Friday, February 24, 2012

Stateless Indians gain right to be buried as Malaysians!


 The plight of ignorant and uneducated Indians is legendary and deserves sympathy and compassion. From a humanitarian point of view, a caring and compassionate government would have rendered services to relieve them of their misery. But that doesn’t seem to be the case in Malaysia.
 rubber tapper

For various compelling reasons these deprived poor Indians had failed to secure an identity card and were unable to register the birth of their children. Those working in rubber estates and oil palm plantations and those struggling to survive in slum areas never understood the requirements of the law or the implications of non-compliance of the law.
Under such circumstances, they had failed to observe the law. This unfortunate situation condemned them to a pathetic stateless misery for decades. These are the people, born and bred in Malaysia, who remain as stateless persons forced to suffer the indignities of poverty and endure the misery inflicted on them by an uncaring and unsympathetic government.
With a little show of humanity and compassion on the part of the government, they would have been rescued from their misery and could have been assisted to live the life of an ordinary citizen with hope and opportunity. Unfortunately, this did not happen. There have been instances when they found it difficult to get jobs or a decent shelter above their heads or a place in school — all because they did not comply with the law. When these ignorant and desperate people subsequently tried to register the birth of a child or apply for an identity card, they faced lots of obstacles from an uncaring and totally unsympathetic and hostile bureaucracy. They were given the run around and made to wait endlessly without any relief.
For the vast majority of them, it was an impossible task to obtain the necessary documents that would have eased their lives. Every attempt to secure a future for them only hit a blank wall. It was such a hopeless situation that many, out of sheer frustration, gave up hope and stopped trying. What else could they do when after 20, 30 years nothing happened?
During this time, the government was always in a position to help them and ease their lives. With a little understanding of their circumstances, with the stroke of a pen, they could have been elevated from their suffering. A little merciful gesture would have rescued them from their abject poverty and made their lives meaningful. But why was nothing done all these many decades?
Is this why the prime minister termed the granting of citizenship and handing over of identification documents to these poor suffering Indians “historic”? He made no mention of the pathetic situation which was forced upon them by the bureaucracy and the Barisan government. He did not express any regret for not having acted very much earlier. He could have addressed their plight in 2009 when he became the prime minister, or the year after in 2010 or even after that in 2011. But he did nothing. Was it because these were not election years?
What could not be resolved in the last 30 years or so is now miraculously and suddenly resolved — because the election is around the corner. The Indian vote is crucial for the BN. That, some cynics claim, explains this change of heart and charity!
It was reported that 5,593 Indians received their MyKad and 4,023 Indians received their citizenship (New Straits Times, February 15, 2012). It was no comfort that so many Indians were suddenly legitimised. How is it that, out of the blue, so many Indians had no difficulty in obtaining these important documents in 2012? How is it, this time around, they did not encounter the obstacles that had plagued them previously? How is it that their nightmare vanished, as it were, with a snap of the fingers!
We have this 72-year-old woman, Parvathi Marimuthu, who was genuinely elated to receive her MyKad and could not contain her joy: “I am now a proud Malaysian citizen.” But she had to wait 29 years to receive her MyKad!
Then there is 73-year-old L. Ramasamy, “who was truly overwhelmed after overcoming countless barriers to get his blue MyKad” so suddenly. In his own words: “I have been here since the year Malaysia received independence…” And yet nobody spared a thought for him or bothered to render a little help that could have made all the difference to his life.
Spare a thought for 76-year-old Saharunisah Arshad, who over a period of 35 years had been applying unsuccessfully: “I was a single mother bringing up two children, and earning a living was indeed a challenge without proper identification.” How this old lady would have struggled and suffered — simply because the government did not care.
Another happy person is 65-year-old L. Nangalethemy, born and bred in Malaysia, and who finally received her citizenship after previous failed attempts. Why was her application not entertained earlier? On what grounds did she qualify now?
The prime minister, who was present, proudly stated: “They will now be able to enjoy healthcare services at government clinics for just RM1 and seek employment in the public sector.” He also mentioned that the recipients would now be able to exercise their rights as citizens and gain access to basic government service previously denied then including education and welfare.
What is the point in giving them this privilege when they are in their late sixties and seventies, when they are too old to work, when they are unable to obtain a bank loan or travel in search of a better life? Even if welfare aid is extended to them, how long can they enjoy this when they are so advanced in age? Will this aid be granted immediately or will they have to wait indefinitely, perhaps until the 14th general election?
They have no proper shelter above their heads since they cannot afford one and were not qualified legitimately to own one as they were stateless. Will the BN government now provide some form of shelter for them?
They have no savings and they have no benefits from EPF or Socso for as stateless persons they were not eligible to contribute to these agencies. How do they survive in this late stage of their lives?
Who will compensate them for their wasted years and lost opportunities? Aren’t they entitled to some form of a relief from the BN government, which had robbed them of a livelihood?
Mr Prime Minister, what these unfortunate Indians have gained in the twilight years of their lives, after decades of deliberate denial and deprivation, is the right to be buried as Malaysians! —

Monday, February 20, 2012

DAP and the PAS Islamic agenda


One of the most contentious issues that MCA president Chua Soi Lek raised at last weekend’s great debate is the so-called call PAS Islamic agenda, and the alleged failure of his opponent DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng to make a public stand on the matter.

Soi Lek and his MCA have been harping on this PAS issue consistently, persistently, and tediously since early 2011, trying to score political points rhetorically to undermine the credibility of Guan Eng and the DAP, using in particular the party-owned newspaper The Star in his unrelenting determined campaign against the DAP.
But does Soi Lek truly understand what the whole matter of the Islamic agenda is all about?
PAS, like any other political party all over the world is founded on a political idealogy, in its case the Islamic theocratic idealogy. The raison d’être for the founding of PAS is the promotion, advancement and establishment of an Islamic theocratic society. Without this mandate, PAS has no legitimate purpose to continue its existence.

Hence, like the communist idealogical platform, the liberal social political philosophy, the capitalism system, the authoritarian right-wing fascism, the democratic securalism of the DAP, the open laissex-faire free society concept, and even the contemporary green movement, PAS has a very social, civil, human and constitutional right to promote and advance its Islamic agenda, more so when our country is a Muslim-majority state.
The problem is not the PAS Islamic agenda per se, but the stupidity of its leaders, who are not too intelligent, let alone intellectual.
Despite so many of them having purported doctorate degrees, they are going about promoting their PAS Islamic ideology the wrong way, by stressing and emphazing on petty irrelevant matters of non substance such as protesting against concerts by foreign artistes, moral policing of personal behaviour, banning fo Valentine celebration, objection to even healthy entertainment joints like cinemas, enforcing dress code on the women folks, and going on witch-hunting at Christian churches for so-called apostates, etc. In the process of such silly and senseless practices, they frighten off the non-Muslims and brought about a lot of ill-wills and caused a lot of anger among the non-Muslims.
What the Muslim party should stress on is the fundamental goodness of Islam in the areas of truth, righteousness, justice, fairness, and human rights, to win the hearts and minds of both the Muslims and non-Muslims, not to put them off with all those nonsense propagated and perpetualled by the likes of Hasan Ali and the Bangi state assembly member Shafie Abu Bakar.
Being a Christian, whose religion also teaches the exclusiveness of the faith, I can understand the stand of my Muslim sisters and brothers in PAS who insist on and stand firm on the exclusiveness of their religion.
From the strictly theological perspective, PAS is right. Islam, like Christianity, is certainly an exclusive religious faith, claiming in the Shahada (Declaration of Faith) that “There is no god, but Allah” (La ilah illa Ilah) and Muhammad is Allah’s messenger (Wa Muhammad rasul u’llah). The PAS position is certainly consistently with the fundamental doctrine of Islam.
Like Christianity, Islam also claims exclusivity to its beliefs and teachings. A Muslim’s faith is firmly based on the belief that the source of his religion Islam is God and Muhammad is the only and last and final prophet and spokesman for God on the Earth. A true Muslim holds that Islam is not just one of the many religions, but THE religion per se, the only true religion of God, the religion of the created natural order (din-al-fitrah).
The religion is called Islam because Allah had decreed it in the Quran: “Lo the religion with God is Al Islam to His will and guidance” (3:19) and “I have chosen for you as religion Al Islam” (5:3). Islam, an Arab word, means submission, total surrender and obedience, and that is the practical implications for Muslims. There are several greetings based on the word Islam, such as “Peace be upon you” (salamalek) and “Go in peace” (bissalma, masalma).
Thus, the teaching of Islam is about a life of faith and peace through submission to the one and only true God Allah. The word “Muslim” means a person who has totally surrendered his whole life to Allah.
The Islamic faith is not just purely an organized ritualistic religion, but a complete way of life, covering every area of life and thoughts, including politics.
Hence, the PAS claim to exclusivity for Islam is not without theological merit.
As I said earlier, as a Christian, I can understand the PAS position, since my faith is also an exclusive one. No Christian will dispute or challenge my contention that Christianity also claims exclusivity to be the only way of salvation for mankind, and that the Lord Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life” and “No one comes to the Father (God) except through me (Jesus)”. (John 14:6), and that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
The issue before us, therefore, is not the question of theological belief per se, but how to relate an exclusive faith to other religions in a multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-cultural, and multi-lingual society like Malaysia.
This is where many PAS leaders lack the wisdom and intelligence to understand and articulate the relationship of Muslims with people of other faith the the plural society like Malaysia.
The word “pluralism” has been used unilaterally by almost everyone – religious leaders, politicians, journalists – without fully understanding what the concept actually means and implies.
The Oxford Dictionary defines “pluralism” as “a condition or system in which two or more states, groups, principles, etc co-exist.
The keyword, I believe, is “co-exist”. The context in which pluralism exists and practiced is the widely diverse and varied range of religious faiths in a given society, such as Malaysia which has Islam as its official religion and other faiths being part of the scenario.
The fundamental issue we face in a plural society like Malaysia is the matter of peaceful and harmonious co-existence among the people of various races and religious beliefs.
Although I believe that PAS is theologically consistent with the teaching of Islam, its leaders’ stated public stand that Islam rejects religious pluralism that claims all religions to be equally good and truthful is certainly not politically correct in the context of the Malaysian plural society.
I believe PAS should look at the issue of pluralism from two broad perspectives, before making a sweeping dismissal of pluralism per se.
First, there is the pluralistic perspective that all religions are equal and “all roads lead to God”. Obviously, Islam, and, for that matter Christianity, will never endorse such a view. Islam and Christianity both teach and propagate that their respective faith is the only true religion, with all other religious systems and faiths being considered “pagan”.
Hence, it is simply impossible for a true Muslim or an honest Christian to agree to inter-faith “spiritual activities”. For a Muslim or Christian to participate, for example, in an inter-faith “worship” or prayer is to acknowledge that his faith is just one among many others, to place his God on equal standing with the deities of other religious faiths.
This is what justifies the PAS position in relationship to other faiths. And I will say that the PAS concern is valid and theologically consistent with the Islamic teaching. As a Christian, I take a similar stand that I cannot participate in an inter-religious worship service or other inter-faith spirituality activities, without dishonouring and betraying my Lord Jesus.
But, there is another perspective of pluralism which does not involve the matter of spiritual compromise, and that is the common universal moral values among all peoples of the world. And it is this common earthly destiny of all peoples that PAS should consider the vital role of Muslims to help promote peace and harmony among the people, who are the vice-regents of Allah (khalifa Allah) on Earth.
As I said before, as a Christian, I will not participate in an inter-faith worship service which will place my Lord Jesus as being among one of the gods, on equal standing with them. If I do, it will mean I am not consistent with my faith in the Lord Jesus as the only way, the truth, and the life. Such a compromise in matters of spirituality is surely not correct and honest.
My Muslim friends, too, are correct in taking a similar stand, or else their Shahada becomes a vain recitation, rendering their faith to be meaningless. Hence, PAS is theologically correct in its stand.
However, in the matters of truth, morality, justice, righteousness, equality, freedom, human, civil and constitutional rights, I will endorse and support any inter-faith “dialogue” and joint stand and actions.
This is the other perspective of pluralism that I believe PAS should seriously study and evaluate, before dismissing the whole concept of pluralism per se.
Although the people of Malaysia are adherents of various faiths and religious systems, they are united for the common purpose of nation-building, and are jointly dealing with many fundamental civil, social, constitutional and human rights issues relating their role as citizens. Hence, the need to come together to talk and compromise.
There is an urgent need for inter-faith dialogues on matters such as the freedom to worship, teach and propagate each other’s religion, the matter of land for places of worship and burial, the right to use the national language Bahasa Malaysia without restriction in worship and religious education, the legal disputes over the conversion of individuals, particularly children, and the vital matter of co-existence.
PAS and all the responsible Muslim leaders should be willing to participate in such inter-faith dialogues as the common-interest issues need not involve doctrinal compromise or theological dispute.
I hope all parties concerned with the dispute over pluralism will understand and accept that the fundamental matter is the peaceful and harmonious co-existence of all persons or all faiths, with each practicing his faith with full sensitivity and due respect to people of other faiths.
What we want is not a theological war, but a channel for inter-faith dialogues and a medium for communication on issues of universal common interests.
That, I believe, is what Lim Guan Eng and the DAP stand for.
Thomas Lee is currently the media consultant to the Penang state government, but will be unemployed as his contract expires in the middle of March and will not be renewed. He has several advanced degrees in theological studies, and had even even attended courses at Pusat Islam. He can be contacted at

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Where is Malaysia's Geopolitical Compass Pointing Now?

By Farish A Noor

A country never simply is, for what a country is also depends on how and where it positions itself in relation to other nation-states and other, external geo-political interests. Witness for instance the current location and standing of Pakistan, which has been cast of late in the light of an 'unreliable' ally and accused of harbouring pro-Taliban elements. Pakistan's international standing is as much a result of its own choices as it is the result of how the external world looks at it - and in the case of the latter the opinion of the global media is often instrumental in determining the standing and fate of nations too. Today Pakistan is labelled all sorts of things, but remember that this is the same country that was, in the 1980s, considered one of the most vital allies to the West thanks to its support of the campaign against the Soviets in Afghanistan. This is also the country that has taken in millions of refugees from Afghanistan, with little credit given to it. And dont forget that it was also Pakistan that was the crucial go-between the during the Nixon era when Washington wanted to re-open channels of dialogue with China.

Malaysia's standing has also shifted over the past six decades, and this has reflected the geo-political and geo-strategic realities of the Cold War and the power vacuumm that followed in its wake. But in the case of Malaysia, one important shift has occured, even if it has passed largely unnoticed by many. By this I am referring to how Malaysia - in the 1980s and 1990s - seemed to have had slightly more clout than it does today, simply because of the ideological subject-positions it assumed then.

In the 1980s and 1990s Malaysia stood in the camp that opposed the Apartheid regime in South Africa, and took the opportunity to denounce Apartheid in several regional and international forums. It also took a stand on issues such as Palestine and other third-world interests. Perhaps one of the reasons that Malaysia was able to do so then was that it was economically in a better position, thanks in part to the inflow of foreign direct investment FDI that made it an attractive destination for countries that sought new pastures to invest in after the global recession of the early 1980s. Malaysia, like the other countries of ASEAN then, benefitted from this global climate and was able to chart double-digit growth like its neighbours Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand. Looking back at that period it can be seen that the governments of ASEAN were somewhat more bullish about their ambitions and standing internationally, and argued from a position of relative leverage and confidence.

But what has happened since then? The lingering impact of the East Asian financial crisis of 1997/98 and the global economic slowdown since then has meant that the region has begun to lose out to other, newer markets and cheaper economies. All the countries of the region have been affected, and the past decade has witnessed some of the countries of ASEAN trying their darnest to win back the support and confidence of the international business community in order to kick-start their economies and to cater to the basic needs of their respective political constituencies.

Perhaps we in the ASEAN region had it too good for too long; and perhaps we cannot get over the fact that the good old days of the boom decades of the 1980s and 1990s may never return with the same force and vigour that we might hope. Across the ASEAN region now we can see that almost all of the governments of ASEAN are busying themselves with the task of structural adjustment - that comes in the form of privatisation policies and the withdrawal of the state, leaving society to the forces of the free market. In the meantime many economic reformers in the region are now chanting the same universal mantra of privatisation, liberalisation and free market economics, which is none other than the mantra of what we call the Washington consensus.

As an Malaysian academic who views the developments in his country from afar, I sometimes fear for the future of our nation. I find myself particularly worried when some of our leaders and/or prospective leaders make their way to Washington and repeat the same mantra of the Washington consensus in the Western press. I find myself worried when I see Malaysian politicians echoing sentiments that conform to the geo-strategic consensus that has become hegemonic in the corridors of Washington too. I find myself worried when Malaysian politicians seem inclined to dress themselves in the garb of moderates in order to win the affection and support of their lobbyists in Washington as well.

What has happened to the ethos of the 1980s and 1990s, when Malaysia - admittedly a small and modest country without military might or ambitions - still had the principle to condemn Apartheid for what it was? What has happened to the political leadership of this country - and here I refer to all parties - when in the recent past we stood for things like South-South co-operation and other subaltern interests? Cynics may note that many of these initiatives did not take Malaysia very far - but at least this country's leadership had some principles, however unrealistic they were. At least Malaysia meant something.

Over the past decade I feel as if I have aged half a century. When I look to the future, I am gripped with the fear of what Malaysia might become: An open market that serves as a conduit for capital, but with no identity and/or principles? Yes, we are a small nation, a modest nation. And yes, we have never posed an existential threat to anyone, nor have we imposed our model on anyone. But a nation, no matter how young or small, is still entitled to some sense of collective dignity and sovereignty. No matter how small, even the smallest nations have the right to a voice, and to speak its mind.
As I look to the future, my heart sinks at times. Our politics has grown mundane, parochial and introverted; and we ignore the shifting geo-political realities around us at our peril. Worse of all some of our politicians who seem so inclined to be the darlings of the Western press seem to forget that the readers of the Washington Post or Wall Street Journal are not going to be the ones who vote for them; but their fellow Malaysians. So this is my plea to all the politicians and aspiring leaders of this country: As we face what may well be the most difficult decade of our country's history, turn to the Malaysian nation and think of the national interest. There is no point in becoming the darling of CNN, BBC, WSJ or WP if in the process you end up abandoning the nation that is, after all, your home.