Thursday, 2 July 2015

Lost Aspiration

Sin Chew Jit Poh
2 July 2015

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Most of us would know about the Rukunegara; the five principles which are supposed to be the foundations of a national ethos. Not that many will know that there is a preamble to the five principles.
 
The preamble consists of five points but I would like to focus on only one for this article. This is the last point in the preamble and it states that “Whereas our country Malaysia nurtures the ambition of building a progressive society that will make use of science and modern technology”.
 
Looking at this line, what strikes me are the words “progressive society” and “science and technology”. What this aspiration means to me is that we are to move forward as a society in a rational and scientific manner. To make progress based on reason and logic and by implication move away from irrationality and backwardness.
 
This was our aspiration in 1970 and yet today we still behave as though we are living in the dark ages. Petty issues become national talking points because of small minded people (usually men) who unfortunately hold positions of authority.
 
Thus for many days one can’t open the newspaper without reading about some poor young woman being criticized for her athletic outfit. Criticized by men who seem incapable of simply turning the channel if they don’t like to see her in her leotard. Nor are they capable to see their own hypocritical sexism and misogyny for if you think the young lady’s outfit as indecent, why then was there no uproar about men who wear a tiny garment  literally known as “a pouch” while they strut on a stage flexing their muscles?
 
Or what about stupid rules which envisions the fall of society as we know it if a woman’s knees were to be seen in a government building. What kind of idiot will think that it is alright to force their own backward view as to what constitutes decency and what does not on the world. Especially when we are talking about government buildings which by definition means that these are places paid for and maintained by the people’s money for the purpose of serving the people (with exposed knees or not).
 
Now of course in any society there will always be those whose mind work on values more suited to a millennia ago. After all there are millions of us and naturally there will be all sorts of people with all sorts of mindsets. In our country you see reason and rationality triumph occasionally. For example in the recent case concerning those moronic tourists on Mt Kinabalu, the judge made a wonderful decision which punished the idiots as well as satisfying local customs without pandering to the more extreme voices which would blame a bunch of brainless fools for the seismic shifts of the earth.
 
In other words, if we have wise men and women in actual positions of decision making, it does not matter how crazy some of our people might be, it won’t have any serious effects because at the end of the day rationality will prevail. In other words if those in leadership positions think progressively then regressive voices will be little more than empty noises.
 
Unfortunately, I am not sure even if good leadership is sufficient. If we look at our situation now, the misogynistic comments on our gymnast’s outfit came from the head religious civil servant of one of our states; we have an ex top judge who seems incapable of understanding that our Constitution is a secular one; we have a leader who is misguided enough to think that building a house of worship using funds of a scandal plagued body will somehow absolve it of any suspicion in the eyes of a gullible public.
 
In other words, all these backward voices unfortunately doesn’t just come from the masses but amongst the upper echelons of those holding power. If that is the case, what about the rest of the country? This being so, just how much hope does anyone have in redirecting this lost country back towards “building a progressive society that will make use of science and modern technology”.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

A not-so-imaginary case study

Brave New World (The Star)
24 June 2015

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ONE of the methods that we use in university when teaching is to give our students a scenario and have them try and solve the problem based on what they have learnt.
So, for a bit of fun, let’s try it here. Pretend you are a student and below is an assignment question.
There is a university and it is facing some difficulties. The campus has been having water supply problems – namely water is not reaching the various residential colleges.
There are 13 colleges and their water supply has been erratic. When there is a supply, the water is oftentimes dirty.
This has led to great inconvenience and also to problems of hygiene.
Five of those colleges had no water at all for four to five weeks.
Water has to be brought by lorries into the colleges. The students can see these water trucks being filled just at the entrance of the campus, which makes them wonder why there is no water deeper in the campus where their colleges are. The water company claims that this is because of the poor pipes within campus.
Naturally, the students are very upset. They approach the university with their complaints and are told that the problem is due to the water company and that the university is working on it.
After weeks of this situation continuing, they decide to take matters into their own hands by organising three separate actions.
The elected student council arrange a forum to discuss what can be done about their water woes.
They then organise a peaceful demonstration where at the end of it they hand a memorandum to the elected Member of Parliament in that constituency. And finally they put together a donation drive amongst the public where the money collected will be used to buy bottled water for the students living in dry colleges.
Place yourself in the shoes of the university administration.
Choose one from the following possible actions and explain why you chose that particular action.
a. You do nothing.
b. You engage with the students (through their elected council) explaining exactly what the university is doing and at what stage your attempts at rectifying the situation are. You are as open as possible, offering evidence as to what you think is the cause of the problems.
c. You take disciplinary action against 13 students. Some are the organisers of the three events (that is to say they are members of the elected student council whose job it is to watch out for student welfare) and others are students who merely attended said functions.
You state that the students did not get the university’s permission to organise such things as required by the university rules.
You also point out that a loud hailer was used during one or more of these events and this was again done without the university’s permission. And for good measure, you point out that the actions of the students had tarnished the good name of the university.
Postscript: The above scenario is not made up but is based on a real situation happening currently. Guess which measure the university chose?

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

End of PR

Sin Chew Jit Poh
17 June 2015

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So, The Pakatan Rakyat is dead according to the DAP.

 

In practical terms they are quite right. This is a situation of PAS making. Their dissent against the coalition over the past couple of years, led by their increasingly belligerent president has made the situation of the PR very precarious indeed.

 

But it is their undebated decision to break ties with the DAP in their last Muktamar, that was the final straw. The DAP cannot be expected to want to continue working with a party that is so clearly opposed to them.

 

Ostensibly this decision by PAS is based on vocal criticisms of the DAP against the plans of PAS to implement hudud in Kelantan. The thing is PKR has also opposed it although in a less vocal manner. Yet they don’t seem to want to cut ties with PKR.

 

But the situation is far from settled. PKR now has the task to decide what it wants to do. The thing about the PR is that it is not an “official” organisation as (if I am not mistaken) it has not been registered as an actual entity.

 

Therefore it is a coalition based on mutual agreement and not by law as such. This being the case, its position is fluid and unclear.

 

And it is this lack of clarity which is going to be a problem for the opposition. The people need to know just who they are voting for. This means that if an opposition coalition is to exist it has to be crystal clear what their common platform is. The DAP and PAS are no longer partners, PKR must now decide who they want to move into the future with.

 

And they should decide this fairly quickly. The recent fiasco has made the public lose faith in the PR and worse perhaps even in the entire Malaysian democratic process. In order to restore that faith, they need to get their act together as soon as possible and work hard while there is still time before the next General Elections.

 

Personally I think PKR and DAP should just wish PAS all the best and wave them on their way. Not only has PAS been going on their own provincial tangent over the past two years, but it is clear that the very forces within the Islamist party that made PR what it is are no longer welcome.

 

By rejecting the “progressive” group within their party the PAS faithful has shown not only ingratitude but also a serious short-sightedness.

 

The only reason PAS has the popularity that it enjoyed over the last eight years or so has been because of the tireless work of the progressive who strived to move PAS away from its past into a future where overarching principles of justice was more important than any shallow expressions of piety.

 

Without this faction, the party can only hope to maintain support in its traditional heartlands. Perhaps that is what they want. The current crop of PAS leaders seem more concerned with race and religion than they are about good governance and justice. Maybe they will be happy to work with UMNO to maintain the Malay agenda whilst in return they are allowed to romp in their little rural enclaves free to implement whatever laws they want.

 

Whatever their motivations, it would be wise for the PR to break up now. PKR and DAP can start fresh, look for other partners and once again provide the country with a viable alternative. PAS can go their merry way and good luck to them.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Think before you ask anything

Brave New World (The Star)
10 June 2006

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THE Thought Police of George Orwell’s 1984.
What a wonderful creation. The ultimate symbol of authoritarian madness; where your very own personal thoughts are controlled.
The Thought Police, or Thinkpol in the novel’s Newspeak, became for generations the shorthand of the behaviour of dictatorships and undemocratic governments everywhere.
If one feels that oppression and suppression were getting out of hand, one says things like “Well, it’s just like the bloody thought police, isn’t it?”
Of course in reality, most of the time people exaggerate. I mean, seriously, how can governments control what goes on in your head? They can control your speech, they can control what you read, but they can’t really control what you think. Or can they?
They can’t but they jolly well will give it their best shot.
Two weeks ago there was a press conference held by a man named Wan Sulaiman Wan Ismail. Wan Sulaiman hails from Perak and is a small businessman.
He was charged earlier this year by the Perak Islamic Affairs Department (Jaip) for “deriding Quranic verses and the Hadith”.
What was this man’s crime? How did he “deride” the Quran and the Hadith? Why, by studying his own religion and when faced with questions and issues that puzzled him, going to the religious authorities to ask for advice and to have a discussion.
That is how Wan Sulaiman got into trouble. In his own study (and wasn’t the very first line of the very first revelation to Muhammad: “Read”?) he found questions he could not answer. He went to the very people who hold themselves out as the authorities of Islam, the Perak Mufti’s office, Jaip, the Perak State Mosque and the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim).
From what I gathered, he was not there to cause trouble but merely to deepen his understanding.
The authorities were not happy as to how he was thinking and being unable to force him to think like them, decide to prosecute him.
Think about that for a second.
You can’t convince someone to think like you, so you prosecute them.
Think of how obscene that last sentence was. That is what is happening.
Wan Sulaiman was not a preacher, he was a private man. We know that the Government can control our freedom of expression (excessively), but to control our private thoughts?
Just to tell you what else they did, when they raided his home they took away his private notes (reminiscent of 1984’s Winston Smith and his diary). And when they found some of his notes pasted on a wall, they said that this was an offence as those thoughts were hanging in a “public space”. It was a wall in his house!
Now this poor man sits waiting for his day in court. His business has suffered, his family has shunned him, and he is suffering because he thinks differently from the authorities.
The Thought Police may not be so fictional after all.
A fund has been set up for Wan Sulaiman at https://freedom fund2015.wordpress.com/

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Joshua Wong...Super Villain!

Sin Chew Jit Poh
3 June 2015
 
Joshua Wong…what a superman!

 

You wouldn’t think it just by looking at him. If you don’t happen to know who this person is (and you would be in good company because Khairy Jamaluddin claims to be ignorant about this young man’s identity); just google him.

 

Look for his image and you will be faced with the skinniest, nerdiest, 18 year old you are ever likely to see. With his spectacles and bowl haircut, one would expect to see this young man moving from school to tuition centre and then home for more study seven days a week.

 

But no, he is one of the leaders of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. The “Umbrella Revolution” where thousands of mainly young people took to the streets of Hong Kong to demand greater democracy was a worldwide news item and Wong was at the forefront of that. This little chap even made the cover of Time magazine (obviously a publication not on the Minister of Youth and Sport’s reading list).

 

Well, this young man has been barred from entering Malaysia. He was due to speak at a forum but was stopped at the airport and sent home. The reasons given as to why he was sent packing is what amazed me. This fellow has been described in such a way that he is like a super villain or something.

 

The Minister for Home Affairs, Zahid Hamidi, called him a threat to national security. Really? He threatens our national security? How?

 

Maybe it’s because he calls for human rights and democracy. I guess that makes human rights and democracy a threat to national security. I always thought that national security threats would be things like terrorism and stuff like that. It never occurred to me that democracy is a threat.

 

But that is not all this Joshua chap is; according to the IGP, he is a danger to our relationship with China. Oh yes, China doesn’t like democracy, Joshua does, and by allowing him in to this country China will be so angry at us that they will do something bad to us I guess. Maybe they will stop sending their reflexologists to out foot massage shops.

 

Who would have thought that the UMNO led government and their agents would be so very concerned about the feelings of the Chinese? Oh, but I suppose this is China Chinese not Malaysian Chinese. Only the feelings of China Chinese need to be considered.

 

But that’s not all that Joshua is. He is also, according to that oh so rational organisation, ISMA, a Christian agent. Yes, you heard me right; they called him a Christian agent because he is openly a Christian. Just what he is supposed to be an agent for I don’t know. But I suppose in ISMA’s brain by virtue of being Christian you must be up to no good. Maybe Joshua will be so appealing to young people like him that thousands of nerdy skinny, be-spectacled Muslims kids will convert to Christianity.

 

If Joshua Wong reads this (which I doubt) I would like to wish him all the best in his future endeavours. I hope that his and his fellow Hong Kong citizens’ efforts will bear the fruit of freedom and democracy. I wish also to tell him that not all Malaysians are idiotic paranoids. But unfortunately, we are not the ones in power.

 

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Time for us to take a reality check

Brave New World (The Star)
27 May 2015

While human trafficking victims are dying, others are trying to score political points.

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LET’S take stock for a minute, shall we?
There are death camps in our country. Death camps. People are trafficked into our land by criminals, they die, they are thrown into holes, and left to rot. This is happening in Malaysia.
There are people who are dying at sea. And we are squabbling as to where to put them. People are dying but there’s still time to score political points.
There is a reportedly massive financial scandal where what looks like incompetence and graft has led to the loss of more money than a small country’s GDP. Yet we are not sure if those responsible will ever be brought to task.
There is at the moment an argument in court where lawyers are trying to convince judges that our Constitution means nothing when faced with anything to do with Syariah law. That the Syariah law is above the Constitution.
Our education system is in such a state that it has been admitted it would take four decades for it to be top class.
That is at least four generations of schoolchildren facing poor education standards.
Ordinary people are facing higher costs of living without any matching hike in salary. It won’t be long before young people will find it impossible to start their lives in the capital or any other major city, ma­­king the future look bleak for our youth.
Our civil liberties are being trampled upon so much that they might soon be illusory.
All these fears and concerns, and that is only from the past week.
What should we do? Make more children? To what end?
To live in a country which is so mired in problems on all possible levels: economic, legal, educational and social?
Making children requires a lot of faith. Faith that they will be healthy and that when they grow up they will have a future.
It takes hope. Hope that they will mature into men and women living in a country of peace, justice and economic security.
These are things sorely lacking in our country right now. This is something the Minister for Women, Fa­mily and Community Develop­ment did not deal with when speaking about our falling birth rate.
It is not surprising, though. The Government has been blind to the fact that the people in this country are unhappy and there is a pre­vailing sense of hopelessness.
They squabble over whom they want to be their glorious leader and everything else seems not to matter.
And do we have alternatives? Two years ago I would have said yes, absolutely. Today I am not sure.
The Opposition must get their act together and decide once and for all what they are going to be.
Leadership is not a mantle to be taken lightly. It is thankless and difficult. I admire all those who want to take it on for reasons other than self-enrichment.
But once grasped, then leadership must be shown. And right now there is an utter lack of quality on the part of those who are in power, and a lack of clarity among those who are seeking power.
This is where we are right now, the way I see it. It is getting harder and harder to be optimistic and hopeful.
Making children to join this miasma is simply the last thing one would be thinking about.

Friday, 22 May 2015

We Must Help the Boat People

Sin Chew Jit Poh
20 May 2015

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We have to help the Rohingya refugees who are at the time of writing hanging on precariously to life in the ocean. To do anything less will be cruel and inhuman.

 

I don’t buy any of the excuses made for not helping them. The one mainly used by the government is that they are a security threat. Just how they are a security threat is a mystery to me. That has not been properly explained at all. Perhaps there is a fear of floodgates opening and that if we show compassion for this lot, then others will come swarming in.

 

That is a flawed argument because it works on the premise that people come to Malaysia because our country is so great that they can’t help but want to come here. It does not take into consideration that people only leave their homes in a manner which risks all their belongings and even their lives, because they are forced to.

 

If anyone were to investigate even slightly into the conditions of life for the Rohingya in Myanmar; the lack of legal recognition by their own government; the physical attacks by the majority community; the terrible camps into which they are forced to live; then it becomes obvious that when they leave it is out of desperation and not a simple matter of seeking greener pastures.

 

Many other criticisms also don’t hold water. The idea that immigrants cause crime does not match the statistics which show that there is in no way a proportionately high number of crimes being committed by foreign nationals. And the fear that they bring disease is just a prejudice based on their general poverty. The H1NI flu that attacked this region did not come from refugees but moneyed travellers who came by aeroplane. We don’t see that stopping us from accepting international flights into our country.

 

Much has already been said about the obligations Malaysia has under international customary law (we have a responsibility to give basic aid to refugees) and also the need to just show a bit of common decency to people who are literally dying off our shores. So what I wish to discuss here is why we came to this situation in the first place. The Rohingya situation came about because the Myanmar government has treated them appallingly. That is the bottom line. The bulk of the responsibility of course rests there.

 

However Myanmar is part of ASEAN and what is ASEAN’s responsibility here? What has ASEAN done to stop the situation from reaching this level? I would argue very little or nothing.

 

ASEAN’s much protected principle of non-interference is said to have kept the peace in the region for decades. But taken too far, it could create terrible situations; like the one we have now. By simply allowing the Myanmar regime to continue their policies with the Rohingyas, and not intervening in any way so as to uphold the principle of non-interference, ASEAN has allowed a national issue become an international problem.

 

ASEAN has been (mostly) highly reluctant to truly take on board the ideals of human rights. Many of the nations have no wish to practice it and even less to try to get it respected in their neighbours’ jurisdictions. The result is the crisis we are facing now. By not respecting the human rights of the Rohingyas and by not insisting that the Myanmar government does the same in the first place, ASEAN has inadvertently created a humanitarian crisis.