December 2010 Archives

The difference between Najib and (insert US President here)

Is that a US President has to own up to his errors, and on occasion apologize. This is the most powerful man on earth, saying sorry. That means something. Nixon had to do it. Clinton had to do it. Even the Bushes (both Snr and Jnr). While we may disagree about the value of the apology, or the value of the man, i think we can agree that a public apology takes integrity, and say what you will about American Presidents, they take their personal integrity, and more importantly the integrity of their office very seriously.

So much less can be said about our own man, Najib. It doesn't matter if it was your handlers who made the mistake, and not you personally. Besides getting them all to fall on their swords (which should happen without question, and if can be done publicly, even better), they were HIS handlers, his men, his responsibility. Just like the general who is at fault if his men failed, Najib is at fault for not being clear in his instructions (and even if he was clear, and they still went against his orders, then he is still at fault for hiring them in the first place). 

What a snafu. Say sorry, take the hit like a man. I promise it won't hurt if you mean it. 

Malaysia's unity try, Part II

| 1 Comment
In response to Sani's comment on my Malaysia's unity try, Part I


1. When SA won the world cup for rugby, they only had 1 black player on the team, who in fact, didn't even play. Subs bench all the way. The blacks hated the SA rugby team, and even wanted to rename it from the "Springboks" to some native african name. Mandela cut that attempt out, because he knew that if the whites lost the Springboks, SA would lose the whites. What Mandela did do though, very smartly, was to get the white Springbok team to adopt the black African song of freedom as their team anthem. A stroke of genius -- he managed to have his cake and eat it too.

The fact that the team didn't have the "racial composition" of SA, in the end, didn't make a difference to what the team did for the nation. I'm not sure what the magic formula was, but it worked. If i had to guess, i think it was because Mandela was smart enough to use the team as a fulcrum to get people to see what was wrong with themselves first, only then they would be able to start building the bridges between the races.

The problem with Malaysia is that none of the races think there is anything wrong with themselves, and everything wrong with the others. The Malaysia think the Chinese are money hogging pork-eating scumbuckets and the Chinese think the Malays are stupid resource monopolizing dullards. God only knows what they both think about the Indians and vice versa.

2. The newspapers and political leaders of SA were no different, it's naive to think that things were hunky dory in that respect. But somehow, it didn't make a difference, and reforms were pushed through nonetheless. I think its because Mandela was not only the leader of the nation, but he had the moral authority to do the things that needed to be done. Who do we have today in Malaysia who we can say mirrors Mandela. That's where the real problem may ultimately lie -- none of our leaders have real, REAL, moral authority (and don't make me laugh by saying Anwar Ibrahim, pls.)

If BN loses the next election, it will be because of one man

And his family. Taib Mahmud, Chief Minister of Sarawak. The chronicles of his exploits are well documented in the Sarawak Report -- there just seems to be so much dirt on him and his family, and the allegations of what he has done as an injustice to the people of Sarawak are reaching almost epic proportions. It seems almost inconceivable that one man can do so much to his own people and get away with it for so many years. 

Say what you will about the alleged corruption of BN leaders here in the Peninsula, but people such as Tun M had the good sense not to parade the wealth, and made damned sure that his children didn't either. That example seems to have been lost on the Taibs, as photos from his daughter's marriage surface. No right minded person will believe that the Taibs are able to afford such affluence and extravagance on the salary of a public servant. Impossible. 

To me, just as inconceivable is why Peninsula BN leaders have not done anything to remove the disgrace that is known as Taib. Surely, it must have dawned on them, in a GE13 that is already balanced on a knife's edge, the loss of Sarawak (and possibly Sabah) to the Opposition will topple them from Government. Even to me, an armchair observer, it's obvious that victory in GE12 was attained because East Malaysia stayed true to the BN path. If PR had done more somehow, and taken East Malaysia then, as they threaten to do now, we may already be living under a different government today.

There is only so much that the people of Sarawak will be able to tolerate. Will this be the time when they say, "We've had enough, Taib, get out". If they do, then the Kingmakers of our Borneo brothers and sisters may very well end up saying the same thing to BN in Putrajaya.

Malaysia's unity try

For decades, the people of the country were at each other's throats. Allegations and truisms of racial abuse dot the country's colourful history; people were being murdered because of their race, people were being discriminated from job and education opportunities because of the colour of their skin. The country was a melting pot of races, but the resulting stew was bitter, acrid and tainted. Something needed to be changed.

You may be forgiven to think that the description of the above refers to Malaysia. But in fact, it refers to South Africa, and the days of apartheid. It's a truly remarkable story of modern human history that South Africa was able to pull itself out of a nosedive of racial destruction, largely due to the efforts of one man, Nelson Mandela.

National unity is not achieved through an arching concept of "togetherness"; you can't legislate harmony. You can't tell people, "let's forget our differences and hug each other (and mean it)". 1Malaysia, an interesting idea as it is, is certainly not enough for Malaysia.

Mandela faced the same problems that the leaders of our country face today -- a nation with a tattered racial history, trying to pull itself together. He realized that South Africa will never fulfill its potential unless the people worked together, and this meant putting aside a ton of historical and emotional baggage. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission did some of this, but even that was not enough. All good causes need a hero, and Mandela was savvy enough to realize that, impressive as he is, he wasn't that hero the people needed. He needed someone that could represent South Africa as a whole. He found it in the South African rugby team.

In that second interview, he explained how he had first formed an idea of the political power of sport while in prison; how he had used the 1995 Rugby World Cup as an instrument in the grand strategic purpose he set for himself during his five years as South Africa's first democratically elected president: to reconcile blacks and whites and create the conditions for a lasting peace in a country that barely five years earlier, when he was released from prison, had contained all the conditions for civil war.

To blacks, rugby was the hated symbol of apartheid. To Afrikaners, as Mandela put it, it was a religion. His job was to try to become the father of the whole nation: to make everybody feel that he symbolised their identity and values. He set himself the task of persuading the country to come together around the national rugby team - which he would achieve with startling success at the World Cup final, when hordes of Afrikaner fans sang the Xhosa words of the new national anthem, once the symbol of black defiance.

When Malaysia made the finals of the AFF Suzuki cup, and then trounced Indonesia in the first leg here at Bukit Jalil, the joys of the nation were clear to see. The team, a multi-racial lot of talented youngsters, put together a great show for the crowd. To a man, we cheered them on. As a nation, we cheered them on. Our differences were forgotten during those glorious 90 minutes.

Could football do for Malaysia what rugby did for South Africa?

That's an interesting question, and something that only people much wiser than me will be able to answer. What i can say though, is that with each goal being scored that night, it felt like arrows of pride were being rifled into my heart for Malaysia. Regardless of what happens during the return leg, even if we lose 5-0, we will always have that great night to remember. What if we could celebrate many more such nights? What if then? 

The silly season is coming again


When elections are nearing, all sort of silly things start to happen. The latest example of this is what the Menteri Besar of Selangor's political secretary had to say about the ban of the 1Malaysia logo.

In defending the move, Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim's political secretary Faekah Husin said the ban was politically correct. "If such advertisements were allowed, it would show that the state supported Barisan's ideology, which is never in Pakatan Rakyat's interest," she said.

A logo representing a push for national unity is a not in PR's interest? That's a real shocker. She goes on by saying, in a rather silly fashion (thus why i call this the Silly Season):

Faekah described the 1Malaysia logo, used by Barisan to gain the people's support, as "not original".

"They have merely copied ideas from other countries to garner the people's support," she said.

Who cares where the idea came from? If it works for Malaysia, if it's something that Malaysia needs, then what's the problem. A sick person needs medicine, but since the medicine comes from the West, therefore it's not original, therefore we shouldn't use it? Just silly.

I think PR, on this particular issue at least, has lost the ability to decide what is good for the nation and what is good for itself. By banning the 1Malaysia logo, they've politicized the logo to no end, and has provided a ton of fuel to BN (more than the logo on its own in Selangor ever did) to bash them over the heads with. I can imagine the ceramahs now:

  • "See what PR is doing, they don't believe in national unity, they banned 1Malaysia!"
  • "PR doesn't walk the talk -- they claim to be for the people, but they banned something good for everyone: 1Malaysia!"
  • "PR doesn't have vision on how to unite the people. BN proposed 1Malaysia. PR banned it!"

I heard the Prime Minister speak the other day, it was live on TV so i think tens of thousands saw it too. He opened his speech by saying, "Salam satu Malaysia". He didn't append, "By the way, satu Malaysia is a BN idea, hidup UMNO!". In his public capacity he isn't, and in fact none of the other ministers are, politicizing 1Malaysia as a GE13 campaign tool. I recently heard Mukhriz Mahathir speak at a Google conference, and he too started with the iconic, "Salam satu Malaysia". Same consistent message, exactly what this country needs from its leaders. 

It used to be so clumsy in earlier days. I remember as a boy, hearing speeches where the minister would say, "Assalamualaikum to the Muslim members of the audience, and a good morning to everyone else." Now, "Salam satu Malaysia" even a speech given in English, covers all the bases elegantly.

This was a terrible blunder by PR, politicizing/demonizing a national unity policy. They should just have left it alone, another example of PR giving their opponents bullets to shoot them with.

This is not CSI, folks

You know, the great thing about evidence (in the real world, at least, not the crap we see in make-believe shows such as CSI), is that it can be fabricated at the will of whomever needs it to support their case. I learned this lesson quite aptly during my debating career when i had statistics flung to me by my opponents that were so patently false, i could hardly keep myself seated in my chair from holding back by laughter. It happened to me in at least 74% of all the international debates i participated in. See how easy that was?

The not-so-laughing part of my story is that i actually lost quite a few debates because of these questionable "facts". I mean, i know Africa is not a country, but does the judge know it? The ICC and the ICJ are two different bodies, right? It all came down to how well the the lie was presented. If its done right, there is just no denying it. A slick debater could tell us that the earth revolved around the moon, and the House would buy it.

Similarly, when i hear things like this from our Parliament, on the issue of he-said-she-said of APCO, Anwar's proof (still waiting for it that to appear, by the way), Nazri's "proof", a notarized statement from Robert Shrum (what a name), i just can't help by wonder whether i'm back on the debating floor again. Who knows who is telling the truth, which pieces of evidence are real, and which are not. 

PR have been screaming bloody murder that the APCO documents were made under pressure from the Najib administration, and Shrum's letter is suspicious because it appeared out of nowhere. Conspiracy theories, left right and center. It's almost tiring to have to decipher it all.

There is rule that i follow that i think applies cases like this. When it doubt, believe no one. Assume everyone is lying, and go from there.

Assuming that Nazri is lying, does that mean APCO was responsible for the One Israel idea? Not necessarily. Similarly, assuming that Anwar is lying does that mean that Malaysia's model is a copy of the Zionist states'. The question everyone should be asking is whether it even matters. Is the 1Malaysia concept such an "evil" thing that it needs to be so heavily discredited, that PR sees it as such a threat, it would risk the suspension of its senior members from Parliament at such a critical time?

There is a certain validity to 1Malaysia that even the cynics have to agree -- there is something comforting when someone says, "Salam satu Malaysia". The concept is what we've needed for years, to bring unity to a divided nation that has never really recovered from the clashes of 1969. While abject failures such as BTN still exist, it doesn't mean that the principles of 1Malaysia are wrong, or unneeded. To me, it just doesn't make any sense why PR is making such a big deal about it, even getting the Selangor state government to ban its promotion in the state.

Unless of course, it's working. The efforts of 1Malaysia are bringing the people together, slowly perhaps, imperfectly for sure, but surely nonetheless. God forbid the BN government did something right. That would be a disaster for PR come GE13.

I've never felt so connected

The world has certainly changed. On my desk, i've got 4 devices that connect me to the internet. Around, i have people tapping on their Blackberries, iPhones and iPads. And their desktop computers as well. A few cubicles down, someone is blaring into his phone, talking about buying the latest Samsung gadget. Behind me, there are a bunch of people talking about how to make money from an online campaign. Later today, i've got meetings with people who will show me how to make the public love Maybank even more than they already do -- just by interacting with us over the Internet.

It's quite a bit to absorb. The Internet is everywhere, strangely pervasive to the point of being obtrusive. I can't touch a key stroke without transmitting my thoughts into the world and the abyss of 101s. 

As connected as i feel, can anyone fault me for being so detached?

Is 1Malaysia a political program?

When the Selangor exco issued a ban on the 1Malaysia logo, it just strikes me as a pot calling the kettle black. 

He said the 1Malaysia advertisements were a political message of the Barisan Nasional.

"It is clear that Barisan is pushing hard for the 1Malaysia concept and to send out its message to the people," he said, adding that it was nothing but a political agenda and not allowed in the state.

He is accusing Najib of using his office as the Prime Minister of Malaysia to promote an idea that is tied/linked to Barisan Nasional. The idea is that because BN likes the idea, therefore it must be a BN idea, and therefore Selangor will ban it, in the disguised spirit of "no politics in advertisements".

Two questions with this:

1. Isn't PR also using their political position in Selangor to make a similar political statement? By labeling 1Malaysia a "BN idea", that's a political statement, a passing of judgement that the 1Malaysia plan is NOT in the interests of Malaysia, but in the interests of BN. Whether or not 1Malaysia is a BN idea is besides the point -- making a statement that it is, and passing judgement banning advertising with the logo is a political statement made by the PR excos' political office. Even if we accept they are correct, then their position is hypocritical.

2. Let's discuss the validity of the claim -- is 1Malaysia a BN idea. You can't divorce the man from the job and his representation. Najib is the PM of Malaysia, he also happens to be the President of UMNO, and the leader of Barisan Nasional. These are different hats that he has to wear. That's what democracy does -- it forces people to wear different hats and hopes that they are able to avoid conflicts of interest. In the case of 1Malaysia, what do you expect Najib to do? Say that this is Government initiative (which it is), nothing whatsoever to do with BN? Obviously, that's just not going to happen. People need to judge their representatives based on what they do, and this includes the ideas that they execute. Even if 1Malaysia was a BN construct, the question i'm asking is, "So what?" -- if it's good for the country, does that make it any less valuable just because it's being "pushed" by the ruling party? Don't forget that the "pushers" are all representing the people too, they too have to wear different hats as members of the Government and members of their political party.

1Malaysia is good thing for the country, of all people PR should recognize this. A good idea is a good idea, regardless of who thought of it. The Selangor PR-led state government is doing a disservice to everyone by politicizing it, and banning its promotion.

Salam 1Malaysia to you too, Ronnie Liu.

MCLM and PR: A tale of two cities?

There is a lot of buzz in the blogosphere (strangely quite little in the "real world") about the role the Malaysian Civil Liberties Movement (MCLM) will have to play in the coming elections. Some people say that if MCLM put up candidates to contest, it will create three-way fights that will benefit BN (on the assumption that votes for the MCLM candidate will be drawn from those who would otherwise vote for PR). Some people say that MCLM is a great boon for the Malaysian public as the candidates it will offer to PR to run for seats in the election are the very best people of our society. Quality, so to speak.

There are a few issues here that probably need closer inspection.

  1. Malek Imtiaz is the first MCLM candidate. A really smart guy, an excellent lawyer, and an all-around Mr Nice Guy Activist. The question is, if he is so good, why hasn't he been tapped up for leadership before this? Why hasn't BN recruited him, why hasn't anyone in PR? Perhaps because, no matter how smart and good he is, he isn't "electable"? Fighting a case to help a Muslim convert into Christianity. The sort of thing that i'm sure would make the Malay Muslims of both sides of the political divide twist their panties in discomfort. Imagine him meeting Nik Aziz and shaking his hand, "Good job there, mate. Love your work. Just hands off any PAS Muslim, alright?"
  2. Let's not delude ourselves -- PR is just BN-lite. Maybe even a bit less cohesive on the religious-cultural front, if the noises coming from Mr Karpal Singh are anything to go by; the issue of the Islamic state has to be settled sooner or later. Being BN-lite, it uses the same internal political structure in determining who gets what where and how when the General Election comes about. Generally, the people who get tapped to run for federal seats have done their time for the party, and hold party positions of leadership in their constituencies. Here we come with MCLM and their list of "30 candidates", "Here you go Anwar, 30 great guys and gals. Much better than 30 of your people, who we'll just bypass in favour of these 30, ok?" There is no way that will be taken well by the internal machinations of PR.
If PR refuses to accept these 30, MCLM will put some, if not all of them up for election, thus creating the 3-way fights PR is afraid of. To say that MCLM doesn't mean much would be to underestimate it as an organization. MCLM has a legion of bloggers, social activists and commentators supporting it, because what it's doing really does make sense: identify the best candidates and put them up for election. The impact this may have during GE13 is probably nil in terms of actually winning any seats, but those that support it will take it as a point of principle to proceed anyways. They would rather lose than vote for "Dumb and Dumber" that more often than not become the only choices available to the rakyat on polling day.

PR is in a hard spot right now, as MCLM gathers steam, and if the quality of the MCLM candidates all happen to be of the caliber of its first. Ignore MCLM, and risk 3-way fights, and a huge loss in terms of the cyber efforts that the MCLM can muster. Embrace MCLM and risk alienating their own internal political structure which rewards loyalty to the party, and perhaps a certain amount of patronage amongst its members.

Is Anwar gay?

Honestly, it doesn't make a difference to me. He can be as gay as a canary and i'll still appreciate him for his abilities as a leader, and as one of the great contemporary Malay speakers. That doesn't mean that i like him, nor does it mean i agree with his ideas. Respect and concurrence can be mutually exclusive.

What does matter to me is the carriage of justice, and it's plain to see that justice has been trodden on with horrible impunity during Anwar's second sodomy trial. From a dodgy timeline, to Mohd Saiful's dubious meetings with top Government leadership prior to the police report being filed, to the existence of everlasting semen, to a judge that has a quirky sense of fairplay -- the trial has damaged Malaysia's reputation far more than any WikiLeak report could possibly achieve.

The one thing that does concern me about the WikiLeaks report on Australia and Singapore intelligence agencies believing that Anwar is in fact gay (or bisexual) is how they will then choose to conduct itself with him should he come to leadership of the nation one day. Dealing with a gay leader of a predominantly homophobic has it's advantages, especially if you hold the trump cards and somehow have irrefutable evidence that the leader is in fact, gay. 

Of course, that's just speculation, and even if it wasn't, Anwar's personal sexual preferences doesn't mean anything to me. But, it just might mean something to foreign governments looking for leverage on Malaysia. 

Who has the right to talk about religion?

As a little boy, i was sent to religious schools in the afternoon. I can't remember learning too much beyond the basics of Islam during these sessions across several years. I learned to pray, recite the Quran a bit (though i didn't understand a thing of what i was reciting), and the very strict ustazah gave me a small grounding in Islamic morality.

But even as a young boy, i was a bit of a rebel, and very often the questions i asked her about religion stumped her cold. A small boy bombarding a teacher with a series of "Whys" and "How come" and you can imagine how often such exchanges ended with her saying, "Don't ask so many questions. Aren't you a Muslim?"

Even back then, the fear of being branded a bad Muslim was palpable. Followed by the stares of my class mates, yes, you can bet i shut up pretty quick.

School and my teenage years came and went, and the one thing i remember about it was the Agama classes all Muslim students had to attend (the non-Muslims went over the other class for the vaguely named "Morale Class" -- to this day i still have no idea what went on in these classes). A particularly unusual ustaz was our teacher, and i remember him for having some very patriarchial views about the religion. Whomever didn't agree with him would spend some time standing on the chair, followed by, "Don't speak about things you don't understand."

Believe it or not, carbon copies of these early experiences with religious teachers appeared again in university. The International Islamic University of all places. There were some really progressive and open minded lecturers that i had the pleasure of learning under, but some were downright supremist in their views about Islam. It was their way or the highway, and with their shiny diplomas, doctorates and titles, students were in no position to ask too many questions, especially difficult ones on topics such as the Islamic concept of freedom, equality, jihad, government, and women.

So when RPK wrote about how Islamic understanding suffers from an exclusive club syndrome, i have to tend to agree. Perhaps people like RPK and myself belong to our own exclusive club -- the ones who like to question everything, even the interpretations and motivations of the Quran, and it's a natural that a divide will put us apart from those who accept the common dogma.

There is nothing wrong with the common dogma. There is, in fact, a lot of good in it. But when people use it to beat you over the head with, as a means to prove a point, or to perpetuate itself perpetually, that's something that i have an issue with.

Despite the concept of heaven and hell, punishment and reward, i don't believe that Islam was created with the intention of splitting the believers into castes. The intellectual haves against the supposedly intellectual have-nots. The ones who "really" believe and the ones who "don't really believe otherwise why would they ask so many questions". 

Perhaps it's all a semantic trick of the mind. It's a convenience exit to label things we don't understand or don't want to understand as being wrong. And with the obsession of Muslims to be "good", the label of being "bad" is a social death knell. 

Leave your labels at home. Everything is open the question. Just because we don't understand (or if some people are to be believed, we were not meant to understand) doesn't mean we can't explore the issue with questions and doubt. 

If the human mind didn't doubt, we might all still think the world is flat.

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This page is an archive of entries from December 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

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