The many ways of flying a flag

Two things about flags struck me this year. The first one is: not many shops are flying it, showing the indifference of the people probably as a result of discontent that is now so pervasive in the urban areas.

The second thing is there are so many different ways of flying the flags , some done so sloppily that it is really better not to put up in the first place:

sany0215.jpgit is really rare to see a flag in residential area, and some more flying it so perfectly. Flags should be put up this way, upright and flying in the wind.
sany0213.jpg This whole row of shops is devoid of national flag – only one lone Selangor flag flying.

sany0214.jpg another row of shophouses with few flags seen, and with one Jalur Gemilang partially rolled up.

sany0209.jpg a good way of showing the flag. it will be upright and flying with or without the wind.

sany0211.jpg This shop puts up so many flags , it is almost like a decoration for the shop.
sany0208.jpg is this our national flag? where is the cresent and star?

30-08-07_0840.jpgThis is put up by the big brother. Big and many storey high. There must be many many these flags. How much they spend on this? Tun Razak saved $60,000 meant for his swimming pool to build 2 health clinics. I wonder what is the total cost of all these big flags? Is it enough to build 2 schools?
sany0205.jpgThis flag is hidden within a mess of you know what. It may be better to keep the flag.

flag-in-linkhouse.jpganother rare scene in housing estate, a national flag

flag-in-shop1.jpgwhat is this? a national flag? A dispirited display? Is this the mood of the urban people now?

Find out the reasons why there is not much enthusiasm among the urban people for this Merdeka. Will this mean a hard and tough general election for the BN component parties that contest mainly in the urban seats? Find out the reasons, take remedial steps and try to win back the heart of the people – that may be the message of the flags or rather the absence of the flags.

Ini lah Malaysiakini .


My 12 Merdeka wishes


On the eve of the 50th Merdeka, I would like to make 12 wishes:  

1. May our country live a long life – may it survive  all the ups and downs and carry on in the spirits of 1957, with the Constitution as the sole guiding light. 

2. May all  citizens live in peace and harmony.

3. May all citizens live in an equitable and fair society where everyone would have a fair and equal chance of success.

4. May the citizens have more freedom, not only in speech but in the everyday life. May there be true freedom of religions with every person allowed to pursue his or her religion without interference.

5. May the poor be looked after by the rich, may the weak be looked after by the strong

6. May there be freedom of the press and a blossoming of the blogosphere. May there be more bloggers   and internet portals such as Malaysiakini.

7. May there be no more divisive policies to hinder  true unity of the people

8. May there be no more self serving politicians who play up racial and religious sentiments to climb up the political ladder.

9. May there be good economic policies so that there will be more  internal and external investments , leading to full employment, better economic growth and better living standard of all citizens.

10. May the leaders of the country practice good governance, so that there is better accountability, more transparency and less corruption.

11. May the country be once again safe for people to go out any time of the day without having to worry about crime.

12. May all the lovers tie the nuptial knots and live happily ever. (This is from a Chinese saying).

Dr Farish on Dilemma of Assimilation

From The Other Malaysia (Part I was posted earlier )

Malaysia and the Dilemma of Assimilation
(part II)

By Farish A. Noor
And so it would appear that Malaysia is, after all, an Islamic state.

This was the conclusion that many Malaysians have had to accept after the recent pronouncement on the part of the Prime Minister that the country has apparently been run and governed on Islamic lines all along; a startling revelation to say the least for most of us who were unaware of the fact that the arrests under the ISA, the crackdowns during Operation Lalang, Operation Kenari, the numerous declarations of Emergency, et al. were all done under the auspices of Muslim governance. And are we right to conclude that the innumerable corruption scandals, the weakening of the judiciary, the instances of blatant double-standards in the enforcement of the law, et al. were likewise exemplary moments of Islamic governance in action?

The Prime Minister’s recent announcement must surely have come as a blow to those of us who have been calling for a return to the secular democratic foundations of the Malaysian Federation. But now it seems as if even the history of this country has been appropriated by the government, and written and re-written at whim to suit the agendas and interests of the powers that be. After half a century of existence and five decades of nation-building programmes that have taken us nowhere fast, the goalposts have been moved once again. How can there be any significant, meaningful long-term development in the country when the very rules of the political game change again and again? And if the very foundational terms of political engagement in the country are being changed all the time, we need to ask why and for whose sake?

Assimilation and the Malay-Muslim comfort zone.

Lest we forget (and we need to be mindful of the fact that our nation’s history is being distorted and deformed as we speak) the Malayan (later Malaysian) constitution envisaged a multiracial and multireligious nation-state held together by a secular democratic constitution that spelled out citizenship as one of the core values that equalises all of us, as members and citizens of the same national community. It is on the basis of that shared universal citizenship that all of us are defined primarily as Malaysians and that as Malaysians we have a common status and standing before the law.

No Malaysian has the right to stand above the law or break it at will; no Malaysian has the right to place himself or herself above other Malaysians, and no Malaysian should be treated unfairly in relation to others. Furthermore being Malaysian and claiming Malaysian citizenship also implies that Malaysia should be the primary object of our political loyalties: not race, not religion, not class or other sectarian or parochial interests. The universal character of citizenship entails a shared common responsibility and shared common rights that equalises all of us, regardless of race,  ethnicity or gender.

Yet the founding pact that brought the diverse communities of Malaya (later Malaysia) together has been eroded thanks in part to internal variable factors that none of the forefathers of the nation saw in the early 1950s: The demographic increase of the Malay-Muslim community, coupled with the steady stream of outward immigration on the part on the other communities, has radically altered the racial balance of the country to the point where many of us – including politicians and pundits alike – speak of the ‘growing Malay bloc’ as if it was a solid, homogenous entity.

Fear of upsetting the sensibilities of this ‘Malay bloc’ has led many of us to concede ground time and again to the ethno-nationalist demagogues who have presented themselves as the guardians of the Malay-Muslim interest, and who have unilaterally taken it upon themselves to also determine the bargaining position of that community. Thus the growing political clout of the Malay-Muslims (in terms of voters and votes) has been matched by an equally strident tenor in the political discourse of that community’s leaders, leading us to the shameful spectacles of keris-waving and hot-headed pyrotechnics we have been witness to over the past few years in particular.

Aggravating the situation further was the coupling of Malay communitarian ethnic interests with the demands and concerns of religion, where Islam was brought into the picture and, in time, grafted on Malay identity as yet another exclusive element to define the contours of that community. The Islamisation race that began in earnest from the early 1980s with former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir and his former Deputy Anwar Ibrahim merely added yet another layer of identity politics to an already complicated formula that was being strained at the seams.

The tragedy of postcolonial Malaysia lies here. Since the late 1960s, the route to political power in the country seems to have been configured in the following terms: That only a Malay-Muslim can aspire to the highest office of the land and that the terms of his (and it is always his, never her) rise to power is determined in turn by how well he plays the race and religion card. The ambitious Young Turks of UMNO proved as much in their successful bid to oust the Tunku, and the trend was set. In the 1970s Anwar Ibrahim played very much the same role as he rose to public prominence before being co-opted to joining UMNO, and since then every leader of UMNO’s youth wing has done the same. Are we surprised, therefore, to observe the disgraceful sight of kerises being waved in the air these days?

Thus far the state of race politics in Malaysia seems to have been set by a cast-iron logic that seems insurmountable. But is it? Were there not instances to the contrary, when alternative viewpoints were put across by more accommodating leaders who thought in terms of the national interest?

The answer to this question is yes. One such voice was that of Dr. Burhanuddin al-Helmy’s, who was one of the earliest Malayan nationalists who not only fought against colonial rule but who also envisaged the creation of a Malaya that was open and fair to all communities. Dr. Burhanuddin was one of the members of the ‘Kaum Muda’ generation who later became one of the leaders of the PKMM (Malayan Nationalist Party), and later was made the President of PAS in 1956 (to 1970). Today many of us have all but forgotten the man and few Malaysians have bothered to look him up in the history books. Yet Dr. Burhanuddin stands alone, a singularly unique figure in the landscape of Malaysian politics, for his refusal to concede to racist sectarian and communitarian demands. Furthermore he did the unthinkable thing during his lifetime by de-racialising the concept of ‘Malay’ itself.

In his writings like Asah Falsafah Kebangsaan Melayu (republished, 1963) and Perjuangan Kita: 17 Ogos 1945 hingga 17 Ogos 1946 (1946), he stated that the goal of Malayan independence would have to be the development of a broad-based nationalism that embraces, rather than excludes, all the communities in the country. Dr. Burhanuddin went as far as calling for a ‘nasionalisme Melayu’ that defined a ‘Melayu’ as anyone who was born, lives  in and regards Malaya as his or her home. By doing so he had turned ‘Malayness’ from a racial category (invented by the colonial census) into a category of universal citizenship instead. Throughout much of his political career Dr. Burhanuddin urged his supporters to accept citizenship as the basis of their political participation in the country, and warned of the dangers of ethno-nationalism and racialised politics. But sadly the man was detained during the years of Malaysia’s Konfrontasi with Indonesia and died shortly after his release from the ISA later. Till today, there has not emerged a Malaysian leader from the Malay community who is able to match Dr. Burhanuddin’s commitment to an anti-racist and deracialised politics for the country. Instead, what we have is the opposite: a deliberate and sustained attempt to move the goalposts of the country further to the right and to impress upon the nation the sectarian demands of the Malay-Muslim community in particular, as understood and interpreted by the leaders of UMNO.

The pitfalls of assimilation

It is against this backdrop of an expanding Malay-Muslim comfort zone as defined by UMNO that the other communities of Malaysia are being told to integrate and assimilate. Before proceeding any further, let us debunk certain myths that have been lingering for too long already: For a start, it would be ridiculous to ask any Malaysian today to integrate any further as most of the non-Malay citizens of this country are in fact descendants of third, fourth if not fifth generation migrants who have long since become part and parcel of the Malaysian landscape. Yet as every communal crisis reaches its peak, the non-Malays are reminded that this is the fabled ‘Tanah Melayu’ and that they are ‘kaum pendatang’ who have to integrate and assimilate. But to what end and when does one finally qualify as a full citizen of Malaysia?

I raise this question as a Malaysian who happens to live and work in Europe, where today the calls for integration are being made again, more often than not by right-wing racist demagogues who harp on and on about the need for foreigners to accept the mainstream of European life. But what if that mainstream also happens to be a racist one, where racialised discourse has become normalised and hegemonised and where foreigners are constantly being kept on the margins of society? And what if that European mainstream still cannot accept the reality of a multicultural Europe where racial, ethnic and religious pluralism are realities; and where other non-European religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism are also now part of the European social landscape?

The dilemma I face as a Malaysian Muslim in Europe is similar to that faced by non-Malays and non-Muslims in Malaysia today. How can the right-wing ethno-nationalists of the Malay-Muslim community expect others to assimilate to the mainstream culture of Malaysia when that very mainstream has been defined almost exclusively by the Malay-Muslims themselves? How can othern communities find their place in Malaysia’s history when that history ignores and sidelines the vastly important role played by other communities in the development of Malaysia, as well as Malaysia’s pre-Islamic past and its multi-religious present? Malay right-wingers demand non-Malays and non-Muslims to become part of the nation, but the national imaginary has now been decidedly painted by a distinct, particular and exclusive Malay-Muslim brush. Where is the space for assimilation then?

The root of the problem is the culture of racialised identity politics that reigns in the country till today, a throwback to the colonial era that was taken up with gusto by UMNO and the component parties of the ruling Barisan Nasional. As long as this culture of divisive politics prevails in the country, then the UMNO party will – despite its frothy liberal rhetoric at times – be an exclusive sectarian party enacting a politics that is divisive and communitarian.

Fifty years after our independence, we still entertain the myth of a ‘Tanah Melayu’ that is a privileged homeland for some and not others. And as long as the UMNO party maintains this divisive approach to politics and sees the Malay-Muslims as its primary constituency, the situation is not likely to change for the better. We are nowhere closer to realising the dream of a Malaysian Malaysia where citizenship is the common gift bestowed upon all her citizens. Instead the gift of a multicultural and multi-religious nation has been stolen from us, before our very eyes, by the very same ruling elites who claim to be the ‘leaders of all Malaysians’, while in their deeds they have shown that their commitment to plural democracy is only skin deep. What a shameful end to what could have been a beautiful story.

Prof. Farish A. Noor is a historian and political scientist based at the Zentrum Moderner Orient in Berlin and affiliated professor to Universitas Muhamadiyah Surakarta and the Sunan Kalijaga Islamic University of Jogjakarta. He is also one of the founders of the research site

Dr Farish is also a frequent contributor to Malaysiakini . The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of this forum.

Elitist universities – will it remain as a dream ?

One of the main reasons why I started blogging about 10 months ago is because of the decline in excellence in almost every field in our country. Please read one of my first posts : in search of excellence, which was published in Malaysiakini as a letter to the editor under the title : Excellence – have we lost the urge?

Our University of Malaya was once an elite university whose ranking was on par with the likes of premier universities in Asian countries such as University of Singapore, University of Hong Kong , University of Chulalongkong. The medical faculty and the law faculty of MU were on par with the best of the British and Australian Universities.

I was enrolled in the medical faculty for one week, after that I went down to University of Singapore because of an offer of Asean Scholarship to do medicine in University of Singapore. Then, MU medical faculty was under the late Prof Danaraj, an iconic figure whose single-mindedness to excellence had in no small way contributed to the excellent standard of MU medical faculty. It was recognised by British General Medical Council as equivalent to the standard of a British university.

However, towards the latter part of the 70s and early 80s, the standard has started to drop. GMC withdrew its recognition after an inspection round.

MU (University of Malaya) used to be among the top 100 ranked universities but it is no longer up there with the top schools of the world. What a pity – it took many years of hard work of the faculty, staff, and students to reach that height, but it took only one or 2 years of neglect for the standard to decline.

It is therefore app-laudable that the PM has announced yesterday a plan to turn some of our universities into elite university, able to compete with the best in the world.

To do that is of course not easy, but if we have a will, we will have a way of achieving that. The main question is : do we have the will?

Let us look at the top universities in the world. In UK, indisputably, Cambridge and Oxford are the best. In Australia, Melbourne University is among the premier league. In US, they have the Ivy league , of which there are 8 universities.

The Ivy league consists of 8 universities who have an athletic conference among them (meaning they compete with each other in games and certain social events):

Brown University
Columbia University
Cornell University
Dartmouth College
Harvard University
University of Pennsylvania
Princeton University
Yale University

They are supposed to be the best in the world and all are privately funded institution. Among the public Universities, the top one which is ranked as good as the Ivy league is University of California Berkeley campus. There are others which are renowned in certain fields. MIT and Caltech is among the best in Engineering, Johns Hopkins is perhaps the top medical school in the world. Most of the top 100 universities are in the States, which is one of the reasons why US is still the top nation in Science and Medicine.

How do these universities achieve excellence? For one, a university is often judged by the standards of students it produces. Harvard has luminaries like John Hancock, John Adams, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

To produce good students, you need to have good materials to start with. It is not possible for a class of IQ 60 to be top mathematicians or scientists. Most of these universities have an admission policy which are very strict. Entrance requirements include excellent academic results as well as personal traits of creativity, leadership ability, personal confidence, objective thinking and perhaps a high achievement in sports. One word to describe the entrance requirement: competitiveness. Are we prepared to have that?

Students in these world class universities are provided with a milieu to seek the truth, to seek knowledge, to challenge existing ideas, to be ready to compete with the peers, to learn to develop independent thinking and leadership, to be analytical and critical of existing knowledge. They must learn and master the methodology of scientific research.

They cannot be spoon-fed and then expected to be world beaters.

These top universities also have dedicated lecturers and professors who are among the very top in their respective fields in the world. Very often, they become famous because of the research they carry out in these universities.

The milieu in which these academics function is very different from that of our universities. They very often have total freedom to carry out their research. Freedom to pursue academic excellence as well the the tolerance and encouragement of diversity of ideas often lead to new thinking, breakthroughs and new discoveries in the various sciences. Promotions and rewards are based strictly on merits. There is also a milieu of fairness and recognition of excellence, and competition is very often encouraged.

On top of that, they have cutting edge hardware and technology to do experiment and their academics are free from harassment of politicians and bureaucracy.

If we want to have excellence in our university, we cannot just pay lip services. We must be ready to let our students compete fairly against each other. We must be ready to let our academics have the freedom to do research, freedom of thoughts. We must encourage exchange of ideas and healthy debates. Our politicians must stay away from these institutions of higher learning, and let academics run their universities and departments with an almost totally free hand , with only excellence in their minds.

Competition leads to excellence and discovery of new ideas. Are we willing to have free competition in our universities? Are we willing to have an admission policy based on meritocracy? Are we willing to have a milieu of almost total freedom for our academic to do research?

Do we have such will? I doubt. If we cannot have that, we can never expect our universities to rank among the best in the world.

Our dreams will always remain as such – dreams.

The Tornado occurred in Singapore

Following my post on “Tornado in Penang?”, I received a message telling me that this happened in Singapore and not Penang a few weeks ago.

I was refered to this site in Channelnewsasia, in which it was reported that a tornado, or rather a water spout, was sited off Sentosa Island.

I was also refered to the following video in which the waterspout, a tornado over the seas, was recorded and posted on youtube. You can be sure this is recorded by Singaporean because they speak typical Singlish.

Tornado in Penang ?

I will post 3 photos here, sent to me by a Singaporean, showing tornado occurring in Florida Penang?

Although I am was a Penangite, I have never seen a tornado in Penang.

I suppose tornado can form in any area when there is pressure differentials . But I can hardly believe my eyes when I saw the photos. I asked myself: is this true? Can it really happen? Is someone playing tricks on me? Especially when there is no mention of such tornado in any mainstream media reports as well as internet portals such as Malaysiakini .

Here are the pictures: (any comments from Penang people?)



Update  Nov 2010:  Some commentators have commented that this is not Penang. Some has accused me of misleading the readers..This was sent to me by a friend in Sinagpore who stated that this occurred in Penang; I posted it in good faith but please note that I did put a question mark in the title, and i asked Penangites to give their input. I also did mention that this may be a trick. If you are misled, I apologise .

Water sprouts do occur in Penang when there is differential pressure in the atmosphere. But whether the above photos showed Penang or not, it was up to Penang people to comment…

Follow-up link:

Tornado occurred in SIngapore

you can see a germ across the sea but not an elephant in front of you

I have always thought that we can learn a thing or 2 from our Southern Neighbour. Not because my alma mater, University of Singapore (now known as National University of Singapore ) is there. Not because I have many friends and classmates there. It is simply because any nation which can reach the first world status in such a short time will have something to teach us, especially when that country , albeit a small city state, has no natural resources to start with.

I have written an earlier article “size does not matter” some time back. That was written in response to a Minister calling our Southern neighbour ” a city and not a country”. (as reported in Malaysiakini some time back)

Much has been said about the “Kiasu-ness” of the citizens of our southern neighbour.Too much of Kiasu-ness will lead to an ugly culture of selfishness and rudeness. However, a small dose of Kiasu is actually good, because if you are a little bit Kiasu, you will strive doubly hard in your work and probably drive your workers and children to work harder too. That is how competitiveness can develop and how a small backwater island can become the richest nation in South East Asia.

Instead of looking East all the time, maybe we can spare a few moment to look south.

In the Straits Time yesterday, a Malay writer, Fauziah Ismail, wrote that

“Kuman di seberang laut nampak, gajah di depan mata tidak nampak”, meaning ‘you can see a germ across the sea but not an elephant in front of you’.

That is exactly how our politicians view Singapore.

The writer lamented that:

“While we get foreign manual workers in droves, Singapore gets the best brains from within the region through scholarships offered to students of the other nine Asean countries. While there are no bonds on the scholarships, nothing stops these students from staying on in the Republic and working there. “…………..

“Singapore creates new tourism products every year – the Night Safari (on good nights, and there are many, visitors get to see more nocturnal animals than they would in Taman Negara) and the DUCKTours, which take visitors on an hour-long tour of the city on an amphibious vehicle that can also take to the river, among many other attractions.

Next year, the world’s tallest Ferris wheel, with gondolas that can accommodate up to 35 people each, will open on Feb 14. Forget about being among the first to ride it: The attraction is booked solid for the first six months. Two casinos will also be opening. Construction of a Las Vegas Sands-operated casino near Marina Bay and Resorts World on Sentosa, with a Universal Studio theme park, is under way.

Singapore has been doing all this without a ministry in charge of tourism, just the Singapore Tourism Promotion Board. And up to 90 per cent of the workforce in the island’s hospitality industry are Malaysians.”

Corruption wise, it is almost corruption free, when compared to the surrounding countries

Education wise, while University of Malaya used to be on same par as University of Singapore, in the 60s and even in the 70s, it is now ranked many rungs below NUS.

The most important thing perhaps is what Fauziah wrote at the end of her article:

when Singaporeans recite their pledge – ‘We the citizens of Singapore pledge ourselves as one united people, regardless of race, language or religion, to build a democratic society, based on justice and equality, so as to achieve happiness, prosperity and progress for our nation’ – I believe they mean it.

We don’t have to open our hearts to them; just our eyes and ears. We may learn a thing or two.

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