Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Five Good Things for Malaysians to Ponder for 2009

1. Media. Interestingly enough, it's a plural of "medium", as in the thing in which something is processed. Therefore, it's a noun but that's rather misleading, since it essentially provides a function - it doesn't just deliver the world to your door, it provides a perspective, an opinion, an emphasis on one side or the other. All the media do this, whether it's mainstream or alternative, and yes, even the words you read right now. People tend to say that the quality of a democracy is the freedom of the media which is an aspect of that democracy, and that has a certain truth to it. But the real essence of a democracy is whether you have a people who want to have a plurality of ideas, and whether they can sift through a variety of opinions before making up their own.

2. Melting pot. Malaysia used to advertise this quite a bit in the early '90s - that Malaysia is a cultural melting pot, a cornucopia of cultures, a blend of races living in harmony. That's where we get the "Malaysia, Truly Asia" slogan. These days when this comes up it seems to be a stern reminder when trouble brews rather than a badge of pride. As in, don't forget that cultural harmony is what a Malaysian strength. Or, we should keep in mind that racial harmony is what others have always envied about Malaysians. Thankfully yoga isn't one of our cultural products, yes?

3. Social contract. Somewhere, someone noted on the American Constitution, far enshrined by its people, was not a statement of what already is, but a set of goals to achieve. Here, and now, Malaysians would do well to understand that the historical context of our social contract was to provide eventual equality, where everyone would be on the same playing field - not provide dominance of one race over the other... which would be, ironically, the absolute opposite of equality.

4. Bloggers. There's a tendency for certain words to gain a meaning it never had. There's also a tendency to make certain words gain either a negative or positive slant by people with ulterior motives to do so. The term "bloggers" doesn't denote either good or bad people, like everything else, including "politicians", there are the good, the bad, and the ugly.

5. Security. As in the Internal Security Act. Let's think about the opposite of security: insecurity. When someone gets arrested under the guise of our security (or in the case of a certain journalist, her apparent "security"), do we really feel insecure about what that person says or does? It is perfectly acceptable to feel a certain insecurity if the person is about to, say, blow up a bus, but if only words can create insecurity, then well, we must really have an insecurity complex. Do we advertise our maturity as a people to the world, or a certain immaturity?

If I could add a more upbeat bonus:

Boleh. Just like "bloggers", this term has gained a certain notoriety, as in "Bolehland" denoting where anything goes in this country. But much like the rise of "Yes We Can" halfway across the globe, Malaysians can regain a sense of positive energy not merely asking whether we can, but indeed whether we will.

Happy new year everyone, and happy new year, Malaysia.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Whatever Happened to Rafidah Aziz?

I was never much of a fan of the Barisan Nasional, no surprise there. But early on I rather liked Rafidah – or perhaps I liked the idea of Rafidah, the persona she wore. The UM economics lecturer turned International Trade Minister plus the no-nonsense attitude: it made it seem cool to have a person who actually knew a thing or two about the job instead of just someone who could bluff his way through a speech.

Then came the whole AP thing. The pakai tudung when it’s useful thing. The whole then-magnanimous speech about being thankful for a long career after being dropped from the Cabinet… and then needing to hang on to a position for another six months after elections. Almost makes me think that the best politicians are the ones who die in office before they have a chance to let you down.

Recently of course, it’s the whole Sharizat versus Rafidah brouhaha.

“Barisan Nasional component parties have been told not to wash their dirty laundry in public.
BN Wanita head Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz reminded them to settle all internal issues within the coalition and not use the media to publish their grouses.”

– “‘Keep feuds within the family’”, The New Straits Times, Dec. 3, 2008.

Now this would be all fine and dandy if she were providing grandmotherly advice to, say, infighting in the MIC. But it is instead an ill-disguised barb against her opponent, who was sitting right next to her when she was at the press conference. The grand irony and the height of hypocrisy is that this wasn’t a speech to delegates or members of BN – this was in a press conference, the very channel she said one should avoid.

"'If you have something to raise, then do through a memo or raise it in a meeting. What is the problem?"
- Rafidah Aziz, ibid.

Let's look at the problem, then. I don’t know a thing about Sharizat’s policies and have no idea if she’d make a better Wanita head. But in all fairness, it should be noted that Sharizat’s explanation for going to the media was that she couldn’t get word in edgeways in the meeting, and that she was bullied into compliance. Rafidah would have had a point if Sharizat had a fair hearing in the meeting, agreed without undue pressure and then did a turn around the next day. So far, Sharizat’s account of how the meeting was conducted has not been contested. Close-door meetings - that's the problem.

And to add to it, she said that the purpose of the press conference as to talk about the BN, and that she was so focused on it that she she actually “forgot” person she was contesting was sitting right next to her.

That’s a lot to swallow, when the person saying it should really be eating humble pie. Apparently you can say a lot of nonsense in a no-nonsense voice.

Friday, November 28, 2008

All Gaga over Yoga

“Missed a bullet, somehow, I sense.”

First it was a ban on yoga for Muslims because of what apparently were Hindu elements – though yoga didn’t seem to bother the most conservative of other religious groups, even the ones who taught that Harry Potter was the Antichrist. Then it seems that the National Fatwa Council may have stepped into the territory of the Sultans, and one can only guess if the advice from the Raja Muda of Perak to take time to study matters in order to avoid hasty decisions may suggest that the ban was indeed hasty.

On one hand, non-Muslims aren’t practically affected by this whole brouhaha on yoga. We’ve been chugging down beer (still legal in Selangor!) and chomping on piggy meat as happily as Muslims have been munching on beef burgers (better not tell the powers-that-be that the cow is a sacred animal to Hindus or they just may make that haram too).

But there was this thing about the Information Ministry getting involved, and the Prime Minster declaring that yoga is alright minus the chanting as “I believe that Muslims are not easily swayed into polytheism." (The Star, 27 November) – I’m not polytheistic myself but I did find that it carried a disrespectful tone to Hindus. Something like if Buddhists were told that attending Hari Raya open houses was okay because they are faithful enough not to be swayed into monotheism.

And of course if Mahathir has to remind us not to make it into a religious issue (and what kind of issue was it then? An economic one?) then we have to think twice about it. It’s like the guy who may have just accidentally spat in front you on purpose. It may have been pure coincidence, but when he says, “Now, don’t take that personally,” you may just start to wonder.

Somehow we’re losing the idea that unity in this country will always be founded on diversity. That we should embrace the idea that there is a form of exercise – more so than tai-chi or chi-gong – that actually brings together people of all races. That it just might be another area of common ground, of conversational currency, when Muslims visit their friends during Chinese New Year.

The one time a government official made any sense in these sorts of decisions was in regards to Shanon Ahmad’s controversial political parody, Shit. After rumours of whether it was bad taste or free speech and the idea of banning a book by Sasterawan Negara, a decision was made that ignoring it was the wiser option than making it an even bigger deal. In this light, the final irony may indeed be that the popularity of yoga may actually increase – if not for the critical opposition to the idea that yoga has religious implications from progressive Muslims like Marina Mahathir and Azmi Sharom, then certainly the idea that you hide things that are on some level, at the very least, interesting.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Malaysia: as one chooses to see it, or as one chooses to believe in it

The way the world is, is often the way we choose to see it – and that is the crux of racial politics in Malaysia.

Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed, soon after saying that a Malaysian of any descent can rise to lead the country, pessimistically blogged that racial politics are far from over. Predictably he hit out on both sides of the aisle. His old adversaries on the Opposition bench were described as: “…PAS, a very Malay Muslim party, and DAP, a Chinese dominated party. Even the Keadilan is made up of violently racist Hindraf Indians, Chinese dissatisfied with the MCA's representation of the Chinese in BN and self-serving Malays who could not find a place in the other Malay parties.” In a clever uppercut, Mahathir’s new opponents in the Barisan Nasional were chastised as having failed to live up to their responsibilities, which in his opinion was the cause of the March 2008 election results – and not racial politics.

It sounds convincing, a long-time premier selflessly imparting his wisdom of leadership to a people who are naïve daydreamers. But just perhaps it is, instead, a cynical icon living in a past he created, resistant of change, who chooses to see only the world as he always has, where he is right and everyone else is wrong.

Parties cannot change their histories – whether it is PAS’s connection to theology or DAP’s old connections to the PAP. And while we’re on history, Malaysians have a great tendency to have a very selective history. Like viewing Hang Tuah a little differently when one finds out he was ethnic Chinese, or wayang kulit once we realize it has Hindu links. Or putting Datuk Tan Lian Hoe on the frying pan.

What anyone can do is instead to learn from it to better affect the present, including forming a non-Muslim wing to PAS, electing a Malay to the upper ranks of the DAP, and the leader of Keadilan choosing a “ketuanan rakyat” stance when campaigning for office in Permatang Pauh– a strategy that proved triumphant against an Umno stance which included a characterization of the Chinese in this country as “squatters”. At the initial protest rally after the arrest of reporter Tan Hoon Cheng who brought that comment to print, a major highlight was the arrival and support of representatives of PAS, the so-called “very Malay Muslim party”.

Eventually even the Barisan Nasional had to concede a realization of the way the wind was blowing, seen in proposals to include direct, non-racial entry into the BN, and opinions from various quarters in Gerakan considering a departure from the coalition.

Mahathir’s view fits his ideal just a little too well. His old enemies are wrong as always, and if only the Barisan allows him to be the Lee Kuan Yew-type backseat driver, all would be well. How sad then that even well into retirement our so-called Bapa Wawasan looks to the past, rather than the longer term vision of what potential lies in our people.

He writes: “When the Barisan Nasional did badly in the March 2008 General Election, foreign observers and many in this country were jubilant because they claim that it marked the demise of racial politics and racial parties in Malaysia.
I did not agree with this simplistic view and I had put my thoughts on this blog. I believed that it was rather protest against the failures of the Abdullah Government that caused many Barisan Nasional members and supporters to vote for the opposition.”

My dear Dr M, of course it was a protest against the Abdullah Government which, one might point out, could not have been there without your initial support. But why on earth could it not also finally be a start – a good, healthy Malaysia Boleh start – away from racial politics?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Malaysia Mudah Lupa?

You have to give that RPK some 'respek', man. Never mind that he was willing to languish in Kamunting - and that he knew it was coming and kept on rollin'. Never mind that he hitched his luck to someone who wasn't exactly a sure bet.

You have to salute him, and those like him, who were willing to be martyrs for a cause. Just because the cause was worthy, and not necessarily because the people whom the cause battles were really as worthy as the battle.

We've not entirely worthless as patriotism goes, but we're - how shall I put it - rabbit hopping on a high jump event. The bar is always high (and for that matter, the Malaysian Bar was a test of strength as well) and it's supposed to be. If it weren't, the value of the win wouldn't be as worthy either. We'll have the heat-of-the-moment rallies when a new political party is born, or when elections come along. Heck, we might even deny a two-thirds victory and send some states over the other side and call it a 'tsunami'. But chances are that when it's just about civil liberties and human rights, and not about the price of wan tan mee doubling, Mahathir had the right idea. Malaysia mudah lupa.

How so, you say? Well, Umno has decided to put into the line of succession one whom RPK's wife said would "throw away the key" and leave her husband in detention the rest of his life. So much for the voice of dissent, the cries for reform from within. Anwar, on whom RPK publicly placed his own fate, has waffled on his takeover plans, and with it, RPK's freedom. And as time passes by, even the man himself has worried that Malaysians would forget about him.

Abdullah Badawi insulted the public recently saying that the real way to combat high prices would be to not buy at high prices. Never mind that it's his fault we have those prices to begin with. Ironically enough, the only people who unwillingly fit his plan are those who are fed on less than five ringgit a month. Those under the ISA.

I was never that crazy about Malaysia Today, to be honest. But I recognize that it was for all of us, even if in a slightly caffeinated state. And for that, I say to all who read these letters, jangan mudah lupa.

Here's to you, RPK.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

As Others See Us

Excepts from Race to Judgment by Zoher Abdoolcarim, in Time, Oct. 20, 2008.

Asia’s vast ethnic diversity means we are forced to confront many real differences – cultural, political, economic – that exist among us. Sometimes those differences erupt in violence. At least half of the world’s armed conflicts are in Asia, nearly all ethnic-based. But the bigger reason Asians do not focus on commonality is because their societies do not encourage it.

In many countries, ethnic divisions are institutionalized, with strict laws governing what one race can and cannot do. In Malaysia, an affirmative-action program gives preference to Malays over the country’s sizable Chinese and Indian populations in everything from university places to government contracts.

The world has already gained from the Obama candidacy. In one sense, and one sense alone, his skin color does matter. In Asia (with the exception, perhaps, of India), it is virtually unthinkable that an individual from a minority could rise to become a serious national leader. Whatever we may think of the U.S., of its hardly stellar handling of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, of its lack of oversight, restraint and thrift over the financial meltdown, the fact that a Barack Obama can overcome the disadvantages associated with being black and have a shot at the highest office in the land speaks volumes about the possibility of hope in America.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Baik juga jika Zul say bye-bye...

From The Malaysian Insider:

"Zulkifli's likely defection will be a setback for opposition icon Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim who has been talking about BN lawmakers joining him in an attempt to unseat the BN federal government."

This is the guy who protested against a Bar Council forum aimed at clarifying matters of law that dealt with religion - a completely peacefully organized event aimed at dialogue and discussion. In other words, this guy is a diluted form of Ahmad Ismail, on the wrong side of the fence.

If anything, the presence of PKR's Zulkifli at the unruly protest made it impossible for critics to decry it as another example of Umno's inherent racism - since by saying so, it would also imply that racism is just as evident in some members of the opposition, even those who have made it to Parliament. Anwar Ibrahim, in an earlier interview with Malaysiakini has said that some sort of action has to be taken, but in order to save an already damaged face of PKR, declined to elaborate. An exit to BN may mean one seat less, but would solidify the impression of racism and which side of the political spectrum it seems to be attracted to.

"A PKR source told The Malaysian Insider that the party was in the dark as Zulkifli had not informed the leadership if he was leaving the party or if Umno had even been courting him."

If PKR themselves cannot say with assurance where this guy's allegiance in, what the heck are they doing having him around? Is this what is hampering the touted takeover of the government - because you may "have the numbers" but can't keep track of them? Like that, better they stay away and you be the best Opposition you can be, and make an example of your state governments rather than be a government completely tied down by members who aren't truly loyal to anyone.

"She [the anonymous PKR source] also dismissed the rumours as unlikely, saying the BN could not afford to get involved in another by-election so soon as the tide of the popular vote from the rakyat were currently against them."

It's a bit odd that the PKR source cannot comment on what her own fellow PKR member thinks or what he plans, but can speculate on what the BN thinks and plans.

I hope that they do get into another by-election. And that Pakatan Rakyat will be smart enough to continue their "ketuanan rakyat" stance that helped them win Permatang Pauh. If they should lose, it would mean that those constituents support having a lawmaker who prohibits peaceful, law-abiding citizens from contributing to the clarfications of laws in this country. And they can take that kind of loss as a badge of honour - a willingness to have a political sacrifice for an ethical stance. If they should win, it means that it is another blow to racism in this country and the recent efforts to play the race card do not work.

"Most commentators told Zulkifli that his dissatisfaction with PKR should not push him to join Umno. Instead they asked him to consider joining Pas, a PKR ally in the Pakatan Rakyat.

'Daripada join UMNO baik join PAS. kalu bro join UMNO lu hilang respect dari gua,' wrote commentator Anglagestifung."

Aduhai. As if PAS doesn't have enough problems fitting their Islamic State goal in the more multiracial and secular progressive Pakatan Rakyat. Angla, pikir sikit. 'Bro' hilang respect lama dah.

It may be true that one seat in Parliament matters a great deal. But at the end of the day the confidence and trust of millions who see no place of racism even - especially - in the parties we support must surely matter more.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Rumah Terbuka, Telinga Tertutup

Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi commented that the members of Hindraf who visited his open house did not greet the federal ministers and were only interested in relaying their views.

“Abdullah said he was gracious enough to allow them in as he thought they wanted to wish him and the other ministers but was disappointed that their intention was not so.” (The Star: ‘Hindraf did not greet ministers at Raya open house’, October 7, 2008)

There’s a word to reply to this sort of thinking. And the word is: haiyo.

It really must be party time in Lala Land when you don’t realize that these people have on their minds the suffering of those under ISA. Not the buffet lines at your open house, which I hope is coming out of your RM15,000+ monthly entertainment allowance, but the two eggs they get in Kamunting. The point is that you made somebody's hari less selamat and raya, not that someone didn't wish you selamat Hari Raya.

Plus, it’s not as if they makan your food and don’t say thank you. They’re not there to eat, they are there to see if your ears are as open as your house. And the result was hardly surprising.

Our dear Home Minister added his two cents (lowest devaluation possible).

“Syed Hamid Albar as reported in Utusan Malaysia as saying that Hindraf’s action was a form of provocation and intimidation.” (Ibid.)

Hamid, oh Hamid, what are you smoking? If a peaceful, verbal message is provocation and intimidation what should we make of detention without trial?

It brings to mind the now well worn statement that the last elections were simply about sending a message. And the message was received, and so there is no need to change the government.

Something tells me the Hindraf supporters would somewhat disagree that people like Abdullah Badawi have truly gotten the message. The answer to it would likely be: “Um… no.”

What’s the phrase? Maaf zahir dan batin? Somebody please pass our PM a Kamus Dewan.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sorting Out The "Garbage"

The use of the Internal Security Act against Raja Petra has been formalized – signed by Syed Hamid Albar. Yes, the same minister who said he should not interfere in case it be seen as a politically motivated action, and that it was entirely a police action. One wonders whether he might retry his “for your own protection” story, when members of his own Barisan Nasional found that excuse unacceptable.

NGOs, bloggers, and more importantly the multitude of readers that make blogs such a credible threat to the powers that be have come out in support for Raja Petra’s release, some focusing not just on the individual but on the repeal of the ISA. Suddenly the word “draconian” has become household lingo, and Penang Chief Minister has called it “historical garbage”.

The depth of our understanding of laws like the Internal Security Act goes as far as knowing that it was originally intended for communists and armed insurgents. However, until we completely try to get our hands around the rationale of its conception and its use, we won’t really see how ludicrous it is that Raja Petra has been detained.

I remember how the appearance of the Patriot Act in the United States during the Mahathir era was proclaimed as vindication of the ISA. It was a “even our critics use it” attitude – not credible rationale as much as convenient rationalization. I never quite got the logic of the comparison, since Mahathir was vehemently against the West in general, and yet their actions were being used to justify that of our government.

In the end it comes down to why communists here and terrorists there at some point in our histories made detention without trial a necessary evil. The logic of it is basically that the devious nature of criminals at this level ensure that the manipulation of “innocent until proven guilty” can cost the lives of more innocents if they are let off the hook. On one hand it is the immediacy of the threat and the level of concealment that requires more time for formal charges to be brought. But on the other it is also admission that law enforcement is inadequate, that it is not yet efficient to get the information and evidence enough for a trial within the regular time requirements.

Laws like the Patriot Act and the ISA are ones which by their very nature must hurt the credibility of their enforcers. This ensures that the court of public opinion has its turn in deciding whether the cases were extreme enough to allow a little leeway for the enforement agencies to do their work. Also, the threat of public discontent is logically meant to ensure that it is truly a necessary and not a casual, convenient evil.

It is in this context that Raja Petra’s role as a blogger – for which he now stands under detention without trial – is clearly antithetical to the use of the ISA:

1. RPK is clearly not an armed threat and thus does not threaten lives
2. There is no level of concealment since the very nature of blogs is one of public consumption
3. The only way one can justify inadequate abilities of law enforcement in not bringing RPK to trial is thus if they are downright illiterate
4. RPK’s role is to articulate public discontent already present – which is ironic since his arrest has only proven to amplify that very discontent for which he is being wrongly held accountable.

And so, a person who deals with words has been arrested under a law meant for armed terrorists. Again, ironically – and moronically in the case of our Home Minister – the use of the ISA has proven true the old adage that Raja Petra’s blog pen is indeed mightier than the sword.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

"Um... no."

In the backlash of the backfire of the arrest of Sin Chew reporter Tan Choon Cheng, Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar unknowingly indicated the double standard at work.

From today's Star article, 'Reporter's life was threatened':

"Asked if he thought the police action was justified, Syed Hamid said, 'If I start to interfere with the administration of enforcement then it's difficult.'
'I am a minister. I am a politician. If I start to interfere, then people will say I have a political motive. It will send the wrong signals. I cannot interfere,' he said."

And from the same article:

"On why Ahmad (Ismail) was not detained for making racist comments, he explained that Umno had already punished him by suspending him for three years and stripping him of his party posts."

So, essentially, it will provide "wrong signals" to say that the detention of Tan Hoon Cheng was unjustified, because ministers and politicians are out of the picture.

But at the same time, Syed Hamid actually believes that it doesn't give "wrong signals" when he says that the police shouldn't act against Ahmad Ismail? Further, that the police should sit on their hands because of a purely political reason?

There are clearly wrong signals at home.

Is there a valid logic to this? The answer is simple:

"Um... no."

Saturday, September 13, 2008

In Pictures: Candlelight Vigil

Notwithstanding her release the day after, the arrest under the ISA of the award-winning journalist Tan Hoon Cheng who reported on Ahmad Ismail, is being questioned by political leaders, NGOs, and members of the public. The subsequent explanations of keeping her for personal safety concerns are somewhat dubious for the following reasons:

1. Timing: she was held in a series of arrests including Raja Petra and Teresa Kok.

2. Communication: her own family was not informed that she was being 'protected', not to mention Member of Parliament Chong Eng who talked to police at the gate of IPK.

3. Setting: there was no reason to move her from one police station to another.

The candlelight vigil was held by members of Suaram and alumni of Universiti Sains Malaysia. A highlight was the participation of PAS members, who stated that this was "not a racial issue". A large number of the press converged to show their solidarity. Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, members of the DAP, Gerakan, MCA and PKR, as well as Datuk Dr. Toh Kin Woon, were also present.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It occasionally helps to listen to what you’re saying

Much has been said about the whole Ahmad Ismail affair, and rather than to add to a healthy chorus, I’d like to point out a couple of points that may have gone unnoticed.
  1. Ahmad Ismail called for the removal of Dr Koh Tsu Koon as Penang Barisan chairman, saying that the position should be given to the MCA. Oddly enough Gerakan, of which Dr Koh is acting president, is a multi-racial party, whereas the MCA is dedicated to those Ahmad Ismail considers “squatters”.

  2. Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz on the DPM’s earlier apology:

    “I think nobody should belittle his apology.
    It is not easy for a Deputy Prime
    Minister to do that.”

    (The Star, Sept 10: “‘Don’t belittle Najib’s apology’”)

    First of all, does it mean that the higher up one goes in office, the harder it is to take responsibility for errant actions? And secondly, we don’t belittle him for his apology – what is belittling how little it mattered to a lowly Umno division chief. So in a sense it’s ironic that indeed a “nobody” did indeed “belittle his apology”. And we haven’t even talked about the PM’s original statement that he “didn’t mean it” and that he would “tell him not to say it again”.

  3. I really want someone to ask Ahmad Ismail if he think that the Indians are “squatters” too. And then pass him a large photo of Samyvellu.

  4. “The Barisan Nasional supreme council meeting yesterday was more open and sincere compared to previous meetings as component party leaders discussed the Datuk Ahmad Ismail issue that threatened the coalitions unity,
    said PPP president Datuk M. Kayveas.”

    (The Star, Sept. 10: “Kayveas: Everyone spoke up”)

    So in which circumstances and with which topics are meetings less open and sincere? Say, petrol prices? The Budget? Bar Council forums?

  5. On a similar note to Kayveas’s statement, let’s take a brief excursion to our DPM’s comment on the ethics of sending MPs to Taiwan. For agriculture, kononnya – let’s just pause a moment to think about that. Taiwan. And agriculture.

    “What is more immoral is trying to buy them over. It is subverting the principles of parliamentary democracy.”
    Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak (The Star, Sept. 10: "Najib: Expenses borne by BBC".)

    “More” immoral? So… sending them to Taiwan is only slightly, or somewhat, immoral?

  6. The three year suspension of Ahmad Ismail is a move meant to placate uneasy associations – especially BN component parties. The question is what happens after those three years (which incidentally would end right before the next general election). If Ahmad Ismail is still stubbornly the flag bearer of racist sentiments, would Umno then take him back? And what of the other Penang Umno division heads who condoned and supported those same racist positions? Jeff Ooi's Screenshots mentions something along these lines and (quite rightly) calling for law enforcement to take over now, not three years from now.
Nevertheless, on a positive front, the reaction from certain quarters has been interesting – showing that this is a time for moderate, progressive Malays to make their presence felt. Take Jeneral Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Zainal for example: “I would like to propose to the Government to take stern action against those who raise racial issues.” (The Star, Sept. 10: “Jen: Act against those who raise racial issues.”) While I think the point is that it’s those who raise racist and not just racial issues, the more important message is that the general is asking the Government to allow the enforcement arms – like the police and the army – to take action. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think the general was asking permission to shoot a particular person who’s shooting his mouth off.

Metaphorically speaking, of course...

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The True Test of Patriotism?

From The Star, 31 August 2008 article We can prevail, says Abdullah

“The true test of a country depends on how its people react to trying times, said Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in his National Day message.”

True enough. If it’s a question of when life throws you lemons, then by all means go squeeze out a limau ais. But if it’s your government throws you lemons, well, then people tend to squeeze out something quite different at the ballot box. As we’ve seen very recently. That is about as literal as one can get about the test of a country – the leaders its people select.

“We will continue to combat the problem of rising prices and inflation in the best possible way. The Government is always concerned about the burden of the people, especially those who are poor and those who are less fortunate.”

How has raising the price of petrol seen as combating rising prices and inflation? If you’re talking about the subsequent reduction, a person walking his pet in the park doesn’t get points for cleaning up his own dog’s poo. Or just some of it, in this case. I think there might be some confusion with the words “combating” and “causing”. And unless you have a government-paid vehicle, you are less fortunate today than the day before the price of petrol went up 30 plus percent. Apologies to you if a small portion of one day spent realizing how lousy public transport can be is not seen by some as particularly significant.

“He said the Government had also focused on improving noble values such as integrity, a more open media, and strengthening institutions like the Parliament, judiciary, the Anti-Corruption Agency, the police and civil service.”

All right, let’s go through this bit by bit.

1. “A more open media”: hallo? By attempting to ban Malaysia Today?

2. “Strengthening institutions like the Parliament…”: Ironically this brought to mind Samy’s leaking roof.

3. And as far as strengthening the ACA, well, you may have loosened the leash on that particular bulldog, but only when it goes biting targets far from home. I think it was an editorial in the Sun that pointed out that it’s hard not to notice that while the ACA goes after Perak assemblymen, it has yet to go after the one who told officials to “close one eye.” Making them seem to be – again, ironically – closing more than one eye.

Happy Hari Merdeka everyone. It brings to mind what someone once said about voicing dissent being unjustly viewed as unpatriotic: “I love my country, and am not just infatuated with it.”

Friday, August 22, 2008

Three Days of Coincidences – a Case of Barisan Bollywood

Even putting aside the timing of the sodomy accusations and Saiful’s swearing on the Quran and the use of this in Umno centers in Permatang Pauh, just a glance at the past three days worth of news is enough to spot a smelly trend.

On the DNA Bill and the upcoming court case of Anwar Ibrahim:

“If at this moment it coincides with the problems related to talks about the case, it is just a coincidence and should not be politicised.” – Abdullah Badawi, The Star, Aug. 20.

On the arrest of Perak executive councillors:

“Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi brushed off commens by some PKR people who questioned the timing of the arrest coming during the Permatang Pauh by-election campaign, and said it was mere coincidence.” – The Star, Aug. 21.

On the welcoming ceremony for Lee Chong Wei, who was presented with his incentive prizes with a backdrop of BN election posters:

“Barisan Nasional candidate Arif Shah Omar denied talk that the coalition was capitalizing on Lee’s fame to fish for votes.
It’s just a coincidence that he came back during the by-election.’” – The Star, Aug. 22.

And in his column, Down2Earth, Terence Fernandez writes on the ACA arrests, which perhaps fits into the larger picture:

“They [critics] rightly or wrongly assume that the plot has been stolen from a Tamil movie, where in many an instance, the coincidences are too many which lead ordinary men and women to think that the script writer has gone overboard.” The Sun, Aug. 22.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Shaking Things Up

When things get shaken up, we really see where the chips fall.

Najib and Abdullah end up supporting two concepts: that Malaysians just aren't civilized enough to sit and discuss things freely, and that the Bar Council is somehow responsible for offending the feelings of bigots and racists. Sad, but not exactly surprising.

The real change is that progressive Malays are able and willing to stand out from a silent majority, like Karim Raslan. It's a brave stance to take, but if I could add a little something on the idea of "Malay supremacy" that keeps getting placed in the picture. People who are confident in their "supremacy" tend to be confident enough not to be threatened by free speech. A farmer with enough cows doesn't worry if his neighbour has fatter cows, ok?

Speaking of livestock, Farid A. Noor came up with an interesting piece of satire, focusing on the racial slur "Babi... balik Cina" ("Pig... go back to China). The amusing side of the whole pathetic affair is that while the forum had little to do with discouraging conversion to Islam, the protest will end up having backfired. Think about it - the next time someone of Chinese ethnicity is put in a position to decide on whether to convert to Islam, he or she will remember where "Babi... balik Cina" came from - a extremist and extremely vocal part of the Islamic community whose views and actions are supported by our dear PM and DPM.

People like Ong Ka Ting and Chua Ju Meng are going to get a few political points for being able to break away from their Umno counterparts on this issue. It remains to be seen whether this is the start of some real independence within the Barisan Nasional ranks, and whether their voices will still ring out if the Home Ministry acts against the Bar Council.

On the other side of the political fence, it also remains to be seen whether Anwar will suffer from sitting on the fence on this issue. After all, he has so many of us roused up with his "angkat Melayu, angkat India, angkat Cina" (raise the Malays, raise the ethnic Indians, raise the ethnic Chinese) theme, and his lukewarm response on this thus far leaves much to be desired. He may save some of the votes in his upcoming by-election in a predominantly Malay constituency, but perhaps at the risk of losing some confidence of voters in the larger picture. Eyes will also be on whether voices like those of Lim Kit Siang's will be sufficiently influential to ensure that the stance of the Pakatan Rakyat as a whole remains faithful to their large non-Bumi support.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Disaffirmative Reaction

Dr Mahathir recently wrote on his blog on justifying the NEP:

I came in for virulent attacks because some Malays actually did well in business. They were all labelled my cronies whether they were indeed my cronies or not. Anyone who succeeded was immediately defined as my crony. Many close friends, relatives and members of my family who failed in business would not be called cronies.

Well, that's a valid point. The point, that is, that not everyone in your family or your close circle of friends were cronies. Which, sad to say, does not rule out that some may have been. The point really is that cronyism has to be proven, and the only proof is whether the people who receive contracts actually deserve them - since the concept of meritocracy is the litmus test of fairness, one's very choice of using the NEP invites claims of cronyism which by the nature of the NEP cannot be convincingly proven as false.

As head of the Government I had to ensure the success of the NEP objective of reducing the disparities between the bumiputeras and the non-bumis. This reduction must be achieved at all levels, not excluding the rich and the very rich. It wouldn't do to have parity among the low income and middle income only, while big businesses are all in the hands of the non-Bumiputera millionaires.

Fine. But don't forget that not all of the non-Bumis are millionaires. Or that all of us - both Bumis and non-Bumis - suffer when anyone gets millions for nothing.

The number of successful Bumiputera businessmen slowly increased. Angry that the NEP had actually succeeded in throwing up capable bumiputera businessmen and reducing racial imbalances the Western press and local opponents of the NEP began to label all the successful Bumiputera businessmen as cronies of the Prime Minister. It does not matter if the PM had never known these people, but if they succeed then they must be the cronies of the PM.

It would seem that the only way to avoid being accused of cronyism is to ensure that all Bumiputeras fail in business. Better still the NEP should be made to fail completely.

Things really depend on your perspective at this point. You provide certain people with contracts and all they have to do is fulfill their obligations and responsibilities to "succeed". There's literally no competition, no even ground, and no sense of having excellence as the yardstick to success. Pass is enough, no need to get A, is basically the message. And at the cost of many who not only don't have automatic contracts, but no equal opportunity to compete for them. Here's an idea: instead of giving contracts, give skills! Which, by the way, they are already doing at our universities. Then put everyone on a fair playing ground and those who truly succeed can feel that it's earned. This is beneficial for truly industrious Bumiputeras as well - that their success will be seen for what it is: hard work.

The continuing disparities between the Bumiputeras and the non-Bumiputeras which these will cause would then produce inter-racial tension and political instability. Then the Western journalists can say that these "natives" really should not be given independence. Look at the mess they are making of their country.

I have yet to have heard a Western journalist say that we should not have been given independence, and I think that one should substantiate that with proof. Plus, it's not to say that the NEP doesn't cause inter-racial tension, it's just that it creates a different kind of tension.

But the NEP was more successful in the field of education... In my class of 1947 at the Medical College there were only seven Malay students out of a class of 77. Even in the arts faculties the percentage was very small... The results of all these efforts is very satisfying... They have also gone into management, obtaining MBAs from well known universities such as Harvard and Philadelphia. Armed with these qualifications they have been employed as management executives at all levels. Some actually head multinational companies.

In the education field the NEP has been very successful. It has helped to correct the imbalances not only in the professions but also in business. Strangely Malays have become very successful bankers.

Again, fair point. So long as the recognition of our degrees is the same relative to other institutions as yours of the class of 1947. It is nice to point out those who have taken advantage of educational opportunities and correcting imbalances in that respect - so long as it is not at the expense of creating imbalances elsewhere. Like allowing thousands to enter and graduate who don't work hard to earn their local-university degrees, and thus lowering the respect of that degree for all those who put in some effort. Which, again, detriment anyone who works hard - non-Bumis and Bumis alike.

Tun, since you mentioned the idea of management, let me summarize this by putting forward a basic economic concept: it's not just about opportunity... it's about opportunity cost.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Day After the Debate

Anwar may have been the winner of the debate - but Shabery won the expectations game. The question now is how the two balance out... and whether it was in BN's best interest not to put a bigger pit bull like Nazri or even Najib.

Marina Mahathir made some interesting comments on her blog. On the observation that no ties were worn I might add that a while back CNN did a piece on the psychology of it - youthfulness, casual demeanor, that sort of thing. Sort of like the Peron-era taking-off-your-suit to be with the working class idea. CNN noted two interesting personalities hat did that: Barack Obama, and
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I also like her parting comment that further debates would be interesting... though I get a feeling her father, Tun Dr. Mahathir wouldn't mind being on prime time again.

Personally, I think that you can't have it both ways about Petronas. Either you think it's a part of the government or you don't - and thus if it's doing well, it's true that it is a credit to the Barisan. You can say that the earnings are not used to the people's benefit, but you have to acknowledge the success. On the other hand, what's the point of an entity well managed by the government that doesn't benefit the people the government is meant to serve? Petronas is really a double-edged kris.

Quote of the evening:
"Naik minyak mendadak, inflasi tidak akan naik: itu teori ekonomi siapa yang ajar begitu?"
Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim

Faux pas of the evening:

"Kita tidak perlu berarak di jalan raya... atau membuat konsert yang tidak senonoh seperti baru-baru ini." Datuk Shabery Cheek
Tuan Menteri... tak kan pengajur konsert sengaja buat tu. Tambah juga, ingat sikit siapa yang buat pergerakan tidak senonoh di Parlimen.

"Kita dalam pemerintahan ini nak jaga siapa - nak jaga tauke besar dan kroni atau nak jaga rakyat? Kita jaga semua." Dato' Seri Anwar Ibrahim
Maaf, Datuk Seri - cukuplah jaga rakyat, biar tauke besar dan kroni jaga sendiri...

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Big Picture is Sometimes Smaller

Have a look at this article from the Star:

Remember di bangku sekolah we suka highlight textbooks? Well, sometimes bila kita highlight, rumusan itu menunjukkan ramuan tertentu:

Si Monyet kata:

"Konteks itu penting juga."

Friday, July 4, 2008

Siapa Buka Durian?

Meaning, what's that smell, not why so sedap.

I've started this blog because I want to complain sikit. The difference between me and some other bloggers is that I admit it. The shared similarity is that I say I complain sikit, but I end up complaining banyak. What to do. Malaysia boleh, wat.

Everyone is talking about this Saiful fella. Whether he did whatever with Anwar. Why he took a picture in front of Najib's office. Anwar's side says he works for Najib. Anwar's side shows pictures. Najib's side says he took a photo at the DPM's office when he was going for a scholarship, and he was a student leader.

My favourite monkey is going to go off the beaten track.

Si Monyet kata:

"Saiful got a government scholarship, from Deputy Prime Minister summore. Saiful was a student leader. And Saiful dropped out of uni. Siapa punya orang yang kita bagi biasiswa?!"

In other words: siapa buka durian?