Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Muka tebal
Ruth Padel, the first woman to become Oxford Professor of Poetry, resigned after it emerged that she may have played a role in the smear campaign that forced her rival, Derek Walcott, to withdraw from contention for the post. Walcott, who had been the odds-on favourite to win, pulled out after over 100 anonymous letters were sent to other Oxford academics describing allegations of sexual harassment made against him in 1982.

In refuting claims that she had taken part in any negative campaigning, Padel said, '
I genuinely believe that I did nothing intentional that led to Derek Walcott's withdrawal from the election. I wish he had not pulled out. I did not engage in a smear campaign against him, but, as a result of student concern, I naively—and with hindsight unwisely—passed on to two journalists, whom I believed to be covering the whole election responsibly, information that was already in the public domain.' Wow. If handing over unsavoury information about an opponent's past to the press is not an attempt at a smear, I do not know what is. Now, if only Malaysian politicians would learn to lie with such aplomb (not to mention use parenthetical statements meant to obfuscate)...

posted by Hong at 4:54 pm | Permalink | 1 comments
Saturday, May 23, 2009

Finally, naked admission of the nature of the state.
No nonsense about the social contract here. President Obama basically parrots Weber when he says that 'what essentially sets a nation-state apart [is] a monopoly on violence'. Or, as Albert Jay Nock put it more critically in his description of the state:
It is not based on the idea of natural rights, but on the idea that the individual has no rights except those that the State may provisionally grant him. It has always made justice costly and difficult of access, and has invariably held itself above justice and common morality whenever it could advantage itself by so doing.

So far from encouraging a wholesome development of social power, it has invariably, as Madison said, turned every contingency into a resource for depleting social power and enhancing State power. As Dr Sigmund Freud has observed, it can not even be said that the State has ever shown any disposition to suppress crime, but only to safeguard its own monopoly of crime ... Taking the State wherever found, striking into its history at any point, one sees no way to differentiate the activities of its founders, administrators and beneficiaries from those of a professional-criminal class.

posted by Hong at 7:28 pm | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Mahatma Zambry
Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir recently compared his 'struggle' for the post of Chief Executive of Perak to that of Mandela and Gandhi in a blog post (and quoted Martin Luther King, Jr to boot). Wow. Let us see if this comparison pans out:

The main difference between Mandela or Gandhi and Zambry, however, not that one would expect him to understand, is moral rectitude. They did what they did because they knew it was the right thing to do, which gave them succour in their fight, against tremendous odds, for the just dispensation of civil liberties and freedom. Zambry, on the other hand, aims only as high as personal emolument, and is willing to subvert the democratic process and our constitutional rights (not to mention sully the names and cheapen the sacrifices of two freedom fighting heavyweights by this very comparison) to achieve his goal. Two fingers in the air to you, sir.

posted by Hong at 10:38 am | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH) spokesperson, Wong Chin Huat, made the news recently after he was remanded for three days by the police under the Sedition Act for articles he had published in response to the ongoing Perak constitutional crisis. (The fact that BERSIH urged members of the public to wear black to mourn the death of democracy in Perak in the run up to the recent state assembly meeting probably did not endear him to the administration either.)

For the most part, his writings (both on his blog and at The Nut Graph, where he has a column) come down strongly on the side of increased democratisation and government accountability—he even wrote an article drawing parallels between the Malaysian government and the mafia, although he did not take the idea as far as Lysander Spooner did. There was, however, this one strangely incongruous piece in which he defends the need for the ISA. Since I cannot abide by any defence of such an oppressive act—particularly as it comes across as compromissary, and not least because it stands in stark contrast to the rest of his decent work—what follows will serve as my objections to his argument.

I shall start with the minor ones. Firstly, Wong assigns causality where none exists. He claims that because BN gained a majority of the votes in the last general election, these BN-voting people must also support the continued use of the ISA. This is disingenuous at best. People do not vote for BN only because they desire the propagation of the ISA nor will they vote against them purely for that reason. Voter behaviour is more complex than that and, in this case, those voting for the incumbent administration are more likely doing so due to BN's perceived competence, or at least experience, in running the country and the economy, regardless of whether or not this is actually the case. (One might argue that this positive view of the BN administration, as held by a sizeable proportion of Malaysians, is a function of our lack of free press—ultimately bolstered by the Printing Presses and Publications Act as well as the excessive use of the Sedition Act and the ISA, and compounded by our compromised judiciary—whose primary purpose is to inform the voting public, to the best of their ability, as to the state of affairs in the country, including, but not limited to, instances of ineptitude and perfidy involving elected officials. No wonder Reporters Sans Frontières gave Malaysia a rating of 39.50 for the year of 2008.) And all this assuming elections are free and fair, which Wong cannot possibly believe given the demands of the organization he represents.

Secondly, he suggests that the role of government is to 'coerce people to support it' through instruments of 'strong government' like the ISA. Using the spectre of imprisonment for an indefinite period of time without trial in order to coerce the people to toe the government line? We will force you to be free, indeed (with apologies to Rousseau and Adam Curtis). Sounds positively Soviet.

Lastly, and most importantly, if one were to follow the logic in the article then any majority decision would be the 'right' decision, regardless of the presence of a dissenting minority or valid ethical objections. The fact of the matter is, one of the key functions of democracy in a modern society is to manage the inherent conflict between the majority, represented by parliamentary majority, and the minority, which range from ethnic, economic and political minority groups all the way down to the smallest unit, the individual—precisely because majority decisions are not always in the interest of the individual and his rights. John Stuart Mill put it across best in his treatise, On Liberty: 'No one, indeed, acknowledges to himself that his standard of judgment is his own liking; but an opinion on a point of conduct, not supported by reasons, can only count as one person's preference; and if the reasons, when given, are a mere appeal to a similar preference felt by other people, it is still only many people's liking instead of one'. In other words, a person's preference is still just a preference, and just because it is supported by the majority of the people does not necessarily make it right, a notion echoed in Alexander Hamilton's Federalist no 10 nearly 70 years earlier.

Mill continues on the selfish factors that influence preference: 'Men's opinions, accordingly, on what is laudable or blamable, are affected by all the multifarious causes which influence their wishes in regard to the conduct of others, and which are as numerous as those which determine their wishes on any other subject. Sometimes their reason—at other times their prejudices or superstitions: often their social affections, not seldom their antisocial ones, their envy or jealousy, their arrogance or contemptuousness: but most commonly, their desires or fears for themselves—their legitimate or illegitimate self-interest.' No doubt Mill was referring more to the propensity for government to intervene in personal matters, and even gave the proviso that power may be exercised over the individual to prevent harm to others, but as harm in this case represents nothing less than the curtailment of other people's civil liberties, the argument is clear: the individual's self-evident right to freedom ought not be impeded by the demands of popular sentiment which, even in its multitude, may not constitute correctness or even appropriateness, driven as it is by collective self-interest.

So good on Wong for his agitation against the BN takeover of Perak state government, boo for writing a patronising and paternalistic article in support of a draconian act.

posted by Hong at 2:13 am | Permalink | 0 comments
Saturday, May 09, 2009

(Original image courtesy of Sinar Harian.)


Update, 11th May 2009:
At least the High Court had the decency to uphold the precedent set by Stephen Kalong Ningkan vs Tun Abang Haji Openg and Tawi Sli in declaring Pakatan Rakyat's Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin as the rightful Chief Executive of Perak. It remains to be seen, however, whether or not Nizar will be successful in obtaining the Sultan of Perak's consent to dissolve the state legislative assembly and force fresh elections, or if BN's Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir will succeed in his appeal.

Update, 12th May 2009:
Malik Imtiaz Sarwar wrote a post on the verdict, set within a broader examination of why the Malaysian judiciary is held in such disesteem.

Update, 22nd May 2009:
The Court of Appeal judges have unanimously overturned the decision of High Court judge Dato' Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahim (whose 78-page judgement can be found here) and declared Zambry the rightful Chief Executive. What bollocks.

posted by Hong at 2:30 pm | Permalink | 0 comments
Thursday, May 07, 2009
Red star

(Image taken from Wikimedia Commons.)

The decision of the Federal Court to uphold the ruling barring Chin Peng from entering the country is disappointing. No doubt there are valid reasons why some continue to despise him—he was ultimately responsible for attacks carried out by the Malayan Communist Party (such as the Bukit Kepong Incident), not to mention bloody purges within his own party. He remains, nonetheless, an integral part of the Malaysian story whom we cannot and should not attempt to bury in the backwater of history along with his contributions.

Not only was he instrumental in leading the (admittedly, low-level) Malayan Peoples' Anti-Japanese Army resistance against the Japanese occupation of Malaya during World War II, but played an important role, as yet unrecognised in state-sanctioned accounts, in the fight for independence from the British during the post-war period. As summarised by the BBC's Jonathan Kent, the anti-imperialist Malayan National Liberation Army, helmed by Chin Peng, '[focused] British minds on a political settlement' in the years leading up to independence and, for better or worse, gave greater impetus to the three Alliance parties—UMNO, MCA and MIC—to form a cohesive front. Sir Robert Thompson, who served as Permanent Secretary of Defence for Malaya in the 1950s under British High Commissioner, Sir Gerald Templer, himself admitted that Chin Peng accelerated Malaysian independence by 10 to 15 years, most likely because the prosecution of the Malayan Emergency was a costly affair for Britain. (All in all, the British Treasury spent £520 million, or £10 billion in today's terms, trying to hunt down Chin Peng and his 5,000-strong band of guerillas.)

It is a shame then that the man who: was able to hold out in the jungles for 12 years against the combined might of 50,000 British and Commonwealth troops, in what has been retroactively dubbed as 'Britain's Vietnam'; took part in the 1945 Victory Parade in London, having been awarded the OBE (later withdrawn in 1948) for his part in combating the Japanese; fought for an egalitarian and truly multi-ethnic, albeit communist, vision of society; has had his appeal quashed on the ridiculous pretext that he has no documentation to prove he is a citizen of Malaysia.

It is not that we should forgive him his shortcomings or, to the other extreme, create a hagiography of him—we have too much of that sort of thing already—but merely acknowledge his achievements within the context of the independence movement in a measured way. Without this, history will be incomplete and our understanding of the complex circumstances that gave birth to the nation curtailed. Not only will we have opened ourselves to more politically motivated revisionism then through our acquiescence, but ultimately lose out on an alternate ideal for Malaysian society that may point the way forward to a better future.


Update, 3rd June 2009:
Well, how about that... Turns out Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman and Tun Ghafar Baba (that is one former Prime Minister and two former Deputy Prime Ministers) have all acknowledged the role of the communists in the fight for independence.

posted by Hong at 6:59 pm | Permalink | 0 comments
It's in the name

Recently UMNO Youth head, Khairy Jamaluddin, announced the creation of 28 bureaus, secretariats and units tasked with 'attracting youths from from all races to support the party'. This move was spun as an attempt by the youth wing to 'widen its struggle for the benefit of all Malaysians'. This sentiment would be admirable if but for the inconvenient fact that UMNO was founded with the explicit purpose of defending Malay rights. (Whether or not the party actually does this is another matter; the rhetoric is clear enough.) The whole notion is akin to the British National Party throwing an injera party to shore up immigrant Ethiopian support for its anti-immigration policies.

On a more basic level, however, even after discounting the fundamental conflict of interest UMNO Youth faces in trying to fight the good fight for all Malaysians, there is the question of how a party based along ethnic lines would accommodate non-Malay supporters within its structure. Clearly, they cannot be members, as determined by clause 4.2 of the UMNO constitution (barring an incredibly improbable amendment to said constitution and a total revamp of the political landscape which has persisted in Malaysia since independence) and would therefore not have any voting rights when it came to internal matters. As such, within this arrangement minority hangers-on would bear the full cost of their own support—in terms of time, effort and money—without being able to have a say in how
and to what end this support is being used.

It is evident then that the whole endeavour is an exploitative one which seeks to bring gains to UMNO (although one wonders who would be so naïve as to fall for such a naked ploy) without any compromise, sacrifice or even reciprocity on their part, all at the expense of individual members from minority communities. Then again, perhaps it should not come as a surprise given the frequency with which UMNO Youth publicly expresses the rentier mentality it inherited from its parent party.

And all this after a three-day brainstorming camp. Damp fizzle is more like.

NB: A quick look at the
UMNO constitution lays to rest any notion of inclusivity. Aside from non-Malays and non-bumiputera, the party is not open to: republicans, anti-monarchists or anarchists (clause 3.2); non-Muslims, agnostics or atheists (clause 3.3); those who question the use of the Malay language as the official language of the federation or seek to elevate other languages to that position (clause 3.5); those who disagree with the entire concept of Malay 'special rights' (clause 3.6). And no communists too, because that ideology is verboten in Malaysia.


Update, 7th May 2009:
It turns out PAS has a similar setup in the form of the PAS Non-Muslim Supporters Club, which the party's top leadership has nominally agreed to elevate to an official dewan, or wing. Of course, any shift by the party from a strictly Muslim-only organization to one predicated on an Islamic moral framework, and thus open to Malaysians of all creeds, will be slow in coming but at least there is a precedent in the Christian democrats of Europe and Latin America. In any case, it is a damn sight closer to becoming a multi-ethnic party than UMNO will ever be.

Update, 30th May 2009:
PAS spiritual leader, Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, has reiterated the willingness of the party's top leadership to absorb the PAS Non-Muslim Supporters Club, and will take under advisement recommendations regarding changes to the party's constitution from a purpose-formed technical committee before tabling the motion to the central committee.

posted by Hong at 12:05 am | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Keiser is king

A collection of videos on topics pertaining mainly to the economy made for Al Jazeera English's People & Power series by Max Keiser, broadcaster, 'financial activist' (as expressed through his Karmabanque initiative, which some pundits have dubbed 'anti-capitalist terrorism'), and the man who successfully predicted the collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, not to mention the meltdown of Iceland's economy.

posted by Hong at 7:09 am | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, May 05, 2009
Lingua fracas
In response to the pointless debate on whether or not to teach Maths and Science in English in Malaysian schools that just keeps cropping up (examples here, here and here), I sent another letter to The Star that subsequently went unpublished:
The current slew of letters weighing in on the debate regarding the use English as a medium of instruction for Maths and Science all miss the point slightly. Rather than harp on such superficial issues it seems to me that it would be more salient to discuss whether or not our students are being taught to think critically. The purpose of education is to instill the ability to reason from first principles, not to 'absorb knowledge quickly', whatever the language. In other words, it does not matter so much the language one thinks in as does the fact that one can think.

Of course, this does not mean that we should forego obtaining a reasonable level of proficiency in English. It is the world's lingua franca, after all. (In any case, language is not a zero-sum game in which competence in one automatically leads to ineptness in another. It does us no harm to learn the language that will allow us to communicate with the greatest number of people.) Know, however, that that is all it is—a method of communication—and that there is nothing intrinsically better or worse about English other than its widespread use.

In the end, it matters more what is being said than how it is being said. It is meaningless to argue about what is, in essence, a question of logistics when we may very well possess no content to begin with. What we ought to be more worried about is the debilitating emphasis in our education system on rote memorization at the expense of curiosity and independent thinking. This, far more than which language we choose to teach two subjects in, will have bearing on the future prospects of the nation.

Update, 7th May 2009:
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, in his capacity as Education Minister, has stated that he is 'willing to listen to more views and accept memoranda on the issue before deciding whether the subjects should be taught in English or revert to Bahasa Malaysia', despite earlier assurances by his predecessor that such a decision would be made by mid-April of this year. Looks like all involved are set to wrangle over inconsequential matters for more months to come.

posted by Hong at 9:32 pm | Permalink | 0 comments