have a privileged mindset and a sense of entitlement. Who could forget the speech last year by a young Malay woman bemoaning her struggle to make it once she graduated? Her sense of expectation is a depiction of the mindset Malays tend to have. This does not tally with our competitiveness at all and our lack of skills, especially in English, has been made into comedy material.
Racism must be also blamed for our current lack of national cohesion. Despite people seeing this as an increase in religious consciousness, Malays have not become more religious. Rather, they have mistaken another kind of racism (pseudo-Arabic racism, to be precise) for piety. Now, we even have organisations shamelessly peddling Islamisation while claiming their Malay rights!
Having said the above, I am all for cultural empowerment and activism. I see Malay culture, like all cultures, as a treasure trove of wisdom and human experience. But its access should be for everyone, not just Malays. It is not an excuse for nationalism let alone racism. We in Malaysia are fortunate to have many cultures in one melting pot. Instead, we have chosen to be governed by racists who will tout their racism to exploit even their own people. We need to dismantle BTN and work towards national unity at the grassroots level. –
Does a tacky logo point to the return of authoritarianism in Malaysia?
When institutional failures are commonplace, institutions are expected to fail. This cynical expectation may be passed off as sarcasm, but it is intrinsic to a growing sense of political detachment between the Malaysian government under Prime Minister Najib Razak and the people. Worse, the authorities have a vested interest in maintaining, rather than closing, this gap, to deter more direct political participation.
Kuala Lumpur’s new logo, recently released by the city council Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL), was never destined to be popular. Rather, it is the public’s reactions that give it currency.
When it was first unveiled online, the logo prompted ridicule. Within the span of a week, a free template was created, in addition to several step-by-step tutorials , allowing netizens to make their own version of the logo with just a few clicks. Social media was immediately awash with parodies and caricatures, with netizens customising the logo with personal or corporate names, repurposing it for reasons other than its own initial intent.
This is the Reality since 2009
While one could however laud the creative aftermath of this controversy, the reactions in fact display more cynicism than optimism. The parodies are suggestive of a growing detachment between the Malaysian government and the people, one that amounts to a credibility gap. But this gap should not be understood solely as a problem. Rather, it is an ideological façade perpetuated by the authorities to consolidate their power.
After the negative reception of the logo, DBKL responded that the design cost RM15,000, inevitably creating a greater stir. The logo received its second wave of media coverage when Visit KL, the Tourism Unit of DBKL, released a video on YouTube (removed from the official Visit KL channel, but re-uploaded by a private organisation) showcasing a row of tin ingots gradually crackling and breaking apart to reveal the logo. The tin ingots are supposed to symbolise Kuala Lumpur’s history “as a major tin mining and trading centre”, whereas the serif font selection is supposed to display “an Islamic scripture character with a modern twist”.
Nonetheless, any clarification provided by DBKL will never suffice. Be it RM15 or RM15,000, the reactions will be the same. In Malaysia, cynicism has been thriving during most of Prime Minister Najib administration, escalating with the 1MDB fiasco. It is a symptom that has developed over an extended period of time and out of repeated institutional failures. That these failures have become a norm means that not only are failures commonplace, they are expected to be so.
The expectation of failures feeds into cynicism and the credibility gap. This phenomenon should not be underestimated. Within the broader contemporary state of affairs, cynicism becomes integral to the political economy of the nation-state. To the Malaysian authorities, failures are ideologically productive: failures, again and again, produce cynical expectation, deepen political detachment and expand the tolerance for more scandalous failures.
If the banality of repeated failures cultivates cynicism, cynicism furthers the banalisation of failures and completes the crisis of political detachment.
Far from being a standalone problem, this crisis should be read against the context of the privileging of the personal over the public domain. It is a moment where political actions become more about the individual rather than the collective. . Parodies of the controversial Kuala Lumpur logo point to this direction. Amid the breakdown of the public political realm, accruing personal cynicism can only be satiated through further individualisation of political expression. That is, in this case, through the personalisation or customisation of the logo.
The credibility gap has effectively disempowered the public and has deterred the possibility of more direct political action. The Kuala Lumpur logo controversy and the subsequent reactions are but a sign. Resistance is now impelled to operate in a separate discourse of politics, which can resist and react accordingly without the gap ever closing, because it has been decoupled from the hegemonic operation of power.
The response towards the Kuala Lumpur logo has taken up a form that fuels political detachment. Increasingly, resistance has to capitalise on this detachment for more radical advocacy. Yet, it is on the very same detachment that the hegemony of power thrives. It is in this fashion that authoritarianism in Malaysia is returning.
Through the maintenance of credibility gap and political detachment, institutional failures are constantly rehearsed to accustom the public to expecting failures with amusement rather than anger. The crisis of institutional credibility has become so ordinary that recurrent failures sit within one’s comfort zone. And as the cronies do what they do best, resistant politics can only react more radically by deepening the sense of political detachment, and implicitly, by making failures ever more tolerable.
Tan Zi Hao is a postgraduate student in the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He is also a conceptual artist whose artworks can be viewed at www.tanzihao.net. As both artist and writer, he is interested in the arts, language, cultural politics and mobilities.