Friday, June 26, 2009
A third article of mine is up online now at The Nut Graph as the lead story, whatever that implies. Originally entitled, 'Domestic Discord', the piece aims to look at the legal responsibilities we have towards domestic helpers and how our worries about crime—home invasion, specifically—have been conflated with xenophobic racism to create a reactionary resistance to the question of mandatory leave for maids. It does not cover all objections to the new legislation, most of which I think are irrational anyway, but hopefully it will get people to stop mixing issues and forming half-baked conclusions based on muddled thinking.

On a related note, do watch the episode of 101 East entitled 'Citizen Army' (parts one and two) for a report on the surprisingly unaccountable Ikatan Relawan Rakyat Malaysia, or RELA Corps, and their unsupervised activities against migrant workers.


Update, 26th June 2009:
Another 101 East episode (
parts one and two), this time on Asian women working abroad as domestic helpers and the problems they face.

Also, P Gunasegaran of The Star wrote a good article on the maids' mandatory leave legislation that basically echoes the points I made in my piece for The Nut Graph but delves more into the operational aspects of the entire domestic helper industry.

posted by Hong at 7:06 am | Permalink | 0 comments
Awaaz bachaye zindagi
I wrote some draft entries about Mumbai while working in the city which, for some reason or other, I did not post. I figured that I should so here is the first of what will hopefully be a short series on Sapno ka Shahar, the City of Dreams:
Mumbai vehicles operate by sound. Like bats they flit through the city navigating aurally, resorting to eyes only to confirm what the mind already knows is there.

Like bats, too, motorised
Bambaiyyas frequently stun unwary creatures that cross their path by emitting a sustained, high-pitched burst from their horns. Nary a day goes by that a careless walker is not chastised in such manner, accompanied invariably by additional vocalizations ('Bhenchod, marneka hai kya?', 'Jaldi upar jana hai kya, salaa?').

Sound is also used in communication between cars, with various types of honking representing different signals—
beep ('I'm here'), honk honk ('You should drive faster'), hooooonk ('Surely we can create one more lane next to you'), HOOOOONK ('The light doesn’t look that red') and so on—although they frequently coalesce into a general purpose, all-weather, plain honk.

In fact, there is no reason to believe that a local would not be able to drive through the city blindfolded and not hit anything, guided only by the toots emitted by other drivers and gauging distances with his own. Should he, by some unlucky chance, hit another vehicle it would probably be because the other driver was miserly with his honking and did not make his presence known well enough. And were he to hit a pedestrian, it would likewise be the fault of the latter for not heeding his signals.

Of course, horns are sometimes sounded even when there is no clear reason for such action. Perhaps this is done for purely for social purposes or in the belief that, like muscles, horns only get stronger with more use. But with so much depending on the horn it seems unwise not to take such precautions.

posted by Hong at 6:26 am | Permalink | 0 comments
Friday, June 19, 2009

Happy days. A couple of articles I wrote as guest columnist have gone online at The Nut Graph, the first earlier this week and the second yesterday. The former concerns itself with the lack of class consciousness in Malaysia and how this retards true multi-ethnic unity within the context of our chauvinist politics, while the latter talks about the lesser known aspects of syariah law and why its wholesale imposition, as suggested by Parti Islam Se-Malaysia, will threaten legal parity.

posted by Hong at 1:51 am | Permalink | 1 comments
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
A response by Hitokiri Yusoff to a comment I made here:
Your comments just pretty much show what politics is all about. It's not about principles, it's about pragmatism. Well the government's position during the 60s onwards was one of neutrality, although still West-leaning, so it would be logical to recognise and establish relations with the Communist powers. This is so that our government's position would be reflected in reality and not just the dogma of politicians. And mind you, I don't believe the USSR cared about our little Commie problem, due to the Sino-Soviet split, as the CPM was allied with the PRC.

Considering this, you're right that the govt's animosity towards Chin Peng and gang is not because of their ideology but because of their violent acts. Indeed the government position should reflect this rather than just say that communism is 'evil', period.

I would say however that your analogy with the Communist Party of the US is somewhat flawed. The CPUSA did not mount an armed struggle against the government, so in a way the American government would have had no reasonable excuse to outlaw them. A better analogy is with South Korea that still continues to outlaw Communism and this is in direct response to the armed struggle mounted by Commie guerrillas prior to the Korean War and of course the association of Communist ideology to the atrocities committed by the North Koreans during the Korean War. Indeed the South Korean military continues to have a largely anti-Communist outlook. Therefore, since the CPM mounted an armed struggle against the legitimate government, it's understandable why there is some remaining stigma against the Communist ideology and refusal to critically analyse it. There is however no need to establish a Malaysian version of House Committee on Un-American Activities, as Communism, at least in its true form, is a dead ideology.
My subsequent response to that has been posted but I thought it deserves a little elaboration here. In addition to the points covered by a previous post on Chin Peng (which the commenter might not have read), there are a few things that need to be considered.

The Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) analogy would be wanting had the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) been declared illegal only after it began armed action against the government, but the party was, in fact, deemed an illegal organisation by the British from its very inception purely on the basis of its ideology. Malaya was, after all, a British colony and, for all intents and purposes, colonies are nothing more than economic enterprises run for the benefit of the controlling colonial power. There should be no pretensions about that fact. The British viewed CPM as a threat to national production due to its success at unionising the labour force and its anti-colonial stance, and the party would later be driven underground by the British response to a call it made in 1947, as a member of Putera-AMCJA (Pusat Tenaga Ra'ayat and All-Malayans’ Council of Joint Action, respectively), for a nationwide hartal in demand of self-rule.

British economic interests again played a role in independence talks. Despite the fact that CPM still had sizeable support among the general working population, and thus represented a good proportion of Malayans, the British chose to negotiate only with the centre-right, race-based Alliance parties. These parties were dominated by owners of big business and, as such, were much less likely to nationalise British-owned businesses after independence. British influence even carried through to the Baling Talks, which were held to resolve the 'communist crisis' in the run-up to independence. Tunku Abdul Rahman was adamant that CPM not be allowed to contest in nationwide elections, thereby depriving it of constitutional means with which to pursue its goals, despite Chin Peng's suggestion that the legitimacy of the party be put to the people.

This is not to say that the eventual decision of CPM to resort to militancy against the government of Malay(si)a was the right one, but the fact is the communists did what they thought was the only thing they could do after all other legitimate avenues were denied them. We must at least concede that they exhibited integrity in keeping to their beliefs, however flawed, a characteristic which seems in short supply in modern Malaysian politics.

As for the analogy made with South Korea: The two Koreas are still technically at war—the two sides only signed an armistice at the conclusion of the Korean War—and North Korea, to this day, still makes threats against the South Korean government. In fact, the North launches long-range missiles and explodes nuclear bombs just to make this very point. The remnants of CPM in southern Thailand, on the other hand, are no more a threat than the old men and women that they are—they are armed only with a failed ideology and an alternate take on Malaysian history. One wonders which of these is the thing that the Malaysian government fears most.


Update, 12th June 2009:
Mat Amin, a veteran of the all-Malay 10th Regiment of CPM, gives his reasons why the party continued its fight even after Malaya achieved independence in 1957. Juxtapose this with a summary of equity ownership in Malaysia in the years preceding the May 13 Incident
—as much as three-quarters of the economy was still under foreign control—and how the real issue of class was obscured by the race-based implementation of the New Economic Policy.

posted by Hong at 9:47 am | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, June 08, 2009

Arthur Ganson raises tinkering to an art form. Surreal, ingenious and beautiful.

posted by Hong at 9:09 pm | Permalink | 1 comments
Wednesday, June 03, 2009
Chin Peng ≠ Communism
Lately, there has been a lot of chatter in the public realm about Chin Peng—to the point where the Minister of Information, Communications and Culture, Datuk Seri Rais Yatim, threatened censure against those who openly call for his return—and one of the things that seems to happen repeatedly is the conflation of communism as an ideology with the violent actions of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM). I have already touched on this logical fallacy (see comments made in response to Hantu Laut's blog and Zedeck Siew's satire piece in The Nut Graph) but it seems to me to be something worth building on, so here it is again.

The government, operating on the assumption that Chin Peng equals communism and vice versa, views the increasingly vocal support for the former CPM secretary-general's bid to end his exile as corresponding to a resurgence in the popularity of communist ideology, and is concerned that a situation may arise in future whereby peace and order will once again be threatened by revolutionary apparatchiks. For this reason, the powers-that-be remain adamant that Chin Peng not be allowed back in the country and all discussions pertaining to him or CPM should cease. This, however, is deeply hypocritical in light of Prime Minister Najib's official visit to Beijing in conjunction with the 35th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral diplomatic ties between Malaysia and China, as many have already pointed out. While some say that this observation is flawed because modern day China essentially runs a market economy, rendering its socialist pedigree doubtful, a brief examination of history will show that this hypocrisy extends back to the period when China was not communist in name only, and is relevant to the wider discussion of how our government functions.

Tun Abdul Razak first established relations with China in 1974, when the very communist Mao Zedong was still nominally the supremo. This was two years before Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China's economic reforms, took over the top post. A year earlier, Razak's administration officially recognised North Korea, then under the iron rule of Great Leader Kim Il Sung. Similarly, in 1967, during Tun Hussein Onn's tenure, Malaysia established diplomatic ties with a Soviet Union helmed by Leonid Brezhnev, a former political commissar who made it a point to reverse his predecessor's partial liberalisation of Soviet society. All these events took place right in the middle of our own Communist Insurgency War (or Second Malayan Emergency) which only ended in 1989 when Chin Peng and gang agreed to give up their armed 'resistance' against the Malaysian government and disband CPM, as stipulated by the Peace Treaty of Hat Yai.


(Chart created using Google Chart API.)

Even if we were to discount totally the fact that North Korea is still firmly communist (and quite bonkers), and restrict the discussion to China during those two years before Deng came to power and the Soviet Union right up until
perestroika in 1987, we would still have to account for the inconsistency between the government's treatment of local communists and foreign ones. If the authorities do not agree with communism as an ideology because it is 'evil', then we should not have anything to do with either country. (Cue Rais's brilliant gaffe: 'Students and Malaysians in general should be made to understand clearly that the country was ... against communism at a political level.') But the truth of the matter is that the government was more than happy to establish relations and trade with both, while each was gripped with communist fervour, at the same time we were labelling our own communists public enemy number one.

As we ponder why such a discrepancy exists, two possible reasons emerge. (A third reason falls outside the scope of this exercise.) One is that the government does not like Chin Peng because he had previously instigated vicious attacks on the populace; the other is that they felt more threatened by, and thus reacted disproportionately to, him due to his proximity in contrast to foreign communists whom they despise just as much but are rather more distant. The first recalls past actions and the second predicts future threats, in both cases, of an individual—neither deals with concrete objections to the actual ideas of communism.

(Top: From left, Suriani Abdullah, Rashid Maidin, Abdullah CD, Chin Peng, Abu Samah Mohd Kassim, Ibrahim Chik and Abdullah Sudin in 1989 SOURCE | Bottom: Abdullah CD meeting former IGP, Hanif Omar, in Kuala Lumpur in 2007 SOURCE)

Both propositions come with controls. The first relates to other former members of the CPM leadership, namely Rashid Maidin, Abdullah CD and Shamsiah Fakeh, who were allowed by the government to enter the country, if only for a limited duration. Some officials contend that because Chin Peng played a key role in orchestrating an insurgency that left in its wake broken lives and painful memories, he should not be permitted to step foot in the country out of deference to those who were affected, but surely that applies to other senior party members as well. The second relates to our blackballing of Israel and, previously, South Africa. For those who argue that we can have relations only with red flag-flying nations and not local communists because the former are not trying to overthrow government, please recall Malaysia's position on Zionism and apartheid, two ideologies the administration felt were reprehensible. In both examples, the government's refusal to acknowledge these two countries was sustained and absolute despite the fact that neither Malaysia nor her interests were threatened by either. Policymakers objected to these ideologies on ethical grounds and applied their judgement consistently over a span of decades. If we can do that for two systems which do not jive with our moral compass, why not for communist countries that espouse an ideology that, if one believed the rants of elected officials, is loathed at least in equal measure, if not more? It thus becomes clear that the administration's contempt for Chin Peng has to do with neither the ideology that inspired him nor his prior actions. This perhaps give more credence to the aforementioned third reason than most would care to admit.

Why does this matter? For one, it proves that the government, at least with respect to this particular issue, is not acting rationally or on any principle other than the puerile you-are-contrary-and-I-do-not-like-you-so-there one. This bodes ill for any person or organisation that falls a little too far left or right and runs afoul of the Barisan Nasional ideal. Not only will such a wayward entity be suppressed (with the degree to which this is done correlating directly to the distance from righteous centre), it will be implemented in such a way as to preclude critical discourse with the public regarding the matter. Contrast our government's inability to tolerate difference to the case of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA). Successive American administrations, even at the height of Cold War paranoia, never moved to declare the party illegal—it is still extant today. Although, admittedly, US government intelligence agencies tried their best, and succeeded, in reducing CPUSA's considerable influence during the Second Red Scare, the party was allowed to persist, the idea being that while not all of us may agree with the precepts of communism (or any other political ideology for that matter), we are all entitled to the freedom to discuss its benefits and disadvantages openly and without reservations. All ideas are deserved of equal air time, regardless of provenance. Our administration, on the other hand, seems only willing to do the things which benefit them, whatever their operative (il)logic may be. Hardly a comforting thought.

To project a bit, in the long-term this will leave us with a vastly deficient socio-economic political palette from which we can construct new ways to see and interact with society, leaving us with fewer and fewer tools to address the problems arising from our current ethnic chauvinist-dominated way of life. Anecdotal evidence has shown that mainstream political parties tend to adopt centrist platforms in order to capture the greatest number of votes. This happened, in a manner, to trade unions all over the world which, although co-opted by governments for purely selfish reasons (read: to avoid threats to the status quo arising from increased radicalisation of the working class), led to advancements in workers' rights—minimum wage, reasonable limitation of working hours and improved workplace safety—ones we take for granted today. To nurture a society that provides avenues for betterment to people from all walks of life we have to either transition to a more comprehensive political spectrum or diminish disparities between the lower and upper quartiles, neither of which is happening now due to the absence of a credible left in Malaysia. With only some right and some middle, the political law of averages suggests that, in all likelihood, we will inexorably veer into the morass of ethno-nationalist antagonism over time, if we are not indeed there already. To this end, we should be allowed to discuss (insert ideology here) and even form parties to promote these ideologies, so long as it is all done peaceably within the limits of the law.

NB: The countries listed in the chart are all the ones that have ever proclaimed a Marxist-Leninist or Maoist ideology at some point in their existence; it was necessary to look to the past and include countries that no longer exist (Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, etc)
as few countries continue to profess communist ideology. This does not detract from the point of the graphic, which is that Malaysia has always been more than willing to exchange diplomats with communist countries despite its avowedly anti-communist rhetoric, thus rendering objections to Chin Peng based on his ideology hypocritical.


Update, 5th June 2009:
On a related note, Datuk Seri Rais Yatim recently objected to claims that Chin Peng was a nationalist on the grounds that the 'communists were against the nationalists'. Obviously, Rais's understanding of political ideology, as demonstrated by this comment, is deficient beyond belief. (So much for his time spent at NUS and King's College London.) Firstly, there are different forms of nationalism, and communism falls under the definition of radical or revolutionary nationalism. Secondly, while Malaysian nationalists and communists might have disagreed on the final expression of statehood, as well as the methods to achieve it, both had confluent aims
—independence from colonial rule. Surely that makes our communists 'freedom fighters', by any definition.

posted by Hong at 1:52 am | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Data choreography

(Via Shuzheng.)

The single best statistics presentation I have seen. Period. I want that programme.

posted by Hong at 5:21 am | Permalink | 0 comments