Mahathir’s Challenge to UMNO’s Najib Razak in GE-14


March 17, 2017

Mahathir’s Challenge to UMNO’s Najib Razak in GE-14

by Saleena Saleem

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2017/03/17/malaysias-new-but-not-fresh-opposition-party/

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Anwar Ibrahim and Dr. Mahathir Mohamad in the Good Old Days when the former was heir apparent and Deputy Prime Minister. Today Anwar is languishing in Jail

Speculation is rife that Malaysia’s 14th general election, which must be held by August 2018, may be called this year. The general election comes after a protracted political scandal over state wealth fund 1MDB, with damaging financial mismanagement and corruption allegations leveled at Prime Minister Najib Razak.

Several former leaders from the ruling political party, United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), have left and regrouped into a new Malay nationalist opposition, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu). Led by former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad as Chairman, and former deputy premier Muhyiddin Yassin as President, Bersatu will need to sell itself to a jaded public if it is to pass as a credible contender for UMNO’s Malay voter base.

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Strange brew of Malaysian politicians chasing the rainbow

These public perception challenges stem from the former UMNO leaders’ decisions and actions. At the height of the 1MDB scandal in mid-2015, the expectation that UMNO leaders, particularly Mahathir and Muhyiddin, would lead a massive break-away faction of dissatisfied party members when Najib was at his political weakest, did not materialise.

Instead, they fought for control of UMNO from within for nearly a year. It wasn’t until February 2016 that Mahathir left his old party — for the second time. It was a missed opportunity that gave Najib ample time to build support for his leadership within the various UMNO groups and to present a united front. As a high-profile frontman for Bersatu, Mahathir’s actions during this period may prove problematic for four key reasons as the new party targets the Malay vote.

First, while still in UMNO, Mahathir associated with pro-opposition civil society groups such as Bersih. Mahathir’s participation in the Bersih 4 rally, which was widely seen as a Chinese-dominated anti-Najib demonstration, leaves him vulnerable to Najib’s race-based argument that should Malays fail to support him, the government would fall to a Chinese-led political machine. Given Bersatu’s alliance with the opposition coalition, of which the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party (DAP) is a key player, such fears can be magnified to its detriment during an election campaign.

Second, Mahathir initially stated he had no intention of establishing a political party upon quitting UMNO, but he did precisely that in late 2016. The timing of his departure from UMNO, which came only after his son, Mukhriz, was forced to resign as the Kedah chief minister by pro-Najib UMNO members, provides ample ammunition to those who claim Mahathir is primarily motivated by his son’s political ambitions rather than a genuine concern for Malaysia’s future.

Third, Mahathir’s past ideological differences, and the harsh treatment of civil society activists and political foes while he was in government, many of whom he associates with today, leaves him open to charges of hypocrisy. For example, during the Asian Financial Crisis in the 1990s, Mahathir clashed over economic policies with his then-deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim. This set the stage for Anwar’s imprisonment on charges of sodomy, and his rise as an opposition leader of the Reformasi movement, which advocated an open society and economy.

Mahathir has curtailed fundamental liberties that the opposition stands for — he used the Internal Security Act to imprison DAP’s leader Lim Kit Siang during Operation Lalang in 1987, after government appointments in Chinese vernacular schools spurred an outcry.

Fourth, Mahathir’s criticism of Najib’s alleged misdeeds over 1MDB leaves him exposed to scrutiny over his own actions while he was prime minister. He already faces criticism over the Bumiputera Malaysia Finance Limited scandal in the 1980s, and the central bank’s forex losses of US$10 billion in the 1990s, although Mahathir’s camp claims the two are not comparable.

Bersatu enters into an opposition political landscape that is already divided, and where the various parties now jostle to re-negotiate the terms of a political arrangement for the upcoming elections. A January survey by INVOKE, an opposition-linked NGO, found that a three-cornered fight between the opposition coalition Pakatan Harapan (which includes Bersatu), the Islamist party, Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS) and the ruling party, Barisan Nasional benefits the incumbent government. This makes electoral pacts essential, even as the different ideological bents and histories of the parties in the opposition complicate matters.

The previous opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, saw public bickering among its constituent parties over various issues leading eventually to its collapse. Two examples are the political impasse that ensued over disagreements on the Selangor chief minister post in 2014 and PAS’ renewed focus on implementing hudud (criminal punishment).

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Good Luck to all Chief Sitting Bulls led by Chief Maha Bull of Kubang Pasu

The lack of agreement on seat allocations between remaining coalition parties, Parti Keadilan Rakyat and DAP, during the 2016 Sarawak state elections, and the recent DAP resignations of its elected representatives over simmering grievances from the past coalition pact with PAS, reinforce the perception that the opposition face intractable difficulties in maintaining a cohesive front.

The opposition’s current narrative of ‘Save Malaysia from Najib’, which was built on Mahathir’s short-lived ‘Save Malaysia’ movement may not be as compelling for voters compared to calls for change based on democratic ideals of equality, justice and fairness for all races, and which were emphasised during the previous two general elections.

When Mahathir recently criticised Chinese investment projects in Johor, he utilised the race-oriented tactics of the past, which can be off-putting to some voters who had been drawn to the opposition in the first place.

Nevertheless, although Bersatu carries the baggage of its founding members, it is a new political party with the potential to grow in strength if it can sustain itself beyond its immediate challenges. No doubt Bersatu is a potential spoiler for UMNO.

Addressing public perception issues and becoming a serious contender to UMNO may increasingly require the introduction of a younger generation of politicians. With the senior generation playing the role of mentors, this new generation could do much to project the future direction of Bersatu as a viable political party — one that looks beyond the objective of unseating Najib.

Saleena Saleem is an Associate Research Fellow at Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

This commentary was originally jointly published in Policy Forum and New Mandala.

 

Pakatan Harapan or Pakatan Rakyat or Whatever–The Opposition has an Identity Problem


March 16, 2017

Pakatan Harapan or Pakatan Rakyat or Whatever–The Opposition has an Identity Problem

by Scott Ng@www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Semua mahu jadi tauwkey, hanya rakyat boleh jadi hamba, sama macam UMNO

Opposition supporters are apparently divided over former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s proposal that Pakatan Harapan undergo a rebranding after his Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia joins it. Mahathir has suggested that Pakatan adopt a new name and a common manifesto and symbol.

To some, the call confirms their suspicion that PPBM is merely a reskinned UMNO and the inclusion of the party in a grand coalition will simply make it a version of Barisan Nasional, with Mahathir in control. After all, old habits die hard, especially the habits of a confessed dictator. Mahathir ruled for more than 22 years and is used to having his way.

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Le Boss not like a Boss

Of course, this theory assumes that the other parties are willing to make way for Mahathir to ascend to the position of opposition leader and will unquestioningly give in to his dictates. Given PKR’s lack of direction, Amanah’s continuing search for a concrete identity and DAP’s poor appeal among rural Malays, it isn’t hard to imagine Mahathir leading the charge.

However, PPBM does not enter the coalition as the first among equals. It joins as yet another party despite the pedigree of its luminaries, and fittingly so. Mahathir & Co will have much work to do in convincing liberals, progressives, and moderates that PPBM is not Umno in sheep’s clothing. What good would it do to replace a government if it merely results in more of the same?

So the first order of business, should Pakatan accept PPBM into its fold, should be to come out with a concrete policy platform, one that looks at the specific laws and practices that must be reformed, mechanisms that must be reviewed and government agencies that must be revamped.

Although Mahathir’s proposals are still merely suggestions, Pakatan’s discussions around them are sure to be robust. Nevertheless, it is hoped that all the Pakatan parties recognise the suggestions as eminently reasonable.

Pundits have long pointed out the need for a uniform identity and platform for Pakatan Harapan, and the appearance of being united via a common symbol is a first step towards consolidating the coalition as an entity. With PAS poised to be a spoiler in the coming election, it is more important than ever to present a unified front. Certainly, only one candidate from the coalition should be fielded in every constituency.

Whether Mahathir’s agenda dominates the coalition platform is truly a problem for the three Pakatan parties to hash out on their own. There is little to suggest that Mahathir will get his way unquestioned, but perhaps ideas coming from a field-tested veteran of political battles will be beneficial in the long run.

Scott Ng is an FMT columnist.

 

Scandal ridden UMNO Malay Leadership


February 3, 2017

Scandal ridden UMNO Malay Leadership

http://www.asiasentinel.com/society/malaysia-scholars-fault-umno/

Malay Scholars Find Fault in Malay Leaders

Malaysian Official No. 1–The Corrupt and Corruptor

The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) presents itself as the guardian of Malay interests, culture and language. So what do the 1MDB and other scandals say about the fundamental problems of this long-dominant ruling party, the institutional arm of the Malay elite?

The disappearance of vast sums from the accounts of the state-backed 1MDB investment vehicle, the murder of a senior investigator, the murder by the Prime Minister’s security detail of a pregnant Mongolian translator/model and former girlfriend of Najib’s close associate, must say something about elite behavior.

They may be extreme events but by no means unique in Malaysian history over the past 40 years. What were then vast sums went down similar drains, more than one associated with Bank Bumiputra, including the murder in Hong Kong of an auditor doing his job too well. Plenty of other lesser financial scandals have emerged from specifically Malay, publicly-owned institutions supposedly created to benefit the rakyat but too often ATMs for the elite. They are mostly quickly forgiven and forgotten.

Rather than looking for a contemporary or political analysis of the causes of these various scandals, it is worth casting a glance back at how some well-known Malay intellectuals in the past saw their Malay leaders. Two examples, separated by 140 years, will have to suffice.

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The more recent, written in 1982, appears in Shaharuddin B Maaruf’s Concept of a Hero in Malay Society tracing the influences on the Malay elite from the epic of Hang Tuah to the later era where feudal loyalty was allied with a crass materialism. Some of the feudal traits exhibited by Hang Tuah (and by equivalents at the Javanese Majapahit court) included feats of drinking, gambling, hunting and lovemaking. Do they still dominate?

 Interestingly Shaharuddin singled out not a Malaysian but the martyred Philippine nationalist Jose Rizal and General Sudirman, Indonesia’s military leader in the war of independence, as the wider modern Malay world’s leaders as selfless, determined and principled. In contrast, he quoted the principal agent of British imperialism on the peninsula, Frank Swettenham, on the eagerness of the Malay rulers to accept British overlordship in return for position and income.
Image result for dr shaharuddin maarufA Contemporary UMNO Leader

Shaharuddin himself echoed other post-independence critics of the elite such as Syed Hussein Alatas, the Malay academician turned politician who became Vice-Chancellor of the University of Malaya and a founder of Gerakan, a multi-ethnic, reformist party. Alatas wrote the Foreword to Shaharuddin’s book.

They both noted the conflict between the feudal values of the elite, seen in their devotion to hierarchy, show and dynasty, and the Islam it professed. Instead of acknowledging that Islam’s strength lay in the diversity of interpretation of the Koran, it insisted on a single one laid down by an intellectually bereft elite, more interested in the furtherance of narrow Malay racial interests than in religion. Personal loyalty to a leader also trumped laws and principles.

There was, wrote Shaharuddin “no genuine interest on the part of the Malay elite to foster the intellectual, humanitarian and scientific aspects of Islam … but only to organize Koran reading competitions” – a stark contrast to the days when Islam was at the forefront of intellectual and scientific advance.

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 Present Day Malay Heroin Rosmah ‘Birkin’ Mansor

Reading about the shopping sprees of Najib’s wife Rosmah Mansor, of the spending of huge sums to join the celebrity crowd in New York, mansions in California, Hollywood movies and high-priced western paintings suggests that elite behavior has got even worse since Shaharuddin wrote more than a generation ago: “The spirit of indulgence leads it [the elite] to imitate the negative aspects of western culture while the scientific and intellectual tradition is discarded… Being indulgent and imitative, the Malay elite always seeks to identify itself with its western counterpart.”

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Nor was it just a problem of aping western ways. Another was the desire to be grandiose and showy. “They spend lavishly on buildings, cars, official functions and other expenditures for prestige.”

Worse still, “celebrity worship is widespread in Malay society” – as if foretelling the elite urge to be seen in the company of such trashy western celebrities as Paris Hilton.

Shaharuddin’s criticisms were however mild compared with those of Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir 1796-1854) also known as Munshi Abdullah. He was a Melaka-born translator and teacher who worked for the British, notably with Stamford Raffles at the time of the British takeover of Singapore. Abdullah was not a traitor to the Malays but one so appalled by the condition of the Malay states that he saw cooperation with the British as a way of improving the lot of the Malays through economic progress, the end of internecine conflict and the spread of education and knowledge.

An 1838 work following a visit to Kelantan, Kisah Pelayaran Abdullah ke Kelantan, had polite advice for Malay rulers. But his better known autobiographical work Hikayat Abdullah written in the 1840s was more scathing in its views of the monarchs.

“It is no light tyranny that has been exercised by the Malay rulers, apart from a few who were good. Women and children who caught their fancy have been abducted by force as though they were taking chickens, with no sort of fear of Allah and regard for his creatures. They have often murdered men whose offences in no way merited death. They have plundered the property of other men, killing the owners or dragging them off into captivity. If they owe money they refuse to pay it. They are very fond of gambling, cock-fighting, opium-eating and keeping a host of slaves. …There are many other disgraceful practices which I feel too ashamed to mention in this book. They keep young girls, sometimes more than a hundred, as concubines in the palace. They have relations with a girl once or twice then for the rest of her life she cannot marry another man…

“Was there not a time when half the world was under Malay dominion and rule? There are many books and records which tell of the rulers of olden times, how great and powerful they were, so rich and full of wisdom. Why have their lands been despoiled by Allah ere now and passed into foreign bondage.

…Even in my own time there have been several Malay principalities which have come to ruin. Some have reverted to jungle where the elephant and tiger roam, because of the cruel injustices of their rulers and chiefs; not merely distant places but, for example, Selangor, Perak, Kedah as well as Padang, Muar, Batu Pahat and Kesang and many others like them. Once they were rich and flourishing states with a large population. Now they are states only in name. …

“Many are the places and lands which have been destroyed by the depredations of the young scions of the ruling house whose rapacious hands can no longer be tolerated by the people. Other races, the English, the Indians, the Arabs, the Chinese do not conduct themselves in the manner I have described. Only the Malays. Among all the other races the ruler’s children are expected to be well educated and very intelligent… If the Malay ruler do not keep their own children under control, how can they themselves exercise authority over the people? As it is under Malay rule ordinary people cannot lift up their heads and enjoy themselves… Another failing commonly found among Malays is their inability to change or modernise their idea or to produce anything new. They utterly refuse to abandon superstitions of the past…”

And so on. Abdullah used many more pages to denounce the rulers and attitudes of the Malay rulers and state of society of his time.

There seems a continuous theme from the 1820s until today. It might be argued that both Abdullah and Alatas were not really Malays. Abdullah was of Tamil Muslim origin, Alatas of Yemeni ancestry and born in Bogor. But the notion of a pure Malay race is a fiction to which the ancestries of Prime Ministers Tunku Abdul Rahman, Hussein Onn and Mahathir Mohamed attest. No one doubted the mastery of Malay language and culture possessed by Abdullah and Alatas, nor their standing as modernist Muslims with enquiring minds. Are there any such figures in Malaysia today?

(Translation of Hikayat Abdullah by A.H. Hill. Concept of a Hero in Malay Society by Shaharuddin b. Maaruf, Eastern Universities Press, 1984)

 

Harping on Chinese FDIs in Malaysia


January 16, 2017

Harping on Chinese FDIs in Malaysia

by Josh Hong @www.malaysiakini.com

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A leopard never changes its spots, does it? Having failed to offer a set of alternative policies and convince the general public of their ‘reformist’ credentials, Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Zainuddin Maidin and Muhyiddin Yassin are now all back to bashing Najib Abdul Razak along the not-so-subtle racial lines.

Yes, China has been investing aggressively in Malaysia, but the Chinese are not the first ones who came, saw and conquered our market in recent years.

Before that, the Americans, Japanese and Arabs, too, had pursued very proactive business strategies in South-East Asia. With its relatively well-developed infrastructure and affordable land, Malaysia stood to benefit tremendously from their investments for more than three decades.

Since the 2000s, the Arabs, too, have been investing heavily in strategic industries in Malaysia, especially the petrochemical sector and real estate development, with the United Arab Emirates emerging as one of Malaysia’s largest trading partners and among the most vigorous investors in Malaysia’s oil and gas industries.

Mubadala Petroleum is currently setting its sights on Sarawak, while the International Petroleum Investment Company remains a key investor in Malaysia despite the 1MDB debacle. Both Putrajaya and Abu Dhabi maintain bilateral and trade relations are rock solid.

Meanwhile, the Qatar Investment Authority is a big player in Malaysia’s strategic real estate, commodities and energy sector. In 2013, it had plans to develop the Pengerang Integrated Petroleum Complex in southern Johor that was worth US$5 billion, aimed at making the country a petrochemical regional hub, not too dissimilar from China seeking to help turn Malaysia into a ‘transportation hub’ via Bandar Malaysia and the proposed high-speed rail terminal.

Even less well-known was that an agreement was signed in 2012 to make Qatar Holding a cornerstone investor in Felda Global Ventures Holdings Berhad, no doubt a highly important and vitally strategic global agricultural and agri-commodities company, while the Kuwait Investment Authority invested US$150 million in Malaysia’s IHH Healthcare.

At one time, the Qataris and the Najib government even agreed to build a ‘seven-star’ Harrods Hotel in the Bukit Bintang area in Kuala Lumpur, right next to the upmarket Pavilion shopping mall. The business venture somehow went awry and subsequently called off.

This aside, Saudi Arabia several years ago ranked fifth among Malaysia’s leading sources of investment, just behind Japan, South Korea, the US and Singapore. China was nowhere to be seen then.

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Mind you, PetroSaudi International was deeply involved in the scandal-ridden 1MDB and the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubei even confirmed in April last year that money was wired into Najib’s personal account and it was a “genuine donation with nothing expected in return”.

Now, one may derive from the s statement that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was complicit in corruption on a global scale but did any Malay or Muslim leader in UMNO or outside of it accuse the Saudi government of seeking to undermine Malaysia’s sovereignty or taking over the country? Is Saudi Arabia beyond reproach simply because it is where Mecca, Islam’s holy city is located?

The Arabs have been coming but no-one, certainly not UMNO, Mahathir or his minions in Bersatu, has said a word against investors from the Gulf region.

Nobody is talking about Najib turning the country into an Arab colony except for Marina Mahathir who lashed out at ‘Arab colonialism’ because traditional baju Melayu for women are now more difficult to find than in the old days as compared to the increasingly popular Arab attire. But her father has yet to cast aspersions on Najib selling Malaysia out to the Arabs through all the strategic investments.

Instead, Mahathir has been harping on Chinese nationals buying up lands and properties and blaming it on Najib, hoping that this would heighten the siege mentality of the Malays which would in turn alienate them further from UMNO.

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But Mahathir’s subterfuge can escape anyone but me. After all, it was his alleged racist rhetoric that kept him in power for over two decades, and Malaysia’s complex racial dynamics have created a fertile ground for a cunning strategist like him.

Crafted with the Malay constituency in mind

The messages by Mahathir, Zainuddin and Muhyiddin are not a coincidence, for they are all carefully crafted with the Malay constituency in mind.

They cannot openly demonise the Chinese Malaysian community because they need to ensure the opposition parties including DAP win enough Chinese votes, but at the same time, they are in dire need of denying Najib critical Malay support. So the best way to achieve this is to play up China as a bogeyman.

Mahathir and Bersatu may appear to be concerned over the influx of mainland Chinese capital and money, but their articulation is nothing but a veiled warning to the Malays that continued support for Najib would mean a greater Chinese presence in Malaysia, to the detriment of the ‘indigenous population’, of course.

Why pick on the Chinese when your Muslim brethren from the Middle East are no less commercially greedy and strategically ambitious?

It is not very different from the days when Mahathir ‘cari pasal’ (find fault) with Singapore in order to consolidate the Malay base. Stigmatising Chinese Malaysians comes at too huge a political cost, hence the sudden ‘realisation’ of mainland Chinese investments being a threat.

It is nothing more than a repackaged argument that, in favouring the (mainland) Chinese, Najib would only end up marginalising the Malays, just like the British.

If Mahathir and his cohorts have an issue with excessive foreign investments, they must not just single out China but the Gulf countries also. Mahathir may even question his own national car policy which only resulted in Malaysia becoming almost totally dependent on Japan for spare parts and technology, while failing to make Proton a car giant as he would have dreamed!

I have a problem with Islamic conservatism, but I have no problems with the Muslims; I am sceptical about American expansionism but I am fine with the American people; I am opposed to Israeli policies on Palestine but I don’t hate the Jews; I disagree with Shinzo Abe’s historical revisionism but I appreciate Japan as a wonderful country, and I look askance at communist ideology yet I enjoy the friendship of my mainland Chinese friends.

And I remain very much a leftist and a liberal who considers neo-liberalism a major source of the global chaos today. But unlike Mahathir, I vow not to use race or religion as my weapon even if I am wary of the destructive power of capitalism, because I have always been acutely aware of the hard fact that capital and money have no motherland.

Go on supporting Mahathir and Bersatu if you want, and I won’t shed a tear for you even if one day you find yourself trapped in the quicksand of racial politics and unable to be free.


JOSH HONG studied politics at London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A keen watcher of domestic and international politics, he longs for a day when Malaysians will learn and master the art of self-mockery, and enjoy life to the full in spite of politicians.

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

Unity in Diversity


January 9,2017

Unity in Diversity

By Dennis Ignatius

Unleashing our uniqueness as a multicultural nation

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You can tell, I suppose, that elections are near when UMNO politicians start heaping praise upon our otherwise much-maligned citizens of Chinese origin.

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No less than Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, in a speech delivered on his behalf on the occasion of the Kuala Lumpur Chinese Assembly Hall’s Anniversary Dinner recently, praised Malaysian Chinese for their “bravery, hard work and true grit” and their ability to turn things around with minimum resources. He also expressed admiration for their “spirit to never say no to challenges” and opined that “the Chinese community will continue to be the group that will carry the nation forward.”

Flattery & Brickbats 

Zahid’s lavish praise, however, passed without much comment from Malaysian Chinese themselves with many simply dismissing it as little more than lip service. The obvious, if unspoken message, is that mere flattery cannot undo the years of vilification and racial intimidation that has become the hallmark of UMNO politics.

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UMNO’s Extremists in Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur

It was not so long ago, for example, that UMNO-aligned red shirted bullies threatened to rain down mayhem upon Petaling Street. It was even more telling, for many Malaysian Chinese, that the red shirt leader was subsequently welcomed as something of a hero at the recent UMNO General Assembly. It only confirmed the perception of UMNO’s malice and hostility towards minority communities.

At the same assembly, UMNO stalwarts also demanded that the some of the miserably few positions that Chinese have in government and government-linked companies be taken away and given to UMNO members.

Worse still, the idea was posited that the Chinese pose an existential threat to the Malays. It might be just politics to UMNO but it demonizes a significant part of our populations simply on the basis of their race. It is not only dangerous but it goes against the very foundational principles of our nation. It is precisely this kind of mentality that is behind much of the chastisement of Malaysia’s minority communities as “pendatangs,” and as just so many unpatriotic and ungrateful interlopers.

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The response that shook UMNO–China’s subtle response to the treatment of their diaspora

It is simply mind-boggling that a dominant political party like UMNO would think that it can treat minority communities with such utter contempt and then expect to earn their allegiance and support at the polls with but a few blandishments.

A blessing to be appreciated

But, whether sincere or not, whether it was given grudgingly or otherwise, Zahid’s praise for the Malaysian Chinese community was well-deserved and long overdue. It may not be music to the ears of racists and bigots but the fact remains that Malaysia would be but a pale shadow of itself if not for the contributions of our citizens of Chinese origin.

They have been a huge blessing to us all and it is about time that they were respected and honoured for it.

If given half the chance to serve, if treated with genuine respect as fellow citizens rather than as interlopers and adversaries, the Chinese community, alongside Malaysia’s other communities, could well lift our nation to unparalleled greatness.

Instead of looking further afield to countries like China to boost our growth, we would do better to tap the acres of diamonds that our own minority communities represent.

Actions rather than words

If Zahid and UMNO want to genuinely show their appreciation for the contributions that Malaysian Chinese have made, they can start by being more supportive of the Chinese schools system.

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Najib depends on Malay support via a Pact with PAS–Hudud

After all, more than any other single factor, it is education that has transformed the Chinese community from a rag-tag bunch of indentured laborers, vegetable gardeners, petty traders, dulang-washers, rickshaw-pullers, nigh-soil carriers and terempoh-makers into a community that can now “carry the nation forward” as Zahid himself put it.

Besides, Chinese schools today are about the only bright spot in our otherwise dismal education system. Unsurprisingly, Chinese schools are the preferred choice of many Malaysian parents no matter their ethnic or religious background.

Those who make the argument that Chinese schools fail to foster racial unity and promote the national identity forget that Chinese schools are today far more multiracial than the so-called national type schools or, for that matter, religious schools.

Would that more Malaysians kids, particularly those from our floundering Indian community, enroll in Chinese schools.

It is a shame, therefore, that the Education Ministry remains so unsupportive of the Chinese schools system withholding even the meager RM50 million in maintenance that was allocated to Chinese schools last year, as was reported in the last few weeks.

As well, the Education Ministry’s refusal to recognize the Unified Examinations Certificate (UEC), something which Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem called “stupid,” makes no sense given that it is already accepted by Australia, Britain, Canada, China, Taiwan, Singapore, France, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand and the United States.

It is hard not to conclude, and certainly the perception persists, that the government’s whole approach to Chinese education is mired in racial prejudice more than anything else.

A museum of living history

Ways must also be found to breakdown the racism and prejudice that has become so ingrained in our society and correct the biased and jaundiced ethnic narratives that have been allowed to take root. Too little attention has been given to the contributions and the stories of heroism and hard work of earlier generations of Malaysians of all ethnicities.

To this end, consideration should be given to the establishment of a multicultural history museum, similar to the Canadian Museum of Immigration (Pier 21), that would record for posterity the history and the stories of all of Malaysia’s ethnic communities – Malay, Chinese, Indian, Iban, Kadazan, Bugis, Javanese, Arab, Thai and others – their origins, their culture, how they came to call Malaysia their home, their struggles, their hopes and dreams and their contributions to making Malaysia the remarkable nation it now is.

It could also be a living museum with digital boards for the descendants to trace their roots, remember their pioneering forefathers and add their own stories of life and citizenship in Malaysia.

It would certainly help all Malaysians to take pride in their history, culture and contributions while remembering that it took all our ethnic communities many long years of hard work, cooperation and sacrifice to make us what we are today, that we all have a stake in this nation for better or worse, and that if we stand together, we can make our nation the envy of all.

Unleashing our greatness as a nation

Instead of hollow gestures given grudgingly when elections are near, UMNO must decide, once and for all, which road it will take when it comes to dealing with Malaysia’s ethnic minorities – the high road to tolerance and respect for diversity that will allow all our ethnic communities to flower or the low road to bigotry that will drive them away and deprive the nation of the wealth, talent and experience that they have to offer.

UMNO can help to truly unleash the power, the strength and the uniqueness of our multiethnic polity or it can try to stifle it at every turn and rule over a diminished nation, a mockery of all that it could be.

Malaysia : It’s NOT OK to rely on Islamic Eggheads


April 3, 2016

Malaysia : It’s NOT OK to rely on Islamic Eggheads

by Zainah Anwar

http://www.thestar.com.my

What we need is to overhaul the way Islam is taught and understood. Our aim is to bring out the best in the religion so Muslims may use it to bring good to the modern world.

THE Minister in charge of Religion worries about liberal and pluralist Muslims whom he considers deviant. The Mufti of Perak worries about Muslims who use logic and intellect to make statements on Islam.

And this guy from the Perak Islamic Information Centre worries there are Muslims who believe the Federal Constitution, drawn by men and amended several times, could ever be considered superior to Syariah laws formulated by God.

Super Islamic Eggheads

Never mind if it’s men who drafted those Islamic laws he was referring to, and men who passed them in Parliament and state assemblies, and men who enforced them.

Let me save them from sleepless nights in search of solutions for problems that do not exist, and in the process, waste hours and millions of taxpayers’ money. Such men in power should really be concentrating their time – if not their intellect – on far more important matters that beset the country and the ummah.

The threat of terrorism and extremist illiberal thinking, corruption, abuse of power, the thousands of men who beat their wives, who fail to provide and protect their families, who destroy family well-being by taking another wife without the consent, let alone knowledge, of their existing wife and children, who fail to practise family planning and produce more and more children for whom they have no money to support and no time nor skills to guide and nurture.

Really. Let’s get some priorities right here on what really are threats to the well-being of the ummah. They certainly do not come from Muslims who believe in liberalism and pluralism. So, yes, let’s use our God-given intellect. Let’s be logical, let’s reason, let’s make decisions on the basis of facts and realities.

In a recent parliamentary response to the PAS MP from Pasir Mas, Jamil Khir Baharom said liberal Muslims are a danger because they believe in “pluralism”, which supposedly means an ideology which holds the human intellect to be a revelation.

The Tee who became Abdullah

Now that’s a revelation! I wonder how he reached such an understanding of pluralism and where he finds the evidence to support that conclusion.

I know many Malaysian Muslims who proudly proclaim themselves as liberals.But as far as I know, they believe in differences and diversity, in progress and change, and they resist authoritarian rule. Those are Islamic values.

And the pluralism they celebrate is directly inspired by the Qur’anic verse 49:13: And God has created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may get to know one another.

And where are those so-called liberals who supposedly advocate scepticism on the authenticity of the Qur’an, and advocate new interpretations of worship and dispute the criteria and morals of prophets? He must be reading obscure reports produced by even more obscure people who have to justify their existence as thought police.

Yes, there are liberals who question the methodology in interpreting the Qur’an and Hadith, and refer to other methods to comprehend Islamic law that the Minister disagrees with.

But lest the Minister forgets, the reason why there are several schools of theology in Islam (kalam) and even many more schools of law (madhab) is due to the fact that the Qur’an has always been open to diverse and differing interpretations.

What believing “liberals” in the contemporary world are trying to do is to unearth the richness of the Islamic legal and philosophical tradition in their search for solutions to the injustice perpetrated in the name of Islam, and to bridge the gnawing disconnect between classical law and contemporary reality.

The Guys behind Malaysia’s Political Islam

It is clear that so many of Malaysia’s Muslim leaders are ignorant of their own tradition when they accuse fellow Muslims as deviants, simply on the basis of differing opinion on how Islam is understood and used as a source of law within a democratic nation-state.

If we really want Islam to remain relevant to the realities of our lives today and to ensure that justice is the outcome of any law in practice, there are many Islamic legal principles that can be used to bring about the urgently needed reforms towards justice and equality.

We should be proud of our rich and complex tradition and continuously mine for gems, instead of shunting them aside to serve a dogmatic ideology that privileges a few men in authority.

I don’t know where and how they studied Islam. But the Islam I studied and continue to study gives me so much hope that justice and equality are possible.

Just to start with, I wish they would be guided by the principles of maslaha (public interest), ikhtilaf (differences of opinion), istihsan (choosing the best opinion in the interest of equity and justice), istislah (choosing the best opinion in the interest of public good) in drawing up laws, policies and fatwas.

These are rational and liberal concepts constructed by Muslim jurists some 1,000 years ago that our contemporary ulama seem to have forgotten.

Why? Is privileging power, authority and dogma over the best interest of the ummah far more important?

There is much in our tradition to be proud of. And yet, we continue to be bombarded by pronounce­ments and actions that just make us cringe and fearful of the future of this country.

How could anyone who loves Islam pronounce shamelessly in public that a Muslim cannot use logic and intellect when it comes to Islam?

God created humans different from other beings because of our ‘aql (intellect). Dozens of verses in the Qur’an refer to the importance of using the intellect and the consequences when one does not use the intellect.

Again, I don’t know where this idea that Muslims cannot use logic and ‘aql comes from. In fact, the science of logic (mantiq) was developed in the most sophisticated manner by Muslim philosophers such as Ibn Arabi and Ibn Sina.

Mantiq is taught for hundreds of years in Islamic universities in the Arab world. Muslim philosophers regarded mantiq as a vital instrument to acquire knowledge, develop reasoning and argumentation to demonstrate truth claims.

And yet in the 21st century, we Muslims have deviated so far from our own enlightened heritage, and impoverished our minds in the process. This is a tragedy.

While history acknowledges how Muslim mantiq scholars brought Greek logic to the attention of the Latin West and helped transform intellectual life of Western Europe in the Middle Ages, we today pronounce Muslims who use logic and intellect as those who have gone astray.

Astray from what? The attempts at imposing one authoritarian understanding of Islam to perpetuate power and privilege?

Obviously, what Malaysia and much of the Muslim world need urgently is an overhaul of the way we teach and understand Islam.

For too long, the religion has been used and abused to serve the interest of those in power and those desperate for power, manipulated beyond recognition to justify discrimination, injustice, authoritarianism, obedience, violence, and at the end of the spectrum of abuses, the unthinkable barbarity perpetrated by ISIS.

Instead of spending hundreds of millions, if not billions on military and security solutions to the problem of extremism, how about spending just a few millions to bring enlightened scholars, public intellectuals, education specialists together to develop a new curriculum on how Islam should be taught in schools and universities to bring out the best in the religion to enable Muslims to use the religion in the best way possible to do good and bring good to the modern world, and to the lives of impoverished Muslims – materially and intellectually.

It is this jihad in the intellectual realm that is urgently needed, not a pathetic misguided war against Muslim liberals.