Archive for June, 2007

Anyone Else Confused?

June 15, 2007

Taking a little breather from revising to quickly share my thoughts with you on a recent televised discussion.

Going by it’s name, Malaysia’s Institute of Islamic Understanding (IKIM) is tasked with enlightening the rest of us about Islam. Why is it then that I am feeling rather confused after watching a panel discussion with its Director-General, Dr. Syed Ali Tawfik Al-Attas?

Dr. Al-Attas was part of a three person panel which also included Dr. Farish Noor and lawyer Lim Heng Seng. The discussion was centred on issues related to the Lina Joy decision and it was broadcast on Al-Jazeera several days ago. To my pleasant surprise it was recently uploaded to YouTube. I include the two part video below.

Two areas I’m still scratching my head over:

1. Dr. Al-Attas claims he doesn’t believe apostates should be killed. He then waffles about whether apostasy is a punishable crime.

2. Dr. Al-Attas implies that it would be absurd for Malaysia to implement hudud law. But he then questions why the ambit of the Shariah courts have not been extended to criminal law.

HUH?

Confusing?

You decide.

And be sure to let me know once you’ve figured out what he’s trying to say.

 

PART 1

 

 

PART 2

-UK-

How Will The World See Us Tomorrow?

June 4, 2007

Exams are a mere 2 days away and as much as I hate the thought, I must go into hibernation for a bit. I will be back after the 20th of June so don’t go solving Malaysia’s problems before then.

Before I do that though, let me deviate from the legalistic ramblings and focus on perception. In particular, how the rest of the world sees Malaysia with all that’s been happening.

Who cares what the rest of the world, in particular the decadent West, may think of us, you may ask?

The reality is that our economy relies on trade and tourism. According to MATRADE, Malaysia is ranked among the 20 largest trading countries in the world. Not bad when you consider the size of our population. MIER estimates growth to hit 5.8% in 2008, a pretty respectable figure.

However, if the Asian Financial Crisis has taught us anything, it is that perception is king. Any hint of political or economic instability/weakness and say farewell to investors. Tourism of course is linked to political and social stability. And ten years after the Financial Crisis, there are many more destinations for investors and tourists.

Hence, it would be foolish and shortsighted to simply say ‘to hell with them’ when our economy is so integrated with the outside world.

How then is Malaysia being portrayed by some of the most influential English news organisations in view of recent events? Here’s a selection:

The BBC: Despite what our Information Minister says, the Beeb has produced a very factual, almost clinical report with minimal commentary.

TIME closes its piece on the following note: “In an era where Islam is so often partnered with extremism and autocratic governance, Malaysia was held up at the annual conference as a model of a moderate Muslim nation committed to safeguarding the rights of its diverse population. But the Federal Court’s verdict on Joy’s case, which represented her last legal recourse, may undercut that reputation.

Al Jazeera makes mention of Malaysia’s ‘faith restoration camps’ and mentions the phrases “regressive” and “unconstitutional“.

The Guardian has this to say: “The court’s decision comes as tensions grow between the Muslim Malay majority and the ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities who are mainly Hindu, Buddhist or Christian.”

The Economist talks of a creeping Islamisation and concludes with this thought provoking sentence: “Constraints on individuals’ rights to choose their beliefs are usually backed up by claims that religions are somehow ‘under threat’: a curious lack of faith—in faith itself”

The International Herald Tribune (IHT) NY Times mentions rules on bumiputera ownership and says that the ruling underlines “the increasing separateness of Muslims from people of other religions” and adds that “the split on the court mirrored the discord in Malaysian society, where ethnic and religious tensions have begun to increase in recent years.”

[EDIT: My mistake…the link above was to the NY Times. However the IHT paints an equally unflattering picture of Malaysia.]

The Economist and the IHT especially are read by business people around the world.

Looking at it objectively, if your introduction to Malaysia was through articles like the ones above, would you want to invest your client’s money or book your two week honeymoon in Malaysia? It’s no use whether you agree or disagree with the various assessments. The reality is, the damage is done.

I doubt you’ll find a busier Ministry in Malaysia right now than the Ministry of Truth Information.

Who’s Scared of the Talk?

June 3, 2007

Like most kids I had an irrational fear of the dark. I was convinced that monsters lived under my bed and that if I wasn’t careful one would snatch me by the leg, drag me under the bed and make a meal of me. To calm myself I would pull the covers over my head as if the sheets formed a powerful barrier. Most of the time that worked pretty well. Hiding under the covers eventually made the monsters go away. Perhaps they got bored (or grew too hungry) and moved underneath a less savvy kid’s bed.

Britain’s The Times newspaper recently reported that an international conference intended to foster greater understanding between faith communities scheduled to be held in Kuala Lumpur was cancelled at the last minute due to a request by the Malaysian government. Apparently religion is a tense subject in Malaysia and it would appear that there are those who believe that hiding under the covers will make the nation’s problems go away.

I hope I have let go of all my irrational fears by the time I reach 50!

I am also left wondering…if everyone’s heads are under the covers, who is steering our ship?

The folks at Malaysiakini were kind enough to publish my letter on the subject and I shall let the letter do the rest of the talking. [EDIT: But not without adding a few more thoughts!]

[NOTE 1: The letter below was published before the Lina Joy decision. If anything, there is a more urgent need for the government to act in a constructive manner, because the decision has garnered so much international attention, that our Information Minister has decided to get in on the action.]

[NOTE 2: Post-Lina Joy our PM and others have gone on record to ask Malaysians to not get too emotional about the issues raised. I posed this question in the letter but let me ask again – what positive steps is/has the government taken to defuse the situation?]

-UK-

__________

Interfaith Conference: Quit the Ostrich Act

Umran Kadir
May 14, 07 5:52pm

I refer to the malaysiakini report Confusion reigns over inter-faith conference.

Malaysia has long prided itself as a beacon of progress and moderation in the Muslim world. However, in the last few years the world has borne witness to the rising tide of religious intolerance and ignorance in our country. First we had the tussle for Shamala’s children, then we had Ayah Pin’s commune being destroyed, next it was a tug of war for Moorthy’s body.

More recently it was the embarrassing issue of the Barnhardts’ rude 2 am. awakening in Langkawi. Lina Joy’s saga to determine her own destiny continues still. Today, tales of families being torn apart by the religious authorities are surfacing with alarming regularity.

Despite all these incidents being widely reported in the international press we still find politicians, academics and theologians coming to Malaysia to learn how our government has been so successful at managing our diverse population. What a shock it was to learn of the inept decision to stop the ‘Building Bridges Global Interfaith Seminar’.

It was further disillusioning to read a comment in The Times by a would-be participant that ‘… there was contention at the highest level in Malaysia’ on whether the conference should proceed.

The effect of halting the Article 11 forums was to send the message that Malaysian citizens cannot discuss issues that our government deems to be ‘too sensitive’. It now appears that this same prohibition extends to the most learned of foreign theologians and academics. Perhaps it wouldn’t seem quite so bad if the government were shown to be actively trying to resolve these ‘sensitive’ religious issues. Yet the government’s approach to resolving these issues…well…just what is the government’s approach?

The government may choose to conduct itself with its proverbial head in the sand but the rest of the world doesn’t work that way. The perception of some appears to be that these problems can continue to be swept under the carpet because those most affected are either poor, insignificant or both. To those who hold such a view, I can only ask the following:

How much more will the international community be prepared to witness before Malaysia is branded as an oppressive and intolerant state?

Such a question should not be viewed as the sole concern of bleeding heart liberals, interracial couples or apostates. It should rightly concern our political leaders and captains of industry. For if it should come to pass that Malaysia is perceived by the outside world as oppressive and intolerant then not even the slickest of Tourism Malaysia advertisements will salvage our reputation.

Malaysia Boleh…Ke?

June 2, 2007

Yesterday, Frank asked whether “Pembela can look at the issue from a bigger and wider picture, as citizens of this country with equal constitutional rights with other non Malays and non Muslims”?

I must admit I am not in a position to comment on Frank’s question though I believe I can say something meaningful about a wider and perhaps more pertinent question.

Can Malaysians “look at the issue from a bigger and wider picture, as citizens of this country with equal constitutional rights”?

Extending this further, can Malaysians handle discussing problems of a sensitive nature (not just apostasy) rationally and resolve them together? At a Malaysian student conference I attended recently we touched on some of these issues. At the conference a speaker jokingly asked “Malaysia boleh…ke?’ I left that conference thinking ‘boleeeh!’

I include below a piece on my impressions of the conference which was published in theSun a few weeks ago.

Recent events of course have dampened my positivity but I keep telling myself that it is important, especially in times like this, to remember that the dream is possible.

In the meantime, I have had some interesting comments and discussions about yesterday’s post. In particular, Walski showed me a posting which questions whether the Federal Constitution is the fundamental basis for Malaysian law.

More on that in another post.

________________

A diverse, united nation
Umran Kadir

” … our society has not attained a mental maturity where it is insensitive to racial issues.”
A Malaysian cabinet minister, 2006

Malaysians are constantly being told that we are not mature enough to handle the discussion of issues that our leaders deem to be “sensitive”. Such statements encourage us to fear one another and such fear, perhaps all too conveniently, can create a deafening silence. Under a shroud of silence, how can the true will of the people be understood and how can Malaysia ever achieve its true potential?

At a recent conference held in Kuala Lumpur in early April a refreshing suggestion was made. Policymakers were urged to take into account the views of young Malaysians. Raja Nazrin Shah, the keynote speaker at the conference, stressed that the Federal Constitution must be the main focal point of the nation-building effort. He further emphasised that “only when each citizen believes that he or she has a common home and is working towards a common destiny, will he or she make the sacrifices needed for the long haul.”

It was with these inspiring thoughts in mind that barely a week later I attended a series of discussions for Malaysian students in London entitled Projek Amanat Negara (PAN) IV. The conference was organised by the United Kingdom and Eire Council for Malaysian Students (UKEC), a coalition of Malaysian student societies from the universities and colleges of the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The 100 participants were of various races, religions and backgrounds – a diversity befitting Malaysia. In this respect, the group was similar to other forums on social issues that I’ve attended in Malaysia. But I quickly noticed a striking difference with this particular group. This group was youthful. I’d estimate that the average age of participants would not have been over 25. It can only be regarded as uncannily good timing that such an event took place so shortly after policymakers were urged to consider the views of younger Malaysians.

Of course, none of this detracts from the fact that the youth have much to learn from more experienced members of society. We were thus joined by a group of eminent Malaysians who are giants in their respective fields. Over the course of two and a half days we freely, critically and calmly discussed topics ranging from corruption and accountability, national unity, the environment, the education system and the National Economic Policy (NEP).

In discussing the concept of bangsa Malaysia (the Malaysian nation), a speaker suggested that whilst Malaysia is a country, it is not yet a nation. What I took from this statement was that for the concept of bangsa Malaysia to become a reality each citizen must believe that he or she has an equal stake in this country. This is similar to Raja Nazrin’s statement. However, I would also add a second requirement: each of us must accept that other Malaysians have an equal stake in and claim to our country. From a practical perspective I believe we can say that we are a nation when, irrespective of race, religion, age or status, Malaysians can openly, calmly and rationally discuss “sensitive” issues of national concern and furthermore agree on how to resolve them. PAN IV provided a tantalising glimpse at what is possible when we unite as a nation – and that future is truly bright.

Here are several key points I drew from the conference:

  • More action must be taken to resolve religiously charged issues or we risk jeopardising national unity.
  • We have an elected government responsible to the people and the people must realise that the government exists to serve them.
  • To reduce corruption, we must address low salaries, improve enforcement and through education instil a culture of ethics.
  • Our education system must place a greater emphasis on philosophy, history and ethics rather than solely focusing on disciplines traditionally thought to maximise wealth.
  • We must engage in sustainable development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
  • If you want your voice to be heard and moreover listened to, write letters to the editors or join an NGO!


View the ambitious London Declaration arrived at during PAN IV by going to www.ukeconline.com/PAN. The website also mentions a similar event scheduled to take place in Malaysia in August 2007. To register your interest or offer financial or non-financial support for this event please send an email to info@ukeconline.com

The Catastrophe That Is The Lina Joy Decision

June 1, 2007

I promised an explanation and here it is. Malaysiakini was kind enough to publish my letter.

Still can’t shake that feeling, by the way.

AN ADDENDUM:

I notice my newborn blog is getting some traffic from Malaysiakini for which I am thankful.

If I can add anything, it is that our Parliament must play a bigger role in resolving this. I presume they have left it entirely to the courts to resolve because it is an election year but to me this is the height of irresponsibility. Surely an issue of this magnitude should be discussed openly in Parliament. Unless even our MPs are not ‘mature enough’ to have open discussions on ‘sensitive’ issues? [EDIT: See my next post for more on the maturity of Malaysians.]

We are already being told by our Prime Minister and others to not be emotional. I agree. We need to approach this in a reasoned manner but don’t be under any illusions that a lot is not at stake here.

I feel Malaysia is at a turning point in its history. We can go one way or we can go the other.

Is it just me?

-UK-

________________

Malaysiakini

Umran Kadir
Jun 1, 07 2:49pm
     

 

I refer to the letter Lina Joy: Let’s not leap to polemics (http://www.malaysiakini.com/letters/67989) I beg to differ with Nathaniel Tan’s downplaying of the significance of the decision in the Lina Joy case. Without resorting to hysterics or polemics, the Federal Court’s decision is a tragedy when viewed from at least five perspectives.

First and foremost it is a personal tragedy for Lina Joy, who after going through what I can only imagine has been an immense struggle is still without a remedy.

Second, it is a tragedy for those who believe that there are certain rules to be followed when amending our Constitution. Nowhere in our Constitution does it currently state that Shariah courts are empowered to decide on the matter of a person’s faith, Muslim or otherwise. One cannot fault her but if Lina Joy decides to seek a remedy in a Shariah courts, then the jurisdiction of the Shariah courts will have effectively been expanded without the need for a Constitutional amendment!

Through its deference, the Federal Court has conferred jurisdiction to the Shariah Court. Implicit in this is a question involving the separation of powers doctrine. Specifically, is the Federal Court in a position to be conferring jurisdiction in this matter to the Shariah courts? Admittedly, Parliament has done little to resolve these issues.

However, the question remains as to what the jurisdiction of Shariah courts will allowed to extend to next? Moreover, who is in a position to confer this extension?

Third, it is a tragedy for all Malaysians because this decision fetters a fundamental right of all Malaysians. Article 11 of the Federal Constitution unequivocally guarantees a right to freedom of religion for all citizens of Malaysia. It is a right, not a privilege. Why is Lina Joy’s access to this right being fettered by the requirement of a certificate?

Certificates and similar documentation are meant to be evidentiary in nature but in this case who is in a better position to adduce the evidence but the woman herself? What more can a Shariah court add when she has been a self-confessed and practicing Christian for so many years?

Here a policy or ‘floodgates’ argument (ie, Muslims will leave Islam in droves) may be employed but my question for all Malaysians is this: which other fundamental freedoms can the floodgates argument arrest? Protection against retrospective criminal laws (Article 7)?

Perhaps to reduce our high crime rate Parliament should devise new criminal offences and then we can start charging the people that committed these new offences 10 years ago.

Fourth, it is a further tragedy for all Malaysians because this country that we and our forefathers have all worked so hard to build and promote is increasingly being labelled as intolerant and backwards in the eyes of the world. If we are not more conscious of how others perceive us, we will be left behind.

Fifth, it is a tragedy for Islam and Muslims in general who will be further regarded as petty, vindictive and illogical.

So you see, one needn’t be emotional to realise the multifaceted, catastrophic and utterly depressing implications of the Lina Joy decision.