Malaysia’s Najib Razak fans the flames of Religious Intolerance


October 20, 2017

Malaysia’s Najib Razak fans the flames of Religious Intolerance

by Mariam Mokhtar.

http://www.sentinel.com

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Chicken Najib Razak fans the flames of religious intolerance

Malaysia has been thrown into a royal shambles by a growing rivalry between the country’s nine religiously moderate sultans and its conservative mullahs, considered by many to be “nouveaux royals” vying for the attention of ethnic Malay Muslims.

Political and social observers believe that if the controversy is left unchecked, it could undermine the position of the corruption-scarred Prime Minister, Najib Abdul Razak.

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Johor people are proud of Major General Sir Sultan Ibrahim Ibni Sultan Abu Bakar, who ruled Johor for 64 years from 1895 to 1959 and his successors. Born on September 17th 1873, he ascended the throne on June 4th 1895 following the death of his father Sultan Abu Bakar. He was proclaimed on September 7th 1895 and was crowned on November 2nd of the same year. He celebrated his diamond jubilee of his accession on his 82nd birthday, a world record at that time. Sultan Sir Ibrahim also declined to become the first Yang Di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia in 1957 and so did the subsequent Sultan of Johor, Sultan Sir Ismail.Johor Mesti Sentiasa Jadi Johor

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HRH Sultan Ibrahim Ismail Ibni Baginda Al Mutawakkil Alallah Sultan Iskandar Al-Haj, born on 22 November 1958 during the reign of his great grandfather Sultan Ibrahim, is widely admired and respected by all Malaysians

On October. 10, the Royals, who serve as the hereditary titular heads of nine of Malaysia’s 13 states and who even today have a deep reserve of loyalty from feudal rural Malays, called for unity and religious harmony after what they described as “excessive actions” in the name of Islam, a rare intervention into the public arena.

“It is feared that the excessive actions of certain individuals of late can undermine the harmonious relations among the people of various races and religions,” said the statement, signed by the Keeper of the Rulers’ Seal, Syed Danial Syed Ahmad, according to a report in the state-run news agency Bernama.  “The Rulers feel that the issue of harmony has deep implications if any action is associated with and undertaken in the name of Islam.”

Najib is normally swift to act against members of the Malaysian public who condemn the royal households, the Islamic institutions, or his administration. But last week, after the Malay rulers issued the royal rebuke, Najib was silent.

Leaders of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the country’s biggest ethic political party, understand the potency of conservative Islam to manipulate ethnic Malays, who make up about 60 percent of the population. The other 40 percent are comprised of Chinese, Hindus, East Malaysian ethnic Bumiputeras, and others.

The nine royal households, who by tradition and the Constitution are the guardians of Islam in their respective states, are believed to oppose the implementation of hudud, or harsh Islamic law, and a bill before the parliament to enlarge the power of the Syariah Courts. They are also said to be alarmed about recent events like the banning of certain books and the arrest and deportation of authors and speakers including the Turkish academic, Mustafa Akyol.

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A series of religious-related incidents has pitted the mullahs and the government against the royal households. Last month, the Kuala Lumpur City Council cancelled the annual Oktoberfest event, a Germany-inspired celebration of the passing of the seasons and of beer-drinking, and told the organizers that the event was a sensitive issue. They did not say who considered it sensitive or how it would affect Muslim sensitivities.

Days later, a launderette in Johor issued a statement saying that its services were only for Muslim patrons. The owner deemed that items belonging to non-Muslims would “contaminate” items of clothing worn by Muslims and invalidate their prayer.

The public were outraged by this act and HRH Sultan of Johor Ibrahim Sultan Iskandar waded in, warning the owner that the business would face closure by him if it did not stop operating as if it was in the Taliban portion of Afghanistan. After the dressing-down, the launderette owner apologized for his action and offered his services to people of different faiths.

The Royals have thrown the ball into Najib’s court, but he has refused to play. His relationship with the Sultans is increasingly tenuous, but his reticence to make a stand is regarded as weakening his own position.

The nature of the Sultans’ intervention is regarded as an indication that the royals are fed up and irritated as in fact are many of the country’s urban Malays by the erosion of community integration, as are many professionals among the Malay population, who say they are at the end of their tether with Najib and fundamentalist Islam. At a recent wedding, some even said they wouldn’t mind if a Chinese were to become prime minister, an astonishing heresy in the country. Many said they are openly encouraging their children to migrate. Nonetheless, the opposition as a political force remains splintered and a long shot against Najib and UMNO in an expected general election which must be called before the middle of 2018.

“The royals, too, feel their position is threatened. They may be Malay and act as the guardians of Islam, but many, when away from prying eyes, lead a very western lifestyle,” a political analyst told Asia Sentinel. “Some royals spend an appreciable amount of time in the west and enjoy a lifestyle that many of their Malay subjects can only envy. With rising Islamic conservatism, the ordinary Malays cannot emulate this western lifestyle in Malaysia.”

The Royals are compelled to speak out before extremism takes root and undermines their royal status, another social critic said. “In Islam everyone is considered equal, and only in Saudi Arabia are kings above the law. The Malaysian royals are taking the initiative and acting before their own existence is questioned by the extremists.”

As an example, he said, in April 2016, the Sultan of Terengganu, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin stripped the state’s chief minister Ahmad Razif of all state-awarded titles because Razif had presented a controversial Indian zealot, Zakir Naik, with three islands.

Najib is not known for issuing retractions, denials or affirmations, as he has normally depended on a coterie of loyal supporters, most of whom belong to his inner circle, to lash out on his behalf.

However, the Royal dressing down has thrown Putrajaya, the seat of government, into disarray and political observers wonder if Najib will order an immediate shakeup of the Department for the Development of Islam in Malaysia, known by its Malay-language initials JAKIM.

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It takes a Siti Kassim to put Perak’s Chief Mullah Harussani Zakaria in his proper place

Several other religious experts including two influential muftis, Asri Zainul Abidin of Perlis and Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri of the Federal Territory also admonished the launderette owner in Muar and another “Muslim-only” launderette operating in Perlis.

The Royals are compelled to speak out before extremism takes root and undermines their royal status, another social critic said. “In Islam everyone is considered equal, and only in Saudi Arabia are kings above the law. The Malaysian royals are taking the initiative and acting before their own existence is questioned by the extremists.”

As an example, he said, in April 2016, the Sultan of Terengganu, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin stripped the state’s chief minister Ahmad Razif of all state-awarded titles because Razif had presented a controversial Indian zealot, Zakir Naik, with three islands.

Najib is not known for issuing retractions, denials or affirmations, as he has normally depended on a coterie of loyal supporters, most of whom belong to his inner circle, to lash out on his behalf.

However, the royal dressing down has thrown Putrajaya, the seat of government, into disarray and political observers wonder if Najib will order an immediate shakeup of the Department for the Development of Islam in Malaysia, known by its Malay-language initials JAKIM.

Several other religious experts including two influential muftis, Asri Zainul Abidin of Perlis and Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri of the Federal Territory also admonished the launderette owner in Muar and another “Muslim-only” launderette operating in Perlis.

In an unprecedented move, however, an Islamic preacher, Zamihan Mat Zain, fired back at the Johore Sultan and the Perlis and FT muftis for their stance, claiming that Muslims were only trying to lead good lives.

In a YouTube video, Zamihan termed Malaysia an “Islamic state” and said that being clean was Islamic. He was shocked, he said, that the small issue of the Muslim-only laundrette had been blown out of proportion, and become a worldwide sensation.

At a graduation ceremony at the Tun Hussein Onn University, the Johor Sultan called Zamihan “an empty tin with no brains,” adding that he was “very arrogant,” “haughty” and someone who believed he was the only one who had the right to scorn people of other races.

The Sultan of Johor’s criticism was swiftly followed by a similarly worded statement from the Perlis Crown Prince, Tuanku Syed Faizuddin Putra Jamalullail. The other Sultans delivered the October 10 Royal rebuke, saying Malaysians should focus on tolerance, moderation, and inclusivity for life in a diverse, multicultural Malaysia.

The statement, signed by the keeper of the ruler’s seal, Syed Danial Syed Ahmad, said, “The rulers are of the opinion that the damaging implications of such actions are more severe, when they are erroneously associated with, or committed in the name of Islam.”

In a further development, the royal rebuke has finally forced Jamil Khir Baharom, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (PMD), who also heads JAKIM, into the open. JAKIM is under the control of the Prime Minister’s department, with an annual budget of RM1 billion (US$236.7 million). Calls for the accounts to be audited and made transparent have been ignored.

Jamil was silent when the issue of safety, teaching quality and the mushrooming of illegal tahfiz, or religious schools cropped up, but Zamihan, who took potshots at the Sultan, has forced Jamil to seek an audience with the Johor Sultan, who in turn ordered the state religious authority, JAIJ, to sever ties with JAKIM.

Zamihan initially denied he was attached to JAKIM, but it was revealed that he is an “Islamic affairs officer” who has been seconded to the Home Ministry’s publications and Koranic text control division. His videos and talks are often inflammatory. It is also alleged that preachers are paid about RM20,000 per month.

Anyone who thinks that this battle royal is just another religious incident that will soon blow over is wrong. Najib knows that clipping the religious preachers’ wings would seriously erode his powerbase, but he is caught in a dilemma of his own making. Rural, feudal Malays are making it crucial that Najib’s political future be determined by his ability to conciliate the royal households and the demands of the power-hungry, conservative Islamic clerics whom he has fostered. Najib has unleashed a hydra which he may be unable to control.

Mariam Mokhtar is a liberal political commentator in Malaysia

 

Think For Yourself


August 31, 2017

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COMMENT: Normally, I will join fellow Malaysians to watch television with my wife, Dr. Kamsiah Haider to celebrate  Merdeka Day.  However, this milestone year, the 60th Anniversary of Independence, we choose to spend our time together in stead of witnessing a farce at Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur. Kamsiah and I feel there is nothing to rejoice.

Our Malaysia today is not what I had expected when my teenage friends and I–I was 18 years old– welcome Merdeka on August 31, 1957. My generation listened to Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj’s Independence Proclamation in a newly built Merdeka Stadium amidst pomp  and ceremony with excitement and hope.

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Today we are divided, unequal in terms of rights, opportunities, and widening income disparity. We are identified by race and religion; and we are being governed by a corrupt and inept Najib’s UMNO regime which disregards the rule of law. Tunku, Tun Razak and Tun Hussein Onn would be disappointed to see what we have become.

Dr. Kamisah and I would like to advise millennial Malaysians  to “Think for Yourself”. The future of a wonderful country is in your hands. You can make a difference. You can work to achieve Tunku Abdul Rahman’s dream that “We are all Malaysians. This is the bond that unites us” come true. That bond is broken  by the present generation of political leaders.–Dr. Kamsiah Haider and Din Merican

Ivy League Scholars Urge Students: ‘Think for Yourself’

by Conor Friedersforf

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/08/ivy-league-scholars-urge-students-think-for-yourself/538317/

As the fall semester begins, 15 professors from Yale, Princeton, and Harvard have published a letter of advice for the class of 2021.

 

Fifteen highly accomplished scholars who teach at Yale, Princeton, and Harvard published a letter Monday with advice for young people who are headed off to college: Though it will require self-discipline and perhaps even courage, “Think for yourself.”

The “vice of conformism” is a temptation for all faculty and students, they argue, due to a climate rife with group think, where it is “all-too-easy to allow your views and outlook to be shaped by dominant opinion” on a campus or in academia generally.

They warn that on many campuses, what John Stuart Mill called “the tyranny of public opinion” doesn’t merely discourage students from dissenting from prevailing views:

It leads them to suppose dominant views are so obviously correct that only a bigot or a crank could question them. Since no one wants to be, or be thought of, as a bigot or a crank, the easy, lazy way to proceed is simply by falling into line with campus orthodoxies. Don’t do that. Think for yourself.

They go on to explain what that means: “questioning dominant ideas,” and “deciding what one believes not by conforming to fashionable opinions, but by taking the trouble to learn and honestly consider the strongest arguments to be advanced on both or all sides of questions,” even arguments “for positions others revile and want to stigmatize” and “against positions others seek to immunize from critical scrutiny.”

They go on to explain what that means: “questioning dominant ideas,” and “deciding what one believes not by conforming to fashionable opinions, but by taking the trouble to learn and honestly consider the strongest arguments to be advanced on both or all sides of questions,” even arguments “for positions others revile and want to stigmatize” and “against positions others seek to immunize from critical scrutiny.”:

Monday’s letter argues that “open-mindedness, critical thinking, and debate” are “our best antidotes to bigotry;” that a bigot is a person “who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices;” and that the only people who need fear open-minded inquiry and robust debate “are the actual bigots, including those on campuses or in the broader society who seek to protect the hegemony of their opinions by claiming that to question those opinions is itself bigotry.”

The letter’s signatories are Paul Boom, Nicholas Christakis, Carlos Eire, and Noël Valis at Yale; Maria E. Garlock, Robert P. George, Joshua Katz, Thomas P. Kelly, John B. Londregan, and Michael A. Reynolds at Princeton; and Mary Ann Glendon, Jon Levenson, Jacqueline C. Rivers, Tyler VanderWeele, and Adrian Vermeule at Harvard.

Great, Tuanku Sultan of Perak, but look at the record


August 7, 2017

Great, Tuanku Sultan of Perak, but look at the record

Malay rulers best protector of people’s interests, says Perak sultan

Sultan of Perak Sultan Nazrin Shah says fundamental principles should not be sacrificed in trying to protect any party, organisation or individual. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, August 5, 2017.

THE Sultan of Perak, Sultan Nazrin Shah, said the Malay rulers were in the best position to protect the interests of the people from being hit by “waves of power struggle”.

He said the royal institution was a continuation of tradition in maintaining the nation’s identity and a symbol of sovereignty. “The Malay rulers are in the best position to protect the interests of the people,” he said at the strengthening national pillar convention today.

He said the basic things, especially those touching on Islam and the Malays, which had been agreed upon during the enactment of the constitution, should not be traded for the purpose of achieving short-term political gains.

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Malaysia’s Transformational  Leader–Hold him to account

The fundamental principles should not be sacrificed in trying to protect any party, organisation or individual.

“The fundamental principles touching on Islam and the  Malay should never be compromised.  Whatever the excuses,  whatever  tricks there may be in achieving the short-term goals of any party, the fate of the ummah (Muslims) must not be put at stake today or in future,” he said.

Nazrin said it was the responsibility of the rulers to observe, monitor and to have the courage to tick off those running the country to ensure that they were transparent, sincere, accountable and honest in carrying out their responsibilities for the overall peace, prosperity and well-being of the nation.

He said the ruler was not merely there to fulfil the traditional functions of a constitutional monarchy or as a symbol of power in performing ceremonial tasks.

“The ruler is not just a rigid decorative monument, who is lifeless and with no soul. Rulers are not blind, deaf and dumb.”

He said the honest views in relation to Islam, the national language, unity of the people, freedom of the judiciary, corruption, abuse of power and various other issues arise with the intention to ensure the country remains stable and safe so that the people could live in peace and prosperity.

Nazrin said it was important for those who were in the position to advise the rulers to be sincere, wise, knowledgeable and truthful so that the ruler is not lulled into believing and being influenced by untruths.

“Those who falsify facts and protect the truth from the ruler are committing treason,” he said. –Bernama, August 5, 2017.

Senator John McCain’s Speech at The Senate


July 26, 2017

Senator John McCain’s Speech at The Senate

Listen to Senator John McCain of Arizona who delivered an inspired speech in the United States Senate. May it be a lesson to Malaysian Parliamentarians who seem to forget their duty to serve their constituents and not to feather their own nests. The record of our MPs, in my view, is nothing to crow about. Stop behaving like jumping monkeys when you are engaged in a debate over an important piece of legislative bill. Show us you have some class.

My message is  also addressed to our Speaker Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia who should listen to Senator McCain and learn to be a more responsible Speaker of Dewan Rakyat. Stop being a snob and an arrogant s.o.b. If you cannot do your job in a bipartisan manner, just resign and go back to your village in Sabah.–Din Merican

Najib Razak has no interest in Electoral Reform


April 16, 2017

Najib Razak has no interest in Electoral Reform–Should he?

by Teck Chi Wong

http://www.newmandala.org

Mr. Teck Chi Wong, a former journalist and editor with Malaysiakini.com, is currently pursuing a Master of Public Policy at the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy.

Malaysia’s enthusiasm for electoral reform is arguably at its lowest point, after being high on the tide in the past 10 years as reflected by successive Bersih gatherings from 2007 to 2016.

But electoral reform is now more important than ever, particularly after the 1MDB scandal. If the authoritarian and corrupt political system is not overhauled, it will seriously impede the country’s ability to achieve high-income status in the long run.

In Malaysia, growth is never purely about the market. The state has been, and still is, playing important roles in steering and managing the economy. In fact, Malaysia was regarded in the 1990s as one of the successful models of the ‘development state’ in East Asia, which through learning and transferring resources to productive sectors had successfully industrialised the country and lifted many of its citizens out of poverty.

These East Asian developmental states, including Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea, shared some common characteristics. Many of them (except Japan) were authoritarian regimes in the 1970s and 1980s. But all of them were strong in facilitating policies and learning from others for growth.

On top of that, being authoritarian also helped these countries to stabilise their political landscape and therefore create a business environment which encouraged foreign investment to flow in. However, in Malaysia, it came at a tremendous and bloody price: the racial riots of 1969.

Key to this development model is the quality of the state. But it is difficult for these authoritarian regimes to maintain or improve their quality in the long run. Authoritarian order means that a lack of appropriate checks and balances for those in power leaves the system susceptible to corruption. At the same time, social and economic development gives rise to new needs and demands of accountability and integrity from the publics. As a result, political and social tensions emerge.

The East Asian developmental states approached this problem differently. Both South Korea and Taiwan had since democratised in 1980s and 1990s. Intense political competitions subjected those in power to greater checks and balances, and therefore reduced the most blatant forms of corruption.

Singapore, meanwhile, is an outlier. Despite not much progress in terms of democratisation, the city state has been outstanding in eliminating corruption. Many would point to the tough law and the high salaries of politicians and civil servants for the reason behind low corruption in the country. But exactly how Singaporean leaders could be disciplined despite no strong institutional checks and balances is still subject to debate, although this could possibly relate to their strong desire to guarantee Singapore’s survival in the international market and the region.

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Zahid Hamidi, Keruak and Najib Razak–Patronage and Corruption is rampant in Malaysia today

Malaysia is stuck in the middle. Not only is it in the middle-income trap, but it is also wrestling between authoritarianism and democracy. The quality of its institutions, including its cabinet system, parliament and judiciary, has been on the decline and they cannot mount any effective checks and balances against UMNO, the dominant ruling party. Resultantly, corruption and patronage are widespread in the government.

This has serious implications for the economy, particularly when the country is seeking to leave the middle-income trap. To entrepreneurs, rent-seeking is simply more profitable, as reflected by the fact that most of the wealth of Malaysian billionaires is created in rent-heavy industries, like banking, construction, housing development and resources.

All of these forces are embodied in the recent 1MDB scandal. Although Prime Minister Najib Razak is accused of embezzling billions of public funds and the scandal has rocked investor confidence, no institutions can hold him accountable and no amount of public pressure can force him to step down. As long as Najib is controlling UMNO, his position is solid, as opponents are eliminated from the government and the party. Zahid Hamidi knows this well since Hishamuddin Tun Hussein has been appointed as Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department to hold him in check.

If there is one lesson we can learn from South Korea and Taiwan, that would be democratisation can help to change the underlying political structure and strengthen the quality of the state. Through intensified political competition and appropriate checks and balances, the public can put more pressure on those in power to be more accountable and focus on economic development.

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In fact, the difference between South Korea and Malaysia is particularly stark now that Park Guen-hye, the former President of South Korea, was impeached. This happened just within months after the corruption scandal involving Park’s best friend erupted in October last year.

In Malaysia, the overhaul in political structure over the long run must be achieved through electoral reform, which includes making the Election Commission independent and reducing gerrymandering and malapportionment. As long as the electoral system is not changed, UMNO can remain in power by holding onto its support bases in rural areas. The recent controversies surrounding redelineation process just again highlight the need for reform.

To many, for Malaysia to regain its shine after the 1MDB scandal, Najib must go. But that would be just a tiny first step on a long journey to reform and democratise its political and administrative institutions.

 

Listen to Dr.Farish Noor–Public Intellectual and Academic @The Nanyang Technological University, Singapore


April 12, 2017

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Listen to Dr.Farish Noor–Public Intellectual and Academic @The Nanyang Technological University, Singapore:

http://www.malaysiakini.com