Thursday, 26 December 2013

The good people in our midst

Brave New World (The Star)
25 December 2013

They may be flawed, but their attempts at reaching something high and noble, no matter how grand or how small, is an inspiration and a comfort.


MY Students Union building in Sheffield University was called the Nelson Mandela building. There was a photo of the man along with a small write-up on his struggle near the entrance of the union. The picture showed a heavy set person, with a tough face bordering on thuggish.
In 1990, I was in my final year and I remember watching the telly along with millions around the globe as Mandela was released from prison. It was a shock when the reporter announced his arrival. This tall, thin and extremely kindly looking man was not the image I had in mind.
Of course, harsh incarceration of almost three decades will change a man, but still, his appearance was a surprise. As was his philosophical stance with regard to the future of his country.
Justice was not to be obtained through retribution; instead it was to be through confession of past atrocities and following that, reconciliation.
He was convinced that the mere acknowledgement of evil having been done was sufficient to help close the door on a horrid history in order to move forward.
He was correct, of course. And he had the moral authority to persuade the rest of the nation. After all, this was a man who was jailed for almost 30 years simply for believing in equality.
If he could find it within himself to supress the need for vengeance, then who can argue?
In this way, the new South Africa started life not with blood on its hands, but with the much braver and harder choice of beginning existence based on forgiveness.
Naturally, there were critics of Mandela upon his release. His decision to stand for president and in that way to embroil himself in the tawdry world of real politics, frustrated some who thought that he would have served a better role as an elder statesman who could rise above the petty concerns of normal politicians.
I think history has proven that he was correct to do what he did. For it was only his force of personality and his moral standing that enabled him to steer South Africa out of the darkness that was apartheid in those uncertain early days.
I do not think anyone else could have done the same, and if it meant Mandela getting his hands grubby in politics and its manoeuvring, if it meant making poor decisions that may take some of the gloss away from his history, then that is a small price to pay.
A year after his release, I was unbelievably fortunate to find myself in a hand-me-down suit and borrowed academic robes, sitting in Dewan Tunku Canselor of Universiti Malaya, seeing and listening to the great man himself in person as he received an honorary degree.
Of course I had no opportunity to personally meet him, but that did not matter, I was in the presence of a key figure in 20th century world history and it was an amazing moment.
So, did the life of Mandela mean anything to me? Of course it did. He was a shining example of not only courage, determination and righteous zeal; he was also a paragon of patience, wisdom and compassion. He sets the standards for those seeking societal justice. His is the kind of leadership that one aspires to. Few public figures in history can make that claim, and in our current world I can’t think of any.
But one does not have to look to distant figures for examples on how to live. If a person is lucky, then he would find people closer to himself who could provide the same kind of wisdom and kindness.
I have been extremely fortunate in that regard for my life has crossed paths with many men and women far better than myself and to whom I would turn when in need of guidance, or sometimes, just a kind word.
One of those people is the late Professor P. Balan of the Faculty of Law, Universiti Malaya.
Prof Balan passed away a week after Mandela did, and it is to my regret that I was not in the country to pay my last respects.
I was the colleague of Prof Balan for 20 years. He was part of the flesh and bone of the faculty, having taught there from its second year of inception. Thousands of students have benefitted from his clear teaching style and his kindly ways. Thousands of lawyers in this country will have their memories of the professor and I dare say that most of those will be fond ones.
I did not teach the same subjects as he did and so our contact was not extensive. However, what little contact we did have was meaningful. It does not matter if it was about raking his encyclopaedic brain for some legal point or other, or if it was to get advice about a faculty matter. He was always there and his advice always wise.
Soft-spoken and gentle, he had the quiet authority to be able to tell a young hotheaded lecturer to cool it and pull on the brakes once in a while, and more importantly perhaps, he had an inherent basic decency to convince that self-same hothead, to actually stop, listen and take on said advice.
Careful, considerate, kind and always respectful, Prof Balan was the consummate professional and a wonderful teacher. A person whose example I would happily turn to.
In this festive period, I am reminded to be thankful. In a world which is full of people, both in the public arena and one’s own more personal sphere, who are deceitful, hypocritical and mean, let us not forget the good men and women who do exist. Be they a public figure far away, or someone just down the corridor from us.
Nobody is perfect and I am loathe to paint anyone as saintly and worthy of blind hero worship. But there are many who have a common basic decency and the strength to live their lives based on that core value.
They may be flawed, but their attempts at reaching something high and noble, no matter how grand or how small, is an inspiration and a comfort.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Sectarian Danger

Sin Chew Jit Poh
18 December 2013


The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 brought a much needed peace to Northern Ireland. It was in essence the end of hostilities between the forces that wanted independence from the British and those that wanted to stay within the United Kingdom.

But today after fifteen years, there still exist some violence, albeit on a much smaller scale. There are those who are unwilling to accept the Agreement and are intent on pushing their agenda through non-peaceful means. In the short time I was in Belfast two weeks ago, there were reports of an attempted car bomb and a shooting.

Part of the problem of Northern Ireland is that the conflict, although political was couched in religious terms; namely protestant versus Catholics. It thus takes on a certain emotional resonance that would otherwise probably be missing.

This doubtlessly feeds the flames of those still intent on waging war, even when the vast majority of the people in that region simply want to live their lives in peace and move on.

It is a country that very clearly illustrates the dangers of sectarianism and it is often used as a prime example of how religious differences can exacerbate a dangerous situation.

What then is the solution? I of course am in no position to posit any sort of ideas with regard to Northern Ireland, but I do feel it necessary to point out that too simplistic an analysis of the situation is misguided.

There will be those who will use Northern Ireland or Syria or Iraq, as an argument for the need for religious unity, or more accurately religious homogeneity. This is to me the wrong way of looking at things.

It is very rare that religion is the cause of conflict. Normally the true roots of conflict can be found in economic terms: the battle between those who have and those who do not. Or between those who are fearful of losing what they have against those who are challenging the status quo.

Religion becomes a useful rallying cry to disguise such base desires with a veneer of morality. It becomes easier to use religion in this way especially if there has been unequal treatment between peoples of differing faiths in the first place.  And if that unequal treatment was also joined with the demonising of the “other’, then what we have are seeds of hatred sown deep.

My argument is that to avoid religious conflict, what is needed is not religious homogeneity. That in fact is a brutal forcing of one spiritual ideology on everyone when surely spirituality by its very nature will be as diverse as the number of peoples who seek it.

Instead what has to be done is to ensure that all people of all faiths (and this includes those who share the same basic faith with you) are equally treated with dignity and respect. That the freedom of religion, limited only by the by the boundaries of general morality and the rights of others, is respected and protected.

It also means that crude acts of demonising and exclusion be replaced by understanding and inclusiveness; where one celebrates the similarities that are shared rather than the minor differences that are had.  For surely, it is far harder to use religion as a tool to encourage conflict when one’s right to practice one’s faith is safe and when one is living in a society that promotes mutual respect, not hatred. 

Treasuring national treasures

Brave New World (The Star)
11 December 2013

There’s a lesson from a family who gave their art collection to the public to make sure it is well preserved.


I AM writing this in London.
This sounds a lot more glamorous than it is. Firstly, I am in Walthamstow Central, at the very end of the Victoria tube line and hardly Belgravia. Secondly I am crashing at my mate’s bedsit; warm, dry and most cosy, but hardly the Dorchester.
Finally, I am not here on my own steam. My paltry lecturer’s pay does not emit much steam.
I am only here because of work. I was in Belfast to attend and present a paper at a human rights workshop.
While I was there, a colleague at the workshop kindly offered to drive me around the city. He took me to areas which were very much divided by the Troubles. Areas most clearly defined as Catholic and Protestant, Republican and Unionist.
Despite the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 which brought peace to an area beset by decades of violence, there still existed physical reminders of a troubled past.
Ugly walls made of brick and metal separated huge swathes of the city and up till today, public roads are closed by gates upon nightfall. But even in the sad divisions of this society, the expression of said divide was oft times expressed in beautiful murals.
Although there lies an underlying sadness when viewing these public works of art, celebrating and confirming as they do a sharp and violent societal cleavage, one can’t help but be taken aback by their artistry.
And there is also a glimmer of hope when one sees newer murals that embrace values such as human rights; murals that quite pointedly have replaced earlier works which conversely glorify and encourage sectarianism.
I am not in any way some sort of culture vulture. Being as uneducated as I am in the fine arts, I can out-philistine most anyone.
But being cultured is not a prerequisite to being moved by how art can so succinctly and poignantly reflect the human condition in all its glory and profanity. Or even to simply appreciate the skill and craftsmanship of people who create things of beauty.
In that sense, my trip has seen me most fortunate. After my Irish jaunt and my exposure to art as a political statement, I made a stop in London.
While I was wandering the streets parallel to that hell on earth known as Oxford Street, I found myself in a museum called the Wallace Collection.
In all honesty, the only reason I went in was because it said “Admission Free” and I had a couple of hours to kill.
Once inside, however, I was blown away by the whole thing.
First and foremost, the collection was at one time the private property of the Wallace family. They had bequeathed the whole thing to the state so that it can be enjoyed by the public.
“Collection” is a weird thing to call it though. A collection is how you may describe my humble stash of comic books.
The Wallace “collection”, on the other hand, includes works of art that ranged from the 15th to the 19th century and boasts paintings by Rembrandt, Bol, Hals, and Gainsborough amongst thousands of others.
Wandering through this huge, once private, residence, mind boggling at how one family could have found itself the possessor of such a diverse and copious assemblage of classics, I could not help but be amazed at the beauty that humans can create.
It was all so incredible that the experience was humbling. Not only because I was surrounded by such magnificence, but also because it was all so fragile.
I found it astounding that a family could be far-sighted enough to basically give all their treasures to the public and the state in turn to ensure that it is all well cared for and preserved.
It all brings to mind how careless some are with national and world treasures and it made me reconsider my view of myself.
Because perhaps being a philistine is not about being uneducated; instead I would say it is about being incapable of appreciating history and beauty when it is staring you in the eye.
In which case I am not a philistine, but I can think of many idiots who are.

Desecration of Bujang Valley

Sin Chew Jit Poh
5 December 2013


Oh, the irony! The seventh of December will be the twenty fifth anniversary of  Malaysia becoming a party to the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (or the World Heritage Convention in short); and what do we read in the papers? An ignoramus property developer has destroyed an ancient candi (temple) dating from the 8th Century.
The candi we are speaking about here lies in the Bujang Valley in Kedah and it is part of one of our most ancient archeological sites.  At the time of writing, we have no idea as to which incompetent government agency allowed for this development to occur on a site of such historical importance in the first place. And just to make it absolutely clear, this country’s government has a responsibility to protect all our heritage sites. Let me reproduce Article 4 of the World Heritage Convention of which we have been party since 1988.
“Each State Party to this Convention recognizes that the duty of ensuring the identification, protection, conservation, presentation and transmission to future generations of the cultural and natural heritage situated on its territory, belongs primarily to that State. It will do all it can to this end, to the utmost of its own resources and, where appropriate, with any international assistance and co-operation, in particular, financial, artistic, scientific and technical, which it may be able to obtain”.
It can’t be clearer than that. The government must protect the Lembah Bujang complex. It is clearly part of our heritage and it can easily be considered a world heritage too. I simply do not understand how a development project can be approved on the site.
Could it be that the Malaysian government has become so warped and twisted that they do not believe the site is worthy of protection because it is a Hindu site and not a Muslim site? After all it is quite clear that it is this country’s Islamic past which is considered to be more important than our Hindu and animistic past.
Perhaps, but there is no hard evidence of this. What we do know is that the necessary level of protection for this site was missing and now a valuable part of our history is gone forever.
In a country like ours, where most ancient buildings are made of wood and therefore rot away, it seems madness that we do not care for what little stone artifacts that we have. We are not as culturally rich as Java, with their beautiful temples like the Hindu Prambanan and Buddhist Borobudur. We therefore cannot be careless with what we do have.
I am extremely angry at this cultural desecration. I want to see all those responsible punished. I want to shame the government in charge of allowing this thing to happen. I am feeling this way not because I am Hindu, since I am not. I am doing this because I am Malaysian and I do not like to see idiots running rampant and destroying a part of my heritage and my history.

Friday, 29 November 2013

The case for judicial discretion

Brave New World (The Star)
27 November 2013

In recent surveys, most Malaysians backed the death penalty – but not the mandatory version.


IN principle I have no problems with the death penalty. There are three basic theories of punishment: deterrence, rehabilitation and retribution.
I am uncomfortable with the concept of deterrence because I am uncertain that fear of punishment is necessarily the primary factor when a person commits a crime.
Furthermore, taken to its logical conclusion, the punishment can be extremely disproportionate to the crime in order to make it “scarier”.
Neither am I convinced by the idea of rehabilitation; after all, who is to determine when a person is rehabilitated or not.
I believe in the retribution theory of justice, which is to say, you are simply punished for the crime you committed, not as an example to others and not subject to the whims of authorities who may or may not believe that you have repented and are now a good person.
And in violent crimes, then a simple punishment would be equally violent.
After all, you reap what you sow.
In practice, however, I do not believe in the death penalty.
This is because the justice system is run by humans and humans are fundamentally flawed.
Therefore, there will always be a chance that an innocent person is convicted. That is a chance I am not willing to take.
The Death Penalty Project in association with the Malaysian Bar Council completed earlier this year a report which was the analysis of over 1,500 surveys conducted amongst Malaysians.
The result of the survey was astonishing. Basically it was trying to gauge the Malaysian public’s view on the death penalty.
What was to be expected was that a vast majority of the respondents agreed with the death penalty.
What was unexpected, to me at least, was that the majority was not in favour of mandatory death penalty sentences, especially for drug and firearms offences.
Let us be clear on the distinction.
A mandatory death penalty means that if a person is found guilty of an offence which carries such a punishment, then the judge will have absolutely no choice but to mete out said penalty.
This means that the discretion of the judge to take into account the surrounding factors of the case is non-existent.
This can lead to cruel decisions and it could, oddly enough, lead to decisions where a person who has committed a crime is let off on slight technicalities because a judge is loath to send a person to his death.
The resentencing of Yong Vui Kong, the young Malaysian found guilty of drug trafficking in Singapore, is an example of how a change in the law has avoided what could have been a most unjust killing.
By most accounts, Vui Kong was very young, naïve and not particularly bright: a candidate who in most likelihood is the perfect mule for the drug kingpins who want their product moved.
Not a hardened criminal, he was to suffer for the activities of more nefarious parties who, of course, would not be caught in such a compromising position.
It is a great relief, particularly to the hard-working and persistent Save Vui Kong group who have been fighting tirelessly for his pardon, that this Malaysian youth will not die as the Singaporeans amended their laws by taking away the mandatory death sentence and giving the judge discretion as to the punishment he sees fit.
It is noted that even the Malaysian Government had tried to appeal to the Singaporeans for clemency.
If they could see the potential injustice of a mandatory death sentence and if the majority of the Malaysian public are not in favour of it as shown by the Death Penalty Project report, isn’t it time we had a serious rethink of our own mandatory death penalty laws?

Why study history

Sin Chew Jit Poh
23 November 2013
I enjoy history. I enjoy it much more now as an adult than I did as a child. I love buying history books and am always on the lookout for good history documentaries.
This was not always the case. In my youth, even though I studied the subject from standard four all the way to my sixth form, I can’t say with all honesty that I loved it as much as I do now. Perhaps it was the subject matter or the way which it was taught, but the kind of excitement I get nowadays when faced with an interesting programme or a new book, simply was not there.
Be that as it may, it was far from my most hated subject. That honour lies with maths. I was interested enough with history, just not in love with it. Well, if I found it quite dull, despite my basic interest in it; imagine what it was like for my school friends who hated it.
This is why making history a compulsory pass for fifth form students, I think is a bit silly. Basic history should be taught in primary school and even the early years of secondary school, but by the time a young man or woman is sixteen then they really should be free to pursue the subjects that they are interested in.
Not only does it, in a rather abstract way, give them a taste of the responsibility of decision making, but on a more practical level, students tend to do well in subjects they enjoy.
It appears that the reason why there are plans to make history compulsory is in order to instil a sense of patriotism in the youth. This kind of thinking concerns me. Firstly it is logically flawed. When has forcing something on anyone made them feel anything other than resentment? You can’t force patriotism just as you can’t force love.
Secondly, whenever patriotism is used as a reason for anything, I get suspicious. As Samuel Johnson said “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”. I am very worried that the word “patriotism” is merely a cover for the real objective of this exercise which is “propaganda”.
History must never be dictated by politicians with their political agendas and I fear this is what is happening now. If we look at the fifth form syllabus of history as it stands, we see a seriously disproportionate emphasis on Islamic (read Arab) history and very little on the early, extremely diverse history of this country and the region.
With regard to recent history, the independence movement is seen from a very narrow perspective, focussing only on UMNO (and to a lesser extent MCA and MIC); when the truth is the independence movement started with the Malayan left wing. Furthermore the constant use of derogatory terms on non-Malays such as “pendatangs”, just adds to my sense of unease. History as it is taught appears to be an effort to push forward the Malay/Muslim agenda and little else.
The current history syllabus is divisive and selective and it does not give our fifth formers a clear or holistic picture of our history. And knowing our history is really about knowing ourselves. It does not need to be like this. It must not be like this, especially if it is to be made a compulsory subject.
So what kind of history do I want taught? One that delves into the great civilisations of the world, particularly Asia more deeply. One that explores the rich relationship between this land and the lands that surround it. For example the fact that Malays owe so much of our culture to India and that for centuries, we were all Hindus.
It is true that the land was almost homogenous in the 19th Century and the demographics changed with high immigration, but instead of harping on about how so many of our people have their ancestors from faraway lands, what about delving into how much those self-same ancestors contributed to the wealth of the nation. And definitely I would like to see the credit for independence spread around to all who worked and suffered for it, not just the forefathers of our current political masters. This is not only unfair, but also untrue.
Teaching history must have a purpose, and that purpose may well be nation building. What it must not have is a political agenda, and that is exactly what the contents of school history in this country and the proposal to make it a compulsory subject looks like to me.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

BFM A Bit of Culture: The Pursuit of Happiness

16 November 2013

The Danger of Intolerance

Sin Chew Jit Poh
15 November 2013


The papers have been filled with scary news recently. Serious crime seems to be screaming at you from every headline. The murder of Ahmad Rafli of the Pahang Religious Department was particularly horrific and one can’t help but feel sympathy for his family whose distress was so clearly displayed on the front pages.


The police have some suspects in mind, and one hopes that after a thorough and just investigation that those who are responsible are brought to trial.


However, there was one undercurrent throughout the reporting of this sad affair that bothered me. Due to Ahmad Rafli’s job, his murder has been linked to groups which have been deemed “deviant”, as it was amongst his duties to investigate them. In fact the suspects that the police want to question come from a particularly odd sounding cult.


Personally I don’t believe in stopping any group from practicing their beliefs, “deviant” or not. Unless of course they are violent or they do things which are patently wrong, such as holding members against their will and conning people. So, unless a group is peaceful, then why should we bother them?


Any infringement of people’s right to do what they wish, must only be done if there is clear evidence that they are up to hurting people or stealing from them or something of that sort. Which is why I was upset that the Muslims practicing Shia Islam has been, without any indication that there exists some evidence, linked to this crime and even when they are not directly being linked to it, they are consistently mentioned in newspaper reports as though they are not only deviant, but dangerous.


The Amman Message which was endorsed by then Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, clearly states that the Shia branch of Islam is valid. How can it be then that the followers of this ideology are now being demonised and their teaching, in some states, banned?

It is patently unfair and hypocritical for a government to, on the one hand accept a principle as all-embracing and inclusive as the Amman Message, and yet on the other hand take such measures as to fly in the face of that same message.


It is bad enough for the Shias of Malaysia to be persecuted in this way, but the demonising and the not very subtle associating of them to violent acts of which there is no proof offered, is very cruel and dangerous indeed.

One of the biggest threats in this country, is not the fact that there are many people with many different viewpoints. The single biggest threat is to not respect those viewpoints and to not allow people to peacefully live their lives. Words and actions which supress people and which give rise to hatred for the “other” not only comes dangerously close to justifying wrongful actions against them, but it also creates a sense of persecution and anger amongst the victims. This sense could very well lead to an explosion borne of frustration and a feeling of grave injustice.


Having different ideologies and beliefs is not the danger that is so often perceived by the powers that be. On the contrary, it is disrespecting the rights of people to peacefully live as they wish is what can cause the greatest danger.




Wednesday, 13 November 2013

More than just business

Brave New World (The Star)
13 November 2013

At the end of the day, whether in print or online, credibility is crucial to real success.


I LIKE newspapers. I like books and magazines.
I don’t like reading things on a computer screen, tablet or electronic book.
Even in my work, if I’m sent something lengthy to read by e-mail, I will usually print it out first. I guess I’m old fashioned that way.
There is something oddly unsatisfactory in reading a computer screen. Maybe it’s the loss of the tactile element of being able to touch something and (in the case of new books) to sniff it.
Also, I just find it so much easier to have an entire document in my hand, something I can flick through with ease if I wanted to.
It is quite natural, therefore, for me to feel a little twinge of distress every time I read or hear some report declaring that the time for newspapers is almost up.
The electronic world is going to end news reading as we know it. No more crackling crisp sheets of virgin paper. No more ink stains on fingers; just the cold tap-tapping of a tablet screen or the mechanical clicking of a mouse.
Maybe this is all inevitable, but I hope that it is a long way off because really, one of life’s little pleasures is sitting in the dingy confines of a kopitiam going through the daily cartoons and sports with a hot cup of black coffee in the early morning cool.
Be that as it may, newspapers must adjust if they are to survive.
It is the way of any business endeavour. In the face of change: adapt or die.
And many newspapers are indeed struggling. Readership is down and with fewer eyes scanning one’s pages, businesses are less willing to pay to advertise.
What can be done? I am not so sure, being a non-business type person. A greater online presence will help, seeing as most young people now find their news that way.
But at the end of the day, a newspaper, whether in print or electronically disseminated, must be credible.
Without that credibility, if the reader cannot trust what you say, then it doesn’t matter how great your business plan is, you will fail.
An untrustworthy newspaper is about as attractive as, I don’t know, one of my interminably dull lectures on the enforcement of foreign judgments, I suppose.
What a newspaper should not do is to expect government help to direct GLCs to advertise with them.
This merely serves to diminish credibility further by making it clear to all and sundry that your paper is beholden to the powers that be (for how, pray tell, are you going to report objectively when you are beholden).
It is also patently unfair and a waste of money on the part of the GLCs who are being asked to do something which they, with all their business sense, had good reason not to do in the first place.
Furthermore, it perpetuates a culture of dependence and entitlement. If your business is not doing well, instead of going around with cap in hand demanding help, isn’t it better to try to root out the cause of your troubles and solve it (for example, the issue of credibility)?
And we are not talking about some fledgling publication here. The papers in question have been around for decades.
If a business can’t survive on its own steam with scores of years of experience and existence under its belt, then perhaps it doesn’t deserve to survive at all.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A vague but useful term

Brave New World (The Star)
31 October 2013

National security can be invoked for any number of reasons because it can mean many things to different people.


AH, national security. It is such a wonderful phrase; two words that has such deep implications and evokes such powerful feelings.
For example, feelings of fear, paranoia and of being under siege. Mention it to me and I envision manly men, biceps bulging as they heft mighty machine guns ready to do battle to defend us from evil invading armies.
But that is just me. Obviously it means other things to other people. It is after all a vague concept.
It is precisely that vagueness which makes it such a useful term. It can be invoked for any number of reasons.
If some people demand the protection of human rights, you can always say “Hey, we would love to do it, but we can’t because, you know… national security”.
It sounds so noble doesn’t it? Sacrificing one’s rights for the greater good. But is that the way it should be? Perhaps in some situations, the answer should be a resounding yes.
In the United Kingdom for example there is a system called the D Notice. This is where in extremely rare cases the government would request the newspapers not to publish certain information which could result in danger whether to the nation or to individuals.
Normally such information would be regarding military matters or regarding highly sensitive installations like nuclear reactors.
The system however is voluntary and newspaper editors can choose to ignore it. By and large however, they do not. In such situations, I am sure that it is felt that national security trumps the newspapers right to expression and the public’s right to know.
But it is too easy to get carried away with this idea of national security and use it to the extent that it becomes a tool not only for the suppression of legitimate rights, but worse still the legitimising of truly unlawful behaviour which should be deemed the true threat to national security.
Let’s look at another example; the American Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.
Now, it can be safe to say that not everybody in the US during this period was in favour of equal rights for all peoples regardless of colour.
It was common during that time to have segregated public facilities. Universities in the Southern States for example were often segregated.
This was until James Meredith, a black ex Air Force serviceman enrolled in the University of Mississippi which up till that point was for whites only.
The Supreme Court had passed a judgment that no public university could practice segregation and the newly elected President Kennedy had made an inaugural speech espousing the values of freedom and equality.
Meredith was going to put the law and the President’s words to the test.
The enrolment of one single student caused such uproar that there were actual riots.
In some people’s views riots are surely a cause of concern and are a matter of national security. What then should be done about it?
There are two possible actions really. You can take the warped and cowardly way out and prevent Meredith from going to the college of his choice or you can stand up to the bigots and defend his right to be treated equally.
Fortunately the American government chose the latter.
(As a side note, the Kennedy administration was not always so fearless.
For example, it took significant international and domestic political pressure before they made a firm policy stand against segregation.
The activities of the Freedom Riders, activist who travelled in the segregated south to ensure that the laws on equality were enforced and who faced extremely violent reactions from racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and even state law enforcement, were initially frowned upon by government of the time).
My point is this; there will always be extremists, those who will not hesitate to use force, or threaten to use force against those they disagree with; even when their “enemies” are merely living according to their inherent human rights.
It is ridiculous in the extreme to victimise the victims of such fanatical groups even further by restricting their rights in order to appease the extremists.
In effect what this means is that extremism is not seen as the threat to national security, which it is, but instead in some twisted way human right is seen as the threat to national security.
This is ridiculous not only in its patently absurd logic, but also because it sets precedence where those who advocate violence, the very ones who should be shunned and pushed to the fringes where they belong, can effectively hold a country to ransom.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Transformation plan still born

Sin Chew Jit Poh
22 October 2013
In the last few weeks, I have been asked to comment on the recent flurry of political party elections and meetings. Generally I would politely decline. This is because internal political party affairs do not interest me.
Politics in this country is frustrating enough as politicians, particularly from the ruling parties, prefer to avoid fundamental agendas such as corruption, health, governance, rule of law, economic growth and education. Instead the political agenda would be usually something emotive like religion and race; non-issues which only get prominence because politicians force them into public discourse.
If there is so little intellectual content in the political arena between two competing coalitions, imagine how banal internal party politics are. A cursory examination of the various party elections shows me to be correct. So what if person X becomes vice president of UMNO. He is just the same as his opponent because I do not see any differences between the candidates based on ideology.
However, it will be folly to completely dismiss the UMNO elections. They do show us something interesting. And that is, no matter how much he may believe in it, the Prime Minister’s transformation plan is doomed. The UMNO line up is conservative in the extreme (I am trying to use polite words here). Saifuddin Abdullah, the only UMNO politician who has consistently fought for a more progressive approach to governance has been pushed out of the party leadership and what is left are characters who have shown a dangerously regressive attitude towards governance and democracy.
As it is the government gives with one hand and then takes away with another. They promised that they would get rid of the ISA and they did. But they replaced it with the SOSMA which although slightly better, is still open for abuse. They take away detention without trial under the Emergency Ordinance, but now have replaced it with an amendment to the Penal Code which allows for the same thing.
And don’t believe the argument that this kind of law is only used for “criminals” and not “political opponents”. When have they ever detained dissenters on the grounds that they are “political opponents”? They will make things up, usually linking their enemies to some sort of threat or crime. When Hishamuddin Rais and Tian Chua were detained in the early 2000s, they were accused (wrongly) of planning to use firearms. When there is no substantive review by the courts, what is to stop the police and government from falsely accusing their enemies of crimes and then using the laws they have to lock them up?
And now, during the time of writing, there is debate in Parliament to amend the Penal Code again and make it an offence for civil servants to “leak” information. The maximum punishment is one million ringgit. Is this to protect sensitive information or is it to make hard, if not impossible for whistle blowers to expose wrong doings? And I gather there are proposed amendments to the law to make it a crime to fly flags the government does not like.
Looking at the UMNO line up (and that party is the backbone of the current government), looking at the laws passed and proposed, it is clear that we cannot be looking forward to any sort of progressive developments in this country in the context of human rights, rule of law and democracy. Instead we are regressing; which also means that all of Najib Razak’s talk and plans for transforming this nation is still born.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Compassion withers as trade steps in

Brave New World (The Star)
16 October 2013


With the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement looming, I thought it might be good to look back a bit at the history of free trade and the laissez faire system.
In the 19th century, Britain was firmly in the grips of the free trade ideology.
It had been a source of great wealth in the 18th century and by the Victorian age it was thought that the future of growth and development following this dogma was endless, especially with the advent of the industrial revolution.
To a large extent, this optimistic vision of the world was proven to be correct. Britain flourished like never before and became a true world power.
There was of course a dark side to this development. Colonialism which initially started with the philosophical foundations of raising foreign and backward countries to the point that they were “civilised” enough to govern themselves and be part of a global trade system (as paternalistic and condescending as it was) was replaced by an even more damaging philosophy which saw colonialism as little more than an economic endeavour.
Imperialism, whether grounded in lofty (if misguided) ideals or economic pragmatism, left deep scars borne of subjugation, the loss of dignity and dangerously false scientific premise justifying the necessity to rule over “lesser” races. Scars which are still sore in some parts of the world today.
Closer to home, industrial Britain in Victorian times saw great misery and exploitation suffered in the name of progress.
Poverty, disease, child labour and social inequality reached staggering levels.
However, what I wish to discuss here are not the effects of colonialism or unhindered capitalism. Instead, I wish to point out the dangers of being too enamoured with the idea of free trade to the point that basic human values of compassion are forgotten.
And there are two examples of 19th century social tragedy of tremendous scale with which to illustrate this.
I use the word tragedy here in its true literary sense, for both these events could have been avoided if not for stupendously poor decision making.
In the mid-19th century there was a famine in Ireland. Peasants grew potatoes and little else. It was monoculture on a grand scale. So when a disease struck the potato crop, effectively destroying everything, there was a nationwide famine.
People suffering from starvation was a given, but the other effects of the failed crop was homelessness due to evictions, disease from malnutrition and abject living conditions, and mass emigration.
It is estimated that a million people died due to the famine.
Approximately the same number of people died in India in 1896/1897. This was also due to a famine. This time the cause of the crop failure was not disease but the monsoon rains which failed to come.
It would be inaccurate to say that nothing was done to help the starving. There were governmental measures taken and charity drives, in both these places.
However, they were sorely lacking and in some cases poorly planned and implemented. However, one of the things that struck me the most was the fact that in both Ireland and India at the time of the famines, there was a food surplus.
Unfortunately, the grain was earmarked for export.
The reason why this surplus was not directed to the starving was ideological. It was thought that the free market would correct the imbalance of food distribution by itself.
And the all-prevailing philosophy of free trade was of such importance that exports must not in any circumstances be stopped.
It seems unthinkable that the Victorian leaders of Britain could think in that way let alone make their decisions at the cost of millions of lives based on the belief that trade was more important than people, but that is what happened.
Could such a thing happen today? Well, perhaps famine of such a scale is unlikely in this country.
But it is possible that free trade could lead to other social tragedies. It is imperative then that the promise of wealth which the free trade proponents espouse with such convincing rhetoric not blind decision makers to the necessity to think of all possible outcomes from such a philosophy.
It is necessary for them to not forget their humanity.

One day in Malaysia’s future - Azmi Sharom

The Malaysian Insider
15 October 2013

Good Evening. It is October the 16th 2020 and this is the eight o'clock news. This programme was pre-recorded and has received the approval of the Ministry of Moral Values and Censorship.
We begin tonight's newscast with a dramatic shooting on the Super Highway Link Road. Police gunned down five men in their car when they were stopped at a routine road block. Our roving reporter was granted an interview with the Chief of Police.
"Chief of Police may we respectfully and humbly ask, what happened in the lead up to the shootout"?
"Thank you for keeping the nation safe Sir. May I also ask what made you think that these men were gangsters'?
"We had evidence that they were gangsters".
"Thank you again Chief of Police. We are fortunate to be protected by you. Now back to the studio".
Next on the news; the Director General of the Department of Governmental Logistics left the court a happy man today as he was acquitted of all charges of corruption. Viewers might remember that in the year 2018 it was exposed by the Auditor General that the Department of Governmental Logistics had purchased three airplanes for the use of the Prime Minister and her entourage.
The cost of the aeroplanes was fifteen million US Dollars each. Upon delivery it was discovered that the planes did not have any engines. It was uncovered that engines will cost a further two hundred million US dollars per plane, with one hundred million being the commission of the agent that brought the buyer and seller together.
The Department paid this sum and the planes were delivered. Unfortunately, the engines were of the wrong specifications and although the planes can move along the runway, they are not able to take off.
During the case the Director General's legal representative invoked the Impunity Act 2015, in particular section twenty, also known as the stupidity clause. According to this clause, any element of stupidity in a government officer will excuse him or her from any accusation of corruption.
The court took three and a half minutes to come to judgment holding that section twenty applied and the Director General was free to go.
When asked for a comment, the Director General had this to say: "I am very, very, very, very, joy. Justice has been thrown to me. The court said I am stupid and it is very, very, very, very, true that I am stupid.”
Now it is time for the weather report. The haze will be of moderate levels tomorrow with the Air Pollution Index reaching only two hundred and seventy. It looks like tomorrow will be a good day for a picnic folks.
Finally we have received the latest list of banned words from the Ministry of Sensitivity. Starting from October the 20th the following words can't be used: dog, pig, swine, puppy, boar and ham. It has been deemed by the Ministry of Sensitivities that these words are offensive and will harm the sensitivity of people.
Anyone caught speaking, writing or reading these words will face imprisonment up to three years and a fine of up to eighty per cent of their property.
And that has been the news for today, the 16th of October 2020. Be proud of our country for we have been declared amongst the top ten percentile of the International List of the Best Failed States.
Please remember to sing the national anthem before going to bed. Good night.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Bad Civil Servants, Bad Ministers and Impugnity

Sin Chew Jit Poh
8 October 2013
The recent behaviour of Zahid Hamidi the Home Minister has been the subject of a lot of discussion, much of it negative. This is understandable of course. His refusal to face hard questioning on the police losing weapons; his crude bullying of a journalist; his supposed support of a group officially declared a gangster organisation; and his supposed threatening to shut down any newspapers that report what he said, this is really behaviour unbecoming for a minister.
My initially thought was that this behaviour is not at all surprising, coming as it does from a person who in the past has shown the same bullying tendencies. With the UMNO general assembly looming, it is to be expected that he will up the ante with his macho man act. It is after all what the UMNO faithful like. The rule of law is not something that they have shown any understanding of and when the Home Minister says things like the police don’t need to give a warning before shooting someone they think is a criminal, I imagine it warms the cockles of hard core UMNO members.
I did not really want to write about the ridiculous statements that Zahid Hamidi has been making. I believed that it was simply a typical action on his part, with just that bit of extra belligerence thrown in to play up to his supporters. In other words, it was merely an unsophisticated politician playing unsophisticated politics. I thought there are more important things to talk about like the Auditor General’s shocking (but sadly, once more, not surprising) report exposing the millions of ringgit lost by government departments which happened one would think through at the best, sheer incompetence and at the worse, rampant corruption. Then it occurred to me that both these things are related. Allow me to explain the connection.
The wastefulness of the government has been soundly criticised and many suggestions have been made for ways with which to avoid it in the future. Punishing the civil servants who have made such poor decisions is one. Transparency in the system is another (for example by making all purchases and expenditure available on a department’s website). I even heard an ingenious suggestion to check the tax returns of companies who have made over priced sales to see if such transactions were declared. If not, then there is not only tax evasion which can be punished but also evidence of possible corruption.
All these suggestions are good, but I am wondering what the root cause of this wastefulness is. We can point to the loss of integrity amongst the civil service. Perhaps this is the reason, a loss of moral fibre in the ranks of the servants of the people.
If this is so, then why did it happen? In the civil service as it is anywhere, there are good people and bad people. Good people, will, by and large do the right thing regardless of the temptations and bad people will always try to bend and break the rules for their own good. A solid and transparent system could make it harder for them to do so, and it is obvious that such a system is not in place here in this country. Of if there is one, it is not being implemented properly.
However, I would suggest there is an even deeper problem; one that cannot be solved by a systemic change. It seems to me that there is a culture in this country which is like a silent disease. It pervades governance and the results can be seen in the Auditor General’s report and the behaviour of the Home Minister.
This is the culture of non-accountability. Those with power act with the kind of carelessness or even possibly corruption with what appears to be impunity. And why shouldn’t they when their actions do not appear to bring with it any repercussions. How many people have been punished due to the Auditor General’s last report which also exposed gross wastefulness?
But even without such punishment, don’t civil servants have to answer to their own conscience? Isn’t there a sense of shame when using your power in such a poor manner? Perhaps at one time there was that culture of integrity.
But how can such a culture survive when you see your political masters like Zahid Hamidi getting away with such terribly wrong behaviour and statements. If the political masters are not accountable for what they do, then is it any surprise that the servants feel the same kind of invulnerability?

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Policies and the Constitution

Brave New World (The Star)
2 October 2013

A case can be made for policies, and not just laws, to be subject to constitutional requirements. An examination of the new Bumiputra Economic Empowerment Agenda gives an example of the grounds by which policies can be viewed as contravening the Constitution.


LET’S talk about the new Bumiputra Economic Empowerment Agenda (BEEA). From my understanding of the BEEA, it is a policy where the Government will actively direct business opportunities to bumiputra interests as well as a host of other endeavours, all with the purpose of boosting bumiputra economic presence.
I do not want to discuss the economic pros and cons of this new policy; I will leave that to the economists. Instead, I wish to examine this from the viewpoint of the Constitution. Specifically, I want to discuss if this policy can be deemed to be constitutional.
Before we begin, I wish to state here that I am in no way an economic liberal. I believe very strongly in affirmative action.
However, I believe that such affirmative action has to be properly justified, namely that it is designed to help those who are in need the most, specifically the poorer sections of a community.
Furthermore, any such action must be reviewable in an open and democratic manner in order to ensure that it is reaching its objective and that it is not abused nor implemented in such a way as to cause too great an imbalance to the principle of equality.
These basic guidelines are necessary because affirmative action is a type of policy which undoubtedly goes against the basic ideals of equality.
If we take equality as an ideal, then any deviation from it has to be done most carefully and for jolly good reasons.
Incidentally, I did not pluck these principles from out of my ear; they are found in a decision of the International Court of Justice in what is known as the Belgian Linguistic case.
Now, I am absolutely convinced that the founding fathers of this country understood and appreciated the ideal of equality.
They also understood the reality of Malaya in 1957, which is to say there was a massive economic divide in the country and that the majority of the populace, the Malays, were miles behind in terms of economic development.
It was unfortunate, but necessary therefore to take measures to correct that imbalance, although it was not something that was to be done in a blasé or light-hearted way.
In fact, the Sultans at the time stated in their comments to the Reid Commission that ultimately they envisaged a time when race did not enter the equation for governance.
This being the case, there was a delicate balancing act to be done and this balancing act can be found in the way the Constitution was drafted.
Firstly, the principle of Equality is enshrined in Article 8.
However, Article 8 also notes that there can be unequal treatment in the country, but, and this is a big but, such unequal treatment has to be specifically allowed for by the Consti-tution.
Don’t take my word for it; here is that provision in full: “Except as expressly authorised by this Constitution, there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the grounds only of religion, race, descent, place of birth or gender in any law or in the appointment to any office or employments under a public authority or in the administration of any law relating to the acquisition, holding or disposition of property or the establishment or carrying of any trade, business, profession, vocation or employment.”
And there is plenty of unequal treatment “expressly allowed by this Constitution”.
They include things like the treatment of the orang asli, the holding of positions in religious institutions, personal law, membership of the Malay Regiment, and so on and so forth.
However, we are not interested in that here.
We want to see what it says about treating people unequally in economic terms.
For that we have to look at Article 153, which says there could be reserved for Malays and natives of Sabah and Sarawak a reasonable portion of permits and licences for the operation of trade or business as required by federal law.
Permits and licences: is that what the BEEA is all about?
If it is not, then surely such unequal treatment does not fall under the exception provided for in the Constitution, which says that breaching Article 8 can only happen if it is “expressly allowed by this Constitution”.
The next question that arises is the nature of the BEEA. It is a policy and not a law.
An argument has been made therefore that policies are not subject to the Constitution.
Well, if that is the case then if we have an irresponsible government, we may very well find ourselves with all sorts of strange policies which cannot be challenged on constitutional grounds.
A government policy is something which the Executive has the power to create and enforce.
It is something which can affect the lives of the citizens. One of the purposes of having a Constitution is to check the power of the Executive so that it will not abuse that power.
It makes no sense whatsoever if they can flout the Constitution with the excuse that they are making policy, not law.
If that is the case, why have the Constitution at all since it won’t be able to protect us against policies, only laws?
For example, in August, an American court held that the policy of New York police to racially profile people when conducting stop-and-frisk exercises was unconstitutional.
This shows that challenging executive power on constitutional grounds is not limited only to laws but also policy. As it should be.

History is not Black and White

Sin Chew Jit Poh
30 September 2013
Nothing is black and white; except maybe the colours black and white. Even then you have all sorts of variations. Black is not just black; there is midnight black, satin black and all sorts of other blacks. Just as you have orchid white, apple white and other variations that get interior designers excited.
History too is not black and white. There are always shades of grey and even when something is clear and undisputed, there could still be subtle differences in interpretation. If this is the case, then why is it that in this country, history is viewed in such a simplistic manner?
I am thinking about all this palaver regarding Chin Peng’s ashes. The government is portraying him as a villain and nothing else. And this world view means that he has absolutely no claim for compassion, even in death.
Now, a cursory look at history will show that things are surely not that simple. It cannot be denied that the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) and the Malayan Peoples Anti- Japanese (MPAJA) were the two main indigenous armed resistance to the Japanese. In that sense they fought, risked life and limb to defend this land (we were not really a united “nation” at the time) from an occupying force. Chin Peng belonged to both these bodies and later was to head the MCP.
And when the war was over the MCP turned its sights on the British. Meaning that they were then an anti-colonial movement. And this during a time when the elite of the nation had not yet to begin their push for independence.
If we draw the line of history up to this point, then one could very well say that the MCP were freedom fighters. However, as any school child could tell you, once independence was granted, the MCP kept on fighting and they without a doubt were the killers of many Malayan and later Malaysian civilians and members of the armed forces.
This of course makes their claim to be freedom fighters ring rather hollow. Yet, even here there are grey areas. I do not for one second condone the acts of the MCP, especially in the post-independence period, but let us not forget that the ruling elite may also have had a role to play in this.
The famous point in history here are the Baling talks between the then indigenous leaders of Malaya (the talks were held when we were still under British rule) led by Tunku Abdul Rahman and the MCP, headed by Chin Peng.
The talks were little more than an ultimatum on the part of the Malayan government in waiting. They were not interested in listening to the propositions put forward by the communists; it was their way or no way. And their way, fundamentally did not allow for the MCP to be a legitimate political entity that could take part in the democratic process. In other words the road with which the MCP could lay down their arms and then go ahead to push their ideology via peaceful means was shut on them.
Again, I do not wish to make judgement on the rights and wrongs of this decision made by Tunku and company. It could be that they felt that the MCP had done so much damage that it was impossible to give them any sort of legal recognition. The best they could offer was an amnesty and a period of controlled movement for members of the MCP.
But then on the other hand, could not history have been very different if the MCP were allowed to participate in the democratic process of a free Malaya? It could very well have been that they would have faded into obscurity as the Malayan peoples decided that their communist ideology was not for them.
But, it is pointless playing guessing games with what has happened in the past. What should be done however is to study history with a dispassionate eye. Only in this way can we ever come close to that elusive and subjective thing known as the truth.
Conversely what we should not do is justify decisions made today based on a very poor and blinkered view of the past.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Merdeka and Malaysia Day

I had begun writing for Sin Chew Jit Poh on 11 September 2013. Below is  my first article for them. I have no idea what title they used as I do not speak or read Mandarin, so the only reference I can give is the date of publication.


Last week was Merdeka Day and next week it will be Malaysia Day. It seems to me that over the past few years, every time these two celebrations come around, there is a great deal of hand wringing about how unpatriotic people have become. Desperate measures are then taken ranging from the usual finger wagging at the public, to the most recent government action of making cinemas play the Negaraku before the film screening.
The government acts as though the public’s perceived lack of patriotism is a personal affront to them. And therein lies the crux of the issue. Merdeka Day and Malaysia Day is about this country. It is a time to celebrate independence from the British and the partnership forged between the Western and Eastern parts of Malaysia. It is also a time to take stock of ourselves as a nation and to look forward to the future.
What it is not about, and should never be about is the government, or more specifically, the ruling political party. Unfortunately, this is what the official approach towards these two days, especially Merdeka Day, has been.
It is of course a crude oversimplification on the government’s part to take this approach. Any student of history will see that there were many players who had a role in the acquiring of independence. Not least the Malayan left wing whose activism scared the British into working with the current political elite. Let us not forget that in 1946 UMNO was not calling for independence, just the abolition of the Malayan Union, It was the PUTERA- AMCJA that actually called for independence.
So to simply hog all the glory on the part of UMNO, MCA and MIC is disingenuous and also not very accurate. Sure they were the ones who steered the country towards independence, but they were in no way the only ones.
Now fast forward fifty six years. After decades of propaganda where Merdeka is associated so intimately with the ruling political parties, we see a nation that is politically much divided. This is a natural thing as our foetal democracy develops and matures. But what it means is that over fifty per cent of the people in this country simply do not support the ruling parties.
How then can there be enthusiasm mustered for a celebration which is so intimately and purposefully linked to those political parties?
And when ordinary people try to raise the issue that UMNO MCA and MIC was one group amongst many in the quest for independence by symbolically unfurling the Sang Saka Malaya flag in Merdeka Square, they are arrested and charged with sedition. This shows a powerful desire on the part of the powers that be to have only their version of history known.
It is this narrow world view which makes it difficult for a thinking public not aligned with the ruling party to whole heartedly celebrate Merdeka and Malaysia Day. These celebrations have been hijacked by the ruling elite to be a celebration of them and only them; when really the celebration should be about us the people and the concept of our independent and free country.
If the government really cares about people celebrating these two historic occasions and showing some semblance of patriotism then they have to do two things. Firstly they have to make it absolutely clear that racist bigots who insist that this country is for only one race are not supported by them and that they will work towards a more just Malaysia. Secondly they should just stop the usual chest thumping every time late August and Mid-September comes up and leave the people to celebrate this time in any way we choose.
This is of course impossible and unlikely to the extreme. What is more likely and desirable is we the people simply reclaim these days as ours. We can begin by not allowing those who will divide us between first and second class citizens to cow us into submission. We can stand and fight for our rights and for our vision of a just Malaysia. We can then, if we choose, ignore the normal propaganda that comes with this season and celebrate Merdeka and Malaysia Day in our own way, whatever it may be. After all these days are ours, and not the governments.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Merging of three partners

Brave New World (The Star)
18 September 2013

This is reflected in the 18 and 20 point agreements that Sabah and Sarawak made when they decided to join Malaya and create Malaysia as well as the many special provisions put into the Constitution to cater to them.


I HOPE you had a good relaxing Malaysia Day break because I certainly did. Apart from the welcome two public holidays in close succession, the celebrating of Independence Day and Malaysia Day is one of those wonderfully weird things that make Malaysia unique.
It takes a bit of explaining to the non-Malaysian that’s for sure. I for one, embrace it.
I am very glad that Sabah and Sarawak decided to join with Malaya and create Malaysia. I like having these two states as part of the family.
The few times I have been to the East, have all been great fun. I would like to explore more of course, in particular I would like to visit the interior and experience life outside the big cities.
However, I don’t think I ever will because I don’t want to do so as a tourist.
There is something uncomfortably voyeuristic and slightly condescending when outsiders go to a village or a long house to watch the lives of “exotic” people. So, unless I’m invited by a mate to his home, this is one trip that isn’t going to happen.
Be that as it may, like I said earlier, I am very pleased that Sabah and Sarawak are there. I am not sure if our brothers and sisters over the South China Sea feel the same way though.
There is, I believe, some deep resentment towards Malaya. This takes the form of the material in the shape of natural resources that disproportionately comes this way, and the more ethereal, like the perceived lack of respect shown towards them.
I can understand such feelings. Although Sabah and Sarawak are listed as “states” of the Federation in the Constitution, they actually had the potential to be independent countries before they decided to form Malaysia with Malaya.
As such there is a justifiable belief that what Malaysia is, is more akin to a merging of three equal partners.
This is reflected in the 18 and 20 point agreements that Sabah and Sarawak made with Malaya as well as the many special provisions put into the Constitution to cater to them.
In 1963 there was a concern that Sabah and Sarawak were going to be overrun by Malayans and thus they would lose their identity and their autonomy. The agreements and the Constitutional Amendments were meant to ensure this did not happen.
In order to ensure that the peoples of the two Borneo states remain happy within this little Federation of ours, there is a need to revisit the implementation of the agreements and the Constitution.
Sabah and Sarawak, historically and legally, are not like the other states of this nation and thus need to be treated as such. A deal is a deal as they say.
On the more intangible issue of respect there has to be awareness on the part of Peninsular residents of just how much our Eastern cousins contribute to the wealth of the nation, economically and culturally. And this has to be done in a manner that is more than just skin deep and without the usual condescension thank you very much.
For this to happen, we need to hear the story of Sabah and Sarawak and their relationship with Malaya, from Sabahans and Sarawakians.
Maybe it has happened somewhere but I am just ignorant of it. If so, it would be great if someone would point it out to me, because it is criminal that I know so little of the two states without whom Malaysia cannot even exist.