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Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Politics of Rage: Why Do They Hate Us?

To dismiss the terrorists as insane is to delude ourselves. Bin Laden and his fellow fanatics are products of failed societies that breed their anger. America needs a plan that will not only defeat terror but reform the Arab world

To the question "Why do the terrorists hate us?" Americans could be pardoned for answering, "Why should we care?" The immediate reaction to the murder of 5,000 innocents is anger, not analysis. Yet anger will not be enough to get us through what is sure to be a long struggle. For that we will need answers. The ones we have heard so far have been comforting but familiar. We stand for freedom and they hate it. We are rich and they envy us. We are strong and they resent this. All of which is true. But there are billions of poor and weak and oppressed people around the world. They don't turn planes into bombs. They don't blow themselves up to kill thousands of civilians. If envy were the cause of terrorism, Beverly Hills, Fifth Avenue and Mayfair would have become morgues long ago. There is something stronger at work here than deprivation and jealousy. Something that can move men to kill but also to die.

Osama bin Laden has an answer--religion. For him and his followers, this is a holy war between Islam and the Western world. Most Muslims disagree. Every Islamic country in the world has condemned the attacks of Sept. 11. To many, bin Laden belongs to a long line of extremists who have invoked religion to justify mass murder and spur men to suicide. The words "thug," "zealot" and "assassin" all come from ancient terror cults--Hindu, Jewish and Muslim, respectively--that believed they were doing the work of God. The terrorist's mind is its own place, and like Milton's Satan, can make a hell of heaven, a heaven of hell. Whether it is the Unabomber, Aum Shinrikyo or Baruch Goldstein (who killed scores of unarmed Muslims in Hebron), terrorists are almost always misfits who place their own twisted morality above mankind's.

But bin Laden and his followers are not an isolated cult like Aum Shinrikyo or the Branch Davidians or demented loners like Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber. They come out of a culture that reinforces their hostility, distrust and hatred of the West--and of America in particular. This culture does not condone terrorism but fuels the fanaticism that is at its heart. To say that Al Qaeda is a fringe group may be reassuring, but it is false. Read the Arab press in the aftermath of the attacks and you will detect a not-so-hidden admiration for bin Laden. Or consider this from the Pakistani newspaper The Nation:

"September 11 was not mindless terrorism for terrorism's sake. It was reaction and revenge, even retribution." Why else is America's response to the terror attacks so deeply constrained by fears of an "Islamic backlash" on the streets? Pakistan will dare not allow Washington the use of its bases. Saudi Arabia trembles at the thought of having to help us publicly. Egypt pleads that our strikes be as limited as possible. The problem is not that Osama bin Laden believes that this is a religious war against America. It's that millions of people across the Islamic world seem to agree.

This awkward reality has led some in the West to dust off old essays and older prejudices redicting a "clash of civilizations" between the West and Islam. The historian Paul Johnson has argued that Islam is intrinsically an intolerant and violent religion. Other scholars have disagreed, pointing out that Islam condemns the slaughter of innocents and prohibits suicide. Nothing will be solved by searching for "true Islam" or quoting the Quran. The Quran is a vast, vague book, filled with poetry and contradictions (much like the Bible).

You can find in it condemnations of war and incitements to struggle, beautiful expressions of tolerance and stern strictures against unbelievers. Quotations from it usually tell us more about the person who selected the passages than about Islam. Every religion is compatible with the best and the worst of humankind. Through its long history, Christianity has supported inquisitions and anti-Semitism, but also human rights and social welfare.

Searching the history books is also of limited value. From the Crusades of the 11th century to the Turkish expansion of the 15th century to the colonial era in the early 20th century, Islam and the West have often battled militarily. This tension has existed for hundreds of years, during which there have been many periods of peace and even harmony. Until the 1950s, for example, Jews and Christians lived peaceably under Muslim rule. In fact, Bernard Lewis, the pre-eminent historian of Islam, has argued that for much of history religious minorities did better under Muslim rulers than they did under Christian ones.

All that has changed in the past few decades. So surely the relevant question we must ask is, Why are we in a particularly difficult phase right now? What has gone wrong in the world of Islam that explains not the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 or the siege of Vienna of 1683 but Sept. 11, 2001?

Let us first peer inside that vast Islamic world. Many of the largest Muslim countries in the world show little of this anti-American rage. The biggest, Indonesia, had, until the recent Asian economic crisis, been diligently following Washington's advice on economics, with impressive results. The second and third most populous Muslim countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh, have mixed Islam and modernity with some success. While both countries are impoverished, both have voted a woman into power as prime minister, before most Western countries have done so. Next is Turkey, the sixth largest Muslim country in the world, a flawed but functioning secular democracy and a close ally of the West (being a member of NATO).

Only when you get to the Middle East do you see in lurid colors all the dysfunctions that people conjure up when they think of Islam today. In Iran, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, the occupied territories and the Persian Gulf, the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism is virulent, and a raw anti-Americanism seems to be everywhere. This is the land of suicide bombers, flag-burners and fiery mullahs. As we strike Afghanistan it is worth remembering that not a single Afghan has been tied to a terrorist attack against the United States.

Afghanistan is the campground from which an Arab army is battling America. But even the Arab rage at America is relatively recent. In the 1950s and 1960s it seemed unimaginable that the United States and the Arab world would end up locked in a cultural clash. Egypt's most powerful journalist, Mohamed Heikal, described the mood at the time: "The whole picture of the United States... was a glamorous one. Britain and France were fading, hated empires. The Soviet Union was 5,000 miles away and the ideology of communism was anathema to the Muslim religion. But America had emerged from World War II richer, more powerful and more appealing than ever." I first traveled to the Middle East in the early 1970s, and even then the image of America was of a glistening, approachable modernity: fast cars, Hilton hotels and Coca-Cola. Something happened in these lands. To understand the roots of anti-American rage in the Middle East, we need to plumb not the past 300 years of history but the past 30.

Chapter I: The Ruler

It is difficult to conjure up the excitement in the Arab world in the late 1950s as Gamal Abdel Nasser consolidated power in Egypt. For decades Arabs had been ruled by colonial governors and decadent kings. Now they were achieving their dreams of independence, and Nasser was their new savior, a modern man for the postwar era. He was born under British rule, in Alexandria, a cosmopolitan city that was more Mediterranean than Arab. His formative years were spent in the Army, the most Westernized segment of the society. With his tailored suits and fashionable dark glasses, he cut an energetic figure on the world stage. "The Lion of Egypt," he spoke for all the Arab world.

Nasser believed that Arab politics needed to be fired by modern ideas like self-determination, socialism and Arab unity. And before oil money turned the gulf states into golden geese, Egypt was the undisputed leader of the Middle East. So Nasser's vision became the region's. Every regime, from the Baathists in Syria and Iraq to the conservative monarchies of the gulf, spoke in similar terms and tones. It wasn't that they were just aping Nasser. The Middle East desperately wanted to become modern.

It failed. For all their energy these regimes chose bad ideas and implemented them in worse ways. Socialism produced bureaucracy and stagnation. Rather than adjusting to the failures of central planning, the economies never really moved on. The republics calcified into dictatorships. Third World "nonalignment" became pro-Soviet propaganda. Arab unity cracked and crumbled as countries discovered their own national interests and opportunities. Worst of all, Israel humiliated the Arabs in the wars of 1967 and 1973. When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, he destroyed the last remnants of the Arab idea.

Look at Egypt today. The promise of Nasserism has turned into a quiet nightmare. The government is efficient in only one area: squashing dissent and strangling civil society. In the past 30 years Egypt's economy has sputtered along while its population has doubled. Unemployment is at 25 percent, and 90 percent of those searching for jobs hold college diplomas. Once the heart of Arab intellectual life, the country produces just 375 books every year (compared with Israel's 4,000). For all the angry protests to foreigners, Egyptians know all this.

Shockingly, Egypt has fared better than its Arab neighbors. Syria has become one of the world's most oppressive police states, a country where 25,000 people can be rounded up and killed by the regime with no consequences. (This in a land whose capital, Damascus, is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.) In 30 years Iraq has gone from being among the most modern and secular of Arab countries--with women working, artists thriving, journalists writing--into a squalid playpen for Saddam Hussein's megalomania. Lebanon, a diverse, cosmopolitan society with a capital, Beirut, that was once called the Paris of the East, has become a hellhole of war and terror. In an almost unthinkable reversal of a global pattern, almost every Arab country today is less free than it was 30 years ago. There are few countries in the world of which one can say that.

We think of Africa's dictators as rapacious, but those in the Middle East can be just as greedy. And when contrasted with the success of Israel, Arab failures are even more humiliating. For all its flaws, out of the same desert Israel has created a functioning democracy, a modern society with an increasingly high-technology economy and thriving artistic and cultural life. Israel now has a per capita GDP that equals that of many Western countries.

If poverty produced failure in most of Arabia, wealth produced failure in the rest of it. The rise of oil power in the 1970s gave a second wind to Arab hopes. Where Nasserism failed, petroleum would succeed. But it didn't. All that the rise of oil prices has done over three decades is to produce a new class of rich, superficially Western gulf Arabs, who travel the globe in luxury and are despised by the rest of the Arab world. Look at any cartoons of gulf sheiks in Egyptian, Jordanian or Syrian newspapers. They are portrayed in the most insulting, almost racist manner: as corpulent, corrupt and weak. Most Americans think that Arabs should be grateful for our role in the gulf war, for we saved Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Most Arabs think that we saved the Kuwaiti and Saudi royal families. Big difference.

The money that the gulf sheiks have frittered away is on a scale that is almost impossible to believe. Just one example: a favored prince of Saudi Arabia, at the age of 25, built a palace in Riyadh for $300 million and, as an additional bounty, was given a $1 billion commission on the kingdom's telephone contract with AT&T. Far from producing political progress, wealth has actually had some negative effects. It has enriched and empowered the gulf governments so that, like their Arab brethren, they, too, have become more repressive over time. The Bedouin societies they once ruled have become gilded cages, filled with frustrated, bitter and discontented young men--some of whom now live in Afghanistan and work with Osama bin Laden. (Bin Laden and some of his aides come from privileged backgrounds in Saudi Arabia.)

By the late 1980s, while the rest of the world was watching old regimes from Moscow to Prague to Seoul to Johannesburg crack, the Arabs were stuck with their aging dictators and corrupt kings. Regimes that might have seemed promising in the 1960s were now exposed as tired, corrupt kleptocracies, deeply unpopular and thoroughly illegitimate. One has to add that many of them are close American allies.

Chapter II: Failed Ideas

About a decade ago, in a casual conversation with an elderly Arab intellectual, I expressed my frustration that governments in the Middle East had been unable to liberalize their economies and societies in the way that the East Asians had done. "Look at Singapore, Hong Kong and Seoul," I said, pointing to their extraordinary economic achievements. The man, a gentle, charming scholar, straightened up and replied sharply, "Look at them. They have simply aped the West. Their cities are cheap copies of Houston and Dallas. That may be all right for fishing villages. But we are heirs to one of the great civilizations of the world. We cannot become slums of the West."

This disillusionment with the West is at the heart of the Arab problem. It makes economic advance impossible and political progress fraught with difficulty. Modernization is now taken to mean, inevitably, uncontrollably, Westernization and, even worse, Americanization. This fear has paralyzed Arab civilization. In some ways the Arab world seems less ready to confront the age of globalization than even Africa, despite the devastation that continent has suffered from AIDS and economic and political dysfunction. At least the Africans want to adapt to the new global economy. The Arab world has not yet taken that first step.

The question is how a region that once yearned for modernity could reject it so dramatically. In the Middle Ages the Arabs studied Aristotle (when he was long forgotten in the West) and invented algebra. In the 19th century, when the West set ashore in Arab lands, in the form of Napoleon's conquest of Egypt, the locals were fascinated by this powerful civilization. In fact, as the historian Albert Hourani has documented, the 19th century saw European-inspired liberal political and social thought flourish in the Middle East.

The colonial era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries raised hopes of British friendship that were to be disappointed, but still Arab elites remained fascinated with the West. Future kings and generals attended Victoria College in Alexandria, learning the speech and manners of British gentlemen. Many then went on to Oxford, Cambridge and Sandhurst--a tradition that is still maintained by Jordan's royal family, though now they go to Hotchkiss or Lawrenceville. After World War I, a new liberal age flickered briefly in the Arab world, as ideas about opening up politics and society gained currency in places like Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. But since they were part of a world of kings and aristocrats, these ideas died with those old regimes. The new ones, however, turned out to be just as Western.

Nasser thought his ideas for Egypt and the Arab world were modern. They were also Western. His "national charter" of 1962 reads as if it were written by left-wing intellectuals in Paris or London. (Like many Third World leaders of the time, Nasser was a devoted reader of France's Le Monde and Britain's New Statesman.) Even his most passionately held project, Pan-Arabism, was European.

It was a version of the nationalism that had united Italy and Germany in the 1870s--that those who spoke one language should be one nation. America thinks of modernity as all good--and it has been almost all good for America. But for the Arab world, modernity has been one failure after another. Each path followed--socialism, secularism, nationalism--has turned into a dead end. While other countries adjusted to their failures, Arab regimes got stuck in their ways. And those that reformed economically could not bring themselves to ease up politically. The Shah of Iran, the Middle Eastern ruler who tried to move his country into the modern era fastest, reaped the most violent reaction in the Iranian revolution of 1979. But even the shah's modernization--compared, for example, with the East Asian approach of hard work, investment and thrift--was an attempt to buy modernization with oil wealth.

It turns out that modernization takes more than strongmen and oil money. Importing foreign stuff--Cadillacs, Gulfstreams and McDonald's--is easy. Importing the inner stuffings of modern society--a free market, political parties, accountability and the rule of law--is difficult and dangerous. The gulf states, for example, have gotten modernization lite, with the goods and even the workers imported from abroad. Nothing was homegrown; nothing is even now. As for politics, the gulf governments offered their people a bargain: we will bribe you with wealth, but in return let us stay in power. It was the inverse slogan of the American revolution--no taxation, but no representation either.

The new age of globalization has hit the Arab world in a very strange way. Its societies are open enough to be disrupted by modernity, but not so open that they can ride the wave. They see the television shows, the fast foods and the fizzy drinks. But they don't see genuine liberalization in the society, with increased opportunities and greater openness. Globalization in the Arab world is the critic's caricature of globalization--a slew of Western products and billboards with little else. For some in their societies it means more things to buy. For the regimes it is an unsettling, dangerous phenomenon. As a result, the people they rule can look at globalization but for the most part not touch it.

America stands at the center of this world of globalization. It seems unstoppable. If you close the borders, America comes in through the mail. If you censor the mail, it appears in the fast food and faded jeans. If you ban the products, it seeps in through satellite television. Americans are so comfortable with global capitalism and consumer culture that we cannot fathom just how revolutionary these forces are.

Disoriented young men, with one foot in the old world and another in the new, now look for a purer, simpler alternative. Fundamentalism searches for such people everywhere; it, too, has been globalized. One can now find men in Indonesia who regard the Palestinian cause as their own. (Twenty years ago an Indonesian Muslim would barely have known where Palestine was.) Often they learned about this path away from the West while they were in the West. As did Mohamed Atta, the Hamburg-educated engineer who drove the first plane into the World Trade Center.

The Arab world has a problem with its Attas in more than one sense. Globalization has caught it at a bad demographic moment. Arab societies are going through a massive youth bulge, with more than half of most countries' populations under the age of 25. Young men, often better educated than their parents, leave their traditional villages to find work. They arrive in noisy, crowded cities like Cairo, Beirut and Damascus or go to work in the oil states. (Almost 10 percent of Egypt's working population worked in the gulf at one point.) In their new world they see great disparities of wealth and the disorienting effects of modernity; most unsettlingly, they see women, unveiled and in public places, taking buses, eating in cafes and working alongside them.

A huge influx of restless young men in any country is bad news. When accompanied by even small economic and social change, it usually produces a new politics of protest. In the past, societies in these circumstances have fallen prey to a search for revolutionary solutions. (France went through a youth bulge just before the French Revolution, as did Iran before its 1979 revolution.) In the case of the Arab world, this revolution has taken the form of an Islamic resurgence.

Chapter III: Enter Religion

Nasser was a reasonably devout Muslim, but he had no interest in mixing religion with politics. It struck him as moving backward. This became apparent to the small Islamic parties that supported Nasser's rise to power. The most important one, the Muslim Brotherhood, began opposing him vigorously, often violently.

Nasser cracked down on it in 1954, imprisoning more than a thousand of its leaders and executing six. One of those jailed, Sayyid Qutub, a frail man with a fiery pen, wrote a book in prison called "Signposts on the Road," which in some ways marks the beginnings of modern political Islam or what is often called "Islamic fundamentalism."

In his book, Qutub condemned Nasser as an impious Muslim and his regime as un-Islamic. Indeed, he went on, almost every modern Arab regime was similarly flawed. Qutub envisioned a better, more virtuous polity that was based on strict Islamic principles, a core goal of orthodox Muslims since the 1880s. As the regimes of the Middle East grew more distant and oppressive and hollow in the decades following Nasser, fundamentalism's appeal grew. It flourished because the Muslim Brotherhood and organizations like it at least tried to give people a sense of meaning and purpose in a changing world, something no leader in the Middle East tried to do.

In his seminal work, "The Arab Predicament," Fouad Ajami explains, "The fundamentalist call has resonance because it invited men to participate... [in] contrast to a political culture that reduces citizens to spectators and asks them to leave things to their rulers. At a time when the future is uncertain, it connects them to a tradition that reduces bewilderment." Fundamentalism gave Arabs who were dissatisfied with their lot a powerful language of opposition.

On that score, Islam had little competition. The Arab world is a political desert with no real political parties, no free press, few pathways for dissent. As a result, the mosque turned into the place to discuss politics. And fundamentalist organizations have done more than talk. From the Muslim Brotherhood to Hamas to Hizbullah, they actively provide social services, medical assistance, counseling and temporary housing. For those who treasure civil society, it is disturbing to see that in the Middle East these illiberal groups are civil society.

I asked Sheri Berman, a scholar at Princeton who studies the rise of fascist parties in Europe, whether she saw any parallels. "Fascists were often very effective at providing social services," she pointed out. "When the state or political parties fail to provide a sense of legitimacy or purpose or basic services, other organizations have often been able to step into the void. In Islamic countries there is a ready-made source of legitimacy in the religion. So it's not surprising that this is the foundation on which these groups have flourished. The particular form--Islamic fundamentalism--is specific to this region, but the basic dynamic is sim- ilar to the rise of Nazism, fascism and even populism in the United States."

Islamic fundamentalism got a tremendous boost in 1979 when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini toppled the Shah of Iran. The Iranian revolution demonstrated that a powerful ruler could be taken on by groups within society. It also revealed how in a broken society even seemingly benign forces of progress--education and technology--can add to the turmoil. Until the 1970s most Muslims in the Middle East were illiterate and lived in villages and towns. They practiced a kind of street-Islam that had adapted itself to the local culture. Pluralistic and tolerant, these people often worshiped saints, went to shrines, sang religious hymns and cherished religious art, all technically disallowed in Islam. (This was particularly true in Iran.) By the 1970s, however, people had begun moving out of the villages and their religious experience was not rooted in a specific place. At the same time they were learning to read and they discovered that a new Islam was being preached by the fundamentalists, an abstract faith not rooted in historical experience but literal, puritanical and by the book. It was Islam of the High Church as opposed to Islam of the village fair.

In Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini used a powerful technology--the audiocassette. His sermons were distributed throughout the country and became the vehicle of opposition to the shah's repressive regime. But Khomeini was not alone in using the language of Islam as a political tool. Intellectuals, disillusioned by the half-baked or overrapid modernization that was throwing their world into turmoil, were writing books against "Westoxification" and calling the modern Iranian man--half Western, half Eastern--rootless. Fashionable intellectuals, often writing from the comfort of London or Paris, would critique American secularism and consumerism and endorse an Islamic alternative. As theories like these spread across the Arab world, they appealed not to the poorest of the poor, for whom Westernization was magical (it meant food and medicine). They appealed to the half-educated hordes entering the cities of the Middle East or seeking education and jobs in the West.

The fact that Islam is a highly egalitarian religion for the most part has also proved an empowering call for people who felt powerless. At the same time it means that no Muslim really has the authority to question whether someone who claims to be a proper Muslim is one. The fundamentalists, from Sayyid Qutub on, have jumped into that the void. They ask whether people are "good Muslims." It is a question that has terrified the Muslim world. And here we come to the failure not simply of governments but intellectual and social elites. Moderate Muslims are loath to criticize or debunk the fanaticism of the fundamentalists.

Like the moderates in Northern Ireland, they are scared of what would happen to them if they speak their mind.

The biggest Devil's bargain has been made by the moderate monarchies of the Persian Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia. The Saudi regime has played a dangerous game. It deflects attention from its shoddy record at home by funding religious schools (madrasas) and centers that spread a rigid, puritanical brand of Islam--Wahhabism. In the past 30 years Saudi-funded schools have churned out tens of thousands of half-educated, fanatical Muslims who view the modern world and non-Muslims with great suspicion. America in this world view is almost always evil.

This exported fundamentalism has in turn infected not just other Arab societies but countries outside the Arab world, like Pakistan. During the 11-year reign of Gen. Zia ul-Haq, the dictator decided that as he squashed political dissent he needed allies. He found them in the fundamentalists. With the aid of Saudi financiers and functionaries, he set up scores of madrasas throughout the country. They bought him temporary legitimacy but have eroded the social fabric of Pakistan.

If there is one great cause of the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, it is the total failure of political institutions in the Arab world. Muslim elites have averted their eyes from this reality. Conferences at Islamic centers would still rather discuss "Islam and the Environment" than examine the dysfunctions of the current regimes. But as the moderate majority looks the other way, Islam is being taken over by a small poisonous element, people who advocate cruel attitudes toward women, education, the economy and modern life in general. I have seen this happen in India, where I grew up. The rich, colorful, pluralistic and easygoing Islam of my youth has turned into a dour, puritanical faith, policed by petty theocrats and religious commissars. The next section deals with what the United States can do to help the Islamic world. But if Muslims do not take it upon themselves to stop their religion from falling prey to medievalists, nothing any outsider can do will save them.

Chapter IV: WHAT TO DO

If almost any Arab were to have read this essay so far, he would have objected vigorously by now. "It is all very well to talk about the failures of the Arab world," he would say, "but what about the failures of the West? You speak of long-term decline, but our problems are with specific, cruel American policies." For most Arabs, relations with the United States have been filled with disappointment.

While the Arab world has long felt betrayed by Europe's colonial powers, its disillusionment with America begins most importantly with the creation of Israel in 1948. As the Arabs see it, at a time when colonies were winning independence from the West, here was a state largely composed of foreign people being imposed on a region with Western backing. The anger deepened in the wake of America's support for Israel during the wars of 1967 and 1973, and ever since in its relations with the Palestinians. The daily exposure to Israel's iron-fisted rule over the occupied territories has turned this into the great cause of the Arab--and indeed the broader Islamic--world. Elsewhere, they look at American policy in the region as cynically geared to America's oil interests, supporting thugs and tyrants without any hesitation. Finally, the bombing and isolation of Iraq have become fodder for daily attacks on the United States. While many in the Arab world do not like Saddam Hussein, they believe that the United States has chosen a particularly inhuman method of fighting him--a method that is starving an entire nation.

There is substance to some of these charges, and certainly from the point of view of an Arab, American actions are never going to seem entirely fair. Like any country, America has its interests. In my view, America's greatest sins toward the Arab world are sins of omission. We have neglected to press any regime there to open up its society. This neglect turned deadly in the case of Afghanistan. Walking away from that fractured country after 1989 resulted in the rise of bin Laden and the Taliban. This is not the gravest error a great power can make, but it is a common American one. As F. Scott Fitzgerald explained of his characters in "The Great Gatsby," "They were careless people, Tom and Daisy--they smashed things up and creatures and then retreated back into their money, or their vast carelessness... and let other people clean up the mess." America has not been venal in the Arab world. But it has been careless.

Yet carelessness is not enough to explain Arab rage. After all, if concern for the Palestinians is at the heart of the problem, why have their Arab brethren done nothing for them? (They cannot resettle in any Arab nation but Jordan, and the aid they receive from the gulf states is minuscule.) Israel treats its 1 million Arabs as second-class citizens, a disgrace on its democracy. And yet the tragedy of the Arab world is that Israel accords them more political rights and dignities than most Arab nations give to their own people. Why is the focus of Arab anger on Israel and not those regimes?

The disproportionate feelings of grievance directed at America have to be placed in the overall context of the sense of humiliation, decline and despair that sweeps the Arab world. After all, the Chinese vigorously disagree with most of America's foreign policy and have fought wars with U.S. proxies. African states feel the same sense of disappointment and unfairness. But they do not work it into a rage against America. Arabs, however, feel that they are under siege from the modern world and that the United States symbolizes this world. Thus every action America takes gets magnified a thousandfold. And even when we do not act, the rumors of our gigantic powers and nefarious deeds still spread. Most Americans would not believe how common the rumor is throughout the Arab world that either the CIA or Israel's Mossad blew up the World Trade Center to justify attacks on Arabs and Muslims. This is the culture from which the suicide bombers have come.

America must now devise a strategy to deal with this form of religious terrorism. As is now widely understood, this will be a long war, with many fronts and battles small and large. Our strategy must be divided along three lines: military, political and cultural. On the military front--by which I mean war, covert operations and other forms of coercion--the goal is simple: the total destruction of Al Qaeda. Even if we never understand all the causes of apocalyptic terror, we must do battle against it. Every person who plans and helps in a terrorist operation must understand that he will be tracked and punished. Their operations will be disrupted, their finances drained, their hideouts destroyed. There will be associated costs to pursuing such a strategy, but they will all fade if we succeed. Nothing else matters on the military front.

The political strategy is more complex and more ambitious. At the broadest level, we now have a chance to reorder the international system around this pressing new danger. The degree of cooperation from around the world has been unprecedented. We should not look on this trend suspiciously. Most governments feel threatened by the rise of subnational forces like Al Qaeda. Even some that have clearly supported terrorism in the past, like Iran, seem interested in re-entering the world community and reforming their ways.

We can define a strategy for the post-cold-war era that addresses America's principal national-security need and yet is sustained by a broad international consensus. To do this we will have to give up some cold-war reflexes, such as an allergy to multilateralism, and stop insisting that China is about to rival us militarily or that Russia is likely to re-emerge as a new military threat. (For 10 years now, our defense forces have been aligned for everything but the real danger we face. This will inevitably change.)

The purpose of an international coalition is practical and strategic. Given the nature of this war, we will need the constant cooperation of other governments--to make arrests, shut down safe houses, close bank accounts and share intelligence. Alliance politics has become a matter of high national security. But there is a broader imperative. The United States dominates the world in a way that inevitably arouses envy or anger or opposition. That comes with the power, but we still need to get things done. If we can mask our power in--sorry, work with--institutions like the United Nations Security Council, U.S. might will be easier for much of the world to bear. Bush's father understood this, which is why he ensured that the United Nations sanctioned the gulf war. The point here is to succeed, and international legitimacy can help us do that.

Now we get to Israel. It is obviously one of the central and most charged problems in the region. But it is a problem to which we cannot offer the Arab world support for its solution--the extinction of the state. We cannot in any way weaken our commitment to the existence and health of Israel. Similarly, we cannot abandon our policy of containing Saddam Hussein. He is building weapons of mass destruction.

However, we should not pursue mistaken policies simply out of spite. Our policy toward Saddam is broken. We have no inspectors in Iraq, the sanctions are--for whatever reason--starving Iraqis and he continues to build chemical and biological weapons. There is a way to reorient our policy to focus our pressure on Saddam and not his people, contain him militarily but not harm common Iraqis economically. Colin Powell has been trying to do this; he should be given leeway to try again. In time we will have to address the broader question of what to do about Saddam, a question that, unfortunately, does not have an easy answer. (Occupying Iraq, even if we could do it, does not seem a good idea in this climate.)

On Israel we should make a clear distinction between its right to exist and its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. On the first we should be as unyielding as ever; on the second we should continue trying to construct a final deal along the lines that Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak outlined. I suggest that we do this less because it will lower the temperature in the Arab world--who knows if it will?--than because it's the right thing to do. Israel cannot remain a democracy and continue to occupy and militarily rule 3 million people against their wishes. It's bad for Israel, bad for the Palestinians and bad for the United States.

But policy changes, large or small, are not at the heart of the struggle we face. The third, vital component to this battle is a cultural strategy. The United States must help Islam enter the modern world. It sounds like an impossible challenge, and it certainly is not one we would have chosen. But America--indeed the whole world--faces a dire security threat that will not be resolved unless we can stop the political, economic and cultural collapse that lies at the roots of Arab rage. During the cold war the West employed myriad ideological strategies to discredit the appeal of communism, make democracy seem attractive and promote open societies. We will have to do something on that scale to win this cultural struggle.

First, we have to help moderate Arab states, but on the condition that they embrace moderation. For too long regimes like Saudi Arabia's have engaged in a deadly dance with religious extremism. Even Egypt, which has always denounced fundamentalism, allows its controlled media to rant crazily about America and Israel. (That way they don't rant about the dictatorship they live under.) But more broadly, we must persuade Arab moderates to make the case to their people that Islam is compatible with modern society, that it does allow women to work, that it encourages education and that it has welcomed people of other faiths and creeds. Some of this they will do--Sept. 11 has been a wake-up call for many. The Saudi regime denounced and broke its ties to the Taliban (a regime that it used to glorify as representing pure Islam). The Egyptian press is now making the case for military action. The United States and the West should do their own work as well. We can fund moderate Muslim groups and scholars and broadcast fresh thinking across the Arab world, all aimed at breaking the power of the fundamentalists.

Obviously we will have to help construct a new political order in Afghanistan after we have deposed the Taliban regime. But beyond that we have to press the nations of the Arab world--and others, like Pakistan, where the virus of fundamentalism has spread--to reform, open up and gain legitimacy. We need to do business with these regimes; yet, just as we did with South Korea and Taiwan during the cold war, we can ally with these dictatorships and still push them toward reform. For those who argue that we should not engage in nation-building, I would say foreign policy is not theology. I have myself been skeptical of nation-building in places where our interests were unclear and it seemed unlikely that we would stay the course. In this case, stable political development is the key to reducing our single greatest security threat. We have no option but to get back into the nation-building business.

It sounds like a daunting challenge, but there are many good signs. Al Qaeda is not more powerful than the combined force of many determined governments. The world is indeed uniting around American leadership, and perhaps we will see the emergence, for a while, of a new global community and consensus, which could bring progress in many other areas of international life. Perhaps most important, Islamic fundamentalism still does not speak to the majority of the Muslim people. In Pakistan, fundamentalist parties have yet to get more than 10 percent of the vote. In Iran, having experienced the brutal puritanism of the mullahs, people are yearning for normalcy. In Egypt, for all the repression, the fundamentalists are a potent force but so far not dominant. If the West can help Islam enter modernity in dignity and peace, it will have done more than achieved security. It will have changed the world.

HRP MEDIA STATEMENT (20/3/10) Anwar Ibrahim cutting ties with Hindraf or with critical Indian problems?

HRP MEDIA STATEMENT (20TH MARCH 2010)

Anwar Ibrahim cutting ties with Hindraf or with critical Indian problems?

In the Malaysian Insider newsreport yesterday (19th March 2010) which caught headlines in today’s Malaysia Nanban Tamil daily (MN 20th March 2010) Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim says Pakatan Rakyat cuts off ties with Hindraf? Because he does not know which Hindraf – Waytha, Uthaya, Thanindran or ASP Vasantha Kumar?

We could ask the same question – which PKR? Ezam, Zaharin, Chandra Muzaffar or Lokman Adam?

Anwar knows the real identity of the mysterious ASP Vasantha Kumar a Police Special Branch Operative in the E3M Division who with a mere 3 months stint in Hindraf was vide UMNOs’ print and electronic media declared a Hindraf leader on 13th December 2007 when the Inspector General of Police announced his “detention under the ISA” together with the other Hindraf lawyers. It is common knowledge that this ASP’s job scope is to create confusion, break up and destroy Hindraf under “Ops Padam Hindarf”.

But being an ex-UMNO stalwart of 17 years standing it is not suprising that Anwar uses this ASP Vasantha Kumar irrespective to “neutralize” Hindraf and HRP and as a diverting tactic away from the critical Indian issues which had also been abandoned by PKR, DAP and PAS in their two year rule in Selangor, Kedah and Penang

“I don’t want to be engaged in debate with Hindraf but with issues”, said Anwar.

We now challenge Anwar to get on to the real issues and not deal through his Indian mandores or promote mandorism ala UMNO in P.R.

“Anwar says that Hindraf uses a racist agenda”. This is the 53 year old political rhetoric and gimmick used by UMNO that has led to the current critical Indian problems. This “racist agenda” definition is only heard of in Malay-sia and nowhere else in the world. Going by this Anwar’s “racist agenda” definition, South Africa would not have achieved independence and neither would black Barack Obama have become the President of the USA. But to the contrary there is no history of a Chinese or Indian becoming the President or Secretary General of PKR or PAS or a Malay or an Indian becoming the Secretary General of DAP racial and non racist PKR, DAP and PAS?

Putting aside (adding on to the UMNO created perception of) Hindraf being split and having lost the Indian support, Anwar must get to the point. PKR, PAS and DAP have full powers by virtue of Section 76 of the National Land Code to grant land to all 98, 58 and 28 Tamil Schools all in one go by merely the stroke of the pens of the Menteri Besars of Selangor and Kedah and the Chief Minister of Penang respectively. If Anwar Ibrahim and PR even refuses to do this because they may “lose Malay votes” and these Tamil schools are viewed as “profitable and lucrative” land banks to be exploited as and when necessary for their political party coffers then they are not even going to address the scores of the other critical Indian problems. What difference are they going to make vis a vis the Indians, when they get to Putrajaya?

(Note: The tip of the iceberg of the critical Indian problems are highlighted on a day to day basis in our website www.humanrightspartymalaysia.com.

“What do you want the State government to do Anwar asked, before adding that many problems were under the preview of the Federal government and out of PR’s hands”. As the Malay proverb goes “sudah gaharu cendana pula, sudah tahu bertanya pula” is our reply. Now the above is exactly what Anwar and P.R can do in their three PR rules states and which has nothing to do with the Federal Government.

It is a universally accepted norm that omission to fight against (UMNOs’) racism and silently watching the “blood letting” go by is tantamount to committing racism itself by PRK, DAP and PAS if not aiding and abetting the same. Because P.R. refuses to address these critical

2

Indian problems like UMNO, they too try diverting attention by saying that Hindraf and HRP are raising racial (Indian) issues.

Anwar Ibrahim and the P.R. leaders Hadi Awang and Lim Guan Eng have even refused to meet the Hindraf and HRP leaders to address the critical Indian problems in the three P.R. ruled states vis a vis their 84 MP’s on the other national Indian issues. We have to end up championing Indian issues because for Anuar Ibrahim, P.R. and UMNO national issues seem to specifically exclude the Indian issues.

If only these supposed multi racial PKR, DAP and PAS had also addressed the critical Indian issues then 100,000 Indians would not have come out to the streets on the 25th November 2007 Hindraf Rally. In fact Hindraf and HRP would long have been “out of a job” as PKR, DAP and PAS are “multi-racial” to have also championed the critical Malaysian Indian problems.

We will continue marching on irrespective with our Indian Political empowerment strategy – the way forward. This strategy would empower the Indians to vote for themselves and accordingly represent themselves at the highest political level vis a vis policy making and decision making levels as neither UMNO nor PR are going to champion or represent them.

Our next step is tomorrow in Johor Bahru ie the setting up of the General Elections 2012/2013 Operations Room (Bilek Gerakan) for DUN Ulu Tiram and Parliament Tebrau in Johor Bahru. Our critics have said this is not going to work. To us even we did not think the 25th November 2007 Hindraf Rally would work. But it did. So will this Indian Political Empowerment Strategy. By the day we are inching in this direction.

Thank you.

Yours faithfully,

P. Uthayakumar

Secretary General (Pro-tem)

Pakatan cutting ties with Hindraf?

Hindraf members hold banners during a protest outside the PKR headquarters. — file pic

By Shannon Teoh

LONDON, March 19 — Citing its divisive nature and racist approach, Pakatan Rakyat (PR) leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim dismissed the influence of the Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) over the Indian community.

“Which Hindraf? Waytha’s? Uthaya’s? Vasantha’s? Thanenthiran’s?” he said last night, in reference to the many splits in the movement said to be responsible for the huge swing of Indian voters away from the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition in Election 2008.

“I don’t want to be engaged in debate with Hindraf, but with the issues. What is PR’s weapon? Pluralism. If Hindraf wants to use a racist agenda to battle Umno’s racism, then it is not tenable,” the opposition leader explained.

Earlier this month, Hindraf founder P. Uthayakumar and 200 supporters protested against PR outside the PKR headquarters, signalling that Hindraf was withdrawing its support for the coalition that won five states in the 2008 elections.

In particular, it has claimed that the DAP-led Penang state government had not done enough for Indians, with the demolition of the largely Indian-populated Kampung Buah Pala the main sore point.

“Why abuse Lim Guan Eng?” Anwar said, referring to the Penang chief minister.

“He has done much more than BN. It may not be to the full satisfaction of Indians but what do you want the state government to do?” Anwar asked, before adding that many problems were under the purview of the federal government and out of PR’s hands.

“Why not look at the things that have been implemented for all races, which include Indians as well.”

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/index.php/malaysia/56765-pakatan-cutting-ties-with-hindraf

Gazans wounded in Israeli strike - Al Jazeera

Ths strike came after a day of clashes in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron and other places [Reuters]

At least 11 people have been injured in an Israeli air strike at an airport in southern Gaza, Palestinian medical officials and witnesses said.

The strike targeted Gaza's defunct international airport, located near the town of Rafah, late on Friday, witnesses said.

The Israeli army told Al Jazeera that the attack targeted "a terror site" and said its pilots confirmed that the target was hit.

It also confirmed that it hit two smuggling tunnels and a weapons manufacturing site in another strike 24 hours earlier.

Al Jazeera's Casey Kauffman, reporting from Gaza, said Israel called the strike a reaction to rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel a day earlier.

"It's the second night of attacks in the Gaza Strip," he said.

"The Israelis say it is in retaliation for the rocket attack, but ... the group that claimed responsibility for the attack [on Israel] says [the rocket attack] is in reaction to what's perceived as [Israeli] aggression and provocation in the West Bank."

Fierce clashes

The two days of strikes come amid the backdrop of clashes between Palestinian youths and Israeli police in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Palestinians on Friday fought running battles with Israeli police in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron, the latest clashes since Israel announced the construction of 1,600 new homesin East Jerusalem.

in depth

Israeli security forces used tear gas against hundreds of stone-throwing Palestinian protesters following Friday prayers in Hebron.

Al Jazeera's Nour Odeh, reporting from Hebron, said heightened tensions throughout the past week have erupted into open confrontation.

"The situation has quietened down, but there were fierce clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli soldiers," she said.

"The amount of tear gas used in the city is just quite unbelievable and a dozen injuries have been reported in the occupied West Bank."

There were similar altercations at Bilin and Nilin, sites of weekly Palestinian protests against Israel's West Bank "security barrier".

Hebron is home to about 160,000 Muslims, but some 500 Israelis and Jews live in a small settlement in the centre of the city, with a heavy Israeli security detail.

There were also skirmishes in East Jerusalem as Israeli police were also on high alert in Jerusalem where they prevented men under the age of 50 from entering the al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said prayers at the compound passed without incident and Jerusalem was generally calm.

"A lot of people are angry at what is taking place in Hebron and are coming out to show solidarity," Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, reporting from Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, said.

"It is all of course mounting tension over what Palestinians here see as a restriction of their basic rights."

Charged atmosphere

An already charged atmosphere intensified this week as a rebuilt 17th-century synagogue was opened in the Jewish quarter of the Old City, a few hundred metres from the compound.

Many Palestinians view Israeli projects near the mosque compound - a site holy both to Jews and Muslims - as an assault on its status quo or a prelude to the building of a third Jewish temple there.

Israel had sealed off the West Bank following previous clashes at the East Jerusalem site known to Muslims as the al-Aqsa mosque compound and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

Clashes at the same site in September 2000 triggered a wave of unrest in the Palestinian territories that became known as the "Second Intifada [uprising]".

The latest violence had led some in the region to speak of the possibility of a "Third Intifada".

Mohammed Dahlan, a senior Fatah official, said on Friday the party "does not seek a third intifada," after continuing unrest in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

But he also warned that the Palestinian people "have the right and the duty to defend themselves and the Islamic holy sites".

The unrest comes as the international Quartet of Middle East peace mediators- an informal group including the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia - called on Israel to freeze all settlement activity.

Crisis brewing in Makkal Sakti's breakaway faction

By Athi Shankar - Free Malaysia Today

GEORGE TOWN: Just as the six-month-old Malaysia Makkal Sakti Party is trying to recover from its recent political crisis which resulted in two factions, another power tussle is set to rear its ugly head again.

This time the political crisis is expected to hit MMSP's Team B formed by the breakaway group of 14 (G-14) central committee (CC) members.

The issue which is set to divide this breakaway group is whether they should continue to rally behind Barisan Nasional or opt to support Pakatan Rakyat.

Outspoken CC member S Sanjeeviramah @ Sanjay (photo) is expected to table a pro-Pakatan motion during the faction's CC meeting at MMSP’s Shah Alam head office this Sunday.

It is learnt that Sanjay has the CC's majority support to back his motion.

However, sources warned that Sanjay’s motion could trigger a heated argument between him and acting president A Vathemurthy, who is pro-Umno and BN. It could result in a power tussle between Vethamurthy and Sanjay.

“Sanjay could overthrow Vethamurthy and helm the party,” predicted a source. Sanjay was once a staunch Hindu Rights Action Force (Hindraf) activist.

However, his reputation suffered a blow when he joined the breakaway Hindraf group led by then the movement national coordinator RS Thanenthiran to form MMSP last October.

BN chairperson and Umno president Najib Tun Razak launched the party, which was touted as the future political vehicle for the much maligned Malaysian Indian community.

Late last year, a power struggle engulfed the party, in which MMSP split in two – one faction helmed by Thanenthiran and the other led by the G14.

Sanjay was a major player in the power struggle and instrumental in ‘booting out’ Thanenthiran as MMSP president during G14 CC meeting on Jan 17 this year.

Initially the G-14 thought that Najib would back them. However, in recent weeks the G-14 sensed that Najib had turned his back on the faction and was coveting Thanenthiran as the rightful MMSP president. Now Sanjay wants the faction to support Pakatan.

New president for the breakaway group

It’s learnt that Sanjay had prepared to ‘overthrow’ Vethamurthy and helm the faction if the current Ipoh-based acting president rejected the pro-Pakatan motion.

“Sanjay has the CC numbers to support him,” said an insider, who declined to be named.

MMSP’s G-14 claimed that the faction had the support of 54,000 party members and Sanjay is said to be backed by majority members.

It is learnt during a CC meeting in early February, a decision was made to exclude Vethamurthy for the top post and a new permanent acting president would be appointed at this Sunday’s meeting.

The appointment will then have to be endorsed by MMSP members during an EGM, which shall be called within 90 days.

Sanjay is learnt had planned to seize the opportunity to position him for the presidency.

Sources said Sanjay would win the confidence of majority members in an extra ordinary meeting (EGM).

“If Sanjay becomes the president, the G-14 will surely support Pakatan,” said the party insider.

The meeting is also expected to sack another 12 CC members, who are pro-Thanenthiran. It’s learnt that the 12 CC members failed to attend the faction’s three meetings in a row.

Petronas formation may be unconstitutional, says law professor

Thomas replies to a question from the floor. On the right is Shad. — Picture by Jack Ooi

By Adib Zalkapli - The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, March 20 — National oil firm Petronas could be unlawful as its founding law was approved before it signed agreements with all the states, law professor Datuk Dr Shad Saleem Faruqi said today.

He also explained that according to the constitution land belongs to the states, which complicates the provision in the agreement surrendering control of petroleum found onshore under the Petroleum Development Act 1974.

“I think there are some aspects of the Petronas Act that is unconstitutional,” Shad told a forum on oil rights.

Under the agreements signed in the mid-1970s all state governments were promised cash payment or royalty of five per cent for petroleum extracted onshore or offshore in return for surrendering their control of petroleum resources to the national oil company.

Shad also pointed out that the Act was passed before all the states had signed the agreement.

“The constitution says when you take somebody’s property you have to pay adequate compensation,” said Shad.

Lawyer Tommy Thomas, who represented the Terengganu government in its demand for oil royalty, however said it would be a disaster if the Petroleum Development Act is declared unconstitutional.

“The first problem with that argument is Petronas becomes illegal,” said Thomas, adding that no party has brought the question to court.

“If the court rules PDA to be unconstitutional, I think it will be a tragedy,” he said.

Tengku Razaleigh also spoke at the forum.

Thomas also pointed out that all 13 states have agreed to the agreement.

“To me the PDA is a wonderful example of federalism,” he added.

Thomas is also currently advising the Kelantan state government to demand for oil royalty from Petronas.

Today’s forum, “Oil Royalty: A Constitutional Right?” was organised by the Bar Council to discuss the constitutional aspect of the oil royalty payment to petroleum-producing states.

Gua Musang MP and Petronas founding chairman Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah and lawyer Datuk Cecil Abraham also spoke at the forum.

Kelantan is currently demanding the federal government pay the five per cent royalty for oil extracted off its shore.

But Putrajaya has maintained that the East Coast state is not entitled to the payment as the oil and gas are extracted from waters that are beyond the three-nautical mile limit prescribed as territorial waters under Malaysia’s Emergency Ordinance (Essential Powers) No. 7, 1969.

The federal government has instead promised to pay goodwill payment or “wang ehsan” through its agencies in the state.

Terengganu also suffered a similar fate in 2000 when the federal government ordered the oil royalty payment to the state to be stopped after PAS took over the government a year earlier.

But the royalty payment to Terengganu was reinstated early last year.

Sivakumar’s EC suit now on March 31

By Clara Chooi - The Malaysian Insider

IPOH, March 20 — Ousted Perak Speaker V. Sivakumar’s year old suit against the Election Commission for failing to declare vacant the seats of three defecting Pakatan Rakyat (PR) will be heard at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on March 31.

Sivakumar said on Monday the court will also set the hearing date for his appeal on the Ipoh High Court’s decision to strike out his application for an injunction against Barisan Nasional-appointed Speaker Datuk R. Ganesan last September.

Both cases are still crucial to the Perak Pakatan Rakyat as they still refuse to accept Ganesan as their Speaker, despite the Federal Court’s decision on Feb 9 that declared BN’s Datuk Seri Zambry Abd Kadir the rightful mentri besar.

“This is why we have been urging the courts to expedite this matter in order to avoid further confusion in view of the coming state assembly,” Sivakumar told a press conference here today.

The next Perak assembly has been set for March 30 and looks set to be just as farcical as the previous sittings as the opposition have announced their refusal to work with Ganesan.

Sivakumar however admitted that the previous decision taken by the Federal Court in a suit filed by the three PR defectors against him might be used as a binding precedent in his case against the EC.

The apex court ruled on April 9 last year that it was the EC, and not the Speaker, who had the right to declare the seats of Behrang, Changkat Jering and Jelapang vacant.

Sivakumar had declared the three seats vacant after receiving the undated resignation letters of assemblymen Jamaluddin Mohd Radzi, Mohd Osman Mohd Jailu and Hee Yit Foong.

The three had subsequently denied their resignations and declared themselves BN-friendly independents, triggering the start of the long drawn out constitutional crisis in Perak.

Tuesday decision on local elections

By G. Manimaran - The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, March 20 — The Election Commission (EC) will announce next Tuesday its stand on local government elections that are being demanded by the Pakatan Rakyat-controlled states of Penang and Selangor.

The EC will have a final meeting this Monday before making the announcement the following day.

“Actually we [the EC panel] had already discussed the requests of Penang and Selangor last Tuesday but we are finalising our deliberations this Monday and will, at the latest, make the announcement next Tuesday,”said EC chairman Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Mohd Yusof (picture), when contacted by The Malaysian Insider today.

Last Tuesday’s discussion was based on a report by the EC’s legal adviser.

“Our decision will be based on the Federal Constitution ... will not consider other factors. We want this decision to be legally sound,” he said.

He added a thorough discussion is needed as the request by the two states differs eventhough both touch on the same matter.

“Penang wants to give us the authority to conduct local elections while Selangor wants us to study the possibility of hold elections.

“Thus there are legal issues to consider in greater detail,” he said.

Both state governments had requested a dialogue with the EC before it makes its decision.

Last Tuesday, Abdul Aziz said that constitutional and legal matters had to be studied before he could respond to letters from the respective state governments in order to ensure that his answers were adequate and were fully understood.

“We will first forward our response to the state governments before making the announcement,” he said.

Abdul Aziz added that as an independent and professional body the EC is not bound by the state positions of anyone whether it is the prime minister’s, opposition leaders’ or whosoever.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng wrote to the EC chairman on March 8, giving it the power to conduct local government elections.

Last Monday, the Selangor state government asked the EC to study procedures and for an opinion on the holding of local government elections.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had previously stated that he was of the opinion that local government elections need not be restored. He said the restoration of such elections could not guarantee quality municipal services.

Anwar: Dumping NEP key to regaining competitive edge

“The racial equation means that the vast majority who benefit are Malays. So why the siege mentality?” he asked. — Picture by Danny Lim

By Shannon Teoh - The Malaysian Insider

LONDON, March 20 — Malaysia must dump race-based affirmative action policies for a needs-based formula to stop the slide in its economic competitiveness, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said last night.

The Opposition Leader insisted that dropping the New Economic Policy (NEP), first drawn up in the 1970s, would be more effective in helping poor Bumiputeras, a constant call by his political foes in Umno as well as Malay rights groups.

“It needs to be dismantled because of the lost competitiveness,” he told a forum in London.

Anwar’s frequent criticism of the NEP has often drawn flak along with the accusation that he is selling out "his race", a charge that he denies.

“We have to regain it and enrich the country and then distribute wealth through a more transparent affirmative action policy,” the PKR de facto leader said.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is set to receive a New Economic Model (NEM) report that will offer alternatives to the current affirmative-action policies but he said public feedback is required before implementation.

The NEM comes on the back of moves last year to free certain sectors of the economy of Bumiputera quotas. These moves have raised concerns about Malays being marginalised.

But Anwar, speaking to a mix of 300 students and working Malaysians, argued that for the majority — and the majority of poor being Malay — a needs-based system would in fact benefit Malays more in comparison to other races.

“They ask what will happen to Malays? In fact, Malays will be better off if they get rid of people like you,” he said. — Picture by Danny Lim

“The racial equation means that the vast majority who benefit are Malays. So why the siege mentality?” he asked.

The Permatang Pauh MP added that he has often been posed hypothetical questions in which the Chinese would win all open tenders due to their current advantages.

“We will have policies in place that those who win tender awards must open up their subcontracts and give exposure to all other communities. If leaders are not corrupt and looking for commissions, then it can be done,” he explained.

The former deputy prime minister insisted that NEP policies were being supported by Umno as a means to practice “corruption with impunity.”

“They ask what will happen to Malays? In fact, Malays will be better off if they get rid of people like you,” he said, adding that it was an irresponsible statement to say that the NEP benefited all Malays at the expense of non-Malays when it in fact only benefited the “Umnoputra.”

Anwar, who was finance minister in the 1990s, defended the use of the NEP in years past, saying that he supported it before as “it was a different situation then.”

“We benefited and there was social mobility. But this from 35 years ago.

“Yes there were abuses, it was exploited by the rich and political cronies. Look at the richest Malays in the country, it is the brother of the prime minister, the son of a former prime minister and the son-in-law of another former prime minister,” he said, referring to banker Datuk Seri Nazir Razak, entrepreneur Datuk Mokhzani Mahathir and Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin respectively.

Earlier in the evening, Anwar had described how in the 1990s Malaysia was second in the region only to Singapore in economic competitiveness but could now no longer be compared to such leadings lights as our southern neighbour and other Asian giants like South Korea and Taiwan.

“Instead we are comparing ourselves to Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines and even then we are losing to them in terms of growth and foreign direct investment,” he claimed.

He added that the country has lost its attractiveness as an investment destination with experts explaining that Malaysia is no longer on “the radar” due to “destruction of institutions” such as the media and the judiciary.

This, they believe, has left investors with a sense of “hopelessness” about the economy.

On MCA Candidates

Are you sick of the ‘Chinese Opera’ in MCA recently? I, for one, am suffering from overdose of news, articles and opinions covering the ongoing debacle in MCA. Silly it is, I should spare myself of such suffering, just minding my own business and join many others out there whom had written off MCA as being ‘IRRELEVANT’ because “I don’t care, nothing to do with me”.

By ShortTake

After all, many have dismissed MCA as not representing its original cause, i.e. the majority Chinese – that MCA has not been able to, cannot do much for the Chinese community, so it makes no difference.

The easiest way out will be to join in the apathy for MCA. However, my idealism tells me not to give up Hope just yet in seeing reforms in this 60+ year old party. The fact is that whether we like it or not, the policy-making and actions of some of these ‘Leaders’ (if they befit being honoured as such) from MCA can still affect the lives of many grassroot people, the Rakyat. Hence, I have to claim my right in wishing for good, righteous leaders to be fairly elected and not let the wicked thrive in whatever small way I can.

I am a typical youth ‘on the street’ who has been quietly following the developments in MCA. I am, perhaps, just one strange, na├»ve citizen who still appreciate the things that MCA has done all these years, no matter how little. I do not get paid for writing here and I have no interest in seeing whoever wins in MCA.

I wonder why is it that many writers and reporters have been diligently analyzing, debating even forecasting on the possible outcome of the MCA fresh polls but No one bothered to find out how do WE, the Rakyat, generally feel or what do we think about each Candidate running for the top posts in MCA so far ?

Of course, savvy intellects familiar with political structures will tell me that it does not matter what the Rakyat generally think, as after all, it is the MCA Delegates who hold the power to decide Who gets to lead MCA, not the Rakyat. I accept that, but I would like to remind Delegates that there is no point to elect wrong people to helm MCA if eventually this causes greater defeat or even complete wipe-out in upcoming General Election.

So, Delegates - why don’t you go to ask people around you, what do they think about each candidate? Find out especially what are the youth’s wishes (I try not to be biased here since I am a youth myself but surely, the electoral statistics ought to convince you why you have to adopt such approach).

There is so much report about the ongoing MCA power struggle – we do not know which are to be believed or not, so I have chosen to write for more constructive purpose here.

For the benefit of those who do not have the luxury of time to digest much information so far, allow me to share with you some brief observation of 3 ‘main candidates’ and their respective perceived Pros and Cons that I gather from media so far. I also have some Queries for each of them.

I trust that you are all intelligent readers who can figure out Who is Who even without naming such candidate. I must admit that I may have my own prejudices as I am only human like you, so please forgive me if there is any mistake.

Keen followers (especially MCA Delegates) are encouraged to keep updating your own CHECKLIST as you find out more about each candidate and arrive at your own conclusions. May you be empowered to ensure selection of righteous leaders in your wisdom and conscience :

CANDIDATE A : The Saviour, Healer or Old Recycled ‘Administrator’??

· Pros

· portrayed as a crisis-healer to restore dignity of party, whilst others are deemed as Clowns in a circus.

· an unprecedented, reluctant Saviour who sacrifices his quiet retirement, personal pride and past glory to run for office

· enjoys wide, co-ordinated media coverage as one who can bring stability, peace, and unity to party

· claimed to have good track record in previous presidency and put in place certain reforms

· has open support by certain veteran party leaders

· Cons

o MCA soo lacked talents that this past leader needs to be Recycled, thereby creating a dangerous, backward-looking precedent

o Seen as an obvious lackey of certain Big Brothers or Tai Kors (favourable Media coverage off late is noticed)

o there is a general fear of Dynasty recurrence

o buried issues (eg ‘snoop squad’, allegations of affiliations over sex tapes) and other ‘old wounds’ highly likely to be resurrected

o Some believed it is unfair to let this candidate to have second bite at the cherry after having been in power for 5 long years

o Some blamed this candidate to be the ultimate trouble-maker, the same person responsible for current MCA leadership crisis, by putting in the same people who created current chaos

o Some observed that during this candidate’s tenure as President, there are No noticeable achievements amongst general public (no bold political reform)

o There is allegation of media manipulation and infiltration of Chinese guilds and associations during this candidate’s earlier regime

o Some resented this candidate’s trademark timidity

o There are allegations of links of this candidate to contenders who has chameleon-like loyalty

Queries for Candidate A

· why could you not have done more during your tenure as President (when the length of time was considerably longer than the current incumbent President) ?

· Why did you not just help to negotiate amongst warring factions, offer Advice and Suggestions to them, if you really meant well for Party’s good and not for any self interests?

· Have you been preparing behind the scenes, provoking much insanity and creating the right environment for your return? Media coverage at all ‘friendly’ channels for your campaign-sake is so well co-ordinated and timed.

· If you are such a principled man as some have claimed, why the about-turn, going back on your own decision to resign and promise not to interfere (but you still did) ??

· Did you really retired with a ‘past glory’ ?

· What value is there for you to be openly supported by certain party veterans whom had been involved in power struggles themselves in the past (is there any vested interests involved) ?

· Should you win the presidency and the party lost as bad again or worse in the next general election, are you going to Resign again ?

· Is your return to helm the top in MCA meant to protect, appease those who hate reform measures for the sake of respective vested interests?

· Will your return really help MCA to woo back rapidly declining Chinese support ?

· Is there any truth to allegations of your past misuse of power in relation to the change of fire extinguishers in buildings, awards of money lending licences, pawn shop licences and Indah Water Consortium contracts to cronies ?

· Can you please declare that you have no Interest whatsoever in PKFZ Project ?

CANDIDATE B : The Seasoned Politician or Unfaithful Wife Betrayer cum Porn Star ?

· Pros

· Said to be enjoying wide grassroot members’ support within party (seems so by frequent media coverage on him shaking hands, patting backs and hosting dinners funded from God-knows-what)

· Praised for his character as one who never admits defeat

· Achieved an amazing feat for having won previously as Deputy President notwithstanding his known and admitted sexual infidelity amongst ‘wise’ Delegates

· Cons

· this candidate is plagued with sex scandal (adultery was self-admitted) – thus, party image stands at serious damage by allowing such person to continue being a leader – voters in General Election who value Faithfulness in relationships may punish MCA for keeping such ‘baggage’

· there is certain allegation that the sex scandal entails acts which are punishable as crime in current existing laws

· During MCA EGM on 10.10.2009, this candidate was not reinstated as Deputy President

· General public perception is that this candidate was hardly remorseful for betraying his wife, family (thus creating serious doubt in his ability to handle party, national matters faithfully)

· Some perceived this candidate as a foxy strategist – who was instrumental in calling for EGM on 10.10.2009 and then pushing for fresh polls this coming 28.03.2010 (despite having agreed to a ‘Greater Unity Plan’)

Queries for CANDIDATE B

· Will you be joining a three-cornered fight as President or will you support someone else?

· Will you be contesting as a Deputy President or other post or not at all ?

· Can you consider retiring soon and allow your junior to take over (you can still guide him to serve the party well if you really love the party) ?

CANDIDATE C : The Bold Reformist or Arrogant Tyrant ?

· Pros

· This candidate is described as Dynamic, Outspoken, unprecedented for MCA leadership

· Noticed to be consistent in reiterating that he will do what were said and deliver what were promised

· This candidate had initiated plans to expand voting rights to broader base of members, hence a clear sign of will for democratisation

· Famous Quote : “What is Truth cannot be False, what is False cannot be Truth / what is true cannot be untrue and what is untrue cannot be true”

· Claimed to have the support of man on the street (but not tycoons)

· notable effort during short and challenging tenure in reaching out to both English and Mandarin-literate community, even to non-Chinese communities

· Perceived by some as a believer and practitioner of truth, integrity and equality for all

· Best known for his role in revealing the details for the colossal PKFZ Fiasco, despite no immediate visible support initially from his subordinates – a show of rare, exemplary courage

· has open support of certain distinguished community leaders

· Cons

· Lost by marginal votes for ‘no confidence’ of his leadership during 10.10.2009 EGM (some argued to be due to attempts to overthrow him including gambling elements)

· His hastened internal reshuffling has ruffled too many feathers

· Suspected root cause for most problems besieging this incumbent president’s leadership : PKFZ revelation

· Perceived by some to be ‘foolishly courageous’ in endangering own career (his power, status, money), possibly life too in stirring hornets’ nest for the PKFZ fiasco

· Perceived by some to be a lone ranger, aloft, combative/having abrasive personality

· Perceived as a tyrant who hardly listened to followers and could not stand being challenged or questioned – (he has sacked certain key office holders whom some argued to be detractors or betrayers in disguise)

· Repeatedly betrayed by comrades conspiring with vested agendas (destabilizing his reform measures for managing party)

· Some blamed the start of party chaos to be due to his personal vendetta with a sexually scandalous senior party leader

· An obvious underdog against certain mainstream newsprints (controlled by tycoons, tai kors who disliked him) which have been spewing much negative perceptions, lop-sided reports and attacks

· Has No open support of certain party veterans (whom may have skeletons themselves)

· Has no time to form alliances, going around to garner grassroot support – eg shaking hands, patting backs, hosting dinners (which could be interpreted as being ‘aloft’ if not for putting his official duties as priority)

· Queries for Candidate C

· Why did you hold on to being a President despite having lost on ‘vote of no-confidence’ (many recalled you once said you will quit even if you lose by 1 vote – how do you reconcile with the law/constitution of the Party that you need to be removed by a two-third majority and not a simple majority? How can people be convinced to believe you should still stay as President by law, but some argued not ‘morally’ after what you have said? Was there any apology or clarification via media about this? )

· How else can you convince your Delegates that you should be given a chance to realise your true potential and capability as a good leader with integrity?

· Have you really buried the hatchet with your ex-No. 2 or will you forgive your detractors, dissidents and let them off the hook, should you become President again ?

· There were lingering allegations of your free jet ride from a tycoon under MACC investigation, the RM10 million contribution – were there any investigation about these, what were the outcome ?

· What exactly are your promised ‘unfinished reforms’ to be implemented if you are re-elected to defend your post ?

· Should you lose in your MCA presidential bid – will you continue to fight on for the Rakyat either as an Independent MP or will you consider joining Pakatan Rakyat ?

CONCLUSION : Candidates should publicise reminders and recap on their respective past ‘achievements’ so far as a Leader of MCA in order to help Delegates decide on Who to vote for.

A Message to all Candidates : Your fate may be decided by Delegates, but do not forget the rest of your ‘audience’ – the voting Rakyat whom will ultimately decide not just yours but also your party’s future via the ballot box.

Contenders should realize that there is no meaning to winning posts if the end result is losing more people’s support come the next general election – unless of course, these are indeed just last minute opportunists looking to plunder the billion-ringgit assets of MCA. If that is the case, please Rest In Peace, go ahead to nail the coffins soon.

Last message to righteous Leader : If your delegates (followers) are really good for nothing, only looking for rewards, self-enrichment and cannot afford any wisdom nor conscience to appreciate you, why don’t you kiss this sinking and stinking old ship good-bye soon, just leave with no regrets nor resentment. Who needs a majority support of rank-and-file (perhaps equivalent to ‘snakes, insects, rodents and termites’) that seek to self-destroy? Surely there will be greener pastures waiting for you. The RAKYAT will be watching …