Trump Organisation’s Web of Business Deals


September 15, 2016

ANNOUNCEMENT

All are welcome to this UC Public Lecture organised jointly by Techo Sen School of Government and International Relations, The University of Cambodia, and The US Embassy, Phnom Penh. Our guest speaker will be  Ms. Elizabeth Fisher Martin, an Emmy Award winning journalist and President, Fisher Martin Media. Please do not miss this opportunity to know about this exciting Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump Race to The White House. 

It will be moderated by Professor Dato’ Din Merican, Acting Dean, Techo Sen School (TSS). The lecture will also be streamed live on Facebook, University of Cambodia. Remember the Date and Time: September 22, 2016, 9.00–11.00 am.

Trump Organisation’s Web of Business Deals–A Threat to US National Security

by Kurt Eichenwald

http://www.newsweek.com/2016/09/23/donald-trump-foreign-business-deals-national-security-498081.html

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Never before has an American candidate for president had so many financial ties with American allies and enemies, and never before has a business posed such a threat to the United States. If Donald Trump wins this election and his company is not immediately shut down or forever severed from the Trump family, the foreign policy of the United States of America could well be for sale.

 

If Donald Trump is elected president, will he and his family permanently sever all connections to the Trump Organization, a sprawling business empire that has spread a secretive financial web across the world? Or will Trump instead choose to be the most conflicted president in American history, one whose business interests will constantly jeopardize the security of the United States?

Throughout this campaign, the Trump Organization, which pumps potentially hundreds of millions of dollars into the Trump family’s bank accounts each year, has been largely ignored. As a private enterprise, its businesses, partners and investors are hidden from public view, even though they are the very people who could be enriched by—or will further enrich—Trump and his family if he wins the presidency.

A close examination by Newsweek of the Trump Organization, including confidential interviews with business executives and some of its international partners, reveals an enterprise with deep ties to global financiers, foreign politicians and even criminals, although there is no evidence the Trump Organization has engaged in any illegal activities. It also reveals a web of contractual entanglements that could not be just canceled. If Trump moves into the White House and his family continues to receive any benefit from the company, during or even after his presidency, almost every foreign policy decision he makes will raise serious conflicts of interest and ethical quagmires.

The Mumbai Shuffle

The Trump Organization is not like the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, the charitable enterprise that has been the subject of intense scrutiny about possible conflicts for the Democratic presidential nominee. There are allegations that Hillary Clinton bestowed benefits on contributors to the foundation in some sort of “pay to play” scandal when she was secretary of state, but that makes no sense because there was no “pay.” Money contributed to the foundation was publicly disclosed and went to charitable efforts, such as fighting neglected tropical diseases that infect as many as a billion people. The financials audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the global independent accounting company, and the foundation’s tax filings show that about 90 percent of the money it raised went to its charitable programs. (Trump surrogates have falsely claimed that it was only 10 percent and that the rest was used as a Clinton “slush fund.”) No member of the Clinton family received any cash from the foundation, nor did it finance any political campaigns. In fact, like the Clintons, almost the entire board of directors works for free.

On the other hand, the Trump family rakes in untold millions of dollars from the Trump Organization every year. Much of that comes from deals with international financiers and developers, many of whom have been tied to controversial and even illegal activities. None of Trump’s overseas contractual business relationships examined by Newsweek were revealed in his campaign’s financial filings with the Federal Election Commission, nor was the amount paid to him by his foreign partners. (The Trump campaign did not respond to a request for the names of all foreign entities in partnership or contractually tied to the Trump Organization.) Trump’s financial filings also indicate he is a shareholder or beneficiary of several overseas entities, including Excel Venture LLC in the French West Indies and Caribusiness Investments SRL, based in the Dominican Republic, one of the world’s tax havens.

Trump’s business conflicts with America’s national security interests cannot be resolved so long as he or any member of his family maintains a financial interest in the Trump Organization during a Trump administration, or even if they leave open the possibility of returning to the company later. The Trump Organization cannot be placed into a blind trust, an arrangement used by many politicians to prevent them from knowing their financial interests; the Trump family is already aware of who their overseas partners are and could easily learn about any new ones.

Many foreign governments retain close ties to and even control of companies in their country, including several that already are partnered with the Trump Organization. Any government wanting to seek future influence with President Trump could do so by arranging for a partnership with the Trump Organization, feeding money directly to the family or simply stashing it away inside the company for their use once Trump is out of the White House. This is why, without a permanent departure of the entire Trump family from their company, the prospect of legal bribery by overseas powers seeking to influence American foreign policy, either through existing or future partnerships, will remain a reality throughout a Trump presidency.

Moreover, the identity of every partner cannot be discovered if Trump reverses course and decided to release his taxes. The partnerships are struck with some of the more than 500 entities disclosed in Trump’s financial disclosure forms; each of those entities has its own records that would have to be revealed for a full accounting of all of Trump’s foreign entanglements to be made public.

The problem of overseas conflicts emerges from the nature of Trump’s business in recent years. Much of the public believes Trump is a hugely successful developer, a television personality and a failed casino operator. But his primary business deals for almost a decade have been a quite different endeavor. The GOP nominee is essentially a licensor who leverages his celebrity into streams of cash from partners from all over the world. The business model for Trump’s company started to change around 2007, after he became the star of NBC’s The Apprentice, which boosted his national and international fame. Rather than constructing Trump’s own hotels, office towers and other buildings, much of his business involved striking deals with overseas developers who pay his company for the right to slap his name on their buildings. (The last building constructed by Trump with his name on it is the Trump-SoHo hotel and condominium project, completed in 2007.)

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Trump and his many family members receive millions each year from the Trump Organization, which gets most of its profits from a complex web of licensing deals all over the globe.DENNIS VAN TINE/ABACAUSA/NEWSCOM

In public statements, Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. have celebrated their company’s international branding business and announced their intentions to expand it. “The opportunities for growth are endless, and I look forward to building upon the tremendous success we have enjoyed,” Donald Trump Jr. said in 2013. Trump Jr. has cited prospects in Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam, Thailand, Argentina and other countries.

The idea of selling the Trump brand name to overseas developers emerged as a small piece of the company’s business in the late 1990s. At that time, two executives from Daewoo Engineering and Construction met with Trump at his Manhattan offices to propose paying him for the right to use his name on a new complex under development, according to former executives from the South Korean company. Daewoo had already worked with the Trump Organization to build the Trump World Tower, which is close to the Manhattan headquarters of the United Nations. The former Daewoo executives said Trump was at first skeptical, but in 1999 construction began on the South Korean version of Trump World, six condominium properties in Seoul and two neighboring cities. According to the two former executives, the Trump Organization received an annual fee of approximately $8 million a year.

Shortly after the deal was signed, the parent company of Daewoo Engineering and Construction, the Daewoo Group, collapsed into bankruptcy amid allegations of what proved to be a $43 billion accounting fraud. The chairman of the Daewoo Group, Kim Woo Choong, fled to North Korea; he returned in 2005, was arrested and convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to 10 years in prison. According to the two former Daewoo executives, a reorganization of Daewoo after its bankruptcy required revisions in the Trump contract, but the Trump Organization still remains allied with Daewoo Engineering and Construction.

This relationship puts Trump’s foreign policies in conflict with his financial interests. Earlier this year, he said South Korea should plan to shoulder its own military defense rather than relying on the United States, including the development of nuclear weapons. (He later denied making that statement, which was video-recorded.) One of the primary South Korean companies involved in nuclear energy, a key component in weapons development, is Trump’s partner—Daewoo Engineering and Construction. It would potentially get an economic windfall if the United States adopted policies advocated by Trump.

In India, the conflicts between the interests of the Trump Organization and American foreign policy are starker. Trump signed an agreement in 2011 with an Indian property developer called Rohan Lifescapes that wanted to construct a 65-story building with his name on it. Leading the talks for Rohan was Kalpesh Mehta, a director of the company who would later become the exclusive representative of Trump’s businesses in India. However, government regulatory hurdles soon impeded the project. According to a former Trump official who spoke on condition of anonymity, Donald Trump Jr. flew to India to plead with Prithviraj Chavan, chief minister of Maharashtra, a state in Western India, asking that he remove the hurdles, but the powerful politician refused to make an exception for the Trump Organization. It would be extremely difficult for a foreign politician to make that call if he were speaking to the son of the president of the United States.

The Mumbai deal with Rohan fell apart in 2013, but a new branding deal (Trump Tower Mumbai) was struck with the Lodha Group, a major Indian developer. By that time, Trump had an Indian project underway in the city of Pune with a large developer called Panchshil Realty that agreed to pay millions for use of the Trump brand on two 22-floor towers. His new partner, Atul Chordia of Panchshil, appeared awed in public statements about his association with the famous Trump name and feted Trump with a special dinner attended by actors, industrialists, socialites and even a former Miss Universe.

Last month, scandal erupted over the development, called Trump Towers Pune, after the state government and local police started looking into discrepancies in the land records suggesting that the land on which the building was constructed may not have been legally obtained by Panchshil. The Indian company says no rules or laws were broken, but if government officials conclude otherwise, the project’s future will be in jeopardy—and create a problem that Indian politicians eager to please an American president might have to resolve.

Through the Pune deal, the Trump Organization has developed close ties to India’s Nationalist Congress Party—a centrist political organization that stands for democratic secularism and is led by Sharad Pawar, an ally of the Chordia family that owns Panchshil—but that would be of little help in this investigation. Political power in India rests largely with the Indian National Congress, a nationalist party that has controlled the central government for almost 50 years. (However, Trump is very popular with the Hindu Sena, a far-right radical nationalist group that sees his anti-Muslim stance as a sign he would take an aggressive stand against Pakistan. When Trump turned 70 in June, members of that organization threw a birthday party for the man they called “the savior of humanity.”)

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A billboard for the luxury residential apartment complex Trump Tower Mumbai tries to lure in buyers by using the Trump name. Trump’s company hopes to invest aggressively in India, and critics wonder if an investigation into one of his major developments there will be dropped if he’s elected.INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP/GETTY

Even as Trump was on the campaign trail, the Trump Organization struck another deal in India that drew the Republican nominee closer to another political group there. In April, the company inked an agreement with Ireo, a private real estate equity business based in the Indian city of Gurgaon. The company, which has more than 500 investors in the fund that will be paying the Trump Organization, is headed by Madhukar Tulsi, a prominent real estate executive in India. In 2010, Tulsi’s home and the offices of Ireo were raided as part of a sweeping corruption inquiry related to the 2010 Commonwealth Games held in New Delhi. According to one Indian business executive, government investigators believed that Ireo had close ties with a prominent Indian politician—Sudhanashu Mittal, then the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party, India’s second largest political party—who was suspected in playing a role in rerouting money earned from Commonwealth Games contracts through tax havens into Ireo’s real estate projects. A senior official with Ireo, Tulsi is a relative of Mittal’s. No charges were ever brought in the case, but the investigation did reveal the close political ties between a prominent Indian political party and a company that is now a Trump partner.

No doubt, few Indian political groups hoping to establish close ties to a possible future American president could have missed the recent statements from the Trump family that its company wanted to do more deals in their country. As the Republican National Convention was about to get underway in July, the Trump Organization declared it was planning a massive expansion in the South Asian country. “We are very bullish on India and plan to build a pan-India development footprint for Trump-branded residential and office projects,’’ Donald Trump Jr. told the Hindustan Times. “We have a very aggressive pipeline in the north and east, and look forward to the announcement of several exciting new projects in the months ahead.”

That is a chilling example of the many looming conflicts of interest in a Trump presidency. If he plays tough with India, will the government assume it has to clear the way for projects in that “aggressive pipeline” and kill the investigations involving Trump’s Pune partners? And if Trump takes a hard line with Pakistan, will it be for America’s strategic interests or to appease Indian government officials who might jeopardize his profits from Trump Towers Pune?

Branding Wars in the Middle East

Trump already has financial conflicts in much of the Islamic world, a problem made worse by his anti-Muslim rhetoric and his impulsive decisions during this campaign. One of his most troubling entanglements is in Turkey. In 2008, the Trump Organization struck a branding deal with the Dogan Group, named for its owners, one of the most politically influential families in Turkey. Trump and Dogan first agreed that the Turkish company would pay a fee to put the Trump name on two towers in Istanbul.

When the complex opened in 2012, Trump attended the ribbon-cutting and declared his interest in more collaborations with Turkish businesses and in making significant investments there. In a sign of the political clout of the Dogan family, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Trump and even presided over the opening ceremonies for the Trump-branded property.

However, the Dogans have fallen out of favor, and once again, a Trump partner is caught up in allegations of criminal and unethical activity. In March, an Istanbul court indicted Aydin Dogan, owner and head of the Dogan Group, on charges he engaged in a fuel-smuggling scheme. Dogan has proclaimed his innocence; prosecutors are seeking a prison sentence of more than 24 years.

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Trump tried to get into Dubai, but his deal with Nakheel LLC, run by Ali Rashid Lootah, in white, to build a tulip-shaped hotel died on the vine.SUBHASH SHARMA/POLARIS/NEWSCOM

According to an Arab financier with strong ties to Turkish political leaders, government connections with the Dogan family grew even more strained in May, when a consortium of news reporters released what are known as the Panama Papers, which exposed corporations, politicians and other individuals worldwide who evaded taxes through offshore accounts. One of the names revealed was that of Vuslat Dogan Sabanci, a member of Dogan Holding’s board.

With the Dogans now politically radioactive, Erdogan struck at the family’s business partner, Trump, for his anti-Muslim rhetoric. In June, Erdogan called for the Trump name to be removed from the complex in Istanbul and said presiding over its dedication had been a mistake.

This is no minor skirmish: American-Turkish relations are one of the most important national security issues for the United States. Turkey is among the few Muslim countries allied with America in the fight against the Islamic State militant group; it carries even greater importance because it is a Sunni-majority nation aiding the U.S. military against the Sunni extremists. Turkey has allowed the U.S. Air Force to use a base as a major staging area for bombing and surveillance missions against ISIS. A Trump presidency, according to the Arab financier in direct contact with senior Turkish officials, would place that cooperation at risk, particularly since Erdogan, who is said to despise Trump, has grasped more power following a thwarted coup d’état in July.

In other words, Trump would be in direct financial and political conflict with Turkey from the moment he was sworn into office. Once again, all his dealings with Turkey would be suspect: Would Trump act in the interests of the United States or his wallet? When faced with the prospect of losing the millions of dollars that flow into the Trump Organization each year from that Istanbul property, what position would President Trump take on the important issues involving Turkish-American relations, including that country’s role in the fight against ISIS?

Another conundrum: Turkey is at war with the Kurds, America’s allies in the fight against ISIS in Syria. Kurdish insurgent groups are in armed conflict with Turkey, demanding an independent Kurdistan. If Turkey cuts off the Trump Organization’s cash flow from Istanbul, will Trump, who has shown many times how petty and impulsive he can be, allow that to influence how the U.S. juggles the interests of these two critical allies?

Similar disturbing problems exist with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), another Muslim nation that is an important American ally. Trump has pursued business opportunities in the oil-rich nation for years, with mixed success. His first venture was in 2005, when the Trump Organization struck a branding deal with a top Emirates developer called Nakheel LLC, backed by Dubai’s royal family, that planned to build a tulip-shaped hotel on a man-made island designed to look like a palm tree.

In 2008, a bribery and corruption probe was launched involving the company’s multibillion-dollar Dubai Waterfront project. Two Nakheel executives were charged with fraud and cleared, but Nakheel’s financial condition deteriorated amid a collapse in real estate prices; the Trump project was delayed and then canceled.

So, in 2013, the Trump Organization struck another branding deal, this time with Nakheel’s archrival, Damac Properties, a division of the Damac Group, that wanted the Trump name on a planned 18-hole PGA Championship golf course. The deal was negotiated by Hussain Ali Sajwani, chairman of Damac, who had engaged in controversial land deals with senior government officials in the UAE. He met personally with Trump about the project, and their relationship grew, ultimately leading to Damac working with the Trump Organization on two branded golf courses and a collection of villas in Dubai. According to the former executive with the Trump Organization, Trump has said he personally invested in some of the Dubai projects.

In this case, even the possibility of a Trump presidency has created chaos for the Trump Organization. On December 7, when Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims being allowed into the United States, the reaction in the UAE was instantaneous: There were calls to boycott the Damac-Trump properties. Damac put out a statement essentially saying its deal with the Trump Organization had nothing to do with Donald Trump personally, a claim that fooled no one. On December 10, Damac removed Trump’s image and name from its properties. Two days later, the name went back up, setting off an even louder outcry. Damac’s share price dropped 15 percent amid the controversy, and it was forced to guarantee rental returns for some of its luxury properties bearing the Trump name.

Other UAE businesses with connections to Trump are also shunning the brand. The Dubai-based Landmark Group, one of the Middle East’s largest retail companies, said it was pulling products with Trump’s name off of its shelves.

With Middle Eastern business partners and American allies turning on him, Trump lashed out. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal—the billionaire who aided Trump during his corporate bankruptcies in the 1990s by purchasing his yacht, which provided him with desperately needed cash—sent out a tweet amid the outcry in Dubai, calling the Republican candidate a “disgrace.” (Alwaleed is a prodigious tweeter and Twitter’s second largest shareholder.) Trump responded with an attack on the prince—a member of the ruling Saudi royal family—with a childish tweet, saying, “Dopey Prince @Alwaleed_Talal wants to control our U.S. politicians with daddy’s money. Can’t do it when I get elected. #Trump2016.”

Once again, Trump’s personal and financial interests are in conflict with critical national security issues for the United States. During the Bush administration, Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s capital, and Washington reached a bilateral agreement to improve international standards for nuclear nonproliferation. Cooperation is particularly important for the United States because Iran—whose potential development of nuclear weapons has been a significant security issue, leading to an international agreement designed to place controls on its nuclear energy efforts—is one of the UAE’s largest trading partners, and Dubai has been a transit point for sensitive technology bound for Iran.

Given Trump’s name-calling when faced with a critical tweet from a member of the Royal Family in Saudi Arabia, an important ally, how would he react as president if his company’s business in the UAE collapsed? Would his decisions in the White House be based on what is best for America or on what would keep the cash from Dubai flowing to him and his family?

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The dashing and handsome Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a nephew of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and one of the world’s richest men, has traded insults with Trump over Twitter.NEIL HALL/REUTERS

A Strongman’s Best Friend

Some of the most disturbing international dealings by the Trump Organization involved Trump’s attempts to woo Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi. The United States had labeled Qaddafi as a sponsor of terrorism for decades; President Ronald Reagan even launched a military attack on him in 1986 after the National Security Agency intercepted a communications that showed Qaddafi was behind the bombing of a German discotheque that killed two Americans. He was also linked to the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 259 people, in 1988.

But for the Trump Organization, Qaddafi was not a murdering terrorist; he was a prospect who might bring the company financing and the opportunity to build a resort on the Mediterranean coast of Libya. According to an Arab financier and a former businessman from the North African country, Trump made entreaties to Qaddafi and other members of his government, beginning in 2008, in which he sought deals that would bring cash to the Trump Organization from a sovereign wealth fund called the Libyan Investment Authority. The following year, Trump offered to lease his estate in Westchester County, New York, to Qaddafi; he took Qaddafi’s money but, after local protests, forbade him from staying at his property. (Trump kept the cash.) “I made a lot of money with Qaddafi,’’ Trump said recently about the Westchester escapade. “He paid me a fortune.”

Another business relationship that could raise concerns about conflicts involves Azerbaijan, a country the State Department said in an official report was infused with “corruption and predatory behavior by politically connected elites.” According to Trump’s financial filings, the Republican nominee is the president of two entities called OT Marks Baku LLC and DT Marks Baku Manaaina Member Corp. Those were established as part of deals the Trump Organization made last year for a real estate project in the country’s capital. The partner in the deal is Garant Holding, which is controlled by Anar Mammadov, the son of the country’s transportation minister, Ziya Mammadov. According to American diplomatic cables made public in 2010, the United States possessed information that led diplomats to believe Ziya Mammadov laundered money for the Iranian military. No formal charges have been brought against either Mammadov.

Once again, however, this exposes potential conflicts between Trump’s business connections and national security. While the development is currently on hold, it has not been canceled, meaning that Anar Mammadov could soon be paying millions of dollars to Trump. If American intelligence concludes, or has already concluded, that his business partner’s father has been aiding Iran by laundering money for the military, will Trump’s foreign policy decisions on Iran and Azerbaijan be based on the national security of the United States or the financial security of Donald Trump?

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A taxi drives past a billboard showing US real-estate magnate Donald Trump playing golf advertising the Trump International Golf Club Dubai in the United Arab Emirates on August 12, 2015. The empire of White House hopeful Donald Trump outside the United States extends to 12 countries including Turkey, South Korea, India, Brazil, and the United Arab Emirates.KARIM SAHIB/AFP/GETTY

An Oligarch in D.C.

The Trump Organization also has dealings in Russia and Ukraine, and officials with the company have repeatedly stated they want to develop projects there. The company is connected to a controversial Russian figure, Vladimir Potanin, a billionaire with interests in mining, metals, banking and real estate. He was a host of the Russian version of The Apprentice (called Candidate), and Trump, through the Trump Organization, served as the show’s executive producer. Potanin is deeply tied to the Russian government and obtained much of his wealth in the 1990s through what was called the loans-for-shares program, part of an effort by Moscow to privatize state properties through auction. Those sales were rigged: Insiders with political connections were the biggest beneficiaries.

Hoping to start its branding business in Russia, the Trump Organization registered the Trump name in 2008 as a trademark for projects in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sochi. It also launched negotiations with a development company called the Mos City Group, but no deal was reached. The former Trump executive said that talks fell apart over the fees the Trump Organization wanted to charge: 25 percent of the planned project’s cost. However, the executive said, the Trump Organization has maintained close relations with Pavel Fuks, head of the Mos City Group. Fuks is one of the most politically prominent oligarchs in Russia, with significant interests in real estate and the country’s financial industry, including the Pushkino bank and Sovcombank.

The Trump Organization has also shown interest in Ukraine. In 2006, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump met with Viktor Tkachuk, an adviser to the Ukrainian president, and Andriy Zaika, head of the Ukrainian Construction Consortium. The potential financial conflicts here for a President Trump are enormous. Moreover, Trump’s primary partner for his lucrative business in Canada, a well-respected Russo-Canadian billionaire named Alex Shnaider, is also a major investor in Russia and Ukraine, meaning American policies benefiting those countries could enrich an important business connection for the Trump Organization.

Meanwhile, Trump has raised concerns in the United States among national security experts for his consistent and effusive praise for Vladimir Putin, the Russian ruler who also now controls much of Ukraine. With its founder in the White House, the Trump Organization would have an extraordinary entrée into those countries. If the company sold its brand in Russia while Trump was in the White House, the world could be faced with the astonishing sight of hotels and office complexes going up in downtown Moscow with the name of the American president emblazoned in gold atop the buildings.

The dealings of the Trump Organization reach into so many countries that it is impossible to detail all the conflicts they present in a single issue of this magazine, but a Newsweek examination of the company has also found deep connections in China, Brazil, Bulgaria, Argentina, Canada, France, Germany and other countries.

Never before has an American candidate for president had so many financial ties with American allies and enemies, and never before has a business posed such a threat to the United States. If Donald Trump wins this election and his company is not immediately shut down or forever severed from the Trump family, the foreign policy of the United States of America could well be for sale.


September 12, 2016

Waiting in Dar al-Islam, the House of Islam

by Cmdr (rtd) S Thayaparan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Image result for Zahid Hamidi and ISIS Threat

To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing.”

– Raymond Williams

Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi wants to tell people that the Islamic State (IS) threat is real. All I can say is that I have been trying to tell people the same for the past couple of years. The UMNO Number Two also reassured the rakyat that the IS threat “was not a manipulation, publicity stunt or fiction,” which is just goes to show you the level of cynicism of most Malaysians right-thinking folks when it comes to official statements from Putrajaya.

But hang on a minute. The DPM made two extremely cynical statements that only justifies the level of cynicism thrown UMNO’s way. The first statement, “…the people in the country who joined the militant group did not have strong religious or educational background” and the second “They are people who are frustrated over something which only they know. So this disappointment is translated into a form of escapism.”

With regard to the first statement, while it may be true that youths signing up for jihad with IS are disenfranchised in terms of education, nobody could argue that their religious sympathies were anathema to the ideology of IS.

In my piece ‘The Merchants of Hate’, I wrote, “For years, the Biro Tatanegara (BTN) courses told Malays that they were under siege. This is not a defensive posture. In reality, this is exactly what extremist groups like IS need. They need young, foolish men filled with a sense of superiority fueled by unearned self-righteousness to carry out barbaric acts in the name of promulgating their scared religious beliefs. This, coupled with the rampant corruption and all-consuming hypocrisy, is fertile ground for groups like IS.”

Furthermore, when it comes to Islamic terrorism, Malaysia has produced its fair share of “educated” Muslim psychopaths who have blazed a trail of destruction and waged war against their fellow Muslims in South-East Asia. The BBC obituary for Noordin Mohammad Top for instance reminds us: “Officials believe the Malaysian-born former accountant orchestrated a series of attacks across Indonesia. Noordin was thought to be a key recruiter and financier for the regional Islamist militant group, Jemaah Islamiah, but analysts say he formed his own more hard-line splinter group.”

Therefore, I will say it again. With UMNO and the opposition funding Islamic entities who moral police the Muslim polity, with federal and state apparatus used to define Islam as monolithic for political purposes and lastly but definitely not least, the inclusion of an Islamic cult – PAS – into mainstream Malaysian politics – and both UMNO and the opposition are to be blamed here – can anyone seriously argue that Malaysia is not fertile ground for idiots wanting to join IS?

As for the second statement, does Zahid really expect us to believe that he, and by extension the government, does not understand the motivations for people joining IS?

Forget the sex slaves – it sure beats dating – that is promised to repressed young men who join the jihad (was that the escapism that the UMNO Deputy President was alluding to?), the reality is that when the state-endorsed Islam rejects diversity, when the state-endorsed Islam encourages Muslims to reject other forms of Islam, when the state-endorsed Islam cannot account for the class divisions and the resulting inequalities, you are going to get young men – educated or otherwise – joining movements that promise an Islamic paradise here on earth.

Why do you think that PAS’ Islamic propaganda is extremely effective in rural populations who see the decadence in UMNO? Why do you think a religious leader like the late tok guru Nik Aziz Nik Mat and his austere Islam was attractive to a voting demographic who rejected the materialism and corruption of UMNO?

In study after study of failed or failing Islamic governments, the recurring theme is how secular governments are unable to address systemic inequalities and corruption, which allowed the Islamists to gain the moral high ground.

Image result for Zahid Hamidi and ISIS Threat

In one of my answers to questions raised by PSM’s Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj, I said, “I recognise (as do many other Malaysians, including Muslims) that Islam in this country is affected by the petrodollars of the Saudi regime, as evidenced by the so-called donation to our current Prime Minister for defending Islam. I recognise that there is a deliberate effort by the House of Saud and its tributaries to silence the diversity in Islam. I recognise that the religious schisms within Islam affect minority Islamic brethren the world over and that, being true to their faiths, they are being hampered by the stratagems from palaces in Saudi Arabia.”

This, of course, brings us back to the question of the meddling Middle Eastern influence that plagues Islam in this country. We do not have to look far to understand why Indonesia has movements that reject this interference. Last year the BBC ran an article titled ‘Is Indonesia winning its fight against Islamic extremism?

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The article was interesting in many ways, especially in its description of Archipelago Islam (AI) or Islam Nusantara, but what should be acknowledged is the overt manner in which Indonesian political and social bodies reject the influence from the House of Saud.

Consider what Yenny Wahid, daughter of the late Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur) and activist, said, “We’re not just coming up with a counter narrative, we are coming up with a counter identity, and that’s what AI is all about. We believe we’re good Muslims but to be a good Muslim we don’t have to accept the recipes that are handed out by some radicals from the Middle East.”

In a 2004 piece, titled ‘The religious sources of Islamic terrorism’, Shmuel makes the argument that the West and Muslims have to tackle the problem in tandem. While some readers, especially Western ones, take exception to some of his arguments about reassessing certain sacred ideological cows, Malaysian readers should take note of the section titled ‘The dilemma of the moderate Muslim’.

Malaysians would understand where Shmuel is coming from when he writes, “Facing the radical Weltanschauung, the moderate but orthodox Muslim has to grapple with two main dilemmas: the difficulty of refuting the legal-religious arguments of the radical interpretation and the aversion to – or even prohibition of – inciting an Islamic Kulturkampf which would split the ranks of the ummah.”

Shmuel outlines the argument that many Malaysians can relate to in the section titled ‘Fighting hellfire with hellfire’, where he writes, in essence, the radical narrative, which promises paradise to those who perpetrate acts of terrorism, must be met by an equally legitimate religious force which guarantees hellfire for the same acts. Some elements of such rulings should be, inter alia:

  • A call for renewal of ijtihad as the basis to reform Islamic dogmas and to relegate old dogmas to historic contexts.
  • That there exists no state of jihad between Islam and the rest of the world (hence, jihad is not a personal duty).
  • That the violation of the physical safety of a non-Muslim in a Muslim country is prohibited (haram).
  • That suicide bombings are clear acts of suicide, and therefore, their perpetrators are condemned to eternal hellfire.
  • That moral or financial support of acts of terrorism is also haram.
  • That a legal ruling claiming jihad is a duty derived from the roots of Islam is a falsification of the roots of Islam, and therefore, those who make such statements have performed acts of heresy.

Somehow, I doubt we will ever see these types of fatwas coming from either the opposition or UMNO.

Writer’s note 1: Dar al-Islam means House of Islam as opposed to Dar al-Harb, which translates, to House of War.

Writer’s note 2: Anonymous_1388826428, is correct. House of War is Dar al-Harb. It was an editorial mistake made by me – the author – when transcribing from my notes. I thank Anonymous_1388826428 for pointing out this mistake.

Indonesia: Reassessing ‘Global Maritime Fulcrum’ (Poros Maritim Dunia)


September 7, 2016

Indonesia: Reassessing  ‘Global Maritime Fulcrum’ (Poros Maritim Dunia)

Is ASEAN about to fracture?


September 7, 2016

Is ASEAN about to fracture?

by Editors, East Asia Forum*

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2016/09/05/is-asean-about-to-fracture/

President Obama is on his final trip to Asia as US President for the G20 summit in Hangzhou in China and the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Vientiane, Laos. Leaders of Asia Pacific nations, including some of the largest and most powerful in the world — eight of them G20 members — will meet in Vientiane because Laos is the chair of ASEAN in 2016.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi talk at the 5th East Asia Summmit at the 48th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Photo: Reuters)

Secretary of State John Kerry  and his Chinese counterpart

The ten Southeast Asian nations making up ASEAN will also hold their summit in Vientiane, almost as a sideshow alongside the EAS. Yet they are there because ASEAN is at the centre of Asian regionalism and regional cooperation. The ASEAN grouping celebrates its 50th anniversary next year and continues to defy the odds on falling apart. Conceived for geostrategic reasons, it has been pronounced dead or useless countless times while it still plays a key role in managing major power relationships in Asia and across the Pacific.

ASEAN is very much greater than the sum of its parts. At its best, when unified and on message, it projects the interests of 625 million people from a diverse set of countries ranging from some of the richest and most technologically advanced to some of the poorest countries in Asia and globally. Collectively it is a larger destination for US direct investment than China or Japan.

Image result for Obama in Laos

When divisions appear amongst the ASEAN ten — as has been happening again of late — or progress on economic integration lags behind deadlines — which is the norm — ASEAN looks more like a passenger than the driver of Asian regionalism.

Because China and Japan (and South Korea) are plagued by political squabbles, theASEAN plus three grouping including ASEAN’s three Northeast Asian neighbours has been useful for promoting broader regional economic and political cooperation. Australia, India and New Zealand, who are all in the neighbourhood and have strong interests in East Asia, build off the plus three and are part of the broader ASEAN plus six grouping. This was initiated in part by Japan’s desire to have more like-minded countries included in the East Asian arrangement. The East Asia Summit was set up to include the United States so Russia had to be brought in too. That ASEAN provides the venue for these powers to get face time is an achievement in itself, even though it could do more to set the agenda and progress Asian and trans-Pacific cooperation.

ASEAN has been successful in helping to institutionalise major power relations in Southeast Asia and in defining the role that great powers play, while giving voice to smaller states. A weakened ASEAN would put all that at risk.

Since the end of the Cold War the economic impact of ASEAN has been more important than its geopolitical impact. A necessary condition for ASEAN to thrive is for its members to deepen economic integration primarily as a base for the broader Asian supply chains that drive trade and economic growth in the regional economy.

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The ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) was launched at the end of 2015. It’s an ongoing project towards a single market that has a long way to go and requires member states to commit to and deliver on difficult reforms — something not many have shown the willingness to do in recent years. Doing so collectively will help expand the benefits of regional integration but it is a slow process and theheadwinds of anti-globalisation in the rest of the world are not going to make it faster. Much of the region is still very poor or at risk of becoming stuck in a middle-income trap, unable to deliver high incomes. Lifting living standards, and doing so while reducing inequality, is a top priority in ASEAN economies.

The AEC sets the right agenda to achieve that — a gift for which many regions would be grateful. The rapid growth of East Asia in the second half of the 20th century was inclusive; now Asia must return to inclusive growth in order to sustain its future development.

ASEAN once again faces existential threats to its unity and centrality as Mathew Davies explains in this week’s lead essay. It faces the external pressure of ‘rival Chinese and US ambitions’, internal tensions, and questions of legitimacy in the eyes of its people, according to Davies.

Davies says ‘[n]either the United States nor China seem willing to make ASEAN unity a strategic goal’. That’s because it’s easier to ‘harness ASEAN, unified or not, for their own ambitions’. It’s easier to deal with individual member nations and the result is that some align with Washington, others with Beijing and most hedge between both.

The South China Sea tensions have exposed these divisions. It does not help that Indonesia, ASEAN’s biggest member, has shown a tendency to ‘drift away from multilateralism towards a more bilateral and global heavyweight role’, as Davies explains. Indonesia dominates ASEAN in terms of size and is ASEAN’s only G20 member, but has been inclined under its current President, Joko Widodo, to pursue its own interests independently of the ASEAN group.

Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating last week called for Australia to join the ASEAN grouping in the context of managing its relationships between the United States and China. Keating’s call suggests that in the midst of these emerging divisions, ASEAN must be doing something right.

ASEAN’s inability to take sides between the United States and China as a group, whether on the South China Sea or other issues, may frustrate many. That same strategic incoherence, however, can be a useful buffer between the superpowers even if it does little to broker cooperation and avoid conflict between them. The risk is that ASEAN, betwixt and between, becomes divided and fractures.

China is a larger economic partner than the United States for all ASEAN members. Many but not all of the ASEAN countries rely on the United States for security from a rising China. That certainly complicates affairs but does not make them unmanageable.

Though ASEAN’s potential is huge, it’s true that it has never fulfilled the more optimistic expectations for its role in the region. It has nonetheless played a critical geopolitical and geo-economic role.

ASEAN remains a force for keeping markets open in Asia, lifting the living standards of its 625 million people, acting as a facilitator of cooperation between major powers, reducing the risk of conflict in the Asia Pacific and bringing coherence to Asian arrangements. ASEAN’s greatest proponents would be shy of owning these lofty goals. But the continued existence of ASEAN itself is still critical to achieving them.

*The EAF Editorial Group is comprised of Peter Drysdale, Shiro Armstrong, Ben Ascione, Ryan Manuel, Amy King and Jillian Mowbray-Tsutsumi and is located in the Crawford School of Public Policy in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.

 

The Destiny of Malaysia


September 1, 2016

Spoken like a Malaysian: The Destiny of Malaysia

By Dharm Navaratnam

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

I am Malaysian. I cannot be anything else. After all, my paternal grandfather and grandmother were both born in the very early 1900’s in what would then have been the Federated Malay States…the destiny of Malaysia lies in our hands. The future of our beloved nation is our responsibility.–Dharm Navaratnam

I was born 10 years after Merdeka so I wasn’t privy to the feelings that my parents or the older generation would have felt when the country gained independence from the British. It must have been an amazing feeling to witness the birth of a new nation.

For those of my generation and after, we have always belonged to an independent nation, a nation called Malaysia. I am Malaysian. I cannot be anything else. After all, my paternal grandfather and grandmother were both born in the very early 1900’s in what would then have been the Federated Malay States.

Some stories have it that my great-grandfather was born in this land as well but I can’t verify that. At the very least, I am thus a third generation inhabitant of this country. My roots certainly go very deep in this land.

I have not only watched this nation grow but I have grown with it. I have seen how the country has evolved and how things have changed. Some for the better and some for the worse.

In terms of development, we seem to have made huge strides but at the same time the developments seem to be centred around the urban areas of the country. There are still many areas, especially in the East Coast and East Malaysia that are still far from developed.

Image result for Poverty in the background of Malaysia's Twin Towers

Petronas Twin Towers–A Mahathirian edifice–in the distant background. Poverty amidst urban affluence is not sustainable. The NEP should be about fostering Unity, achieving economic and social justice and building national resilience, not Malay kleptocracy. Why can’t we work toward a Vision of a United and harmonious nation. Of course, we can if we care enough for the future of our grandchildren. It then becomes a question of individual and collective wills.

Diversity is our strength. Ethnicity is our road to perdition. We  must never forget this, if we are to avoid being manipulated by our irresponsible politicians in UMNO and our political opposition.–Din Merican

We have the tallest Twin Towers in the world, huge shopping malls, large airports and we even host Formula 1 races. At the same time however, we have fellow Malaysians living in rundown houses, some with no access to clean water, barely making ends meet and worried where their next meal is coming from.

This is the reality of the situation. There is somehow a wide imbalance in the socio-economic structure of our country.

As far as education goes, there never seems to be anyone satisfied with our education system. So much so, we have so many different types of schools. The list includes national schools, vernacular schools, religious schools, technical schools and residential schools. Then you have schools that get more funding depending on whether they are classified as high-performance schools or cluster schools of excellence. Throw in private schools and international schools and you have an even more complicated system. What about home schooling then?

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National Unity: A Farce

In terms of unity there seems to be two schools of thought. Many of the general public feel that we are united. However, if you read the newspapers there seems to be someone or the other spewing racial vitriol almost every week, if not every day.

Why is there so much emphasis on race when we are all one people? Why are we so fearful of our fellow Malaysians just because they look different?

Surely we have spent enough time together to understand and accept each other. We are, after all, supposed to be Malaysian.So, enough of playing this race card. Kind of makes a mockery of the National Day theme Sehati Sejiwa.

Olympic medals

Image result for Malaysia's Olymics Silver Medalliats

Image result for Malaysia Olympic Silver Medallists swimming Rinong and partner

They are Malaysians (without Race)

In sports, where we were once a superpower in Asian football and world hockey, we seem to struggle greatly in those sports now.

Fortunately we still seem to perform at badminton and have made inroads in diving and cycling. From the days where we only dreamt of taking part in the Olympics, we now are able to count how many medals we have won, notwithstanding the elusive gold medal that has yet to be achieved.

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Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, Bapak Malaysia

While many of us complain about the state of the country and how much better it could be, I am inspired by the words of Tunku Abdul Rahman (above) in his Merdeka Speech at Stadium Merdeka 59 years ago.

“But while we think of the past, we look forward in faith and hope to the future; from henceforth we are masters of our destiny, and the welfare of this beloved land is our own responsibility. Let no one think we have reached the end of the road. Independence is indeed a milestone, but it is only the threshold to high endeavour – the creation of a new and sovereign state. At this solemn moment therefore I call upon you all to dedicate yourselves to the service of the new Malaya. To work and strive with hand and brain to create a new nation, inspired by the ideals of justice and liberty – a beacon of light in a disturbed and distracted world.”

There are many things that we can find fault with but at the same time there is plenty to be thankful for. Let’s not forget that. So complain about the country all you want but don’t just complain. Do something, however small it may be. Make a difference.

Ultimately it is not the government that decides the future of this country. In truth, the destiny of Malaysia lies in our hands. The future of our beloved nation is our responsibility.

This is why Lee Hsien Loong is so respected!


August 24, 2016

This is why Lee Hsien Loong is so respected–We in Malaysia can learn from LHL’s Leadership style (Din Merican): Singapore first before self

by Wan Wei

I’m proud of my Prime Minister! And how many citizens of the world can say that of their Prime Minister?–Wan Wei

This is why Lee Hsien Loong is so respected!

lhl

Wow, I was watching the live streaming of the National Day Rally 2016 from Helsinki, and my heart skipped a beat at this moment, when our Prime Minister basically paused awkwardly and felt ill.

Loong created by SE Wong

So today I just want to write a brief note about why Lee Hsien Loong (LHL), the Prime Minister of Singapore, is so respected in and outside of his own country.

It is because as the head of the little red dot, he really does put Singapore’s interest before his own.

Tonight GBA’s event is testimony of that– he could have chosen not to continue the speech. But knowing that this event would probably appear on the global press the next day (well, it IS a big deal that Singapore’s prime minister sort of “collapsed” briefly during its own National Day Rally), he had to and wanted to finish the speech.

And he did! 

The position of Prime Minister of Singapore–in spite of its perceived huge pay cheque– is hardly enviable. For one, Prime Minister LHL probably has to worry about the issues of this small country all the time– will we survive another 50 years? Will we be the next targets of terrorism? etc. It doesn’t take much for Singapore to suddenly perish as a country–after all, small cities have risen and vanished in the past.

Then anti-government folks always complain about lack of freedom of expression, lack of support for local arts/sports/entrepreneurship, lack of human rights in Singapore. Oh yes, and huge income gap of course. Then it is always the Prime Minister’s fault and of course the 69.9% (including me since I vote for PAP) who are blamed.

I don’t think the “Singapore system” will ever change in the next 20 years, but apparently for most Singaporeans, it works fine. And to head this system as Prime Minister with no doubt, with compassion and with the utmost mental strength is absolutely admirable.:)

Oh yes and as a sidenote, haha, LHL actually is a great photographer and coder as well. I’m proud of my Prime Minister! And how many citizens of the world can say that of their Prime Minister?