On Knowledge and statecraft

January 24, 2017

On Knowledge and statecraft

by Muhammad Husni Mohd Amin


Image result for Najib, Zahid Hamidi and Hishamuddin HusseinThe 3 UMNO Goons–Dr. Zahid Hamidi, Hishamuddin Hussein and Najib Razak. They do not qualify as Philisopber-Kings. They are Malaysia’s penyamun tarbus.


IN Plato’s Republic, the philosopher-king is a leader who loves and embodies the cardinal virtues of wisdom, temperance, courage and justice. Therefore, the community that produced him would dispense with the mechanisms of democracy meant to curtail misuse of power by corrupt politicians who preyed upon the masses because of their ignorance.

Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all those others that have been tried.” This may only refer to the inadequacies of the present set-up in producing leaders who do not require constant oversight.

The leader reflects the people. The Prophet said, “As you are, so shall your leader be.” He also said, “Each of you is a shepherd (ra‘in) and each of you is responsible for his flock (ra‘iyyah)”.

The Arabic word ra‘iyyah, from which the Malay word rakyat originated, has its root in ra‘in, which also means guide, guardian or caretaker. In the worldview of Islam, both the leader and the people form a unity; they are like a single body.

The Prophet also prophesied the emergence of leaders (umara) who “will be corrupt but God may put much right through them”. Therefore, the people are obliged to be thankful when leaders do good and patient when the leaders commit evil.

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The Proof of Islam, Imam al-Ghazali, in his Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din (Revival of the Religious Sciences), stated that religion is established through the sultan, who is not to be belittled.

We should not justify a wrongdoing when it is proven, but our limited senses may often lead us to believe that no good may come out of the things we perceive as evil because we think evil is the absence of good.

While weed follows the cultivation of rice and there seems to be no good in growing weed, it does not stop us from planting and harvesting the rice.

A well-known Sufi figure, Fudayl ibn ‘Iyad, said, “If I had one supplication that was going to be answered, I would make it for the sultan, for the sultan’s well-being and righteousness means well-being for the land and its people.”

Another Sufi figure, Sahl al-Tustari, was once asked, “Who is the best among men?” He replied that it was the ruler, which surprised his inquirers because it was thought that rulers were the worst.

Sahl continued, “Don’t be hasty! God Most High has two glances every day: one is for the safety of the Muslims’ possessions and another for their bodies. Then, God looks into the Register of Deeds and forgives him all his sins (for his protection of both).”

But the precondition for forgiveness is that the ruler must protect both.The establishment and statecraft of our centuries-old Malay sultanates mirrored those in Islam’s civilisational epicentre, which in turn were modelled after the Prophet’s Medina.

While colonial rule modernised our country’s administration, it did not abolish the sultanates but merely interrupted them. However, colonisation also displaced the ulama’s traditional role in advising the Rulers.

It also severely impaired the ability to follow the Prophetic practice called shura in consulting scholars and learned men as well as the ability to recognise and acknowledge them properly. This is the reason for today’s greater need for checks and balances.

Even so, we are lucky to be blessed with a unique system that combines constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy. This is the time when rulers work closely with the ruled towards the common good.

While our Rulers do not interfere in politics, adherence to royal protocols should not conceal the fact that the Rulers are in the best position to decree the people so that they would choose the best stewards for the nation.

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UMNO is full of learned members –the dedaks led by Big Momma

The counsel of learned people is important in guiding a ruler’s politics because statecraft is like a knife in the kitchen – a housewife could wield the knife as a utensil or a burglar as a weapon.

Muhammad Husni Mohd Amin is senior research officer at Ikim’s Centre for Science and Environ­ment Studies. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

Malaysian Government caught Pol Pot’s habit of banning books and persecuting writers and public intellectuals

December 31, 2017

Malaysian Government caught Pol  Pot’s habit of banning books and persecuting writers and public intellectuals

by FMT Reporters


Image result for Zaid Ibrahim's Book on Islamisation


Former Law Minister Zaid Ibrahim says his book “Assalamualaikum: Observations on the Islamisation of Malaysia”, which was launched in October 2015, has now been banned by the government.

The former minister took to Twitter to make public the decision which comes under the jurisdiction of the Home Ministry.

“So the year didn’t end that well, My book ‘Assalamualaikum’ is now banned. Looks to me this govt prefer Muslims to burn effigies of political opponent(s), destroy beer bottles than reading books,” he tweeted earlier today.

In the book, Zaid shares his thoughts on a new and fresh conversation about the role of Islam in Malaysian politics and in public life.

A check with a local bookstore website indicates that the book, which was on sale for RM19, is banned.

FMT is still waiting to get confirmation from the Home Ministry on the banning of the book. This is the latest case of book banning related to publications that touch on Islam.

Image result for Farouk Musa and Din MericanDr. Ahmad Farouk Musa and Blogger Din Merican


On October 3, the Home Ministry had announced the banning of five books with Islamic content, by Turkish author Mustafa Akyol, and two Malaysians – Ahmad Farouk Musa and Faisal Tehrani.

Image result for Faisal Tehrani.
Prolific Writer Faisal Tehrani


In an official government gazette dated September 28, 2017, the Home Ministry said the books were banned as they were likely to be prejudicial to public order as well as to alarm public opinion.

The sole English book banned was “Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty”, written by Akyol, and which has been an international best-seller since it was first published in the United States in 2011.

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The Bahasa Malaysia version of the book, “Islam Tanpa Keekstreman: Berhujah Untuk Kebebasan” was also banned. Aside from Akyol, Farouk, Nur Asyhraff Mohd Nor and Shuhaib Ar Rumy Ismail are also credited as authors for the translated work.

Two of Farouk’s own books – Wacana Pemikiran Reformis (Jilid 1) and (Jilid 2) – were also banned.

The publisher of the three books in BM is Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), an Islamic NGO of which Farouk is chairman.

‘More corruption than anytime in history’

Image result for Najib Razak

At the launch of his book in 2015, Zaid had said that Malaysia was deeply divided along racial, religious and class more than ever before.

“We have more corruption than at anytime in our history. Greed has become a way of life. Democracy and Rule of Law have been pushed aside.”

“Jakim, proclaiming itself as the protector of Islam, is more involved in big business and overseas travels than in promoting the principles of the religion,” he had said, referring to the Malaysian Islamic religion development department by its acronym.

“These are the complete antithesis of an Islamic government. Islam is a pristine, pure and a simple religion. It’s a religion of peace, promoting honour and integrity.”

Saying then that he was hoping for the book to be a conversation starter, Zaid said: “If the idea of Islamisation was to promote Malaysia as the country that exemplifies the virtues of the religion, then we have failed.”

NY Times Book Review: What The Qur’an Meant And Why It Matters by Garry Wills

December 22, 2017

by Lesley Hazleton

What The Qur’an Meant And Why It Matters–Garry Wills

I know many well-intentioned people who’ve begun reading the Quran and given up within a few pages. The historian Thomas Carlyle considered Muhammad one of history’s heroic greats, yet called the Quran “as toilsome reading as I ever undertook. A wearisome confused jumble.”

It’s hard not to sympathize. Over the years, I’d picked up various translations, started reading, and rapidly found myself very much an agnostic Jew lost in a Muslim landscape. Good intentions, it seemed, were not enough. The Quran may look like a short book, but it’s not one you can curl up with on a rainy Sunday afternoon and read cover to cover.

I finally read it properly — as properly as I could, that is, using several different translations alongside the original Arabic — as part of my research for a biography of Muhammad. And that’s when I realized that the fact that so few people actually read the Quran is precisely why it’s so easy to quote. Or rather, misquote. In what I call the highlighter version, phrases and snippets are taken entirely out of context and even invented out of thin air, like the 72 virgins in paradise (I kept waiting for them, but they never appeared). This is the version favored by both Islamophobes and their partners in distortion, Muslim extremists — partners in bigotry and its correlate, ignorance.

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Pulitzer Prize-winning author Garry Wills has spent his career taking a close look at the Roman Catholic Church. But for all that thinking about religion, he had never read the Qur’an until recently. What he learned about Islam is the subject of his new book, “What the Qur’an Meant: And Why It Matters.  Wills says it’s important not to mistake Islamic terrorism for Islam itself. ISIS and other jihadist groups, he explains, are not indicative of the true nature of Islam. He debunks a number of misconceptions by discussing what the Qur’an actually has to say about holy wars and Sharia Law.

So what happens when a leading Catholic intellectual reads the Quran, especially one as attuned to language as Garry Wills? The answer, as unlikely as it may seem at first glance, is a delight. Which makes it a shame that his book is ill-served by its title.

Wills is hardly so presumptuous as to try to explain what the Quran means — or “meant,” that past tense evidently the heavy hand of the marketing department trying to link to previous Wills books on what Jesus, the Gospels and Paul all meant. Even the cover design is similar. And the subtitle (again I suspect a marketing decision, going for the obvious) refers to what prompted Wills to read the Quran. In his case, it was politics. He blasts away at the multiple varieties of religious and secular ignorance that led to the invasion of Iraq and thus to one of America’s longest foreign wars. He also includes a third kind of ignorance — the “fearful ignorance” displayed in “anti-Muslim animus,” too often reminiscent of the anti-Communist hysteria of the Cold War.


And Why It Matters
By Garry Wills
226 pp. Viking. $25.

Once he gets to the Quran itself, however, Wills shines. With the same sensitive eye deployed in his Pulitzer-winning “Lincoln at Gettysburg,” he approaches the text in the spirit of exploration, bringing fresh perspective even for those who imagine they already know it well.

The Quran is “haunted” by the desert, he writes. “Nowhere else do you get a greater feel for the benignity of rain — or of water in any form.” Where heaven is “an urban ideal” in the Bible (the heavenly Jerusalem), in the Quran it’s “the oasis of oases, rinsed with sweet waters, with rivers running on it and under it, and with springs opening unbidden.” And in a lovely coda to that observation, he adds: “When I was growing up in the 1940s, a song was everywhere on the radio, ‘Cool Water’ sung by Vaughn Monroe. As I read the Quran, it keeps coming back to me, unbidden.”

Wills calls this book “a conversation — or the opening of one,” so there’s a particular joy when he discovers that “all things talk in the Quran. It is abuzz with conversation. For Allah, the real meaning of creating is communicating. The Quran is an exercise in semiotics. God speaks a special language, in which mountains and words and springs are the syllables. Everything is a sign.”

Where Wills’s Catholicism might have limited how he reads the Quran, on the contrary, he brings it to bear in interesting ways. I can’t think of anyone else who could place quotes from St. Augustine and the Quran side by side, enjoying both the unlikeliness and the aptness of the juxtaposition. Or revel in both the similarities and the disparities between the biblical and the Quranic versions of the stories of Moses, Abraham and Jesus (all three of whom, along with many other figures from the Bible, are revered prophets in the Quran).

As you might expect, Wills is deeply alive to context. In his discussion of jihad, for instance, he compares the word to “crusade,” which has long been a “time-bomb word” in the Middle East. Where the idea of a crusade may have “a rosy glow in Western minds … it is stained a dirty blood-red in the Arabic world.”

In fact, he points out, jihad does not mean “holy war.” It means “striving” — as in striving to lead a moral life. The main point of the Quran’s discussion of violence is to establish limitations on its use, and to “abstain from violence to the degree that that is possible.” While a few endlessly cited verses have to do with violence, “the overall tenor is one of mercy and forgiveness, which are evoked everywhere, almost obsessively.” This is what is striven for in the Quran, not war.

As for Shariah, Wills notes that the word appears only once in the Quran, and it does not mean “law,” but “path,” as in Allah’s reassurance to Muhammad that he is “on the right path.” Moreover, there is no single body of Shariah law. The “vague and sketchy elements of law in the Quran” were fleshed out “over a long and contentious history,” and in multiple branches, in much the same way as the many bodies of Christian law. So while “some seem to think that the fanatical punishments dealt out by the self-proclaimed Islamic State … are the essence of Shariah law … the vast majority of Muslims, and their most learned teachers, do not recognize these as bearing any relation to the Quran.”

Wills falters only in three brief chapters on women in the Quran, which come right at the end of his book. (Back of the bus, anyone?) A sense of discomfort and hesitation creeps in here, and both are justified. True, it might come as a surprise that while the Quran advocates modesty for both women and men, it never even mentions veils, let alone mandates them. And its take on polygamy is basically an accommodation to pre-Islamic practice — a stance of (in my words) “O.K. if you insist, but better if you don’t.” The “you,” of course, being male. As Wills notes, “Torah, Gospel, and Quran are all patriarchal and therefore misogynist — as were the societies in which they took shape. But misogynism is not all that all of them are. In all three of them there are traces of dignity and worth intended by the Creator when he made women.” The problem being that “traces” by definition don’t leave much of an impression.

Over all, however, Wills has written perhaps the best introduction to the Quran that I know of: elegant, insightful, even at times joyful. He may not be able to make reading the Quran an easy pleasure, but his encounter with it is a pleasure to read for anyone as open to discovery as he is.

The Hellish War in Yemen–Is Malaysia Complicit?

December 20, 2017

The Hellish War in Yemen–Is Malaysia Complicit?

By  Dennis Ignatius

Image result for Yemen A Hellish War

There’s a war – a murderous, savage, barbaric, hellish war – raging in Yemen. Images of the suffering and carnage there crop up in our newspapers and on television from time to time but it’s been going on for so long that we are becoming inured to it.

It began as a domestic power struggle and quickly spiralled into a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the latest sideshow in their ongoing struggle for power and influence in the Middle East. And, as usual, taking advantage of the instability and chaos, terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda have moved in, further complicating the situation.

To snuff out Iranian influence, the Saudi-led coalition has launched a relentless and merciless bombing campaign against Yemen, hitting not just military targets but infrastructure, hospitals, schools and residential areas. International observers believe war crimes are being committed. A Saudi naval blockade, in the meantime, has made it difficult for food, medical and other assistance to get through.

Carnage and catastrophe

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Already, some 10,000 people have been killed, more than 50,000 wounded. Seven million are on the brink of famine. One hundred and thirty children die every day in Yemen from extreme hunger and disease. Twenty million people (over 70% of the population) are in need of humanitarian assistance. The United Nations has warned that we might be witnessing “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades.”

If that is not bad enough, Yemen is also caught in the grip of one of the world’s worst cholera outbreaks with more than 900,000 suspected cases and over 2,190 deaths. Diphtheria and other diseases are stalking the land as well.

I suspect that all these statistics, terrible as they are, hardly capture the reality of life in Yemen today. Whichever way you look at it, Yemen, already one of the poorest, least developed countries in the world, is being slowly but surely annihilated before our very eyes.

And yet, there is so little outrage. 

International complicity

Image result for Yemen War

While Saudi Arabia is the main architect of this savage war against Yemen, many others are complicit as well. The UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Senegal and Sudan are either active participants in the Saudi-led coalition or support the Saudis in other ways.

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US President Donald Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman enter the State Dining Room of the White House. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The United States, blinded by its implacable hatred of Iran and determined to contain Iranian influence at all costs, has supported the Saudi campaign in Yemen with weapons, logistical support and political cover. France, the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany (to name a few) support the Saudis with weapons sales and training.

Western democracies talk much about liberty and justice but side with despots waging a brutal war on an entire nation. Containing Iran apparently justifies mass starvation and crimes against humanity.

Cowardice & hypocrisy

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Islamic nations, for their part, are quick to work themselves into a frenzy when Muslims in distant lands are persecuted but keep silent when Muslims kill Muslims in their own backyard. They are very brave when it comes to confronting countries like Myanmar over the treatment of its Muslim minorities but cowardly when it comes to standing up to one of their own. They rush to Istanbul to protest President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel but quietly rely on American support to bomb Yemen’s ancient cities.

If others did to Yemen what the Saudis are doing to it, there would be fiery denunciations and angry demonstrations across the Muslim world instead of silence and indifference.

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OIC Leaders Meet in Istanbul, Turkey to what purpose?

Only Pakistan, to its credit, has refused to go along with this immoral war. Despite their dependence on Saudi aid, they found the courage to say no.

There are, of course, genuine concerns about Iran’s regional ambitions and Arab states have reason to worry about their security but it can never be at the expense of innocent men, women and children, never at the cost of condemning a whole nation to such death and destruction.

Is Malaysia complicit as well? 

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The National Patriot Association (NPA) has revived the issue of Malaysia’s link to the Saudi Arabian-led coalition that is bombing Yemen, questioning the rationale for Malaysia’s participation. In a statement, NPA President Brig Gen (Rtd) Mohamed Arshad Raji said based on a recent report by Qatar-based news broadcaster Al Jazeera, “Malaysia is understood to have sent our military personnel to join the coalition forces”. If the Al Jazeera news report is true, then NPA wants to register its strongest protest against the participation of the armed forces in the Saudi-led coalition forces and the involvement of our military personnel in this Middle-Eastern conflict,” Arshad said.–www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Image result for Malaysian troops in Yemen
Image result for Malaysian troops in Yemen

Malaysia, too, is apparently complicit in this unfolding humanitarian catastrophe. Our defence ministry insists that some military officers have been deployed to the region but only to assist in the evacuation of Malaysian nationals from Yemen. Other reports, however, suggest that Malaysia is, in fact, part of the Saudi coalition and is working alongside personnel from the UAE, France, Britain and the US at Saudi joint headquarters in Riyadh to coordinate the air campaign against Yemen.

Whatever the level of involvement, Malaysia has no business being there; it is an iniquitous and unjust war that goes against everything we stand for in international affairs.

And even if we are not directly involved, our failure to speak out against war crimes being committed in Yemen makes us complicit. We had many opportunities to speak frankly with the Saudis but we are, it seems, too afraid to offend them.

A humanitarian response

It’s time for Malaysia to break with the Saudis, condemn the criminal campaign against Yemen and demand an immediate halt to the bombing. We should also lend our full support to the efforts of the UN Secretary-General to broker a negotiated settlement in Yemen. Most of all, we need to help initiate a major international effort to deliver urgent humanitarian assistance to the people of Yemen.

For a start, let’s take the lead to help save the children of Yemen. Let’s put our heads and hearts together as a nation – government and opposition, Muslim, Christian and others, private and public sector, civil society and NGOs – to structure a national humanitarian assistance mission to help these innocent victims of the war.

Perhaps, the Royal Malaysian Air Force could help medevac seriously injured children and bring them to Malaysia for treatment, with all our hospitals – private and public – chipping in to help. Perhaps groups like Mercy Malaysia and other NGOs can be supported to set up hospitals and provide food and other assistance wherever conditions in Yemen permit. Perhaps we could organize a national fund-raising campaign to help aid groups already in Yemen at great cost to themselves.

To be sure, our ability to influence events in the Middle East is limited but there are many little things that we can do that could make a big difference in Yemen if our hearts are in the right place.

This is a defining moment, our opportunity to make a difference in the world by reaching out to the suffering people of Yemen. Surely to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless, to help the hurting is to touch the very heart of God. Can a nation which prides itself on its fealty to God do any less?

Dennis Ignatius | 17th December 2017

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Thanks, Zainah Anwar, for Your 2017 Toast to living honestly

December 5, 2017

Thanks, Zainah Anwar, for Your  2017 Toast to living honestly

by Zainah Anwar@www.thestar.com.my

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So to all those reading this column, do not allow regrets to paralyse your life. There is still time to make the choices you need to make to live the life you want, and not what others expect of you. So, here’s to a new year of living honestly.–Zainah Anwar

AS 2017 comes to a close and we head into yet another new year, I want to share this discussion I heard on radio on the subject of regret. It was based on a book by an Australian palliative care nurse, Bronnie Ware, on The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.

The pain of those regrets were so huge that she said she knew she did not want to end up like that. It made so much sense and I thought what a good way to start the new year with a new resolve to live life with courage and to make conscious choices to make it worth living.

According to Ware, the most common regret of the dying is their lack of courage to live a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them.

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This was the most painful regret because as they looked back, they realised that their lives were shaped and defined by others, and their dreams were unfulfilled because of the choices they had made, or not made. And the older you are, the more your regrets centre on the choices not made.

You regret because this was something that was within your control, but you made those choices to make others happy, instead of you happy.

Some years ago, I heard a radio interview with a gay rights activist who was pressured for years by his father to give up being gay (as if that was a choice) and to get married and have children.

One day, in yet another fight with his father, he said: “How many people must be unhappy in order for you to be happy?”

I thought that was a profound statement. Indeed, it was that statement that finally made his father see the light and accepted his son’s sexual identity. I admired him for his courage and honesty to be persistent and frank with his father and to make that difficult decision to be true to himself.

The second most common regret is, “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard”. I guess few people die wishing they had worked harder.

It seems this regret afflicted mostly men who missed out on their children’s youth and the companionship of their wives. They regretted that they had not honoured other aspects of their lives, like care giving and being there for their loved ones.

It’s good to know that many younger men these days make the time to care for their children and actually find joy in that.

Some friends even have regular “date nights” with their husbands, making sure that just the two of them go out for dinner to talk – to catch up with each other’s thoughts and feelings and ideas and plans.

The third most common regret is one that I thought only afflicted emotionally repressed Asians. But it seems everyone wishes they had the courage to voice their feelings. I bet many more women expressed this regret than men as women often suppress their feelings in order to keep peace with others.

These regrets are mostly over relationships. They regret for not speaking up in their own defence and not treating themselves with the kindness they deserve. They regret for not telling their children, partners, friends how much they loved them. They regret staying in, or leaving, or not pursuing relationships.

Such regrets can do damage to body and mind. At best, you feel like punching yourself for not having the courage to speak out against a hurt, an injustice; at worst people develop illnesses and suffer chronic stress because of bitterness and resentment bottled up for months, years or lifetimes.

Whenever I am angry or upset, I will always ask myself if this person or this incident is worth my time and my emotion getting livid over

Most of the time they are not; and if they are, I will set a time limit to my negative feelings. Usually not more than three days. Then life must go on. Either get the feeling out of your system, or get that toxic person out of your life. Although, I must admit that for those with spouses, this is easier said than done.

An activist friend who works with single mothers said she regretted crying for three years over the breakdown of her marriage. In hindsight, the man was worth just three days of tears. And she should have gotten on with her new life much earlier.

The fourth most common regret is, “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.” Families naturally go into grief in the presence of loved ones dying. But Ware said that person actually wants to live as fully as they can. They want joy brought to the bed, they want to hear laughter, and birds singing.

They want to know what’s going on outside. They don’t want to stop living until the body stops breathing. Old friends tell stories of a past their adult children are not a part of and this brings joy to the dying.

But there are friends who don’t know what to say to a dying person, except look on with grief that the person’s life is coming to an end.

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I remember my father who passed away two months short of his 100th birthday expressing indignation when his surau friends came to visit and sat there in silence and sorrow.

When they left, he turned to me and said, “Do they think I am dying?” He still wanted to live and to know what’s going on in the outside world.

The fifth regret, says Ware, is a surprising one: “I wish that I had let myself be happier.” Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice, that life is a choice; and they did not exercise the choices they could have made.

Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to themselves, that they were content, that things were all right, when deep within, they longed to laugh heartily and loudly and feel a lightness of being.

We feel the biggest regrets over things that are within our control. That is why it is such a negative emotion.

So to all those reading this column, do not allow regrets to paralyse your life. There is still time to make the choices you need to make to live the life you want, and not what others expect of you. So, here’s to a new year of living honestly.

Malaysia tackles the Jihadi Mess with its “best in the world” deradicalization progamme

December 4, 2017

Malaysia tackles the Jihadi Mess with its  “best in the world” deradicalization progamme

by Mariam Mokhtar@www.asiasentinel.com


Image result for Nur Afiqah Farhanah Che Samsudim


On November 24, a 26-year-old woman named Nur Afiqah Farhanah Che Samsudim was sentenced to eight years in prison in a Malaysian high court for attempting to enter Syria in a bid to die a martyr’s death.

Although she was on her way to the Middle East, Nur’s story has achieved disturbing relevance with the collapse of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria as jihadis flee on their way back for sanctuaries in Southeast Asia.  How many Nurs there are – or their male counterparts – is unknown. But according to Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, regional groups such as Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, Jemaah Islamiyah and others serve as what he called a “home away from home” for those fleeing the deteriorating situation in Mosul and other Middle Eastern cities.  Malaysia faces accumulating its own share of the fleeing returnees and what to do about them.

Nur’s father died when she was 17. She became a mistress until her lover died in 2014. Stricken by grief, she married her lover’s younger brother, a drug addict, but the marriage only lasted two months. She then resumed her studies in medicine before being befriended by a man on social media who agreed to marry her on condition she travel to Syria.

Having sold her car to fund her ticket to Turkey, Nur entered Istanbul on August. 30, 2016 and was finally caught trying to cross the border into Syria in February of this year, to be deported back to Malaysia.

Nur’s loneliness, the change in her personal circumstances and her vulnerability, made her easy prey for ISIS propagandists. Had she been persuaded by her internet lover that going to Syria would give new meaning to her life, help her overcome grief and her daily frustrations? What prompted her to tell her mother that she was migrating to Syria to have a martyr’s death? And can Nur and her fellow victims be turned around?

The Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Zahid Hamidi says yes, that his Home Ministry’s program to deradicalize former prisoners, is “the best in the world.”  The results, he told a crowd in Kuching in February of 2016, are encouraging and recognized internationally.

“We are not praising ourselves, this is a recognition by the United Nations, Interpol and others,” Zahid said, “which is why Malaysia hosted the International Deradicalization Conference last month.”

The Principal Consultant of JK Associates, Khen Han Ming, works in close collaboration with the media and law enforcement agencies on global security issues, intelligence and terrorism.  He is a skeptic.

The prevention of radicalization in prisons is all about damage control. Khen said, “Inmates jailed for non-terror related offences meet other inmates who may have become radicalized, either as sympathizers or members of a wider terror network, prior to their detention.  Harsh conditions of confinement, overcrowding, racial divisions and isolation of inmates are to blame for radicalization.

“In a recent exposé by The Straits Times, a 53-year-old former ISA detainee was shown to have been actively recruiting inmates in Tapah Prison after he was arrested in February 2013, for terror offences.”

Radicalization in prison, isn’t just a Malaysian problem. It is a worldwide phenomenon. Khen lists those who were radicalized whilst in prison.

“Guantanamo Bay once housed Said Ali al-Shiri, the late al-Qaeda leader who masterminded the 2008 attack on the US embassy in Yemen,” he said. “The current al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was radicalized in Egyptian prisons, while the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi attempted to recruit fellow inmates to help him overthrow the government in Jordan.”

Richard Reid, the 2001 “shoe bomber” who attempted to blow up an airliner on a flight between Paris and Miami with explosives in his shoes, was radicalized while imprisoned in the United Kingdom.

Although the British, European Union and American governments have yet to find an effective strategy, in Malaysia, Zahid is all praise for his own program. Implemented under the Malaysian Prisons Department blue ocean strategy, steps so far used on 130 convicts were outlined by Zahid.

Convicts were separated during detention to stop their influence on other convicts, and 97 percent of those who have been rehabilitated, haven’t returned to their activities, he said. The department has close cooperation with the Malaysia Islamic Affairs Department (known by its Malay-language acronym JAKIM), psychology experts and NGOs.

“As a result, it makes Malaysia an example of the most successful country in the de-radicalization program, the best example in the world,” Zahid said.

However, Khen dismisses Zahid’s claim. “Zahid also said, in his entry in The Journal of Public Security and Safety, that “there is no formula by which one can measure the effectiveness of a given law, or in this context, the rehabilitation program. An effective de-radicalization program can be gauged by its rate of recidivism.”

Recidivism rates, he said, “can be very misleading because they reflect only what is known to intelligence services, which is limited to public knowledge. The 2004 Saudi de-radicalization program, also known as “PRAC” (Prevention, Rehabilitation, After-Care) was also described as one of the “best rehabilitation programs in the world,” and a role model for many countries.

It was considered a complete success until five years later, Khen said, when 11 former Guantanamo inmates and program graduates “were discovered to have returned to al-Qaeda.”

Another method for tackling radicalization is via community outreach programs involving both the private sector and NGOs. The aim is to take away the appeal of extremist groups like ISIS by disrupting radical and extremist narratives.

“We need a systematic program, which emphasizes inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness, and which delegitimizes extremist ideologies such as the “them against us” mentality,” Khen said. Citing the approach adopted from The Ministry of Home Affairs of Singapore, he added, “Community outreach clinics, or hotlines which offer help to people-at-risk, or individuals with information, widen the channels of communication and accessibility to information, which would otherwise be difficult.”

He strongly believes that local celebrities can help counter extremist views: “Malaysian Sultans and members of the Royal Household are increasingly getting involved, by speaking up against the encroaching Talibanization of our country. Celebrities have a huge following and are sometimes considered more reliable than politicians. They also have the capability to break the barrier of political distrust. They are often the symbol of solidarity and unity, when we see a terror attack, overseas.”

Many in the field agree that terrorism and violent extremism is a battle of ideology that must be addressed at many levels, using a multilateral approach. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution.

Badrul Hisham Ismail, the Program Director for IMAN, an organization which conducts research on society, religion and perception, told local media that to achieve successful rehabilitation and reintegration  into society, “we need to regain or rebuild trust and confidence, not only in society, but also between governments, civil societies and communities, to ensure strong collaboration and cohesion across all levels.”

Badrul added: “It is not only the responsibility of government or authorities. Each of us must play a crucial role in maintaining and promoting social cohesion and inclusivity – the remedy for any form of extremism.”

Khen, who has been involved in the provision of security services for over a decade, agreed and said, “Private sector involvement helps to address these issues, which affect everyone. Radicalization is not limited to religious indoctrination, but includes socio-political groups and similar groups.  We need to combat radicalization and violent extremism by disengaging them at their source, by advocating moderation and activism, to disrupt the spread of radical ideologies.

“Unless and until the main source of the problem is addressed, we are doomed to repeat the cycle.” The state, he said, shouldn’t waste its time and resources on de-radicalization programs but instead focus on addressing the root cause of extremism.

Image result for Mustafa Akyol


Despite this, the authorities can appear to contradict themselves. In September, the Turkish moderate writer and journalist Mustafa Akyol, who was invited to give a series of talks in KL, was detained, while the Indian fugitive ‘terror-mentor’ Zakir Naik was given a safe-haven in Malaysia and made a Permanent Resident.

A controversial preacher, Zamihan Mat Zin, who outraged Malaysians and the Malaysian Royalty with his radical views on separate launderette facilities for “unclean” non-Muslims and his intolerance in race and religious matters, was found to be part of the deradicalization program.

Mariam Mokhtar is a Malaysian journalist and a longtime contributor to Asia Sentinel