APSIA Conference 2017 Keynote Address by Singapore’s DPM


March 5, 2017

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APSIA Conference 2017 Keynote Address by Singapore’s DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam at LKY School of Public Policy

COMMENT:

Geo-Politics, Disruptive Social Developments and Technological Change: Has the Game Changed? Yes, that is easy part of the answer.  How we wish that life is simple and outcomes are predictable. But it is not. I  have been grappling a few questions. I asked myself questions like What has changed? How it has changed?  What is driving the change?What this change means to us in Asia.

China, North Korea, Islamic and Christian evangelism, terrorism and so on are making the headlines.I  also see increasing polarisation and the need for understanding and rebuilding trust. I expect our politicians to reconnect with people they are mandated to serve and  want leaders to lead with integrity, honesty and hope. Listen to DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam for some insights.–Din Merican

 

 

NY Times Book Review: Jesus Christ in Islam


March 4, 2017

NY Times Book Review

Recommended Read:  Jesus Christ in Islam

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Jesus in Islam

Mehdi Hasan

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2009/dec/23/religion-islam

Muslims don’t worship Jesus, but they do revere him and believe about him much that Christians do.

So you’re telling me you believe in Jesus, as well as Muhammad?” I remember the perplexed look on my Christian friend’s face a few years ago. I had dropped a theological bombshell on him in revealing that Jesus was considered by Muslims to be a prophet of God.

“Not only do we believe in Jesus,” I replied, pausing for maximum dramatic effect, “we also believe in the Virgin Birth.” My friend’s eyes widened with surprise, his mouth agape.

Christians, perhaps because they call themselves Christians and believe in Christianity, like to claim ownership of Christ. It thus comes as a huge surprise to many of them – my friend included – to discover that the world’s second-largest faith, Islam, also stakes a claim to him.

Jesus, or Isa, as he is known in Arabic, is deemed by Islam to be a Muslim prophet rather than the Son of God, or God incarnate. He is referred to by name in as many as 25 different verses of the Quran and described as the “Word” and the “Spirit” of God. No other prophet in the Quran, not even Muhammad, is given this particular honour.

In fact, Islam reveres both Jesus and his mother, Mary (Joseph appears nowhere in the Islamic narrative of Christ’s birth). “Unlike the canonical Gospels, the Quran tilts backward to his miraculous birth rather than forward to his Passion,” writes Professor Tarif Khalidi, in his fascinating book The Muslim Jesus. “This is why he is often referred to as ‘the son of Mary’ and why he and his mother frequently appear together.” In fact, Mary, or Maryam, as she is known in the Quran, is considered by Muslims to hold the most exalted spiritual position among women. She is the only woman mentioned by name in Islam’s holy book and a chapter of the Quran is named after her.

But the real significance of Mary is that Islam also considers her a virgin and endorses the Christian concept of the Virgin Birth. “She was the chosen woman, chosen to give birth to Jesus, without a husband,” says Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, an imam in Leicester and assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain.

For Muslims, however, the Virgin Birth is not evidence of Jesus’s divinity, only of his unique importance as a prophet and a messiah. The Trinity is rejected by Islam, as is Jesus’s Crucifixion and Resurrection. The Quran castigates Christianity for the widespread practice among its sects of deifying Jesus (and Mary), and casts the criticism in the form of an interrogation of Jesus by God:

And when Allah saith: O Jesus, son of Mary! Didst thou say unto mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allah? he saith: Be glorified! It was not mine to utter that to which I had no right. If I used to say it, then Thou knewest it

Muslims cherish and venerate Jesus the prophet – but, I often wonder, are we paying only lip-service to his life and legacy? Where, for example, is the Islamic equivalent of Christmas? Why do Muslims celebrate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad but not that of the Prophet Jesus? “We, too, in our own way should celebrate the birth of Jesus … [because] he is so special to us,” says Mogra.

In recent years, the right-wing press in Britain has railed against alleged attempts by “politically correct” local authorities to downplay or even suppress Christmas. Birmingham’s attempt to name its seasonal celebrations “Winterval” and Luton’s Harry Potter-themed lights, or “Luminos”, are notorious examples. There is often a sense that such decisions are driven by the fear that outward displays of Christian faith might offend British Muslim sensibilities, but, given the importance of Jesus in Islam, such fears are misplaced and counter-productive. Mogra, who leads the MCB’s interfaith relations committee, concurs: “It’s a ridiculous suggestion to change the name of Christmas.” He adds: “Britain is great when it comes to celebrating diverse religious festivals of our various faith communities. They should remain named as they are, and we should celebrate them all.”

Amid tensions between the Christian west and the Islamic east, I believe a common focus on Jesus could help close the growing divide between the world’s two largest faiths. Others agree. “We don’t have to fight over Jesus. He is special for Christians and Muslims,” says Mogra. “He is bigger than life. We can share him.”

Nationalism in Malaysia in Extremis


November 17, 2016

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Nationalism in Malaysia in Extremis

by Dr. Ooi Kee Beng

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Malay Nationalism or Tribalism ala Ku Kluk Klan

One thing that shocked me when I first went to Sweden for my studies 35 years ago was how dirty a word “Nationalism” was in Western Europe. This reaction, I realized, was very much a reflection of how the concept was positively implanted in my mind while a schoolboy in Malaysia; but it also demonstrated how greatly human experiences can differ in different parts of the world.

More importantly, it revealed to me how strongly we are intellectually captured by the language use of our times and our location.

But the Swedes are very proud of their country, so how come nationalism is frowned upon so badly? The same thing applied throughout Europe, at least until recently. Excessive immigration over the last two decades, coupled with declining economic fortunes and waning self-confidence has buoyed the ascendance of ultra-rightists groups in all countries throughout the continent.

So why was Nationalism so despised? Europe is after all the home continent of the Nation State.

For starters, Europe was always a place of endless wars often fought ostensibly for religious reasons between feudal powers. The arrival of the Nation state ideology helped to lower the frequencies of these tragedies, but only to replace it soon after with non-religious types of rationale for conflict. The American Revolution and French Republicanism added the new phenomenon of “government by the people”. The French case also brought into the equation the Left-Right Dimension that would define politics and political thinking for the next two centuries.

This conceptual division between Popular Mandate and Elite Rule expressed sharply the rights of common people on the one hand, and the role of the state on the other. Once this gap was articulated, conflating the two poles anew became a necessary task.

The three major articulations in Europe of this mammoth mission to bridge the divide and achieve a functional modern system were Liberal Democracy, Communism and Fascism. While the Anglo-Saxon world championed the first, Stalin’s Soviet Union perfected the second and Adolf Hitler developed the third to its insane conclusion. In Europe, it was basically these three actors who fought the Second World War.

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Malay Tribalism in Action

In Asia, Japan’s brand of state fascism ran riot throughout the region, rhetorically championing nationalism in the lands it took from the European colonialists.

While the National Socialism of the Third Reich died with Hitler, Fascism lived on in Franco’s Spain until 1975 and Nationalist Communism of Stalin continued in Eastern Europe until the early 1990s.

Nationalism in the rest of Europe after 1945 came to be understood with disdain as the longing of the Nation State for purity and autonomy taken to pathological lengths. It is after all always a defensive posture, as is evidenced today in its return in the form of right-wing anti-immigrant groups.

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Maruah Melayu dijual ka-Cina untuk membela masa depan politik Najib Razak–Jualan Aset 1MDB

In Malaysia, nationalism was—and for many, still is—the most highly rated attitude for a citizen to adopt.There are obvious reasons for this, given the historical and socio-political context in which Malaysia came into being. Constructing a new country out of nine sultanates, the three parts of the Straits Settlements, with Sabah and Sarawak on top of that, was a more daunting task than we can imagine today. Furthermore, the contest was also against other powerful “-isms”, especially Communism and Pan-Indonesianism. These threatened to posit what are Malaysia’s states today in a larger framework, and would have diminished these territories’ importance and uniqueness.

Putting a new regime in place of the retreating British required a rallying idea; and what better than the very fashionable image of a new nation to whom all should swear allegiance. Malayan nationalism was thus born.

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For Inclusive, Liberal and Progressive Malaysia–Escaping the Nationalism Trap

It is no coincidence that the path to independence became much easier after Malaysia’s major political party, UMNO, decided under Tunku Abdul Rahman to change its slogan from the provincial “Hidup Melayu” [Long Live the Malays] to the inclusive “Merdeka” [Independence].

But already in that transition, one can see the problem that Malaysia still lives with today. Is Malaysia the political expression of the prescriptive majority called “Melayu” [later stretched to become “Bumiputera”], or is it the arena in which the multi-ethnic nation of “Malaysians” is to evolve?

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Nationalism in essence, and most evidently so in its narrow ethno-centric sense, is defensive and fearful, and understood simplistically and applied arrogantly very quickly show strong fascist tendencies. The issue is therefore a philosophical one.

What Malaysia needs today, is to accept the regional and global context that sustains it, and work out as best it can a suitable balance between Popular Mandate and Elite Rule which is clearly less belaboured and less painful than the cul-de-sac alleyway it has backed itself into.

OOI KEE BENG is the Deputy Director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute) and the Editor of the Penang Monthly (Penang Institute). He is the author of the prizewinning The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr Ismail and His Time (ISEAS 2006).

New World Order under stress


November 16, 2016

New World Order under stress

by Chheang Vannarith

http://www.khemertimes.com

In a result that stunned the whole world, Donald Trump has been elected as the 45th President of the United States, defeating the more favored Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton.

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Mr. Trump’s victory signified rising nationalist populism, not only in the US, but also in other parts of the world. It also challenges the liberal world order based on democratic values, economic openness and the rules-based international economic system.

From Brexit to Mr. Trump’s victory, there is one thing in common, and that is the increasing frustration against the old establishment driven by political elites. Many wish to see a different type of leadership and are hoping for change.

We are living in a highly unpredictable and uncertain world. We need to think the unthinkable and be prepared to adapt to unexpected changes. Those who can grasp the opportunities deriving from a crisis and uncertainty will remain competitive.

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The bipolar world established after World War II was replaced by a unipolar world in which the US played a hegemonic power. However,  US power has been declining since the world economic crisis in 2008. Over the past decade, the rise of others such as China, India and Russia has challenged the global role of the US from economic to security domains.

We are now entering either a multipolar world or zero-polar world. Under the multipolar world, there are multiple actors and stakeholders working together to shape and construct global governance and order.In a zero-polar world, there will be no country taking a global leadership role. The major powers will become more nationalist and inward looking. Selfish national interests and zero-sum games will dominate international politics.

If this happens the world will become fragmented and chaotic. Global uncertainties and risks are going to rise. No country will be willing and able to take a global leadership role to maintain world peace and order.

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The US is great nation largely thanks to democratic pluralism, multiculturalism as well as an open and liberal globalization which has provided tremendous opportunities for Americans. It has successfully integrated itself into and largely benefited from the rest of the world.

Now it is different. Mr. Trump seems to be opting for a more nationalistic, protectionist and inward-looking foreign policy. His populist political rhetoric will adversely affect the liberal order created by the US seven decades ago.

Mr. Trump lacks a robust foreign policy. He seems to mainly focus on populist domestic social and economic issues. Global issues such as climate change will not be addressed effectively without a strong US leadership role.

It is predicted that the US’ global role will further decline, which in turn will create a global power vacuum and a deep hole in global governance.

China, Japan, India and Russia are expected to fill the gap and play a more proactive role in maintaining global peace and order. However, these countries are still struggling with their own domestic issues.

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Obama in Laos

In the Asia-Pacific region, the US has been the hub of regional peace and order. Since 2010, the US has introduced and implemented its “rebalance” or “pivot” to Asia in order to strengthen its alliance system, promote economic integration and deepen people-to-people
ties.

President Barack Obama has had a strong interest in promoting the US’ role in the Asia-Pacific. He has committed to strengthening an ASEAN-led regional architecture.

The US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership is a crucial US external economic policy towards Asia. However, it has an extremely low chance of ratification under the future Trump administration.
Under Mr. Trump’s leadership, the US will be less engaged in Asia.

In such a scenario, China will gain more strategic advantages in leveraging its regional influence.US allies in Asia will be forced to invest more in the defense sector in their collective deterrence strategy. Japan, South Korea and Australia will speed up their defense modernization.

The new world order as well as the Asia-Pacific order will go through critical tests, uncertain power diffusion and transition as well as a severe security environment.

As we live in a world with high uncertainty and risk, leaders need to be equipped with the capacity to think the unthinkable, have the courage to change and create a safe space for institutional innovation and transformative leadership.

It is a wake-up call for world leaders to reconstruct the world economy so it is more inclusive and sustainable. Unless fair and just industrialization, and social justice, are respected, the prospect of global disintegration and fragmentation will continue to haunt the world

Islamisation and its Freudian discontents


October 27, 2016

Islamisation and its Freudian discontents

by Azly Rahman

http://www.malaysiakini.com

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I am back. I took a few weeks hiatus from this column to wrote a few literary essays, chapters from my memoir of growing up in the “sewel but sober and sensible seventies” – the best of times of the times of P Ramlee – as well as writing a long essay on the key novels of Salman Rushdie.

I spend days listening to the music of Pink Floyd and reading a collection of essays from the book ‘Pink Floyd and Philosophy’. These however did not keep me away from thinking about the issues in Malaysia, viewed from a global perspective.

The unresolved issue if the world’s record-breaking, hideously-linked case of the 1MDB. The ongoing drama of PAS, UMNO, Amanah, and the opposition parties. The continuing push for the Sharia Law add-on of the hudud. The story of the insanely massive amount of cash found in Sabah as it relates to corruption in the Water Department. The seeming helplessness of the Malaysian people in their struggle to demand for better and cleaner governance.

The failure of the Mahathirist slogan of ‘Bersih, Cekap, Amanah’ (Clean, Efficient, Trustworthy). The continuing saga of the Dr Mahathir Mohamad-Najib Abdul Razak-Anwar Ibrahim triangulating vendetta in the tradition of Mario Puzo’s la Cosa Nostra.

And today, I read about the story of the young father who jumped off the Penang Bridge in an apparent suicide for personal and political reasons, it seems. A Muslim who ended his life, leaving a wife and two young children – leaving this world after asking for forgiveness from God as well. A suicide note written both in despair and in great confidence.

At the global level, I thought of these: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton – both will be warmongers of the new age of Russian-American authored Armageddon. World War III. New weapons of mass destruction. Aleppo, Syria. The battle for Mosul. The new Saudi Arabia after the fall of the empire of oil. The Saudi attacks on Yemen. The new Saudi Arabian venture: finance, tourism, and arms manufacturing.

Then there are also these global bogeymen called Al-Qaeda and IS – the invisible and elusive armies of Islam it seems that are keeping the American and the Russian war-machine going.

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All these in my mind as song after song from classic Pink Floyd albums play on. “Mother do you think they’ll drop the bomb?” asks Pink Floyd in the lyrics and I thought of Aleppo and the total destruction of once-beautiful Syria. Just like the total destruction of the once-beautiful and learned Baghdad. Destroyed by the Americans in their tens of trillion-dollars war.

I thought of these. I thought of this thing called ‘Islamic philosophy’ I thought existed. I had these questions:

Is Islamic philosophy totally dead? Murdered by the Charlotte Cordays of the theocratic-hypocritical imams of its own creation? As we know from the history of the French Revolution, Charlotte Corday murdered the scientist and revolutionary-philosopher Marat, signifying the beginning of the political war between the Jacobins and the Girondins.

How could it be possible for Muslims, whose daily confessions include saying that “God is closer to you than your jugular vein”, be creating governments that help “society be closer to Nature”, to philosophies of sustainability, rather than be destroyers of it?

Progress mistaken to be monopolising of licences

How could such a spiritually-cognitive dissonance be the leitmotif of many an Islamic government when the religion itself is supposed to preach, amongst others, ecologically sustainable plans for national development rather than surrender to Das Kapital – or capitalism – spiced with Quranic verses calling for the advancement of the ummah through economic progress, yet progress here is mistaken to be the monopolising of the licences to rape and plunder Nature – cutting down trees, destroying rainforests, desertifying fertile lands, throwing indigenous peoples out of their traditional lands (because they are not Muslims and therefore spiritually incomplete as human beings), and to do everything that tak

In short, what manner of a French-Revolution that Islamic societies, such as Malaysia, such as the state calling itself “the verandah of Makkah” (serambi Makkah) that is allowing the rape of Nature to happen whilst the idea of Islam as a religion of peace (at peace with Nature) is being made the agenda of global dakwah?

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Public Display of Piety in Malaysia by UMNO Malays

Help us understand this:How do Muslims remedy this situation? Resolve this contradiction? Reverse this trend of Islamisation? Could it be that Islam as a religion does not have a praxis (applications of the principles of Philosophy to social needs), demanding Nature to be preserved and the dignity of human Nature be upheld?

This could be an improbable claim but judging from the way Islamic governments engaging in destroying rainforests, building weapons of mass destruction, allowing leaders to live like Pharaohs and Croesus (Firauns and Qaruns), and bombing each other to the seventh level of Hell (as in Saudi Arabia and Yemen) – it looks as if Islam is devoid of a Lao-Tzian/Daoist philosophy of living and statecraft much-needed in this world already destroyed by the excesses of Western Civilisation which pride itself in a strange descartian pride of controlling and destroying Nature through the growth of Empires, colonisation, Imperialism, and now post-Imperialistic post-Apocalyptic regimes engaged in all forms of state-sponsored terrorism, sanctioned as well by an underlying philosophy of false Judeo-Christianity.

Guns, guts, glories – destruction of the colonies. Civilising mission. The Crusades. The Conquistadors and the Cross – these are prelude to the anti-humanism of the teachings of the Jesus at The Sermon on the Mount – of the reminders of the Beatitudes. These are ignored and hence, the new world of a strange brew – religion, capitalism, a truncated version of Weber’s protestant ethics and the ghosts and spirits of capitalism roaming the modern world ruled by cybernetic-terroristic technologies.

Is this the world we created? A nightmare of Cartesian absurdities? Help explain these.

 

Malaysia’s Troubled Religious Ties


October 13, 2016

Malaysia’s Troubled Religious Ties: A Case of Muslim Hindu Relations

by Dr. Syed Farid Alatas

http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/malaysias-troubled-muslim-hindu-ties

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Although Malaysia is a Muslim-majority country, the understanding of many Malaysians since independence in 1957 was that the minority religions and races ought not to be made to feel threatened that they would not be able to maintain their respective identities and promote their cultures. This understanding was based on the belief that there was sufficient political and cultural space for all religions and cultures to thrive while Islam continued to be the state religion.

The belief in the possibility of harmonious co-existence between the different communities in the country has recently been shaken due to the assertion of a more exclusivist Muslim identity among the religious and political elite. This has affected Malaysians’ perceptions of the state of ethnic and religious harmony in the country. A case in point is the relations between Hindus and Muslims in the country. Recent incidents involving Hindus and Muslims serve to heighten fears that Malaysian harmony is gradually being eroded.

The decades of peaceful co-existence between Hindus and Muslims are slowly giving way to a more intolerant stance taken by some Malays in which a Malay-Muslim identity is stressed at the expense of non-Muslims, sometimes resulting in the denigration of their ethnicity and religions. For example, in June this year, Malaysians were shocked to learn that in the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s (UTM) Islamic and Asian Civilisations module, derogatory remarks were made about both Hinduism and the Sikh faith.

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What was so insulting about the content of the module was that the lecturer claimed that Islam had introduced civility to the lives of Hindus in India. It was also said that Hindus preferred to be “dirty”, and that it was only Islam that had taught Hindu converts to Islam the importance of cleanliness. Although UTM conducted a probe and subsequently terminated the service of the offending lecturer, it was astonishing to many that such content could be taught at a university. The UTM fiasco was not the only example of bigotry against Hindus. There were five cases of Hindu temples being vandalised in recent months in Perak and Penang. While these are all isolated incidents, they have led many to wonder if this is the beginning of the onset of mistrust and intolerance between Malaysia’s different racial and religious communities.

Muslims in Malaysia should think more about who their Hindu countrymen are. One way to do so is to acquaint themselves with the writings of Abu al-Rayhan Al-Biruni, a Muslim scholar who was an authority on the religions of India. Born in 973 in Khwarazm in what is present-day Uzbekistan, Al-Biruni was in the court of Mahmud Ghaznavi (979-1030), the ruler of an empire that included parts of what is now known as Afghanistan, Iran and northern India. Al-Biruni travelled to India with the troops of Mahmud and lived there for years, during which time he mastered Sanskrit, translated a number of Indian religious texts to Arabic, studied Indian religious doctrines and wrote several books and treatises, including the Kitab Fi Tahqiq Ma li-l-Hind (The Book of What Constitutes India).

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He refrained from making value judgments about other religions from an Islamic perspective. He was very conscious of the need to present India as understood by Indians themselves. In order to do so, he quoted extensively from Sanskrit texts. His objective was to study the religions of India in order to bring the two communities closer together. He states that the reason for embarking on his research on India was to provide Muslims the essential facts they would need when they encountered Indians and wished to discuss with them aspects of Indian religion and culture.

Al-Biruni considered such dialogue with Indians as crucial as it would create more understanding on issues about which Muslims remained very vague, as far as their understanding of Indian religions was concerned.

It was also his view that the Indians believed in a single god, by which he meant the same god that is worshipped by Jews, Christians and Muslims.He was the first scholar, in the Muslim world as well as the West, who approached the study of Indian religions objectively and avoided treating the Indians as mere heretics.

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Malaysia is generally speaking a harmonious society. But, the political developments of recent years, which have seen an unhealthy development of identity politics in the form of, among other things, reckless statements made by politicians, religious leaders and educators, threaten to upset the current harmony that informs our society. This will potentially affect Hindu-Muslim relations.

The worrying trend in Hindu-Muslim relations suggests that there is clearly a need for dialogue between the Hindu and Muslim communities of Malaysia. The purpose of this dialogue would be to examine the commonalities in values, beliefs and culture that exist between Hinduism and Islam and to reaffirm the commitment that the two communities have to peaceful co-existence.

It is vital, for the sake of maintaining mutual respect and tranquillity in this country, that the political and religious leaders continuously speak out against bigotry and violence in the name of religion. Muslim leaders have a particularly greater responsibility in view of the fact that Islam is the religion of state in Malaysia. This means that the Muslim political and religious elite should not merely tolerate the presence of non-Muslim minorities but actively protect their rights and property.

The writer is an associate professor in the departments of sociology and Malay studies at the National University of Singapore.

S.E.A. View is a weekly column on South-east Asian affairs.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2016, with the headline ‘Malaysia’s troubled Muslim-Hindu ties’. Print Edition |