Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Killing innocents is never the answer

Brave New World (The Star)
19 September 2012

Violence only begets violence, and once more the poorest and the weakest suffer most.


IN 1998, the Clinton administration approved a cruise missile strike on Baghdad. It missed its target (an Iraqi military installation) and hit a civilian home killing the residents.

The strike was approved in response to the “guilt” of some Iraqis who had supposedly threatened the life of George Bush the elder. It did not seem to matter that the trial for said crimes was not even over yet when the missile was launched.

My point is that it does not take much for American government-sponsored violence to be unleashed on a country.

In this light, the death of Christopher Stevens, the American Ambassador to Libya, along with several of his colleagues could have severe repercussions on innocent people.

The Obama administration seems to be practising restraint for the moment, but one can question if a more hawkish government would act in the same way. As it is, Mitt Romney is making Bush-like sounds of war.

The catalyst for all this is that utterly obscene and reprehensible video insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

As of this moment, it appears that it was made by a petty crook with a shady past, and it was supported by odious right-wing groups.

These loathsome creatures can be said to be simply hatemongers, but it can also be said that whether on purpose or not, they are agents provocateurs for the hawks of America who are just itching for an excuse to wreak even more destruction on West Asia.

And nothing would serve their wicked intentions more than scenes of death and violence inflicted on American lives and property, shown with salivating eagerness by so-called news channels like Fox.

It does not matter that ordinary Libyans were the first to react in trying to save Stevens, it does not matter that the Islamic Orthodoxy, most notably the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, has condemned the killings.

The act of a shrill few would be used to colour the Islamic world as violent and sub-human.

In this light, it is of even more importance that Islamic countries that want to, rightly, protest against the film also be equally strong in their stand against the inflicting of violence. It is important because to do otherwise would be playing right into the hands of those who would wish harm unto them.

Let me be clear, this disgusting work of hatred naturally raises feelings of anger. Ordinary people as well as governments have every right to express that anger, but that expression must stop at the point of violence.

As it is, there are serious problems facing the people in Muslim countries. A quick look at the national poverty indicators of Egypt, Iraq and Sudan (where some of the biggest protests are reported) show a poverty rate of 20%, 22% and 45% respectively.

To put things in context, the Malaysian national indicators put the poverty rate at 4%. The death toll in Syria as a result of their civil war is pushing 30,000 and it has the further worrying undercurrents of being a Shia versus Sunni conflict.

In other words, the Muslim world and their leaders have far deeper and more pressing problems to contend with than the hatemongering of some people who would be happy if peace, stability, true democracy and prosperity were denied the people of the region.

The surest way to ensure the dignity of the Muslim world is the efficient and equitable distribution of their vast resources. It is to find ways to get beyond sectarian and ethnic divides.

With a prosperous, happy and educated populace, there will be the strength to brush aside idiots bent on causing strife and war.

Success is the best form of victory, and working towards that success will be the best answer to those who would wish ill towards you. The killing of innocent people would just be aiding them.

Friday, 14 September 2012

New wine, old wineskin

Going The Distance (Selangor Times)
14 September 2012


It is telling that during the Suhakam inquiry into the Bersih 3.0 rally a police officer revealed when questioned that he did not know that the right to assemble was constitutionally guaranteed for the people of this country.

This lack of knowledge is of concern naturally because we are talking about a public servant with a great deal of power (he can shoot us with his pistol after all), and it is important that he understands that the limits on his power does not depend simply on whatever Standard Operating Procedure he may have but also our rights as citizens.

However, knowledge can be gained. Police officers do take courses and some of these courses will have components of Constitutional Law in them. I have taught a diploma course on Constitutional Law and the officers in my class appeared to have grasped the concept.

Knowledge, therefore, is not really the issue here; it is the corresponding attitude towards that knowledge which truly matters.

In the past few weeks there have been many incidents that illustrate the paradox that occurs when one pays lip service to a principle without truly understanding its importance and ideals.

The Peaceful Assembly Act was supposed to be a law that would allow a more liberal approach to public gatherings, but instead we see it being used to actually hinder such gatherings.

The Janji Demokrasi gathering was deemed illegal before it occurred because proper procedures for asking permission was not followed as demanded by the Act. Investigations on organisers and participants of Janji Demokrasi are also currently being conducted, again under the auspices of the Act. A green rally in Pahang is being investigated because a person who is deemed underage by the Act was suspected of taking part.

All this fuss over what were peaceful gatherings.

I have said before that there was little wrong with the previous laws (the Police Act) regarding public gatherings. The Police Act gave a lot of discretion to the police to allow or not allow public gatherings, this is true; however if there was a proper understanding and appreciation of the Constitution, the police should, by and large, allow any public gathering as long as it is not dangerous or violent in nature.

The problem with the Police Act was one of attitude and not the law per se.

This same attitude persists and it can be seen in the implementation of the new Peaceful Assembly Act.

What is needed in the country therefore is not even more, so called liberal laws, but a true appreciation and respect for the human rights of the people of this nation. The police have to understand that their role is not simply about enforcing the law for whatever government is in power.

Their role is to enforce the law in the spirit of the Constitution and the freedoms that it guarantees for everybody.

Speaking of attitudes, the furore over some people stepping on the pictures of Datuk Seri Najib Razak also reflects an unfortunate attitude that is still prevalent amongst Malaysians, or at least some segments of Malaysians.

Frankly, it does not bother me in the slightest that photographs are being stepped on. It bothers me if the actual person is being stomped or if there is a real threat to their life, but stepping on the picture? So what? Big deal.

It is rude sure, but we are not talking about some deity or religious symbol here. We are talking about an elected official; and obviously an elected official that some people dislike very much.

The outrage and subsequent investigations and arrests show that there is still this feudal mentality amongst some quarters that raises what are essentially public servants onto the pedestal of Rajas.

There is far too much subservience in our society. Observe functions where a minister turns up. Immediately there will be the sound of shuffling chairs as people stand up. Why should we do so? Why the grovelling and hand kissing? Democratically elected officials are just like any one of us and to afford them such obsequiousness is unseemly and an affront to the entire idea of democracy and equality amongst all people.

Recent events have thrown into clear light once again how far we have to grow as a nation in order to be a true democracy. How much there is still to be done before there can be a deep and meaningful appreciation of our rights as human beings and the need to cast off any remnants of feudalism from our shoulders in order for us to live with the dignity that those same rights are meant to ensure.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Have independent mediation service

Brave New World (The Star)
5 September 2012

This should be considered as going to court is a costly and unpleasant business for most people and really should be avoided.


KARL Llewellyn (pronounced “loo-well-lynn”, I think) was an American jurist with a Welsh name.

He came up with his Law Jobs theory which I vaguely remember from my first year in law school.

According to him, law has to fulfil five “jobs” and they are:

> To avoid conflict;

> Settle disputes;

> Accommodate changes in society;

> Establish a structure for authority; and

> Establish procedural rules to accomplish these tasks.

It is interesting to note that the first “job” of law is to avoid conflict.

Although I am uncertain if Llewellyn (actually, I once heard that the proper Welsh pronunciation is “cluergh-well-learn”, but I could be wrong) had intended for there to be a hierarchy in his law jobs, I would posit that if such a hierarchy did exist, then conflict avoidance should be at the top.

After all, wouldn’t it better if we didn’t get into fights in the first place?

Two examples come to mind and both are about residents in disparate parts of the country worried about nearby developments.

The residents of Bukit Koman in Raub have been fighting for years against a gold mining facility in their area because they claim that the use of cyanide in the operations has created health problems for them.

Over in Kuala Lumpur, some residents in Taman Tun Dr Ismail have been up in arms against the Mass Rapid Transit Corporation (MRT), whose proposed train tracks just metres from their homes are causing worries both in terms of their well-being and the worth of their homes.

In both cases, could these conflicts have been avoided in the first place?

There already exist certain laws which should pre-empt problems such as these.

The Town and Country Planning Act (TCPA) and the Environmental Quality Act’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) requirements are two that come readily to mind.

But both these laws, although well-intentioned, do have shortcomings.

Primary amongst them is just how far public opinion is taken into consideration in the final decision making.

It has to be clearer how public feedback is taken and also, there has to be transparency in the final decision making to ensure that said feedback was properly considered.

Added to this, some sort of independent mechanism for mediation (something which currently does not exist) should also be considered as going to court is a costly and unpleasant business for most people and really should be avoided.

It is far too easy to label opposition to factories, new roads, rail tracks, mining operations and what have you as political issues.

Surely, people don’t get agitated unless they are rightfully worried.

Of course any issue can be turned political especially since final decisions on such matters lie in the hands of the government of the day, but one has to be non-partisan and look beyond that.

In any society, there will almost inevitably be conflicts of interest.

This is even truer when the society is as large, modern and complex as ours.

What has to be done, regardless of whom are the law makers, is to ensure that such conflicts are minimised.

And when it comes to the well-being of the people of a country, this should be even more evident.