Wednesday, 9 December 2009
December 10, 2009
"If You Are Not The One, or The Man Who Can’t Be Moved, it makes no sense to be told I’ve Never Been To Me."
IT has been a rather busy week and I have found it impossible to write coherently (please, no snide remarks) about any of the current affairs that are happening, errrr, currently.
So I thought why not take a break from politics, law, governance and all that, to write about something fun, like music.
The first idea that popped into my head was to write about the songs of the best band in the history of bands, the Beatles. With any luck this free publicity might encourage Apple Corp to give me a set of the newly re-mastered albums.
However, knowing that Apple is no longer the happy hippy body it used to be in the 60s, when their headquarters was also a shop where people just took what they wanted (“hey man ... don’t be such a square ... it’s only your things I’m taking, not your mojo”), I realised there was little hope of this.
Furthermore, where’s the fun in me gushing about a band that I have loved since I was six? It would be far more interesting to write about songs I loathe; songs that actually set my teeth on edge.
These are quite popular songs mind you, and I expect that some of you probably love them and have a special place in your heart for them. If this is so, I offer no apologies and I await with pleasure your vitriolic e-mails about how I am a philistine.
Let us begin with that drippiest of drippy songs, If You’re Not The One by Daniel Bedingfield. If ever there was a song written by some pathetic little 16-year-old who has never had a girlfriend in his life, this is it.
I don’t know if Bedingfield wrote this when he was a loveless little oik sitting in the back of the classroom gazing longingly at the prettiest girl in school who looks at him as though he was something she scrapped off the sole of her shoe, but it sure sounds like it.
The singing is whiny and the rhyming makes Hallmark sound like Keats. Clumsy attempts like “If I don’t need you, why am I crying in my bed. If I don’t need you, why does your name resound in my head.”
“Resound in my head”? That gives rise to some serious imagery (unintentional, I am sure, as anyone who can write such drivel can’t possibly understand imagery) of a rather empty cranium.
The next song is similar to the first in that it is what a drummer friend of mine classifies as “loser music”. The difference being that while If You’re Not The One is just wet, this one steps over the line into downright creepy. The Man Who Can’t Be Moved by The Script, is a perfect example of how an idea put to music may actually sound quite sweet, but when you listen carefully to the words, this is not something that you would want to happen to you in real life.
OK, here’s what it’s about. Some dude, meets a girl on a corner, falls in love and waits there for her – for months. He can’t be moved. He’s got a photo of her which he shows strangers walking by. He hopes to appear on the news so that she could see him.
Now, imagine if this was real life. You meet some guy on some street corner, no less. You don’t like him enough to give him your phone number or e-mail. You don’t like him enough to ask him for his.
Next thing you know, this person is on TV news with your picture, pleading for you to come see him. And he’s been standing there on that street for months, through sun and monsoon.
Seriously, are you going to say “awww, how sweet, he must really truly love me, I must run to his arms this very minute” or are you going to call the police and try to get this guy locked up in Tanjung Rambutan? He’s a nut case potential stalker, for crying out loud!
The last song is the one I hate the most. I have saved the best for last.
In case you are unsure, I am not a woman. However, if I were a woman, this is the last thing I would want to happen to me.
I am in a hypermarket buying groceries. One hand is trying to control the trolley with a wonky wheel; the other is holding a baby who is crying and has also just pooped himself.
Pulling at my pasar malam skirt is a three-year-old little brat (just like his no good fat father) demanding I buy him chocolates. I am at the end of my tether.
Then suddenly from around the aisle comes this woman dressed in Donna Karan, Hermes handbag on her shoulder, clicking away in her Jimmy Choos. She looks at me and with a simpering smile, comes up to me and says in a so-called “understanding” whimper: “Hey lady, you lady, cursing at your life. You’re a discontented mother and a regimented wife”.
Then she goes wittering on and on and on about how she has travelled to Greece, sailed on a yacht, been wined and dined by kings and basically lived a life that would have taken up an entire episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
At the end of it, she tells me that I am the lucky one. Hell, the last time I went on holiday was to Fat Husband’s company retreat in Port Dickson and I spent the whole time taking care of the kids.
I swear, if I were a woman and some rich bimbo comes up to me like in Charlene’s I’ve Never Been To Me, I would slap her so hard, she’d think she was back in Monte Carlo where she moved like Harlow.
Anyway, that is all folks, one of these days, I may write about movies I can’t stand.
Wednesday, 25 November 2009
26 November 2009
ON Sunday night I was with a group of chaps and we were jumping, dancing and shouting with joy.
Looking back now, it occurred to me that if someone had photographed us, we would have made wonderful poster boys for unity (albeit highly unattractive poster boys). We were your classic Melayu, Cina, India group (with apologies to my indigenous fellow citizens).
No, I was not taking part in some plastic 1Malaysia campaign. This moment was a genuine one with real feeling. The reason for our unbridled muhibbah celebrations was Tottenham Hotspur’s 9–1 victory over Wigan.
It was an amazing night which started (as it always does with long-suffering Spurs fans) with cautious optimism, building to happiness at what was looking like a solid victory, and culminating in ecstatic disbelief that we were watching a historical game unfold.
I suppose the authentic nature of our oneness that night was due to the fact that we shared a common goal and a common endeavour.
And that is the key to any true sense of unity – an overarching ideal that transcends petty differences like the colour of your skin, the god/s that you worship and the food that you eat.
I have written before about gross displays of racism in this country. And I have been critical of those in power who pander to such feelings, indeed, who perpetuate it with their bigoted gesturing.
I have called many times for governance that does away completely with ethnic-based policies and laws.
These elements remain in our country and they continue to scupper any efforts of achieving a sense of Malaysian-ness.
All efforts must be made to exorcise them from our national psyche and system of governance. However, it would be folly to wait for these “big” issues to be settled before we did anything.
We must not fall back on our old “Hang Tuah” complex wishing for some hero to come swooping down and with a Herculean effort solve all our problems overnight.
Instead, we must reclaim our country by making changes ourselves, within our own personal orbits.
And we must make it clear to those who lead and who wish to lead, that we will tolerate no such garbage from them.
In this light, I was happy and honoured to take part in the launch of the Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia movement in Penang on Nov 15.
The SABM is a non-aligned movement made up of volunteers who are basically spreading the message of creating a Malaysia where our different cultures are celebrated but with the belief that we are all Malaysians first.
They advocate a non-ethnic brand of politics and governance with the protection of our human rights via the Federal Constitution (for more information go to http://www.saya anakbangsamalaysia.net/)
Although they are not aligned to any political party, it does not mean they are not political.
By this I mean they advocate that citizens use their power to voice dissent (at the very least through the ballot box) and to push for change from the grassroots up.
In this way, the SABM does not provide yet another organisation seeking a leadership role; instead it aims to empower citizens to instigate changes themselves.
An interesting aspect of the launch in Penang was that the organisers had requested Malay participants to bring a friend who was not of their ethnic group and vice-versa.
It came as no surprise to me to find that the majority of the participants (despite their obvious earnestness) were unable to do so.
To me, this shows that where ethnic relations are concerned, this country has reached a crisis point.
True, we have not (yet) got the experience of skinhead fascists prowling the streets, but in a way our situation is more perilous as it is quiet and swept under the carpet by superficial shows of supposed unity.
We have accepted racism as a way of life and when it happens, it is seen as a norm.
Using a trite example: How often have you seen advertisements for housemates with an ethnic prerequisite?
And no one blinks an eyelid, because we have allowed this to be part of our flesh and blood.
The number of participants at the SABM launch was small, and as I said, it did not go on as the organisers had hoped it would.
However, instead of finding this discouraging, I find it means that such movements like the SABM are needed more than ever.
They are taking their message across the country starting early next year, and it is a message that has to go out.
Yes, they are idealistic and yes, they are utopian. And I count myself as one of those idealistic people longing for a Utopia.
Unrealistic? Perhaps. But without such higher hopes and goals, we will forever be squabbling and scratching around in the divisive, exclusionary, bigoted, unkind, nation state of our own making.
In the meantime, every time there is a Spurs match on, I will be watching it with my pals.
And I am secure in the knowledge that they see me not as Azmi Sharom, Melayu, but Azmi Sharom the loyal Spurs supporter who can’t analyse a game to save his life.
Postscript: I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Arsenal fans for having the second highest margin of victory so far in this season.
November 12, 2009
"Our own laziness and lack of self-belief are producing high-handed action by some authorities."
THERE are about 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. Broadly speaking, these 1.5 billion are divided into two distinct denominations; the Sunni and the Shi’ite.
The Sunnis are further broken into four major schools of thought (or mazhab) and these are the Shafii, Hambali, Maliki and Hanafi.
The Shi’ites have three major mazhab and these are the Twelvers, Ismailis and Zaidis.
Within each broad denomination and mazhab there are further groupings and ideologies.
Amongst the Sunnis for example there are the literalist Salafis (which Saudi Arabian Wahhabism falls under).
Then there are certain cross-denominational movements like the mystical Sufis.
Any basic textbook will describe these different schools of thought within the Muslim world.
It is nothing particularly new or exciting.
Well, it can be exciting if one who is raised in the Sunni tradition finds oneself in an Ismaili mosque, not knowing it is an Ismaili mosque.
This is what happened to me many years ago.
I had found a mosque within walking distance from my house in Middlesex, England.
It looked very nice and I thought it would be good to go to Friday prayers there.
I should have guessed this was not Shafii territory anymore when I saw that everyone was dressed in the same kind of robe and when the prayers did not seem to have any end in sight.
Standing out like a sore thumb in my black jeans and black leather jacket, I prostrated along with the rest for what seemed to be a heck lot of prostrations until finally, at the end of what was the umpteenth prayer, the gentleman next to me kindly said, “We are finished now, you can go home.”
My point is that within the rich tapestry of world religions, even within a particular religion, there will be many differing views and ways of thinking.
It is an unfortunate but natural tendency amongst followers of a particular faith or even a group within a particular faith to think that they have the real deal and that everyone else is either wrong or misguided in some way.
I remember a Methodist pastor telling me with some amusement how a Catholic once said to him, in all earnestness, “you know, we Catholics view you Protestants as Christian, too.”
As a pluralist, I would like to think that all people have a right to believe what they want in any way they want; the only proviso being the golden rule, which is to not do unto others what you would not want done unto you.
In other words, if you aren’t hurting anyone, go ahead and do what you are happy with.
This is of course not the way things are in Malaysia.
Although our Constitution guarantees religious freedom to all people, it does place restrictions on proselytising to Muslims.
This includes Muslim-to-Muslim proselytising, which is why we have laws requiring permits and the like for anyone to preach to Muslims.
Datuk Dr Muhammad Asri Zainul Abidin, the former Mufti of Perlis, experienced this law first-hand when he was arrested by the Selangor Islamic Department.
The question here is why we should have such laws in the first place.
It has been argued that such laws are necessary to ensure public order.
There have been arguments, for example, that Dr Asri has been preaching a brand of Islam that is different from mainstream Malaysian orthodoxy and this has caused “unease” amongst Muslims who have heard him speak.
This is of course conjecture. Besides, if some sensitive souls may be uncomfortable with what we say, it would be a rather pathetic reason to curb such a fundamental right as the freedom of speech.
Short of incitement to violence, there should be no limitations on speech.
However, let us assume this was the case, that Dr Asri had been causing “unease”.
The question then becomes, why on earth is this so?
I have read some of his works and there are times I agree very strongly with him.
For example, his attacks on “khalwat squads”, poor treatment of Muslim converts by those in authority and the downright narrow-minded practice of not allowing non-Muslims into mosques.
I believe these were necessary stands to take.
Coming from a person with the requisite “qualifications” and goatee, I was hoping such statements would begin to take the practice of Islam in this country away from petty perversions, racist dogma and exclusivity.
I don’t agree with some of the other things he has said, for example his criticism of the Islam Liberal movement in Indonesia.
But surely that’s the point: he has his views and one is at liberty to agree or disagree.
The reason why there is “unease” is because for generations, Muslims in this country have not been encouraged to think for themselves.
On the contrary, we are told to obey those who know better, and that is that.
So, when an authority figure says something different from another authority figure, there is a moral panic of sorts.
To me the root issue here is not Dr Asri’s right to speak.
Instead, it is about a mindset of subservience to religious authority that is so entrenched that the very thought of ideas different from the mainstream is enough to “justify” high-handed action.
The Islamic authorities in this country prefer to keep the Muslim populace in their thrall.
In that way, their word is law, and their power and influence are maintained.
And we, through laziness and lack of self-belief, have let them do so. The arrest of Dr Asri is the logical conclusion of this state of affairs.
October 29, 2009
"Those who should know better are forgetting the values enshrined in our Constitution, thus the Bar Council’s education campaign."
DO you remember VK Lingam? You don’t? Let me refresh your memory.
He is a lawyer who, at least at one point, was said to have had a lot of influence on the judiciary. So much influence in fact that he was found to have been brokering judicial positions.
Normally I am coy about making blunt statements like this, due to memories (vague and sleepy as they are) of my classes on the topic of defamation, but this is not me making a bold statement. This is the finding of the Royal Commission established to investigate the authenticity of a videotape which had VK Lingam in it.
The video shows Lingam talking to a judge and promising to ensure his promotion. The Commission found that the tape was real; the person talking on the tape was VK Lingam; he was talking to Judge Ahmad Fairuz; and indeed the appointment and promotion of judges do appear to have been open to manipulation from private citizens and members of the Cabinet (in the case of that video, Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor).
Do you remember now? Correct, correct, correct, he is the man in the scandalous Lingam tape.
Well, it seems that the Commission’s proposal that these men be investigated under several laws (such as the Anti-Corruption Act) is not going to be taken to the logical conclusion of a trial, because the government has decided there is not enough evidence.
Bizarre, isn’t it?
You have a tape with serious implications about our judiciary and prima facie unsavoury activities authenticated by a Royal Commission, and they say there is not enough evidence.
Come on, just last week Tian Chua the Pakatan MP was found guilty of biting a policeman on, at least as reported in the press, little more evidence than the policeman in question basically saying “he bit me, honest he did, he bit me.”
How much evidence do you need?
Why is this a serious matter? Well, the judiciary is a crucial part of our system of government; a system of government which, according to the Constitution, practices a separation of powers.
That is to say, to ensure that despotism does not rule, the people who make the laws (Parliament), the people who enforce the laws (Cabinet) and the people who decide on any question of law (the judiciary) are kept apart to avoid any one body or person from having absolute power.
The judiciary must therefore be as independent as possible so that they can do their job without fear or favour, and so that the citizens of the country can have faith in the system.
If we do not want to live in a dictatorship, then an independent judiciary is a fundamental element of our system of governance that must be protected.
Having lawyers brokering positions in the judiciary along with Cabinet ministers in the tawdriest manner imaginable does not bode well for the independence of the judiciary or its dignity.
This matter is important to the founders of this nation, which is why you find it enshrined in the Constitution.
The Constitution is the document that lays down all the basic principles required to run our country in a particular manner. Ours has determined that our country is one which practices a secular, democratic system with separation of powers.
Without this foundation, the governance of this country will be rudderless and its citizens bereft of important protections spelt out in the Constitution.
The importance of this document cannot be emphasised enough, and in this light it is heartening that the Bar Council’s Constitutional Law Committee has decided to launch a first-of-its-kind awareness programme called the My Constitution Campaign (Kempen Perlembagaan Ku).
I really dislike campaigns. They usually smack of lip service and sometimes are embarrassing (1Toilet anyone?), but this is one campaign that I think is necessary.
It will basically be about spreading information regarding the Constitution to the Malaysian public in a style that is easily understood and digested.
This will take the form of booklets, citizen service advertisements and public forums.
The campaign begins at 3pm on Nov 13 at the Bar Council (open to all), and hopefully they will enjoy some success.
Now, I do not for one second believe that the My Constitution Campaign is going to create an entire population well versed in the Constitution.
I have no delusions that people will be talking about it with the same vigour as they do about whatever reality singing and dancing programme on the telly right now, but what I hope it will achieve is to ensure that those of us who do care about our lives and our futures; those who think that good governance and justice are important aspects of life, will at least have a better understanding of this, the supreme law of the nation, which was created with those values as its ideals.
It is an understanding that those who have decided to drop the Lingam case seem to lack.
October 15, 2009
"The Nobel Peace Prize should not be given lightly, and neither should corruption and political office be mentioned in the same breath."
WHAT a funny week it has been. One man gets a prize despite having done nothing to deserve it and another gets a prize despite having done something which should have prevented him from getting it.
I am speaking of US President Barack Obama and local politician Tan Sri Mohd Isa Samad. Boy, I never thought I’d use these two names in the same sentence.
Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize came out of the blue and of course the question on everybody’s mind was, what on earth did he do to deserve it?
Apparently it is for the “hope” that he has given to a world totally “bushed” from America’s cowboy “diplomacy” of the past eight years.
Well, if making people feel good is a factor to be considered for the Nobel Peace Prize then I nominate Barry Manilow for bringing joy to countless millions of housewives around the world (with his music, of course).
Another reason given by the Nobel people is the “potential” that he has shown for bringing peace to the world. This is very weird. For one thing, his “potential” has not been particularly promising.
America is still at war in Iraq and Afghanistan and in fact its presence in Afghanistan appears to be getting even stronger, what with the call from the senior US military commander there, General Stanley A. McChrystal, for 40,000 more troops.
And the so-called peace process between Palestine and Israel sees America basically letting the Israelis do whatever they want.
Jewish settlements in Arab land continues, United Nations Human Rights Council Judge Richard Goldstone’s (a Jew incidentally) condemnation on the attacks on Gaza is brushed aside by the United States and the Palestinians are told to go to the negotiating table with no conditions attached, basically tying their hands behind their backs.
So, forgive me if I don’t see how Obama is going to achieve this “potential” as the architect, or at the very least a big wheel in the achievement of world peace.
And what if he doesn’t live up to this expectation? What if things get worse? Does he have to give the prize back?
Don’t get me wrong, Obama is so much more palatable than Bush and I’m certain diplomatic ties between America and the rest of the world is going to be much, much better under him.
But the Nobel Peace Prize should not be given lightly and the reasons why he has been bestowed this honour seems to me to be rather frivolous and premature.
Now, over to our little corner of the world. Isa Abdul Samad has given something for the Umno people to crow about.
He won the by-election in Bagan Pinang and added some 3,000 votes to Umno’s majority.
This is Umno’s first major victory in all the by-elections after the 2008 general election.
It’s all a little strange because Isa, as everybody knows, was found guilty of money politics by his own party and has just served out his punishment.
Some may say that the man has “done his time” and should not be stopped from competing in the elections.
Normally I would agree, but not in this case. Money politics is corruption; it is not a “technical offence”, whatever that might be.
In light of the fact that corruption is one of the banes of Malaysian public life, choosing him as their candidate (and now having him as an assemblyman) is to my mind akin to allowing a convicted paedophile to be a kindergarten teacher after he has served his time.
There are some offences which should bar one from certain jobs.
Corruption and political office is one of those situations.
Having said that, the people of Bagan Pinang obviously do not consider corruption to be such a big issue, which is why they gave Isa such a nice majority.
What is interesting to note is the very large (40%) swing among non-Malay voters away from the Pakatan. Whatever their reasons for this loss in faith, Pakatan, in particular PAS, has to take note.
They have to figure out what went wrong and try to rectify it. Denial and angry accusations are not going to help.
It’s been a funny old week. We have two men, both receiving prizes that maybe should not have gone to them.
Only the future can tell if this will have any significant effect at all.
October 1, 2009
"Childhood is the time of great innocence. Friends will be friends because we get along, and there’s no ‘other’."
I WENT to Francis Light 1 primary school in Jalan Perak. This was in Penang, naturally, because which other state will have a school named after Francis Light?
The school was (is) in a poor part of town and most of the children were street smart and tough.
I, on the other hand, was a soft suburbanite who only went to this school, miles away from home, because of my father’s strange “sense of history”.
I suppose Sekolah Bukit Lancang does not have the same historical resonance as “Francis Light”.
Be that as it may, I had a wonderful time there, partly due to the fact that I was fat and too large to be picked on by my fellow undernourished pupils.
I am not one for sentimentality, but looking back, it was indeed a time of great innocence.
My “best friend” depended on who sat next to me.
So, in Standard One, it was a little chap with curly hair called Syed.
We used to play on the roots of the giant trees surrounding our school, pretending that if we fell off, the “buaya” would eat us; very exciting stuff, and not a Gameboy in sight.
In Standard Three, my best mate was Alan.
Strangely enough, we have both ended up on the same career path.
He, too, is a law lecturer, but he’s on the wrong side of the Causeway.
Unfortunate for us, as he is a far better academic than me.
Standard Four saw me perpetually hanging around with Ganesan, a kid fatter than myself who had a wonderful brain rich with imagination.
Obsessed as he was by food, he was convinced that heaven was a place where everything was made of edible stuff.
Knowing my dietary restrictions and concerned about his pal after death, Ganesan once told me, “Azmi, in heaven, you don’t have to worry. You can eat pork because the pigs will be made of pink jelly.”
I think he has emigrated to Australia.
In my last year there, I was in a little gang of misfits consisting of Sultan, Zahir and Suresh — I think that was his name.
Oh, but I’m getting old; I can see his face so clearly and remember that he was petrified of cockroaches, but what is his name?
Friends were friends because we got along. That’s all.
And teachers were liked or disliked because of what they did.
Cikgu Syed was well respected because he was cool.
Mr Goh could play the guitar and sing; groovy.
Cikgu Zubaidah was loved because she was utterly dedicated to us.
And there was Mrs Gopal who was rather feared because she was such a disciplinarian.
So much so that when I bumped into her on the streets while I was in Form 3 and she looked at me and said “Ah, Azmi, why are you not in school”, I trembled and mumbled some excuse about it being break time between SRP papers.
The fact that by then I was a head and a half taller than her made no difference at all.
There are others, of course, friends and teachers. Some were enemies and some were seriously disliked, but the point is there was no sense of the “other”.
“Unity” depended purely on personality. That is the way with children.
But when you have a situation where the “real world” divides us and insists on our differences, whatever childhood innocence will dissipate and be replaced with something else. Something divisive and exclusionary.
In this light, will the idea of having a “multiracial hostel” be anything more than simply a PR exercise? I seriously doubt it.
As long as we go on the way we are, as long as our system of governance does not change, as long as there is no true sense of belonging for all people in this nation, then any superficial attempt at “national unity” will be as illusory as pink jelly pigs.
September 17, 2009
"George Town as a Unesco heritage site may have to play second fiddle to ‘twin’ Malacca if petty politics gets in the way of responsible governance."
IN November last year, then Prime Minister Datuk Seri (now Tun) Abdullah Badawi said that RM50mil would be allocated to Penang and Malacca for conservation purposes. That’s RM25mil each.
The reason for this is because the cities of George Town and Malacca are on the Unesco World Heritage list. This means that in the eyes of the UN, our two cities are of such value and worth that they are a heritage, not just for Malaysia but for the entire planet.
Quite an honour really and our Prime Minister at the time recognised this. Good for him, I say.
Both the towns have truly beautiful bits (I grew up on the island and have over the years enjoyed many an evening strolling the streets of Malacca); but they both need money to conserve, preserve and restore those beautiful bits.
Then, this week, I read that the money was not going to Penang. I have no solid news as to whether it is going to Malacca or not, but the minister in charge, Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim, most definitely said the money would not be given to Penang.
He said that the money promised by Abdullah was a “misconception”.
This got me to scratching my head. How can “The Federal Government is going to give Penang RM25mil for conservation purposes” be misconceived?
It’s not as if Abdullah said something vague like “The Federal Government is going to give a town somewhere in the north of the peninsular an undisclosed amount of money for some purpose or other. Maybe.”
But then, I am not surprised really. Rais once wrote an impassioned plea to rid the nation of the ISA and then later said it was a fine and dandy law. I guess his book was a misconception.
I am also not surprised because Penang is no longer under Barisan Nasional rule. Malacca still is, and from my informants I gather that 40 heritage projects have been appro-ved there.
This is not the only example of differential treatment. Agriculture Minister Datuk Noh Omar gave an order in July to all civil servants in his ministry to not attend meetings with opposition state governments, upon pain of disciplinary hearings.
He said this is because money for agriculture projects come from the Federal Government, so why should they cooperate with the Opposition state governments?
Let me explain a little about federalism to these two gentlemen. In a federal system, you have a Federal Government with its own powers. You have state governments with their own powers. They each exist in their own worlds but there will be situations where they have to cooperate, and there will be situations where they have responsibilities to one another.
Now, if the Federal Government has a responsibility, for example, to develop agriculture or if it placed the responsibility upon itself, like making a promise for money to be used for heritage conservation, then it has to live up to that responsibility.
This is a responsibility between two governments — federal and state. It is not about political parties. This is a question of good governance, and once elections are over those in power have a duty to us, the people of this country, to get on with governing properly, fairly and indiscriminately.
The people of Penang, indeed the world, will risk seeing a heritage site neglected. For what? Cheap political points?
I would also like to remind Rais that once a site has been declared a world heritage, then the nation has an international obligation to care for it. Being the sophisticated man of the world that he is, well versed in international laws, I am sure he understands this.
Yesterday was Malaysia Day. We have come a long way in terms of infrastructure and wealth. It’s a shame that our political maturity is still so stunted that we are unable to draw a line between governance and party.
If we are to blossom into the true democratic country that we have the potential to be, then it is high time we grew up.
Wednesday, 2 September 2009
September 3, 2009
"Not only must we condemn the cow-head protest in Shah Alam last week but we must look into ourselves and make sure we don’t think and speak like racists."
The cow-head protest in Shah Alam last week left me feeling utterly disgusted. The men who organised and participated in that foul act are nothing but rank racists, and by cloaking their activities in a veil of piousness they show themselves to be even more despicable.
Yes, I was furious, but sadly I was not surprised. How can I be and how can anyone else be? We have allowed racists to have their way for so many years now.
Their appalling words and actions get progressively bolder and it just builds and builds until we have these men feeling they have the right to insult another religion in the most vile and brutal manner.
In the light of how Malay and Islamic supremacist thinking and expression have caught hold in the last few years, this sickening behaviour is simply a natural progression.
It happened because we allowed it to happen. Those bigoted thugs did what they did because we did not stamp down on the racists among us hard.
We allowed racist politicians to spout their garbage about “immigrant races”; we allowed them to tell our brothers and sisters to “go back to where you belong”; we allowed them to wave weapons of war; and we allowed them to ask for the weapons to be bathed in blood.
It’s too late for any politician to condemn something now when all the other acts of bigotry that have been brewing in the past few years were not even protested against because they suited their political needs.
It is too late to be making pleas of unity on National Day when not enough has been done before.
Let’s look at something recent. Two books that attacked the Mentri Besar of Selangor and Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim are blatantly racist.
They claim that Selangor is for Malays only. They claim that the Pakatan Rakyat state government threatens Malays because they hire non-Malay staff.
In other words, the government must only hire Malays so that only Malays get benefits from the government. This is racism pure and simple. But because it suits the ruling party, as these books attack Pakatan, nothing is said.
Racism is racism, be it some vile words published in some cheap self-published drivel, or a bleeding cow head stomped and spat upon. Racism is racism and it must be fought.
When it is not fought, when it is not faced down every single time, then those without the courage to fight it are merely accomplices who, through their cowardice or selfishness, support it.
And how should we fight it? The law that should be used is the Penal Code. The Sedition Act is a blunderbuss of a law and could be used against genuine dissent as well. Let us not look to that archaic leaving of the British.
Use the provisions in the Penal Code that make incitement an offence. Charge these people under the Penal Code and lock them away.
But that is for the authorities to do, if they so choose to. We, the people, must look into ourselves and make sure we don’t think and speak like racists. We must be even more careful that we do not infect our children.
We should speak out against racism and we should tell our political leaders that if they do not fight racism then they are supporting racism and we will not support them.
We must make sure that what happened in Shah Alam faces utter and complete public contempt. Only in that way can we ensure it is not repeated.
(El: But Azmi, yours is an increasingly lonely and disregarded voice.)
Tuesday, 28 July 2009
July 23, 2009
"There is need to find out for certain what happened in the case of Teoh Beng Hock and to punish those who are responsible."
I hope there will be an independent Royal Commission of Inquiry formed to investigate the tragic death of Teoh Beng Hock. Anything less will simply not satisfy our demand for the truth.
Unfortunately for the nation, faith in the legal system of this country is very low. Therefore, for the sake of answering the many questions surrounding this young man’s death, a body which is outside the system and is trusted to be impartial must be created and left alone to do its job.
There is absolutely no point in telling the people to place their trust in the police investigation. In high profile political cases like these, the police are, rightly so, seen as little more than the servant not of the people but of the government of the day.
The MACC interrogated this young man for hours. He was not even a suspect, merely a witness. Yet they kept him in custody into the early hours of the morning.
This may appear to be a determination to do one’s duty to the utmost (after all corruption is corruption even if it involves RM10).
But the issue is not simply about fighting corruption, it is about double standards.
The victim was a worker for the Selangor Pakatan government. Specifically, he was working for a DAP member of the state legislative body.
There are huge cases of supposed corruption in Selangor, yet, the MACC or its previous incarnation the ACA has not tackled these cases with even the slightest bit of enthusiasm as they have with the DAP state legislators accused of wrong doing.
Why is this so? It is because this is a political case and if Teoh had not been working for who he did, he would not have been in that building at all.
It is, however, not a racial case. At the small vigil held at the MACC building the day Teoh died, and at the Kelana Jaya rally, not once did anyone mention race.
Not one person accused the MACC of being Malay bigots. It was not mentioned by the speakers or even people in the crowd.
People were angry, yes, but they were angry over the needless death of a young Malaysian man, not a young ethnic Chinese man.
They were angry at what they think was the abuse of power by MACC officers, not the abuse of power by Malay officers.
And here you have some saying that the outrage felt by the people is racially based and an attempt to topple a Malay institution.
Malay institution? The MACC stands for Malaysian Anti-Corrup-tion Commission, not Malay Anti-Corruption Commission. Either these people are too moronic to see the difference, or they are up to something more insidious.
By painting this as a race issue instead of what it truly is, a human rights and democracy issue, they seek to divert attention from the crux of the matter.
It is also possible that they truly believe that government institutions like the MACC are supposed to be Malay institutions, in which case they show themselves to be the utter racists that they are and, if this is so, they should be treated with nothing but the utmost contempt.
A young man with his entire future ahead of him died needlessly last week. He leaves behind a grieving family, a devastated fiancée and an unborn child who will grow up without a father.
On the most basic compassionate level, the need to find out for certain what happened and to punish those who are responsible is imperative.
But the death of Teoh Beng Hock is more than just about the death of one man. It is about the future of democracy in this nation.
At a time when young men and women feel the change in the air, when they feel a difference can finally come and they seek to do nothing more than serve the public in thankless tasks, they see that this desire to do good can be rewarded with death. What does this bode for the future?
Teoh’s story is a tragedy for those who loved him and those who knew him.
It is also, sadly, a tragedy for the entire nation; a tragedy made all the worse if we do not go on striving for the values and ideals that this young man obviously believed in.
The creation of an independent investigative body is necessary.
May you rest in peace, Beng Hock.
July 9, 2009
"The recent squabbles within Pakatan Rakyat show up its deficiencies, that it still has much to learn about governance."
The importance of the last general election and the creation of Pakatan Rakyat is that it gave the hope of a viable two-party system.
For a true democracy to exist, we need a two- or multi-party system, with governments actually changing every now and then.
Thus when March 8 occurred, the thrill for me was the possibility of Malaysia getting a real and vibrant democracy.
However, for this hope to be a long-term sustainable reality, the Pakatan has a lot to do; it has to consolidate its grip. This ought to be done on three levels with three different roles to play collectively.
The first level is with regard to the state governments. The governments of Penang, Kelantan, Kedah and Selangor just have to knuckle down and work hard as the administrators. They have to prove their ability to keep things running well, and to keep their promises, too. Theirs is an administrative role.
The second level is in the hands of the MPs in Parliament. They should keep the pressure on Barisan Nasional by being more vocal in and out of Parliament, questioning decisions and pointing out wrongdoings. With their larger numbers, they can be a more powerful presence in the legislature. Theirs is a political role.
The third level is with the Pakatan coalition itself. It has to prove cohesiveness in direction, ambition and philosophy. It is understood of course that there are some differences that are insurmountable, but politics in Malaysia is nothing if not a series of compromises. What is vital is that the compromises in the Pakatan be seen to not tear it apart. This is what can be described as the role of leadership.
The past few weeks have seen the Pakatan floundering in at least two of these levels: the administrative and leadership.
With regard to the administrative issue, I believe that by and large the Pakatan state governments have been working hard. There have been successes particularly in Penang, Selangor and, prior to the change, Perak. It needs, however, to concentrate on a few matters.
One of the most important in my view is to act like the government that they are, and to portray this effectively to the people.
Concentrate on keeping election promises as well as proving that corruption will not be tolerated, and efficiency will be improved and real paradigm shifts will occur.
Small political games like taking every opportunity to throw jabs at the Barisan should not be the job of the state governments, in particular the heads of government.
The Penang Chief Minister in particular seems to have forgotten that he is the boss man now, not the hired muscle. Political street fighting should be left to the MPs, and I think they are more than able to do it. Only by acting like statesmen can the state administrations convince the people that they have it in them to govern.
The recent Kedah fiasco is also another sign of poor governance, but I disagree with Information, Communications and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim, who says it is an indication that the Pakatan cannot work and that there are inherent flaws in the coalition.
The problem in Kedah arose not because the PAS government acted like PAS; it arose because it acted like Umno. The allocation of 50% of a housing project to Malays is not what the Pakatan believes in.
Why is it so difficult for PAS to stop thinking along racial lines and start thinking along the lines of economic need?
This is not merely a Pakatan ideal; it is also a PAS ideal. It was, after all, PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat himself who insisted that in Islamic eyes, there is no such thing as race.
The destruction of the state’s only pig abattoir was insensitive and contrary to the tolerant approach taken by the Kelantan PAS government. If the Kedah PAS government had acted in a way that matched the coalition’s ideals and indeed, PAS’ ideals, then these problems would not have arisen.
The Pakatan also needs to have stronger leadership. Granted that what PKR strategic director Tian Chua says is true, the Pakatan is clearly more democratic than the Barisan as it does allow for quite open disagreements.
However, there is healthy disagreement and then there is outright subversion of purpose.
I am speaking of course about PAS youth wanting to play footsie with Umno youth. These “unity discussions” are an outright disgrace on several levels.
First, the entire premise of such talks is racially based. Malay unity seems to be the primary concern, no matter what language is used by the two groups in couching the terms of their courtship.
Again, we see the race card being played when it is fundamentally against the whole ethos of the Pakatan. One has to wonder then why this game is being played.
If it is done in the hope of PAS politicians securing their future with Umno, perhaps a cushy ministerial post, then the Pakatan leadership must show the necessary toughness to stop such behaviour in its tracks.
And this must be done not in some namby-pamby way but with determination and force. Anything less reveals a lack of backbone to stand by your own ideals and principles.
There has been some good recently coming from the opposition. I like the idea of the shadow Cabinet committees. It is a step in the right direction, although I have reservations about Kulim Bandar Baru MP Zulkifli Nordin being in the Higher Education Committee.
I can’t see how a man who can disrupt a peaceful discussion organised by the Bar Council – and thus disrespecting fundamental freedoms – can be of any use in a committee dealing with higher education.
Higher education, after all, is about the dissemination and exchange of ideas. Such a person is not suited to be on this committee and one wonders then if the Pakatan pool is so small that it has to choose this person.
Be that as it may, the committee idea shows a desire to have a more cohesive approach in parliamentary opposition, and it ought to be applauded. However, the Pakatan still has a lot to do to get its house in order. It is important for us, the people, to not forget the bigger picture, and that is the need for a sustainable two-party system.
But such lofty ideals are beyond most folk. They make decisions based on what they can see; and the Pakatan had better show them something solid as administrators, politicians and leaders. It’s only got, at the most, three more years to do so.
June 25, 2009
"The little sneak was secretly chatting to his ex-girlfriend who he had dated in the 70s and 80s with disastrous results."
Dear Aunty Selma,
I never thought that I would be the type of person to write to a newspaper Agony Aunt, but really I am at my wits end and I do not know what to do.
It all started last year. I met this man and at first I was a little wary of him. I mean he was nice and well mannered, but sometimes he was a little conservative for my tastes.
But eventually after we got to know each other better, I thought that on the more important things, we saw eye to eye.
It was a whirlwind romance and we had such an exciting time. Many friends thought our relationship was a breath of fresh air. So, in this heady atmosphere, we decided to get married. We had a truly amazing wedding last March.
Then, before the honeymoon period was even over, he started to act really strange. He kept making these mysterious phone calls and when I walk into the room, he would suddenly hang up.
I was suspicious but thought that being a jealous wife was just not on. I decided to trust him. Oh how I rue that decision.
It turned out that the little sneak was secretly chatting to his ex-girlfriend. He had dated this girl in the 70s and 80s and it was a disastrous relationship.
He almost lost everything because of this girl. But suddenly he is talking to her again. I really cannot understand why.
She is a rich girl and maybe it is her wealth that is attracting him. I am sure it is not her looks. I am so angry at her. I will bet my bottom dollar that she is the one who has been trying to tempt him away from me.
Anyway, I confronted him and he seems repentant. He swore he is not going to go out with her anymore and that he is mine forever.
The trouble is Aunty Selma, I just don’t know whether I can trust him again. I am so hurt and I cry to sleep every night. Please help.
Desperate and Pretty
Dear Desperate and Pretty,
There, there. Don’t waste your tears. Men are like that. They can be such fickle creatures. Obviously this ex-girlfriend has something that he misses; a sexual quirk perhaps. Who knows?
The point is I admire your decision to stick with him. But even so, you must go into this relationship with open eyes.
Please do not try to make excuses for him by saying it’s the other girl’s fault. She may be a slattern, but it takes two to tango and from the sounds of it, he was getting into the beat quite willingly.
From now on, you must keep a sharp eye on him. It is his responsibility to earn your trust once more. My advice is to simply put your shoulder to the wheel and concentrate on making sure this relationship works.
Of course, if he should stray again, well, he has had his chance. Dump him like the rotten tomato he is. I am certain he will be ostracised by all your friends who have given you two such goodwill and love.
Let him see what it feels like to be shunned and left in the cold. Serves him right!
Dear Aunty Selma,
My boss won’t give me a day off. He expects me to work seven days a week. What should I tell him?
Made to Work
Dear Made to Work,
Your boss sounds like a very unreasonable man. My advice is very simple, go up to him and quote the following passage. It is Article 24 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.”
I assume you are human and therefore you deserve to be treated as such.
That’s all I have time for this week loyal readers. Join me again next week as I deal with “Broken White Heart Lane” and his depression due to underachieving all the time. Cheerio my darlings!
June 11, 2009
"The Arabs have a really nice way of saying hello, by just wishing someone ‘peace’."
So, there I was, surfing the Net, looking for something to distract me from work. During the breaks from playing “Flight of the Hamsters”, I chanced upon an article regarding Barack Hussein Obama’s speech in Cairo.
I had heard bits and pieces of the speech on the telly and my feeling was it’s all fine and dandy, but he did skirt around some issues; and unless and until the words are translated into action, it was little more than a feel good PR exercise.
No, the online article I read was not an in-depth analysis of the speech, it was about how a whole bunch of Americans headed for their computers to search what Assalamualaikum meant.
Their president had used the greeting in his speech and they were probably in a tizzy wondering whether their boss man had declared a new-found faith in Islam.
“Gosh, Billy Bob Joe, did he say somethin’ in Ay-rab?”
I can imagine their relief when they found out it only meant “peace be upon you”.
I’m sure there were a lot of Budweiser bottles being clinked together in celebration that Obama was not the closet Muslim that the redneck right wingers were saying he was during the election campaign.
This led me to thinking.
When I was a little boy, the usual greeting that people gave each other in formal events was usually “Selamat pagi/tengahari/petang/malam” or “Good morning/afternoon/evening”.
Over the years, the Arabic Assalamualaikum started to be used more and more often. Then it developed to Assalamualaikum warahmadullah wabarakathu. Then there was a further development of a little doa (prayer) before the whole thing.
I suppose it was yet another facet of the growing Islamisation/Arabisation of the country. Well, you know, whatever.
Eventually, I started to use the greeting, too. That’s not to say I was becoming any holier (although for many Muslims there are religious connotations to the greeting), it’s just that I like it; in the same way that I like to wear blue jeans and T-shirts. We borrow from other cultures all the time, and the Arabs, in my book, came up with a really nice way of saying hello.
I mean, how cool it is to wish someone “peace”?
Not “Good morning” when it could have been a really crappy morning.
Not “How are you?” when the answer will always be “I’m fine” regardless of whether I just discovered that I have piles the size of walnuts.
And “Selamat pagi” sounds like I’m being asked to go on some military mission. “Safe morning, Private, I hope you don’t get your legs blown off.”
In this context “I wish you peace” is really nice. And when said earnestly, is utopian even.
However, over the last few years, I have stopped using it when I speak in public. The reason is we in Malaysia have managed to contort something so sweet into yet another symbol of our continued obsession with dividing ourselves.
I’m sure you’ve noticed, it’s never just “Assalamualaikum”, it is almost always “Assalamualaikum dan selamat sejahtera”.
Even when we greet each other, it is as a divided people. “Hey for you Muslims out there; I wish you all peace. And for everyone else; I wish you well being, man”!
Why do we do this?
No, that is the wrong question.
I know why we do this. For the Muslims, it is because they feel the greeting is exclusive to them.
For non-Muslims, they probably feel the greeting is yet another way of forcing Islamisation onto the populace and thus it is better to have something else just for them.
The question therefore should be “how did we come to this?”
When did exclusivity become such a norm that we experience it without even noticing its divisive power?
When did suspicion become so ingrained that the harmless becomes a symbol of oppression?
For me, much of the divisiveness in our society can be traced to many policy and legislative sources. However, we have a bigger battle on our hands and that is the changing of our very own attitudes towards one another.
It will be useful, of course, if we governed ourselves with as little prejudice as possible, but even if the laws and policies were changed it would matter little if our hearts and minds have not.
It is a tiny thing, I know, but for now at least, in my own pathetic attempt at ensuring I am Malaysian first, I shall continue to use “Good morning” and “Selamat pagi”; even though your piles are making it hard for you to sit down and the most dangerous thing you will be doing all day is boiling the water for your coffee.
May 28, 2009
"Large balloons with writings pose a danger to passenger aircraft, and black clothes – the colour is associated with death – will drive investors away."
Below is a transcript of the final exams for the BA (Governance) degree conducted by the University of Malaysia in the second semester of the academic session 2020/2021. It is an excellent example of a First Class exam script.
Please answer the three questions below. Please ensure your handwriting is legible.
In your opinion, what is a threat to National Security?
A threat to national security is fundamentally anything that the police or Government wants to declare as a threat to national security.
In Malaysian policing and governance, what is important to realise is that the discretion to determine national security need not follow any logical thought process. To call something a threat is in effect to make something a threat.
The citizens of the country are safer and happier under such a system, because with such broad powers the police are able to ensure peace and prosperity.
Any citizen who does not understand the need for such powers is either mentally disturbed or a traitor to the nation who should surrender his or her passport and return to where he or she came from.
Give examples of a threat to National Security.
This question deserves much more time and space than a two-hour examination allows. I shall therefore limit my examples to two.
My first example is the dangerous act of flying large balloons. Balloons are a grave danger to the country because they can interfere in our growing air and space industry.
Aeroplanes flying over Malaysian airspace will have difficulty navigating if we allow large balloons to be flown.
There is always the risk that a pilot may mistake a balloon for a cloud and fly through it only to entangle the aircraft in the lethal combination of rubber and cable, causing the plane to crash and resulting in the death of hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of people.
The problem is compounded if the balloon has writing on it, for a pilot may be distracted and may take the time to read the writing, causing him to lose control of his aircraft and crashing it, killing everyone on board as well as people on the ground.
Another example of a threat to national security is the wearing of black clothes. Black is a colour associated with bad things like death and darkness.
If the people are allowed to wear black, then foreign investors will think that Malaysia is a country of death and darkness. They will lose interest in investing here and they will take away all their money.
This is the reason the Appropriate Malaysian Clothing Act 2015 was passed. Malaysians should wear bright coloured clothes, preferably silk batik, so as to portray a lively and cheerful country, thus attracting investment.
If we do not have foreign investment we will not be the great country that we are. According to the 2018 World Bank Report, we are still richer than Somalia and Myanmar.
This is because of foreign investment, and if anything threatens foreign investment, it is a national security threat; like black clothes.
What is the use of Part II of the Federal Constitution?
This is a trick question. Part II of the Federal Constitution is entitled “Fundamental Liberties” and this entire part has been removed by the Constitution (Amendment) Act 2011.
In its place a new Part IIA has been put in. Part IIA is entitled “Fundamental Duties” and it lists the duties of citizens.
Among these is the duty not to light any candles whatsoever – unless in the event of a blackout – and the duty to not show solidarity with any person or cause unless a permit is applied for and obtained from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security.
Note: The candidate whose script this is went on to graduate summa cum laude and is now a personal assistant to a Minister. He is currently being groomed for a leadership role in the near future.
May 14, 2009
"There are limits to freedom, and the Constitution allows for these. However, those limits are subject to certain over-arching protective principles."
Some things are impossible to understand. For example, how on God’s sweet earth could Tottenham Hotspur in their last game against Manchester United go from leading 2-0 at half time to losing 2-5 at full time?
And this is not the first time we’ve done it. A few years ago, we were leading 3-0 at half time only to lose 3-5.
My Liverpool-supporting friends were flabbergasted as Spurs, by their total and complete implosion, have probably destroyed Liverpool’s last hope of winning the Premier League this season.
They tried to make sense of it, but we long-suffering Spurs men and women know that some things just can’t be understood.
But there are some things which must be understood. It is in fact imperative that we understand them. And these pertain to things in our country. Yet, sadly, it appears that some of us can’t.
I am referring here to the Sedition Act and the Police Act. Both, in my opinion, have been totally abused in the last few weeks because those with the power to use them simply did not understand them.
Allow me to explain. The Sedition Act is a remnant of the bad old British days. The English introduced the law to quash dissent among the people who were opposing the Malayan Union, namely the Malayan left.
One would have thought that we would have got rid of this law, seeing as how its formation was for the purpose of oppressing some of the heroes of our independence. But, strangely, we have kept it.
Now, as appalling as this law is, it is not the blunderbuss that the Internal Security Act is. You don’t have the discretion to use the Sedition Act willy-nilly like you can the ISA.
You can’t just arrest someone for sedition for no good reason – for example, for their outlandish hairstyle or their choice of clothes.
The Sedition Act is really meant for those who advocate the unlawful destruction of a government.
If one were to read the Act, it looks pretty broad; on the surface, it looks as if you can’t at all criticise the monarchy or the government.
But if you were to read carefully, you will see that if the King or the Sultans were mistaken in their actions, or if you are advocating a lawful change of government, then it is perfectly OK to criticise them.
This being the case, I could not see any reason whatsoever for Coalition for Free and Fair Elections (Bersih) activist Wong Chin Huat to be arrested for sedition last week.
All he did was advocate the wearing of black in order to peaceably protest what was considered by many to be a poor state of affairs in the Perak legislature. Something which was perfectly within his rights and the rights of everyone in this country – to peaceably express themselves.
Another law which appears to be misunderstood by the powerful is the Police Act. It was used on May 7 against scores of people for “illegal assembly”. Most were in Ipoh, dressed in black, and some were in Kuala Lumpur gathering to show their support for Wong, who was being held in remand.
The Police Act also looks a bit crazy. Any gathering of more than two people can be deemed an illegal assembly. It, therefore, looks as though the police can do anything they want.
They can charge into a coffeeshop and haul two pals and me away because we constitute an illegal gathering. It appears unbelievable, does it not?
What is misunderstood, however, is that the Police Act is not meant to be used by the police as though it were their personal toy.
Any invocation of it has to be done within the context of the Federal Constitution.
In fact, the use of any law in the country has to be done within the context of the Constitution. And the Constitution does say that we have the freedom to assemble.
Sure, there are limits to that freedom, and the Constitution allows for these. However those limits have limits, too. You can only stop an assembly if it is armed, violent, and a threat to national security and public order.
The people in Ipoh were not armed. They were there merely to express their disappointment at how things were turning out in Perak.
The people burning candles outside the Brickfields police station to show solidarity with Wong were not in any way being a threat to national security.
In this light, the very most the police could do was to control the crowd to make sure that order was maintained. There was absolutely no need to trample on the citizens’ Constitutional rights. Their arrests, in my view, were uncalled for and totally against the Constitution.
It’s perfectly all right to not understand how a football team can play so beautifully for 45 minutes and then crumble for the next 45. I’ve lived in such a state of befuddlement for the past 30 years of supporting the boys from North London.
However, it is not acceptable to misunderstand that our laws are subject to certain over-arching protective principles.
The Sedition Act is to be used for those advocating the unlawful overturning of governments and institutions. The Police Act is not to be used to indiscriminately take away our civil liberties. If these things are not understood, then we have no right to call ourselves a democracy.
April 30, 2009
"That many African countries are in a mess is, to a certain extent, due to the way the colonial powers carved up the continent."
When I landed at KLIA last week, there was an annoying high-pitch whine in my ear. At first, I thought it was the engine of the plane cooling down.
But upon closer listening, I figured out that it was actually a chorus of whining voices saying: “Oh, we have another by-election coming up. How awful. What a waste of public funds. Moan. Moan. Moan. Whine. Whine. Whine.”
It was particularly irritating to hear such complaints, especially in the light of where I had just been. I was in Ghana for work, and speaking to colleagues from West Africa was a real tonic.
The world tends to see Africa as a place where chaos rules; and let’s admit it, when we do, there is more than a hint of smugness on our part.
How often have we heard the pompous comments that Ghana and Malaysia both obtained independence in the same year but look at us now compared to them?
Yes, it is true that many African countries are a mess; and even when they are blessed with natural resources, they are also cursed with corruption and violence.
To a certain extent, this is due to the way the colonial powers carved up the continent, drawing borders that suited their imperialist dreams, but not the natural divisions of Africa.
Thus, communities long at war with one another suddenly found themselves part of the same nation state. Not a recipe for success.
Yet despite all this, there is optimism and hope. Take Sierra Leone, for example. The vicious civil war the country suffered for almost a decade, fought over diamonds, is barely over.
The memories and the pain of that conflict are still fresh. And yet there is optimism there. An optimism borne on the hope that democracy gives.
They have the ability to choose their leaders and speak their minds — and that is a boon in a country that is economically in ruins.
In a nation where 70% are illiterate and electricity is a luxury, radio has become the main source of news and information.
And radio stations in Sierra Leone are blossoming, providing not just entertainment but, more importantly, a critical eye cast upon a government that is suddenly accountable to its people.
And believe me, their radio is way freer than ours. That this has been so in Sierra Leone is because not only have the people gone through the trauma of war, they have also suffered the frustration of having no voice.
In Ghana, the democratic process seems to have re-established itself firmly. A peaceful change of government via elections, a steadily growing economy and public safety make it the shining light among African nations.
At the workshop I attended, the Education Minister gave the opening address. He entered the little seminar room with no entourage, no fanfare, and he gave a speech lauding academic freedom and promising a new Freedom of Information law.
He looked and sounded like a servant of the people rather than some overblown “tuan”.
Of all the new friends I made, only the one from Ethiopia was pessimistic about the future of her country. I asked her: “If you had free and fair elections, would that attitude change?”
She looked at me like the moron that I am and said: “Of course it would.”
Over here, the moans grow loud at the prospect of another by-election and I can only shake my head in bewilderment.
The fact that we have by-elections at all is something to be proud of. And I believe by-elections are worth the cost. Speaking of which, I wonder just what the fuss about costs is all about.
Sure, there will be some overtime pay to the police, but considering how badly they are paid in the first place, I think a few million ringgit of honestly earned OT would be a good thing for them.
Besides, wouldn’t the bulk of the cost be borne by the respective political parties in their campaign efforts? Lest we forget, campaign funds should come from party, not government, coffers.
And lest we forget, if it were not for the ballot box, Sagong Tasi and his orang asli community in Selangor could still be denied the money owed to them for the loss of their ancestral lands.
That case went before the Court of Appeal which decided against the state government, then under Barisan Nasional. The latter appealed against the decision. Then the March elections ushered Barisan out of the Selangor Government.
Now, to the delight of the orang asli, the current state government has said it will drop the appeal.
Would this have happened if there had been no change in government? I don’t think so.
It seems that we Malaysians are so unappreciative of democracy that when the practice of this ideal becomes a little “inconvenient”, we start to get anxious.
The fact of the matter is, our democracy is still infantile and we have a long way to go.
In the meantime, we must press on. For we cannot hope for good governance until all the politicians in this country are made to realise that we can put them in power and we can also boot them out.
Neither can we hope for good governance until we appreciate this power and use it.
Having spoken with my new African friends, I am convinced more than ever that the alternative of not defending and using our democratic right, is unthinkable.
If pressing on means another by-election, then so be it.
April 2, 2009
"The English were a strange lot and swashbuckler Henry Morgan would sometimes be labelled a hero and sometimes a villaiBy the English government, depending on who held the political reins."
This is a true story. Once upon a time in the 17th century, there was a young nobleman from Wales named Henry Morgan.
Although he was from a blue-blooded family, he and his folks had seen better days and their wealth was not as it was. Henry decided to seek his fortune in the West Indies – Jamaica to be exact, or to be even more precise, the city of Port Royal.
Henry Morgan did not make his money from the sugarcane industry (although it was a very prosperous industry in those days as slave labour was free).
No, Henry Morgan became a pirate. He would of course hate that term because in his eyes, he was a loyal Englishman serving King and Country by raiding the Spanish enemy. In his eyes, he was a “privateer”.
However you may label it, when you attack ships and cities, kill civilians and soldiers alike, and then steal all their property, it’s piracy.
In any case, the English were a strange lot, so depending on who held the political reins, Morgan would sometimes be labelled a hero and sometimes a villain by the English government.
When it suited them, they would “commission” the pirates of the Caribbean as “privateers” to raid the Spanish on behalf of the Crown. This would “legitimise” them.
When diplomatic ties with Spain got a bit touchy, they would condemn them as pirates. As I said, strange.
Anyway, Henry Morgan was very successful in what he did. He was an intelligent man who was also blessed with luck; and there was also the ineptitude of the Spanish.
The Spanish were a hierarchy-bound, bureaucratic empire, whereas the pirates were fleet of foot and flexible. Armed with the most modern and state-of-the-art guns, they were often able to beat the Spanish despite the latter’s superior numbers.
Morgan’s speciality was the land raid. He would land his men many miles from the city he sought to attack and then march them through thick jungle to surprise the enemy and emerge victorious.
He was not averse to resorting to torture when it suited him or even the use of human shields. Thus, despite his well-earned glamorous reputation, he was still not the most pleasant of fellows.
One can be forgiven, though, if one were to forget his occasional acts of barbarity. Especially in the light of some truly amazing exploits that look as though only Hollywood could invent them.
There was one occasion when Morgan disguised a ship to look like his lead vessel when in fact it was basically a giant bomb, loaded to the stern with explosives and flammables. With a skeleton crew, the ship was steered into battle.
The Spanish, confident of an easy victory, met it head on. When the ships collided, only then did they realise that the “pirates” were dummies wearing hats and holding wooden cutlasses. By then, it was too late because in the collision, the Spanish ship itself was blown to blazes.
Another time, Morgan was trapped in a river mouth at which a Spanish fort bristling with cannons was ready to rip his ships to bits if they tried to escape. He put on a big show of landing his pirates to make the commander of the fort prepare for a land battle.
In fact, the pirates would reach shore and then lie flat on the canoes they had come by, so they would not be seen by the enemy in the fort, and paddle back to the ships. The process was repeated so it looked like the ships had been emptied of men.
Then when night fell, Morgan let the ships drift seemingly empty and aimless to sea. When they were out of range, they fired a few shots at the fort, not to attack it but to sound out a cheeky hasta la vista.
Really, you can’t make this kind of stuff up, but there’s more. With his fortune made, Morgan became a landowner and acquired respectability. He even climbed the ranks to become Governor of Jamaica.
And here’s the clincher – with his fortune secure, he set about to destroy the pirate vermin that sailed the waters of the Caribbean. He did this with some success using his usual combination of brutality and trickery.
One story has him regaling a bunch of suspected pirates with fine drink and food. And because he was an ex-pirate and hero to them, they confessed their true profession.
The next day, he had them arrested and, as presiding judge, had them summarily hanged.
Of course, his ex-brethren went on doing what they always had. It was all too hypocritical for a man like Morgan who had made his wealth by piracy to suddenly condemn it.
It was also ludicrous to expect pirates to stop being pirates just because one they held in high esteem told them to stop.
This story finishes quite abruptly. At the age of 53, Morgan died of dropsy, a condition where one becomes hideously bloated with excess fluid; the result of a life of excess.
And Port Royal, a city whose prosperity depended on the pirates, was wiped out by a cataclysmic earthquake. It is all fitting perhaps that such a man and such a city so steeped in corruption would end in pain and utter destruction.
Note: The story of Henry Morgan can be read in the excellent Empire of Blue Water by Stephen Talty.
Thursday, 12 March 2009
March 5, 2009
"Malaysians have this thing where they hope some mighty champion will sweep down from the mountains and solve their problems for them."
Last weekend I was at a public forum organised by ERA Consumer. It was held in Johor Baru. I have not been to JB for many years and I found that it has the largest concentration of modified Protons I have ever seen.
That’s not the point of this article though. The forum was held to get feedback from the public regarding ERA Consumer’s report on Suhakam’s 2006 Annual Report.
What I noticed from the comments of the audience was a very strong desire for Suhakam to “do more” in the field of human rights.
Underlying the comments is a sense that Suhakam is a body that the citizens of this country can look to for assistance, and if Suhakam can’t get the attention of the government, then what hope is there for ordinary folks like you and me?
This is an understandable sentiment, but perhaps a little unrealistic. Suhakam does not have any real powers. It is not a body that can start prosecutions, for example. Its role is largely advisory and also educational.
For Suhakam to be able to “do more” would thus require an amendment to the Act which created it. Any dramatic changes are unlikely.
And even today the Suhakam annual report is not given any debate time in Parliament. Be that as it may, perhaps some simple changes could be pushed for.
For example, the appointment of Commissioners could be narrowed down from any old “eminent persons” that the Act specifies, to “eminent persons with a record of human rights work”.
As it stands, the Commission is large and filled with people who are not necessarily experts on human rights.
However, even without a change in the law, Suhakam can make itself more relevant by being more proactive in its endeavours. Education is well and good, but really it should push its power to conduct inquiries.
The Bandar Mahkota Cheras inquiry into the alleged police brutality inflicted on a young man was emphatic in its condemnation of the police and clearly stated that a wrong was committed.
So far (according to its website) Suhakam has only conducted three public inquiries. By focusing on these inquiries, Suhakam would be working on real cases of immediate concern to the citizens. And furthermore, it can start an inquiry on its own volition if it so chooses.
It is of course wonderful if Suhakam were to have real powers and play the hero for us, but another thing I noticed at the public forum in Modified Proton Land, is what I call the “Hang Tuah Complex” raising its little head again.
I have noticed that Malaysians have this thing where they are constantly hoping for some mighty champion to sweep down from the mountains and solve their problems for them. The way I see it, Suhakam is merely one cog in the wheel of human rights activism.
Sure they are pretty powerless but there is nothing to stop civil society from using its findings. Raise the findings, publicise them and demand they be acted upon.
After all, Suhakam is not some loony NGO. It is a legally constituted body created by the Government. Surely what it says must have some kernel of truth.
If the Government does not want to take what Suhakam says seriously, then we have every right to ask why not.
February 19, 2009
"Sultans and Rajas are constitutional monarchs and have powers determined by the Federal Constitution."
I wish that all those people calling for Karpal Singh’s head would just take a minute and pick up the Federal Constitution. Turn to Article 182 and you will see provisions for a “Special Court”.
The job of this Special Court is to try civil proceedings brought against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or any of the Sultans.
This was not always the case. Before 1993, the rulers had absolute immunity. And before 1984, they actually had the power to veto legislation. These powers were taken away by the Barisan Nasional government headed by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
DAP chairman Karpal Singh’s desire for the Sultan of Perak to be brought to court is reasonable and allowed for by law. Besides, I think it is a good thing that the King and the Sultans can be brought to court.
You see, the days of the all-powerful king is gone now and that is, for me at least, progress. It shows that we are a society that values democracy.
Yes, we have Sultans and Rajas, but they are constitutional monarchs. This means that they have powers determined by the Constitution and not some divine power to do as they wish. This being the case, surely if they overstep their boundaries, if they behave in an unconstitutional manner, they should be challenged – respectfully, properly – in a court of law.
Now, did the Sultan of Perak act in a way that was unconstitutional when he appointed a new Mentri Besar? It is arguable.
The power to appoint a Mentri Besar is clearly at the discretion of the Sultan. This is one of the few real powers that he has. A power that he does not have is to dismiss an existing Mentri Besar.
Usually this does not raise many problems. During the last general election, we saw the Sultan of Perak and the Sultan of Terengganu both deciding on who should be the new Mentri Besar of their respective states.
They made decisions that went against the desires of the majority party in both state legislative assemblies. The two monarchs thought that their choices commanded the confidence of the two Houses and were the best men for the job. It was their prerogative.
But the current case in Perak is different. The Sultan chose a new Mentri Besar while the old one was still in office. By appointing a new man, he was in effect sacking the old one. And sacking the Mentri Besar is not within his constitutional powers.
I think there is room for debate on this matter and, ideally, it should be settled in the Special Court.
Actually, I am rather curious as to why the Sultan did not just dissolve the state assembly when requested. All this party-hopping business was wreaking havoc on the public’s faith in the democratic system.
Surely, the clearest and fairest way out of the debacle was to have fresh state elections.
For the sake of continued faith in democracy, I would have thought the Sultan, who has spoken many times so eloquently about democracy and rule of law, would have just said “right, let the people decide again”.
After all, the greatest threat to political, and thus national, stability are a people who have lost their faith in the democratic system. It is only when such faith is lost that extreme behaviour emerges.
Anyway, what is done is done; legal battles are being fought over the Perak matter and that particular crisis will be settled in its own time.
Meanwhile, there is much that can still be achieved. The states ruled by Pakatan Rakyat must continue to push their agenda forward and live up to their election promises.
For example, I notice with a little dismay that the new Selangor government has yet to withdraw the case against Sagong Tasi.
In 2002, Sagong obtained a judgment in his favour by the Court of Appeal which held that his Orang Asli community had a propriety interest in their customary land. This meant that when the land was taken by the government, they should have been properly compensated.
This case was against the former state government and, of course, Datuk Seri Khir Toyo and his men appealed the decision.
Considering the fact that Pakatan Rakyat is concerned about justice and fair treatment to all Malaysians, and considering also that the last MB of Perak was making headway in granting proper titles to the Orang Asli in his state, the current Selangor government should just stop the action.
Yes, the battle of Perak must continue. But there are many other battles to be fought and won. Fairness and justice must be striven for on all fronts, continuously. It’s easy to forget this amid the shrill cries of “traitor” by the ill-informed.
February 5, 2009
"How the nation responds in the wake of A. Kugan’s death in police custody reflects the values that we have as a society."
Kugan Ananthan is not the first person to die while in police custody. I doubt he will be the last. The actual numbers who have so far died are unclear because of the contrasting data given by the authorities.
But we need to know the actual details. We need to know the reasons why they died, and we need to know the ethnicity of those who died.
We have to know how many of those deaths are caused by beatings and torture because such deaths are totally unacceptable.
And while it is true that this issue is one about human rights and not about race, if the numbers show a disproportionately high number of Indians dying while in police custody, it becomes not just a human rights issue; it also becomes an issue of racism.
If it is true that Indians held in custody died in higher numbers compared with those of other races, and if it is true that their deaths were due to torture and beatings, then there are two possibilities – one, there are individual racists on the police force; two, which is worse, the police force as a whole practices racist policies. Neither is acceptable.
An investigation has to be conducted, and it has to be done by an independent body.
The police and the executive, for the sake of their own credibility, must not be allowed to conduct it themselves.
For the good of the nation, this independent investigation has to be given priority.
The issue of death in custody is important because the manner with which we treat our people, even those who have committed crimes, is a reflection of the kind of society we are.
On a very basic level of argument, even if you are in jail after being convicted, your sentence, the price you pay for your crime, is your incarceration. Not death.
Yes, we do have the death penalty in this country but it is for specific crimes like murder and drug trafficking.
Yes, we have corporal punishment in this country, but it is for specific crimes like kidnapping and rape.
There are ways and means to administer these punishments and they have to be followed. Anything short of that is lawlessness and barbarity.
And for those who are incarcerated pending trial, it is even more important that they are not hurt or killed, because at that point they are still considered innocent.
I have heard talk that Kugan was part of a gang of car thieves, that he was a crook. All this does not matter to me one single bit. Why? Because Kugan was not convicted in a court of law, and until he is, he is innocent. The death of Kugan is the death of an innocent man.
In a way, as awful as this may sound, I will not be surprised if an independent study shows that there are deaths in custody as the result of beatings and torture.
It all boils down to the values that we have as a society.
Do we believe that the ends justify the means or do we hold to the idea that certain core principles must hold sway, principles like the outright rejection of torture and that a man is innocent until proven guilty?
As pointless and as cruel as Kugan’s death may be, at the very least it ought to provoke us into asking these questions.
January 22, 2009
"The party has now to be more open and allow its young members to move to the fore considering that it was young voters who made the difference in Kuala Terengganu."
So, it seems that Umno has lost its “wow” factor, according to party vice-president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
I don’t think so. For one thing, for the past 10 months I have been saying to myself, “Wow! It still hasn’t learnt the lessons of March 8!”The result of the Kuala Terengganu (KT) by-election, and more importantly the reaction of some of the top Umno leaders after the defeat, also left me saying “Wow!”
“Wow” because I did not think it would lose. KT was different from Permatang Pauh (PP). In PP, the people had already chosen PKR, and Datin Seri Wan Azizah had won with a huge majority.
Furthermore the PKR candidate for that by-election was Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the constituents’ old MP and favourite son.
In KT, Umno had won in March. Sure, it was by a slim majority (just over 600 votes), but basically it was the incumbent party and it had the entire Barisan Nasional machinery at its disposal for this campaign.
What with all the goodies that the people of KT would be presented with, plus the postal votes, it seemed unlikely Umno would lose that seat. Boy, was I wrong.
The swing came to over 3,000 votes, which means Umno really should be very concerned.
I am sure they are, but when t he leadership makes statements saying this was not a reflection of people’s loss of faith in Barisan Nasional, well, again I had to say “Wow!”
How can it not be a statement against the ruling party and the present government? If it were a state seat in question, perhaps the personality of the candidates, their appreciation of local issues, would be the primary factor.
But this election was for a Member of Parliament. It was about having a voice in Parliament, which is situated in Kuala Lumpur.
I don’t think the good people of KT are so simple-minded that they did not realise the implication of their vote.
The only thing that can help Umno now is to change fundamentally, and I wonder if that is a possibility. Umno was traditionally a party of teachers. I have a soft spot for teachers, so perhaps I am biased, but in the decades before and after Merdeka, teachers had a lot of clout.
They were respected and supported not because they were wealthy but because they were knowledgeable and educated.
That is why up until fairly recently, the education portfolio was considered so vital and a stepping stone towards the premiership. Work with the educationists and you had your grassroots support for the job of Prime Minister.
Now Umno has become a party of businessmen. The vast majority of division heads are businessmen.
That cherished value of knowledge and education has been replaced with wealth and the ability to obtain contracts.
This means there is no strong foundation of principle (whether I agree with the principle or not is not the point here) and idealism.
Being part of Umno becomes like being part of a business opportunity.
This has the further effect of making the holding on to such posts an economic consideration. This in turn means that challengers will not be viewed favourably.
Therein lies the problem. Maybe there are new Umno members who can climb the ranks and provide them with that “wow” factor. But they will be inhibited by their youth and their lack of wealth.
Idealism and new ideas will be seen as a threat by the old guard who would want to maintain their lucrative status quo.
And when I talk about the young, I don’t mean the rabble-rousing Mat Rempit stylings of Umno Youth. I mean new blood with fresh idealism and ideas, those who are more in touch with the needs and the demands of Malaysians in the 21st Century.
And perhaps those who are not beholden to racist ideas for their political collateral.
Considering that political analysts have pointed out that the swing in KT was due primarily to young voters, Umno has now to be more open and allow its young members to move to the fore. This should be done based on merit and ability, and nothing else.
I do not want to see the destruction of any political party. A diverse group of parties is what makes for a healthy democracy, no matter what we may think of them. And so it is with Umno.
However, unless it truly gets its act together, eject its dinosaurs and their outmoded way of thinking, there will be many more KTs, and in time people will be saying, “Wow! Whatever happened to Umno?”
January 8, 2009
"The Jewish state seems not to want peace, but to stoke Palestinian fury. The lesson to civilised nations is that they must never behave like Israel."
Nineteen eighty-one was an election year in Israel. Then Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s campaign was not off to a good start. So he bombed “PLO strongholds” in Lebanon; nothing like the killing of a few Arab “terrorists” to get the electorate on your side.
The PLO retaliated by shelling northern Israel. The Israelis replied by bombing the living daylights out of Beirut. In this exchange, five Israelis died whereas the death toll of Lebanese and Palestinians was 500.
A truce was then signed between Israel and the PLO. This truce held for 11 months. Then Israel complained that the PLO was attacking its soldiers. Even America saw through this ruse by pointing out that the Israeli soldiers being shot at were in Lebanese territory, where they should not be in the first place.
But what were such minor details to Begin? Israel broke the truce and invaded Lebanon. And a few hours after promising the American Special Envoy that Syria would be left alone, it attacked Syria.
Thousands of Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese died. Hospitals, schools, school buses, civilian homes were bombed, shot at and crushed by tanks. It was an utter massacre and Israel got away scot-free.
In late 1987, in Gaza, four Pales- tinians were killed by an Israeli truck. This sparked the Intifada or people’s uprising.
After decades of torment, the Palestinians had nothing left but their fury and the stones at their feet. During this period, also as a reaction to Israeli atrocities, Hamas was formed.
Fast forward to 2006 and Hamas is the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people. Contrary to Israeli propaganda, Hamas was willing to give de facto recognition to Israel if it pulled back to its 1967 border.
Considering that the Israeli border was expanded via an illegal war in 1967 which it initiated, it was not a terribly unreasonable request. But this was rejected.
And because it did not like Hamas, Israel (with the blessings of America) blockaded the Palestinian territories, causing untold suffering and grief.
Then in June 2006, Israel bombed a beach in Gaza, killing 14 people. Hamas retaliated by shooting rockets into Israel. The latter, in turn, invaded Gaza and started capturing elected Hamas officials.
This little war stopped in June 2008 with a ceasefire. This truce came to an end recently and Hamas was willing to keep it going on the condition that the blockade was lifted and a ceasefire was initiated in the West Bank.
We know what Israel’s reaction was – it has been spilled all over our front pages for the past week.
The anger being expressed at Israel’s disproportionately barbaric attack on Gaza, its arrogance and utter refusal to accept its part in the creation of this bloody mess is, in my opinion, completely justified.
Israel seems to be single-mindedly determined not to make any concessions whatsoever; the only logical reason for this that I can see is that Israel does not want peace.
It wants to make sure that Pales- tine is kept impoverished and desperate by being in a state of perpetual conflict. It would appear that Israel wants war and by doing all that it can to cause the spilling of blood and keep the fury of the Palestinian people alive; that is what it will get.
There would not have been a PLO if Israel had not begun its offensives against Palestine in the 1940s. There would not have been a Hamas if Israel had not butchered innocents in Lebanon in the 1980s.
Who knows what new manifestation of desperation and anger this latest act of violence will create?
Here in Malaysia, a lot of effort has been initiated, with funds being collected for humanitarian purposes and calls being made on our Govern- ment to keep pressing for an international effort to stop Israel. Such efforts must continue.
It is a little sad, however, that it needs such a cruel act by Israel to generate such action. In “peace time”, the quiet work of the Malay- sian Sociological Research Institute, which has been organising the sponsorship of Palestinian refugee children in Lebanon for decades, has suffered because the number of donors has shrunk.
Efforts to help Palestine and the Palestinians have to be seen as an ongoing. It is not enough to take measures to help those who are suffering only sporadically.
Neither is it good enough that our ire is raised only for the Palestinian cause. There is much cruelty in the world, for example, the genocide in Darfur.
It is not expected of individuals to care for every cause, but our Government has a responsibility to speak out against injustice wherever and to whomever it may happen.
The Israeli government (note please that I do not at any time condemn either Israeli citizens or Jews in general; there are too many cases of individuals who despise Israeli aggression for broad generalisations to be made) has shown time and again their hypocrisy and selectiveness, where what is all right for them is not all right for anyone else.
We can’t go down that road of hypocrisy and selectiveness. What is wrong must be opposed.
In the end, Israel’s cruelty is nothing new. It has been sporting that for half a century. It must be opposed until it stops. To my mind, the lesson it gives to civilised nations is that we must never, ever, in any way behave like Israel.