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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Malay rights, Islam and royalty

By Ding Jo-Ann
dingjoann@thenutgraph.com


(Ahmad Ismail pic courtesy of Oriental Daily)

HARDLY a year goes by in Malaysia without some kind of public dispute involving race and religion. The issue for 2010: "Allah". 2009: Cow-head protesters and Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno's whipping sentence. 2008: Datuk Ahmad Ismail and his "pendatang" slurs against non-Malay Malaysians. 2007: Lina Joy's contentious conversion out of Islam.

These have all been issues of national importance, but attempts to resolve them through dialogue and discussion have repeatedly been thwarted by politicians and non-state agents. The conversation stoppers that have been employed have been, unsurprisingly, Malay rights; the religion of Malays in Malaysia, Islam; and every now and again, Malay royalty.

Why are arguments affecting public interest constantly linked back to Islam and Malay Malaysians by the most tenuous of connections? And why is royalty being invoked even when a public interest issue, such as the whipping of Kartika Sari Dewi Sukarno, is being debated by concerned citizens?

Perhaps it is because it is convenient to hide behind topics that are deemed to be unquestionable. The "special position of Malays" under the constitution has today been rephrased as inalienable "Malay rights". Islam is God's law and hence cannot be questioned. And to "raise discontent or disaffection" towards the monarchy would be seditious.

But hasn't the whole "this is a threat to Malays and Islam" argument just been one gigantic red herring to avoid discussing real issues with real facts and sound arguments?

Asli report


Lim
Take the 2006 Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) report, for instance. A study prepared by internationally recognised Malaysian academics revealed that bumiputera equity ownership could be as high as 45% and not 18.9% as claimed by the government. This was more than the 30% bumiputera equity target under the New Economic Policy (NEP).

Asli's then research director, Dr Lim Teck Ghee, also said there was clear evidence that bumiputera wealth had accrued in the hands of an elite group. His study advocated new policies to ensure sustained economic growth and more equitable distribution methods.

The study was soundly lambasted by the government, which declared that its methodology was wrong. Asli's president Mirzan Mahathir withdrew the report, and Lim resigned in protest.

As the "this is a threat to Malay rights" argument began, the factual debate on the matter ended.

"[Asli] should correct the facts and figures because it could confuse the Malays," said Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Mohd Rustam.

"Let's not draw up a report that triggers anger [among many people] and then simply concede to having made mistakes. The damage is done already," said then Umno Youth deputy head Khairy Jamaluddin.

"I am very sceptical about the study which has been carried out by a particular race. They (the race) usually have their own agendas," said Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia political science professor Dr Shamsul Amri Baharuddin

"If we make baseless statements it just hurts people's feelings. Why would we do something like that?" said former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Amid the furore, the real issues raised by the report were completely lost.

What was the government's methodology in calculating corporate equity ownership? Why was there a big discrepancy between the government's figure and Asli's? Why couldn't the government make fully public the methodologies, classifications and assumptions it relied on?

Certainly, it was far easier for Umno leaders to use the red herring of "Malay rights" than to actually justify and rectify its policies about the NEP. And that they did.

Suqiu memorandum


Mahathir (Pic by Samsul Said @ Flickr)
Or take the 1999 Suqiu memorandum by a group of Chinese Malaysian organisations, which the cabinet reportedly accepted unconditionally prior to the general election that year.

The memorandum called for the introduction of needs-based instead of race-based affirmative action. It also called for reforms to improve women and indigenous people's rights, to curb corruption, and for the abolishment of the Internal Security Act.

However, a few months later, reports said Suqiu was apparently intent on "abolishing Malay privileges". Then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad compared them to communists and extremists in his national day speech on 31 Aug 2000. Demonstrations were held to force Suqiu to retract its statements.

Any chance for rational debate on their proposal's merits was thereafter lost.

Short-circuit

It is becoming more apparent that the "threat to Malay and Muslim Malaysians" argument has really short-circuited our nation's thinking process.

When Sisters in Islam and other women's groups questioned whether it was fair, humane and just for Kartika to be caned for consuming alcohol, it was declared an insult to Islam. How showing compassion is insulting to Islam is, of course, never quite explained.

When civil society tried to organise interfaith dialogues to promote better understanding and harmonious living among Malaysians of different faiths, it was also an "insult to Islam".

When pop band Michael Learns to Rock was scheduled to perform in Malaysia during the fasting month, Umno's rival, PAS, branded the concert an insult to Islam.

And of course, when Catholic paper Herald sued the Home Ministry for banning the use of "Allah" in its publication, it was an insult to Islam.

An insult to Islam? A threat to Malay rights and the position of Malay royalty? Is that the best we can offer out of the contentious issues we face as a nation?

Holding on to power

When can we move beyond the constructed fear that non-Malay, non-Muslim Malaysians are hell-bent on threatening Islam and Malay rights, and that, by extension, the position of Malay royalty is also threatened?

Do our political leaders believe that by repeatedly silencing different views through fear-mongering rhetoric and feudalistic attitudes, they can hold on to power forever? Wouldn't it be more sustainable for power to be maintained through citizens' genuine support for government policies and actions?


(Pic by Amparo Torres @ Flickr)
For now, in the name of Malay rights, Islam, and Malay royalty, dissenting voices are being silenced. Problems affecting minority rights are dismissed. And long-festering differences are swept under the carpet of Malay superiority.

And while our politicians continue with these tactics, we should be troubled by the signs. How did Malaysia become a country where, in the name of Malay rights, Islam, and Malay royalty, a non-Malay citizen asking for equality or a Muslim seeking compassion is demanding too much?

Sharia laws have become a weapon

(Baltimore Sun) It is clearly stated in the Quran that there is no compulsion in religion and that there must be complete freedom of religion. Muslims Jews and Christians are all children of Abraham and people of the book. A believing Muslim must submit to the will of God. It is God’s will that decides our religion at birth.

Shaukat Malik is a Muslim-American Certified Public Accountant from Potomac. A native of Pakistan, he arrived in the United States in 1980.

We cannot name one country with Islamic laws that is a functioning democracy or a benchmark for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness except Turkey.

Muslim majority countries such as Pakistan have a history of thousands of years of customs and folklore shared with India that already plays havoc with the largely uneducated population in the rural areas. Unofficial patriarchal village juries made up of illiterate villagers will hand out and execute primitive punishments along the lines of a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye. Add to this outdated Islamic laws and punishments for, for example, adultery, blasphemy and women’s rights and you have created a living hell for women and minorities.

Because of the Islamization in Pakistan, carried out behind the veil of training Mujahedeen to fight the Soviet infidel, Pakistan has a large number of Madrassas and religious charities that share and support Saudi Arabia’s brand of Orthodox Islam. This was on display during the Lal-Masjid standoff against the Pakistan army in July 2007. These Madrassas and charities openly support the Taliban and al Qaida. It is interesting to note that a majority of the terrorists in prison have received their training in Pakistan.

The recent unrest in Malaysia over the use of the name “Allah” by Christians when referring to God has more to do with fear over losing members of the congregation to the Christian church than to Muslim sensibilities. Separate Sharia laws for Muslims, who make up 60 percent of the population, could open doors for al Qaida types to make inroads into Malaysia’s Muslim population.

The conflict in interpretation between the bible and the Quran over the holy trinity and the oneness of God as stated in the Quran is exploited by Muslim clerics to foment prejudice against Christians. It is clearly stated in the Quran that there is no compulsion in religion and that there must be complete freedom of religion. Muslims Jews and Christians are all children of Abraham and people of the book. A believing Muslim must submit to the will of God. It is God’s will that decides our religion at birth.

Christians freely practiced their religion during Muslim rule in Jerusalem. Muslims have always respected freedom of religion. A bit of history will confirm this. After a brief and bloodless siege, Muslims seized control of Jerusalem from the Byzantines in February 638. Caliph Omar Ibn al-Khattab accepted the city's surrender from Patriarch Sophronius in person. Omar was shown the great Church of the Holy Sepulcher and offered a place to pray in it, but he refused. He knew that if he prayed in the church, it would set a precedent that would lead to the building's transformation into a mosque. He instead prayed on the steps outside, allowing the church to remain a Christian holy place.

Christians and Jews have used the name Allah to refer to God, especially in Arabia. When we say Allah we are referring to the same one God, notwithstanding the trinity of God argument put forward by Muslim clerics.
I quote from the Quran:

029.046
YUSUFALI: And dispute ye not with the People of the Book, except with means better (than mere disputation), unless it be with those of them who inflict wrong (and injury): but say, "We believe in the revelation which has come down to us and in that which came down to you; Our Allah and your Allah is one; and it is to Him we bow (in Islam)."
PICKTHAL: And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our Allah and your Allah is One, and unto Him we surrender.
SHAKIR: And do not dispute with the followers of the Book except by what is best, except those of them who act unjustly, and say: We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you, and our Allah and your Allah is One, and to Him do we submit.

It is ridiculous for any Muslim to claim a certain name to God as exclusively theirs. The Muslim majority in Malaysia is using religion to subdue the Christian minority. One solution is to have universal laws for all citizens in Malaysia that confirms complete freedom of religion, and not separate Sharia laws for Muslims.

Imagine the United States or Europe without freedom of religion, and Christianity enforced by the state. I think the Muslims of Europe and the United States, with populations of 37 million and more than 6 million, respectively, would find life a living hell. The same is true for minorities living in Muslim majority countries where Sharia laws are part of the constitution and enforced by the state.

Incorporating religious laws in a country’s constitution, no matter what the religion, will generally lead to religious persecution of the minorities. By invoking religious laws when writing any state's constitution, we can never create a vibrant society or culture that is inclusive and welcoming to all.

In a theocratic state only one group of people, for example mullahs in Iran, will end up with complete and absolute control over everything. A theocratic state is a recipe for disaster. Iran and Saudi Arabia are basically fascist states. Either you are with the mullahs or they are against you. Oil-rich theocratic states like Saudi Arabia and Iran provide the funding and lifeline that all terrorist organizations need to foster their agenda of establishing a theocratic caliphate by uniting all Muslims under their banner.

A country with Islamic laws as part of its constitution can easily be transformed into a one-party dictatorship, as is the case in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Such is the power of religion that in Iran protesters against the current government for alleged election rigging publicly profess their allegiance to Imam Khomeni their supreme leader.

Theocratic states where religion becomes the rallying cry can easily lose rationality when faced with difficult decisions. Emotionalism and anger overrides all reasonable analysis and arguments. This is why we fear Iran’s nuclear bomb.

We should never forget that fifteen out of the nineteen 9/11 killers were from Saudi Arabia. This is a scary statistic. Osama Bin Laden is a product of Saudi Arabia’s theocratic dictatorship. He founded his al Qaida network after being deported from Saudi Arabia.

Islamic/Sharia laws are the rallying cry for extremists. In every Muslim country that has Islamic laws, extremists find it easy to organize, using the argument that the government of the day is not enforcing these laws in the true spirit of Islam.

The preamble to the al Qaida constitution can be interpreted as follows: “To set up a theocratic Muslim state with a Caliphate whose laws are based on the Sharia laws as stated in the Quran and unite the entire Muslim world under this state and to fight the infidels (read: Christians and Jews).”

Armed with this message, organizations like the Taliban and al Qaida can claim divine sanction from God to pursue their struggle. By labeling Israel and the West as enemies of Islam, they are able to easily recruit large numbers of fighters among economically disadvantaged populations in Pakistan, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world.

It is ironic that al Qaida and the Taliban, who share Saudi Arabia’s religious ideology and method of punishments, have fashioned their flags after that of Saudi Arabia. By doing this they are symbolically holding themselves out as the true guardians of Mecca, Medina and the Kabbah, which are currently under Saudi Arabia’s control. An average Muslim identifies Saudi Arabia and its flag with the annual pilgrimage of Hajj. Performing the Hajj is one of the pillars of Islam: “Every able-bodied Muslim is obliged to make the pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime if he or she can afford it.”

An uneducated Muslim can be easily taken in by this symbolism.

The al Qaida murderers are very cunning when it comes to playing psychological wars. The flag bears a very important prayer or saying for Muslims:

"There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah."

This prayer or saying is uttered by Muslims when embracing Islam and also when carrying the body of the deceased for burial.

Similar Flags are used in the background of beheadings and news conferences of al Qaida and the Taliban. When masked al Qaida men cut off heads of hostages, they display this prayer on thier masks and also display it on the wall behind them. Display of this very important Islamic prayer is intended to insinuate a sanction from God for their Heinous and barbaric acts.

Sharia laws, like the Ten Commandments, are given to humanity by God in order to create a just and fair society. Every Muslim believes that God is all-knowing and all-powerful. God would never wish these laws to violate inherent rights that God has given to every human being, namely the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The holy Quran is intended to be for all times, and hence its guidelines as provided by God must be reevaluated and reinterpreted in the context of the times we are living in. One cannot freeze all laws in the context that existed during prophet’s life more than 1,400 years ago. If the Prophet Muhammad were alive today, he would no doubt have a website with an e-mail address!

Much of Sharia law is man’s interpretation of laws that were given to Prophet Mohammed in the holy Quran. Some of these laws were given in response to issues that confronted people living in Arabia 1,400 years ago. There were many orphans and widows after wars and laws with respect to polygamy, et cetera, responded to the situation on hand.

Crafty clerics using self-serving translations and made-up sayings of the prophet have sanctioned themselves up to four wives and convinced the women to go along with this practice They have event prescribed a dress code to restrict and control women.
They equate their act of marrying more than one to that of the holy prophet, conveniently forgetting that the Prophet Muhammad’s marriages were in the context of his role as God’s messenger on earth to spread the word of God and to form political alliances. In fact, the Quran clearly states that since it is impossible for any man to treat two women equally in his relationship with them, he should only marry one.

Punishments such as cutting of heads for murder, hands and limbs for theft, stoning for adultery, et cetera, are out of step with today’s world. If Islam is a religion for all times, then for it to be applicable and relevant as God’s word for a just and fair society, it must be adapted to modern times. A crime of adultery is not a crime against the state but against one’s immediate family, yet in some countries the punishment is stoning to death.

To facilitate this transition, what should be done?

The western media and press must present Muslims in a positive light by not referring to terrorists as Muslims or Islamist fascists. These people cannot call themselves Muslims by simply displaying banners and shouting slogans of “God is great” while cutting off heads and murdering people. This is tantamount to referring to Nazis in Germany as Christian Nazis. Why not just call them terrorists and subtract Muslim from their respective names? This should not be difficult.

Economic development and education programs must be instituted in Muslim-majority countries, and dictators and despots, who create the environment for extremist behavior, should be phased out through elections.

Relgious parties organized on the basis of religion that support terrorism must be treated as enemies of the state and disbanded. This step should be taken in every Muslim-majority country and will go a long way towards neutralizing extremist groups, especially in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Muslim-majority countries must break the linkage of Islamic or Sharia laws with terrorism by amending their constitutions and embracing complete freedom of religion along Turkish lines. This necessary act will deny the extremists and terrorists their reason for existing and over time marginalize them as nothing more than the thugs they are.

Pakistan must be encouraged to repeal its Hadood ordinance that clearly violates the rights of women and minorities and was cunningly imposed on the people of Pakistan through a fake referendum by a military dictator. Today, especially after all the murder and mayhem committed by the Taliban, Pakistan is ready for such a change. The Supreme Court of Pakistan should take a lead and remove these draconian laws from the statute.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference should adopt the Turkish model of moderate Islam that provides for freedom of religion as a benchmark for all its member states. The United Nations can support the OIC in this regard.

The constitution of most Muslim-majority countries contains a clause that no law shall be in violation of Islamic laws as laid down in the Quran, making Islamic laws superior to laws made by an act of parliament. This clause should be replaced by a statement that no law will be included in the constitution that violates the divine human rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness given to every human being by God, and that these rights include the freedoms of speech and religion. In summary, we are accepting that God’s law is supreme without the complications of confrontation.

We must educate our children in schools about the Muslim religion and its shared history and roots with Jews and Christians as children of Abraham. The fact that the Quran shares the prophets and stories with the Old and New testaments must be taught to schoolchildren to reduce prejudice, and vice-versa in Muslim majority countries.

There must be an international focus on education in Muslim majority countries to teach tolerance of other religions and shun extremists. Children must be taught that the Quran shares its stories and its prophets with the Old and New testaments and God’s will in determining someone’s faith. Islam’s overriding principle is to submit to the will of God.

The organization for Islamic countries must convince Saudi Arabia to embrace a moderate form of Islam, as has been in done in Turkey, that can then become a benchmark for the rest of the Muslim world.

The West and the United States must encourage Israel and the Palestinians to settle their dispute. Arab countries must accept the reality of Israel as God’s will and recognize Israel. In turn, Israel, by reaching a settlement with the Palestinians, can become an economic power in the Middle East and develop a large market for its goods and services. This will take away a major recruitment tool for religious extremists that have been successfully used in every Muslim majority country.

Iran has been around for thousands of years and is not going to go away. Iran’s largest trading partner is Europe, with over one-third of its exports going to Iran each year, in addition to its trade with China and Russia and Turkey. Sanctions against Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons will not work. Israel should sit down with the Iranian leadership to iron out their disputes. Iran’s one-party system is under strain and will yield to international pressure for adopting a moderate brand of Islam. A moderate Iran with nuclear weapons – if we cannot stop them – is a safer bet then a theocratic Iran.

Islam does not ban family planning. Family planning must be encouraged to reduce childbirths among poor parents whose children end up becoming a burden on family and society. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, many of the Madrassa children are a product of poor family planning. Unwanted and surplus, many have ended up becoming human bombs after brainwashing by evil clerics. There is some merit in China’s one-child policy. Space on earth and resources are limited. It is simple commonsense.

Europe went through the Inquisition, and after centuries of persecution of millions learned to embrace complete freedom of religion. The word Muslim means “One who submits to God.” For Muslims everywhere, the simple message is to accept God’s decision as to why someone belongs to a certain religion or is an atheist and to accept them as God’s people.

Jews and Christians as people of the books should reciprocate this sentiment in equal measure.

The founders of this great country were blessed by God to come up with the idea of inherent rights for all human beings namely the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Muslim countries should look for guidelines provided by the U.S. Constitution that is indeed Sharia compliant and use it as a template for their respective constitutions and defeat terrorists with the power of the written word

Dr M says 9/11 attacks staged to hit Muslim world

By Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani - The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 20 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today claimed the 9/11 attacks in the United States, that killed nearly 3,000, was staged as an excuse to “mount attacks on the Muslim world”, saying killing as an excuse for war is not new to the US.

The former prime minister also argued that Israel was created to solve the “Jewish problem” in Europe, saying the Holocaust had failed as a final solution against the community.

“In September 2001, the World Trade Centre was attacked allegedly by terrorists. I am not sure now that Muslim terrorists carried out these attacks. There is strong evidence that the attacks were staged. If they can make Avatar, they can make anything,” said Dr Mahathir during his speech at the General Conference for the Support of Al-Quds here. Al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem.

“Killing innocent people to provide an excuse for war is not new to the US. But whether the real or staged 9/11 attacks have served the United States and Western countries well. They have an excuse to mount attacks on the Muslim world,” he added.

Dr Mahathir also argued the creation of the Jewish state was decided after Europeans failed to massacre the community.

“The Jews had always been a problem in European countries. They had to be confined to ghettoes and periodically massacred. But still they remained, they thrived and they held whole governments to ransom.

“Even after their massacre by the Nazis of Germany, they survived to continue to be a source of even greater problems for the world. The Holocaust failed as a final solution,” said the outspoken Malaysian leader who was noted for his anti-Western and anti-Zionist stand while in power for 22 years, until October 2003.

Dr Mahathir added that it was easier for the European powers to set up a Jewish state in Palestine.

“Creating a state for them was thought to be a better solution. It could be if some European territory had been allocated to make a permanent ghetto for the Jews. But of course if this was done then the affected European state would rise in arms and kill all the Jews the way they had been doing before. So the debate was about creating an Israeli state in Uganda, Africa, or somewhere in Latin America or Palestine of course.

“It was so easy to decide on Palestine, a British mandated territory. Restrictions on the disposal of mandated land could be ignored. This is nothing new — reneging on solemnly given undertaking is endemic with Europeans,” he said.

Dr Mahathir also accused democratic countries for being “hypocritical” and pointed out that the world is “partially civilised.”

“We live in a world that is only partially civilised. I say this because we still believe that the way to resolve conflicts between nations is to kill people in what is called war. The winner is the side which succeeds in killing the most number of people. Yet we vehemently declare that killing people is murder, a terrible crime worthy of the most severe punishment.

“We are being openly hypocritical. Mass killing is glorious but killing one man is a heinous crime,” he said in his speech.

Dr Mahathir also expressed his disappointment in Barack Obama and said that the US president has failed. Obama celebrated his first year in office today.

“Well, I am a bit disappointed because so far none of his promises have been kept. He promised to get out from Afghanistan but he ended up sending more troops there instead. He promised to close down Guantanamo but he has not closed down Guantanamo. Even other things he has not been able to do.

“It is quite easy to promise during election time but you know there are forces in the United States which prevents the president from doing some things. One of the forces is the Jewish lobby, IPAC,” he said.

Dr Mahathir had previously blamed the Jews for causing the Asian financial crisis.

Two brothers, six others remanded over Metro church attack

By Shazwan Mustafa Kamal and Debra Chong - The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 20 — Police have obtained week-long remand orders for eight men, including two brothers and their uncle, to assist them in investigations into the arson attack on the Metro Tabernacle Church here on Jan 8, the first of attacks against houses of worship linked to the controversial “Allah” ruling.

They were picked up within the Klang Valley during an operation last night and early this morning, federal police CID director Datuk Bakri Zinin told reporters here.

One of the eight, a 25-year-old, was arrested in a city hospital after he sought treatment for burns on the chest and one arm, Bakri said. The injuries were believed to have been sustained during the attack on the Assemblies of God church in Desa Melawati.

Police arrested him and then picked up his brother and uncle later. The trio work as dispatch clerks.

“The last arrest was made at 7.30 this morning. Three of the suspects are believed to be related — two are brothers and another the uncle. The remaining five are believed to be their friends,” said Bakri.

He said police still needed more time to thoroughly investigate the case, which is why the remand order was obtained in the first place.

Bakri declined to provide any details as to the race or nationality of the suspects,

“This case is still under investigation, so I hope people can give us time to conduct the investigations properly. If we have more information, we will take the necessary action.”

However, based on the official statement released by the police, all the suspects arrested were “Malay youths in their twenties who are currently residing in the Ampang area”.

The statement, which was given to reporters shortly after the press conference, also confirms that the attack on the Metro Tabernacle Church was executed by about 10 suspects, who fled in cars and motorcycles after the attack.

“I thank the public for co-operating with us in order to make these arrests possible. At the same time I want to warn certain parties. Give the police a chance to investigate. Do not try and link the suspects to certain groups.

“The police are here to ensure that the safety and harmony of the country is taken care of,” said Bakri.

He added that the case is being investigated under section 436 of the Penal Code, which is “mischief by fire or explosive substance with the intent to cause damage”.

Bakri claimed police believe the case has been solved with the arrests.

A total of nine churches, one Sikh temple, one mosque, one surau and one convent school suffered either arson, had paint sprayed or were stoned in these attacks.

The Dec 31 High Court decision allowed the Catholic weekly Herald to use the term “Allah” to describe the Christian God in its Bahasa Malaysia section, riling segments of the majority Malay Muslims, particularly in the peninsula, who say it is exclusive to them.

The government has appealed against the decision and has won a stay of execution.

The Herald is sold only in Roman Catholic churches but Malay and Muslim groups believe it is a conspiracy to convert them to Christianity.

The syariah court rarely allows conversions out of Islam as the Federal Constitution defines Malays as Muslims.

Teh tarik sessions to resolve inter-religious issues

The Sun
Husna Yusop

PUTRAJAYA (Jan 19, 2010): Teh tarik session, not boardroom setting – that’s the approach the government is taking to resolve inter-religious issues in the country.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon said today inter-ethnic and inter-religious dialogues and discussions were best carried out in a manner which is comfortable to all sides rather than in an official rigid structure.

As such, he said, there is no immediate need for the government to set up a specific council or committee to resolve inter-religious issues.


"In promoting inter-ethnic and inter-faith dialogue, we found that very often in a more informal setting where all feel very comfortable, it is more effective than very rigid meeting or structure.

"(In formal structure) everyone feels very pressured, they feel they must have their own positions stated very clearly and they are not opening their minds and hearts," he said.

Speaking to reporters after delivering his New Year message to the National Unity and Integration Department staff here, Koh said the process of dialogue involving senior officers and himself, has been ongoing.

"We don’t want a rigid structure as yet but we want to encourage inter-religious harmony through dialogues and discussions. So, it is better that we chat over a cup of coffee, even in a mamak stall, as sometimes it is more effective," he added.

He said since every faith has its own denominations, representation and views, at this stage, a multi-faceted engagement was necessary to build up trust and confidence.

"Even if we have a formal structure (later), it is going to be in the form of dialogues and discussions and we may not call it inter-faith council or whatever rigid terms.

"We may call it a task force to promote understanding which is better than structuring everyone together. Formality overtakes substance," he said, adding the government was also reviewing the present structure that has existed for many years.

Koh said a few committees and councils have been set up previously and the government was reorganising them and looking at how to encourage inter-religious harmony and understanding through dialogues and discussions.

On the department’s activities, he said the Rukun Tetangga (RT) programme will be strengthened by sending its 125,000 members from 4,506 RT nationwide for training in communications and mediation skill.

He also said plans were under way to set up a planning and research unit for national integration efforts with the cooperation of academicians and higher learning institutions.

Did land reclamation affect currents?

Now here’s something that is worth pondering over. Goes to show why we can’t take anything for granted if we mess with Nature.

GEORGE TOWN (Jan 19, 2010) : Inshore fishermen who ply the waters of the Penang Channel where the dragon boat capsize incident occurred on Sunday want the authorities to look into the impact of reclamation on the currents in the channel.


Traditional inshore fisherman Khoo Kay Keat points to this new shallow
shoreline along the reclaimed land in Jelutong where the Bandar Sri Penang
fishermen’s jetty is built. Penang held its Pesta dragon boat race here last year.
The accident that took the lives of six people during a dragon-boat training
session on Sunday occurred about a km away from this reclaimed area.

Khoo Kay Keat, 55, a former Penang Inshore Fishermen’s Welfare Association committee member, who now operates in the area, said they had observed currents changing over last 10 years or so.

He said the inshore fishermen had seen certain stretches along the coastline becoming shallower about the same time that reclamation work had taken place, while the middle portions of the channel had remained deep.

Full article in theSun here.

MACC: Jump on RM1.5m for Tamil Schools, RM200m hospital losses = nowhere in sight

by Nathaniel Tan

ps- quick point to Gunasegaran inquest, lest we forget.

It’s crazy just how stark the discrepancy is sometimes. Let’s see what is happening in Shah Alam these days.

BN:

More than a month after allegations of irregularities surfaced over the Shah Alam Hospital project, the Public Works Department (PWD) has yet to respond to the questions raised.

Last month, Malaysiakini reported source-based claims that the contract was awarded under debatable circumstances and at an inflated price of about RM500 million to Sunshine Fleet Sdn Bhd, a company owned by a member of the Selangor royalty.

The company has allegedly been skimming off project funds for ‘advances’ and ‘expenses’, and also stands accused of harassing companies it had engaged as sub-contractors. It has refused comment, saying that queries should be directed to PWD which ‘owns’ the project.

Since then, PWD secretary-general Judin Abdul Karim – who signed the letter awarding the contract – has not been available for comment, despite repeated phone calls to his office.

Among the questions were whether the contract was awarded in an open tender or if it was directly negotiated and why the cost has escalated from the original allocation of RM300 million.

Prior to this, sources close to the PWD confirmed the existence of an internal report that was commissioned to address the issues, together with a list of answers to Malaysiakini’s questions.

However, the source implied that the matter is being held up pending approval by Works Minister Shaziman Abu Mansor.

Yesterday, Saipol said his department has yet to go through the response because the personnel “are busy with more routine matters.”

RM 200 million up in smoke, and the MACC is nowhere in sight (did you know they moved out of Plaza Masalam? Ghosts, I expect).

Plus, one can’t help but think about how well Gamuda has done (owned largely by Perak royalty), and what happened in the silver state last year.

Anyway. Pakatan:

The police today recorded the statement of Selangor exco Xavier Jayakumar at his office in Shah Alam with regards to a police report lodged against him.

The report, filed with the Klang district police headquarters, concerned the alleged ‘abuse’ of RM1.67 million in allocations for Tamil schools last year.

Following the allegation, Jayakumar has published on his blog a list of tables detailing how the state’s allocations were spent for Tamil schools last year.

I’m all for the immediate investigation of all charges of corruption, and welcome any into Pakatan politicians.

But surely there must be some consistency. The difference here is like the difference between RM1 and RM200 (or RM500, really). Where is the MACC in the hospital case?

Also compare the different responses. BN hides and schemes, refusing to answer questions. Dr. Xavier immediately put up a table of allocations (reproduced below), inviting people to do their own investigations.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick of these BN thieves draining our country dry. Perhaps we’ll have a chance to work for change in Hulu Selangor soon enough, Insyallah (Nazri says it’s ok for me, FT resident, to say such things, apparently :P Something about not having a Sultan? My dad quipped: What about Melaka then?).

Tags: Corruption //

Hindraf set to raise temperature of Najib's India visit - Malaysiakini -

If the list of demands by Hindraf to the Indian government is met, the scheduled meeting between foreign minister SM Krishna and Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak is expected to be a hot affair.

"Foreign minister SM Krishna was really moved by the 'Malaysian Indian Minority & Human Rights Violations Annual Report 2009: Malaysia Truly Asia' which was distributed during the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas international conference recently," said Hindraf legal advisor P Uthayakumar.

hindraf btn 151209 uthayakumarAs such, Uthayakumar (right) said Krishna would likely highlight the 'human rights violations' against Indian Malaysians to Najib during the latter's maiden visit to the state starting today.

"We have also asked the Indian government to use diplomatic means to handle (the) issue," he said.

Uthayakumar was optimistic about India's intervention as the minister and a representative of an opposition party, Sushma Suvaraj, has also promised to look into the matter seriously and bring them to the attention of the Indian cabinet.

"Most of them were shocked (about) how Indians are being ill-treated and marginalised in Malaysia. This does not happen in other countries. Only in our country," he said.

About 1500 copies of the annual report was distributed to delegates from 53 countries.

'Trade sanctions proposed'

Among the requests submitted to the Indian government were to persuade it to terminate all present and future Malaysian company projects in India especially by Plus, Gamuda, IJN, Scomi and other Umno-linked companies.

Uthayakumar said India would also be asked to stop buying Malaysian palm oil and to halt all its information technology professionals from working here.

Hindraf has also proposed to India to imposed trade sanctions on Malaysia until all the atrocities and injustices against Indian Malaysians end.

When asked about the negative implications that Malaysia may encounter due to the trade sanctions proposed, Uthayakumar said this is the only option left.

"People may suffer for awhile but this is the only option left for us as Najib has refused to address and resolve the problem," he said.

Uthayakumar who is also the Human Rights Party secretary-general hopes that the Indian government would intervene and end the sufferings of marginalised Indians in Malaysia.

"Najib would know what to do during his official visit, but what concerns me the most are the human rights issues of Malaysia Indians," he said when asked to comment on what would be the outcome of Najib's maiden visit to India.

He said he would continue to fight for the rights of Indians even if he became a scapegoat or was again arrested by the ISA.

Malaysian Indians want support from Diaspora

CHENNAI: Delegates of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) this year may be forced to look into the gross human right violations by the Malaysian government — demolition of temples, burial grounds, Tamil schools and relocation of Indians, to mention a few — as they meet in New Delhi for three days from January 7.

Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF), an organisation fighting for the rights of Indian ethnic minorities in Malaysia, plans to distribute copies of its second annual report on the rights violations at the annual conference of the Indian Diaspora and urge the participants to devote a session to discuss the issue.


Though two million people of Indian origin were being treated as “second grade citizens” by the Malaysian government, the issue had never figured in the discussions of the PBD, HINDRAF legal advisor P Uthayakumar told Express.


Uthayakumar, who was in Chennai enroute to New Delhi, accused the PBD of deliberating only on issues relating to business and trade agreements.
He alleged that the ruling racist United Malay National Organisation (UMNO) was denying birth certificates and identity documents to around two million Malaysians of Indian origin with a view to having political control by preventing a section of the population from participating in the political process.


Moreover, in the name of development, traditional settlements of Malaysian Indians were being demolished.
Apart from losing their places of worship, burial grounds and Tamil schools, 70 per cent of Malaysian Indians, who were agriculturists by profession, have now lost their land and livelihood, he claimed, adding that those people had been forced to migrate to urban areas, where they have no proper place to stay, no school to study and no proper job.
“Malaysian Indians are given only low profile jobs like cleaners, bearers, road cleaners, office assistants and sewerage workers and anyone from the ethnic group trying to make it big in business finds his license cancelled with the police helping in demolishing the establishment,” Uthayakumar alleged.


Impelled by a sense of outrage over the prevailing difficulti es, nearly 3,30,000 Malaysian In dians in the age group of 15 to 34 have taken to crime and the suicide rate is the highest, he said.
Most of the Malaysian Indians who put up a fight against the discrimination had been killed or harassed in poli ce custody, he said, adding that an ann ual report highlighting the human rights violations would be submitted to the Minister of Overseas and External Affairs and the Prime Minister’s office.

Cops quiz exco on 'abuse' of Tamil school funds - Malaysiakini

The police today recorded the statement of Selangor exco Xavier Jayakumar at his office in Shah Alam with regards to a police report lodged against him.

The report, filed with the Klang district police headquarters, concerned the alleged 'abuse' of RM1.67 million in allocations for Tamil schools last year.

After lodging the report, Klang's Parents Teachers Association chairperson G Jeganathan said the state government had given the funds, meant for upgrading the schools, to three NGOs without a clear explanation.

The three NGOs are Child Information, Learning and Development Centre (Child), Tamil Foundation Malaysia and Educational, Welfare and Research Foundation.

xavier jayakumar pc 190110 01Speaking to reporters after the police left, Jayakumar did not rule out the possibility that the episode could be politically motivated.

"I don't know from what angle this is coming (from) and who is behind this report. I'm sure its not Jeganathan, he doesn't seem to know anything, he doesn't seem to know the issues," he said.

Jayakumar explained that the funds provided to the NGOs were part of a programme by the Selangor government to improve Tamil education

"We took six months to study the proposal from them (the NGOs). We had multiple meetings. The state will have a five-year programme in order to increase the standard of Tamil school education," he added.

Continuous effort needed


Furthermore, he said that it is the prerogative of the state government on how to allocate the funds.

He said that a total of RM4 million was allocated to Tamil schools last year and of this amount, RM1.58 million was given as an "outright grant" to the three NGOs.

He pointed out that the Parents Teachers Association changes every year and therefore the programmes that are carried out would also vary.

"If you don't have a concerted effort of putting a continuos programme over five years, you cannot get results.

"That is why we are working with NGOs who are experts in this, who have hands on experience and they know exactly how the ground works," he said.

Following the allegation, Jayakumar has published on his blog a list of tables detailing how the state's allocations were spent for Tamil schools last year.

Mesra Rakyat Bkt Sentosa: Anwar Ibrahim (Part 1)

Hidup di dalam gudang selama 5 tahun

AMPANG JAYA, 19 Januari - Panchavarnam dan suaminya Sivam tinggal di sebuah gudang sejak lima tahun yang lepas dan sedang mengharungi pelbagai dugaan hidup. Seorang pemilik bengkel motor berbangsa Cina, telah memberi tempat tinggal di sebuah gudang yang dimilikinya yang terletak di Ampang Campuran kepada Panchavarnam (40 tahun) dan suaminya Sivam (63 tahun) sehingga kini. Sivam yang terlantar di katil selama 10 tahun kerana lumpuh memerlukan penjagaan isterinya. Jadi Panchavarnam yang telah bekerja sebagai pencuci terpaksa berhenti kerja dan menjaga suaminya. Mereka tidak mempunyai sebarang pendapatan untuk menyara kehidupan mereka.

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Bekalan elektrik dan air diputus. Hidup dalam kegelapan selama 5 tahun

SHAH ALAM, 18 Januari - Dua buah keluarga India sedang mengharungi kehidupan harian tanpa kemudahan elektrik sejak 5 tahun yang lalu. Situasi menyedihkan ini berlaku di Rumah Pangsa Hicom BBR. Selepas kematian kedua-dua ibu bapa dan ditinggalkan suami tiga tahun lalu Pn.Chandragantha Kuppusamy (43 tahun) sedang tinggal di rumah tersebut bersama empat orang anaknya dan abang sulungnya Mathurai Veeran Kuppusamy (44 tahun) yang tidak sihat. Pendapatan tidak seberapa yang diperolehi oleh anak Chandragantha yang berumur 20 tahun serta sedikit bantuan yang diberi oleh Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat (JKM) digunakan untuk menampung perbelanjaan harian mereka. Disebabkan tidak mampu bayar bil sebanyak RM 438.00 bekalan elektrik di rumah mereka telah diputuskan. Setelah sekian lama mengharungi hidup dalam kegelapan anak Chandragantha yang berhasrat menyambut deepavali telah membawa RM300 untuk membayar bil elektrik. Tetapi dia pulang dengan kecewa kerana diberitahu rekod mereka telah dihapuskan daripada pendaftaran elektrik kerana sudah lama tidak membuat sebarang pembayaran. Malah mereka kena bayar RM600 untuk membuat permohonan baru bagi mendapatkan bekalan elektrik ke rumah tersebut.

Selain itu, Pn. Murugammah Renggasamy (59 tahun) sedang menjaga anaknya berumur 30 tahun yang terlantar di katil kerana tidak sihat di sebuah rumah sewa yang tiada elektrik dan air. Dia mengalami kehidupan yang sukar tanpa elektrik dan air dan menjalani hidupnya dengan mendapat bekalan air yang sedikit daripada jiran mereka setiap hari. Melihat cucunya membaca di ruang tamu dengan sedikit cahaya yang memasuki ruang tersebut daripada rumah depan amat menyedihkan hati.

elektrik-11elektrik21copy-of-elektrik21

UMNO rule : 1% Indians in civil service, down from 50%

Indians from only 1.8% of the workforce in the public sector (the Star 5/1/2010 at page N 45). But we estimate a mere 1%. Dr. Mahathir in his book The Malay Dilema acknowledged that an estimated 50% of Division 1 and 2 officers of the civil service were Indians even in the 1960s. But this has systematically been reduced to a mere 1% in over the last 52 years since independence. Indians and Chinese have been ethnically cleansed from the civil service, government sector, the uniformed services such as the Police, Armed Forces, Customs and Immigration, other than a token representation as window dressing.

Indians in Malaysia cannot even get the job of a postmaster today but the blacks in the USA already have their first black “muslim” Presidental.

One Malay-sia?

P. Uthayakumar

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Peanuts to Tamil school pupils

(Sinar 6/1/2010 page S3)

This PKR Indian exco mandore is powerless to even get his “Tuan” Menteri Besar to grant land to all 97 Tamil Schools in Selangor which the MB can do merely by the stroke of a pen. It has been almost two years that Pakatan has been in power and yet nothing has been done. Like the previous UMNO regime this PKR Selangor state government is even refusing to honour this basic right to education. PKR any different from UMNO? This Tuan like the previous UMNO regime gets his Indian Exco mandore to dish out peanuts to these Tamil schools or engage in ‘kosong’ paper politic talk in an attempt to be seen to be doing something for the Indians.

HRP demands that all Pakatan ruled states acquire the land that the school is situated on, and further allocate lands to schools so that they have an endowment and are empowered, and have their own source of income instead of relying on the government for grants and peanuts each year! Allocation of land is an off budget exercise and does not take anything from the budget.


S. Jayathas

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UMNOs’ rule : Janagy and 3 toddlers homeless sleeps in corridor

(Star Metro 5/1/2010 at page M 10). All Janagy wants for the new year is a roof over her head. This is the height of the UMNO state sponsored poverty in Malaysia where a family cannot even afford to pay even RM 250.00 per month rentals as her husband earns only RM 700.00 as a security guard.

To solve these Indian problems Umno would never offer them the 10 acres land in schemes for the poor as in Felda, Felcra, Risda, Fama Agropolition etc., which largely only goes to the malays.

UMNO intends the Indians to live with crumbs and never mind if the lfes are miserable. They are Indians after all. Just look at the misery in Janagy’s face and the look on her children’s faces.

HRP demands that the government implements minimum wage and allocates agricultural lands to all the poor and dispossessed as in the Felda schemes.

P. Uthayakumar

umno-janagi

DAPs’ middle Malay path Indians excluded

With Kapitan Lim Guan Eng’s ‘Middle Path’ the Rakyat would ride on towards Putrajaya as reported in Malaysiakini.com on 17/1/10 excludes the Indians as follows:-

1) arson and vandalism attack an churches – playing to the Sabah and Sarawak voter gallery and Western countries money purse.

2) Increased state funding for Islam related matters increased two fold to RM 24.3 Million in the 2010 budget compared to the BN Budget in 2008.

But all 28 Tamil schools, all hindu temples as well as for the crematoriums in Penang, the Penang state has refused government land, so that they can be indiscriminately demolished at any time at the mercy of Kapitan Lim Guan Eng as what he ruthlessly did in Kg Buah Pala.

Remember this Kapitan Lim Guan Eng was prepared to go to jail only for a Malay girl to get to play to the malay muslim gallery cum vote bank. Why has this Kapitan Lim or any of the other Aduns and MPs in PKR or PAS not stood opposed in front of a bulldozer to prevent a Hindu temple from being demolished? Let alone going to jail for the same !

P. Uthayakumar

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Foreign inmates clogging local prisons

KAJANG, Jan 19 — Nearly one-third of prisoners nationwide are foreigners, a leading factor blamed for congestion in jails, Prisons Department director-general Datuk Zulkifli Omar said today.

Indonesian inmates, he said, made up the highest number at 5,000. Of this, more than 50 per cent committed offences under the Immigration Act, which includes slipping into the country illegally.

Statistics show that as of last Sunday, of the total 32,130 inmates held at 31 prisons nationwide, 10,833 are foreigners.

The prisons have a capacity to accommodate 36,740. As prison congestion is due mainly to foreigners, Zulkifli said the prisons department is restructuring the placement of the prisoners to solve the problem.

He was speaking to reporters after a visit by a group of Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation (MCPF) officials to the Kajang Prison here.

Zulkifli said the government has taken various drastic steps to overcome congestion in prisons, including upgrading the rehabilitation programmes of the inmates.

He said the parole system implemented by the government since last July, helped reduce the congestion.

“This year, 993 inmates completed their parole while 193 others are still undergoing parole,” he said.

MCPF deputy chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said society needs to give former inmates a second chance to start a new life after serving time in prison.

“We urge society to change their perception of the inmates and give them full support to start a new life,” he said.

He said rehabilitation aspects and the responsibility to treat former inmates should not lie solely on the prisons department but on all parties, as well, including non-governmental organisations and the private sector. — Bernama

Dr M says ‘Allah’ not a big issue

By Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani - The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 19 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the “Allah” issue has been blown out of proportion, stressing it was unfair to label Malaysia as a restrictive and undemocratic country.

The outspoken former prime minister, whose administration in 1986 restricted usage of the term and other Arabic words exclusive to Islam, pointed out that if Malaysia should blamed as undemocratic then Switzerland and France has to be placed in the same category as well.

“Well, I have bad perception of Switzerland for example which does not allow minarets. France which does not allow people to wear tudung (head scarf). So this things happen to other countries. So it is up to the press here to point that out that we are not the only culprit, others are also being very unreasonable or restrictive and not being democratic,” Dr Mahathir told reporters here today.

“So my perception of these countries that they are not very democratic,” he added.

Malaysia, which prides itself as a model Islamic country with a multi-racial population living in peace, was recently rocked by a High Court ruling allowing Catholic weekly Herald to use ‘Allah’ to describe the Christian God. An uproar among the majority Muslim community led to attacks on 10 churches, a mosque, a Sikh temple and a convent school.

The former prime minister also took a jab at his political foe, Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz, and said that the de facto law minister has pre-empt the court’s decision.

“I don’t know there seems to some confusion there. On one hand, we hear that government will wait all the decision on the appeal court. On the other hand, Nazri seems to have anticipated the decision of the Appeal court by saying that so and so can use but others can’t use so I don’t know what is happening. I am not in the government as you know,” he said.

The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department said yesterday that non-Muslims are allowed to use the word ‘Allah’ in three states - Penang, Sabah and Sarawak- and the Federal Territories.

The High Court had on Dec 31 last year ruled that the Catholic Church’s Herald weekly had the constitutional right to publish the word ‘Allah’ to cater to its Bahasa Malaysia-speaking followers

Why does God allow natural disasters?

A burning church in Haiti

At the heart of Haiti's humanitarian crisis is an age old question for many religious people - how can God allow such terrible things to happen? Philosopher David Bain examines the arguments.

Evil has always been a thorn in the side of those - of whatever faith - who believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good God.

As the philosopher David Hume (echoing Epicurus) put it in 1776: "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?"

Faced with this question, Archbishop of York John Sentamu said he had "nothing to say to make sense of this horror", while another clergyman, Canon Giles Fraser, preferred to respond "not with clever argument but with prayer".

John Sentamu
I have nothing to say that makes sense of this horror - all I know is that the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus is that he is with us
Archbishop of York, John Sentamu

Perhaps their stance is understandable. The Old Testament is also not clear to the layman on such matters. When Job complains about the injuries God has allowed him to suffer, and claims "they are tricked that trusted", God says nothing to rebut the charges.

Less reticent is the American evangelist Pat Robertson. He has suggested Haiti has been cursed ever since the population swore a pact with the Devil to gain their freedom from the French at the beginning of the 19th Century. Robertson's claim will strike many as ludicrous, if not offensive.

And even were it true, it wouldn't obviously meet the challenge.

Why would a loving deity allow such a pact to seem necessary? Why wouldn't he have freed the Haitians from slavery himself, or prevented them from being enslaved in the first place? And why, in particular, would he punish today's Haitians for something their forbears putatively did more than two centuries before?

So what should believers say? To make progress, we might distinguish two kinds of evil:

  • the awful things people do, such as murder, and
  • the awful things that just happen, such as earthquakes
Johnson Beharry, Victoria Cross recipient for bravery
Would those hailed as brave still exist in a Magical World?

St Augustine, author CS Lewis and others have argued God allows our bad actions since preventing them would undermine our freewill, the value of which outweighs its ill effects.

But there's a counter-argument. Thoroughly good people aren't robots, so why couldn't God have created only people like them, people who quite freely live good lives?

However that debate turns out, it's quite unclear how freewill is supposed to explain the other kind of evil - the death and suffering of the victims of natural disasters.

Perhaps it would if all the victims - even the newborn - were so bad that they deserved their agonising deaths, but it's impossible to believe that is the case.

Or perhaps freewill would be relevant if human negligence always played a role. There will be some who say the scale of the tragedy in natural disasters is partly attributable to humans. The world has the choice to help its poorer parts build earthquake-resistant structures and tsunami warning systems.

Krakatoa engraving 1883
A still smoking Krakatoa in 1883, which caused a devastating tsunami

But the technology has not always existed. Was prehistoric man, with his sticks and stones, somehow negligent in failing to build early warning systems for the tsunamis that were as deadly back then as they are today?

The second century saint, Irenaeus, and the 20th Century philosopher, John Hick, appeal instead to what is sometimes called soul-making. God created a universe in which disasters occur, they think, because goodness only develops in response to people's suffering.

To appreciate this idea, try to imagine a world containing people, but literally no suffering. Call it the Magical World. In that world, there are no earthquakes or tsunamis, or none that cause suffering. If people are hit by falling masonry, it somehow bounces off harmlessly. If I steal your money, God replaces it. If I try to hurt you, I fail.

So why didn't God create the Magical World instead of ours? Because, the soul-making view says, its denizens wouldn't be - couldn't be - truly good people.

It's not that they would all be bad. It's that they couldn't be properly good. For goodness develops only where it's needed, the idea goes, and it's not needed in the Magical World.

In that world, after all, there is no danger that requires people to be brave, so there would be no bravery. That world contains no one who needs comfort or kindness or sympathy, so none would be given. It's a world without moral goodness, which is why God created ours instead.

But there is wiggle room.

Even in a world where nothing bad happens, couldn't there be brave people - albeit without the opportunity to show it? So moral goodness could exist even if it were never actually needed.

And, anyway, suppose we agree moral goodness could indeed develop only in a world of suffering.

Doesn't our world contain a surplus of suffering? People do truly awful things to each other. Isn't the suffering they create enough for soul-making? Did God really need to throw in earthquakes and tsunamis as well?

Suffering's distribution, not just its amount, can also cause problems. A central point of philosopher Immanuel Kant's was that we mustn't exploit people - we mustn't use them as mere means to our ends. But it can seem that on the soul-making view God does precisely this. He inflicts horrible deaths on innocent earthquake victims so that the rest of us can be morally benefitted.

That hardly seems fair.

It's OK, some will insist, because God works in mysterious ways. But mightn't someone defend a belief in fairies by telling us they do too? Others say their talk of God is supposed to acknowledge not the existence of some all-powerful and all-good agent, who created and intervenes in the universe, but rather something more difficult to articulate - a thread of meaning or value running through the world, or perhaps something ineffable.

But, as for those who believe in an all-good, all-powerful agent-God, we've seen that they face a question that remains pressing after all these centuries, and which is now horribly underscored by the horrors in Haiti. If a deity exists, why didn't he prevent this?

David Bain is a lecturer in the philosophy department of the University of Glasgow. -BBC

Malay Provocation

In reality, a government dominated by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) is using spurious religious/linguistic arguments to shore up its support among a majority Malay electorate, which has been fed for years with preferences and privileges. Meanwhile, non-Malay money and talent exits the country.

By PHILIP BOWRING, The New York Times

One ought to be able to laugh at the absurdity of it. But the message is one of ignorance, religious and racial prejudice and political opportunism.

Last week, the Malaysian government declared that Christians in one part of the country could use “Allah” as the word for God when speaking Malay, but that those in most of the country could not. This is the same government that is currently running a public relations campaign called One Malaysia emphasizing the common identity of the nation’s racial and religious mix.

In reality, a government dominated by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) is using spurious religious/linguistic arguments to shore up its support among a majority Malay electorate, which has been fed for years with preferences and privileges. Meanwhile, non-Malay money and talent exits the country.

The government had earlier tried to stop the use of the word Allah by all Christians. This was successfully challenged in the High Court. But instead of letting the matter rest, the government declined to back down, setting the scene for the fire bombing of churches. While these could not be laid directly at the door of UMNO, hotheads in the party may well have taken their cue from what non-Muslims see as a deliberate attempt to stir up ethnic/religious issues for political gain. Last year it was Hindus who were the target of Malay provocation.

UMNO political calculation demands that the organization sticks to its demands about the use of the word Allah in peninsular Malaysia, where all Malays are deemed Muslims and where Christians are ethnic Chinese or Indian, but not in the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak where there are large communities of Malay-speaking Christians. The UMNO-led coalition needs the support of the multi-ethnic parties in those states.

The word Allah has always been used without Muslim objection by Christians in the Arab world, as well as those in Malay-speaking Indonesia, where there are 10 times as many Muslims as in Malaysia. The word is itself derived from pre-Islamic Semitic language roots. Even Malaysia’s strictly Islamist opposition party, Parti Islam (PAS), agrees that all Abrahamic faiths are entitled to use the word Allah.

But such facts are of little relevance to UMNO politicians determined to drum up any issue that can be used to show their commitment to defending Malay and Muslim privileges and thus retain the support of a Malay majority against the appeal both of PAS and the multi-ethnic Keadilan party of the former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.

UMNO cannot claim to be a party of the pious. Half a century in power has turned it into a vast patronage machine that enriches the Malay elite, providing support for luxurious lifestyles. Its insistence that all Malays are Muslims (and cannot convert) is an attempt to give religious backing to the message of Malay racial preference. That is barely in accord with the universalist notions of global Islam but keeps the loyalty of many Malays otherwise resentful of growing income gaps.

However, the racial and religious divides among the opposition still make an UMNO-led government seem a better choice than the alternatives — most likely ones in which the fundamentalism of PAS would replace the opportunism of UMNO. So despite the deterioration of communal relations in peninsular Malaysia, no major changes are in sight.

This carries two main dangers. The first is the continuing large scale exodus of capital and of talented non-Malays. Five years of generally good prices for its main commodity exports, oil, gas and palm oil, have delivered huge trade surpluses and a current account surplus of more than 10 percent of gross domestic product. But economic growth has been slow due to very weak private investment, only partly offset by large government deficit spending. Once a major recipient of foreign capital, Malaysia is now a source of flight capital. This is only sustainable while commodity prices remain at double levels of five years ago and three times those in 2002.

A longer term danger, at least as perceived by some leading Malays, such as the former Finance Minister Tunku Razaleigh, is that a combination of religious intolerance and resentment of federal exploitation of their natural resources will generate secessionism in the Borneo states. They joined Malaysia in 1963 without much enthusiasm but as the best option open to them as the British withdrew from empire. They do not want their traditions of racial and religious diversity to be poisoned by peninsular prejudices. Their separate treatment on the Allah issue will have some immediate benefits for Kuala Lumpur, but can only underscore just how different they are.

In short, the episode is sad commentary on a nation whose mix of races, its fine infrastructure and wealth of resources has held such promise. If only there really were One Malaysia.

Dr M: I Don’t Know What the Government is Doing

(Malaysian Digest) - Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today expressed that he is not sure what the government is doing in the way it is handling the ‘Allah’ usage predicament.

He was responding to a question during a press conference from a reporter who asked him to comment on Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Mohd Nazri Aziz’s recent comment that non-Muslims in Sabah, Sarawak, Penang and the Federal Territories should be allowed to use the word ‘Allah’.

“He (Nazri) must have anticipated the government’s decision (to allow the use of ‘Allah’ at the four states). I don’t know what the government is doing. I’m not in the government anymore,” he said in a press conference during the signing ceremony between Petronas Lubricants International and Proton Berhad at the KLCC Twin Towers.

Nazri commented last week that non-Muslims in Sabah and Sarawak should be allowed to use the word ‘Allah’, and yesterday he said that those in Penang and the Federal Territories could also use the word as there is no state enactment to prohibit its usage. He told this to reporters after launching the public transport consumer rights awareness campaign yesterday.

Nazri, who is the de facto law minister, added that the Constitution clearly says no religion, except for Islam, can be propagated among the Muslims.

Malaysian Digest today obtained a copy of a Government Gazette (Warta Kerajaan) which verified that the Government had initially approved for the Christians to use the world "Allah" as long as the publications are directed towards the followers.

The Gazette which was published in February last year indicated that the document was gazetted under the Internal Security Act by then Home Minister Dato’Seri Syed Hamid Albar.

It is stated in Article 2(1) that “The printing, publication, sale, issue, circulation and possession of any document and publication relating to Christianity containing the words “Allah”, “Kaabah”, “Baitullah” and “Solah” are prohibited unless on the front cover of the document and publication are written with the words “FOR CHRISTIANITY”.

It also makes reference to an earlier document gazetted on March 22, 1982 by then Deputy Home Minister Abdul Rahim Tamby Chik stating in Article 2 that “ The printing, publication, sale, issue, circulation or possession of the publication which is described in the Schedule and which is prejudicial to the national interest and security of the Federation is prohibited, subject to the condition that this prohibition shall not apply to the possession or use in Churches of such publication by persons professing the Christian religion, throughout Malaysia."

Malaysian Digest was informed that the Gazette was revoked in October 2009, two months before the High Court granted the usage of the word ‘Allah’ to Catholic daily “Herald”.