Naik and Mahathir–Pandering to UMNO-PAS Politics


July 11, 2018

Naik and Mahathir–Pandering to UMNO-PAS Politics

by Cmdr (rtd) S. Thayaparan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

“You perceive the force of a word. He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word. The power of sound has always been greater than the power of sense… Give me the right word and the right accent and I will move the world.” – Joseph Conrad.

I think the reason why Zakir Naik is not deported – secret deal or not – is that the Malaysian government does not consider what he is alleged to have done in India a crime. They probably justify those charges as religious persecution against a beloved Muslim preacher. They probably think that anyone who disagrees with what Zakir Naik says is Islamophobic.–S. Thayaparan.

COMMENT | It is really a funny question, right? When I say “our” and there are people who were born here, like Letchumie Sinnan who has been given the run around by the bureaucracy for 20 years and been stuck in permanent resident limbo, while a demagogue, alleged money launderer and extremist sympathiser like Zakir Naik get feted by the political and social elite.

Meanwhile, there are thousands of Indians and Chinese who have to eke out a living and contribute to the economy but are not considered citizens of this country. Over the years, I have met and attempted to help – in my own small ineffectual way – dozens of Malaysians to get their MyKad. It is really galling to witness a religious hatemonger like Zakir Naik being defended by the political elite in this country of the Islamic persuasion, while so many – a legion, I would say – have no one to speak up for them.

Image result for Mahathir pandering to Islamophobia

The fact there are Indians and Chinese in this country who are considered, for whatever reasons, permanent residents (if they are lucky) and the state wilfully refuses to recognise them as citizens, while Zakir Naik gets to spread his horse manure in comfort, is an insult for anyone who has served this country, either in the state security apparatus, in the teaching profession or whatever else capacity that has made this country what it is today.

Let me say this. I bet my last ringgit that all these Malaysians who have been denied their citizenship, who have been given the run around by the bureaucracy and who toil in menial jobs unable to get a foothold, I bet that they have contributed more to this country than the radicals like Zakir Naik. All those people I have attempted to help over the years display a profound love and loyalty to this county, even though they have been marginalised.

Someone like me often wonders, how could you love this country when it doesn’t even recognise you? How can you be loyal to this country when it has willfully abandoned you? We live in a great country is their common refrain. Yeah, a great country, where the likes of Zakir Naik get to say what he likes and (now) to be deported only if he misbehaves.

 

Tell me, what does “not creating problems” mean? What would it take for Zakir Naik to be kicked out of this country? What exactly is the threshold here?

We all know that Zakir Naik uses words to instigate, demean and mock other cultures and religions. We know that his words are meaningful to large sections of the Malay polity, even though they may not understand him. We know that he remains unrepentant since he has probably met with every Malay power broker of note in this country. So, what exactly does misbehaving mean? His kind of Islam is supposedly the antithesis of the kind of Islam Harapan wants to propagate. Or is it?

Kudos to P Ramasamy, the Penang Deputy Chief Minister II, for giving it his all when it comes to the extradition of Zakir Naik. What I want to know is why aren’t the rest of the Harapan gang coming out with a unified comment on this issue. Are the major power players in Harapan reserving comment? Are they too busy, thinking up ways of how not to spook the Malays?

Freedom of speech?

Every time I write about Zakir Naik, I get many emails from people – Malays – berating me for insulting this man. I sincerely do not get it. When I provide evidence – Zakir Naik’s own words – of the racist, bigoted and inflammatory speeches he has made, it is ignored. When I explain why non-Muslims would be offended by what he says about our religions, it is ignored or dismissed, as not understanding his intent.

Image result for Mahathir pandering to Islamophobia

The Harapan Prime Minister is playing UMNO-PAS politics

When I attempt to provide an analysis of why, even if you were not religious, Zakir Naik’s words amount to incitement against secular democracies, I am told that he is an expert and thus qualified to speak about everything under the sun. Why do we need this man in our country? What possible service has he done for Malaysians that warrant the political elite to think of him as someone who is an asset to this country?

And here’s the thing, if there was freedom of speech like the kind Zakir Naik has for everyone, nobody would have an issue with him. But we have blatant double standards that border on malicious. It is the smirk which tells us that he can say things without consequences but the ‘kafirs’ have to take it.

The last time I wondered if Zakir Naik was a security threat, I got hate mail up the wazoo. Here’s what I wrote – “However, Zakir is a special case. In a time when the Islamist agenda in this country is taking new forms and the agenda is promulgated by new alliances, a preacher like Zakir who specialises in deepening already established cultural and religious rifts is a threat to national security.”

I get it. I see all these huge rallies, and the Malay/Muslim hegemons don’t want to be the Muslims who deported Zakir Naik to India. The country, which even our local preacher took a dig at in a poem which managed to insult the Hindu community, but he insisted was a personal letter to the Prime Minister of India. Nobody wants to be the pious Malay/Muslim political leader who said that Zakir Naik does not belong in this country.

Ramasamy hammers the point home when he reminds the Malaysian government that they deported Chinese Uighurs and Sri Lankan Tamils back to their countries of origin. What is the hold up with Zakir Naik? Why is he a special case?

You know what I think. I think the reason why Zakir Naik is not deported – secret deal or not – is that the Malaysian government does not consider what he is alleged to have done in India a crime. They probably justify those charges as religious persecution against a beloved Muslim preacher. They probably think that anyone who disagrees with what Zakir Naik says is Islamophobic.

Why is it, for some people, the beauty of their religion is only found in the vilification of other religions?


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

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

The Struggle for Political Islam in ‘new Malaysia’


July 6, 2018

The Struggle for Political Islam in ‘new Malaysia’

Despite PAS’ electoral wins, the new government belies the cliches of monolithic Islamist politics.

There was a limit to playing identity politics during the 14th General Elections (GE14), but it’s now too simplistic to say there’s a “new politics” where race and religion no longer matter in Malaysia. Malaysia is not totally free from elements of Bumiputraism and Islamism, yet there are diversifications and transformations of discourses and practices in political Islam. And these changes will continue to shape and be shaped by political contestations in this “new Malaysia”.

Opposition party PAS and victorious Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition party Amanah are unlikely to cooperate in the name of Islam. Although both claim to be Islamic parties, their approaches are rather different. PAS is a more Malay-oriented Islamic party with its strongholds in Kelantan and Terengganu, while Amanah is a more cosmopolitan and reformist-inclined Islamic party with a support base in the urbanised Klang Valley. Such Pas–Amanah competition might be also framed as a contestation between orthodox versus moderate Islamism, Islamism versus post-Islamism, or political Islam 1.0 versus 2.0; of course, the realities are more much more complex than these differentiations. Hence, it is a mistake to claim that Malay Muslims in the Klang Valley are less “Islamic” than those in the east coast states, just because they did not vote for PAS.

Image result for political islam in ‘new malaysia’

At GE-14, PAS won 18 parliamentary seats while Amanah secured 11 seats. However, the “Islamic voice” in the winning PH coalition also exists in its other component parties PKR (Parti Keadilan Rakyat) and even PPBM (Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia), as there are leaders with ABIM (Angkatan Belia Islam Malaysia) and IKRAM (Pertubuhan IKRAM Malaysia) background in both parties. In short, PAS is no longer the only dominant force representing political Islam in Malaysia, as it’s facing strong challenges from other political parties and also NGOs with Islamic credentials.

Many Malaysians, including Malay Muslims, voted against Najib Razak and issues such as the GST and corruption in GE-14. Yet where these Malay protest votes go are configured by political orientations among Malay Muslims, depending on regions. In the southern states such as Johor, Malay nationalism is strong and PAS is not an important force. Hence the anti-Najib voters’ swinging to PH.

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Also Read here: https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/bitstream/handle/1887/46227/THESIS%20pdf.pdf?sequence=1

But in the east coast states, PAS is strong on its own. After successfully denouncing Amanah and consolidating its hardcore supporters, the party ran extensive campaigns against the GST and corruption to attract anti-Najib voters. It may be inaccurate to claim that many Malay Muslims in Kelantan and Terengganu were voting for RUU355, a parliamentary bill proposed by PAS president Hadi Awang to enhance existing Syariah laws.

In the Klang Valley, potential PAS voters are much more diverse and sophisticated than those in the east coast. Aside from the PAS hardcore, there are also supporters of Anwar Ibrahim, ABIM, Ikram, and other Islamic movements. At GE14, the PAS hardcore stayed loyal yet others, especially those from ABIM and IKRAM, ran effective campaigns for PH, lending the coalition much-needed Islamic credentials. They have successfully persuaded many former PAS voters in the Klang Valley to vote for PH.

Many observers have focused on PAS’ winning Kelantan and Terengganu states on its own, attributing its victories to religious factors and describing PAS voters as a “moral constituency”. However, such analyses often wrongly suggest Muslims who have voted for PH are less “Islamic” and less concerned about “moral issues”. Many have also taken urban Muslim supporters of PH for granted.

Take the case of Sungai Ramal (formerly Bangi), a Malay-majority urban state seat in Selangor. By exploring how PAS and PH (represented by Amanah) competed to win over pious urban Muslim voters, by offering different approaches to political Islam, its results tell us more about the transformation of political Islam in urban Malaysia.

Like Shah Alam, Bangi or to be more accurate Bandar Baru Bangi (Bangi New Town) was an urban development project under the New Economic Policy (NEP) to increase the urban Malay population. The state assembly seat of Bangi, renamed Sungai Ramal in 2018, had previously been won by PAS in 1999, 2008, and 2013. Yet it was captured by PH in 2018. The main offices of ISMA (Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia) and HTM (Hizbut Tahrir Malaysia) are located in Bangi, while many ABIM and IKRAM activists also reside in this township.

Bangi is generally seen as a “middle-class Malay Muslim” township. It’s also known as “bandar ilmu” (“knowledge town”, where UKM and KUIS are located) and “bandar fesyen” (“fashion town”, where many Muslimah boutiques and halal eateries are situated). During the GE14 campaign, some Amanah leaders also called Bangi “bandar Rahmatan lil-Alamin”—an inclusive Islamic township which is “a blessing for all”.

After the controversial redelineation exercises nationwide by the Election Commission (EC), the state constituency of Bangi not only got a new name (Sungai Ramal) but also an increase in Malay voters, from about 66% to 80%. Such demographics might have indicated a higher chance for PAS to retain the seat or perhaps enabled UMNO to wrest the seat back. However, as I have observed during the election campaign, Bangi was a battleground between PAS (represented by Nushi Mahfodz, a celebrity ustaz) and Amanah (represented by Mazwan Johar, a lawyer and ex-PAS activist), given that UMNO was not popular among many urban, educated middle-class Malay Muslims.

In order to engage with its middle class and youth members, as well as to win over support from a broader set of pious Muslims, the PAS leadership in Selangor knows its religious credentials alone are not enough. Party strategists have introduced the idea of “technocratic government” (kerajaan teknorat), running events such as “town hall” meetings featuring the party’s youth leaders from professional backgrounds. But religious issues are still central to the PAS campaign. It fielded Nushi Mahfodz, a lecturer at KUIS (Kolej Universiti Islam Selangor) and a celebrity ustaz, as an attempt to win over pious voters. PAS also had certain controls over mosques, religious schools and kindergartens across Bangi.

But there were some uncertainties and dissatisfaction among PAS supporters during GE-14, and they posed challenging questions to party leaders over the campaign. According to PAS ceramah attendees I met, there were different levels of support toward the Islamist party. Some were hardcore PAS members, some were dissatisfied members considering voting for PH, while others who were unhappy with the party leadership still stayed loyal to the party. One of them used the analogy of a classroom: “the teacher might be wrong, but the textbook is always correct. We can criticise the teacher, but we can’t throw away our textbook”.

Pakatan Harapan was well aware it was not enough to campaign solely against the GST and corruption if it wanted to win over pious Muslim voters in Bangi. So it wasn’t a surprise that Amanah arranged a dialogue in Bangi during the GE14 campaign featuring Ustaz Nik Omar, the eldest son of the late Nik Aziz, the revered former PAS spiritual leader. In that dialogue, Nik Omar suggested that his father was not only fighting for the party (PAS), but also more importantly for Islam and for dakwah. For him, dakwah was an “Islamic outreach” towards the broader Muslim community and non-Muslims as well. Compared to “inward-looking” PAS, Nik Omar found PH a better platform for dakwah. In some ways, he carried the legacy of his father, emphasising the need to engage with broader societies while upholding an Islamic agenda.

But Nik Omar himself suffered a heavy defeat in Kelantan, where PAS hardcore supporters in the east coast were ideologically committed and highly loyal to the party. Yet Nik Omar played an important role in helping PH win over fence-sitter Muslim voters, especially in the Klang Valley. If Dr Mahathir Mohammad with his “Malay nationalist” outlook convinced some previously UMNO voters to switch their support to PH, Nik Omar with his “Islamic credentials” persuaded some previously PAS voters to swing their support to Harapan.

By hailing Nik Aziz as an exemplary Muslim leader in its elections campaign, Amanah emphasised social inclusiveness, working with people from all walks of life including non-Muslims. Yet, at the same time, it maintained certain conservative religious and moral viewpoints. For example, some of its leaders committed PH to not allowing cinemas and alcohol sellers in Bangi. In addition to Nik Omar, many ABIM leaders living in Bangi including its first president Razali Nawawi and fourth president Muhammad Nur Manuty also gave their support to PH candidates. A local PKR leader who ran one of the campaign offices was also from an ABIM background. The main campaign team for the Amanah candidate included youth activists from IKRAM.

As the results showed, a combined effort by Amanah, PKR, IKRAM and ABIM activists defeated the incumbent PAS candidate in this urban Malay Muslim-majority seat. The PH coalition won with 24,591 votes, with PAS securing 13,961 votes while UMNO only got 9,372 votes. As compared to the 2013 elections, there was a huge decrease in both PAS voters (dropping to 13,961 from 29,200 previously) and UMNO voters (to 9,372 from 17,362 previously). In other words, about half of previously PAS and UMNO voters swung their support over to Pakatan Harapan.

Various reasons contributing to this change of voting patterns include the possibility that a significant number of former PAS voters are also supporters of PKR, ABIM, IKRAM, and other Islamic organisations. They are pious voters who consider Islam as an important factor in their voting but they’re not loyal PAS supporters. At GE14, many of them indicated their acceptance of PH as an “Islamic alternative”. Despite that, PAS was still able to keep its 30% support base of Muslim voters in Bangi, suggesting that the Islamist party still has influence among urban Muslims in the Klang Valley. It might be premature to conclude that PAS is only a regional party with influence in the east coast and northern states.

The GE-14 result reflects the enduring influence of PAS and it remains one of the key players of political Islam in Malaysia. Yet at the same time, Amanah and PKR, and to a lesser extent, PPBM, together with IKRAM and ABIM, have offered a viable “Islamic alternative” for pious Muslim voters. Over the next few years, can PAS rejuvenate or expand its support base in the Klang Valley? Can Amanah make further inroads into the east coast states?

The competition for pious Muslim voters will continue to shape and be shaped by Malaysian politics. Anwar Ibrahim recently visited his comrade Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, while Nik Omar and some Amanah leaders have also made references to Erdogan. Some liberal Muslims have questioned the suitability of Maszlee Malik as the Minister of Education because of his perceived “Islamist” background, and he replied such critics by pointing out “being religious is not a crime”.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has stated his intention to revamp the federal government’s Islamic affairs bureaucracy JAKIM, leaving the room open for further competition among different Islamic groups in Malaysia. Such competition will also be configured by the engagement of Muslims from various backgrounds—from traditionalists to modernists, from secular-minded to Islamist-minded, from progressive to conservative. And there are the interactions with non-Muslim Malaysians to consider as well.

DUN Sungai Ramal(formerly Bangi) 2018Total voters: 54,961

Malays 80%   Chinese 9%

Indians 10%   Others 1%

2013Total voters: 53,268

Malays 66%   Chinese 19%

Indians 13%   Others 1%

BN-UMNO 9,372 17,362
PAS 13,961 29,200
PH-Amanah 24,591

Election results in the Sungai Ramal state seat (formerly Bangi) in 2018 and 2013 [data from https://undi.info]

Mahathir’s Bersatu– A Reformed UMNO?


June 25, 2018

Mahathir’s Bersatu– A Reformed UMNO?

by S. Thayaparan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

“We belong to a plural society and in this society, the Malay-bumiputera agenda must be carried out.”

– UMNO Acting President Dr. Ahmad Zahid Hamidi

 

COMMENT | Since I fancy myself as a sort of political Cassandra as opposed to a political Pollyanna, I am always interested in what former political prisoner Anwar Ibrahim has to say about Malay politics. His recent comments about how UMNO is not completely destroyed and has to reinvent itself has become a political Rorschach test for people who voted for Pakatan Harapan.

Image result for Najib Razak visits Anwar in Hospital

 

I wrote about this when Prime Minister (then) Najib Abdul Razak visited Anwar when he was recovering from surgery last year – “Despite establishment narratives that non-Malays – the Chinese specifically – seek to supplant Malay/Muslim power in Malaysia, the reality is that this could never happen. Why this is the case is beyond the scope of this article, but since Malay powerbrokers hold the keys to Putrajaya, the sight of Malay political opponents meeting always arouses speculation and yes, insecurity amongst the non-Malay demographic, especially those invested in regime change.”

Add to this, Najib’s telephone conversations with Anwar on the night of May 9, the seemingly never-ending public squabbles of PKR, the narratives of how Anwar “can’t be trusted”, the perception that PKR’s schism is the foundation for collusion with UMNO or PAS, and anything Anwar says is an invitation to vilify the former political operative who laid the foundation for the eventual takeover of Putrajaya.

Image result for Mahathir and UMNO

“It is no longer enough to remove Najib Razak from power. UMNO itself must be defeated”, Dr. Mahathir said. Will he  break up the political party he created in 1985 and abandon the Malay agenda he initiated when he first came to power in 1981 and held to the premiership for 22+ years?

I have always cautioned that this idea that UMNO and all it stands for is a relic of bygone Malaysia is foolish. Race and religious politics are sown into the fabric of Harapan with materials provided by the former UMNO regime. UMNO and PAS, and those that voted for them – comprising about 52 percent of the popular votes in GE-14 – are a formidable base which is currently being ignored by the numerous changes taking place in this country.

Let us forget about the narratives of a possible collusion by elements in Harapan and UMNO for a moment. Some folks have said that the people are the opposition. Great, but who do Malaysians vote for if Harapan does not live up to expectations in the Peninsular?

I doubt Chinese support for DAP will end anytime soon and since the “running dog” narratives take some time take root, it’s all good on their front. But if you are Malay, you got a “reformed UMNO” and PAS to choose from and this is where things get dicey real fast. By “reformed”, I mean an UMNO that is still entrenched in its ideology but with a new coat of paint to regain support from the Malays who voted against Najib.

Bridge between Bersatu and DAP

In all these think pieces I read online, it is PKR that is described as the bridge between Bersatu and DAP. In other words, the bridge between the so-called rural Malays and the urban Chinese. This, of course, is often portrayed as a class issue, but public comments from various Harapan leaders betray the reality that this is a race issue.

Bersatu was supposed to be the UMNO of Harapan – the linchpin for the new deal that would ensure that the races would cooperate in the old alliance way before the dark times of UMNO ‘ketuanan’ hegemony. It did not work out that way. UMNO still commands the Malay base and now PAS is slowly demonstrating that its outlier status is a political advantage in this new Malaysia.

Public comments from certain UMNO leaders – Khairy Jamaluddin for instance – of turning UMNO into a multiracial party could be post-traumatic stress from the recent elections. However, what he does represent even though the old guard of UMNO may not like it, is a leader who balances ‘ketuanan’ ideology with the pragmatism of compromise that is needed to win the cash cows which are the so-called “urban centres” that PKR is supposedly a bridge to. The UMNO meet-up will determine which forces in the party hold sway, of course.

It remains to be seen how exactly Bersatu handles the challenge of reforming the rural polities which was needed to take Putrajaya, or so we are told. And this also involves the greater need to reform the system where dominant race-based Malay power structures rely on to sustain them.

This is important because dismantling the architecture that enables the propagandising of race and religion is needed for the survival of non-Malay power structures in the long run.  Bersatu didn’t win this election for Harapan; it was a former UMNO grand poobah, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, who did. Systemic reform without any thought or consideration to reforming structures that enable race and religious imperatives to remain entrenched  is foolhardy.

Take this lowering the voting age to 18 for instance. Great idea but I really hope Harapan strategists are discovering how deep the radicalisation process is when it comes to religious schools and the like. Young Muslims from these types of schools have to wait a few years before voting but 18 is just about the right age when the propaganda and religious delusions are still fresh in their minds and they want an avenue to express them. Not to mention, the years of indoctrination by a system created by the very person who has gained messianic status by true believers.

This is where UMNO or PAS could benefit more than a regime which has to compromise on its racial and religious imperatives – Bersatu – for the sake of the multiracial power-sharing formula that BN never paid much attention to. This, of course, is but one example of the fault lines that exist when making policy.

In all cases, deradicalisation should be central even in the more obvious of policy shifts. Is the Harapan regime up to this? Only time will tell, and there is only a small window of opportunity because personalities are old and the young blood is waiting in the wings.

So how do we combat the grand narratives of Malay supremacy in Harapan and UMNO and PAS? How do we ensure that these narratives are weakened over time? Here are some points to consider.

Decentralisation

Another Malaysiakini columnist Nathaniel Tan talks about regionalism. That is an important starting point I think. Federal power should be decentralised. This halts grander narratives of Malay and Islamic hegemony with local issues that could be dealt with state power. When people have a sense that their state governments can solve their immediate needs, there is no need to kowtow to federal power which brings with it forms of subservience that is detrimental to the democratic process.

This also should extend to local council elections. This brings communities together on issues of needs. If all politics are local, then people from communities rather than political parties determine what is important to them and this also safeguards against political interference.

More importantly, the media should be regional as well. Mainstream media news outlets shape the news often ignoring state level and local community level issues. This creates the impression that federal narratives – those that involve race and religion – are monolithic. This really isn’t the case. This is not something that the state governments or the federal governments should be involved with but rather independent regional media outlets, discussing local issues and ensuring that local politics remains in the forefront.

If you are really serious about people being the opposition – whatever that means – this is a good way to do it, further weakening the grand narratives of race and religion by concentrating on local issues which sometimes have nothing to do with what goes on in the urban polities.

In order to weaken racial and religious hegemony, it is important to diffuse power. The question has always been, is there a coalition willing to do this?

When people ask me who the clear winners are in this election, my answer is always PAS. What PAS has demonstrated is that it can survive definitely without BN and time will tell if it can survive without the Harapan regime. Mind you, the relationship between PAS and Harapan has not been as fraught as it has been with UMNO.

UMNO and PAS, and once the former gets their acts together, could turn out to be a formidable opposition, especially considering that sooner rather than later, Harapan will have to tackle issues concerning race and religion. We have witnessed a distinct lack of commitment among Malay power structures to buck the Islamic and Malay trend when it comes to voting on major issues involving race and religion. Will this change now that Harapan has taken federal power?

It is nonsensical to make the argument that UMNO needs to reform – become multiracial – when the there is a Malay power structure like Bersatu in Harapan chasing the same base. The great fear of UMNO has materialised – that is, the Malays are divided.

What people should be concerned with is the interactions between diffused Malay power structures in this new political terrain, and concomitant to this, the shape these interactions coalesce into.

 

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

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

The Californization of America


June 4, 2018

SOQUEL, Calif. — Across the country, Democrats are winning primaries by promoting policies like universal health insurance and guaranteed income — ideas once laughed off as things that work only on the “Left Coast.”

At the same time, national politicians from both sides are finally putting front and center issues that California has been grappling with for years: immigration, clean energy, police reform, suburban sprawl. And the state is home to a crop of politicians to watch, from Kevin McCarthy on the right to Gavin Newsom and Kamala Harris on the left, part of a wave that is likely to dominate American politics for the next generation.

California, which holds its primaries on Tuesday, has long set the national agenda on the economy, culture and technology. So maybe it was just a matter of time before it got back to driving the political agenda, as it did when Ronald Reagan launched his political career in the 1960s. But other things are happening as well. The state is a hub for immigrants, a testing site for solutions to environmental crises and a front line in America’s competition with China. On all sorts of big issues that matter now and will in the future, California is already in the game.

In a way, California even gave us Donald Trump. So much of his “training” to be president came while he was an entertainment celebrity, on a show that, for a stretch of its existence, was produced in Los Angeles. And of course the means of his ascent — the smartphone, social media — came out of Silicon Valley. That’s a lot to have on a state’s conscience.

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Governor Jerry Brown of California

California is a deep-blue state — only 26 percent of its residents approve of Mr. Trump, and Democrats dominate the Legislature, statewide offices and most large city governments. But the state’s leaders are also aware that setting the political agenda for the country means making a stark break with naked partisanship. Getting that right will determine whether California, in its newly dominant role, perpetuates the political divide or moves America past it.

For decades, California, even as it grew in size and wealth, was seen as an outlier, unintimidating, superficial and flaky. We were no threat. We were surfer dudes and California girls who got high and turned on, tuned in and dropped out. We spawned Apple and Google, but we also spawned hippies and Hollywood. For a time, our governor was nicknamed Moonbeam.

As recently as the 2000s, with California at the center of the subprime-mortgage crisis, it was fair to wonder whether we had a future; a popular parlor game was to imagine how the state might be divided up into more manageable statelets.That was the old California.

The new California, back from years of financial trouble, has the fifth-largest economy in the world, ahead of Britain and France. Since 2010, California has accounted for an incredible one-fifth of America’s economic growth. Silicon Valley is the default center of the world, home to three of the 10 largest companies in the world by market capitalization.

California’s raw economic power is old news. What’s different, just in the past few years, is the combination of its money, population and politics. In the Trump era, the state is reinventing itself as the moral and cultural center of a new America.

Jerry Brown — Governor Moonbeam — is back, and during his second stint in office has been a pragmatic, results-focused technocrat who will leave behind a multibillion-dollar budget surplus when his term ends in January. But he has also been a smart and dogged opponent of the Trump agenda, from his high-profile visits to climate-change negotiations in Europe to substantive talks in Beijing with President Xi Jinping.

California is hardly monolithic. The region around Bakersfield provides the power base for Mr. McCarthy, the House majority leader and an indefatigable defender of President Trump, who calls him “my Kevin.” Other sizable pockets of Trump supporters live along the inland spine of the state, especially in the north near the Oregon border.

Still, there’s no doubt California runs blue — so blue, people say, that its anti-Trump stance is inevitable. But that’s not right; in fact, California defies Mr. Trump — and is turning even more Democratic — not for partisan reasons but because his rhetoric and actions are at odds with contemporary American values on issue after issue, as people here see it, and because he seems intent on ignoring the nation’s present and future in favor of pushing back the clock.

California doesn’t just oppose Mr. Trump; it offers a better alternative to the America he promises. While Mr. Trump makes hollow promises to states ravaged by the decline of the coal industry, California has been a leader in creating new jobs through renewable energy.

While Mr. Trump plays the racism card, California pulls in immigrants from all over the world. For California, immigration is not an issue to be exploited to inflame hate and assuage the economic insecurities of those who feel displaced by the 21st-century economy, it’s what keeps the state economy churning.

For us, immigration is not a “Latino” issue. The state’s white population arrived so recently that all of us retain a sense of our immigrant status. My great-great-grandfather Gerhard Kettmann left Germany in 1849 and made his way to California during the Gold Rush. That’s why everyone is able to unite, even in our diversity.

And the draw of California is more powerful than ever. People come not only from countries around the globe to work in Silicon Valley — more than seven in 10 of those employed in tech jobs in San Jose were born outside the United States, according to census data analyzed by The Seattle Times — they come from all over the country.

It seems as if every other idealistic young person who worked in the Obama White House or on the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign later moved to California. All these new arrivals create major problems, from housing shortages to insane Los Angeles-style traffic in Silicon Valley. They also create a critical mass of innovation.

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Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom

 

Many Californians see the next decade as a pivot point, when decisions about the environment and the economy will shape America’s future for generations to come. “It’s ‘Mad Max’ or ‘Star Trek,’” said Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor and leading candidate to succeed Governor Brown. It’s no mystery which movie he thinks Mr. Trump is directing.

Nationally, Mr. Newsom is known mostly as a cultural pioneer, having allowed same-sex marriage as the mayor of San Francisco in 2004 — among the first big-city mayors to do so. But he sees himself in more pragmatic terms, more like a latter-day Robert Kennedy, a believer in the idea that government can do more for the people if it’s smarter about trying new ideas and updating old assumptions.

Mr. Newsom doesn’t mind making bold claims, and he and his main Democratic challenger, the former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, are both vowing to build 500,000 homes in California every year for seven years. He also wants to provide single-payer health care to everyone in the state and commit the state to 100 percent renewable energy for its electricity needs. Sure, these are campaign promises — but in California, they suddenly seem like practical, feasible ideas.

California for years was divided between its main population centers. Northern California, birthplace of Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement in 1964 and the Summer of Love in San Francisco later that decade, was often at odds with large sections of Southern California, particularly Orange County, a bastion of suburban Republicans.

That divide is eroding. Orange County even went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. California remains diverse culturally, but politically, it is increasingly unified. That can be a potent engine for social and economic progress; it can also be an excuse for insularity and political grandstanding.

The key, many of the state’s politicians say, is to promote the former without falling into the trap of the latter — no easy task at a time when many Californians see their state as the base of the anti-Trump resistance.

Image result for Vivek Viswanathan as Treasurer of California

Vivek Viswanathan running for state treasurer of California

Take Vivek Viswanathan. Raised on Long Island by parents who immigrated from India, he did policy work for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and Governor Brown and is now running for state treasurer.

It would be easy for him to run far to the left, mixing anti-Trump rhetoric with unrealistic policy promises. Instead, he wants America to see a different California — a state that mixes pragmatism and progressivism.

“I’m one of those people that think the threats that we face from Washington are very real, and not just to the resources we need, but the values that make us who we are,” he said. “California is really a model for what the country can be if we make the right choices.”

The first test of a unified California’s newfound political heft could come this fall. Democrats need to pick up 24 seats in the House of Representatives to win control of it, and they have their eye on seven California districts carried by Mrs. Clinton in 2016 that have Republican incumbents, including four that are wholly or in part in Orange County.

Further north, in the Central Valley, a deputy district attorney for Fresno County named Andrew Janz is running a surprisingly competitive race against Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Mr. Nunes has used his position to defend the president, while providing little congressional oversight — something that doesn’t sit well with even moderate California Republicans.

“The momentum is definitely on our side,” Mr. Janz told me. “My opponent is more concerned about blaming Democrats than getting the job done. The people here honestly want Nunes to focus less on creating these fake controversies and more on doing the work that’s required to move us along into the 21st century here in the Central Valley.”

Again and again, this is the message coming from the state’s rising politicians — anger with the president and his allies not out of an ideological commitment, but because the president seems more interested in personal gain than national progress.

The more visionary among California’s leaders, including Mr. Newsom, recognize that their state has the highest poverty rate in the country, by some measures, and that addressing the problem — through affordable housing, job programs and early education — has to be a priority. To the extent these are national problems, too, other states may soon be looking to Sacramento, not Washington, for leadership.

It’s also a given that one or more Californians could figure prominently in the 2020 presidential race, including Ms. Harris, a first-term senator who has gained a reputation for her withering examinations of the president’s cabinet nominees. Mr. Newsom, particularly if he wins the governor’s race this year by a convincing margin, could also make the jump to the national stage, following Ronald Reagan and Jerry Brown.

Image result for Tom Steyer.

Billionaire Tom Steyer is the “Impeachment Guy” who has spent millions of dollars on television ads in which he speaks to the camera directly and makes a case for the urgent need to impeach President Trump.

To see how different the stereotype of California is from the reality, consider another of the state’s rising political figures, the billionaire Tom Steyer.

To most people in Washington or New York, Mr. Steyer is the “Impeachment Guy” who has spent millions of dollars on television ads in which he speaks to the camera directly and makes a case for the urgent need to impeach President Trump. Impeachment is a widely popular idea among Democrats, but political realists say it’s unlikely to happen absent a Democratic surge in the midterm elections — in other words, that’s California for you.

But at home, Mr. Steyer is anything but a dreamer. His organization NextGen America focuses on developing solutions to climate change and economic inequality, issues that resonate here, especially among the young. The goal is to show the way not through talk, not through TV ads, but through action.

“I think California has this great advantage, which is we have a functioning democracy,” Mr. Steyer said in a recent interview. “With all our problems — and we have a lot of them, the biggest one being economic inequality — we have a spirit in business and in politics that says, sure, there are big problems, but we can address them. That spirit is a great advantage and it’s not true in Washington, D.C., right now.”

Steyer’s bet — and that of millions of others in my state — is that soon, California will pick up the slack.

Steve Kettmann, a columnist for The Santa Cruz Sentinel, is a co-director of the Wellstone Center in the Redwoods.

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A version of this article appears in print on , on Page SR1 of the New York edition with the headline: The Californization Of American Politics. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper

Tawfik Ismail to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad: Close Jakim


June 2, 2018

Tawfik Ismail to Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad: Close Jakim and stop playing footsy

by Sheith Khidhir Bin Abu Bakar http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Image result for Tawfik Ismail

A frequent critic of the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim) has voiced his opposition to a plan to evaluate the agency’s role, saying it should be dissolved straight away.

“Jakim is redundant as a religious body,” said Tawfik Ismail, who served as MP for Sungai Benut from 1986 to 1990.

He spoke to FMT in reaction to Putrajaya’s announcement that a committee would be appointed to decide whether Jakim should continue with its current role or “revert to its original purpose”.

Explaining his assertion that the department is redundant, he said: “In the case of halal certificates, the state religious departments are empowered to issue them. If ingredients need to be checked, we have the health and agriculture ministries, which have all the necessary equipment and expertise.

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“Moreover, if an item is halal in, say, Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Jordan, why would it need the Malaysian halal certification? This adds to the cost, putting consumers at a disadvantage.

“And there are complaints that the manufacturer has to pay all charges for a Jakim team to verify the halal quality of a product, even if the product is manufactured in Malaysia.”

Tawfik questioned whether the attempt to save Jakim was really an attempt to save Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s face.

“Mahathir doesn’t want to admit that setting up Jakim was wrong and that it was done only in an attempt to paint himself as more Islamic than PAS.”

He also said he suspected that Jakim had gone beyond what Mahathir initially had in mind for it, adding that this might be the reason for the controversial actions taken in recent years by itself and other religious bodies that likely followed its example.

“There were the ridiculous issues over hot dogs and root beer, the court action against Borders Bookstore, and the shaming of Mustafa Akyol.”

Image result for Jakim and  Mustafa Akyol

In May 2012, Borders manager Nik Raina Abdul Aziz was charged by the Federal Territories Religious Department (Jawi) for allegedly selling a book that defiled Islam. The civil Court of Appeal eventually found that the book, Irshad Manji’s “Allah, Liberty and Love”, had not been prohibited by any religious authority or the home ministry at the time the charge was made in a shariah court.

The appellate court concluded that Nik Raina was charged simply because she was a Muslim and because Jawi could not exercise its jurisdiction over her employer or her non-Muslim supervisor. It ruled that the proceedings against her were “unreasonable” and “irrational” and offended “the principle of fairness and justice”.

Last September, Akyol, a Turkish journalist, ran into trouble with the religious authorities during a visit to Malaysia for allegedly teaching Islam without credentials.

FMT’s attempts to reach Jakim for its comment on Putrajaya’s plan have failed.

Appointment of Maszlee Malik as Education Minister raises concern among Malaysians


May 20, 2018

Appointment of Maszlee Malik as  Education Minister raises concern among Malaysians

by FMT Reporters

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Image result for Ahmad Farouk Musa

Dr Ahmad Farouk Musa questions double standards by those who defend Zakir Naik’s freedom of speech but oppose the right of Muslims to practise their preferred school of thought.

PETALING JAYA: Prominent Muslim activist Dr. Ahmad Farouk Musa said he was not surprised by the storm of protests that greeted the appointment of Maszlee Malik as the Education Minister, but said a bigger worry was whether the Perlis fatwa committee member has the courage to press ahead with the concept of Bangsa Malaysia and resist pressures from extremists on Malaysia’s schooling system.

“The main issue here is whether he has the same courage as Dr Mahathir in facing the two extreme camps in this country, the Chinese educationist extremist and the conservative Malay educationist groups,” Farouk, who heads the outspoken Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), told FMT.

A debate has been raging over Maszlee’s suitability for the post since he was named by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad on Friday. Critics point to Maszlee’s defence of controversial preacher Dr Zakir Naik, who is wanted in India over allegations of extremism and money laundering.

They are also concerned with Maszlee’s leaning towards Salafist Islam, and his close association with Perlis Mufti Mohd Asri Zainul Abidin, who was recently summoned to a panel hearing on missing activist Amri Che Mat, who Asri had slammed for practising Shia Islam, which local Muslim bureaucrats label as “deviant”.

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Dr. Maszlee Malik–Minister of Education

Maszlee’s supporters have alluded to his academic background and social activities, with others saying his defence of Naik was based on his belief in free speech.

Farouk said the criticism was expected, and questioned Maszlee’s openness as claimed by his supporters.

“If one were to argue that his defense of Zakir Naik was based on freedom of expression, then this freedom also requires him to grant the same to the Shias,” said Farouk, adding that it was only natural to link Maszlee’s opposition to the second largest Muslim denomination to his “Salafist” leaning.

“There cannot be a double standard in preaching for freedom of expression.”

Salafist Islam refers to a movement within Sunni Islam, with roots going back to Wahhabism, the supposedly puritan form of Islam that is officially adopted in Saudi Arabia.

Opposition to PPSMI

Farouk, a medical lecturer at Monash University Malaysia, who was once active with the Muslim Professionals Forum that Maszlee is also part of, said the calls for Mahathir to hold the education portfolio was based on the public’s confidence that he could initiate radical reforms in the sector.

This, he said, included the call by the Chinese education group Dong Zong to recognise the Unified Examination Certificate, and the pressure from Malay groups seeking to abolish the study of Science and Mathematics in English.

“Only he (Mahathir) has the strength and determination in facing this highly debatable issue,” said Farouk, who has supported past government initiatives under Mahathir to emphasise the use of English in schools.

“How do we compete at the International arena when we forego the most important language of science and technology in the 21st century?” he asked.

A policy championed by Mahathir, the Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English, or PPSMI, was aborted in 2011 by then education minister Muhyiddin Yassin, following protests from Malay groups.

The move was welcomed by Ikram, an umbrella organisation of Muslim groups, of which Maszlee is a committee member.

“We oppose any attempts to revive PPSMI because we are convinced that the decision by the education ministry is based on its internal findings,” the group had then said in a statement.

Maszlee, 44, who joined PPBM last March, won the Simpang Renggam parliamentary seat in Johor in the May 9 polls.

The former lecturer who taught subjects related to Islamic Jurisprudence at the International Islamic University was named as education minister after Mahathir changed his mind about holding the post himself.

Mahathir said he would abide by a Pakatan Harapan promise that the Prime Minister would not hold any other portfolio.

But within 24 hours of the announcement, over 60,000 signed an online petition urging Mahathir to return to the post, saying he “will bring much needed reforms to the education system in this country”.