The dangers of feudalism in Malaysian society


December 7,2018

The dangers of feudalism in Malaysian society

 

Image result for dr syed hussein alatas--"Intellectuals in Developing Societies”.
 

We Malaysians are so used to feudalism. The culture of patronage and neo-feudalism is firmly entrenched in the 21st century Malaysian mindset. A feeding tube, through which “bebalisma” trickles, regularly nourishes this culture.

Bebalisma is a concept encompassing the notions of foolishness, idiocy, brainlessness, irresponsibility, unintelligence and half-wittedness. The late Syed Hussein Alatas, lexiconnoisseur par excellence, devoted an entire chapter to bebalisma (Chapter 3) in his masterpiece, “Intellectuals in Developing Societies”.

Image result for dr syed hussein alatas--"Intellectuals in Developing Societies”.

A Corrupt and Disgraced feudal  Malay Politician

The development of Malaysia’s post-colonial politics has been chequered by these notions. Our political history exposes an intellectual development that has gone awry. We can blame none other than our enduring culture of patronage and neo-feudalism. It continues to be the assembly line in which bebalisma is efficiently manufactured, packaged and recycled for eager market consumption. Post-May 9 political transformations have not been spared. I take note of a few developments post-GE14 to demonstrate that feudalism is very much alive despite prevailing anti-corruption, anti-racist and anti-bigotry sentiments that brought the Barisan Nasional administration to its knees.

In October, the central leadership of DAP rightfully called for the prohibition of elected representatives and councillors from accepting titles and awards while still in active political service. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong and state rulers were informed of DAP’s decision that titles and awards should be accepted only after the awardees have proven themselves in active service with positive results.

Awards during service is unjustified and leads to complacency. Given the feudal mentality of Malaysian society, a Datuk, Datuk Seri, Tan Sri or Tun has the upper hand in many aspects of governance including access to corrupt practices. We have seen in the previous administration how this abuse gained momentum, and the attention it was given by the media. For instance, in 2017 a series of print and online newspapers carried stories of “Datuks breaking the law”. One newspaper even suggested that at the rate so many Datuks and Datuk Seris are getting into trouble, “the Prison Department might have to build a new wing just to house these VIPs”. The editor of that newspaper had a welcoming tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. However, such humour is premised on acceptable norms but unacceptable cultural values.

Datuks and Tan Sris are VIPs, but whether they are given preferential treatment or not as criminals should not be open to debate. I would like to see more of our media focusing on the phenomenon that our feudal past should stay in the past. Furthermore, the donning of the notorious “orange lock-up” attire is befitting for all criminals, irrespective of whether they were former leaders in government. A criminal is a criminal. Society was cheated, individuals were hurt, citizens’ rights were looted. A title should not have the power to minimise such violations of societal values.

The general public and the ruling elite must change the prevailing perception of what it means to be respected in society. Feudal notions of respect are superficial and empty. An individual earns respect based on services rendered, not on how many lines your name is.

These services have to benefit a majority rather than a select minority with vested interests. The feudal attitude that is so prevalent in Malaysia has resulted in what Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has bemoaned for a long time, more so since he took office in May this year. The sense of shame among Malaysians is at an all-time low.

But how can one feel ashamed of being corrupt or committing academic fraud if punishment is going to be only skin-deep? Feudalism dictates leniency. Since the release of the National Unity Consultative Council blueprint in October this year, there has been a renewed urgency to tackle racial and religious tensions. Last week’s disturbing incident in Seafield, USJ 25 (Sri Maha Mariamman temple), though, tells me more about the misperception of values as opposed to politicking based on race and religion. Let me explain.

Six civilians were injured, including a policeman and a firefighter. The latter caught the media’s attention as his injuries were critical, apart from him being Malay. What caught my attention though were the appeals made by readers in the comment sections of many online media portals. Many called for an end to senseless bickering by politicians, and an end to politicising race and religion by the opposition. Some made visceral attacks targeted at Malays, while others from various races appealed for normality. One non-Malay reader commented that the Malays are a peace-loving, kind, polite and “soft” people, implying that the temple fracas had nothing to do with race or religion.

I agree, but I also worry that these positive Malay traits are fodder for the perpetuation of a feudal mindset in our society. Manipulators will certainly take advantage of such noble characteristics to claim subservience from the hinterland. Rural folk revere their leaders, especially those with titles. They are regarded as orang besar. The reality is that most rural Malaysians have blind loyalty for their titled heroes. Ongoing support for the likes of our previous leaders and their respective parties is a strong case in point. However, the values of being a kind, polite and “soft” people must be divorced from the backward feudal ideology that has been etched into the Malaysian mindset. The only way we can evolve from this feudal pit of inequality is through education.

Our schools should continue teaching universal moral values. Religious education should be separate from our national education curriculum. More time and resources should be devoted to the teaching of the negative aspects of feudalism and its detrimental effect on the social contract.

Education Minister Maszlee Malik’s call to include the 1MDB scandal in Malaysian history is welcomed. However, if this is not deeply thought through, young minds will fail to see a connection between feudal patronage and corruption. After all, the 1MDB scandal was engineered by many orang besar. Similarly, Malaysians are taught in school to be polite from young, but they should also be taught that stating the honorific Datuk or Tan Sri many times in a single sentence when addressing an orang besar is unnecessary. It does not make the conversation more polite or morally elevated. All it does is prolong an irrational hierarchy in social interaction.

Feudalism being what it is – reverence of a leader, a personality rather than adherence to an ideology – opens society to blatant manipulation. Citizens’ representatives should also be given the choice of whether to accept an honorific or not, without any character assassination should he/she refuse it. In our culture, it is believed that not accepting such awards would be an insult to the Agong or the rulers. On the contrary, I see such a refusal as humble, and an example of a dedicated and selfless “servant” of society. These values should be revered. Such an act of refusal demonstrates great integrity and decency. A feudal mind, however, would think otherwise. A feudal mind would value the financial perks and parking in a no-parking zone.

The overwhelming feeling of privilege and self-deservedness among Malaysians is staggering. For instance, in the world of academia, the highest award given is Emeritus. In Malaysia, we also have Profesor Ulung and Profesor DiRaja, both of which do not make any sense in the global scholarly arena.

On an international level, a professor has reached the highest level of scholarly achievement in a particular academic field based on the decades he or she has devoted to teaching, research and publishing. Recognition of profound academic achievement is also given if students of such professors have achieved their own pristine level of scholarship. Both student and mentor are highly regarded, irrespective of who has been awarded the honorific.

Also, merely the quantity of publications should not be the litmus test of success or failure in the academia. Internationally, academics are given high recognition for quality publications – articles and books that offer cutting-edge discoveries, new theories and creative interpretations that can potentially improve the way we live. An academic could write only a single magnus opus throughout his or her career, and yet go down in history as a legendary scholar and a great mind.

The award of Professor Emeritus should not be dished out irresponsibly. At the monthly staff assembly in the Prime Minister’s Department earlier this week, Dr.Mahathir reminded the government and members of the administration that the power bestowed on them means that they should feel great responsibility to avoid self-benefit and self-interest. Instead, “with great power comes great responsibility”.

Chapter 4 of Alatas’ “Intellectuals in Developing Societies” is entitled “The Fools in Developing Societies”. A serious expose is presented on a somewhat “foolish” topic. The state of being a fool in society is prolonged by titled individuals. These decorated individuals come a dime a dozen. If the deserving are honoured, there would be fewer fools in society. If we learn to appreciate the value of excellence and hard work, we would create a society that strives for such an achievement. In the process the level of competency in all aspects of society will be raised.

In the current Malaysian context, H.G Wells’ “martian red weed” (in “The War of the Worlds”) represents how bebalisma has encroached into every nook and cranny of our lives. It is proving to be a herculean task to re-programme such a mindset.

Many in the top political intelligentsia, the business community and society in general seem oblivious to the “invisible hand” of feudalism. We complain a lot about corruption, racism, bigotry, poor quality of education, the increase in consumer prices, high road accident rates, lack of academic freedom, etc. I hope we will continue to find solutions to these serious problems by invoking a more anti-feudalism, anti-bebalisma narrative.

Thankfully there are segments of Malaysian society which have consciously rejected this feudal hierarchy of “idol worship”. However, our education system must become more involved as the young need to be taught that feudalism is not acceptable just because it is part of our tradition.

* The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

 

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Anwar Ibrahim–The Asian Renaissance Man or The Mutant Malay Ultra? –PD Voters Beware


September 26, 2018

Anwar Ibrahim–The Asian Renaissance Man or The Mutant Malay Ultra? –PD Voters Beware

by Patrick Teoh

 

 

Who is Anwar Ibrahim? I am going to share the experience that someone close to me had, firsthand, to shed some light on what we are dealing with.

My niece was awarded a scholarship for further studies in the UK. There was an orientation event before she left. She found herself in a school hall, packed with hundreds of young, eager Malaysians. She was one of just 11 non-bumis present. The guest of honour addressing the crowd was Anwar Ibrahim, then the Minister of Youth, Culture and Sports. He was full-on Ultra with his motivational speech.

The long, loud and spittle-spewing spiel was inflammatory, incendiary, and outright seditious. It was all about these young inheritors of Tanah Air using their Allah- and UMNO-given rights and opportunities to arm themselves with all that’s necessary to make sure the Pendatangs do not rob them of their rightful place and position in their country.

With his stature and his oratorical style, Anwar had the full attention of the young and impressionable audience. My niece wasn’t sure how her fellow awardees actually felt because she was too traumatised to make sense of the situation. She remembered that she very hastily got away from there. And she cried herself to sleep for a quite a few nights, too fearful to share what she had gone through, with family and friends.

Years later, having settled in London, she went to one of the roadshow sessions that Anwar held during his Reformasi days. Seeing the chance, and thinking that he must be a much-changed man by then, she went up to him, reminded him of that speech and asked him: Why? Without batting an eyelid, Anwar replied: Ahh, that’s politics.

Image result for anwar and mahathir

 

For sure, Anwar has benefited a lot for being such a forceful leader and champion of his race. His dramatic fallout with his boss, Dr Mahathir, and his subsequent jail time, along with advancing age, have mellowed him. But has the man changed?

Judging by his recent speeches, Anwar Ibrahim is still very much a man for all audiences, but one who knows who he can be champion for. In a nutshell – the ultimate politician. Beneath the mellow facade lurks a very ambitious and impatient man. Making him more potent is the popular notion that he has been badly wronged. And that the time has come for him to claim his crown.

There is a lot of resistance to that trajectory. But the deal had been struck. If and when Anwar ascends to the throne, will he rely on the failsafe strategy of race-and-religion in his bid to obtain and retain power?

Would this ambitious but beleaguered politician be opting for a divide-and-conquer strategy, taking the country down the path to fundamentalism, and keeping a large part of the population placated, ignorant and compliant?

It’s all familiar stuff – highly workable, failsafe, and easy to achieve – the perfect gameplan for a man in a hurry, someone who is a bit short of the intelligence, substance and conscience that define a real leader of a multiracial country. We are acutely short of such leaders but that should never be the excuse to settle for someone who will choose the fast and easy way to achieve his ‘My Time is Now’ ambition.

 

Image result for Patrick Teoh

 

 

A leader like Anwar must have a system of check and balance firmly in place, to prevent him from resurrecting the structure of UMNO that would enable him, his family, and his cronies to get their stranglehold on the country. We have seen how it is done. This time around, we can make the difference. We have to. Yes – Patrick Teoh

Patrick Teoh

Patrick Teoh (born 16 October 1947) is an actor and radio personality in Malaysia. A career in radio, TV, stage and movies spanning more than three decades has earned Patrick the nickname of “Voice of Malaysia”, bestowed by his fans and the Malaysian mass media.

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America First or America Isolated


September 24, 2018

By: Ramesh Thakor

https://www.asiasentinel.com/politics/america-first-or-america-isolated/

America’s Gangster in Trump’s White House

In a major policy speech on September 10, the United States National Security Advisor John Bolton (above) launched a virulent attack on the International Criminal Court (ICC). In his idiosyncratic view, “the largely unspoken, but always central, aim of its most vigorous supporters was to constrain the United States.”

The US will not join the ICC, will not cooperate with it, and will not provide it with any assistance. Instead, the US will “use any means necessary to protect” its citizens: “If the court comes after us” or Israel, Washington will ban ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the US, impose sanctions on ICC funds held in the US, and prosecute ICC personnel in US criminal courts. Countries that cooperate with the ICC in the investigation of Americans will risk losing access to US economic and military assistance and intelligence.

In other words, the US is now ready to deploy sanctions to coerce other countries into acting illegally. Remarkable.

“Strangle the ICC in Its Cradle”

Last November, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda a preliminary investigation had established that “there is a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed” in Afghanistan since July 2002 (when the ICC became operational) by Taliban, Afghan, and US forces. This paved the way for a formal investigation that can be launched only by the ICC judges. In a sign of nervousness and preemptive self-censorship, the ICC took over a decade to conduct the preliminary investigation into allegations of extrajudicial executions and intentional attacks against civilians.

The response from Bolton, then a private citizen who had never concealed his deep hostility to the U.N.-centric global multilateral order, was blunt. Any investigation of Americans by the ICC would be “a direct assault” on US national sovereignty. Having “done more than any other nation to instill in its civilian-controlled military a respect for human rights and the laws of war,” the US “should welcome the opportunity … to strangle the ICC in its cradle.” He added, “Even merely contesting its jurisdiction” would risk acknowledging “the ICC’s legitimacy.”

Unfortunately for Bolton, the ICC’s legitimacy has indeed been serially acknowledged and affirmed in several U.N. Security Council deliberations and decisions, with full US participation, regarding ICC cases.

Serious Problems with the ICC

The landscape of international criminal justice has changed dramatically at astonishing speed. In 1990, a tyrant could confidently commit atrocities inside sovereign borders with impunity. Today, there is still no guarantee of prosecution and accountability; but no brutish ruler can be confident of permanently escaping international justice. The certainty of impunity is gone. The ICC, activated only if national authorities are unable or unwilling to prosecute, functions as a court of last resort for ending impunity for the perpetrators of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.

But Bolton’s criticisms cannot be dismissed totally, for there are serious problems with the ICC. Created in 1998, it has 123 members. The extensive membership is misleading. Several major powers and populous countries have not joined. The 70-plus non-members represent two-thirds of the world’s population and armed forces. Former US President Bill Clinton signed on in 2002 but did not submit the document for Senate ratification. In May 2002 President George W. Bush “un-signed” the US from the ICC.

The number of convictions to date has been very few, and the court’s processes have proven time-consuming and inordinately expensive. There have been repeated charges of the court disproportionately targeting Africans, dismissing African views, and jeopardizing delicate peace negotiations.

Although the threatened mass exodus as called for by the African Union on January 31, 2017, has not occurred, several countries have refused cooperation. For years Kenya has refused to hand over suspects to the ICC In October 2017, Burundi became the first country to withdraw from the court following a parliamentary vote a year earlier, and South Africa immediately announced it would follow suit—only for its High Court to rule the withdrawal unconstitutional and invalid. In October 2016, Russia withdrew its signature from the ICC statute.

The list of non-cooperating states includes India. At the third India–Africa Forum in New Delhi in October 2015, the 41 African heads of government and heads of state attending included Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who was under ICC indictment at the time. When he accepted India’s invitation, Bensouda’s office pointed to Security Council Resolution 1593 (2005), calling on all states to cooperate fully with the ICC.

“By arresting and surrendering ICC suspects,” the statement added, “India can contribute to the important goal of ending impunity for the world’s worst crimes.” India’s official response was that Resolution 1593 is not binding on ICC non-signatories. India was happy to comply with its “statutory international legal obligations” but not necessarily other directives. There is thus substance to Bolton’s charge: “We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.”

Powers given to the UN Security Council, to refer cases to the ICC and to defer cases already before the court, cross-infect judicial processes with the high politics of major powers. Giving a vote on these decisions to countries that are not ICC members is a violation of the principle of natural justice. And the absence of a democratically chosen and accountable world legislature and executive does raise valid questions about the legitimacy and viability of the ICC.

In no society in human history has a criminal justice system functioned without legislative and executive branches of government as essential prior props.

The ICC can also be faulted for institutional integrity. As documented by the respected Africa experts Julie Flint and Alex de Waal, its first prosecutor was morally compromised. The ICC did not distinguish itself in its handling of the allegations of sexual misconduct by him against a South African journalist trying to interview him in his hotel room in 2005. Rather surprisingly, the case has not attracted fresh attention in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

Image result for trump--the godfather of tribalismThe Donald Foreign Policy Doctrine

 

The US Is Cherry-Picking Global Norms

A year ago, citizen Bolton advised Trump to send Bensouda “a terse note: ‘Dear Madame Prosecutor: You are dead to us. Sincerely, the United States.’” On September 10, National Security Advisor Bolton in effect implemented his own advice. Parts of his speech (e.g. the ICC is a “European neocolonial enterprise”) descended into the theater of the absurd. But the thrust of his thesis is deeply sinister:

“The only deterrent to evil and atrocity is …‘the righteous might’ of the United States and its allies – a power that, perversely, could be threatened by the ICC’s vague definition of aggression crimes.” Coming from a senior official of the righteousness-free Trump administration, this merely proves this administration does irony without knowing it.

Intoxicated by the arrogance of power, neoconservative warriors seem to believe that vast US military superiority confers a matching moral superiority. Furthermore, the same combination of might and virtue empowers and entitles them to construct a world in which all others have to obey universal norms and rules, but Washington can opt out whenever, as often, and for as long, as it likes on cherry-picked global norms with respect to nuclear weapons, landmines, international criminal prosecution, climate change, and international trade regimes. In a world of inexorable power shifts, this equation just does not compute.

Ramesh Thakor is a former United Nations Assistant Secretary General. He wrote this article  for AsiaGlobal Online, a digital journal published by the Asia Global Institute (AGI) at The University of Hong Kong.  Reprinted by request.

The Threat of Tribalism


September 23, 2018

The Threat of Tribalism

The Constitution once united a diverse country under a banner of ideas. But partisanship has turned Americans against one another—and against the principles enshrined in our founding document.

 by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld

  • October 2018 Issue
  • Is Democracy Dying?

 

 

 

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series that attempts to answer the question: Is democracy dying?

The U.S. Constitution was and is imperfect. It took a civil war to establish that the principles enumerated in its Bill of Rights extended to all Americans, and the struggle to live up to those principles continues today. But focusing on the Constitution’s flaws can overshadow what it did achieve. Its revolutionary ambition was to forge, out of a diverse population, a new national identity, uniting Americans under a banner of ideas. To a remarkable extent, it succeeded.

Even at the country’s founding, Americans were a multiethnic, polyglot mix of English, Dutch, Scots, Irish, French, Swedes, Italians, Germans, Greeks, and others. They tended to identify far more strongly as Virginians or New Yorkers than as Americans, complicating any effort to bind the new nation together with common beliefs. Early America was also an unprecedented amalgam of religious denominations, including a variety of dissenters who had been hounded from their Old World homes.

The Constitution managed to overcome these divisions. The way it dealt with religion is illustrative. Colonial America had not embraced tolerance; on the contrary, the dissenters had become persecutors. Virginia imprisoned Quakers. Massachusetts whipped Baptists. Government-established churches were common, and nonbelievers were denied basic civil and political rights. But in a radical act, the Constitution not only guaranteed religious freedom; it also declared that the United States would have no national church and no religious tests for national office. These foundational guarantees helped America avoid the religious wars that for centuries had torn apart the nations of Europe.

“Living in a society that was already diverse and pluralistic,” Gordon Wood wrote in The Radicalism of the American Revolution, the founding generation realized that the attachments uniting Americans “could not be the traditional ethnic, religious, and tribal loyalties of the Old World.” Instead, as Abraham Lincoln put it, reverence for the “Constitution and Laws” was to be America’s “political religion.” Americans were to be united through a new kind of patriotism—constitutional patriotism—based on ideals enshrined in their founding document.

“Americans have come to view the Constitution not as a statement of shared principles but as a cudgel with which to attack their enemies.”

The dark underside of that document, of course, was racism. Alone among modern Western democracies, the United States maintained extensive race-based slavery within its borders, and the Constitution protected that institution. Only after the cataclysm of the Civil War was the Constitution amended to establish that America’s national identity was as neutral racially and ethnically as it was religiously. With the postwar amendments, the Constitution abolished slavery, established birthright citizenship, guaranteed equal protection under the law, and barred racial discrimination in voting.

The significance of birthright citizenship cannot be overstated. We forget how rare it is: No European or Asian country grants this right. It means that being American is not the preserve of any particular racial, ethnic, or religious subgroup. The United States took another century to begin dismantling the legalized racism that continued unabated after the Civil War. Nonetheless, the core constitutional aspiration—in the 1780s, the 1860s, the 1960s, and the present—has been to create a tribe-transcending national identity.

When we think of tribalism, we tend to focus on the primal pull of race, religion, or ethnicity. But partisan political loyalties can become tribal too. When they do, they can be as destructive as any other allegiance. The Founders understood this. In 1780, John Adams wrote that the “greatest political evil” to be feared under a democratic constitution was the emergence of “two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other.” George Washington, in his farewell address, described the “spirit of party” as democracy’s “worst enemy.” It “agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection.”

For all their fears of partisanship, the Founders failed to prevent the rise of parties, and indeed, it’s hard to imagine modern representative democracy without multiparty electoral competition. They were right to be apprehensive, as is all too clear when you look at the current state of America’s political institutions, which are breaking down under the strain of partisan divisions.

The causes of America’s resurgent tribalism are many. They include seismic demographic change, which has led to predictions that whites will lose their majority status within a few decades; declining social mobility and a growing class divide; and media that reward expressions of outrage. All of this has contributed to a climate in which every group in America—minorities and whites; conservatives and liberals; the working class and elites—feels under attack, pitted against the others not just for jobs and spoils, but for the right to define the nation’s identity. In these conditions, democracy devolves into a zero-sum competition, one in which parties succeed by stoking voters’ fears and appealing to their ugliest us-versus-them instincts.

Americans on both the left and the right now view their political opponents not as fellow Americans with differing views, but as enemies to be vanquished. And they have come to view the Constitution not as an aspirational statement of shared principles and a bulwark against tribalism, but as a cudgel with which to attack those enemies.

Of course, Americans throughout history have criticized the Constitution. Progressives have tarred it as plutocratic and antidemocratic for more than a century. In 1913, in An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, Charles A. Beard argued that the “direct, impelling motive” behind the Constitution was not “some abstraction known as ‘justice,’ ” but the “economic advantages” of the propertied elite.

In recent years, however, the American left has become more and more influenced by identity politics, a force that has changed the way many progressives view the Constitution. For some on the left, the document is irredeemably stained by the sins of the Founding Fathers, who preached liberty while holding people in chains. Days after the 2016 election, the president of the University of Virginia quoted Thomas Jefferson, the school’s founder, in an email to students. In response, 469 students and faculty signed an open letter declaring that they were “deeply offended” at the use of Jefferson as a “moral compass.” Speaking to students at the University of Missouri in 2016, a Black Lives Matter co-founder went further: “The people vowing to protect the Constitution are vowing to protect white supremacy and genocide.”

Just a few decades ago, the cause of racial justice in America was articulated in constitutional language. “Black activists from Martin Luther King, Jr., to the Black Panthers,” wrote the law professor Dorothy E. Roberts in 1997, “framed their demands in terms of constitutional rights.” Today, the Constitution itself is in the crosshairs.

Many progressives, particularly young ones, have turned against what were once sacrosanct American principles. Freedom of speech is an instrument of the dehumanization of women and minorities. Religious liberty is an engine of discrimination. Property rights are a shield for structural injustice and white supremacy. In a recent poll, two-thirds of college-age Democrats said that “a diverse and inclusive society” is more important than “protecting free speech rights.” Only 30 percent of Americans born in the 1980s believe that living in a democracy is “essential,” compared with 72 percent of Americans born in the 1930s.

Several progressive organizations, including the ACLU, remain staunch defenders of the Constitution. At Yale Law School, where we teach, students working in our clinics have won important courtroom victories vindicating constitutional rights. But a significant generational shift appears to be in progress. One of our students told us: “I don’t know any lefty people my age who aren’t seriously questioning whether the First Amendment is still on balance a good thing.

On the right, open hostility to the Constitution is less common; most mainstream conservatives see themselves as proud defenders of the document. But majorities on the right today are nonetheless beginning to reject core constitutional principles.

Image result for Trump--The Godfather of Tribalism

President Donald Trump routinely calls the media “the enemy of the American people,” and his view seems to have currency in his party. In a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center, less than half of Republicans said that the freedom of the press “to criticize politicians” was “very important” to maintaining a strong democracy in the United States. In other 2017 surveys, more than half of Trump supporters said the president “should be able to overturn decisions by judges that he disagrees with,” and more than half of Republicans said they would support postponing the 2020 presidential election if Trump proposed delaying it “until the country can make sure that only eligible American citizens can vote.” If these views became became reality, that would be the end of constitutional democracy as we know it.

The problem runs deeper still. Since the 2004 publication of Samuel P. Huntington’s Who Are We?—which argued that America’s “Anglo-Protestant” identity and culture are threatened by large-scale Hispanic immigration—there have been calls on the mainstream right to define America’s national identity in racial, ethnic, or religious terms, whether as white, European, or Judeo-Christian. According to a 2016 survey commissioned by the bipartisan Democracy Fund, 30 percent of Trump voters think European ancestry is “important” to “being American”; 56 percent of Republicans and a full 63 percent of Trump supporters said the same of being Christian. This trend runs counter to the Constitution’s foundational ideal: an America where citizens are citizens, regardless of race or religion; an America whose national identity belongs to no one tribe.

As professors specializing in constitutional law and comparative politics, we’re often asked whether there’s another country that could serve as a model for the United States as it attempts to overcome its divisions. We always respond no—America is the best model.

For all its flaws, the United States is uniquely equipped to unite a diverse and divided society. Alone among the world powers, America has succeeded in forging a strong group-transcending national identity without requiring its citizens to shed or suppress their subgroup identities. In the United States, you can be Irish American, Syrian American, or Japanese American, and be intensely patriotic at the same time. We take this for granted, but consider how strange it would be to call someone “Irish French” or “Japanese Chinese.”

Most European and all East Asian countries originated as, and continue to be, ethnic nations, whose citizens are overwhelmingly composed of a particular ethnic group supplying the country’s name as well as its national language and dominant culture. Strongly ethnic nations, such as China and Hungary, tend to be less embracing of minority cultures. But even a diverse, multiethnic democracy like France differs markedly from the United States. France has a powerful national identity but insists that its ethnic and religious minorities thoroughly assimilate, at least publicly. (Many believe that France’s attempts to force assimilation, including its infamous “burkini” ban, have backfired with the country’s Muslims, contributing to social unrest and radicalization.) As former French President Nicolas Sarkozy put it in 2016, “If you want to become French, you speak French, you live like the French, and you don’t try and change a way of life that has been ours for so many years.”

America is not an ethnic nation. Its citizens don’t have to choose between a national identity and multiculturalism. Americans can have both. But the key is constitutional patriotism. We have to remain united by and through the Constitution, regardless of our ideological disagreements.

There are lessons here for both the left and the right. The right needs to recognize that making good on the Constitution’s promises requires much more than flag-waving. If millions of people believe that, because of their skin color or religion, they are not treated equally, how can they be expected to see the Constitution’s resounding principles as anything but hollow?

For its part, the left needs to rethink its scorched-earth approach to American history and ideals. Exposing injustice, past and present, is important, but there’s a world of difference between saying that America has repeatedly failed to live up to its constitutional principles and saying that those principles are lies or smoke screens for oppression. Washington and Jefferson were slave owners. They were also political visionaries who helped give birth to what would become the most inclusive form of governance in world history.

This article appears in the October 2018 print edition with the headline “The Threat of Tribalism.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/10/the-threat-of-tribalism/568342/

Dr. Fareed: Why I Talk to Bono


September 23, 2018

Dr. Fareed: Why I Talk to Bono

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When confronting a challenging problem, it’s sometimes useful to listen to someone who looks at it from an entirely different angle. That’s why I found it fascinating to talk about the rise of populism and nativism with Bono last weekend at a summit in Kiev. The Irish singer-activist-philanthropist sees the same forces that we all do, particularly in Europe, but he zeroes in on something intangible yet essential. The only way to counter the dark, pessimistic vision being peddled by nationalists and extremists, Bono says, is to have an uplifting, positive vision. Homing in on the trouble in his part of the world, he told me, “Europe needs to go from being seen as a bore, a bureaucracy, a technical project, to being what it is: a grand, inspiring idea.”

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To that end, Bono’s band, U2, has been choosing a moment during its concerts to unfurl — wait for it — the flag of the European Union. “Europe is a thought that needs to become a feeling,” Bono wrote in a recent op-ed in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine. He is trying to give that feeling meaning. To him, Europe is about the ability of countries that were once warring to live in peace, for people of many different lands and languages to come together. “That idea of Europe deserves songs written about it, and big bright blue flags to be waved about,” he wrote.

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Bono admits that Europe is a “hard sell” today. The continent is ablaze with populism. These forces have taken control in Hungary, Poland and Italy and are steadily gaining ground elsewhere, including Germany and Sweden. It seems that everywhere the fuel is the same: hostility toward strangers, foreigners, anyone who is different. In April, NPR’s Joanna Kakissis reported on a Hungarian sociologist, Endre Sik, who had polled Hungarians about allowing asylum seekers into the country. He found strong resistance to accepting particular groups such as Romanians, Chinese and Arabs, and then he decided to ask about the “Pirezians.” The Pirezians are a fictional ethnic group of Sik’s own creation, yet Hungarians roundly refused to take them in. Sik told NPR, “The Hungarian form of xenophobia is, let’s say, the classic form: ‘They are different, we don’t know them, therefore we hate them.’ That’s the beast in us.”

Bono’s message resonated because I had been reading Francis Fukuyama’s new book, “Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment.” Fukuyama argues that identity stems from humans’ deep-seated psychological need to be recognized as possessing dignity. In recent decades, in the understandable search for recognition, persecuted minority groups (blacks, Hispanics, gays) have celebrated their identity — and so have working-class whites, who now feel ignored and forgotten. The answer, Fukuyama says, is not to reject identity politics but to construct broad identities that can embrace others and unify different groups.

The founders of the E.U., he argues, spent too much time building the technical aspects of the project — laws, rules, tariffs. They neglected to nurture an actual European identity, something people could believe in not for rational reasons but for emotional and idealistic ones. In the American case, he argues, the anti-populist forces have to create a broad identity centered on core American ideas and values rather than narrow ethnic, racial or religious ones. Thus, we need a much greater focus on assimilation, on the celebration of American identity, on the things that make us all love being American. We need to connect with people in their guts, not just in their heads.

The European challenge might seem much greater than the American one, but in fact, distrust of foreigners doesn’t necessarily mean a rejection of Europe. Even in Poland and Hungary, where ethnonationalist sentiments run high, support for the E.U. is quite high. According to the latest European Commission surveys, 71 percent of Poles say they feel attached to the E.U., more so than Germans or Spaniards, while 61 percent of Hungarians feel attached, outstripping the French, Swedes and Belgians. The problem is, it isn’t a deep, emotional bond — they are three to four times more likely to feel very attached to their own nation than to the E.U.

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What people in Europe and the United States ought to be proud of, what they should celebrate, are the remarkable achievements of diversity. “I love our differences,” wrote Bono, “our dialects, our traditions, our peculiarities. . . . And I believe they still leave room for what [Winston] Churchill called an ‘enlarged patriotism’: plural allegiances, layered identities, to be Irish and European, German and European, not either/or. The word patriotism has been stolen from us by nationalists and extremists who demand uniformity. But real patriots seek unity above homogeneity. Reaffirming that is, to me, the real European project.”

And, I would add, the American project as well.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

 

Malay anxiety, exclusion, and national unity


September 21,2018

Malay anxiety, exclusion, and national unity

A fragmented Malay society is making ‘Malay unity’ more urgent for those defeated by GE-14.

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