Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Thugs allowed to set agenda

Brave New World (The Star)
25 June 2014

All I see is a darkness populated by the shrill screeching of the hatemongers, but it does not need to be like this.


MALAYSIA is turning into a hateful country
Hate; it is such an ugly word. Yet I can’t think of anything else to describe what is happening here, the land where I am to spill my blood.
But then, why should I care? I am after all an intruder and immigrant.
Yes, I realise that when the racists speak about intruders and immigrants, they mean non-Malay intruders and immigrants; this despite the fact that many so-called Malays are actually of foreign origin. But I am not a hypocrite like them.
I know my roots and they spread to Yemen, to Medan, to Singapore. I wasn’t even born here. Yet I believe that I have as much right to be here as anyone else and my fellow Malaysians have just as much right as me.
And still the question remains: why should I care?
I don’t have the answer to that question because I am not a very philosophical man. Yet I know this; I have no desire to live in the Yemen, or Medan or Singapore.
And as much as I loved my significant time in England, I always knew that I would come home. And home is here, Malaysia.
Forgive the overly sentimental tangent this article is taking, but I am trying to make sense of my world as I write. It is hard to be purely analytical when one’s home is being slowly destroyed by the bigoted, small-minded, cruel and vicious.
This place is my home because I grew up here. My memories and therefore my identity are tied up to this place.
My tastes, my relationships, my way of thinking, in short everything that makes me the individual that I am, are due to this place.
But what kind of place is it now? It looks to me like the kind of place where the vicious can threaten to behead people, where those who are meant to be the final arbiters are unwilling or incapable of making judgments based on the principles they have sworn to uphold.
It is a place where cowardly leaders think only of their votes and not of making a stand against vile people and their vile deeds.
There is so much going on which is going to affect our basic needs of hearth and security. While the wheels of capitalism turn, we the ordinary folk are going to find it harder and harder to just make ends meet.
Yet we allow thugs to set the agenda. We allow non-issues to become national debating points. We allow the vicious to go on screaming malicious words with God on their lips and hatred in their hearts.
All this when we are living in a country with so much potential and wealth. If we can ensure that the truly needy, regardless of their creed or colour are protected and helped; if we can move our education system towards one where we produce thinking people and not well-educated automatons; if we can create a government in all its guises which is dedicated to honesty and the rule of law.
If we can do all these things, then the future will be more secure for all of us. It is there, within reach.
Instead there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel and all I see is a darkness populated by the shrill screeching of the hatemongers.
It does not need to be like this. If the face of this country is as twisted and ugly to you as it is to me, we can still do something.
We can challenge our elected representatives into a corner. Force them to tell us where they stand.
We can support the downtrodden. We can gather together in huge numbers to make a stand not for any political reason, but to show the bigots that they are not the only ones in this land and that their cruel philosophies are not welcome.
We can think for ourselves and not simply allow those with so-called authority to dictate our thoughts for us. We can be fearless in deed, words and thoughts to uphold the values that surely any country needs to hang on to – fairness, compassion, kindness, freedom and justice.
This country is becoming so hateful; that is true. But I am not yet ready to hate it. Are you?

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Good Referees Good Judges

Sin Chew Jit Poh
23 June 2014
Have you been watching the World Cup? I have. So far I have caught most of the games. But now that the working week has started, I think the need to earn a living and age will mean that I won’t be able to watch many games. My stamina is not what it used to be.
Still, I am enjoying the whole thing. There have been some great surprises, particularly Holland’s demolition of Spain. A few magic moments, like Lionel Messi’s wonderful goal against Bosnia Herzegovina. And disappointments too like England’s loss to Italy despite playing a much more exciting and adventurous brand of football than what I was expecting from them.
The goal line technology has proven its worth as well, so that is a good development (despite Sepp Blater’s pathetic attempts to prevent the use of such equipment). But at the end of the day, the referees are still important and they still play a vital role to the competition.
Unfortunately, already we can see how the quality of referees may not be up to the task. The opening game between Brazil and Croatia is one such example. The opening Brazil goal from a penalty came from a very poor decision indeed. There is no way a foul was committed and the Brazilian player made a real meal out of the barest minimum of contact.
It is not very surprising that many cultures celebrate and revere good judges. In China Justice Bao is seen as a symbol of fair play and honesty. In Biblical tales, King Solomon is admired not just for his ability to chat with animals but also his great wisdom when called upon to settle disputes.
In a civilised society, there is a need that the final arbiter of a conflict has to be wise and fair. This can be seen very clearly when watching football matches where a poor decision can completely spoil a game. It is of course also important that in the “real world” our judges be seen to be just and fair.
This leads me to the request of Gobind Singh Deo that the Agong use the power vested in him by Article 130 of the Federal Constitution to get the Federal Court to make a decision once and for all on the status of this country; namely, is it a secular or an Islamic state. This request was made in the light of the statement by Jamil Khir Baharom that this country is not secular.
In a way this request makes me a little uncomfortable. The issue has actually already been decided by the Supreme Court (then the highest court in the land) in 1988 in a case called Che Omar Che Soh v Public Prosecutor. In that case the then Lord President Salleh Abbas said that no matter what one’s personal beliefs are the fact is that the country is a secular one.
Furthermore in the Reid Commission report, the Alliance in their feedback stated very clearly that just because Article 3 says that Islam is the religion of the federation, this does not mean that the Constitution is not secular.
Therefore to me, it is quite clear that the country is secular. Now Jamil Khir Baharom may want Malaysia to be an Islamic state that is his right. But what he cannot do is mix up his own aspirations with reality, and the reality is that Malaysia is secular. If you want to change its nature then there has to be either a major constitutional amendment or a complete change of constitution. There is a procedure for this and that will have to be followed. Simply making statements, even if it comes from the Prime Minister himself, does not make this country non-secular.
Now, should we get the court to settle this matter once and for all? Actually, there is no need because Che Omar Che Soh is still good law as it has not been overturned. A wise decision has already been made. What we need is for ministers to be taught what the law is and to stop making incorrect statements.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Time to samba and have fun

Brave New World (The Star)
11 June 2014

A person must grab what happiness there is when the opportunity arises and at this moment, that something is the World Cup.


I HAVE a theory, one which would undoubtedly drive anthropologists mad with its sheer lack of scientific rigour.
My theory is that humans love to complain and this inherent need to whine is necessary for human development.
Think about it. Early humans probably figured out that killing animals for meat with their stone tools was a darn sight better than jumping on a gazelle and wrestling it to death.
Then some whiny prehistoric dude started complaining that his stone-tipped spear just wasn’t good enough. This led to the use of flint.
All was good until someone else started moaning about how flint flakes and then we had metal. On and on it goes, and humans keep on developing.
Fast forward to today. By and large, we have it better than our forebears. We have running water so we don’t need to go to a well.
Medicine has improved to the point that catching the flu isn’t a life-and death situation. Kings don’t govern us on their whims – the list goes on. But still we complain. Our water supply can be erratic when there is a drought. The hospitals are so crowded and inefficient. Our democratic process is utterly flawed.
This is good because if we don’t complain, how are we going to progress? If we humans didn’t feel the need to whinge, I suggest that in all likelihood, we would still be wrestling gazelles on the savannah.
But sometimes, all this complaining can be too much. It is exhausting to keep plugging away at an unjust system, bad governance, bigotry and the sheer meanness of people.
Where does it all end? How does one keep on going? I am sure everyone has their own way of recharging their batteries.
Personally, I find it useful to think of the bigger picture. Things can be bad, true, but at least we are not wrestling gazelles.
But really, the thing for me is that in the midst of all the battling, a person must grab what happiness there is whenever the opportunity arises and at this moment, that something is the World Cup.
Everyone has their “first” World Cup – mine was Spain 1982. The Brazilians were at their glorious best with players like the chain-smoking Socrates and non-smoking Zico. But oddly enough, my mates were more taken by Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
Personally, I was totally in awe of that sublime poacher Paolo Rossi.
1982 was the first time I felt truly excited about the World Cup and it was all my little pals and I would talk about. When we were kicking the ball around at recess, it was not as ourselves but as our respective heroes. We discussed matches and players and all else became background noise. What sheer, simple fun.
And it is that sheer simple fun that I look forward to every four years. Time has caught up and my knees will not allow me to kick a ball around a pitch for any length of time.
But all the other stuff, the arguing and the cheering, that can still be done and I relish the thought of it.
I don’t know if I will ever be able to cheer for Malaysia in the World Cup, but for the time being as usual, I will be supporting the England team and as usual, I will be jeered by those wearing yellow and green and those decked out in blue and white stripes or any other colour for that matter. What can I say, I am a glutton for punishment and I am so looking forward to it.
So, while this does not mean that the problems we have will disappear, nor does it mean that one simply stops caring about all those things that matter. It does mean that there is enjoyment to be had.
It is enjoyment of a kind that comes only once every four years and I am going to grab it with both hands. Life is short, so what’s the point of it if we can’t have fun?

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Despair must not be allowed to win

Brave New World (The Star)
28 May 2014

The extreme right have to be countered with sober reasoning, without dismissing the concerns that they raise.


LIVING in, and caring about, this country can lead to a certain myopic viewpoint. Every day one is bombarded with news reports that indicate that this nation is heading towards disaster. Bigotry and small-mindedness appear to be the ruling ethos of the day.
Just how far this is true is unclear. The press have to bear some of the blame in this uncertainty because so much space is given to the divisive and the chauvinistic that it appears that they are the ones setting the national agenda.
Yet, is this the truth? It is hard to say because not enough real journalism is done.
Simple things, like the reporting of numbers at gatherings and protests, would give the general public a better idea as to whether this current gutter thinking in the country is reflective of the nation as a whole or whether it is merely the work of a relatively small group of idiots.
Be that as it may, things look bleak and being as immersed in Malaysiana as one is, then it is an understandable reaction to feel utterly blue. It is as though one is swimming in sewage when the rest of the world is drifting in clear blue waters.
But this is not the case at all. For anyone with a semblance of concern for principles of democracy and humanism, this is a generally bleak period all over the world.
Just north of us, the military has undone the progress that Thailand has been making towards being a truly democratic nation. In a few short days, years of development in the political arena of the nation has been inexorably pushed back.
In Egypt, the same story of a military, used to determining the fate of the nation, destroying the democratic progress also make for depressing reading. Add to that the unthinkable sentencing to death of scores of people in a legal process so ludicrous that to call it a kangaroo court would be an insult not just to kangaroos but to marsupials as a whole; the only logical feeling would be revulsion.
The Indian election has seen the rise of a man with a past so dubious that it makes one wonder how this could have happened. Although cleared of any direct (but without any mention of indirect) responsibility of the massacre in the state of Gujarat in 2002 when he was governor, the stigma remains.
It would appear that this stain is no block to success. The people of India have chosen to ignore this blot in their history and they went ahead and chose Narendra Modi as prime minister in huge numbers, ostensibly because he can lift them out of their current economic stupor.
Europe too is not spared this rise of the extreme right wing. So-called Eurosceptic parties such as the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in Britain and the French National Front have won big in the European Parliament elections.
Although they wave the flag of sovereignty and they make opposing European interference in domestic affairs (particularly immigration) their primary platform, this does not hide the fact that these parties have some loathsome ideologies which can only be deemed as racist.
What with all this going on, is the world then poised on the precipice of fascism and hatred? I do not know.
What I do know is that despair must not be allowed to triumph. In Thailand, it is hoped that having tasted democracy the people will not stand for military rule for long.
And the situation in Egypt must also be taken in context. Considering that country has never had an elected leader before Mohamed Morsi, their democracy is practically foetal. If one is to consider the “Arab Spring” as a process and not as an event, only time can tell if they can restart the process of democratisation following this drawback.
India has a strong tradition in upholding the rule of law and their judiciary is at the forefront of this effort. The existence of separation of powers and checks and balances would, it is hoped, hold back any gross abuse of power in the world’s largest democracy.
The ample democratic spaces in Europe too mean that it is imperative for those who find UKIP and the French National Front repulsive to intelligently and convincingly confront the extreme right. The extreme right work by pandering to negative perceptions and knee-jerk reactionarism.
This has to be countered with sober reasoning which deals with those perceptions, not just factually but in a way which confronts them without sneeringly (as the left was prone to doing) dismissing the concerns that they raise.
As for us, if we truly care about the direction of our country, there really is no choice. The discordant and shrill voices of thuggery and hatred must be met head on; to do nothing is not an option.

Teachers and Politics

Sin Chew Jit Poh
6 June 2014


I read a report that a teacher was given “advice” by Education Ministry officials to be careful about what she places on her Facebook page. The offending post in question was a campaign poster for the DAP candidate in the Teluk Intan by-election.

In the report, one official was reportedly to have said that teachers should not be involved in politics and should focus instead on teaching. Well, first and foremost, our teachers are not just involved in teaching as it is. They are also involved in all sorts of energy and morale sapping activities that they are forced to do. The main source of complaint is the amount of administrative work they are burdened with.

But, be that as it may I do agree with the statement that teachers should not be involved in politics; with a proviso. They should not let any such involvement interfere with their teaching. If they are politically active in their spare time, what is the big deal? It is their democratic right to take part in the political process and it is their human right to express their views.

Ah, but I forget, we live in Malaysia. Concepts like democracy and human rights are very alien to those in power. Also let us not forget the double standards. I wonder if this teacher who is “being advised” would have faced the same degree of concern from the ministry if he or she had posted a campaign poster for the BN candidate.

Actually, there seems to be a case of selective amnesia at work here. Lest it be forgotten, teachers were at the forefront of the independence movement spearheaded by the Alliance (now the BN). In fact, UMNO was once very dependent on teachers as their backbone. It is understandable of course, because in pre-independence days, teachers were generally the most highly educated people of Malaya and they were very politically aware.

This is why up until recently, the portfolio of Minister for Education was so important. The ruling party wanted to have close relations with the teaching profession.  It was so important, that for the longest time it was a given that the person who held the position of Minister of Education was really the Prime Minister in waiting. So obviously teachers were an important part of our political development. Oh, but I forget, these teachers from history were supporters of UMNO, so I guess it was OK for them to be involved in politics.

Anyway, back to our present situation. It does not matter who you are and what position you hold, it is absolutely your right to hold a political view and to express that view. One of the things that was supposedly said about this whole situation is that the teacher’s posting was deemed as anti-government.
Nothing can be further from the truth, even if he or she was anti-government (which incidentally is still a view anyone is entitled to have), her posting was about an election. So if she was choosing one side against another, she was actually choosing between political parties. The issue of government does not come into the picture. Elections are about choosing the individual, or more likely in the Malaysian context, the party, whom you want to be part of government or to create a government.

This is a very rudimentary premise of a democratic system. The fact that officers from the Ministry of Education does not seem able to grasp this simple concept does not bode well; for if such a basic thing can’t be understood, then really one should not be involved in education at all!