Friday, June 8, 2007

‘Covert operation’ to control info

It does not surprise me when Dr Syed Alwi Ahmad refers to some writers (or activists) who keep questioning religious orthodoxy as ‘frustrated’ Western-educated yuppies in his letter ‘Common ground needed for ulama, yuppie.’ (Malaysiakini.com, 19 May 2004)

If he ‘dares to know’ (as Immanuel Kant puts it), non-fundamentalist Muslim scholars worldwide have debated this matter. But you rarely stumble on this in Malaysia. Such debates are alien because of our rigidly conservative environment.

Furthermore, there has been a ‘covert operation’ to control information. The educated, the preachers and the activists have a narrowly selective approach. They highlight ideas, events and personalities that suit very well only their traditionalist, close-minded position.

For instance, the widely read Islamist publication Harakah does not report what has been going on in Iran in recent years -- the tension between the reformists and the conservatives there. Neither do other Islamic magazines or religious columns in our national dailies and TV programmes.

The opposition newsletter mentioned above also does not report fairly on the extensive debate on Islam, e.g. the emergence of ‘liberal Islam’ groups in countries throughout the world.

Non-fundamentalist scholars are never welcome. To these Islamists, their ideas are ‘less Islamic’ or not so authentic. Abdullahi Na’em, Mohamad Arkoun, Hassan Hanafi, Nawal El-Saadawi, Fazlur Rahman, Nurcholish Madjid and others are circuitously ‘banned’ or ‘censored’, not legally, but socio-culturally. Their works are not discussed, translated or quoted in popular forms.

An interesting example is Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s Traditional Islam in the Modern World, a critique on the fundamentalist approach to Islam which has not been popular, though his other books, criticising modernism and Western philosophy of science, have been well received.

But we have plenty from Syed Qutb, Yusof Qardhawi and Maududi. Qardhawi’s Al-Shahwah al-Islamiah baina al-Juhud wa al-Tatharruf (on extremism among Islamists) is much less popular than his Fatawa ma’asyirah (his religious opinions on recent issues) among Malaysian Muslims, for example. So is our treatment of Hassan Hudaibi’s Du’at la khuda’.

My contention is this: Why do such things happen? What do our choice of books and selection of issues imply?

We have to admit with full frankness, that with 30 years of Islamic revivalism and with the help of the government’s Islamic policies as well as pressure from political Islamists, we have not achieved much. One area, which is still lacking is the intellectual development.

“No in-depth analyses”, as Chandra Muzaffar put it in his Islamic Resurgence in Malaysia a long time ago. “Over-simplification and over-generalisation of Islam,” as Anwar Ibrahim once said in the United States some 20 years ago. They precisely vocalized then our current malaise.

Unlike our Muslim forefathers who fervently adopted or Islamised (whichever you like), ‘foreign’ ideas, we are terrified of contemporary Western ideas.

"I am not sure that Islam is compatible with Western liberal democracy because there are many teachings in Islam which cannot be altered simply on the basis of a majority vote," Dr Syed Alwi argues.

(‘Liberal democracy’ and ‘a majority vote’? Unfortunately, I don’t get what he is trying to say here. Public discourse, democracy and vote? It sounds like a ‘Malaysia-Boleh’ kind of concept for politics).

Although Islamic fundamentalist movements worldwide have been successfully attracting many modern-educated scholars and professionals, even from Western universities (see Karen Armstrong’s The Battle for God ***), traditionalists still reign tightly over the content and direction of our Islamic revivalism.

Or, can we safely conclude that the traditionalists have ‘hijacked’ it because of modern-educated and professional Muslims’ heavy reliance on their (the traditionalists’) religious interpretation?

Conservative ulama work hand-in-hand with these professionals in Islamic missionary works and the collaboration has allowed the gradual subversion of minds.

We refuse to acknowledge this because we trust them. The ‘green’ effect of religious confidence provided by the ulama helps reinforce the mental paralysis. Why do we place full trust, without critical appraisal, on them?

The clear answer: Ignorance of religious education that breeds inflexibility of minds. We want to be God-fearing creatures, so we accept conservative ulama interpretation whole-heartedly.

When it comes to the halal-haram decision-making process, we dump our critical minds aside. We don’t research more thoroughly on our own, for instance.

We willingly let the so-called ulama (or religious activists) decide (and manipulate) personal matters and public issues on our behalf. We surrender our mental powers to them. We believe unquestioningly in it, we faithfully practice it and we religiously disseminate it.

We don’t argue with the conservative ulama; oft-times they loathe – as Dr Syed Alwi said – to be argued with. "They prefer to stick to what the Qur'an teaches them – ‘we hear and we obey’. Absolute faith!" he writes.

Besides, the ulama also relentlessly gives the artificial impression (not to say ‘half-truths’) that they are the chosen ones (after the Prophet) and the most pious. Al-ulama warithatun anbiya (a saying of the Prophet) and innama yakhsa Allah min ‘ibadihi al-ulama (a Quranic verse), we are taught over and over.

After 30 years of Islamic awakening in Malaysia (and all over the globe), everyone is preaching a conservatively didactic notion of life. Malay entertainment journalists, artistes, creative writers and even disco-goers nowadays are somewhat ‘Islamic’ (in one form or another).

I deliberately refuse to argue further with Dr Syed Alwi simply because what he wrote has strengthened my argument that the public sphere is a real dilemma for Islamic activists.

My suggestion to have a vibrant discourse on the ‘Islamic conception of public sphere’ is left open. It is an on-going free-for-all participation - though not a seasonal fiesta!

By Fathi Aris Omar, Letter to Editor Malaysiakini (May 20, 2004)

*** Note: You must be wondering why Armstrong's The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam was banned in June 2006. Was it another "proof" of the conservatives' COVERT OPERATION?

11 comments:

fong said...

As a post-independence-born Malaysian, I would like to offer my thoughts on Article 153 of the federal constitution which mentions the special position of the malays. Please note that there is no mention of the words 'special privileges' or 'special rights' in the constitution.

For too long, there has been a lack of understanding of what our forefathers had in mind when they included this clause in our much talked about social contract. To gain a better understanding, let us take a trip back in time to 1957 to actually visualise the scene then.

In a scenario where the immigrant Chinese and Indians were seeking citizenship rights in Malaysia, it is reasonable to presume that they would have had to understand and acknowledge the difficulties faced by the majority malays.

And this is where the meaning of the words 'special position' comes into focus. What did our forefathers mean by the special position of the malays? Did they mean that the malays would enjoy a higher status than all the other races? Did they mean that the malays would have special rights and privileges in perpetuity?

If this is what our forefathers had intended, then our constitution would have mentioned this specifically. However, the constitution or social contract does not say so.

What then, could the words 'special position' mean? It is reasonable to infer that our forefathers were concerned first by the fact that the malays were left behind economically despite being the indigenous majority in the country.

Secondly, they were concerned by the fact that, despite being immigrants, the Chinese and a small segment of the Indian community were relatively much better off.

The clause was therefore more so of an acknowledgment by the non-malays of the disadvantageous economic situation of the malays. The consideration given by the former to the latter when entering into the social contract for citizenship rights was agree to provide some measure of support for the malays to improve their economic standing.

If our forefathers had meant for these preferences to last in perpetuity, then there would not have been a request for a review in 15 years.

When I see the compulsory requirement for non-malay companies to hand over a certain portion of their equity to the malays for no input at all, I am tempted to ask: Is this what our forefathers had in mind? I can go on listing the abuses forever because there are plenty of them.

It is intriguing to hear senior BN and Umno leaders repeatedly asking the people to adhere to the social contract. What contract they are referring to? It cannot be the federal constitution. It is most probably some contract that they have entered into unilaterally without the agreement of the non-malays.

So it seems to be incorrect to firstly equate the words 'special position' with 'special rights and privileges'. Secondly, it also seems incorrect to suggest that the malays have special rights and privileges in perpetuity and therefore, that they have a higher status than everyone else.

The non-malays only agreed to allow them preferences over the others for a finite period of time. It has now been almost 50 years since independent but has such a meaningful review of those preferences taken place at all? Absolutely not.

In fact what has happened is that successive BN governments, dominated by Umno, and especially after the 1969 tragedy, have taken the liberty to very liberally interpret Article 153. This has led to the wholesale abuse of the consideration provided by the non-malays in 1957 for their citizenship rights.

It seems to me that the real social contract of 1957 was torn up long ago by the BN government with the way in which the NEP was implemented from the 1970s onwards.

To me, the real social contract of 1957 has long been dead. I hope the day will come when the people of Malaysia in the true independent spirit will make it live again.

Then perhaps, we would not have to spend hundreds of millions ringgit on nonsensical projects like the National Service to inculcate unity amongst the races.

tim said...

Malaysia is the only country in the world where the constitution itself (no less) says that a particular race has to belong a particular religion. No other country follows this ruling. Not even Arabia (birthplace of Islam) or Indonesia (largest Muslim population).

shinwee said...

Fine, I can look past that, malays can have their special rights, but not to the point of causing plenty displeasure and plain unfairness to other races. It is like we are second rate citizens of this country. It is no wonder non-malays don't feel that patriotic about this country, who can blame them?

What we want here, we have to work our asses off, and we can't expect help from the government, only private and corporate companies. Hell even corporate companies have to stick to quota, that already limit our options already.

NEP my ass! It is making the poor malays poorer! It is not creating opportunity but a generation of subsidy addicts!

The five-years plan contains no paradigm shift. It is a continuation of many of the failed ideas of the past.

Something must be wrong when a policy fails to meet its target, not once but twice. More so, when in recent years, the share of bumi ownership in the corporate sector has not increased one iota. It was 18.9 percent in 2000. It was 18.9 percent in 2004.

Worse still, the share of equity ownership held by Indians has declined - from 1.5 percent to 1.2 percent - during this period. Until and unless we examined why we failed in meeting these targets, we may not achieve them at all.

What all of you have said is pure facts - from public transports to media, to licenses for business, to corruption of the top officials, Malaysia isn't democratic as what we initially thought or rather make to believe - Malaysia is of no hope.

Australia must be a lovely place to live, but then some of us haven't been to Europe. Learning a new language must be very difficult for most people let alone speak so many languages. So the world could be more open for you than for others.

With very good command in knowledge of laws as well as loads of courage, it is not impossible to find there - are us out there, that is brave enough to voice out our objection in topic like this.

kok said...

Discrimination in the private sector is everywhere. Even the Chinese businessman who is just starting gets discriminated against more established ones, unless he has a mentor to back him up.

As for career interviews, it is best to get a recommendation first. If I am using my own money, it is my right to choose whom I want - even to the extent of discrimination. Why would I want to hire someone that I cannot have lunch with, work with or converse with?

The BN government on the other hand is discriminating against the non-malays not with the malay money, but with probably the Chinese money as the latter pay the bulk of income tax collected in the country. That we are against.

ruyom said...

Show me when do the malays consult or ever extend their hands in friendship. Do the malays really treat non-malays with equity and fairness?

Seriously, I think all races in Malaysia treat each others at arms length. The malays expect other races to kowtow to them and never the way around. For example, Chinese and Indians were made to learn and study malay culture but the malays are not made to learn and study Chinese and Indian culture.

Why do the malays have to be in a superior position (oppressive one at that) all the time? What is wrong for Malaysia to have, say a Chinese chief justice or an Indian chief of armed forces or even a prime minister!

How do we expect them to continue with their goodwill if we do not ever treat them with equity and fairness? I think the malays are paranoid and are projecting their own insecurity onto others.

That is my point and it is time that we begin to envision the land of ours from an inclusively point of view instead of exclusivity point of view. We have to begin this starting point somehow, somewhere and the time is now.

You are wasting your time by presenting the facts. Fact means nothing to them and you should know that by now. The Malaysian Muslims are seriously stupid and severely retarded. I am simply having fun. I work with them everyday and I cannot describe to you their inability to formulate simple logic.

As an adult trying to make it in the real world, I have developed a clear understanding of what goes on around me.

And this is what I believe the real situation in Malaysia. As long as the malays get their way in how things are done in Malaysia - there will never be any serious development in Malaysia.

This is the fundamental. Please avoid giving example of successful malays, because economically, the numbers are too darn low to mean anything. Negligible they call it.

Malays must realise that as humans - they are I suppose equal. But as peoples, they have attitude that is exactly like the aborigines of Africa. Completely hopeless, no matter what you give them.

The malays can never win - for as long as they chose to do things the way it is done now. Eventually, the other races would consume them economically, and they would be second class citizens. This is a matter of time.

My opinion is - the only way for them to succeed, is to take away all special rights and learn to get by on their own abilities. The stupid and weak malays would die - and only the bright ones would survive.

They are doing themselves a favour by taking away their special rights. Because look around you, the other races are getting stronger because our weak ones are dying.

We will continue to get stronger. And there will be a day, when we control all the financial means in the country. Then it is a matter of buying off each one of you puny malays - and then take over the country.

aston said...

In Japan people commit hara-kiri if they have erred. Here Malaysia we have half past six ministers pointing fingers at each other. See the big difference? Our ministers here their skin is thicker than Kobe beef.

yuking said...

I can personally relate to those who choose to leave for greener pastures. As a local undergraduate, I am seriously contemplating leaving the country to somewhere where I could be given the best opportunity to grow and succeed.

And why is that? Simply because time and time again I'd been denied my deserved and rightful places in either government scholarships or universities, whereas scores of 'privileged' people get offered courses because of the racial policies.

I honestly see no future in staying and trying to change things. Who knows, maybe the love of my motherland would keep me here, but my patience is wearing thin.

Maybe the Malaysia government should run a check on how many students in NUS and NTU now are Malaysians, rejected by local Malaysia education system. They were forbidden their opportunity even though they were the best of the best.

Frankly, time and time again, the politicians and those in power have embarrassed Malaysia and its citizens. We are so much more capable to achieve bigger successes in the eyes of the world, but yet we aim for the short-term ones.

Most of our Malaysia university courses are still in Bahasa Melayu and the embarrassing truth is that a large majority of our lecturers, including those with PhD and trained in English speaking countries, cannot speak and write proper English.

Don't believe me? Just go to UM and attend one of the professor inaugural lectures. Listen to the chairman introducing the speaker in English. Then you tell me whether it is fair to say, 'Why can't our local graduates speak and write proper English?' Just for our local graduates? How about their lecturers in our local universities?

Don't blame the poor academics, not their fault as they are the wonderful products of our government lame policy - we reap what we sowed. Amen!

Someday when 8 out of 10 Malaysians young adults shun our local universities - that is the heyday of Malaysians 2020 vision. Why? Disappointed students will leave our motherland to other countries for their higher education. And what Malaysia can offer? Better salary to woo them back? Yah RM1800 for local undergraduates?

It really breaks my heart to see how dimwitted and shortsighted these supposedly 'intellectual' academics can become. Woe is Malaysia education going down the drain.

Since NEP, the gap between Malaysia and Singapore deepen, and this clearly proves what Malaysia government has done so far. The main problem is the Umno warlords have abused the NEP to such an extent that the intended recipients, poor rural malays never reaped the benefits. Therefore they justified the retention of this policy.

Sometimes I wonder, do these political bigwigs actually take us people as idiots or what? I'd really like to see a government that is competent and fair for a change, but that is not going to be possible if everyone conveniently forgets about all these dumb things, the government did - when they go to the polls in the next election and give them another overwhelming majority win.

For the non-malays, who most of them were the best of their faculties in Cambridge, were not required to work off their bonds. They were told to just wait for six-months and they would be free. And now, they are i-bankers in London, New York and so on, without any real plan to come back Malaysia.

The brain drain problem will continue on and on until those Umno warlords acknowledge their role in perpetuating the NEP as their personal cash-cow.

If you want further brain drain of local talents, keep the way as it was now. I shall stand tall and look down on you.

reek said...

The subservient mentality of our youths (voters) has served our Malaysia government very well. It is irony that former PM Mahathir is crying foul now for not being able to voice his concerns for the country in the government-controlled media.

When he was in charge, dissenting views were not tolerated. The current PM is the product of that era and not surprising he has asked citizens not to question the government!

Whether by design or luck our Malaysia education system helps to produce subservient citizens unable to think critically and with "devious" religious teaching the control of citizens mind is complete.

The reform of Malaysia education system can never succeed so long as corrupt government is in power. The bottom line for most of Malaysia problem is lack of good governance.

Obviously the best solution is to get our government reform first, then, with righteous politicians we can hope a change for the better.

Wishful thinking! - Sorry for being so pessimistic but that is reality for at least 2 more generations.

In fact I am amused how often the "blame game" is used, be it racial or religion issues but in this case, youth generation for the first time.

After half a century of independence, we always have one party in power. It is not today's youth forefathers that shaped the education system but the politicians. You could argue that the politicians were elected democratically by the forefathers and hence they are equally to be blamed. That much I can agree if only corruption is discounted.

The older generation is less educated then today's youth and generally less educated than the ruling elite of their time. Education would have created a critical mass of thinking citizens to challenge the government of their action in nation-building.

Having a corrupt government, education is a powerful tool to manipulate the next generation of youth into subservient voters. My message is simple, "reform our corrupt government to have a better chance of reforming other policies (be it economy, education and judiciary etc) successfully".

The foundation of nation-building lies in good governance. A corrupt government can never be successful in nation-building.

vokoyo said...

The special position of the malays as prescribed under Article 153 of the Constitution is limited in scope to only the reservation of reasonable quotas in these 3 sectors: public services, educational places and business licenses.

Hence, the present rampant racial discriminations practiced on almost every facet of our national life are mostly violations of the Constitution. Examples of these violations are:

(a) Racial discrimination in the appointment and promotion of employees in publicly funded bodies, resulting in these becoming almost mono-raced bodies. These bodies include: the police, civil service, army and various semi and quasi government agencies.

(b) Imposition of compulsory share quota for malays in non-malay companies.

(c) Imposition of compulsory price discounts and quotas in favour of malays in housing projects.

(d) Completely lop-sided allocation of scholarships and seats of learning in clearly unreasonable proportions that reflect racial discriminations.

(e) Blanket barring of non-malays to publicly funded academic institutions (that should include the Mara).

(f) Barring of non-malays from tenders and contracts controlled directly or indirectly by the government.

Our Constitution provides for only one class of citizenship and all citizens are equal before the law.

The presence of Article 153 does not alter this fact, as it is meant only to protect the malays from being "squeezed" by other races by allowing the reservation of reasonable quotas on certain sectors of national life.

However, this Constitution has now been hijacked through decades of hegemony of political power by the ruling party to result in the virtual monopoly of the public sector by a single race.

The ensuing racism, corruption and corrosion of integrity of our democratic institutions have brought serious retrogression to our nation-building process in terms of national unity, morality, discipline and competitiveness of our people.

samp said...

The last Umno assembly has seen the rearing of many ugly heads. It is no wonder why Newsweek magazine labeled Umno as 'a seething snake pit'.

There was a glorious display of damning, hissing, swearing, and unsheathing of the keris against imaginary enemies.

The fact that Badawi his people have taken upon themselves to demonstrate such extremism, reflects not only gross immaturity, but hatred for all non-malays.

These Umno malays have shown their true colours. Non-malays have always suspected this and the recent theatrics have confirmed it. There is no room for love from any non-malay.

A poor bumi will always be a poor bumi. Unlikely to be in the company of the Umno malays who have grabbed all the wealth from you. See for yourself when they pass by in their voluptuous Mercedes.

Strong words have been spoken at the Umno meet which are difficult to obliterate. All that is ugly in Umno has been exhibited with no holds barred - bias, bigotry, discrimination and hatred.

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