Malaysia is known for the wrong reason(s)–Misogyny


August 1, 2017

Malaysia is known for the wrong reason(s)–Misogyny

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/07/29/asia/malaysia-women-misogyny-legislature/index.html

Image result for animah kosai

Lawyer Aminah Kosai and Friends

Editor’s Note: Animah Kosai (pic above on extreme right) is a lawyer who writes, speaks and advises leaders on creating an open “Speak Up” culture in corporations to address wrongdoing, harassment and safety concerns. She also speaks on women empowerment. Animah is creating a platform called Speak Up and can be followed on LinkedIn and Twitter @SpeakUpAtWork

Malaysia has a problem: misogyny. The country’s Parliament set yet another sordid example last week when Member of Parliament Che Mohamad Zulkifly Jusoh, during a debate on amending domestic violence laws, said husbands were ‘abused’ when wives threw insults, withheld sex and denied consent for Muslim men to take another wife.

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Another Problematic UMNO Mamak–Setiu MP Che Mohamad Zulkifly Jusoh

In 2007, another MP, Bung Mohktar Radin, equated the leaking parliament roof to a woman’s period, picking on woman opposition MP Fong Po Kuan, and saying she ‘leaked’ every month. His disgraceful comments drew laughter from the floor. No male MP stood up to defend her.

Image result for Shabudin Yahaya, MP and former syariah court judgeAnother UMNO Character from Penang

 

In April this year, Shabudin Yahaya, MP and former syariah court judge, objected to a female representative proposing a ban on child marriage during the tabling of child sex abuse laws. He said nine year old girls are already mature. That girls at 12 or 15 who had bodies of 18 year olds were physically and spiritually mature, and could be married. He explained that rape victims would face a bleak future without husbands — and suggested they marry their rapists. In Malaysia, the legal age for marriage is 18 but exemptions can be given by the appropriate judge.

Was there outrage? Yes. From civil society, mainly women, and a handful of female MPs. It’s an uphill battle when 90% of the House of Representatives are male. Only 23 out of the 222 elected members of parliament are women.

Picture a rowdy boys club that fights to determine the loudest chest thumper. The winner emerges as alpha male while the rest fall into line as loyal followers. Women entering this arena upset the pecking order. We think differently. We ask tough questions. The alpha male isn’t used to being questioned. Especially not by a woman. In front of his pack!

To keep his position, he has to remind her who’s boss. He does so through bullying rather than rational intelligent discourse. You see this in Parliament, in the workplace and on social media. All a leader needs to do is make one remark to ‘put a woman in her place’ and his sycophants will do the rest.

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An UMNO Empty Vessel who makes the most noise–Teuku (aka Tengku) Adnan Mansor

A few months ago, Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor was at a town hall meeting when an eloquent young woman asked him about steps to reduce street crime. She was worried for her safety. He replied, “It’s because you’re so beautiful. The next time you go out, wear shabby clothes.” The audience laughed and wolf whistles were heard.

In just one sentence, Tengku Adnan avoided answering the question, objectified the woman, blamed the victim and rallied the boys to follow his cue.

Once a leader speaks this way, he is sending the signal to the masses that it is the fault of the victim for being attacked. This is wrong and has to be called out for what it is.  Patriarchy. Sexism. Rape Culture.

Why can men get away with such sexist remarks? Because they hold the power. Malaysia has the dubious distinction of scoring highest in the Hofstede Power Distance Index. In other words, Malaysia is the country in which the least powerful members of society most accept and expect the unequal distribution of power.

This means leaders can say anything knowing they will most likely not be challenged. In some families, women are reminded that religion and tradition requires them to be subservient to their husbands.

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Malaysia’s Hippo-Crite –Anything for Political Survival

Zulkifly’s male abuse remarks last week came the same day his boss, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced women had hit 30% representation in management in the top 100 listed Malaysian companies. Najib noted 17 of the companies had no women directors and said companies without women on boards by 2018 would be named and shamed.

Najib, meanwhile, has only 3 women in his 35 member cabinet. His party, UMNO, has 7 women in its 57 member Supreme Council — a council that has both Tengku Adnan and Bung Mokhtar on it.

When there is big imbalance between the genders, misogyny thrives. The only way forward is for men to drop their pack mentality and let women in. It’s hard for women with 10% or 20% of the power to change male mindsets. Don’t leave the heavy lifting to us.

Men, the moment you hear a sexist remark, intervene and object. A man will be taken more seriously by a misogynist. Men are part of the brotherhood. When a woman points out a sexist remark, she is challenging the male ego. He gets defensive, stops listening and often continues his tirade. I have seen the powerful shift when a man calls out sexism. The speaker stops and thinks. He is not threatened. He may not change immediately, but a seed is planted. The more men call out misogyny, the greater the shift. Eventually men will hear women the same way they hear men. As equals.

Workplaces, social media and yes, Parliament, will become less aggressive and open up to a calmer, respectful culture where women will be happy to participate.

We need male champions for gender equality. So non-alpha male men: break ranks and support us.

Lessons from the Brexit Debacle — All very British Bulldog


July 16, 2017

Lessons from the Brexit Debacle– All very British Bulldog

by Dr. Munir Majid@www.thestar.com.my

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FORMER British Prime Minister David Cameron went for the Brexit referendum to strengthen his position in the Conservative party and end the warring among the Tories over the European Union, thinking the Brexiteers would lose.

His complacent and cavalier approach to the referendum in the British system of representative (not direct) democracy, without a robust presentation of the facts, resulted in a campaign driven by passion, emotion, prejudice and lies – and the vote by a whisker a year ago to get out of the EU.

How that was to happen was hardly touched upon. What was exposed instead were the deep divisions that exist in Britain.

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Cameron left the Brexit fiasco to Theresa May whose “Hard Brexit” campaign rhetoric was a typical British Bulldog mess

Cameron resigned and left the mess with his successor Theresa May. Her contribution to the momentous decision was: Brexit means Brexit. Indeed, as a former Remainer, she bent over backwards to go for a “Hard Brexit”, rather like converts to a new religion who become extreme to show how true they are to the faith.

Indeed, she called an early general election to consolidate her position in the party and to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations. Her “Hard Brexit” campaign rhetoric was: no deal was better than a bad deal. All very British Bulldog.

In the event, the Conservatives lost their majority in Parliament, Theresa May’s position in the party is threatened and her hand in the Brexit negotiations weakened. She and her party stay in power through an unsavoury arrangement with the Democratic Ulster Unionists (DUP, who have an abhorrent set of beliefs – one of which is the Pope is the Anti-Christ – and who were able to extract £1.5bil from the prime minister who had famously said there was no “magic money tree” when nurses in the National Health Service sought a pay rise).

After the election last month, the Institute of Directors found a negative swing of 34 points in confidence in the British economy from its last survey in May.

Many epithets have been attached to Theresa May since. She has become rather like “Calamity Jane”. There is an appropriate Malay word that could be applied: kelam kabut. At sixes and sevens. Shooting every which way.

Meanwhile, the much-maligned leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, who did so much better in the election than expected, has been elevated to being, as described by a commentator, “a cross between zen master and Star Wars character Obi-Wan Kenobi”.

This is a romantic notion, of course. The Labour Party is as divided as the Conservative Party, on Brexit as on anything else. Corbyn represents the far left, whose economic management for sometimes laudable social policies has many a time led Britain to a fiscal and monetary dead end.

The swing of support for the Labour Party came largely from young voters attracted to Corbyn’s promise to abolish university fees – although May’s political gymnastics and calamitous proposal to put a cap on state support for the old in retirement homes did not help the Tories.

At the first Prime Minister’s Question time after the election, Corbyn was straining at the leash to push his advantage, especially as the Grenfell Tower fire in London has exposed incompetence and division in British society yet again.

He was well armed with facts and figures and had May on the back foot. However, he was not able to put her to the sword. When the British Prime Minister cleverly turned the argument against him by saying it was the last Labour argument that had presided over the housing regulations that allowed the cladding that caused the Grenfell Tower fire to become an inferno, he did not get back at her.

He should have argued any government in power – and May certainly wanted to be in power – has no right to refer to the past (it was a Conservative government that got Britain into Europe) when its duty is to govern with responsibility here and now. Really not very Star Wars of Corbyn.

Britain divided

Be that as it may, both leaders are polarising figures. Britain is deeply divided along the lines of class, income, race, region and age. There is not a whiff of an Emmanuel Macron figure to try and unify recalcitrant constituencies, to find a new belief and a centre to move Britain forward.

Instead it looks as if Britain is going through a death by a thousand cuts. What are the lessons from all this – the sad tragedy that is being played out in Britain – that can be learned for our country and region?

The most important lesson is the threat of division in a country and society that builds up from a long period of neglect which is always exploited in politics.

United Kingdom Independence Party exploited xenophobic instincts among both the British upper class and the underclass, by playing on their fears, whether driven by racism and dislike of foreigners or by perceived rule from Brussels (the new Rome). These emotive references are easy points from which to get support.

Facts can also be twisted, as was evident from the many false numbers that were given on the cost of EU membership. Once a base is founded on base instincts, it is not difficult to whip up falsehoods as self-evident truths.

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In Indonesia and Malaysia, many positions are being taken on race and religion which divide society and cause minorities to become victims. This has been happening for some time and these countries should be mindful of destabilising eruptions.

In Britain, destabilising developments have been caused through the vote. The rule of law holds back the ugliest ramifications of deep social division. One wonders how they might be expressed in less developed political systems in ASEAN.

The other division is in income. We applaud ad nauseam the splendid economic growth rates in the region, and how ASEAN as a whole is the seventh or sixth largest economy in the world, and could become the fourth largest in 2050 or whenever, but do we give enough attention to income disparities and maldistribution of wealth?

They are increasing in ASEAN, within and between member states. Together with other divisive factors, the crunch time in Britain came in the form of Brexit and a hung parliament. In the United States, in the form of Trump. What form could it take in ASEAN countries where the ballot box is not always the preferred means of securing change?

Even with the economy, even as it grows, disruptions are now happening with digitisation, which displaces employment.

Employment for cheap manufacturing cost is increasingly becoming an attraction of the past. What are ASEAN countries like Indonesia and Myanmar doing about training and education, and retraining, for the digital economy? What will happen to micro-, small and medium enterprises and employment levels?

There is much research which shows, and empirical evidence that confirms it, that those at the lowest rung of education and skill level are the most exposed to this fourth industrial revolution.

Displacement of employment, with the already large income disparity, is going to divide society again.

Disruptions and fissures must be anticipated and filled. Otherwise, divisions in society will cause severe problems later on. And sometimes even earlier rather than later on.

We can become smug in Asia, or ASEAN – indeed, in individual countries – at how well we are doing. Even superior, when looking at the travails of other countries. We must resist this. We must learn lessons and understand we are so very far from perfect.

Dr. Munir Majid, Chairman of Bank Muamalat and Visiting Senior Fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute.

Malay Self-Blamers and Opposites –Two Peas in a Decadent Pod


June 6, 2017

Malay Self-Blamers and Opposites –Two Peas in a Decadent Pod

by Dr. M Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, Calffornia

http://www.bakrimusa.com

If at one end we have those Malays who blame “others” for all our travails, at the polar opposite we have the “self-blamers.” Every society has its share of them, and our Malay self-blamers do not lack for ammunition. We are being burdened by the inadequacies of our culture, they remind us ad nauseam; we are too “nice” and not aggressive enough so others like the pendatangs (immigrants) and neo-colonizers take advantage of us.

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If only we were a bit kurang jar (uncouth), more kiasu (crude), or be like those pendatangs and colonials, our leaders lament. Now that we are in charge, it is our turn now to take advantage of the “others,” these leaders assert.

They exhort us to have our own revolusi mental (“Mental Revolution”), be a Melayu Baru (New Malay), and to assert if not demand our rights as “natives.” When those slogans lose their flavor with time, as inevitably they would when there are no accompanying effective actions, our leaders concoct new ones. Today Malays are urged to assert with unbounded aggressiveness our Ketuanan Melayu (Malay hegemony) status. Again this, as with all previous exhortations we were assured to no end, would be our salvation.

Malaysia has not yet finished with Vision 2020, the ambitious socio-economic development program initiated by Mahathir over 30 years ago and trumpeted without end by many (including current leaders) that would catapult us into the developed world status, and we are into “Transformasi 50” that would promise to, well, transform the nation. We have yet to access and learn from the successes or failures of Vision 2020. Never mind that when 2050 comes around, all those champions of Transformasi 50 would be long dead or reduced to senility and thus could not be held accountable.

Image result for Zakir NaikChief Mufti of Perlis and his Maha-Guru Zakir Naik of India

To these “self-blamers,” our culture is not our only burden. We have also strayed far from our faith, they piously chastise us. Hence, more religion, especially for our young! With that comes a hugely expanded religious establishment, with more ulamas to lead the flock along the “straight path,” and even more religious police to snare those tempted to stray or have done so. For added measure, we also concocted a new and presumably improved version of our faith, Islam Hadhari. As for educating our young, well, we have to indoctrinate them even more so they too would appreciate our new pristine “Islamic” ways.

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My favorite is the self-blamers’ pseudo-scientific theory of faulting our basic nature, our genes. To them, our fate is sealed the moment we were conceived. There is nothing that we could do to alter that reality; accept it, they advise us. It is the price for our indulging in too much inbreeding, apparently. “We must marry outside our race!” our supposedly scientifically enlightened leaders urge us.

Such a belief in our biologic fatalism is not only cruel and destructive, but it is also wrong, very wrong, as modern science tells us. It would however, make a great practical joke at a multiracial bachelors’ party.

If our ancestors’ psyche was destroyed by the religious determinism of the past (“Our fate is written in the book” – Al Qadar), today our minds, especially those of the young, are being crippled by the biologic determinism propagated by these “modern” pseudo-scientific leaders whose understanding of genetics is gleaned only from reading articles in Readers’ Digest or The Dummies Guide to Human Genetics.

There is yet another variation of this strand of “self-blame,” and that is our leaders’ constant complaining of our supposed lack of unity. If only we are “united,” these leaders soothingly assure us, then there would be no mountains too high for us to scale and no rivers too wide to cross. Those obstacles would magically disappear. With unity, we could take on all comers, including those immigrants, neo-colonialists, and whoever else who would dare cross our path.

Our leaders often remind us that it was our unity that let us prevail over the Malayan Union, and it was our unity that made possible our independence from colonial rule. True, only if you gloss over the facts and reality. As mentioned earlier, our sultans were more than eager to sign that Union treaty. In fact, they had already signed the Agreement, giving away the nation’s sovereignty to the British, all for a lousy pension. As for our subsequent quest for independence, those same sultans were none too eager either. Not surprising considering the fate of sultans in neighboring Indonesia and the Maharajas in India with their countries’ independence.

I am all for unity; to be against it would be like being against motherhood and sambal balacan (shrimp paste). And you cannot be Malay if you are against sambal balacan!

What scares me is not unity per se rather these leaders’ concept of it. Scrutinize it and unity to them means us being reduced to a flock of sheep, meekly and blindly following our shepherd – them. These leaders confuse unity with unanimity; it is the latter that they demand, not the former, and unanimity to their views. Thus, they have no tolerance for divergent and dissenting views. That is the scary part. These leaders’ version of unity would best be illustrated by the Germans under Hitler.

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Scrutinize Malay leaders’ utterances when they invoke “unity” of their followers. It is not so much unity towards facing our common challenges as how to increase Malay productivity, improve national schools, curb corruption in our midst, or retard the influences of extremist Islamists, rather unity against those “other” non-Malay Malaysians. A totally unproductive and potentially destructive preoccupation. Worse, it is a strain of Hitler’s unity.

I have nothing against the concept of the united flock being led by a benevolent shepherd as per the biblical metaphor, leading us from one lush meadow to another while protecting us from predators.

The reality is far different. In far too many instances our leaders are not saintly shepherds. They are only too happy to lead the flock over the cliff or to the slaughterhouse to feed their ego and greed, as the sultans did with signing the Malayan Union Treaty. Even if Malay leaders were saintly to begin with, the endless uncritical adulations from their followers would eventually get to their egos and then they would think that they could walk on water or do no wrong. Then be ready for the masses to be led to the slaughterhouse.

I agree that we must be united, but let it be in our vigilance against predators. We must also remember that sometimes this predation could come from within, as from our greedy, corrupt, and incompetent leaders.

MALAYSIA: Malay Politicians have nothing productive to do except play Sharia Politics


June 5, 2017

MALAYSIA: Prime Minister Najib Razak has nothing productive to do except play Sharia Politics

by John Berthelsen@www/asiasentinel.com

Image result for najib and zakir naik

Anything and everything to  remain in power.

When Malaysia’s Dewan Rakyat, or Parliament reconvenes on July 24, its most controversial order of business is a measure that could send the country down the road towards an Islamic dictatorship, a bill that would allow for the imposition of shariah law in the rural eastern state of Kelantan. But critics say it could spread to infect both other states and ethnic groups.

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With Politicians like this man (pic) who needs enemies to destroy rule of law

But it is not the pressure of the country’s 19.5 million Muslims that is causing the push for more powerful shariah courts and penalties. It is the politics of the country’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak, who is under fire for the country’s biggest-ever scandal and rising inflation and crime, and who believes he can preserve the United Malays National Organization’s national sway by appealing to Islamic sentiment.

Since independence, Malaysia has been regarded as one of the world’s most prosperous, moderate and democratic predominantly Muslim states. It has sizeable Chinese, Indian and other minority populations. Its Malay population is mostly urban and relatively laid back.  But Najib, beset by the 1Malaysia Development Bhd mess, in which US$4 billion has disappeared – as much as US$2 billion into his own pockets – and which is US$11 billion in debt from mismanagement and theft, believes he needs every single Malay vote for the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition to prevail in elections that could come late this year.

That means going after the Malays in the kampungs, the rural villages, through their religion. The vehicle he intends to use is a bill sponsored not by his own coalition but by the opposition’s Parti Islam se-Malaysia, or PAS, the rural-based Islamic party that is seeking to implement sixth-century shariah law in Kelantan, the one state it controls. It was tabled suddenly in the middle of the last night of parliament before it recessed in April.  It is the first time the coalition has ever allowed the introduction of a private member’s bill by the opposition.

Theoretically it would put Najib himself in danger, having been caught in a Port Dickson love motel with singer-actress Ziana Zane in the 1980s, enraging his wife, Rosmah Mansor, and by having been named as ‘Public Official 1” by the US Justice Department’s Kleptocracy Unit in the theft of US$1 billion from 1MDB.  But like the victims of the Duterte drug war in the Philippines, and black residents of the United States, it is the poor who will take the brunt of being flogged or stoned or going to prison for up to 30 years for what would be misdemeanors for non-Muslims. The kleptocrats of UMNO will remain unscathed.

Whether the parliament would actually act on the proposed Sharia Act (355) when it returns is unclear. Najib is a canny politician who has been tantalizing PAS about passing it since December of 2014, when it was first proposed. There is some belief he is using it only as bait for PAS support and will find a way to delay a vote until after national elections, which could come as early as August or September. However, today it is shaping up as a wedge issue that will determine whether PAS abandons its long and tenuous relationship to the opposition coalition headed by the jailed Anwar Ibrahim.

“He is definitely riding a tiger on this issue,” said Tawfik Ismail, a former parliamentarian and leader of the opposition to the measure who is suing Parliamentary Speaker Pandikar Amin Mulia, alleging that it is unconstitutional under Malaysia’s national charter, which guarantees freedom of religion and which requires the sultans’ permission. UMNO, he said, is seeking to boost itself as Malay chauvinist party, abandoning its longstanding mandate as the leader of the country’s multifarious religious status.

In the 2013 General Election, the Barisan Nasional coalition lost Peninsular Malaysia to the opposition but in fact was saved by the votes of mostly Christian and animist ethic groups in East Malaysia. As Tawfik points out, today those states are in near rebellion against the shariah measure. On May 7, 20 East Malaysia community leaders wrote an open letter asking that the bill be rejected, with the hint that they could leave the government.

Najib faces a growing quandary and not just from the Sabah and Sarawak Christians – but from an attack from the other side. Last month, Nasrudin Hassan, the PAS information chief, introduced the cudgel of the recent Jakarta gubernatorial election, in which Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, the most honest and capable governor the sprawling city has ever had, was defeated largely because he is Chinese and Christian. He has since been jailed for two years on blasphemy charges.

“When you insult Islam, don’t think Muslims will not act by ­rejecting you as a leader. The Jakarta election has proven it,” Nasrudin told local media, a broad hint that Najib had better keep his promise.

“What has been clear from the start of debate on shariah law is that Prime Minister Najib sees exploitation of religious tensions as a means to an end – that is, his continuation in power in the next election,” said Phil Robertson, Asia Deputy Director of Human Rights Watch. “He appears unconcerned that his cynical political ploy to woo PAS and its supporters will escalate tensions between the Malay, Chinese and Indian communities, and undermine the secular, multi-racial and multi-cultural vision of the founding fathers of Malaysia. That’s because Najib’s priority is self-preservation, which means maintaining his authority at all costs so that he can keep stamping out the smoldering embers of the 1MDB scandal that otherwise could re-ignite and consume him.”

The problem with shariah law, according to Imran Imtiaz Shah Yakob, a Malay lawyer, is that it is unlikely to be confined to Kelantan, the PAS stronghold. Instead, Imran told Asia Sentinel, if Parliament gives PAS the authorization to implement shariah law there, the overwhelming rural Malay populations of Terengganu and the northern tier of states such as Perlis, mired in poverty and with drug and crime problems, are likely to demand it as well.  Even Selangor, the wealthy urban state surrounding Kuala Lumpur, Imran said, is conceivably susceptible.

“The alternative that Najib and PAS are toying with would mark the beginning of a descent into darkness, intolerance, rights abuses, and possibly religious-based communal strife that could tear Malaysia apart,” Robertson said.

As an editorial in the Chinese newspaper Sin Chew aid, the rise of extremism threatening religious harmony is a consequence of political problems. Now, the editorial said, “we are making economy, religion and even administration to serve the needs of politics, to an extent that even the civic society finds it difficult to reverse this trend because the country’s biggest Malay opposition party is not on their side. The biggest risk in Malaysian politics lies with the fact that a handful of individuals are in firm control of their parties without an effective checks and balances mechanism in place.

Currently the shariah courts hear civil issues affecting only ethnic Malays, who by definition must be Muslims. They can impose maximum penalties up to three years of jail time, fines of RM5, 000 (US$1167) and up to six strokes of the cane.

But under the amendments, adulterers and drinkers of alcohol could be subject to up to 100 strokes of the cane, fined up to RM100,000 and subject to as much as 30 years in prison.

 

Mariam Mokhtar: Between Hannah and Kamarul


May 30, 2017

Mariam Mokhtar:  Between Hannah and Kamarul

 http://www.malaysiakini.com

Who would have thought it possible? Three years after it was published, a single police report against Selangor State Assembly Speaker Hannah Yeoh’s short political autobiography would cause her book to become a political bestseller.

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Few of us knew that Yeoh had written the book, “Becoming Hannah: A personal journey”, until it became the focus of the Universiti Utara Malaysia’s Institute for Malaysian Political Analysis (Mapan) director, Kamarul Zaman Yusoff.

As Kamarul Zaman stated in his Facebook posting, reading the book had made him “admire” Yeoh’s God, although he disagreed with the stories and quotations from the Bible.

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We can take him out of the Kampong but not his Kampong mindset

Admittedly, some people have a strange way of expressing their admirations, because Kamarul Zaman (photo) then posted osetn his Facebook page that Yeoh had a Christian agenda, was out to preach and could influence others with her Christian beliefs. So convinced was Kamarul Zaman that Muslims would be in danger, he made a police report that Yeoh was out to proselytise others.

The book is all the more unusual in that Yeoh is a DAP politician and in the political climate in which we live, many Malays have been told to be wary of DAP and their policies. Yet, Kamarul Zaman felt compelled to read her book.

In a nation where the common joke is that 97 percent of the population reads around two-and-a-half pages a year, clearly Kamarul Zaman is in the three percent category, and this makes him all the more interesting. As Yeoh’s book was written in English, it makes his fears, that Yeoh can proselytise, even more fanciful.

“Becoming Hannah” is a book about Yeoh’s faith, trust, communication and hope. Faith in herself, trust in her friends and family members, and in the communication that is vital for relationships to succeed. As she is a devoted Christian, naturally it is also a story about her prayers, the signs from Him, her faith in God and trust in Him. The underlying message is also of hope. Hope for Malaysia’s future and younger generation.

Main thrust of the book

The main thrust of her book is the story of becoming an accidental politician. Of being in the right time and place. It is also about adversity and her ability to transcend all the obstacles put in her way. When she stood for her first election, a new bride of one month, with only RM700 in her and her husband’s bank account, she had to pit herself against the BN machinery, which has unlimited resources and money. It was the goodwill of the people in her constituency who came to the rescue. Her core of friends and other nameless strangers volunteered their time to get her campaign off the ground.

Clearly, Yeoh’s book is worth a read, because in her first term she won with a 13,851 majority and in the second election, won an even bigger majority of 28,069.

The book is in two parts and the first part addresses her faith. In herself. To do the things required of her as a dutiful daughter, a newly-graduated lawyer, a young wife and mother, and churchgoer. She surmounts all the challenges with references to the Bible, and, if she had been a Muslim, would probably have used references in Prophet Muhammad’s life to guide her daily life.

She describes how, in her youth, there were millions of other young Malaysians who saw former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad as someone who put Malaysia on the map: Petronas Twin Towers, KLIA, Suria KLCC, the Sepang International Circuit…

After her return from Tasmania, having graduated, Yeoh felt a little depressed and possibly unsure of what to do with her life. Her cousin’s influence and her adopting a new Christian name, Hannah, for her “rebirth”, helped her to get back on her feet. Meeting her future husband, was an unusual event as it was not the normal love-at-first-sight romance.

In the second half of the book, with her newly found self-confidence, she talks about sacrifice, and wondered if other women politicians felt as she did. She also describes the electorate who treated assemblypersons and MPs as problem solvers, and not as policy makers. An incorrect counting of her votes made her realise the importance of polling agents.

Yeoh fondly describes senior DAP people who gave her sound advice. Teresa Kok, who, like a “big-sister” told her how to dress as a people’s representative, and to prepare a portfolio of photos to show her interacting with the rakyat. Lim Kit Siang, who was keen to hear the views of young people like her, and encouraged the party to absorb the views of the younger generation. She was mesmerised, when she saw Anwar Ibrahim enthral an audience.

Yeoh pays tribute to her friends, close aides and especially her family, in particular her mother, her father and her cousin, Shelly. Special praise goes to her husband Ram, for without him, she would not have been able to prosper.

“Becoming Hannah” was written with much frankness and it could so easily have been a book about the majority of us, who have no political inclinations, who moan about the country, rather than about a woman who became an accidental politician.

The second best aspect of reading Yeoh’s book was that after reading it, my Muslim faith remained intact; but those of us whose faith is wavering, might see others as wanting to proselytise.

A Secular Islam Possible for Malaysia?


May 11, 2017

A Secular Islam Possible for Malaysia?

by Dr. Lim Teck Ghee@www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for Secular Islam

The recent PAS Muktamar brings to the forefront – yet again – the question of whether secular Islam is a possibility in an increasingly racially and religiously acrimonious and divided Malaysia.

Secularism has been defined as the separation of public life and civil/government matters from religious teachings and commandments, or more simply the separation of religion and politics. It is an evolution that the great majority of the world’s nations have gone through – some quickly, others more slowly.

However, almost all nations, even as they develop at uneven speeds, have inevitably gravitated towards a separation of religion and state.

Today, except for a few countries such as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran and Yemen, most nations – developed and developing – view a religiously-based state as a throwback to a more primitive form of government; and a historical era in which life was nasty, brutish and short, except for the religious elite.

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Secular states in which governments are neutral in matters of religion and public activities, and where the states’ decisions are not dictated or influenced by religious beliefs, are the opposite of theocratic states.

At the same time it needs to be noted that not all secular states are alike. Thus we find states with a comprehensive commitment to secularism; those that are more accommodating to religion; and others that, although committed to neutrality, will selectively actively cooperate with religions.

Whatever the degree of secularity, secular states, except those which morph into totalitarianism or autocratic systems, are committed to the implementation of national and international norms protecting the freedom of religion or belief, and abide by constitutions which guarantee the equal treatment of different communities of religion and belief within society.

In sharp contrast the theocratic state has a God or a particular deity to be the supreme civil ruler. Also the God’s or particular deity’s commandments are held to be the definitive law of the land; and the authorities and their representatives who interpret the commandments claim a superior or divine duty in running the affairs of state and society.

Debates on merits ongoing, but no poll held

Debate on the relative merits of theocratic and secular states has been ongoing for several hundreds of years in both Muslim and Christian worlds. In our era, a poll of the world’s foremost leaders – including religious – on what they may view to be a superior form of government – secular or theocratic – has never been held.

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The Late Karpal Singh is right but when he was Prime  Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir had the audacity to claim that Malaysia is already an Islamic state, while his successor promoted Islam Hadhari and Najib Razak embraced Hadi Awang’s Hududism and Zakir Naik.  As a result, the Malays have become a confused people.–Din Merican

But if one were to be undertaken today, I will not be surprised if the polled group of religious leaders – despite their concerns about the negative impact that a sharp break separating public life from religion could have on their congregations – will agree that a secular state is the correct path to progress and a better life for their religious communities.

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I expect too that few among the religious leaders would want a return to the days when there was a fusion of religious and political authority, even if they may personally benefit from the shift of power in society.

For, make no mistake about it, history – past and current – is replete with examples of how theocratic states, even after co-opting or hijacking secularised concepts of equality and justice, have invariably lapsed into religious tyrannies with dire consequences for all of the citizenry.

As Thomas Paine, one of the founding fathers of the United States noted, “Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst; every other species of tyranny is limited to the world we live in; but this attempts to stride beyond the grave, and seeks to pursue us into eternity.”

The crisis in Malaysia

Secular Malaysia today is facing a crisis with Muslim politicians from both sides of the political divide seeking to strengthen conservative Islam through castigating its moderate and liberal proponents, and by making the case that supporters of a secular Islam are kaffirs, traitors and enemies of the religion.

The situation has become so bad that few Muslims in the country are willing to take a public stand on the issue or declare support for secular Islam for fear of reprisal by religious extremists.

The sole exceptions that have stood out have been non-political figures, such as Mariam Mokhtar, Noor Farida Ariffin and some other members of G25, Syed Akbar Ali, Marina Mahathir, Haris Ibrahim, Din Merican, and Farouk Peru, and an even smaller number of politicians, notably Zaid Ibrahim and Ariff Sabri.

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One sees in their messages to fellow Muslims in this country some of the same concerns that are animating liberal and secular Muslims in other parts of the world, viz:

  • The rejection of interpretations of Islam that urge violence, social injustice and politicised Islam;
  • The rejection of bigotry and oppression against people based on prejudice arising from ethnicity, belief, religion, sexual orientation and gender expression;
  • Support for secular governance, democracy and liberty; and
  • Support for the right of individuals to publicly express criticism of Islam (see ‘Muslim Reform Movement’ by M Zuhdi Jasser and Raheel Raza et al).

Unfortunately, these messages – partly because they are communicated in English and partly because the mainstream Malay (and English ) media have chosen to ignore them – are unable to reach the Malay masses – whether in rural or urban communities. They have even failed to elicit support from the unknown number of open-minded and liberal Muslims who are now openly branded as “deviants” by Islamic religious authorities.

In the Malay world, it is Malay politicians and the Islamic elite and bureaucracy who have a monopoly over the variant of Islam that is propagated to the masses. It is a variant that is currently feeding on heightened ethnic and religious insecurities and jealousy, so as to make it much more difficult, if not impossible, to have a rational discourse on secular Islam, save that advocated by Umno and PAS.

LIM TECK GHEE is a former World Bank senior social scientist, whose report on bumiputera equity when he was director of Asli’s Centre for Public Policy Studies sparked controversy in 2006. He is now CEO of the Centre for Policy Initiatives.