Wednesday, 21 August 2013

It's not about rights or peace

Brave New World (The Star)
21 August 2013

There are many reasons why crimes happen, but let us not get befuddled by the view that we have to sacrifice our rights in order to live in peace.


It is quite nice to hear the Prime Minister declare that any future development in criminal laws will not infringe upon human rights. Well, let’s hope that is true.
The thing is, by this statement there is an unsaid implication that human rights and crime are something that are somehow related. One retiree for example said that the price for more freedom is higher crime.
I wondered if this is true. After all, in our country, we respect the old, so perhaps there is some wisdom in this octogenarian’s statement.
So, I decided to poke around the information superhighway (Hah! Bet you haven’t hear that term for a while), and I chanced upon a study done by the United Nations office on drugs and crime in 2012. The study was a comprehensive survey of homicides around the world.
If greater freedom equates with greater crime (here the crime in question is murder), then we should see countries with the greatest civil liberties leading the pack. Crickey, a place like Denmark should, theoretically, be littered with dead bodies everywhere. You shouldn’t be able to walk to your corner shop to buy your poached cod or whatever is eaten in those parts, without having to step over cadavers riddled with bullet holes.
After all, they have ratified about thirty human rights treaties (including one against the death penalty); their criminals must be running around high on Carlsberg and whacking every Thor, Dag and Hagen that they come across.
But, this is not the case. They have one of the lowest murder rates in the world. 0.9 per every 100,000 people. To give that some sense of perspective, our murder rate is 2.3 per every 100,000 people. In fact, looking at the study, we see that there is simply no correlation between civil liberties and crime. The regions with the highest homicide rate tend to be those which are desperately poor.
Now this is of course a cursory amble of the Internet on my part and not some serious academic study, but it seems to me that it is very clear that to equate more human rights to more crime is simply not supported by the facts.
The reason I raise this is that we are often faced with the argument that it is one or the other. Rights or peace. This is simply not the case.
In the light of the recent spate of high profile and horrific crimes that we have faced and the police force’s “war” on gangsters, let us not get befuddled by the view that we have to sacrifice our rights in order to live in peace.
There are a myriad of reasons why crimes happen and these must be examined and studied so that any “war” on crime has to be fought on the correct “battlefield”.
For example, poverty and the vast disparity of wealth between the haves and the have not’s seem to be one of the things that the world’s most murder ridden nations have in common.
It sure as heck is not their observance of human rights principles.
So, yes, let us make all efforts to ensure that this country of ours has the least crime possible, but leave our rights (what little of them we have) well enough alone.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Spiked Article

Thank heavens the football is back! For three months it was like I was living in a world ripped away from the normal space time continuum. Time travelled so slowly that the most banal news of my beloved Spurs was pored over just to get the slightest “fix” while waiting for the season to start. Incidentally, any praise I may have for the British “serious” press in the future will be with this caveat; I do not include the football press. They have spun the Gareth Bale to Real Madrid saga to an inch of its life with repetitive stories often based on nothing but gossip and rumour. Shocking!
What else was shocking are the facts that Spurs won their opening match away from home (a rare occurrence believe me) and with a penalty (something we did not get for the entire 2012/2013 season). However, less surprising is that the Manchester clubs have both gone and made a fantastic start and both look good for the title.
Considering the talent in both their squads and (for the red half of the city at least) pedigree, I don’t know why I thought that they would be stumbling for a bit under new managers. It really was disingenuous of me to think that way and to be surprised when they look nothing but assured and strong.
Just as it is disingenuous for pro BN critics of Nazri Aziz to harp on about the appointment of the Minister’s son to a position in the Ministry. Actually I am not sure what position the boy holds, it is all very vague; is it in the Ministry or is it as a worker for Nazri the politician. That to me is the real issue; if he is working for the Ministry then one has to question his qualifications to do so. If he is working for Nazri in his role as politician, then the MP can hire a chimpanzee if that is what he wants. Also it has to be clear as to who is paying the young whippersnapper, Daddy or the tax payer? If it is Daddy, then I guess paternal instincts may have overridden good sense and I really don’t see what the fuss is about.
Be that as it may, one has to question Nazri’s judgment on this. The boy has more baggage then a First Lady’s shopping trip, I am sure I won’t be hiring him in any capacity. Plus it looks, sounds, tastes and smells like nepotism, and that is because it is. And of course nepotism in any shape or form is rather distasteful, unless the recipient is very, very good at what he does. Not quite sure what Nazri junior is good at; apart from sucking on cigars and driving fancy cars, but I am sure his Daddy knows his strengths and talents.
However, back to my initial point; why are pro BN fellows up in arms over this issue? One would have thought that they, of all people would be used to nepotism amongst their leaders. If they can get their collective knickers in a twist about this little thing, then surely those self-same knickers should have reached the tangled heights of the Gordian knot when considering all those children of Ministers who seem miraculously blessed with such acute business sense that they head multi-million dollar companies and through some amazing coincidence obtain multi-million dollar government contracts.
Don’t they want to question just what is in the water at Putrajaya to make ministers spawn such brilliant and successful entrepreneurs? In the larger scale of things, isn’t that a more questionable thing?

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Between an opinion and the law

Brave New World (The Star)
7 August 2013

In a democracy, laws are made by an elected legislature and an opinion of humans should not have any legal weight.


I SAY man. I say. I say man. How can? How?
Forgive me for my loss of ability to speak with any coherence, but there are some things which just leave one utterly gobsmacked.
For example, when did our mullahs suddenly become the embodiment of Islam? Because that is what it looks like to me.
Disagreeing with a human being’s opinion is equated to insulting a religion.
That strikes me as not only logically bizarre, but also unbelievably arrogant.
And, what about the fact that such questioning can lead to punitive action from the State? Oh dear, oh dear.
Zainah Anwar had already, in the pages of this paper, clearly elucidated the true meaning of the fatwa ("The essence of fatwa," Sunday Star, Aug 4). That it is merely an opinion of humans and therefore should not have any legal weight.
A practice apparently carried out all over the Muslim world, except in Malaysia.
But looking at the laws, in particular the Syariah Criminal Offences laws, it would appear that our erstwhile mullahs can state an opinion, and that is all a fatwa is, an opinion, and it becomes, effectively a law.
I say. I say man. How can?
In a democracy a law is made by an elected legislature. The last time that I looked the only elected legislatures are Parliament and the various state legislative assemblies. No one else.
And, why the crazy heavy-handedness? I am thinking of course about the lady and her pooches.
Just the action of expressing her love for her dogs has led to two nights in jail and being charged in a court of law while handcuffed like a violent criminal.
What sort of desperate thinking can equate her caring for her dogs as a threat?
And, that is what all the happenings of the past couple of weeks smell like to me. Desperation.
It looks like the powers that be, now faced with a threat to their cosy existence, have gone into overdrive to ensure that the status quo with them sitting unquestionably at the top of the pile remains as it is. But things are not as they are anymore are they?
It is clear that across the board the majority of Malaysians of all creeds and faiths are challenging the status quo. Groups who belong to that status quo, whether consciously or not, can’t help but feel that their way of doing things are coming to an end.
Because of this, any sort of difference to their view point cannot and must not be tolerated.
Malaysians have much more access to information than we have ever had before.
They are now willing to defy the powers that be in order to get their views across and this is frightening to those who want us to be servile, subservient and silent.
This goes for the secular powers that be as well, as we can see in the spate of Sedition Act charges and shrill calls for the return of the "good old days" of detention without trial.
The retrogressive actions of the powerful, the anti-intellectual movements that they are on, all point towards one particular conclusion: they are frightened.
Not of violence, because the vast majority of Malaysians have not shown any violent tendencies, even when opposing the existing state of affairs, but of a populace which after decades of submissiveness have now found their voice and are willing to use it. And, use it we must.
I, for one, see the crazy fatwa situation and the banning of the Shia branch of Islam as a clarion call for a strengthening of a secular system of government.
Not because I disrespect religion; on the contrary, it is with utmost respect that I understand that people have a right to find spiritual solace in any way they want.
It is just that, only in a pluralistic, democratic, secular system which respects human rights and the rule of law can all people have the security to find their own way.
We can also see that our democratic country has so many flaws in it — from the subtle, like unevenly divided constituencies, to the blatant where an unelected body can make laws — that a concerted and persistent movement to change all this, to return us to a situation where our inherent dignity as free men and women is respected, is of the utmost urgency.
But in the meantime, I still foresee many more occasions when all I’ll be able to mumble is; I say, I say man, how can?

BFM: A Bit of Culture 3 August 2013

Thursday, 1 August 2013

BFM Radio: The Bigger Picture 31 July 2013

A question of distrust

Brave New World (The Star)
24 July 2013

Distrust in the system will cause far deeper repercussions in university education than what one may think.


EVERY year we get the same old story of school leavers clutching their certificates chock full of As, weeping piteously because they could not get into their university or course of choice.
How can anyone not feel sorry for these young people who have worked so hard?
The hard truth is that not everyone can get what they want when it comes to university education. And the way the system currently works, even straight-A students may not get what they want.
This is due to the fact that exam results only account for 90% of the entry criteria. The other 10% is made up of extracurricular activities.
This means that if there are 100 spaces on offer, even if you scored four As, there could well be a hundred other applicants with the same exam results but with higher extracurricular marks.
Add to this the tiered system we have when choosing universities and courses, where if you don’t get your first choice, you are moved to the bottom of the line for your second choice, and so on.
Well, what this means is that once you missed the boat for your first choice, it is nigh impossible to get a place in the universities you have placed lower in your application form.
I am sure all applicants know the way the system works, and yet they are still disappointed and the whole issue becomes a political one, where the ruling government, afraid of a public relations disaster, year after year try to find ways to limit the fallout by providing scholarships in private institutions and other such measures.
Perhaps we can fix the system of university application, but I am afraid the problem is much deeper than that because what we have here is a lack of trust in the entire education system.
Let’s talk about that elephant which is trumpeting and doing handstands in the room, shall we? The elephant that the government does not seem to notice.
The elephant’s name is Racial Quota, or RQ to his pals. Now, apart from UiTM, which takes great pride in being the equivalent of a university in the American Deep South of the 1950s, all public universities are officially not using the quota system any more.
But is this true? Is there a quota by the back door? For example, not all university applicants come with cap in hand holding onto the same certificate. Some are STPM holders and some are the product of matriculation.
What has to be asked is who gets accepted into the various matriculation courses offered around the country.
Universities are not supposed to have quotas, but does that same principle apply to the matriculation centres? Furthermore, just what are the standards in these matriculation centres?
If there is a disproportionate number of Malay (and I suppose native) students taken into matriculation centres and if the standards of these centres are dubious (for example with unnaturally high number of straight-A graduates), then we have a backdoor quota system.
Now, let me be clear, I am asking questions, I am not saying categorically that this is the case, but it is clear to me that when we have a dual system for university entrance, then it is imperative that there is complete transparency to ensure that all our school leavers are treated equally and fairly when applying for universities.
And frankly, I can understand the non-Malays’ frustration at the situation. Our news is littered with divisive treatment from the powers that be.
For example, an idiotic stunt by moronic attention seekers get punished (and rightly so) and yet callers for the burning of bibles get off scot-free (wrongly so).
Furthermore, we hear of university dons calling for racial quotas. In this kind of atmosphere, how can there not be distrust?
And ultimately, this distrust will cause far deeper repercussions in university education than what one may think.
The way I see it, certain university courses require certain skill sets which may not be reflected in exam results alone.
For example, I would much rather have law students with poorer results but with an ama­zing grasp of language and the ability to express himself or herself with clarity and conviction.
These seem to me some reasonable criteria to have and in a society without such deep racial distrust, a student who fails to make my grade may very well understand why someone with weaker exam results has obtained a seat in my lectures.
Not so here; there will be, and quite understandably so, calls of prejudice and for my head to be stuck on a pole.
In the end, I will have a student who may have done brilliantly at Form Six, but really does not have the right qualities to make a good lawyer.
At the end of the day, even with the clearest of criteria, our country, after years of racially-based policy making, is suffering from a lack of trust.
And this lack of trust means not only that we will continue to have heartbreaking stories every year, but that we are not able to think about a more holistic and ultimately more productive method of choosing our university students.
This is a problem that will not go away unless there are serious and meaningful systemic changes in the entire way this country is run.
It could start with a leadership willing to deal with that frisky elephant, now doing cartwheels across the room. But who knows where we are going to find that?