A courageous stand

I have posted in one of my previous posts that in a civilised world, we must be able to agree to disagree.

One of the wonders of human mind is that different person would react differently to the same set of circumstances. If we all act and think the same , we would be like robots.

In any organisation, there is bound to be difference of opinions. Even within a family, differences of opinion are common. Therefore, to have a differing view should not be considered “breaking ranks”.

I applaud Dr Toh Kin Woon of Parti Gerakan for voicing out his disagreement with  some of the top BN leaders , regarding the demerits of having a street demonstration. His action should not be viewed as “breaking rank”, as Malaysiakini report has labelled. He is just voicing out his view and who is to say that his views are wrong?

It is also commendable for Dr Koh Tsu Koon, the Gerakan acting president, to defend Dr Toh in the mainstream media.

dr-toh-dr-koh.jpgDr Koh & Dr Toh

Instead of labelling him as breaking rank, Dr Koh mentioned that it is common to have a difference of opinion,. and Dr Toh is merely stating his personal view on this matter. Dr Koh also mentioned that he did not believe that Dr Toh has violated  BN spirits.

This is in gross contrast to the  MIC leadership, where the Cameron MP was castigated and even sent to face the Barisan Whip who is also the DPM.

I say” Kudos ” to the Gerakan leadership , and I hope that more BN leaders can come forward to voice out from their hearts  and not blindly following the official story lines. If all leaders must sing the same tune, we might as well invent some robots to represent us in Parliament.

related post:

Reflections in a mirror


Reflections in a mirror

The past few weeks have seen a few demonstrations taking place in the streets of Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur.

 In all these gatherings, police permits were denied, even though theses demonstrations were meant to be peaceful  and would have remained peaceful and incident-free if the police had not resorted to using force to disperse the last 2 gatherings.

No one like to go out and demonstrate, unless there are pressing reasons to do so. The Bersih and Hindraf gatherings, despite the roadblocks mounted by police and despite of a heavy downpour on the day of Bersih’s gatherings, attracted tens of thousands of people. It would be wise for a responsible government to look into the reasons behind these displays of discontent.

One minister was quoted to say that he could have organised a bigger rally, which was totally off the point. It is true that in a democracy, majority will rule. But in the true spirits of democracy, it is the  duty of the majority to look after the interest of the minority.

 Democracy not only means government of the people , by the people but it also stresses the point of “government for the people” , which include all people and not just a section only.

We have to accept the fact that all human are not infallible. Leaders do make mistakes sometimes. The litmus test for good leadership is not that it will not make mistake, but rather it realises its mistakes and take corrective steps to overcome whatever shortcomings there are.

In hindsight, had these gatherings been allowed to proceed peacefully with the police  on standby, it would have won the government many plus points. It would have projected an image of a caring and tolerant government. It would not have caused inconvenience to thousands of KL citizens who were caused in a jam created artificially by the various road blocks. It would not have the negative global impacts that we are experiencing now.

Yesterday, Malaysiakini reported that Tamil Nadu Chief Minister hitting out at the government for using tear gas and water cannons. Today, Malaysiakini again reported a piece of news about the US State Dept official defending the rights of the people to peaceful gatherings.
Besides these, video footage from various news agencies as well as many critical news write-ups have given the country a negative image as well as a perception of a government that is intolerant and uncaring about the plights of its own citizens.

All these could have been avoided if more flexibility and more  tolerance are shown by the government.

The world is no more like  just one or 2 decades ago. This is a globalised world. All the countries are like glass houses. Any misdeeds are instantly reported and scrutinised by the whole world. To say that world opinion is not important is like telling ourselves we don’t need our neighbours and friends.

It is like  seeing a dirty reflection of our face in a mirror. Instead of trying to clean our face, we decided to throw away and ban the usage of all the mirrors in the house. Such action will not make our face any cleaner, not until we take steps to cleanse away all the dirt.

A show of discontent by citizens is not unlike the reflection in a mirror. Trying to use force to suppress such expression of discontent is not unlike the above analogy of throwing away all the mirrors. The leaders must realise that the dirty face would remain dirty even without the mirrors; the unpopular policies would remain unpopular even with the crackdown. Threat of using the archaic Internal Security Act is  unwarranted. It is like threatening to jail all those who care  to point out the dirt on our face.

What needs to be done is to find out the cause of the discontents, review and modify policies to ensure that all shortcomings are overcome.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that : Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Article 20 states that Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

If these are already adopted by the majority of the nations in the world, why are we stick sticking to the anachronistic law of requiring a police permit for any gatherings of more than 5 persons? The people are much more educated now. We are not facing any insurgency like we did in the 50s and 60s. Why do we still require such rules?

The hallmark of a good leadership is its willingness to listen. In this respect, we need a freer press, and do away with the Printing Press and Publications Act. Perhaps some of our our Ministers should discard their self-protecting knee-jerk reflex and arrogance of labelling all dissents as trifle and as threat to the nation. The people are the nation, not merely the ministers and government. It would do them a lot of good to discard their “ego” once a while and listen to the grouses of the people.

 People criticise because they care; not because they are anti-government.

Our country is at a cross road. If we are to advance further , we need to be more humane. If is no accident that all the advanced countries in the world are very open, respectful of citizens’ rights, practicing good governance and fair polices. If we want to be like them, there is no other way than adopting  more liberal, open-minded , fair policies and practicing good governance. 

recomended readings:

Mirror, mirror on the wall

Glass houses, do not over-react

Dr Farish A Noor on a demonstration gone global

Quoting an article by Dr Farish A Noor on Hindraf rally , from the othermalaysia. 

Another Local Demonstration Gone Global

Written by Farish A. Noor
Monday, 26 November 2007

Let there be no mistake about it: We live in a globalised world. But then again, what’s new about that? Only someone totally ignorant of the history of greater Asia would be surprised to learn that our neatly-compartmentalised nation-states are, after all, bound together by a common shared history that overlaps across so many levels and interfaces. Long before the European ships arrived on our shores, Asians have been travelling all across the great land mass, making tracks from the furthest end of China, across Southeast Asia and the land of the mighty Indus, all the way to the scorching deserts of Arabia and the Gulf and down the West coast of Africa. What colonialism did, however, was to interrupt this movement of peoples, cultures and ideas in two distinct ways: Firstly by dividing the nations of Asia into distinct nation-states with fixed (and artificial) borders; and secondly by attempting to control the movement of people by commodifying human brings into human capital instead.

The net result has been the creation of the world map as we know it today, with intrusive lines rudely and crudely drawn between areas that once overlapped and communities that were once closer united to each other. The Indian Ocean, for instance, was once the corridor between South and Southeast Asia, and that is why so much of Southeast Asia (til today) bears the cultural imprint of India. It was from India that the religions, philosophies, aesthetics and norms of society and governance of Southeast Asia were derived; and it was no mere coincidence that the Malay archipelago was once referred to as ‘Greater India’, testimony to how close the two regions were – both geographically and culturally.

Sadly today the division of Asia into neat compartments has managed to sever these long-established bonds, leaving the residents of both regions confused as to why they seem so similar yet different. Many a conservative nationalist in Southeast Asia is still loathe to admit that his or her culture shares so much in common with that of India’s, while many South Asians fail to realise that much of what they regard as familiar there is also present in Southeast Asia next door.
But perhaps the biggest tragedy of all is the fate of the millions of South Asians who have settled in Southeast Asia over the centuries, who were later categorised as colonial subjects and then systematically instrumentalised and exploited by the logic of colonial development and its divisive mode of racialised capitalism. Following the retreat of the colonial powers in the wake of the Second World War, millions of people of South Asian origin were left behind in countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore. Having been classified as migrants by the Western colonial powers and denied a place by the newly emerging nationalist forces of Southeast Asia, the Indians of Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries stood in that liminal space where they were neither local residents nor alien migrants, with their identity and citizenship put on a probationary basis.

The Indians of Malaysia – who are, by the way, Malaysian citizens – stand out as one community that has been triply blighted by the injustices of history, the accidents of geography and the failure of Malaysia’s divisive racialised politics for decades. This week a huge demonstration took place in the heart of Kuala Lumpur that was organised by the Malaysian Hindu Rights Action Force (HINDRAF) that aimed to highlight the inequalities that they have suffered under for so long. The HINDRAF demonstration that was 10,000 strong was met with the now-familiar response of tear gas and baton charges by the police, and the group’s leaders were accused of all things under the sun ranging from sedition to deliberately inflaming racial tension in the country. But while the Malaysian government predictably tries to dismiss this massive public outburst of anger and frustration, it remains a fact that Malaysians of South Asian origin still rank among the poorest in the country, are less represented in the local universities, and have largely been left to fend for themselves. Furthermore to add insult to injury over the past two years scores of Hindu temples have been demolished under the eyes of the same government that claimed to be sensitive to the voice of the Malaysian people. Needless to say, all of this has contributed only to worsening racial ties in Malaysia and has brought to the world’s attention the plight of one significant minority in multicultural Malaysia today.

Which brings us back to where it started, and the globalised world we live in today. Globalisation has merely developed upon the same communications and information technologies of the past, and accelerated the process of information gathering and dissemination as never before. While the Malaysian police were spraying the demonstrators with tear gas and water-cannons at lunchtime, by the afternoon of the same fateful Sunday images of the soaked and beaten demonstrators were already appearing on the internet via Youtube.com and other such sites. The reaction from Hindus worldwide has been quick, and now there is much speculation about how – or rather when – the Hindu lobby in India, Europe and the United States will react. As was the case of the concerted global reaction of the Chinese diaspora community to the anti-Chinese pogroms in Indonesia of 1998, the recent crackdown on Hindus of Indian origin in Malaysia may well lead to a wider-than-expected reaction from Hindus all over the world.

Globalisation has therefore proved to be a boon for minorities worldwide, who no longer feel that they are isolated and vulnerable before the onslaught of the majority around them. Thanks to the internet and improved media communication services today, even the plight of the smallest minority group anywhere may soon become a matter of international concern and debate. The Malaysian government, typically, has reacted to these developments with its own Jurassic brand of institutional inertia and denial syndrome, decrying any attempt to highlight the situation of the minorities in the country as yet another episode in the ongoing devilish plot to tarnish the country’s image by the ever-present ‘neo-colonial’ forces of the West. But it has to be remembered that those Malaysian Hindus were not being bashed and gassed by the police of a Western country, but rather by the Malaysian police themselves. And the Malaysian Hindu temples have likewise been levelled to the ground not by some multinational corporate hegemon but rather by the corporations and corporate interests of Malaysia, mostly homegrown. No, the plight of Malaysia’s Hindu minority is a singular Malaysian problem and the responsibility for it falls on the Malaysian government itself. In the meantime, while the government wrestles with yet another instance of people’s power taking to the streets, another local demonstration has gone global.

Dr. Farish A Noor is a political scientist and historian at the Zentrum Moderner Orient and guest Professor at Sunan Kalijaga Islamic University, Jogjakarta. He is also one of the founders of the research site http://www.othermalaysia.org.

Hindraf rally – agreeing to disagree ?

I received a lot of flaks for my last post, asking the organisers to consider calling off the Hindraf Rally.

I am real glad that, apart from minor injuries, nothing untoward has happened in the rally. 

I received many comments as well as emails, mainly reprimanding me for my stand in asking the organisers to call off the Hindraf rally. I am allowing most of these comments, except that which has violated the rules of this blog, that is “no attack on race and religion” and no personal attacks. I have also allowed a comment which directed four letter word at me.

I thought as civilised people living in a democracy, we can agree to disagree.

There are a few points which i would like to point out:

1. firstly, when I stated my view that this rally should be called off, I am directing my appeal to the organisers of the Rally, which is Hindraf. Ultimately, it is their decision whether to call it off, and I am merely exercising my right in putting forward my opinion and suggestion that a multiracial approach would be far better and would have a much better chance of success .

2. I stated that “ I will respect whatever decision the organisers do, since under the constitution, everyone is entitled to free expression of opinion and the right to gather should be respected. While I do not agree with this rally, I respect the right to gather and the right to free speech. WIth this in mind, if the rally proceeds, I hope that the police would not resort to force to disperse the crowd, and I really hope nothing untoward would happen”

3. I thought in a democracy, we can agree to disagree. It was unfortunate that a prominent blogger has labelled all those,  who asked the rally to be called off,   hypocrits . While I respect her right in labelling people, I also consider it my right to deny this label. I am sorry, I am a socialist,  not a hypocrit.

4. I have always, in my blogs as well as in my letters and articles to Malaysiakini , espounded my view of a fair and equal society for all people, regardless of ethnic and religious origins, which include my Indian brothers , Malay brother as well as brothers from other races.

5. In my opinion, it would be better if Hindraf was to have organised this rally along with NGOs of other races to demand for fair treatment for ALL MALAYSIANS. 

6. If we are against racist policies and racial politics, then why are we adopting race approach? It would be better to demand change based on social strata. Ask for affirmative actions for the poor, regardless of all races, and it would have helped the poor of all races if such policies are adopted.  I consider myself a socialist and to me ” All men are brothers”.

7. The chances of change happening with a nonracial approach would be much higher and more realistic than if only a single race is asking for change. We have to think of the long term goal and whether such goal can be best achieved through a nonracial approach or otherwise.

8. I was really concerned that this rally might be easily exploited by people with ulterior motives (not the organisers) and this might have serious consequences for the innocent people taking part .

9. I have , in my writings , always called for the abolition of the archaic ruling that any gathering more than 5 persons need to have a police permits. I have always upheld that freedom of speech and assembly is  a universal right.

10. While the means may be different, I am sure my ultimate goal of having a fair and equal society for all races is not so much different from many other people’s ideals.

Having stated all these points, I hope that we can continue to agree to disagree.

That is the principle of democracy!

Hindraf should call off the rally

I refer to the Hindraf rally which has been widely reported in the blogs as well as Malaysiakini, I wish to say that I support the stand of Haris Ibrahim on this issue.

I will quote part of Haris ‘s post here:

Last night 2 Indian gentlemen approached me and asked me to lend support for the Hindraf rally on Sunday.

I apologised to them and said I could not lend support to this initiative, not because I do not support the call to alleviate the lot of the Indians in this country, but because the Hindraf call is only to address the economic and social neglect of the Hindu / Indian community, and not the fate of all underprivileged, deprived and marginalised Malaysians, regardless of race.

And make no mistake, there are underprivileged, deprived and marginalised Malaysians of all races, without exception, in the country.

The Hindraf call, to my mind, is as chauvinistic and communal.

This is my comment on Haris post and this comment reflect my stand on this issue:

I agree with your view.(Haris view on this rally)

Any struggle and any demand for change should be along social strata, and not along religious and ethnic lines.

The poor has the right to ask for help from the rich. The rich has the duty to look after the poor. The haves should give more to the haves -not.

This is universal value and this is universal rights.

To demand just for a single group is chauvinistic. Mixing religion and politics is dangerous.

While their UK action is commendable, this rally should not proceed, as this is dangerous and can be easily exploited to create an explosive situation.

Having said all this, I will respect whatever decision the organisers do, since under the constitution, everyone is entitled to free expression of opinion and the right to gather should be respected. Only I wish they would call this off on their own initiative. 

While I do not agree with this rally, I respect the right to gather and the right to free speech. WIth this in mind, if the rally proceeds, I hope that the police would not resort to force to disperse the crowd, and I really hope nothing untoward would happen.

Latest update: Hindraf Rally – agreeing to disagree?

Michael Backman on Malaysian Truth and Justice

I am posting the latest column of Michael Backman on Malaysia:

Truth and justice are no longer Malaysian way
By Michael Backman
The Age
November 21, 2007

THE Government of Australia will probably change hands this weekend. There will be no arrests, no tear gas and
no water cannons. The Government of John Howard will leave office, the Opposition will form a government and
everyone will accept the verdict.

For this, every Australian can feel justifiably proud. This playing by the rules is what has made Australia rich and a
good place in which to invest. It is a country to which people want to migrate; not leave.

Now consider Malaysia. The weekend before last, up to 40,000 Malaysians took to the streets in Kuala Lumpur to
protest peacefully against the judiciary’s lack of independence, electoral fraud, corruption and a controlled media.

In response, they were threatened by the Prime Minister, called monkeys by his powerful son-in-law, and blasted
with water cannons and tear gas. And yet the vast majority of Malaysians do not want a change of government. All
they want is for their government to govern better.

Both Malaysia and Australia have a rule of law that’s based on the English system. Both started out as colonies of
Britain. So why is Malaysia getting it so wrong now?

Malaysia’s Government hates feedback. Dissent is regarded as dangerous, rather than a product of diversity. And
like the wicked witch so ugly that she can’t stand mirrors, the Government of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi
controls the media so that it doesn’t have to see its own reflection.

Demonstrations are typically banned. But what every Malaysian should know is that in Britain, Australia and other
modern countries, when people wish to demonstrate, the police typically clear the way and make sure no one gets
hurt. The streets belong to the people. And the police, like the politicians, are their servants. It is not the other way

But increasingly in Malaysia, Malaysians are being denied a voice – especially young people.

Section 15 of Malaysia’s Universities and University Colleges Act states that no student shall be a member of or in
any manner associate with any society, political party, trade union or any other organisation, body or group of
people whatsoever, be it in or outside Malaysia, unless it is approved in advance and in writing by the vice-

Nor can any student express or do anything that may be construed as expressing support, sympathy or opposition
to any political party or union. Breaking this law can lead to a fine, a jail term or both.

The judiciary as a source of independent viewpoints has been squashed. The previous prime minister, Mahathir
Mohamad, did many good things for Malaysia, but his firing of the Lord President (chief justice) and two other
Supreme Court judges in 1988 was an unmitigated disaster. Since then, what passes for a judiciary in Malaysia has
been an utter disgrace and the Government knows it.

Several years ago, Daim Zainuddin, the country’s then powerful finance minister, told me that judges in Malaysia
were a bunch of idiots. Of course we want them to be biased, he told me, but not that biased.

Rarely do government ministers need to telephone a judge and demand this or that verdict because the judges are
so in tune with the Government’s desires that they automatically do the Government’s beckoning.

Just how appalling Malaysia’s judiciary has become was made clear in recent weeks with the circulation of a video
clip showing a senior lawyer assuring someone by telephone that he will lobby the Government to have him made
Lord President of the Supreme Court because he had been loyal to the Government. That someone is believed to
have been Ahmad Fairuz Abdul Halim, who did in fact become Lord President.

A protest march organised by the Malaysian Bar Council was staged in response to this, and corruption among the
judiciary in general. But the mainstream Malaysian media barely covered the march even though up to 2000 Bar
Council members were taking part. Reportedly, the Prime Minister’s office instructed editors to play down the event.

Instead of a free media, independent judges and open public debate, Malaysians are given stunts – the world’s
tallest building and most recently, a Malaysian cosmonaut. Essentially, they are given the play things of modernity
but not modernity itself.

Many senior Malays are absolutely despairing at the direction of their country today. But with the media tightly
controlled they have no way of getting their views out to their fellow countrymen. This means that most Malaysians
falsely assume that the Malay elite is unified when it comes to the country’s direction.

Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, a former finance minister and today still a member of the Government, told me several
weeks ago in Kuala Lumpur that he could see no reason why today Malaysia could not have a completely free
media, a completely independent judiciary and that corrupt ministers and other officials should be publicly exposed
and humiliated.

According to Tengku Razaleigh, all of the institutions designed to make Malaysia’s Government accountable and
honest have been dismantled or neutered.

It didn’t need to be like this. Malaysia is not North Korea or Indonesia. It is something quite different. Its legal
system is based on British codes. Coupled with traditional Malay culture, which is one of the world’s most
hospitable, decent and gentle cultures, Malaysia has the cultural and historical underpinnings to become one of
Asia’s most civilised, rules-based, successful societies.

Instead, Malaysia’s Government is incrementally wasting Malaysia’s inheritance.


Inflation , Fees increase and PRs

My daughter, who is studying medicine and just finished her 5th yr exam,   came back from NZ for summer holiday. She told me about the increase in prices of milk( despite the fact that New Zealand is the biggest milk producing country in the world) and other foodstuff in NZ and the pressure of inflation the students are facing there..

She also told me that those going to study medicine next year in NZ would have to pay a tuition fees of NZ$52000, as compared to her year when she paid $35000 per year.

 Australia is also raising its fees for medicine from around A$35000 to $54000 next year.

This is only the tuition fees. Throw in another 20000 for hostel and food and expenses, you need at least A$74000 a year to study medicine in Australia. Multiply a factor of 3,  you get about RM 220,000 a year. Multiply by 6, you get RM1,320,000 for a whole 6 year course of medicine in Australia. NZ is still cheaper as the exchange rate is only 2.6, but it is also an astronomical figure.

Shocking. And this increase will result in lesser Malaysian being able to afford a medical course in Australia & NZ.

For those good students who are unable to get a place in Malaysia and who wish to study medicine, Australia and NZ used to be the favourite places. Now it is getting so expensive that it will inevitable result in more Brain Waste- talents unable to study what they aspire to be.

We need to really buck up and overhaul our tertiary institution, and at the same time, ensure that there is  a level playing field to all students regardless of ethnic groups. This will result in less Brain Drain and Brain waste. This will also allow those very good students to get into the career of their choice, if they are able to get into the course of their choice locally and local universities can raise up their standard.

No wonder so many of Malaysians are applying PRs in Australia and NZ, since by doing so they can in fact save so much of their hard earned money.

 I do not fault the ordinary people for doing so, because often they have really no choice but to apply for a PRs, because of the system of education here.

I was one of the dumbest ordinary people since I never do so, even though I have a Master degree in Occupation Medicine from Australia, and getting a PR would not be too difficult for me,  for the simple reason that I consider Malaysia as my home , the one and only home, which deserves my undivided loyalty and attention.

For the top leaders of the country, it is another ball game altogether, and they cannot and should not behave like ordinary people. They, by virtual of the importance of their positions, cannot and should not hold a PR of another country.

One of the deputy minister is/was (? did she relinquish her PR)  holding a PR and that was raised sometime ago by the press, I am not sure whether it was the main stream press or Malaysiakini . But she is still a deputy minister. How smart she really is compared to this dumb writer. Imagine , she is supposed to have her undivided loyalty to this country and yet she has a PR somewhere else, which gives a perception that she is ready to migrate, which gives another perception that she is not as loyal to the country as many of us do.

There should really be a law that all government officers must not have PRs somewhere else so that they can give undivided loyalty to the country. This is especially important for senior government officers like Ministers and deputy Ministers and all MPs.

SO, in addition to a declaration of their assets, these people should also declare to Parliament whether they are a PR holder somewhere else. If they are, they should be made to relinquish their position. They, as the top leaders of this country, must have undivided loyalty to this country – no 2 way about it.

They can not have the cake and eat the icings , too.

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