Aung San Suu Kyi’s inexcusable silence


May 29, 2015

Aung San Suu Kyi’s inexcusable silence

by Mehdi Hasan

*Mehdi Hasan is an award-winning British journalist, author, social commentator and the presenter of Head to Head.

Aung San Su Kyi

In awarding the Nobel Peace Prize … to Aung San Suu Kyi,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced in 1991, it wished “to honour this woman for her unflagging efforts and to show its support for the many people throughout the world who are striving to attain democracy, human rights and ethnic conciliation by peaceful means”. Suu Kyi, the Committee added, was “an important symbol in the struggle against oppression”.

Fast forward 24 years, and the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar might disagree with the dewy-eyed assessment of the five-member Nobel Committee. And with Gordon Brown, too, who called Suu Kyi “the world’s most renowned and courageous prisoner of conscience”. Not to mention Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who has said that the people of Myanmar “desperately need the kind of moral and principled leadership that Aung San Suu Kyi would provide”.

In recent years, the Rohingya Muslims – “the world’s most persecuted minority”, according to the United Nations – have struggled to attract attention to their plight.

Until, that is, a few weeks ago, when thousands of Rohingya refugees began arriving in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, while thousands more believed to be still stranded on rickety boats off the coasts of these three countries, with dwindling supplies of food and clean water.

‘So hungry, so skinny’

“Fisherman Muchtar Ali broke down in tears when he set eyes on theBoat People 4 overcrowded boat carrying desperate, starving Rohingya off the coast of Indonesia,” noted a report by AFP on May 20.”I was speechless,” Ali told AFP. “Looking at these people, me and my friends cried because they looked so hungry, so skinny.”

These Rohingya “boat people”, however, are a symptom of a much bigger problem. As Kate Schuetze, Amnesty International’s Asia Pacific Researcher, has observed: “The thousands of lives at risk should be the immediate priority, but the root causes of this crisis must also be addressed. The fact that thousands of Rohingya prefer a dangerous boat journey they may not survive to staying in Myanmar speaks volumes about the conditions they face there.”

Those oppressive conditions range from a denial of citizenship to Myanmar’s 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims to severe restrictions on their movement, employment and access to education and healthcare, as well as a discriminatory law imposing a “two child” limit on Rohingya families in their home state of Rakhine.

Her refusal to condemn, or even fully acknowledge, the state-sponsored repression of her fellow countrymen and women, not to mention the violence meted out to them by Buddhist extremists … makes her part of the problem, not the solution.

Hundreds of thousands have been driven from their homes; their towns and villages razed to the ground by rampaging mobs. In 2014, the government even banned the use of the word “Rohingya”, insisting the Muslim minority, who have lived in that country for generations, be registered in the census as “Bengali”.

Inexcusable silence

So, where does Suu Kyi fit into all this? Well, for a start, her silence is inexcusable. Her refusal to condemn, or even fully acknowledge, the state-sponsored repression of her fellow countrymen and women, not to mention the violence meted out to them by Buddhist extremists inspired by the monk Ashin Wirathu (aka “The Burmese Bin Laden”), makes her part of the problem, not the solution.

Boat People 2“In a genocide, silence is complicity, and so it is with Aung San Suu Kyi,” observed Penny Green, a law professor at the University of London and Director of the State Crime Initiative, in a recent op-ed for The Independent. Imbued with “enormous moral and political capital”, Green argued, Myanmar’s opposition leader could have challenged “the vile racism and Islamophobia which characterises Burmese political and social discourse”.

She didn’t. Instead, she spent the past few years courting the Buddhist majority of Myanmar, whose votes she needs in order to be elected president in 2016 – if, that is, the military will allow her to be elected president, or even permit her to stand – by playing down the violence perpetrated against the Muslim minority, and trying to suggest a false equivalence between persecutors and victims of persecution.

In a BBC interview in 2013, for example, Suu Kyi shamefully blamed the violence on “both sides”, telling interviewer Mishal Husain that “Muslims have been targeted but Buddhists have also been subjected to violence”.

Yet in Myanmar, it isn’t Buddhists who have been confined to fetid camps, where they are “slowly succumbing to starvation, despair and disease”. It isn’t Buddhists who have been the victims of what Human Rights Watch calls “ethnic cleansing” and what the UN’s special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar has said “could amount to crimes against humanity”. It isn’t Buddhists who are crowding onto boats, to try and flee the country, and being assaulted with hammers and knives as they do so. It isn’t Buddhists, to put it bluntly, who are facing genocide.

Risk of ‘genocide’

Is this mere hyperbole? If only. Listen to the verdict of investigators Boat People 3from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide. “We left Burma,” they wrote in a report published earlier this month, “deeply concerned that so many preconditions for genocide are already in place.”

The investigators, who visited Rohingya internment camps and interviewed the survivors of violent attacks, concluded: “Genocide will remain a serious risk for the Rohingya if the government of Burma does not immediately address the laws and policies that oppress the entire community.”

Yet, despite the boats and the bodies, the reports and the revelations, Suu Kyi is still mute. She hasn’t raised a finger to help the Rohingya, as they literally run for their lives. Shouldn’t we expect more from a Nobel Peace Prize laureate?

Maybe not. The words “Henry” and “Kissinger” come to mind. Plus, the Nobel Prize Committee has a pretty awkward history of prematurely handing out peace prizes. Remember Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat’s joint prize in 1994? Ask the children of Gaza how that worked out. Remember Barack Obama’s in 2009? Ask the civilian victims of drone strikes in Pakistan how that worked out.

Rabin, Arafat, Obama … ultimately, of course, they’re all politicians. Suu Kyi was supposed to be something else, something more; a moral icon, a human rights champion, a latter-day Gandhi.

Sad truth

Why weren’t we listening when the opposition leader and former political prisoner told CNN in 2013 that she had “been a politician all along”, that her ambition was to become president of her country?

The sad truth is that when it comes to “The Lady”, it is well past time to take off the rose-tinted glasses. To see Suu Kyi for what she is: A former prisoner of conscience, yes, but now a cynical politician who is willing to put votes ahead of principles; party political advancement ahead of innocent Rohingya lives.

“Ultimately our aim should be to create a world free from the displaced, the homeless and the hopeless,” Suu Kyi grandly declaimed in June 2012, as she finally accepted her Nobel Peace Prize, in person, 21 years after she won it while under house arrest, “a world of which each and every corner is a true sanctuary where the inhabitants will have the freedom and the capacity to live in peace”.

Forget the world. She should try starting at home, with the Rohingya of Rakhine. And if she won’t, or can’t, then maybe she should consider handing back the prize she waited more than two decades to collect.

Mehdi Hasan is a presenter for Al Jazeera English.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Why auditors can’t guarantee there was no fraud at 1MDB


May 25, 2015

Why auditors can’t guarantee there was no fraud at 1MDB

by THE EDGE MALAYSIA

Published: 25 May 2015 7:00 AM@www.themalaysianinisder.com

The backers of 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) have argued that because international accounting firms like KPMG and Deloitte have signed off all 1MDB’s accounts from FY2010 to FY2014, this meant no money has gone missing and no fraud has occurred.

Mm_Cover_NEW_1068.inddThis argument has been used to justify the not-so-eloquent silence of the management and board of directors of 1MDB, who have refused to respond to questions posed to them about various transactions and the movements of billions of ringgit.

They hide behind that argument despite the fact that 1MDB has run into serious cash-flow problems and can no longer service its debts, and so many questions have been raised about the whereabouts and nature of the so-called Available-For-Sale Investments valued at RM13.38 billion in its accounts for financial year ended March 31, 2014.

Critics of 1MDB have been asked to back off and let the Auditor-General complete his work to review the audit of 1MDB.

The argument that because 1MDB’s accounts have been signed off by auditors meant that no fraud has occurred and that money was not missing is flawed. It shows that these people do not know what they are talking about.

They have badly misinterpreted, deliberately or otherwise, the role of external auditors and they do not understand the meaning of an auditor’s report when the auditors sign off the financial statement of a company.

There are no auditors in this world who will agree that their signing off on an account can in any way or form be interpreted to mean that they confirm or guarantee that the accounts are completely true, accurate and do not contain any misstatements, by fraud or error.

The International Standards for Auditing guidelines for auditors state that the external auditor is responsible for obtaining reasonable assurance that the financial statements, taken as a whole, are free from material misstatement, whether caused by fraud or error.

That reasonable assurance is based on the external auditor trusting that the management and board of a company have carried out their fiduciary duties and were not involved in any fraud or have concealed any fraud.

Owing to the inherent limitations of an audit, there is an unavoidable risk that material misstatement may not be detected, even when the audit is planned and performed in accordance with international accounting standards.

The risk of fraud is higher than those of error because fraud usually involves sophisticated and carefully organised schemes designed to conceal it.

Therefore, it is not the role of an external auditor to determine whether fraud has actually occurred. That is the responsibility of the country’s criminal and legal system.

Malaysian_financial_scandals-graphic-240515-the_edgeIndeed, auditors call the discrepancy between what the public expects and what auditors do as an “expectations gap”.

Let us now take a closer look at Deloitte’s audit report issued to 1MDB on November 5, 2014, for the financial year ended March 31, 2014. The fact that it was issued more than seven months after the year-end in itself should raise concerns.

Para 2: The directors of the company are responsible for the preparation of these financial statements so as to give a true and fair view. The directors are also responsible for such internal control as the directors determine what is necessary to enable the preparation of financial statements that are free from material misstatement, whether due to fraud or error.

Para 3: Our (Deloitte) responsibility is to EXPRESS AN OPINION on these financial statements based on our audit… and perform the audit to obtain REASONABLE assurance about whether the financial statements are free from material misstatement.

The above remarks by Deloitte is a standard template statement issued by auditors to most companies. What is important to note are the following:

1. The directors of 1MDB are ultimately responsible for the accounts in so far as they give a true and fair view. The directors are also responsible for internal controls that are necessary to enable the financial statements to be free from misstatements, whether due to fraud or error. This is NOT the responsibility of the auditor.

2. The auditors only express an opinion that they, as external auditors, have done what is necessary to obtain REASONABLE assurance about whether the financial statements are free from material misstatement.

3. Critically, the external auditors DO NOT express an opinion on the effectiveness of the company’s internal controls.

In short, while auditors should be able to detect defective keeping of accounting records, they cannot detect falsified accounting documents. And neither can they question management decisions on, say, an investment that it made.

The questions asked of 1MDB mainly relate to the effectiveness of internal controls and corporate governance:

– Who approved the agreements and the various payments made since 2009?

– Why were funds diverted from what they were approved for? Why was money sent to an account controlled by Jho Low?

– Why did 1MDB overpay for the power assets, the Penang land and the commissions to the bankers like Goldman Sachs?

– Who verified and agreed to pay the US$700 million to PetroSaudi, purportedly as settlement of a loan?

– Why was Jho Low giving instructions to the management on matters of 1MDB?

– Who agreed to the Aabar options and then agreed to a termination settlement that cost 1MDB US$1 billion?

All these major issues that have been raised are about internal controls, decision-making and corporate governance at 1MDB.

Deloitte, in their audit report, had clearly stated they are NOT expressing any opinion on the effectiveness of 1MDB’s internal controls.

So, please stop passing the buck to Deloitte or using the fact that it signed off on the accounts, to say that nothing wrong has happened and that everything at 1MDB is fine.

And since the auditor-general has merely been asked to audit the work of Deloitte, it is most likely the case that his mandate is no more than that of Deloitte.

It is clear. The board of directors is responsible in ensuring the accounts are true and fair. The board is responsible for internal controls to ensure there is no fraud.

The auditor only expresses a reasonable opinion. Nothing more.

Global_financial_scandals-graphic-240515-the_edge

The corporate sector, at home and around the world, is littered with many examples of corporate fraud that escaped the scrutiny of auditors. In a few cases, auditors were also culpable, if not outright complicit.

The largest corporate fraud ever in the world was US energy giant Enron, whose US$78 billion market value was wiped out in days. Former Enron President Jeff Skilling is still serving a 24-year jail term.

And its auditors, Arthur Andersen, one of the Big Four accounting firms in the world then, had to cease operations.

Bernard Madoff’s US$65 billion Ponzi scheme is evidence that funds under management, with third-party valuations by international institutions, may also be subject to misappropriations and fraud. Madoff is currently serving a 150-year sentence in prison.

An article was published in the November 20, 2012 issue of Forbes magazine, on how Hewlett-Packard (HP) lost US$5 billion on a US$11.1 billion acquisition.

HP said it had to write down the value of UK software company Autonomy because it was inflated through serious accounting improprieties, misrepresentation and disclosure failures.

That scam tainted all the auditors involved – Deloitte as the auditors for Autonomy and Ernst & Young, the auditors for HP – for not detecting the fraud.

Need we say more? – May 25, 2015.

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/why-auditors-cannot-guarantee-there-was-no-fraud-at-1mdb#sthash.vdfOeUUZ.dpuf

Tony Judt’s Final Word on Israel


May 23, 2015

Phnom Penh

When it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, most of us are either pro-Israel or pro-the Palestinian cause. Even the honest broker, the United States cannot be impartial since its support for Israel is unconditional. No American President since Harry Truman can afford to risk his political career by not providing military aid and financial assistance to the Jewish state. The Jewish lobby is too powerful in the US Congress to ignore. But there is more to this than American leadership cares to admit. That is, in my view, that Israel is America’s most reliable ally in the Middle East to protect its economic and strategic interests in the oil rich Middle East.

The two state solution, (Tony’s binational state), is the obvious one and yet both sides, the Palestinians and the Israelis, are unable to accept the reality that they cannot but live side by side in peace and security. No, they must be at each others throats. So the conflict between the two peoples continues at a horrendous cost to both sides in terms of human lives and property.

The late Mr Judt’s interview is  an eye opener for me. Those who disagree with his views, especially those in the United States and Israel, are welcome to challenge his take on Israeli-Palestinian relations.–Din Merican

Tony Judt’s Final Word on Israel

by Merav Michaeli

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/09/tony-judts-final-word-on-israel/245051/

In this interview just before his death last year (2010), the historian discusses his controversial views on Israel, the country’s future, and a life of disputation

In this undated photo released by New York University, NYU professor Tony Jundt is shown. A New York University spokesman says Judt died Friday night, Aug. 7, 2010, due to complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He was 62. (AP Photo/Photo Provided by NYU) NO SALES

In July 6, 2010, one month to the day before his death, I sat down with the British historian Tony Judt in his New York study to film an interview. He was positioned in a special bed in which he spent much of his time, completely immobilized by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. The interview was part of a larger film project, with director Gaylen Ross, about Israel and the U.S. and American Jewry. It was, for me, a profound and deeply personal conversation.

Despite his illness, Judt agreed to let me interview him over email as well. What follows here is our lengthy conversation, conducted over several emails. As an Israeli who is deeply distressed by the state of my country, and as a journalist who feels more and more helpless in trying to bring change through my work, I felt a strong intellectual and emotional propinquity to Judt. We share similar views and perspectives about Israel. Between the two of us, he was the grown-up , he was the celebrated historian; I admit I was hoping for answers.

Before I left the filmed interview, I asked Judt how he would act, and what he would do, if he were today an Israeli Jew, teaching at Tel Aviv University, thinking the way he does, publishing the things he writes?

 “I don’t think I would have done anything different from what you and my other colleagues from Haaretz and academia are doing” he said, “History always happens to us and nothing ever stays the same.” And then I had to go.

A year has now passed. Israel is enduring a social upheaval that gives some hope for change, but its relationship with Turkey and Egypt are in severe crisis, the Palestinians are working on a unilateral independence declaration to present at the UN, and former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called Prime Minister Netanyahu an ungrateful ally to the U.S. and a danger to Israel. Reading Judt’s words in light of the events, feels like reading a chilling prophecy. Our exchange started about two weeks following Israel’s controversial raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

Israeli tanks maneuver in Israel near Gaza border

How do you see Israel’s actions in the Flotilla affair?

The characterization that comes to mind is “autistic.” Israel behaved in a way that suggests it is no longer fully able to estimate, assess or understand the way other people think about it. Even if you supported the blockade (I don’t) this would be an almost exemplary case of shooting oneself in a painful part of the anatomy.

Firstly because it alienates Turkey, who Israel needs in the longer run. Secondly because it was undertaken in international waters and largely at the expense of civilian victims. Thirdly because it was an overreaction. Fourthly because it had the predictable effect of weakening the case for a blockade rather than strengthening it.

In short, this is the action of a country which is fast losing touch with reality.

The raid on the flotilla was far from being the worst of Israel’s behavior over 40 years of occupation, yet the international response to it was the most grievous. Why do you think that is?

I agree. But what happens in small West Bank towns, in the Israeli Parliament, in Gazan schools or in Lebanese farms is invisible to the world. And Israel was always very good at presenting the argument from “self-defense” even when it was absurd. I think that Israel’s successful defiance of international law for so long has made Jerusalem blind and deaf to the seriousness with which the rest of the world takes the matter.

“The identification of Israel with Auschwitz (and of its enemies with Nazism) is not only obscene, but self-defeating”

Finally there is the question of cumulation. From the Six Day War to Lebanon, from Lebanon to the settlements, from the settlements to Gaza, Israel’s credibility has steadily fallen – even as the world’s distance from Auschwitz (the favorite excuse) has lengthened. So Israel is far more vulnerable today than it would have been twenty five years ago.

What do you tell those who say Israel has willingly withdrawn from Gaza and everything that has happened since proves the Israeli claim that there’s no partner for an agreement?

I tell them that they are talking nonsense, or else prevarication. Israel withdrew from Gaza but has put it under a punishment regime comparable to nothing else in the world. That is not withdrawal. And of course we all know that there are those who would like to give Palestinians “independence” but exclude Gaza from the privilege. That too was part of the purpose of the withdrawal.

Mideast-Israel-Palest_Horo-21

There is a partner. It may not be very nice and it may not be very easy. It’s called Hamas. In the same way the provisional [Irish Republican Army] was the only realistic “partner for peace” with whom London could negotiate; Nelson Mandela (a “terrorist” for the Afrikaaners until his release) was the only realistic “partner for peace”; the same was true of “that terrorist” ([according to Winston] Churchill) Gandhi; the well-known “murderous terrorist” Jomo Kenyatta with whom London fought a murderous war for five years before he became “a great statesman”; not to mention Algeria. The irony is that Washington knows this perfectly well and expects negotiations with Hamas within five years. After all, Israel virtually invented Hamas in the hope of undermining the PLO; well, they succeeded. But they are the only ones who can’t see what has to happen.

You advocated for a binational state. What does your binational state look like? How does it work?

I don’t know. What I do know is that since I wrote that in 2003, everyone from Moshe Arens through Barak to Olmert has admitted that Israel is on the way to a single state with a potential Arab majority in Bantustans unless something happens fast. That’s all that I said in my essay.

But ok, since it looks as though Israel is determined to give itself this future, what will it look like? Hell. But what could it look like? Well, there could be a federal state of two autonomous communities — on the Swiss or Belgian model (don’t tell me the latter doesn’t work — it works very well but is opposed by Flemings led by people very much like [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman). This could have crossover privileges and rights for both communities, but each would be autonomous. I think this would work better than a mixed single-state, and it would allow each community to set certain sorts of religious and other regulations according to its taste.

If it could look so good, why would it be hell?

Because it would start from a very bad place. It would begin with Jews running the place in the name of a Jewish state, defined by Orthodox Rabbis and controlled by an army whose officer core is increasingly permeated by religious and settler communities. No Arab would feel remotely safe, much less equal or a citizen in such a “single state”. The Arabs’ lack of property, rights, status and prospects would either make them a sullen and potentially violent underclass or else the best of them would try to leave. This is no good basis for integration, though it is of course what some of Israel’s present leaders privately desire. And then there would be Gaza…

And if Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also recognize that Israel is on its way to a single state with an Arab majority, why do you think they aren’t doing what needs to be done?

Of Barak I will not speak. He is now a senior minister in what I regard as close to a neo-fascist government. If he has chosen that direction, then obviously he has no interesting or ethically defensible plans of his own. He is an object of contempt in my eyes.

Olmert, who seems to have reached my conclusions by his own path, suffers from being a typical tactician, and lacking strategic vision or political courage. He is not as bad as Shimon Peres in this and other respects — Peres seems to me the most disappointing and in some ways damaging politician in Israel’s history — but he will not stand up to the soldiers or the settlers or the rabbis and therefore he is not interesting as a candidate for real change.

In such a state, Jews would soon be a minority. Doesn’t that frighten you?

Not as much as it seems to frighten others. Why is it ok for a Jewish minority to dominate an Arab majority, its leaders to call for expulsions of majority members, etc., but not ok for a democracy to have a majority and minority both protected under law? At least Israel could then call itself a democracy with a clear conscience.

What you are really asking is whether I think the Palestinians would immediately set out to rape, pillage and murder the Jews? I don’t see why they would want to — there is no historical record suggesting that this is what Palestinians do for fun, whereas we have all too much evidence that Israelis persecute Palestinians for no good reason. If I were an Arab, I would be more afraid of living in a state with Jews just now.

Can you see or understand why Israelis are afraid?

Yes, but only in the sense that someone who has been brought up to fear and hate his neighbors will have good reason to be frightened at the thought of living in the same house with them. Israelis have created a generation of young Palestinians who hate them and will never forgive them and that does make a real problem for any future agreement, single- or two-state.

But Israel should be much, much more afraid of the Israel it’s creating for itself: a semi-democratic, demagogic, far-right warrior state dominated by racist Russians and crazed rabbis. In this perspective, an internationally policed and guaranteed federal state of Israel, with the same rights and resources for Jews and Arabs, looks a lot less frightening to me.

Can you see why American Jews are fearful as well of that?

No. This is the fear of the paranoid hysteric – like the man at the dinner table in the story I wrote in the New York Review who had never been to Israel but thought I should stop criticizing it because “We Jews might need it sometime.” American Jews — most of whom know nothing of Jewish history, Jewish languages or Jewish religion — feel “Jewish” by identifying unthinkingly with Auschwitz as the source of their special victim status and “Israel” as their insurance policy and macho other. I find this contemptible — they are quite happy to see Arabs killed in their name, so long as other Jews do it. That’s not fear, that is something between surrogate nationalism and moral indifference.

In your 2003 essay “Israel: the Alternative” you wrote that Israel was an anachronism. Writers in Israel were asking why you didn’t offer France and Germany to give up this anachronistic model first?

Oh, come on! I did not say that nation-states were past their use-by date. I said that ethnically driven versions were. There is nothing in the constitutions of France or Germany that creates second-class citizens defined by religion, ethnicity or parenthood. There is nothing there defining who can and who cannot have certain jobs, live in certain places or marry certain people. If Israel looked like France or Germany in these respects, it would be a better place. By the way, until Germany gave up its 1913 law regarding citizenship defined by descent, I wrote very critically about it. But Israeli commentators would not know that — they are fixated on their own obsessions.

In that essay, your portrayal of Europe seems somewhat idealized. Do you still think that “Christian Europe” is part of the past and that their evolving minority problem is indeed marginal?

I don’t think I said that the minority problem was “marginal”. Nor do I want to idealize Europe. I have written elsewhere that the failure of Europeans to welcome Turkey into the EU is a catastrophe — for Turkey, for democratic Muslims everywhere, and for integration back in Europe itself. But once again, my Israeli critics don’t read about anything else so they would not know my positions on this. If Europe fails to address the fact that most of its new members (excepting Poland) will be and are either secular, post-Christian, or Muslim in makeup, it will face a hard future.

And how do you see Europe’s future, will it accept Islam and Muslims as an organic part of it?

A complicated question. There is no one Europe on this issue — unlike institutions or regulations, religion varies hugely. Some parts of Europe, mostly Western but not only, are virtually de-Christianised. There — e.g. in England or parts of France or parts of Scandinavia — the problem is re-introducing religion and religious identification into secular societies. Thus in Holland the anti-immigration party emphasizes its own tolerance compared with the intolerance of Islam.

Elsewhere, e.g. in Poland or parts of Italy, people are still actively Catholic. Paradoxically, this makes them more sympathetic to Islamic institutions — priests and imams working together, etc. — but averse to excessive dilution of their historic dominance.

“I suspect that in decades to come America (the new Rome) will abandon Israel”

The other problem is that most young Muslims are not Muslim (the same is true for almost all Bosnian Muslims). That is, they are as secular in fact as their white schoolmates. But because it is convenient for governments and administrators to classify them as Muslim, they often become so out of resentment. Thus there are many more “Muslims” in Europe than actually belong to a Mosque or practice Islam. They would be better identified by their point of origin — Surinamese, Algerian, Senegalese, etc. — than by religion. But European censuses don’t allow for that.

The biggest impediment to integrating Muslims (real or imagined) to European societies is the loud rejection of Turkey. It says very clearly that European leaders think not in terms of democracy (else why allow Croatia to apply), nor corruption (otherwise Greece would not be a member) but religious tags: Turkey is mostly low practicing by Muslim standards, but it is unquestionably overwhelmingly Muslim. Its unacceptability to Germany or France is a big, big mistake — all across Europe it sends a message to the Muslim community: “you are not part of us”.

Conclusion: on this score I am very pessimistic about Europe’s prospects.

Do Jews still need a Jewish state, a haven from the world? Or is it a changed world in which it isn’t necessary any more?

Some think they do, some think they don’t. Israel would never have happened if it weren’t for Hitler and keeping the fear of Hitler alive is part of what fuels ultra-Zionism. But the whole thing is a complete mystery to most of the rest of the world. To be sure, there is anti-Semitism everywhere. But even if we ignore the unquestionable fact that some of it is driven by Israel’s behavior, it doesn’t diminish just because there is a Jewish state and we have no reason to believe that Israel is a barrier to prejudice anywhere else.

The world has changed since 1939. But Israel is a fact and there is no point debating whether it should exist. However, like many, many Jews outside of Israel, I feel a declining sense of identification with the place: its behavior, its culture, its politics, its insularity, its prejudices have nothing to do with being Jewish for me and I know that is especially true of younger Jews, excepting ultra-religious ones. So even if things went wrong for Jews today, I don’t think most of us would want to go and live in Israel.

You lived in Israel for about two years in all. Why did you choose to build your life elsewhere?

I found the place rather stifling. I think you have to be a very deep believer in the Zionist objective, or else a Jew for whom the presence of other Jews is absolutely crucial in your life. Otherwise the downsides of Israel — its parochialism, its self-obsession, its resort to violence as a first solution to everything: all of these are far too much to bear.

I think that perhaps I was there at an odd time. On the one hand everyone was quite optimistic and rather left-leaning in my world, and the treatment of Israel’s own Arabs was largely invisible to me; on the other hand it was a very small place in which people seemed concerned with very small things — or else they lived mentally in Europe and never really accepted the terms of life in a small Middle Eastern country that would sooner or later have to stop beating its neighbours and find a way to respect them as equals.

Finally I believe I got frustrated with my friends and colleagues who told me to abandon my academic plans (Cambridge, etc.) and help build Zion. Even in 1966 this seemed to me simply silly: reproducing a collective farm in Galicia, circa 1910, in the middle of the ’60s.

How do you see the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel today?

Why are we so obsessed by this? If Iran attacked Israel with a nuclear weapon, the U.S. and Israel would wipe out large sections of that country. Tehran is a sophisticated place that knows this perfectly well. Most Iranians I know think that their president’s obscene rhetoric is diversionary — a way to sell himself as the spokesman for the Muslim “street”. They don’t like it and they don’t back it. But they are proud and don’t like being told that they alone in the neighborhood can’t have nuclear autonomy: they are surrounded by nuclear powers (India, Pakistan, Russia and Israel, not to mention the American fleet). Why should they not feel paranoid? The nuclear threat to Tehran is far greater than the nuclear threat to Tel Aviv.

No one I know in Washington seriously believes that Iran is about to nuke Israel. They are far more worried that Israel is working up this implausible scenario as an excuse for another diversionary war.

There are good reasons to discourage Iran from a nuclear capacity – but the existential threat to Israel is not one of them.

Should Israel attack?

BenjaminNetanyahu

Only if it wants to destroy forever its credibility as a stable member of the community of legitimate states. We all know perfectly well that such an attack would have a limited impact on Iran’s long term plans, but would solidify support for it globally while forever alienating Israel from the world. That seems a pretty lousy deal for Israel.

Iran is a Shi’ite state, which hates the Taliban and is good friends with countries we need, like China and Turkey. Israel should be secretly and eventually publicly trying to get back on good terms with it. In the larger scheme of things, it is pretty incredible that Israel has deliberately set out to alienate those few Muslim lands which have a real interest in being friends with it.

 The worst consequence of an attack on Iran — an extreme form of Israel’s foolishness hitherto — would be the final alienation of American sympathy. Already major military figures like [David] Petraeus have gone on record as seeing Israel as a “strategic liability.” Attack Iran and Israel becomes an intolerable burden upon America’s increasingly fragile role in the world. This would be a very big mistake to make.

Why do you think Israel, as a state, still hasn’t gotten over its existential fears, over its self-concept as “victim?”

Obviously it has not. But it has gone from genuinely believing itself to be threatened to exploiting that “threat” to serve unworthy and foolish goals. As a result, no one outside Israel takes seriously the threat to its existence, which is bad for Israel should such a threat ever arise. The identification of Israel with Auschwitz (and of its enemies with Nazism) is not only obscene, but self-defeating. Until 1967 it was semi-plausible, despite running counter to the equally self-serving image of “macho Jews” who would never “go like sheep to the slaughter.” Since 1967 it is a ridiculous claim and looks it.

In your view, in the bigger picture, what is Israel’s role and place in the history of the Jewish people?

My first response is that of Zhou En Lai when he was asked what was the significance of the French Revolution and replied, “It’s too soon to tell.”

Another perspective, the long one, would be to say that Israel is behaving very much like the annoying little Judean state that the Romans finally dismantled in frustration. This classical analogy may be more relevant than we think. I suspect that in decades to come America (the new Rome) will abandon Israel as annoying, expensive, and a liability. This will leave Israel to its own resources or to making friends with anyone who will deal with it (as it once did with South Africa). That in turn will make it a very unpleasant place for Western liberals and democrats, who will loosen their ties with it. No doubt it will survive, but it will mean less and less to Jews elsewhere as people forget the original impulse and historical circumstances surrounding its founding.

As to the future of Jews in the diaspora, they (we) will once again be the predominant community (once again as in classical times). I think Israel will grow increasingly marginal for most Jews, though I don’t quite know what their Jewish life will look like either in a secularized world. In a way, we may be entering a new Middle Ages where the only way to preserve Jewish cultural and religious traditions will be to live in separate ghetto-like spaces (gated communities) closed off from the surrounding majority. That is already the case in parts of America.

We are now about a year into the Obama era. Is President Barack Obama “good for the Jews?” For Israel?

Barack Obama

Obama could have been good for Israel and Jews if he had followed through on his Cairo speech and original intentions. But despite expectations, he caved in to Netanyahu and is now bad for Israel in the sense that he does nothing to stop it behaving badly to its own detriment. By not following through on his appeal he let people down who had hoped for a new start. And by allowing Israel to continue with settlements, or protecting Israel at the UN, he has made more enemies in Arab lands. In that sense, the dynamic is not very different than it was before, except that the tone is more polite. And of course, his Afghanistan mess makes him look like Bush, albeit nicer. On the whole, I would say he has failed here.

After your binational state proposal, many felt the need to publicly denounce you, even famous liberals. How hard was this for you?

Not at all. Since people took to calling me “Belgian” as a synonym for “anti-Semitic European,” or “Self-Hating Jew,” I assumed that they had nothing very interesting to say. Since liberals would often say one thing to me in private but something different in public for fear of being thought “anti-Semitic”, I never much cared about their criticisms either.

On the whole I don’t mind taking a minority view: I’ve always done this. And many of the people who slapped me down for my criticisms of Israel were enthusiastic supporters of the Iraq war. So I suspect I was on the right side twice-over. The only criticisms I took seriously came from Israel, from reasonable people who had good grounds for disagreement. I suspect ground is starting to open up in America, as people gently put their heads above the parapet and risk criticizing Israel without getting shot.

In recent writing and interviews, you relate a lot to your unique sense of a limited future. How has this changed the way you see history and current politics?

I don’t think it’s changed it at all, though it may have shifted the balance of my writings and interests. I don’t think I have altered my views on history or politics, though of course given my circumstances I have to ration my contributions and try to focus on the things that either matter most or that I have the best chance of influencing.

After your binational state proposal, many felt the need to publicly denounce you, even famous liberals. How hard was this for you?

Not at all. Since people took to calling me “Belgian” as a synonym for “anti-Semitic European,” or “Self-Hating Jew,” I assumed that they had nothing very interesting to say. Since liberals would often say one thing to me in private but something different in public for fear of being thought “anti-Semitic”, I never much cared about their criticisms either.

On the whole I don’t mind taking a minority view: I’ve always done this. And many of the people who slapped me down for my criticisms of Israel were enthusiastic supporters of the Iraq war. So I suspect I was on the right side twice-over. The only criticisms I took seriously came from Israel, from reasonable people who had good grounds for disagreement. I suspect ground is starting to open up in America, as people gently put their heads above the parapet and risk criticizing Israel without getting shot.

In recent writing and interviews, you relate a lot to your unique sense of a limited future. How has this changed the way you see history and current politics?

I don’t think it’s changed it at all, though it may have shifted the balance of my writings and interests. I don’t think I have altered my views on history or politics, though of course given my circumstances I have to ration my contributions and try to focus on the things that either matter most or that I have the best chance of influencing.

Ambiga on Human Rights In Malaysia


May 20, 2015

Phnom Penh

Ambiga Sreenevasan on Human Rights @ ASEAN People’s Forum

ambiga

“What have we done to deserve this stifling of various freedoms by Putrajaya? (Government of Malaysia).”What a great question for us to ask ourselves and ask of this Barisan Nasional Government.

We love our country, pay our taxes faithfully (albeit, grudgingly at times), volunteer for social causes, donate to needy causes, celebrate our diverse cultures and faith, live peaceably and in harmony with our neighbours and thank God for our many blessings as Malaysians. And what do we get in return?

We get plundered, lorded over, insulted and told to migrate if not happy by our public servants. Yes, please don’t ever forget, they are our servants! The word ‘minister’ was from the Latin word for ‘servants’. Let’s get that right from the start, lest we forget who the real boss is in a democracy.

When we want to protest about how we are treated we are told (by our servants) we have to get permission. When we speak we have to worry about 3 a.m raids by Police with balaclava and sub-machine guns. We draw cartoons or make satirical videos but must not offend ‘she with the big hairdo’ or get charged with sedition. We tweet but the King of Twit (The Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar) monitors our tweets and sends his hounds after us.

Meanwhile we have delusional Ministers telling us not to worry. We have the best education and universities in the world. Our Manglish is better than our neighbour down south. Our Proton is better than BMW. We have the best democracy in the world. Yeah, best my  sweet charity. We don’t hear them boasting that we are Number 1 in corrupt business practices or that we conduct one of the worst election processes in the world.

Yet in everyday life all these self-congratulatory claims make no sense. Many of our graduates cannot get employed and when they do, they are paid RM2,000 a month or thereabouts. Our median monthly salary is RM1,500. Minimum wage is RM900, for many, before ‘deductions’.

How come after more than five decades of this government’s ‘management’ of our economy, over 4 million households and almost 3 million singles still qualify for Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M) handouts. That’s almost 23 million of our 30 million population, 76 percent.

Where has all our wealth gone ? 1Malaysia Development Berhad, Bumiputra Malaysia Finance, Port Kelang Free Zone, MAS, Perwaja, Maminco, etc? To add salt to our many financial injuries, they tax us with the Goods and Services Tax (GST) because otherwise the country would go bankrupt! Cost of living is going up but our income is stagnant because we cannot compete. We cannot compete because they have messed up our education system, or to put it another way, they have messed up our children’s future!

Food costs will go up because we are a huge net importer of food and the Ringgit is sliding south against the US dollar. Our nasi lemak and wantan noodles have already gone up if you have not realised by now. And we have another minister assuring us that with GST, prices of goods will go down, if not, cook more at home or in your dorm. Cook with what? Our rice, flour, sugar, beef, milk, fish and vegetables are mostly imported with US dollar.

Ahmad MaslanAhmad Maslan (CGPA-3.85) and his Boss

Hello? You do not need a CGPA of 3.85 to know that, it is just common sense . Pride does not feed hungry stomachs

Blessed with arable land and good weather all year round, we should be exporting food worldwide. But no, we will have none of that. Instead of growing and cultivating edible crop and livestock, we cut down our thousand-year old forests and replace them with oil palm with which we cannot fill our stomach with (unless you want a quick death) and depend on cheap foreign labour to harvest.

My beef with oil palm is that it does not enrich the workers, only the already filthy rich tycoons. Maybe some of us are proud of our billionaires making it into Forbes’ top billionaires list but pride does not feed hungry stomachs.

To compete with other producers globally we use cheap foreign labour not only for our plantations but also for our factories. Paying them minimum wages, we suppress our own Malaysian workers and we do not bother with increasing productivity and investing in innovation so that we can earn higher income, so that more of us can “afford” to pay income tax and not ‘qualify’ for BR1M.

When our ministers boast of the millions qualifying for BR1M, it’s like saying, “Hooray! Look at the huge number of poor people we have to help.” How retarded can we get?

So again, we ask ourselves, what have we done to deserve this? Actually, come to think of it, we have brought this upon ourselves. We have faithfully voted in this same government all these past 13 general elections, in 10 of which we gave them two-third majorities to amend our federal constitution over 700 times. Malaysia Boleh (Malaysia Can).

Yes, perhaps we got the government we deserve. But better late than never as they say. As Malaysians we deserve better, much better. The next time we cast our votes, we should vote for a better future, remembering what a lousy management we have had for the past five decades. We should vote to take back our power to sack non-performing public servants and install competent, honest and selfless servants.

Prompt and Concrete Measures Needed, says Malaysian Bar


May 20, 2015

Phnom Penh

Rohingya and Bangladeshi Boat People Crisis: Call for Prompt Action

steven_thiru

The Malaysian Bar is appalled by the ongoing saga of the fate be- falling boatloads of thousands of people heading for our shores. It is a humanitarian catastrophe. The tragedy of suffering and even loss of life — through drowning and fights for survival on board boats left to drift on the high seas — is heart-rending.

 Boat People 1Regardless of the identity and status of the people on board these many boats, the first order of priority must be to prevent further suffering and loss of human life, bearing in mind that there are pregnant women, women who are nursing infants, and children, on board the boats. This means the Malaysian Government must allow these boats to land, set up reception centres to receive the people on board, document them, and provide them with basic amenities. There is a precedent for doing this, in the way Malaysia treated the Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s.

The Malaysian Bar acknowledges that some of the people on the boats may well be nationals of Bangladesh looking for better economic prospects than those available in their home country. They will have to be identified and, if necessary, repatriated. There are proper channels for dealing with the recruitment of foreign labour and other forms of legitimate migration from Bangladesh.

Be that as it may, there are also allegations that some of these nationals of Bangladesh on the boats have actually paid human traffickers to assist them to leave.This must be investigated and, if confirmed, the human traffickers must be apprehended and punished to the full extent of the law. Moreover, these victims of human trafficking should be accorded proper protection under our laws, including under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007. However, many amongst the people on the boats are from the Rohingya community, fleeing from Myanmar due to religious persecution.

While it may seem unneighbourly to accuse a fellow ASEAN Government of wrongful conduct, it cannot be disputed that the Rohingyas have not been granted citizenship in Myanmar, thereby rendering them stateless.  Further, they have been deprived of all political rights and systematically displaced from their traditional places of abode.

Regrettably, Malaysia has indirectly contributed to the exacerbation of this problem involving the Rohingyas, by repeatedly ignoring the matter for many years. The misguided and undue respect for the hallowed principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a fellow ASEAN member state has meant that Myanmar has been allowed to pursue a domestic policy of persecution of the Rohingyas, and even to dispute the historical evidence of their presence in areas in present-day Myanmar. Malaysia and other ASEAN nations have the responsibility to protect the Rohingyas so as not to compound the issue of ethnic cleansing that is being allegedly carried out by Myanmar.

The Malaysian Bar welcomes the fact that the Malaysian Government has scheduled a meeting tomorrow with the Governments of Indonesia and Thailand to discuss the situation.  However, the Malaysian Bar calls on the Malaysian Government to do more than just convene discussions, and to do it quickly. It is critical to address this issue head-on, and Malaysia as the Chair of ASEAN must take the lead and show the way forward.  The fact that Myanmar is reported as not being willing to attend tomorrow’s meeting with Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia means that the process already begins with a huge handicap, namely the refusal of the country of origin to participate in a process of finding a solution.

Boat People 2

Ironically, 2015 is the onset of the much-touted ASEAN Economic Community.  ASEAN cannot only be about the rich and well-off, the educated and the employed.  An ASEAN community that has no room for, and which says nothing about, the poor and the downtrodden is a sad shadow of a caring community.  The manner in which this crisis is dealt with will define ASEAN, and a failure to satisfactorily address the problem will jeopardise the very integrity of ASEAN.

Malaysians are, by nature, a generous people.  Blessed with relative peace and prosperity, we have reached out in the past and organised flotillas to assist the Palestinians, and have taken in Acehnese and Bosnian refugees fleeing persecution in their homeland. It is therefore somewhat perplexing that the same humanitarian spirit appears to be absent in the Malaysian Government’s response to the boatloads of Rohingyas coming to our shores.

The Malaysian Bar calls on the Malaysian Government to immediately engage with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees here in Kuala Lumpur to put into place a system of receiving and registering this latest wave of boat people, and to find a place of transition where they can land and their claims for refugee status documented and determined, followed by either repatriation or resettlement.

As Malaysia is a member of the UN Security Council, we also call upon the Malaysian Government to move a resolution for intervention in this crisis of alleged ethnic cleansing of Rohingyas from Myanmar.  In the past, the UN Security Council had passed specific resolutions for intervention regarding Mali, Sudan and South Sudan.  It is timely as well for the Malaysian Government to consider enacting legislation that will grant recognition for refugees in Malaysia and give them legally-mandated protection and provision in line with international standards.  Further, Malaysia should also accede to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.

The Malaysian Bar calls on the Myanmar Government to put an end to the stigma of “statelessness” and recognise the Rohingyas’ long-overdue right to citizenship.  This lies at the core of this crisis and unless it is addressed by Myanmar, the exodus of the Rohingyas is likely to continue unabated.

Finally, it is time for ASEAN to do away with the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of an ASEAN member state.  What this crisis clearly shows is that what happens in a neighbouring country can, and often does, have cross-border implications.  Whether it is about the haze or human rights, it is plain for all to see that ASEAN’s aim to “prosper thy neighbour” must include intervening in situations in neighbouring countries that have the potential of affecting, even destabilising, the region as a whole.  It is myopic to pursue economic progress in ASEAN without seriously considering social and political reforms.

The Malaysian Bar recognises that this humanitarian crisis requires prompt and concrete legal solutions. The pain, suffering and loss of life off our shores must end.  It is time to stop the pretense and the piecemeal measures in this catastrophe, and to put in place a comprehensive and lasting solution. The Malaysian Bar stands ready to provide advice and assistance.

 Steven Thiru
President, Malaysian Bar
19 May 2015   

ASEAN Tragedy in the Making, if not nipped in the bud


May 14,2015

Phnom Penh by The Mekong

They call it the chaos theory. An arbitrarily small change in initial conditions can cause a significant difference in the future. The current deluge of illegal immigrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh is testimony to that.

Myanmar’s rejection of Rohingyas as valid citizens started the cycle going. Stateless, these people were ripe for exploitation by unscrupulous syndicates. The sydicates had no qualms about exploiting them, and thousands have since fallen victim. In recent days, at least 1,000 have arrived in Langkawi in boats meant to hold a dozen people, while about 900 more have been rescued off the coast of Acheh. Many others are believed to be still at sea.

They are among the thousands who flee the difficult conditions back home in the hope of finding better lives in places like Malaysia. Part of their perilous journeys is via Thailand, but an ongoing Thai government crackdown on human trafficking, focusing on the border with Malaysia, has caused the jittery traffickers to take to the sea with the immigrants to escape detection, or worse, to abandon the immigrants

Although already paid for their services, these heartless ring members think nothing of setting adrift vessels full of immigrants, including women and children, with a scant supply of food and water, and with little ability to navigate their way to safety. If they are lucky – the word “lucky” is used here in the loosest sense – they reach a shore or get help before they perish.

However, try as they may, some of these boat people cannot outrun misfortune. There are accounts of immigrants succumbing to illness, exhaustion or beatings by the smugglers, and their bodies tossed overboard. The fear now is that if nothing is done soon to locate those still at at sea, all that may be found are bloated bodies washed ashore and boats laden with corpses.

There is an ASEAN context to this tragic chain of events. Most of these immigrants are ethnic minorities from Myanmar, mostly Rohingyas. Some may have left their country in search of jobs, but the others want refuge.

As at end February, there were more than 152,000 refugees and asylum seekers registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Malaysia. Almost 93% are from Myanmar.

The tough enforcement in Thailand seems to have shifted (and probably worsened) the problem of the smuggling of migrants. Indonesia is not accepting them, just giving them drinks and food and pointing them towards Malaysia. Malaysia now hase to deal with boatloads of illegal immigrants, like the Viet­namese boat people crisis decades ago.

This should not be Malaysia’s problem. It’s a regional one. Thailand has called for for talks to address the region’s human trafficking trade. Malaysia and Myanmar have responded positively. That is certainly a good start, as there is an urgent need to address the issue.

Back in July 2009, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers asked the grouping’s secretariat to monitor the Rohingya situation. Three years later, then ASEAN Secretary-General Dr Surin Pitsuwan said: “We will keep our eyes and ears on the plight of these unfortunate people.” Clearly, it is time to do a lot more than that. The sydnicates must be stopped. And the fleeing thousands housed. This problem has to be nipped now. Or there will be significant repercussions in the future. There could be full-fledged chaos.

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