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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Knowledge not fear in religion

JUNE 8 — A reader asked me in an email what my thoughts were on the “… religious management in the country…” and what I would do about the disarray.

I was quite stumped by the question. While I read in dismay about what was happening to our country, I had to admit, I didn’t have the answers.

Malaysia is obsessed with titles and credentials, and I was a highly improbable person to answer such a question. Perhaps, I replied to the reader, this was something best left to politicians, activists and religious authorities.

He wrote back, “… but if you could, what would you do?”

It is obvious to most thinking Malaysians that there is a serious disconnect between the real lives of Malaysians and the perceived notions of our lives by (self) appointed leaders of our faiths and authority. And that there are gaps among ourselves, within our own communities, and when combined, these only aggravate the situation.

We must remember when it comes to our religions, we are emotional. Where is the sacred space for us to believe and practise our faiths?

In Faith-Based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik, Douglas Johnston had written that there was the assumption that with globalisation and modernisation, there would be “… a gradual, persistent, unbroken erosion of religious influence. “ [1] The book further elaborates, “Quite often, the reaction against (Western) modernization is framed in religious terms. This is a valid characterisation when one considers the modern, secularized, and rather compartmentalised approach to life … the strict division between the sacred and the secular observed in the West is a relatively recent innovation—and is foreign to much of the rest of the world. As Boston University sociologist Peter Berger has pointed out, ‘The difficult-to-understand phenomenon is not Iranian mullahs but American university professors.’”
Is this a predominantly Muslim problem?

A review article by Michael G. Peletz states that “… we see many of the same general dynamics operating in a wide array of predominantly Christian, Jewish and/or Judaeo–Christian contexts (including the USA) and among Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and others (Casanova, 1994; Antoun, 2001; Juergensmeyer, 2003; Cannell, 2010; Hefner, 2010). As with capitalist markets, modern states and civil society, it seems that public religions are here to stay.” [2]

My personal opinion is that while our religious leaders have the right to feel besieged and want to protect the faithful, the ego needs to be kept in check. We must own the responsibility of disseminating information and we must be objective. It is not about authority and position of power.

I am extremely suspicious of committees and panels. While I understand the need for a body to campaign and discuss religious matters, I have always wondered about what goes on in the minds and hearts of the individuals involved. I am sure that most are selfless, but who is to know? There is always an agenda.

In Malaysia, it is about protectionism. It is about a minority constantly battling a majority that is fearful of a loss (of its position), whereas all the former wants is space to practise what it believes in.
We have yet to learn that negotiation is not just about compromise.
How can our leaders help?

In the second chapter of Faith-Based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik, the author Andre Malraux wrote, “Among the attributes that give religious leaders and institutions sizeable influence in peacemaking, four stand out:
1.   A well-established and pervasive influence in the community
2.   A reputation as an apolitical force for change based on a respected set of values
3.   Unique leverage for reconciling confliction parties, including an ability to rehumanize relatiohships
4.   The capability to mobilize community, national, and international support for a peace process.”

Most important, religions possess a transcendent authority for their followers that is the envy of most temporal leaders.

However, looking at some of our religious personalities who have caused more grief than inspired hope, the above may not be possible in the immediate future.

Another reader emailed to ask whether there was a place for agnostics and atheists in a country like Malaysia, where religion plays an integral role.

“What is your take on people who don’t have a religion especially in the context of Malaysia where like you said — religion has become inseparable from the national discourse?”

My rather inadequate answer to all of the above is that we Malaysians have the right to empower ourselves with knowledge. We must overcome our fear of the Other and learn more about each other. My column, Holy Men Holy Women, has taught me that we can learn from each other’s differences and delight in our similarities.

Inter-faith dialogue is an important tool, and we must include our youth in the negotiations. We cannot expect to love each other when we meet, but the whole idea of such dialogue is to exchange. Anger, fear, myths must be addressed.

Our education system needs to be revamped. Perhaps a return to the past where we had a system that worked; a time we fondly remember our children mixing freely with each other.
We should encourage comparative religious courses.

We must create and sustain a reading public. A culture that instils the love of books is also one that promotes the endearing quality of being curious, which in turn leads to critical thinking. Kumon, Enopi are supplements to an education, but do not necessarily mold children into personable beings.
Malaysians, God fearing or not, must focus on the relevant issues: education, corruption, the economy and the welfare of the state. 

Instead of being taken up by polygamy and obedient wives, and who’s falling in and out of political parties, we should emulate Canada and Scandinavian countries which have exemplary welfare, health, employment systems. We should focus on what unites us — our common good, and our similarities (socially and culturally). And not the superficial chaff they would have us believe is dividing us.

[1] Faith-Based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik. Contributors: Douglas Johnston - editor. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of Publication: New York. Publication Year: 2003.
[2] Islamization in Malaysia: Piety and consumption, politics and law. Michael G. Peletz
[3] Building a Shared Home for Everyone-Interreligious Dialogue at the Grass Roots in Indonesia. Contributors: Achmad Munjid - author. Journal Title: Journal of Ecumenical Studies. Volume: 43. Issue: 2. Publication Year: 2008. Page Number: 109+. COPYRIGHT 2008 Journal of Ecumenical Studies; COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

Use ‘Interlok’ as model for history textbooks, says historian

A copy of the "Interlok" novel as the Bahasa Malaysia literature textbook. — Picture by Choo Choy May
PETALING JAYA, June 8 — The controversial “Interlok” novel should be used as a model for history textbooks as it’s is quite “inclusive” in its narrative and depiction of non-Malays, a historian has suggested.

Professor Anthony Milner, currently with the International Studies department of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), said that despite complaints against the Malay novel, he felt that the author of the book national laureate Datuk Abdullah Hussain attempted to provide an idea of the lives of the Chinese and Indian community and their relationship with the Malay community.

“I only had a chance to read ‘Interlok’ in English, so I would not know if the Malay version of it gave it a different meaning... (but) the actual story was wonderfully inclusive compared to the history curriculum.
“The novel was sympathetic towards Malays, Chinese and Indians, in fact the novel was only unsympathetic towards the British,” he said during a forum organised by the Kairos Research Group here last night.

“‘Interlok’ is a bit of a historical novel, it actually reaches out and tries to give an example of the Chinese,Indians... that’s how I think history should be taught, use ‘Interlok’ as a model,” Milner explained.
The “Interlok” novel is a compulsory text for the literature component of the Bahasa Malaysia subject in the secondary school syllabus. It first encountered controversy when Indians accused it of using words and phrases deemed offensive to the community.

Despite public outcry, Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin has stood firm on the decision to retain “Interlok”, choosing only to amend parts deemed sensitive by the country’s Indian community.

Malaysian historians and non-governmental organisations are also pushing for greater accuracy in history textbooks for secondary school students.

Elaborating further, Milner said that the current history textbooks needed to have more “emotive substance” to draw students into a livelier intellectual debate and to instil inspire students to feel more connected with the history of the country.

He said that although history textbooks had a strong focus on the history of Malays, a balance was needed so that there was also emphasis on the history of the Chinese and Indian community.

Milner also felt that the current textbooks were too detailed, and suggested that the authors of the books focus on specific topics and historical figures, such as pre-Independence politicians like Ibrahim Yaacob and Datuk Onn Jaafar.

Perak coup: ‘Court set dangerous precedent’

The apex court's ruling would allow a prime minister to be replaced by the King without going through a no-confidence motion in the Parliament, stated a leaked US cable.
KUALA LUMPUR: A 2010 Federal Court ruling in favour of Barisan Nasional’s takeover of Perak a year before not only renewed questions about the independence of the Malaysian judiciary, but also legitimised political manoeuvring to undermine democratic elections, noted US diplomats based in the US embassy here.

The court ruling which upheld a decision of the Sultan of Perak to appoint a new menteri besar has set a dangerous precedent by implying that the King, likewise, could remove the Prime Minister, without a no-confidence motion in Parliament, the diplomats added.

Their observations were made in a confidential cable sent to the US State Department in Washington. The cable was sent just days after the court’s ruling.

Details of the cable were leaked by WikiLeaks to popular blogger Raja Petra Kamarudin who had reproduced the cable in his Malaysia Today website today.

“A well-financed political coalition could persuade Members of Parliament to support the other side, shifting power through undemocratic means, as many allege (had) occurred in Perak.

“Before this Federal Court decision, the (State Legislative) Assembly would have instead been dissolved for fresh elections, but now the sultan can legitimise the takeover without voter input,” added the US cable.

It further noted that the Malaysian goverment’s argument was that the Federal Court decision was based on “a sound interpretation of the Perak constitution”.

“Opposition figures disagree and argue the decision legitimises political manoeuvring to change the results of democratic elections, setting a dangerous precedent by implying that the King could remove the Pime Minister, without a no-confidence motion in Parliament,” added the cable.

The cable also quoted Pakatan Rakyat’s Perak Menteri Besar Mohd Nizar Jamaluddin as saying that the ruling would result in “the Prime Minister or the Chief Minister holding office at the pleasure of the King or the Sultan”, and setting a dangerous precedent.

A political decision

The Federal Court’s unanimous 5-0 decision on Feb 9, 2009 stated that the Perak sultan had the authority to appoint a new menteri besar if he believed that a different political coalition commanded the allegiance of a majority of seats in the state assembly.

The ruling confirmed the sultan’s decision to consent to appointment of BN-Umno’s Zambry Abdul Kadir as the menteri besar to replace PAS’ Nizar.

The changeover in government followed the defection of three Pakatan representatives to become BN-friendly independents, thus allowing BN to have the strength in number to claim majority in the state assembly.

The cable also noted that Nizar’s lawyer Chan Kok Keong had expected such a decision, telling them that the outcome would not be a “constitutional decision” but rather “a political decision”.

The lawyer had even informed the US diplomats that the federal justices hearing the case “were extremely hostile” to them (Nizar’s lawyers).

The US cable pointed out the case effectively ended the Perak constitutional crisis.
It added that the sultan had come under unprecedented scrutiny because replacing a menteri besar was not specifically mentioned in the state constitution.

Gadhafi: 'We will not surrender, we will not give up'

Libya's deputy foreign minister Khaled Kaim shows the damage to the General People's Congress -- Libya's parliament.Tripoli, Libya (CNN) -- Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi vowed Tuesday that "we will not surrender," even as NATO airstrikes bombarded his compound in Tripoli.

"I am now speaking as planes and bombs fall around me," Gadhafi said in a live audio broadcast on state television. "But my soul is in God's hand. We will not think about death or life. We will think about the call of duty."

At least 35 loud explosions rocked Tripoli around midday Tuesday as NATO targeted a military base and Gadhafi's compound, state television reported. A spokesman for the Libyan government said that at least 29 civilians were killed and dozens more wounded after 60 missiles struck various locations around the capital city.

The compound was under "intensive continuous bombardment," according to state TV, which reported buildings and infrastructure in the area were destroyed in the strikes.

"We will not surrender, we will not give up," Gadhafi said. "We have one option -- our country. We will remain in it till the end. Dead, alive, victorious, it doesn't matter."

The blasts Tuesday, and others Monday that Libyan officials said hit state television buildings, elicited heated responses from the government spokesman.

"We believe NATO understands that its military campaign is failing miserably," said spokesman Musa Ibrahim. "No one has the right to shape Libya's future except for Libyans."

Ibrahim said Tuesday's morning blasts hit the popular guard compound and revolution compound, which are military barracks near Gadhafi's Bab al-Aziziya compound.

The spokesman said the attack on the television network killed two people and injured 16.
NATO disputed the account.

"We did not target or hit the Libyan broadcast facilities. What we did target was the military intelligence headquarters in downtown Tripoli," the alliance said. "The story coming from Libyan officials that we targeted and hit the state broadcaster's building is bogus."

The back and forth between Libyan officials and NATO continues a public relations war between the two sides.

Libyan officials have continually charged that NATO airstrikes have damaged civilian facilities and killed hundreds of civilians.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said recently that his forces have made "significant progress" in its U.N. Security Council mandate to protect Libyan civilians.

This week, the Libyan government said it had evidence that alliance airstrikes were harming civilians.
Officials took journalists to Tajura, a city east of Tripoli, to show them a small crater that held what appeared to be the remains of a rocket.

The reporters were also taken to some nearby homes that the government said were damaged by airstrikes.
NATO, reached later by phone, said it had been active in the area hitting military sites but it could not confirm the attacks caused the damage in the residential area.

Reporters were also taken to a nearby hospital to see Nasib, a comatose baby, who was a victim of the airstrikes, the government claimed.

A woman, whom the government said was Nasib's mother, cried over the child's listless body.
Journalists were not allowed to talk to the grieving woman or doctors. But a doctor quietly slipped a note to one of the journalists.

The girl was injured in a car accident, the note said, not a bomb attack.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, speaking Tuesday to British lawmakers, said the European Union has added six additional ports controlled by pro-Gadhafi forces to its sanctions list in an effort to starve Gadhafi's troops of military supplies.

He said the United Kingdom intends to push for additional sanctions against Gadhafi's regime.
"Any political settlement in Libya requires an end to violence and Gadhafi's departure," Hague said.

Lesbian blogger kidnapped in Syria

Lesbian blogger kidnapped in SyriaRelatives of Amina Abdallah say her whereabouts are unknown after she was seized by "armed men".

A female blogger has been abducted by armed men in the Syrian capital, Damascus, relatives and activists say.

Amina Abdallah Araf was seized on Monday evening, as she was walking in the area of the Abbasid bus station, according to her cousin, Rania O. Ismail.

"Amina was seized by three men in their early 20's. According to the witness [a friend accompanying Abdallah], the men were armed", Ismail wrote on Abdallah's blog, A Gay Girl in Damascus.

"One of the men then put his hand over Amina's mouth and they hustled her into a red Dacia Logan with a window sticker of Basel Assad," she continued, referring to President Bashar al-Assad's brother who died in a car accident in 1994.

Abdallah, openly lesbian, holds dual Syrian and American citizenship.

According to Al Jazeera, Ismail wrote that her cousin's whereabouts were unknown, and that the family was trying to track her down.

"We do not know who took her, so we do not know who to ask to get her back. It is possible that they are forcibly deporting her," she wrote.

"From other family members who have been imprisoned there, we believe that she is likely to be released fairly soon. If they wanted to kill her, they would have done so. That is what we are all praying for."
Since mass protests erupted in Syria in March, Abdallah has been increasingly critical of the the government, writing on Sunday: "They must go, they must go soon. That is all there is to say."

On April 26, she wrote about how her father faced down two security agents who came to arrest her, threatening to rape her and accusing her of being a involved in a Salafist plot.

Mixing regime criticism with humour and poems, Abdallah has been outspoken about the situation for homosexuals and other subjects which are taboo in Arab culture.

Several Facebook pages calling for her release were set up on Monday and activists also launched a campaign on Twitter.

Syrian authorities had been cracking down on journalists and bloggers even before protests began.
A number of bloggers were arrested in February, and 20-year-old Tal al-Mallouhi, a 20-year-old girl, was jailed on charges on spying for a foreign country.

A Malaysian Political Revolution

So how does this play in the kampung?
An Islamic party changes stripes, but for how long? 

In what could well be the start of a  political revolution, Malaysia's rural-based opposition Islamic party underwent a sudden and dramatic transformation over last weekend, electing secular leaders and abandoning its traditional call to convert the country into an Islamic state.

In its new secular guise, Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) has the potential to deliver a real challenge to the sclerotic United Malays National Organisation in elections expected late this year or early the next, say analysts from both the government and opposition camps. PAS is the largest party in opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's coalition but its resolve to impose Islamic law has often been seen as a serious barrier to its bid to win over non-Muslims, who make up nearly half of the population.

The implications for Malaysian politics are profound. Urban and moderate Malays have turned away from PAS because of its harsh advocacy of religious law. A reformed PAS, political analysts say in Malaysia, could provide a new refuge for disaffected ethnic Malays who have long been turned off by UMNO's endemic corruption but are still not willing to opt for Parti Keadilan Rakyat, the urban, largely Malay People's Justice Party headed by Anwar, who remains a polarizing figure laboring under his own problems from a long-running sexual perversion trial and a new film purporting to show him cavorting with a Chinese prostitute. He also suffers in some eyes from his perceived ties, rightly or wrongly, to western governments, in particular the US.

PAS's new face could present a serious problem for Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak and UMNO.  If Sarawak state elections earlier this year are any indication, the Chinese, who make up about 25 percent of the population, have  abandoned the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, made up of UMNO, the Malaysian Chinese Association and the Malaysian Indian Congress. Some UMNO strategists have advocated simply abandoning support from the other major ethnic groups and counting on the party to take all of the ethnic Malay votes, with perhaps a smattering of other ethnic groups to push it over the top.  That is because the Malaysian Chinese Association, the second party in the Barisan, is nearly moribund from party infighting and allegations of corruption. Altough the Malaysian Indian Congress has staged somewhat of a comeback from its disastrous perfomrance in 2008 national elections, it is not enough to give the Barisan any kind of clean win, let alolne regain its historical two-thirds hold on the Parliament,

Malays make up an estimated 52 percent of the population, according to the CIA World Factbook.  If a significant number of ethnic Malays were to abandon UMNO for PAS, any hope of winning with an all-Malay strategy is out the window.

PAS over the weekend at its annual conclave elected a secular slate that replaces many of its former  religious leaders  in a bid to widen its public appeal and mesh more effectively with the two other parties that make up the opposition, the Chinese-dominated Democratic Action Party and Anwar's PKR.  Only six of the 18 elected central committee members are now considered religious leaders. The remainder are individuals that seem to reflect  the majority Malay middle and working classes that PAS has lately begun to court.  In particular Husam Musa, who has pushed to moderate the PAS stance on a theocratic state, won one of the three vice-president posts and vowed to reach out to non-Muslim minorities.

The new leadership of the party was immediately attacked as a tool of Anwar by Utusan Malaysia, the broadsheet mouthpiece of UMNO, and by Ibrahim Ali, the firebrand Malay who heads the Perkasa ethnic-Malay supremacy organization, which is allied with former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. 

"Anwar's job is to split the Malays and dilute their focus on Islamic ideals as well as limit Malay privileges and destroy Malay unity," a lawyer close to the Mahathir wing of UMNO told Asia Sentinel. "PAS has dropped its Islamic state ideals in favor of the ‘welfare state.' The ulamas (religious leaders) are sidelined.  In the short term there will be serious dropping of Islamic colors. In the short term perhaps PAS will get more and more support from the non-Malays and Non-Muslims."

While the party remains headed by an Islamic religious leader, Abdul Hadi Awang, the deputy presidents and vice presidents below him are dominated by a collection of parliamentarians, activists and think tank analysts dubbed "the Erdogans," a reference to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, elected as an Islamic leader in Turkey who against predictions continued the country's longstanding moderate policies.  It is also a reference to allies of Anwar, who is regarded as close to the Turkish government.  He once fled to Turkey's embassy after reports that he would charged with sodomizing his aide, the charge for which he is currently on trial..

There is speculation in Kuala Lumpur that the new leadership has so revitalized PAS and the Pakatan Rakyat leadership that Najib may put plans to hold an early election on hold.

"It's a very good lineup," an ethnic Malay businessman who didn't want to be quoted by name told Asia Sentinel. "The ulamas are still there in the Ulama Council but there are many moderates among them.  There finally seems to be hope among non-Muslims and moderate Muslims alike that PAS is becoming a party where people can look for moderate, fair and tolerant leadership."

Most of the new leaders, he said, "are professionals – bright, progressive and who can accept the principle of acceptance of different races.  Race has never been an issue with PAS, only religion. UMNO in the past few years has tried to be more Islamic than PAS and has evolved into a racial party.  I am impressed by the new lineup. So are my towkay (prominent businessmen) friends."

Chief among the Erdogans is Mohamad Sabu, a galvanic public speaker from Penang and former member of Parti Keadilan who was twice detained under the country's Internal Security Act.  His former membership in PKR has fueled UMNO charges that Anwar was behind the takeover of PAS. Sabu led the moderates' van, winning the party deputy presidency and crucially defeating a minority of conservatives seeking to lead a splinter group to link up with UMNO. The party's new leadership ends months of speculation that the Islamist-based party would split off from the opposition coalition to realign itself with UMNO, the country's largest ethnic political party.

Salahuddin Ayub, Husam Musa and Mahfuz Omar, elected as moderate vice presidents, complete a leadership team that reflects the party's changing membership of urban Malays who have been brought into the party, and are oriented towards working with other races to take the leadership in Putrajaya, the country's political capital. 

It is uncertain how the party's new leadership will sit with the Islamic rank-and-file in rural Malay villages. Hadi Awang called for unity, telling the 1,000 delegates that the new cabinet is an election cabinet and reiterating the party's loyalty to the opposition.

"There will be a lot of confusion amongst Muslims in particular PAS supporters and in the long term confusion equals instability — and when these people finally had enough of the political games played by PAS leaders for votes at the expense of Islamic ideals, the blowback will be severe. Especially if the Malay population at large already sick of PAS rejects them in the general election," said the UMNO lawyer. "Then PAS will go 1,000 percent back to strict Islamic practice to make up for lost ground and the loss of face.

"In the end PAS has tasted power. It's not about ideals, Islam, it's about power."

The other question is how well Anwar's own moderate urban Malay party holds up against the allure of PAS, which is much larger and infinitely better organized than Parti Keadilan.

"Keadilan seems absorbed and obsessed by Anwar," the Malay businessman told Asia Sentinel. "If Keadilan can shed the Anwar obsession, Malaysia will have a real alternative to the sham that is the Barisan Nasional."

In what could be a harbinger of future political battle lines, the  UMNO lawyer warned that if  PAS leads the opposition coalition into power, it will later revert to its Islamic base and seek to institute harsh religious laws.

Book Review: Three Who Built Malaysia

Jaafar Mohammad, the patriarch.
Legacy of Honour by Zainah Anwar. Published by Yayasan Mohamad Noah, hardback, 288 pages, available in MPH and other bookstores,  RM100

Among those credited with having built Malaysia, three came from the same family: Jaafar Mohamed, the first chief minister of Johor;his son Onn Jaafar, the founder of the United Malays National Organization; and then his son Tun Hussein Onn, the country's third prime minister.
Yet, although their involvement in public affairs spanned nearly a century and a half from 1854 to1981, their names are not the most widely lauded. A charitable explanation might be that Malaysians do not know their history well enough, so that the first seems an antique and far-off figure; the second a quarrelsome fellow who abandoned his party, thus ceding the honor of being the leader at independence to Tunku Abdul Rahman, and whose political career ended in failure; and the third a relatively short-term premier whose administration appeared to be no more than a lull compared with the rough seas successfully navigated (stirred up, would be another way of looking at it) by his predecessor Abdul Razak and successor Mahathir Mohamed.
Not so, says Zainah Anwar, a respected and independent columnist and the long-time head of the feisty Sisters in Islam group. Her handsomely produced volume aims to give these men's achievements the weight they deserve; and as her father was a close associate of Onn Jaafar – his private secretary when Onn too served as Johor chief minister and the man who came up with UMNO's name – she is in a good position to make the case.
Her well-sketched biographies show just how far the country has come. Although Jaafar Mohamed's family had been part of the elite who had served the Johor royalty for generations, originally in Riau (now in Indonesia, but which had been the capital of the old sultanate) and then in Singapore (the seat of government only moved to the peninsula in 1866), no wealth accompanied that connection. Jaafar's father worked as a fisherman and his mother took on embroidery jobs.
It was when the state coffers started filling from the mid-19th century onwards, with revenues from newly opened pepper and gambier farms, that Johor began to develop. And men such as Jaafar who, along with other children from the royal retinue, had received a good education in English and Malay in Singapore, were ready to form a modern administrative corps that was far in advance of the other Malay states and enabled Johor to resist the imposition of British rule longer than any other.
Three of Jaafar's sons, his stepson and his nephew were later to follow him as chief minister – a remarkable record of public service.
 ot that this was always easy, as the career of Jaafar's son Onn shows. Despite the closeness of their families, he was frequently in conflict with Sultan Ibrahim, who reigned from 1895-1959, being not only sacked on his orders in 1927 but exiled to Singapore as well. Later they were to be reconciled, and Onn also became Chief Minister in 1946; but more momentous events took place that year.
The British Malayan Union plan would have reduced the nine hereditary rulers to ciphers (not that they complained – they all signed up to the proposal) and gave equal citizenship rights and status to "the Chinese and other races whom the Malays regarded as immigrants brought in without their agreement by the colonial masters". It was Onn who led the fight and brought a hitherto unknown unity to Malays across the peninsula, and he too who persuaded the sultans, just as they were about to attend the installation of the first governor of the Malayan Union, not to go.
In the event, "the only Malay present was an officer who had been appointed as ADC to the new governor.... It was an unprecedented demonstration of Malay resistance and it made the Malayan Union a non-starter." For that alone, as the spiritual father to the Federation of Malaya that gained independence in 1957, Onn deserves to be better remembered; but his later falling out with UMNO – he left in 1951 when his suggestion that membership be opened to other races was rejected – made his record one that the official narrative has found inconvenient to emphasise.
The book devotes more time to Hussein Onn than to his father and grandfather, and is described as being the most comprehensive account of an "overlooked and underrated" prime minister (1978-81). It is certainly a warm portrayal of a man so painstaking and thorough that he took eight years to pass his law exams in London, as he insisted on answering each question so fully that he kept running out of time to complete the others.
If Zainah does not quite rescue Hussein from the charge that this meticulousness and caution led to nothing very much happening during his administration (although she points out that under his leadership the country enjoyed growth of 8.6 per cent, compared to 7.1 per cent in the preceding four years), it is, as with much in this book, the contrast between what Hussein was, and what others have not been, that counts. She does not labour this, but she has no need to.
Hussein was not avaricious, had no cronies, and was so scrupulous in avoiding any appearance of favouritism that on becoming deputy prime minister in 1973 he "issued instructions – in red ink – to department heads that any proposal from his family members for government contracts should not be entertained." His sister Azah was particularly badly affected by this, as a licence she already had to import rice from Thailand was terminated as a result. Later she submitted a paper to set up a car assembly plant to his office, only to discover that her brother had thrown it into the bin without even looking at it.
Hussein's relatives were actually disadvantaged by his stance – they were not granted the consideration that others enjoyed - as he discovered in retirement when he asked Azah how she, a divorcee with seven children, had managed. "I told him I robbed a bank. He apologised and said he didn't know I had suffered," she said.
It goes without saying that such Puritanism is virtually unknown in Malaysian politics today. But this is just one of many examples in which the characters and times of these three men could serve not just as an inspiration to their countrymen, but also as a very stern reproach. When Onn Jaafar, for instance, was made a Dato (sometimes spelled Datuk) in 1940, Zainah writes that it was "then a much-honoured title, limited to only 28 recipients at any one time in the state of Johor."
The elaboration left implicit is that while there are still some who do that title equal honour, the numbers of those thus elevated have become so large that it is hardly surprising the currency has been devalued, to put it politely.
The relationship to and the standing of the sultans is another area in which the lives of Jaafar Mohamed and Onn Jaafar, in particular, are instructive. Today, the very mildest criticism of a ruler carries the risk that some ardent Malay chauvinist will threaten legal action. But Jaafar, that most loyal of royal servants, would have disagreed. He told his children before his death that "all his life he had believed and acted in accordance with the Malay adat that to go against the sultan constituted menderhaka or treason. But after his death, he said, the next generation must be brave enough to oppose the Raja. If the Raja was cruel or did anything that was not right, the people must speak out."
His son took this to heart with gusto, frequently acting in a manner that would surely later have had him locked up under the ISA in a trice. But Onn knew, not least because of the Johor constitution of 1895 that his father had helped draft, that obligation went both ways between the rulers and their subjects. Their agreement to the Malayan Union was, as Zainah writes, a "betrayal of Malay rights". He told them in the showdown before the governor's installation that if they did not change their minds, "their rakyat would withdraw their support and loyalty."
On a note of personal behaviour, some may also find a more contemporary echo to a 1929 letter by the then British High Commissioner, Sir Hugh Clifford, about Sultan Ibrahim of Johor: "He occasionally forgets the dignity due to his position so far as to stoop to acts of personal violence."
If Zainah Anwar makes a good defence of Hussein Onn (father of the current Home Minister, and uncle of the Prime Minister), particularly over his disgust with a political culture that could see a man imprisoned for corruption – former Selangor Chief minister Harun Idris – elected to UMNO's supreme council while still in jail, it is Onn Jaafar who emerges as the real hero of the book. He may well have been too unbending for his own good and capable of massive miscalculation when it came to his own political career (his formation of the Independence of Malaya Party in 1951 was a disaster that consigned him to the wilderness), but he was also prophetic about the necessity of overcoming divisions rather than entrenching them.
He looked forward to the day, he told a British official in 1949, when no citizen would say "I am a Malay" or "I am a Malayan Chinese", but would instead declare "I am a man of Malaya".
Change Malaya for Malaysia and Onn would still be waiting. "Legacy of Honour" is valuable not only as the history of three men whose lives should be better known, but as a mirror to those aspects of the country for which they strove that have not met their expectations. Many Malaysians may wish that, like Dorian Gray, they had a picture in the attic to save them from the reality of what that looking glass exposes.
Sholto Byrnes is a contributing editor of the New Statesman and divides his time between Kuala Lumpur and London 

Dr M: Karpal the biggest winner in PAS polls

KUALA LUMPUR, June 7 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said today that the DAP’s Karpal Singh is the actual winner in last weekend’s PAS elections because he claimed the party had abandoned its Islamic principles.

Dr Mahathir added that PAS’s new push for a welfare state was proof that the Islamist party had abandoned its fight for an Islamic state.

The former prime minister accused PAS of forsaking its struggle to implement Islamic and hudud laws just to appease its Pakatan Rakyat (PR) coalition partner DAP.

“The person who won big did not attend the muktamar and is not even a PAS member. That person is Karpal Singh... his fight against PAS’s plans to build an Islamic state which would have enforced hudud law has been achieved,” he wrote in a blog posting today.

“PAS no longer has to cross over Karpal’s dead body, nor does Karpal have to die... He is not even dead and PAS has made its struggle for an Islamic state a matter of secondary importance, now that PAS will be fighting for a welfare state instead,” said Dr Mahathir (picture), in reference to Karpal’s famous line “Over my dead body”. The DAP chairman has been firmly opposed towards PAS’s Islamic state concept, and has maintained that it went against the Federal Constitution and that Malaysia is a secular state, with Islam as the official religion.

PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang recently declared the party will not work with Umno in a unity government as the ruling party was ruled by self-interest, saying that PAS would work towards a welfare state that is fair to all if it took power. His policy speech signalled a change in direction that gave an advantage to professionals seeking places in the party’s central working committee.

During the weekend’s PAS polls, the party’s conservatives in the ulama faction, who prefer to link up with Umno, were edged out in the contest for top leadership posts by a group of progressive leaders led by the new deputy president Mohamad Sabu.

The vice-presidential line-up of Salahuddin Ayub, Datuk Husam Musa and Datuk Mahfuz Omar was also from the professionals or Erdogan camp, who favour co-operation with PR allies rather than seek unity with Umno.

Analysts said the 1,100 PAS delegates had decided to throw out pro-unity elements in the party as they were confident of doing well in the next general election without linking up with Umno. Leaders of Umno have criticised the party for apparently abandoning its Islamic state policy in favour of political expediency to capture Putrajaya.

But Hadi has also said the welfare state that the Islamist party plans to create is in principle similar to an Islamic state, turning away from mainstream view that such a label meant heavy punishment including cutting limbs for theft and stoning for adultery.

The PAS president explained that Islamic state is just another label but what is important is the implementation. He has denied that the party has abandoned its aspiration for an Islamic state but stressed that the party must move on ground that is common among the different partners in PR.

In response, Dr Mahathir pointed out that debates and discussions needed to be held on PAS’s change in policy direction, saying that the matter should not be dropped or ignored.

“Why (has this been ignored?) It is because (PAS) wants to legitimise its co-operation with DAP, especially Karpal. More accurately it is because PAS can no longer argue with Karpal Singh.
“Congratulations and well done Karpal, at last you have succeeded in your fight against PAS’s Islamic state,” the veteran Umno politician said.

Sungai Buloh TOL put on hold

Yayasan Selangor will not be issued TOL until the controversy is resolved, according to Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim.
SHAH ALAM: The Selangor government has decided not to issue temporary occupation licence (TOL) to Yayasan Selangor for the land in Sungai Buloh on which 100 nurseries operate.

Selangor Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim said that the state-owned agency has not received the TOL although the State Legislative Assembly has approved its application for the TOL in April.

The land controversy began when the nursery operators were informed on May 25 that their applications for TOL had been rejected in favour of Yayasan Selangor.

The operators protested that they should rightfully be granted the TOL as they had been developing the land all this while. They also questioned Yayasan Selangor’s involvement in horticulture as it is primarily an education arm.

Yayasan Selangor yesterday presented its development plan for a Green Park in the area to a group of nursery operators who shot it down.

But in a twist of events during a closed-door session with representatives from the two nursery operators’ associations today, Khalid said that the TOL had not been issued yet.

He added that the TOL would not be given until the controversy is resolved.
FMT also understands that the approval of the application did not guarantee that Yayasan Selangor would end up being awarded the TOL.

When told about Yayasan Selangor’s presentation, Khalid reportedly said, “I’m not interested in that. Those are only plans and Yayasan Selangor is not authorised to carry out any development projects in that area.”

Others who attended the meeting included Kota Damansara assemblyman Nasir Hashim, Subang MP Sivarasa Rasiah, Yayasan Selangor’s general manager Ilham Marzuki and Petaling Jaya mayor, Roslan Sakiman.

Field study

The nursery operators were represented by the Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Landscaping and Nursery Operators Association president, Lee Chee Hong, and the Association of Landscape and Nursery Subang president, Sunny Low.

Khalid also addressed safety concerns posed by two huge underground pipes which were constructed in 2001 and which sit directly below the piece of land.

“The menteri besar has instructed a team of engineers from Yayasan Selangor and the nursery operators to conduct a study of these pipes over the next month,” Sivarasa told reporters. “We will then hold another meeting with him to discuss the findings.”

“Two possible scenarios could result from this study. The first is that the land is declared unsafe and the operators are moved to another plot of land within Sungai Buloh. The menteri besar has guaranteed that an alternative plot will be made available to them.”
“The other scenario is that the land is safe. Then we will decide how to monitor the safety of the land and who should be tasked with that responsibility.”
Nasir said that the operators were satisfied with Khalid’s explanation and would cooperate in conducting the field study.

“The only thing they are not happy about is Yayasan Selangor behaving like it already owns the land and the shabby treatment it gave the operators during yesterday’s presentation,” he said.

Nursery operator, Mahyuddin Tajuddin, however, said that he expected this issue to drag on for a long time and uncertainty still lingered.

“We don’t know whether this issue will only be resolved after the next general election and if this current agreement will change again after that,” he said.

Use your head, Perkasa man told

Gerakan’s Baljit Singh says Syed Hassan must decide whether his organisation is for or against the Federal Constitution.
GEORGE TOWN: A Perkasa leader’s recent statement in the scholarship row has provoked questions about his ability to make reasoned arguments.

A Gerakan leader said Syed Hassan Syed Ali, the far right Malay group’s secretary general, was not using his head when he suggested that the government deny scholarships to non-Malays who do not complete their education in national schools.

Baljit Singh, who heads Penang Gerakan’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau, said Perkasa must decide whether it was for or against the Federal Constitution, which accepts vernacular schools as part of the national education system.

Perkasa has often claimed that its fight for Malay rights is a fight to defend the constitution.
“If Perkasa is so patriotic in protecting the Federal Constitution, it should also protect vernacular education,” Baljit said.

A spokesman for the Malaysian Indian Forum, M Arivananthan, said Syed Hassan lacked knowledge about vernacular education and why some parents chose it for their children.

He said some Indians and Chinese preferred mother-tongue education for academic as well cultural reasons.

“Non-Malays were just asking for what they were entitled to and not questioning anybody’s rights or privileges” when they called for fairness in scholarship distribution, Arivananthan said in a media statement.

.Both Baljit and Arivananthan called on the government to tame Perkasa, saying its extremism and racist propaganda were endangering peace.

Baljit called on Syed Hassan to open up his mind and consider the feelings of taxpayers who felt that their children were being sidelined because they came from the wrong racial community.

He also proposed that the government implement a “balanced scholarship policy” to benefit both bright students and those who are needy and have “reasonable” academic merit.

He suggested that the Public Service Department (PSD) reserve 500 awards to the most academically qualified students regardless of their ethnic, religious and economic backgrounds.

Obedient Rohaya gets a mauling for sex tips

A ridiculous suggestion by Dr Rohaya Mohamad of the Obedient Wives Club has got women in Sarawak all riled up.
KUCHING: Sarawakian women have come out to slam the Obedient Wives Club (OWC) for offering to give women sex lessons to help them keep their husbands.
They described OWC vice-president Dr Rohaya Mohamad’s offer to teach as degrading to both men and women.

Speaking on their behalf, former teacher Voon Shiak Ni said Rohaya should apologise for “making such public statements”.

“She should apologise to all men and women of this country for making public such an embarrassing statement.

“Rohaya should do a bit of research before making public statements and if she is serious about reducing family problems.

“She should look into the 70% which constitutes the bulk of marriage failures and not about training first-class prostitutes to keep a marriage.

“A research in Canada even showed that the new causes of marriage failures in the 21st century is Facebook,” she said.

Voon, who is also PKR national vice-president, was referring to Rohaya’s controversial statement that a husband who is kept happy in the bedroom would have no reason to seek out prostitutes or stray from marriage.

According to Rohaya, “it is important to be good sexual workers so that the husbands do not go to prostitutes”.

The OWC had also offered sex lessons to help wives “serve their husbands better than a first-class prostitute”.

Advocating abuse

Said Voon: “We wish to ask Rohaya whether her statement is supported by facts and statistics. Is that her personal opinion?”

Voon pointed out a research which showed that about 25% to 30% of failed marriages were attributed to affairs or third parties.

Voon reminded Rohaya not to take her personal views and ideals and impose them on others.

“Let me reming Rohaya that she is advocating the enslavement of women by their husbands. What she has advocated actually is akin to advocating abuse and violence against women.

“A marriage means much more than sex and Rohaya is reducing men to sex animals and the women being born as just prostitutes.

“Marriage is viewed more as a partnership and a marriage is akin to a contract between two people and it takes both parties to do their part to make the contract work well,” she said.

Voon added that both husbands and wives played a part in holding the institution of a marriage together.
“There is no justification to impose on the wife the burden to make a marriage work and a failed marriage is usually not the fault of one spouse,” she said.

Degrading comment

Voon, who is a now lawyer, said that from the number of divorce cases which she personally handled, sex was not an issue that came up.

“The issues are usually about finance and lack of responsibility on the part of spouse,” she added.
Meanwhile, Sarawak PKR women chief, Nurhanim Mokhsen, who was also present, said “as a wife I’m insulted”.

“This club is degrading to a housewife like me. Personally I don’t agree. Why must there be an obedient club?

“Obedience itself shows that it is degrading to the wife. In a marriage a husband and wife have equal rights.
“If you must form one, why cannot men also form a ‘loyal husbands club’?” she said, pointing out that she is not condoning the husbands to go out and commit adultery.

‘Polis bodoh’: Woman fined RM50 for insult

The 19-year-old boutique employee uttered these words when she was stopped for not wearing a crash helmet.
KUALA TERENGGANU: An employee at a boutique at the Sultan Mahmud Airport here was fined RM50 by the Magistrate’s Court here for calling a policeman stupid.

Magistrate Noor Adila Abd Latif handed down the sentence after Nur Syafa Watiha Wahab, 19, from Kampung Telaga Batin, Seberang Takir, pleaded guilty to using the insulting word at the policeman.

Nur Syafa Watiha, was charged with uttering the words, “polis bodoh” (stupid policeman), at  Constable Mohd Hafifi Ali, from the Criminal Prevention branch at the Gong Badak police station, when the former, who was riding a motorcycle, was stopped for not wearing a crash helmet.

She was charged with committing the offence at about 1pm on May 28 this year in the airport compound.
The offence, under Section 14 0f the Minor Offences Act, is liable to a fine not exceeding RM100.
In mitigation, lawyer Hayyatuddin Muhammad, who represented Nur Syafa Watiha, said it was her first offence and that the policeman was not in police uniform.

Prosecuting Officer Inspector V Ravi prosecuted.

- Bernama

Something that never happened and never can happen

This article is an imaginary situation. This incident never happened and never can happen in a country like Malaysia. Nevertheless, let us break away from the reality of our miserable lives and allow our imagination to run wild just for once and fantasize just like in a Hollywood movie.

Raja Petra Kamarudin
Your Honour, Article 5(3) of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia says: Where a person is arrested he shall be informed as soon as may be of the grounds of his arrest and shall be allowed to consult and be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice.
My client may be regarded as a Muslim, Your Honour, and I stress the word ‘regarded’, as we shall come to that again later, and I am a self-professed atheist, but as Your Honour can clearly see, the Constitution stipulates that my client is allowed to be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice.
Your Honour can’t forbid me from representing my client on the basis of my religion, or in this case my rejection of religion. To do so would be a violation of the Constitution and therefore a breach of my client’s fundamental liberties and civil rights.
This court cannot impose any other laws and rules on my client, religious or otherwise, as Article 4(1) of the Constitution says: This Constitution is the supreme law of the Federation and any law passed after Merdeka Day which is inconsistent with this Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.
This means, Your Honour, the Constitution reigns supreme and overrides all other laws, especially if those laws were passed after 31st August 1957 and are opposed to and inconsistent with the Constitution.
In this case, Your Honour, this court cannot forbid me from acting for my client based on my religion or non-religion as the Constitution says that my client can be defended by a legal practitioner of his choice and there is no stipulation in the Constitution as to the religion of that practitioner.
Your Honour, Article 5(1) of the Constitution says: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty save in accordance with law.
This means, Your Honour, the proper laws must be applied and these laws must be consistent with and in compliance to the Constitution and any laws passed after 31st August 1957 that are in violation of the Constitution are void.
In other words, Your Honour, this court cannot move the goalposts, so to speak.
Your Honour, Article 6(1) of the Constitution says: No person shall be held in slavery.
Your Honour, we shall be calling expert witnesses who will testify that religion is a form of slavery and therefore to impose religion on my client is to subject my client to slavery.
Our expert witnesses are renowned psychologists with no less than 40 years experience and who have lectured and written numerous books on the matter. They have also conducted intensive studies to determine that since time immemorial the ruling elite has been using religion to control and imprison the minds of the populace and subject them to mental slavery, which is more effective and dangerous than physical slavery.
Your Honour, Article 8(1) of the Constitution says: All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.
Now, my client is being denied this right, Your Honour. He is being brought before this court because he is regarded as a Muslim and has openly professed that he is an atheist who does not believe in the existence of God. However, if he were not regarded as a Muslim he would not have been subjected to this trial.
This means, Your Honour, my client is being prosecuted because of his faith, or in this case his rejection of faith, which also means he is not being treated equal before the law or being given equal protection of the law.
Would someone who is not regarded as a Muslim be subjected to what my client is being subjected to? Would a non-Muslim who rejects his faith be here today? The answer, Your Honour, is no! So this is a violation of Article 8(1) of the Constitution.
If Your Honour were to look at Article 8(2) of the Constitution, it says: Except as expressly authorized by this Constitution, there shall be no discrimination against citizens on the ground only of religion, race, descent or place of birth in any law relating to the acquisition, holding or disposition of property or the establishing or carrying on of any trade, business, profession, vocation or employment.
Your Honour, my client is being discriminated against because of his religion, or rejection of it, and this, again, is a violation of the Constitution.
Your Honour, Article 11(1) of the Constitution says: Every person has the right to profess and practice his religion and, subject to Clause (4), to propagate it.
This means, Your Honour, this court cannot take away the right of my client to believe in whatever he wants to believe in or not believe in whatever he chooses to not believe.
This court may argue that Article 11(4) of the Constitution overrides Article 11(1). Article 11(4) says: State law and in respect of the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Labuan, federal law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.
This Article merely talks about propagation, not belief. My client is not propagating anything, especially to persons professing the religion of Islam.
Now, Your Honour, let us go to the laws of Islam, in this case the Quran, the only true guidance for those who profess the religion of Islam.
Chapter 2, verse 256 of the Quran says: Let there be no compulsion in religion.
Your Honour, the Quranic passage, la ikraha fi d-dini, or there is no compulsion in religion, is generally understood to mean that no one should use compulsion against another in matters of faith.
As it is understood here, Your Honour, this statement represents a principle of religious tolerance.
Historically, the People of the Book, that is, the members of the older religions, particularly the Jews and the Christians, were in principle never compelled to accept Islam. They were obliged, while residing in any territory under Islamic domination, only to recognise the supremacy of Muslims and, at the same time, as an external indication of this recognition, to pay a separate tax.
In all other matters they could maintain their inherited beliefs and perform their practices as usual. They were even allowed to establish their own internal administration.
The situation, however, was different for members of the pre-Islamic pagan Arab society. After Islam became established and had extended its power over the whole of Arabia, the pagan Arabs were forcefully compelled to accept Islam. To state it more accurately, they had to choose either to accept Islam or face death in battle against the Muslims.
This regulation was later sanctioned in Islamic law that came long after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.
However, Your Honour, all this stands in open contradiction to the meaning of the Quranic statement: la ikraha fi d-dini. The non-Muslims at that time were clearly compelled to accept Islam unless they preferred to die.
In view of these circumstances we must return to the real meaning of la ikraha fi d-dini. And this, Your Honour, becomes clearer in chapter 10, verse 100 of the Quran, which says: And if thy Lord willed, all who are in the earth would believe together. Wouldst thou compel men until they are believers?
In other words, Your Honour, the Quran says that God could have made all people of the same faith had He wanted to but He purposely did not. And the Quran questions us: Wouldst thou compel men until they are believers?
That means the Quran is asking us whether we are trying to do what God Himself does not do.
Your Honour, in the contemporary world of Islam, the acknowledgement of religious tolerance is well established. And it is made clearer in the Quranic statement: la ikraha fi d-dini.
Your Honour, we must always keep in mind that in many ways the circumstances governing early Islam differed from those of today and that the presuppositions for a general and complete religious tolerance were not given at that time.
And that brings us to my client’s case, Your Honour. Is this court empowered to try my client and impose upon him not only what the Constitution forbids but what the Quran also clearly does not propagate or allow?
Is this court playing God and doing the job of God when the Quran clearly states that God could have made everyone of the same faith if He had wanted to but intentionally did not?
This, Your Honour, will be what the Defence will be raising if this court persists in continuing with this trial and refuses to withdraw the charge of apostasy against my client.

Penang Hill Railway kaput ... again

Here we go again. Says a lot about the RM73m ‘upgrading’ work, doesn’t it?
At 11.45am today, Penang Hill Corporation discovered a failure of an electronic component in the power supply module in one of the coaches. Three Engineers from Garaventa AG Switzerland have been here to help PHC maintain the coaches for the past couple of weeks are now attending to the problem.
The Engineers are working hard to get the coach running by tomorrow.
Dato’ Lee Kah Choon

Democracy in Danger: HAF denounces Indian Government's violent expulsion of Baba Ramdev and peaceful protesters, D.C. (June 6, 2011) - The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) strongly denounced Saturday night’s brutal police attack in New Delhi on a peaceful gathering of fifty thousand people led by the world renowned yoga guru Baba Ramdev. Shortly after midnight, on the orders of India’s ruling Congress Party led UPA government, police officers used batons and tear gas on the unarmed crowd, including women and children, which had gathered in a yoga-inspired anti-corruption protest to demand that the Government of India account for billions of dollars in “black” money. “Black” money, gained through corruption schemes, is commonly believed to be hidden overseas by many politicians and businesses.
Scores of Hindu Americans were also participating in symbolic fasts this week to support Baba Ramdev’s call for a “satyagraha” against corruption, echoing Mahatma Gandhi’s own method of peaceful, civil disobedience.
"The first and foremost responsibility of any functioning democracy is to protect the civil rights of its citizens, even when they speak against the sitting government,” said Rishi Bhutada, a member of the HAF Executive Council. “When a government acts contrary to that principle, it risks ruling by tyranny, as seen in the actions of a government that would attack one of India’s respected Hindu religious leaders and his unarmed supporters.”
The ruling Congress Party of India recently became the subject of investigation after under the table sales of India’s 2G mobile network connections led to the loss of almost $40 billion in revenue for the central government. Rampant bribery and embezzlement during the lead up to the XIX Commonwealth Games 2010 also made international headlines, and a prominent Congress Party leader was arrested in connection earlier this month. Most political observers hold the current Manmohan Singh government culpable for gross negligence, while some have claimed that the practice of storing laundered wealth overseas runs right up to the doors of the Congress Party headquarters, and its leader, Sonia Gandhi. Baba Ramdev had called for a hunger-strike and the current protest, reacting to this unprecedented string of high-profile scandals that involved high-level politicians within the UPA government.
"The gratuitous, middle-of-the-night attack on Baba Ramdev and tens of thousands of peaceful supporters was revolting to witness, and clearly an attempt to detract attention from the sitting government’s unwillingness to curb corruption within its ranks,” said Jay Kansara, HAF’s Washington, D.C. based Assistant Director. “HAF has called attention to similarly brutal attacks on peacefully gathering Hindus in Malaysia before, and is closely monitoring persecution of Hindus in Pakistan and Bangladesh--it is an utter shock to see the Congress-UPA combine emulate such tactics.”
A well respected spiritual leader both in and outside of India, Baba Ramdev has traveled many times to the United States, delivering discourses on yoga and holistic lifestyles attended by thousands. In 2009, he laid the foundation to jointly explore with MD Anderson Cancer Institute potential naturopathic treatments for cancer. Though his message is apolitical, he began speaking out forcefully against corruption five years ago and rose to prominence as a critic of the sitting government, especially since the recent scandals.
"Baba Ramdev touches the lives of millions of people everyday through his message of peace, wellness, and enlightenment, and his non-violent movement to end corruption resonated with the ideals of a healthy democracy,” added Bhutada. “Just this past March, HAF leaders were testifying in support of India’s human rights record and history of democratic dissent in front of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. It is a sad irony that Saturday’s attack is contrary to our words in India’s support, and we call upon the UPA government to reaffirm its commitment to religious pluralism and democracy in light of this week’s events.”

History education in M’sia: Deep roots of contestation

history-misBy  Dr Lim Teck Ghee

Most Malaysians – including members of the specially appointed government committee to review the history curriculum – may not be aware of the deep roots of the current controversy on the narrow religious and ethno-nationalistic approach that has come to dominate history education in the country.  The following essay provides information on two studies that have examined the roots of the contestation on history education, especially with regard to the history curriculum developed for schools and the assigned textbooks. 1

Santhiram’s work: Textbooks that divide 

The earliest academic study on the subject was undertaken by Dr R. Santhiram.  The study published in 1997 is a pioneering attempt at examining the extent to which the educational system – as exemplified in the curriculum and textbooks – was reflective of a multiracial and multicultural society. 2 Focusing on selected lower secondary school textbooks and using quantitative content analysis and qualitative strategies, the paper’s general conclusion was that while some textbooks provided curriculum content appropriate for a multicultural society, others had concentrated heavily on majority race identity. 
Santhiram’s study covered four subject areas – English Language, Bahasa Malaysia, Moral Education and History – and his findings on all of them are useful. However, his conclusions on the history component are of special interest because of their relevance to the situation today.  This is what he had to write about the assigned textbook, KBSM Sejarah Tingkatan 2, authored by Zainal Abidin Abdul Wahid, Khoo Kay Kim, Muhammad Yusof Ibrahim and D.S. Ranjit Singh (Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, 1989).
Santhiram noted:

To be sure, the focus here is on Malaysian national history. The main players on the political scene are Malay rulers and the indigenous people and the history focuses on their responses to western incursions and domination. As such, a major part of the History textbook highlights these matters. The text deals mainly with political issues and to a certain extent provoke pupils to think about the weaknesses of the Malay states that led to British intervention. 

Topics on economic development, growth of towns, development of infrastructure and development of education tend to give an overview of historical continuity and progress with a very strong Malay bias. However, it is important to mention here that evidence of stereotyping mentioned in some earlier works on the analysis of textbook material seem to have been corrected in this book (Mukherjee et al., 1984). The contention then was that the history textbooks as a whole focused primarily on one ethnic group – the Malays – at the expense of other ethnic groups in Sabah and Sarawak. Superficial coverage was given to the historical background and sociocultural aspects of non-indigenous groups. Instances of stereotyping of the races and misleading statements on non-indigenous ethnic groups were recorded in that research. These and other shortcomings were cited as a hindrance to the promotion of national unity (pp.16-32).

In relation to the crucial educational objective as defined by the Ministry of Education of inculcating and nurturing national consciousness through fostering common ideals, values, aspirations and loyalties in order to mould national unity and national identity in a multi-ethnic society, Santhiram expressed disappointment with the book’s contents. According to him:

In this book, topics that give an understanding of the origins of the multiracial society and their contributions are dealt with very peripherally, though Chinese involvement in tin disputes is dealt with within the context of internecine disputes of the Malay nobility.

Circumstances of Chinese and Indian migration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are not adequately explained. The only reference to Indian involvement in the rubber industry is a three-sentence acknowledgement which goes like this: "European planters preferred to use Indian labour" (p.127) and "Indian labour was brought in to work in rubber estates. Many Indians settled in this country in the 1910s and 1920s" (p.128). There is a page devoted to the development of Tamil schools which reinforces the fact that these schools are for the poor Indians (p.173) and a three-paragraph reference to Indian political activities (p.210).

In his conclusion on the history curriculum and textbook, Santhiram had this to say
Recognition of the evolution of the plural society and the contribution of non-indigenous communities in Malaysia has to be reexamined with a view to providing a balanced account… . One cannot wish away the realities of the past by ignoring them. Surely, Malay nationalistic fervour has to be highlighted to instill a sense of belonging to the nation. But a sense of belonging has to be promoted among all ethnic groups. 

He further noted:
The non-Malays have come to play an important role in Malaysian affairs in the past 100 years. Their contribution has to be acknowledged and highlighted, instead of making only footnote references to their presence. It has to be stressed that the Chinese and Indians are not detachable appendages but integral constituents of the Malaysian society. How can a people develop a sense of common historical experience and a sense of belonging to the nation if they feel alienated and marginalised and no recognition is made to their participation in the life of the country?

Cheah’s work: Ethno-nationalist victory in rewriting history 

Santhiram’s study approached the subject of the national curriculum and textbooks from the discipline of education.  Another scholar, Cheah Boon Kheng, approached the subject from the discipline of history.

Writing in the American Asian Review in 2003 5 , Cheah noted that “History, ethnicity and nation-building are not only related issues, but also controversial and sensitive ones in the politics of Malaysia’s multi-ethnic society.” In his study, unlike Santhiram who used the technique of content analysis of textbooks to arrive at his findings, Cheah relied on a selection of primary and secondary materials to arrive at his findings and conclusions.  He also delved further into the country’s political history to trace the developments that have influenced history writing.

According to Cheah, government policy aimed at making Malay history as the basis of national history and Malay culture as the basis of national culture followed the decisions adopted by several Malay groups at a National Culture Congress in 1971. Another key milestone took place in 1987 when the then Minister for Education, Anwar Ibrahim, instructed that the school history curriculum be revised to make it explicitly clear that the present day Malay political primacy was based on Malay history and on the premise that Malays were “the original inhabitants” and that their position could not be challenged.

Cheah also noted that in spite of Malay political dominance, other indigenous ethnic groups have tried to ensure that their communities’ own historical roles were not obliterated. His study provides examples of attempts during the past 40 years by various individuals and groups to contest the Malay-centric and politically biased history.  These attempts included that of the country’s founding father and first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman who complained that a book used as a text book for the schools “was obviously an attempt to put party politics above the historical facts” and “did not give proper emphasis to the important incidents and events [including his own role] which led to independence.” 6 According to Cheah, in the foreword to the Tunku’s own memoirs, Looking Back , the father of the country’s independence wrote:

One academic writer did write a book in Malay on Malaysia’s Independence, a work which was actually distributed to schools for our boys and girls to read, but the author had completely omitted to associate me with events leading to Independence.”

Other attempts at contestation of the official version of the country’s history emerging from Malay ethno-nationalist pressure included complaints by Sabah and Sarawak representatives at a national curriculum committee meeting in 1987 that Malaysian history textbooks tended to be too peninsula-biased” and that “to foster national integration, West Malaysians should also learn the histories of Sarawak and Sabah.”

More prolonged resistance to the official rewriting of Malaysia’s history, according to Cheah, has come from the Chinese community.  This resistance – which continues in a weakened form today - has been waged especially in response to attempts by Malay politicians and authorities to deny the crucial role of Kapitan Yap Ah Loy as Kuala Lumpur’s leading founder.  Other topics of contestation include key political events such as the constitutional provisions for Malays and non-Malays prior to independence in 1957 and the portrayal of the Japanese occupation period in Malaysian history.

With reference to the latter topic, Cheah has argued that the case of Malaysian textbooks that relate to Malaysia’s official memory of the Second World War “is somewhat similar to the Japanese government’s amnesia about Japan’s wartime atrocities during the Second World War.” In his view, the latest Malaysian history textbook (1992) reflects the government’s stand on the Japanese occupation of the country.  It is tied up with Malaysia’s internal and international politics. Malay political primacy requires an agenda to highlight Malay wartime roles and experiences over that of other communities, and to accord recognition to Japan’s wartime support of Malay nationalist aspirations.

The task ahead in reviewing ‘official’ history 

The guidance from Santhiram’s and Cheah’s work – though written some years ago – are important to bear in mind in relation to the current controversy over the history curriculum and textbooks as well as the parallel controversy over Interlok, the assigned exam text for the literature component in the Bahasa Melayu compulsory pass subject.

Santhiram is of the view that in a textbook-driven curriculum environment like Malaysia’s, it is imperative that clear guidelines be given to textbook writers to incorporate elements of material that will help foster images and forms that will shape experiences positively in terms of national unity goals. Careful thought has to be given to the area of textbook writing so that the content does not work against nationally declared goals and aspirations. But guidelines are not enough especially if the interpreters and implementers of the guidelines are drawn from one racial group and when representatives from other racial groups are added on, their roles are mainly to provide the fig leaf of legitimacy and cover up for biased and ethno-centric products.

Cheah’s conclusion was blunter and appears – for now – to be prophetic in discerning future developments. He noted that “the struggle for equal historical space and place by ethnic minorities in Malaysia has been argued on the basis of multiculturalism, i.e., the idea that different, disadvantaged minorities and cultural groups in society have equally valid perspectives on historical truth.”

Whilst recognizing that it is necessary “to empower these groups in the face of the dominant concept of historical truth held by the ruling ethnic group”, he realistically noted that “if the grounds used to prefer one vision or one interpretation of the past over another are political and if the persuasiveness of a historical interpretation is simply a matter of the power of its advocates within society and within the historical profession, then it does not follow at all that history is necessarily a democratic, fair or tolerant enterprise.”

Reflecting his pessimism, Cheah concluded that “[t]he controversies over Malaysian history textbooks have focused largely over the issue of national history textbooks being easily indoctrinated or manipulated by the ruling ethnic group, or by state-commissioned historians for mainly political interests – usually in the interests of ethno-nationalism, in favour of the majority ethnic group, the Malays, over the others.”

It is evident that the struggle for a democratic, fair and representative history in Malaysia will be a long and protracted one with the odds stacked in favour of the ruling establishment and their well rewarded apologists.

Now that another opportunity has emerged in the recent decision to review the history curriculum, it is imperative that Malaysians from all communities rouse themselves from their stupor and come together to correct past wrongs. Working to ensure that the full complexity and richness of our history – rather than a caricature of our past – is reflected in the curriculum and textbooks has to be a collective and multiracial responsibility if it is to have any hope of success.

1 The book, Glimpses of Malaysian history, was a collection of essays by Malaysian historians and was edited by Zainal Abidin bin Wahid and published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.
2 See R. Santhiram, “Curriculum Materials for National Integration in Malaysia – Match or Mismatch”, Asia Pacific Journal of Education Volume 17, Issue 2, 1997, pp.7-18
3 For his analysis, Santhiram posed two questions to provide a general direction for analysing the curriculum materials. They were as follows: 1) To what extent do these textbooks help promote the development of national unity among the various races with specific reference to the Indians? 2) To what extent do these textbooks provide suitable role models for the minority ethnic groups, especially the Indians, to emulate?
Based on these two questions, the analysis concentrated on visual presentation, focus and themes in the stories and passages and the depth of treatment given to racial, cultural and religious diversity. Conspicuous stereotyping and omissions which would reinforce the identification of race with occupations and promote prejudice were also noted and assessment was also made of positive values and attitudes that were inculcated.
4 All four authors involved in writing this book came from academia with the first two being professors of History at Malaysian universities, and the other two, lecturers in local universities.
5 Cheah Boon Kheng, “Ethnicity, Politics and History Textbook Controversies in Malaysia”, Vol. XXI, No.4, Winter, 2003, pp.229-52.