Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Excuse me, MM Lee: Who Is Being "Systematically Marginalised"? (Part 3)

After spending precious time surfing the web looking for rebuttals to the disparaging remarks about Malaysian Chinese being marginalised and compliant, I conclude that the 'ra'yat' (people) have more "b***s" than the leaders when "push comes to shove" (http://www.malaysia-today.net/CorridorsPower/2006/09/furiously-nationalistic.htm.)
If leaders, males at that, do not have the boldness (pardon the pun) to issue strong counter-statements to the Pope's derogatory remarks about Islam and LKY's unsolicited comments about Malaysian Chinese, then they certainly don't deserve female votes ("Telunjuk Lurus, Kelingking Berkait" or Insincerity, only protecting self-interests).
Oh Lord, please take me back to the 1950s when men were men and leaders were unencumbered by economic considerations. Please, please create heroes in the league of Sukarno, Mohammed Hatta, Nasution, IBHY, Ishak Haji Muhammad, Ahmad Boestamam, Burhanuddin Helmi and Zulkifli Muhammad, alternative nationalists with international vision who put their lives on the line in the struggle for self-determination, national sovereignty, Islamic dignity and global humanity. Honestly, I am up to my ears with decadent and depoliticised contemporary males, especially those who manipulate women to search, capture and rescue them.
Ramadan al-Mubarak.

Excuse me, MM Lee: Who Is Being "Systematically Marginalised"? (Part 2)

Continuing my response to MM Lee's provocative comments, I would like to register my protest about his unsubstantiated claims and would instead focus on his blatant political agenda of sinicization of Singapore and, by extension, Southeast Asia.
My indignation was further fueled last night when NIA and I failed to find any signage that would lead us to KLPAC to watch 'Anak Bulan Di Kampong Wa' Hassan' by Alfian bin Sa'at (http://www.kakiseni.com), a play that captures the sense of dispossession/displacement among the Singapore Malays when the last Malay kampung succumbs to modernization. May I reiterate that my maternal family lived that very experience when our kampung homes and lifestyles at Kampung Melayu Kaki Bukit, Kampung Wa' Tanjung, Geylang Serai, Sembawang, etc. had to make way for "progress and development" in the form of factories and high-rise flats ("Flattened and flatted", according to my cousin).
Far from romanticising an idyllic Malay kampung life, especially in terms of hygiene, sanitation and drainage infrastructure, I found myself drawn into the discourse of alternative economic models some fifteen years ago while searching for the 'meaning' of development (see for example, No. 11 Treaty on Alternative Economic Models, http://habitat.igc.org/treaties/at-11.htm, published works of Sohail Inayatullah and Amartya Sen).
The dominant economic paradigm is at least one theory that MM Lee and MM (Mahathir Mohamad), Malaysia's former (?) PM, both embrace and uphold. The other would, of course, be their contested theory of eugenics that propunded the genetic and cultural inferiority of the Malays. The "soft", lethargic Malay Culture is the simple and perfect explanation for the "cultural deficit" thesis on "educational under-performance" of the Malays (and thus professional incompetency may I add) in the face of rapid Modernization and Globalization.
Here, I would like to argue, based on my own experience of teaching at both public and private institutions of higher learning for more than twenty years, it is generally vision and policy that determine the standards of excellence and the quality of academics and undergraduates rather than genetic and cultural factors. The consumer ethos towards education and knowledge, that is, students as "clients" and academic staff as "service providers", as succintly described in an article “On the Uses of a Liberal Education: I. As Lite Entertainment for Bored College Students” (userwww.service.emory.edu/~pthoma4/Hirst-Maritain-Freire-Noddings-Edmundson.htm), is a major contributing factor to the deteriorating state of higher education here and elsewhere. So, allow me to state the painful truth that the intellectual quality and language proficiency, for both English and Bahasa Melayu, of local undergraduates, regardless of their ethnic background, have really gone down the drain over the last twenty years.
However, perhaps endemic to Malaysia is the self-defeating practice of instituting a zero-failure policy (in other other words, 100 percent passes) as a denial of reality (that there will be students who do not study and will, therefore, fail their examinations) or safeguard against disappointment, mostly amongst administrators and parents. That is the simple reason why we are churning out more and more sub-standard and unemployable graduates every year (www.islam-online.net/English/News/2006-09/09/05.shtml).
"Menang sorak, kampung tergadai" (Living in a fantasy world, that ignores current realities - a liberal translation) is the myth we live by as evidenced through speeches by elite champions of ethnic interests at convocation ceremonies which touted the phenomenal growth of student enrolment in a short period of time. The case of Nor Amalina Che Bakri who scored 17A1s in the 2004 SPM Exams and the unsavoury response to her achievement (blog.geminigeek.com/archives/2006/03/manual-spammer-is-stupid) is symptomatic of the residual impact of intense ethnic competition in the field of education. And Malaysians certainly do not need incitements to racial hatred and public discontent from neighboring leaders of state, south and north of the border (recently ousted and topic for another day) to further exacerbate ethnic rivalry. Amin.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Excuse me, MM Lee: Who Is Being Marginalised? (Part 1)

I personally find MM Lee Kuan Yew's recent comments that Malaysian Chinese were being systemically marginalised as more obnoxious than 'naughty'.
(Lee, who was speaking at a forum on the sidelines of the World Bank-International Monetary Fund meetings, had also said the attitude of neighbouring Malaysia and Indonesia towards Singapore was shaped by the way they treated their own ethnic Chinese minorities.
Lee had said that Singapore’s neighbours had problems with their Chinese communities because they were successful and hardworking and “therefore, they are systematically marginalised.”)
Apparently, MM Lee's remarks manifested his convoluted conception of eugenics and, by extension, Chinese genetic supremacy and cultural dominance in a SEA (as in ocean, and Southeast Asia) of inferior Malay genes and cultural traditions. Hence, it is no surprise that many Southeast Asian Chinese also perceive themselves as superior to the natives and demand that their language, education and culture be put on par, if not above the indigenous languages and cultures. Interestingly though, they seem to subscribe to a different racial heirarchy when they migrate to the US, Canada or Australia, where assimilation into the White Supremacist Culture, Colonialist Language and education system is never an issue, and even being ghettoized in Chinatowns is seen as 'exotic'.
This disturbing line of thinking - that of an inflated sense of a single race's inherent capabilities - can then be used to justify enrolling (and passing), hiring and promoting students, graduates and employees from that supposedly superior race. In fact, this erroneous belief has evolved into an unofficial ideology and policy that rationalized the institutionalization of racism as revealed by the following article:
Lee Kuan Yew: Race, Culture and Genes
by Michael D. Barr
Department of History, University of Queensland
Journal of Contemporary Asia v29, n2 (1999)
Racism is rarely far from the surface of Asian societies, and this is especially true of those multiracial societies that feel the need to promote racial tolerance as part of official ideology. Yet even in these cases, promoting racial tolerance does not necessarily imply the promotion of racial indifference. Singapore's multiracialism, for instance, encourages a high consciousness of one's race even as it insists on tolerance. Further, it has been considered by many as a covert form of discrimination in favour of the majority Chinese and against the minorities, especially the Malays. This article is an attempt to advance our understanding of Singapore's idiosyncratic version of multiracialism by casting new light on the thinking of its primary architect, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
Despite official denials there can be little doubt that there is an unofficial pro-Chinese bias in Singapore, and that in spite of the structures of "meritocracy" and sometimes because of them, the Malay minority in particular has suffered structural discrimination. Even a cursory survey of recent history confirms this impression. For two decades after separation from Malaysia in 1965, for instance, the Singapore government had an unofficial policy of excluding Malays from the Singapore Armed Forces and the police force because of concerns about their loyalty. Not only did this practice deny Malays a traditional source of employment, but it made other employers reluctant to hire them because they were, technically, still eligible to be called up. (1) At the same time, the government exaggerated, possibly unintentionally, the structural impediments to Malays' educational advancement. At the time of separation from Malaysia, Malay students in Singapore had already been disadvantaged inadvertently because they were streamed through Malay-language schools which were staffed by under-qualified teachers, and which used substandard Malay-language text books. (2) These schools had very high attrition and failure rates from the beginning, but after separation even the successful students faced unique linguistic and academic hurdles in their pursuit of higher education. After separation, not only did the Malays find that their language had little economic value, but they discovered that their schools had not prepared them for tertiary education in the new Singapore. The first problem was that unlike Chinese-educated Chinese attending Nanyang University, and English-speaking Chinese, Indians and Eurasians attending the University of Singapore, the Malays had no tertiary institutions in which they did not face a language barrier. In fact Malay students' command of English was so poor that they alone were required to take an oral examination as part of their entry requirements to university. Further, as part of the push for national and economic survival in newly-independent Singapore, university scholarships were restricted to those students pursuing technical and science disciplines, and the inadequately staffed and poorly resourced Malay-stream schools had left their students singularly ill-equipped to qualify or compete for these scholarships. (3) The Malay's problem was compounded by their continuing socio-economic marginalisation, (4) and by the near-universal perception that their underachievement reflected their racial and cultural defects: that they had grown up in the "soft," lethargic Malay Culture which did not encourage studiousness, enterprise or hard work. Between their educational and employment disadvantages, and the psychological impact of being told that their problems were the result of their ethnic culture, it is not surprising that Malays are still at an economic disadvantage today.
Perhaps the most revealing aspect of the saga of Singapore's Malays, however, is not the actual discrimination, but the fact that Singapore's multiracial meritocracy has provided the rationale for its justification, and that this rationale has been effective to the point that even Malay teachers have come to accept this "cultural deficit" explanation of Malay underachievement. (5) The perception of the cultural deficiency of the Malays is, to some extent, a continuation of the prejudices fostered by the British colonial authorities who regarded the Malays as slow and lazy because they preferred their agrarian kampong lifestyle to working in tin mines for money. (6) This interpretation, however, ignores the role of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in moulding the ideological and social perceptions of Singaporeans. Although no nation's history can ever be reduced to the story of one man, Lee Kuan Yew had such a paramount role in making modem Singapore that an understanding of that society cannot be complete without an attempt at understanding Lee himself. The remainder of this article is devoted to contributing to our understanding of Lee's views on race.
Lee Kuan Yew
Understanding any aspect of Lee Kuan Yew's career requires a syncretic approach. but fully understanding his racial views stretches holistic analysis to new limits. Lee's views on race have been a matter of much private, but little published comment. This now changes with the publication of his authorised biography, Lee Kuan Yew: The Man and His Ideas, (7) in which Lee speaks about race with unprecedented candour. Upon close inspection, Lee's racial beliefs prove not to be an aberration or idiosyncrasy in his thinking, but the consummation of his world view and his political thought.
Until the late 1990s, Lee rarely allowed his public record to be sullied by any explicit statement that could be construed as racist, though on occasions he has come close to doing so. He has, for instance, argued that there are links between economic performance and race. In 1993, Lee wrote an article for The Economist in which he speculated on the state of the world in the twenty-first century, with special emphasis on Asia. (8) Lee put his own views into the mouth of a fictional Chinese Singaporean, Wang Chang, who then discussed his views with his friend, Ali Alkaff. Lee painted a picture of a prosperous twenty-first century East Asian industrial belt consisting of Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and coastal China, while South and South East Asia (except for Singapore) languished by comparison. Singapore, although geographically part Of South East Asia, was economically on a par with the more prosperous East Asian region. (9) In the subsequent "discussion" of these predictions, "Wang Chang" made it clear that race was a factor in his assessment, since he based his forecasting "on a people's culture, heredity and organisational strengths." (10) A few years earlier, Lee used his 1989 National Day Rally address to defend the Government's programme of encouraging Chinese immigration from Hong Kong on the basis that the birth rate of Singapore's Chinese is lower than that of the Indians and Malays. The numerical preponderance of the Chinese must be maintained, said Lee, "or there will be a shift in the economy, both the economic performance and the political backdrop which makes that economic performance possible." (11) Lee enumerated several reasons why maintaining the Chinese proportion of the population at current levels was necessary for economic prosperity - including the "culture" and "nature" of the Chinese. Without a hint of irony, Lee also took the opportunity to assure Malays that they need not fear Hong Kong immigrants taking their jobs because the immigrants will all be high income earners. In 1977 Lee treated Parliament to a four hour post-election victory speech which could best be described as "uninhibited." In this speech, Lee told the multi-racial chamber, "I understand the Englishman. He knows deep in his heart that he is superior to the Welshman and the Scotsman.... Deep here, I am a Chinaman." (12) In recent times, Lee has not only been more forthright about his racial views but he has also confirmed that he held them at least as early as the beginning of the 1970s. In October 1989, in an interview with Malaysia's New Straits Times Lee revealed that after he read Mahathir Mohamad's The Malay Dilemma (13) in 1971 or 1972, he found himself "in agreement with three-quarters of his analysis of the problem" of the economic and educational under-performance of the Malays. (14) According to Lee and Mahathir, the problem was both cultural and genetic. (15) Lee noted with approval that Mahathir's views were the "result of his medical training, and... he was not likely to change them." (16)
While Lee has been moderately circumspect in most of his public statements on race, there have been rare occasions on which he has shown less discretion than usual. The earliest such documented occasion was on 27 December 1967, when Lee addressed a meeting at the University of Singapore. (17) After his speech there was a question and answer session, in which a question was asked about "the most important factor, the X-factor, in development." (18) Two members of the audience have given the author independent and almost identical accounts of Lee's answer. According to Chandra Muzaffar, Lee responded in these terms:
"Three women were brought to the Singapore General Hospital, each in the same condition and each needing a blood transfusion. The first, a Southeast Asian was given the transfusion but died a few hours later. The second, a South Asian was also given a transfusion but died a few days later. The third, an East Asian, was given a transfusion and survived. That is the X factor in development." (19)
Herman Paul independently gave the following account of Lee's answer: "There were 3 women, one of them from East Asia, another from South Asia and the 3rd from S-E Asia. They were admitted to the Singapore General Hospital. Their condition was precarious, and they all received blood transfusions. The woman from S-E Asia passed away. The woman from East Asia survived. The woman from South-East Asia (20) passed away. " (21)
Each listener took the Southeast Asian to be a Malay or perhaps a member of one of the aboriginal races of the region. Each of them took the South Asian woman to be an Indian, and the East Asian who survived was Chinese, or perhaps Japanese or Korean. Lee revealed in this speech, as reported by Chandra Muzaffar a perception of a racial hierarchy of Asians, in which the Chinese and other East Asians are at the top, Malays and other Southeast Asians are at the bottom, and Indians and other South Asians are in between. On this occasion Lee made no attempt to disguise his views on race with discussion of related factors, such as culture. He was talking about the inherent, genetic, strength and weakness of the different races. The emphasis that Lee has placed on culture and race in economic development has varied over the years. Only 27 months after Lee argued that race is the "X-factor" in development, Lee credited "ethnic factors" with being one of the variables in economic development, though on this occasion he contradicted his December 1967 statement by arguing that these "ethnic factors" were a minor consideration compared to "cultural factors." (22) Regardless of the balance between the two factors in Lee's thinking, there is no room to doubt that both race and culture play related if different roles in Lee's political thought.
The hierarchy of races revealed in Lee's December 1967 parable helps to explain a similar hierarchy of humiliation to which Lee referred four years earlier, when he said, "Humiliation and degradation by foreign European powers is bad enough. It was worse at the hands of a conquering Asian nation like Japan - and it will be even worse if it should be by a neighbouring power in South-East Asia." (23) In fact, Lee's racial hierarchy is much more complex than he indicated on either of these occasions. In 1982 he revealed his belief that Jews share with East Asians a place at the top of the racial pyramid. and that both occupy a higher place than Americans:
"Let us not deceive ourselves: our talent profile is nowhere near that of, say, the Jews or the Japanese in America. The exceptional number of Nobel Prize winners who are Jews is no accident. It is also no accident that a high percentage, sometimes 50%, of faculty members in the top American universities on both the east and west coasts are Jews. And the number of high calibre Japanese academics, professionals, and business executives is out of all proportion to the percentage of Japanese in the total American population." (24)
More recently, commenting upon Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein's The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, (25) Lee told his authorised biographers:
"The Bell curve is a fact of life. The blacks on average score 85 per cent on IQ and it is accurate, nothing to do with culture. The whites score on average 100. Asians score more... the Bell curve authors put it at least 10 points higher. These are realities that, if you do not accept, will lead to frustration because you will be spending money on wrong assumptions and the results cannot follow." (26)
A reading of the evidence cited above suggests that Lee has always had an agenda based on the racial and cultural superiority of Singapore's Chinese population. If this analysis is accurate, however, it requires a complementary argument which accounts adequately for the fact that Lee did not begin acting on these beliefs until the late 1970s. On the surface, such a line of argument appears plausible, since there are no shortage of external factors which could have restrained Lee's sinocentric bias until the early 1980s. His early hostility to Chinese education, culture and language, for instance, can be explained by the fact that Lee regarded Chinese culture as a threat to Singapore's stability because it was so closely associated with Chinese chauvinism, Chinese communism and loyalty to the People's Republic of China. (27) As well as these internal communal factors, it is known that Lee considered that allowing even the appearance of creating a sinocentric culture in the 1960s or 1970s would have heightened tensions between Singapore and its Malay neighbours. (28) These were sufficient reasons for Lee to continue his campaign of gutting Chinese education and building a communally neutral multiracialism. By 1979, however, Singapore's political and regional landscape had been totally transformed. Chinese culture was succumbing to the constant incursion of English language education and Western influence through the media. Nanyang University, almost the last institutional bastion of Chinese culture and Chinese communism. was demoralised, (29) and the Chinese-educated were on the verge of becoming a minority in the electorate. (30) This meant that Chinese culture was no longer seen as a major threat to Singapore's internal stability. Furthermore, Singapore's relations with both Malaysia and Indonesia had reached a new high thanks to the spirit of regional solidarity within ASEAN, prompted by the fall of Vietnam in 1975. (31) The post-separation siege mentality towards the Malay world was now redundant, if it had ever been valid. This development coincided roughly with the retirement, enforced or otherwise, of most of the "old -guard" of PAP leaders. By the mid-1980s Lee had surrounded himself with younger second generation leaders Substantially dependent upon his patronage, thus relieving Lee of another constraint. The sinicization of Singapore was now a political possibility for Lee, and according to the logic of this argument, he then took the opportunity to act on his racial beliefs.
While this thesis goes some way towards explaining Lee's actions, it faces serious problems. It is important. for instance, to acknowledge that not only did Lee show no signs of acting on Chinese racial or cultural supremacist beliefs until the very end of the 1970s, but for many of those years he was widely demonised as an enemy of Chinese culture. Alex Josey wrote in 1974 that "within ten or fifteen years, Lee Kuan Yew expects the Chinese language to be unimportant, " (32) and this seemed a fair assessment. The majority of Chinese parents were choosing English as the first language for their children’s education since English was the language which led to good jobs and upward social mobility. (33) Nanyang University was struggling to survive and was under a continuing cloud of suspicion that it was fostering Chinese chauvinism and communism. This suspicion had lead the Government to "disperse" former communist Chinese-educated students to universities in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, rather than allow them to study at Nanyang. (34) In 1971 two Chinese language newspapers, Sin Chew Jit Poh and Nanyang Siang Pau were brought to heel for allegedly promoting Chinese chauvinism and accusing the government of killing Chinese education and the Chinese language.(35)
These factors by themselves undermine the thesis that Lee was always a closet Chinese Supremacist. Consideration must be given also to the testimony of Lee's close associates from those early decades, who flatly contradict the picture of Lee Kuan Yew as a Chinese cultural or racial supremacist. Goh Keng Swee was Lee's right hand man for twenty years in government, at one stage rising to the position of First Deputy Prime Minister. When Goh was shown Chandra Muzaffar's account of Lee's December 1967 parable, he was genuinely shocked and lost for words. Finally he stammered. "I can't imagine he spoke in such crude terms." (36)
E.W. Barker, a Minister in Lee's Cabinet for more than twenty years and his friend for more than two decades before that, was equally adamant in interview that "there was nothing of this race business in Cabinet. I wouldn't have served if it was a pro-Chinese government, but it was not." (37) While Lee believed in his heart that the Chinese were genetically and culturally superior, he separated this belief from his public policy. Only in the late 1970s did his racial beliefs begin to exert a noticeable influence upon public policy. The discrepancy between the picture of the Chinese, racial and cultural supremacist which we are able to paint from a collage of' Lee's words is barely reconcilable with Lee's public record up to the late 1970s and with the accounts given by his close associates of forty and fifty years. It is obvious that the thesis that Lee was restrained from acting on his beliefs by external forces is insufficient. As is the case with most aspects of Lee's career, the story is much more complicated, and requires a detailed study of the gradual development of his political thought.
At this stage it is important to consider the origins of Lee's racial views. It is natural to assume that Lee's beliefs stem directly from prejudices he learnt as a child. While there is a certain likelihood in this line of approach, Lee's own accounts suggest that he arrived at his racial views as a result of observation, empirical enquiry and study as an adult: "I started off believing all men were equal. I now know that's the most unlikely thing ever to have been, because millions of years have passed over evolution, people have scattered across the face of this earth, been isolated from each other, developed independently had different intermixtures between races, peoples, climates, soils. ...I didn't start off with that knowledge. But by observation, reading, watching, arguing, asking, that is the conclusion I've come to." (38)
Lee maintains that at some stage before the late 1960s he had acted under the assumption that all races were equal, but bitter disappointment convinced him that the reality was otherwise: "When we were faced with the reality that, in fact, equal opportunities did not bring about more equal results, we were faced with [an] ideological dilemma. ... In other words, this Bell curve, which Murray and Herrnstein wrote about, became obvious to us by the late '60s." (39)
The evolution of Lee's racism was a long process. According to Lee himself he began to form his views on race while he was a student in London. (40) He has described how his ideas firmed in 1956 on a visit to Europe and London, (41) and then reached their full force in the Malaysia period. (42) The details and implications of Lee's account of the development of his racial views are considered later in this article, but one must be sceptical that his adult mind was ever a tabula rasa on the question of race. Lee likes to consider himself a pure empiricist who can rise above preconceptions and prejudices, but it seems reasonable to assume that the very questions he asked as an adult, and his early fascination with questions of race sprang from an existing, possibly unconscious world view in which race was an all-pervasive feature.
In racially conscious Singapore it would have been difficult to have grown up without exposure to racial stereotyping. Further, the Chinese of Lee's parents' and grandparents' generations grew up in a culture which emphasised familial piety and ancestor worship and who were naturally proud of both their ancestry and their tenuous association with the glories of Chinese civilisation. Ethnic pride can slip easily into racial prejudice in the most racially unconscious society, and Singapore was and is anything but racially unconscious. We might believe Lee when he maintains that he had, at some stage in his early adult life, come to the intellectual conviction that all races are equal. His childhood, however, was steeped in racial stereotyping that meant that questions of race were never far from the surface of his dynamically inquisitive mind, and deep seated stereotypes were always ready to challenge race-blind explanations of the world. Hence, when he visited other countries, even as a student, he took his racial consciousness with him. He has told his biographers, "I visited Europe during my vacation (as a student) and then saw India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Indonesia, Japan, Germany ... You look for societies which had been more successful and you ask yourself why." (43) Note Lee's assumption that a society's "success" can be judged by a universal standard of progress and development.
For Lee it was natural to judge peoples according to the how high up the ladder of progress they had climbed, and his background made him prone to place people in racial and cultural categories when making such judgements.
Lee may have brought the kernel of his racial prejudices intact from childhood, but as an adult he has woven an intricate argument to rationalise and develop his view. His argument rests on four pillars: an environmental determinism based upon a distortion of Arnold Toynbee's "Challenge and Response" thesis; a medieval scientism which gives an important role to ductless glands in determining a person's and a people's drive to achieve; a Lamarckian view of evolution; and a belief in culturally-based eugenics and dysgenics. The influence of Arnold Toynbee on Lee since the mid-1960s is well documented in speeches and inter-views. From 1967 onwards Lee acknowledged Toynbee as a source of his ideas. (44) It is less well-known that Lee began quoting Toynbee's "Challenge and Response" thesis in Cabinet meetings as soon as the PAP came to power in 1959, (45) and that Toynbee was widely read and vigorously discussed in Lee's circle of friends at Cambridge University. (46) The connection between Toynbee's thesis and Lee Kuan Yew's racial beliefs is convoluted, but it is the lynch pin of Lee's rationalisation of his Chinese racial suprematism.
Do also read A. Kadir Jasin's Malaysia-Singapore: Who will win the poker game?
AsiaViews, Edition: 34/III/Aug/2006
"While Malaysia is embroiled in a political spat between the past and present Prime Ministers, its southern neighbour Singapore, well-known for its astuteness and opportunistic streak, might just gain the upper hand.
DON’T YOU JUST LOVE SINGAPOREANS? IN THEIR OWN ANNOYING kiasu way, they’re pretty nice fellows. And we have to hand it to them that they are good.
Driven by an extreme fear of losing, they have developed for themselves a survival kit that is second to none in this region.....

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

"Segala Sesuatu Meminta Cara" (Everything Requires an Appropriate Approach)

Sunday, September 17:
"Be valiant. It's time to cut ties with an unpleasant acquaintance or 'friend' whose presence leaves you consistently feeling demoralized and drained. It won't be easy, but taking this step will prove to be liberating."
If you are faced with the same pattern (of trials and tribulations) over and over again in your life, does it mean that you have not learned the lessons that God is trying to teach you? Being taken advantaged of and betrayed by supposedly close friends is just one example. Over the years, sacrificing time and money, neglecting work and family, staying up nights and weekends, bending over backwards to give full support to 'friends' such as FAA, J, HAK, ILA, etc., had left me "consistently feeling demoralized and drained", especially in terms of self-worth and energy.
Thus, the lesson learnt: I have to start setting limits and asserting my rights from now on, and feel very comfortable at that, or I never will. No more feeling needy, guilty or obliged to drive to Klang, Cheras, Shah Alam, Ulu Selangor, or where have you, allowing unlimited use of office and facilities that extended to spouses (and ended up being accused of having a 'toyboy' in the office), spending the last ringgit on the latest MLM or pyramid scheme, or editing and rewriting and consulting for minimal or no fee (tuck in and 'tapao' free food from events-lah!) How insulting and no wonder it's so challenging to freelance here in Malaysia. That reminded me of an episode when I was seconded to a ministry as a senior officer, and my immediate superior was asked by another senior officer from Bukit Aman this embarassing question that caused him to blush:
"How come you all are willing to pay foreign consultants to the millions for several weeks' job but are not willing to reward local experts like her?"
The answer may be found in the famous Malay saying: "Seperti Ayam Di Kepuk Mati Kelaparan, Itik Di Sungai Mati Kehausan" ("Like chickens dying of hunger in the coop, ducks of thirst in the river", meaning natives being destitute and vagabonds in their own homelands).
Like the famous quote from the novel Atheis (1949) by Achdiat K. Mihardja, "Segala Sesuatu Meminta Cara" (Everything Requires an Appropriate Approach), so it's best to keep everyone at arm's length than allow them to take advantage, or worse still, betray you.
And the same principle applies to men, whose modus operandi (MO) may have worked on a thousand beauties, but failed to capture the one and only. Isn't it time then to change your strategies and tactics to appeal to your target audience? Frankly, my dear, this can't go on forever; surely, there's a more effective way to achieve objectives? It really doesn't hurt to swallow your pride and use the direct approach - you know, treat people with civility, courtesy and dignity. "Budi Bahasa, Budaya Kita" (Courtesy is Our Culture)
On a different note, here's an intriguing message from a former student and advisee, who used to live at the Millenium and collect my mail from my former department:
Sat, 16 Sep 2006 11:17:13 -0700 (PDT)
From: "Mohd Nazri Ibrahim"
Subject: david duke menulis tentang terorisme Yahudi
How Israeli terrorism and American treason caused the September 11 Attacks
By David Duke
National President
European-American Unity and Rights Organization (EURO)
If Osama bin Laden is the man behind the attack that caused the death of thousands of Americans on September 11, I, like most Americans want to him to suffer the ultimate punishment for his crime. No person or nation that commits terrorism against America should escape punishment.
But now I am going to make a statement that may well shock you. If you agree that those who commit terrorist acts against America should be punished, then America should put Israel at the top of our hit list; for in this article, I will prove that Israel has committed deliberate acts of murderous terrorism and treachery against America.
Israel's acts of terrorism and treachery against America have not only gone unpunished, but have been rewarded by politicians who have treasonously betrayed the United States.
Read David Duke's previous articles:
The Big Lie - The true reason behind the attack

Saturday, September 16, 2006

NAM, OIC and Pope Benedict XVI

Continuing on post-colonial discourse, memories of revolutionary heroes and the condition of post-modernity, I would like to celebrate and embrace the spirit of Hari Angkatan Tentera (Arm Forces' Day)*, the 24th NAM (Non-Aligned Movement) summit held in Havana (Cuba) and the Science and Technology Management Training Course for Researchers in OIC Countries (4-15 September 2006).
Even the most hard-hearted amongst us would shed a tear upon hearing songs such as Barisan Kita, Pahlawanku, etc. dedicated to the fallen heroes who had valiantly defended our national borders against "insurgents" and external threats (from Imperialist forces such as Japan and China). And recognition of their wives/widows' sacrifices as well. May there be zero skirmishes and wars from here on.
Now that Cuba takes over the chairmanship of NAM, the enigmatic aura of Latin America and the Carribeans will "shift the organization" and usher in "a new era", as foretold by President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.
In a speech during the opening session of the 24th NAM summit held in Havana, Chávez spoke in the name of the Latin American and Caribbean member states. "The US colonialism continues conspiring and plotting against Cuba and Venezuela, and against other states as well," he cautioned, Efe reported.
"Fifty years after setting the principles of the Non-Aligned Movement in Bandung (Indonesia, 1955), the world is standing up again," Chávez said after sending his regards to Cuban ruler Fidel Castro, who could not chair the summit due to a surgery underwent last July 31st.
Chávez reviewed the history of the American, African and Asian colonization. Afterwards, he called the 118 NAM member states to join efforts and "push the sun in this new dawn."
(Long Live the Spirit of Bandung and Bung Karno's anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist stance!)
By the Grace of God, I was invited to attend the closing ceremony of the Science and Technology Management Training Course for Researchers in OIC Countries held yesterday morning at the Islamic Arts Meseum Malaysia Restaurant. The ambience was perfect, the company of envoys and senior officials excellent and the Mediteranean food simply delicious. I really look forward to saving and visiting Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Oman.
Just when we thought the uproar over the derogatory caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has subsided, the German-born pope had to issue statements that sparked the ire of the Muslims worldwide.
Muslim anger over papal comments grows
By BENJAMIN HARVEY, Associated Press Writer
Fri Sep 15, 7:18 PM ET
ISTANBUL, Turkey - Pakistan's legislature unanimously condemned Pope Benedict XVI. Lebanon's top Shiite cleric demanded an apology. And in Turkey, the ruling party likened the pontiff to Hitler and Mussolini and accused him of reviving the mentality of the Crusades.
Across the Islamic world Friday, Benedict's remarks on Islam and jihad in a speech in Germany unleashed a torrent of rage that many fear could burst into violent protests like those that followed publication of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.
By citing an obscure Medieval text that characterizes some of the teachings of Islam's founder as "evil and inhuman," Benedict inflamed Muslim passions and aggravated fears of a new outbreak of anti-Western protests.
The last outpouring of Islamic anger at the West came in February over the prophet cartoons first published in a Danish newspaper. The drawings sparked protests — some of them deadly — in almost every Muslim nation in the world.
Some experts said the perceived provocation by the spiritual leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics could leave even deeper scars.....
Isn't it about time that leaders of oil-rich Muslim countries cease spending millions on jewellery gifts to pop divas and invest in alternative voices to counter negative portrayals of Islam?
Related news:
Muslim tycoons should buy stakes in global media outlets to help change anti-Muslim attitudes around the world, ministers from Islamic countries heard at a conference in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.
Information ministers and officials meeting under the auspices of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the world's largest Islamic body, said Islam faced vilification after the September 11 attacks, when 19 Arabs killed nearly 3,000 people in U.S. cities in 2001.
"Muslim investors must invest in the large media institutions of the world, which generally make considerable profits, so that they have the ability to affect their policies via their administrative boards," OIC chief Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu told the gathering in the Saudi city of Jeddah.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Postponing Postcoloniality?

Being back in the academic conference circuit, albeit as a participant, brings with it opportunities to confront the enduring issue of identity in postcolonial societies. One such opportunity is the Colloquium on Southeast Asian Postcoloniality held last Saturday, 9 September 2006, at Eastin Hotel. Jointly organized by the Department of English at the University of Malaya and the Malaysian Association of Commonwealth Languages and Literature (MACLALS), speakers include distinguished academics like Professor Khoo Kay Kim and creative forces like Yasmin Ahmad and Amir Muhammad (http://english.um.edu.my/seap/index.html).
I missed the morning session which featured imminent scholars - Profs Wang Gang-wu and Khoo Kay Kim. Prof Wang, I was told, posited a fascinating theory of postcolonial SEAan identities via the 'mandala' metaphor - solid yet in a state of flux, stratified, layered and satellitic, with multiple centers and tiers of cultural influences that shaped our 'hybridized' identities. Prof Khoo, who I 'interrogated' (this being a term popular among postcolonial scholars), intended to criticise Marxist historians for 'evacuating' the notion of the cultural but instead diverted to delivering anecdotes as an informal approach to enliven the session on theorizing historical-cultural identities. Isabela Banzon Mooney and Lily Rose Tope, speakers from the University of the Philippines at Los Banos and Diliman, expressed their 'natural' affinity with their Malaysian Malay counterparts and posed the vexing question of Malay-Muslim identity in SEA, and, to me, the more intriguing question of post/pre-colonial Malay identity in SEA.
In an earlier posting, I briefly mentioned the sense of pride, pleasure, nostalgia and probably deja vu at discovering during my visit there that the ruler of Manila at the time of the Spanish Invasion was a Raha Sulayman. And the feeling of sadness as the native tour guide, Victor, manifested his strong identification with Spanish-American and Roman Catholic cultural icons (such as the Conquistadors, the crucifix, the Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Perpetual Hope, aka Siti Maryam ali Imran) that emphasized the marked differences in the colonial experiences of the Philippines Malays and Malaysian Malays, as well as Indonesian Malays for that matter. An eternal optimist, my spirits were uplifted by Prof Shirley Lim's reiteration that the future of SEA lies in the realization of a unitary post-colonial entity (identity?), ASEAN in particular ("Singapore being an accessory to crime in terms of consumer ethos"). Her statement reminded me of my late Baba's habit (radical or subversive to supporters of the so-called 'Colonial Construct') of quoting Bung Karno's vision of a Maphilindo (Malaysia-Philippines-Indonesia)*, and lo and behold, the processes of globalization and postmodernization (which heralds the withering away of the nation-states, political boundaries and national identities) are gradually paving the way to a post/pre-colonial geo-political and identity formation (Long Live Nusantara!)
As a final note, I will take great pleasure in mulling and reflecting on Prof Lim Chee Seng's argument that the Sejarah Melayu, a mythic text written a week after the Fall of Melaka, as a "psychic compensation in the face of defeat ... a power that was overwhelmed" as exemplified by claims to Alexander the Great's genealogy, and Kris Mas' Rimba Harapan (Jungle of Hope) as a repressive text in the theme of nation-building which exhorted the Malays to retreat into the jungle, a pristine condition or 'cultural purity'.
*My late father tended to evoke strong emotions of either awe or contempt by people around him, including members of our own family, who perceived him as a "Rebel Without a Cause", the Quintessential Prodigal Son. An ardent advocate of Sukarno's vision of postcolonial Malaya/Nusantara, he was detained when I was in my mother's womb for allegedly smuggling firearms from Indonesia into Singapore (truly the greatest test for my Sidi who was the Mufti of Selangor at that time). In the early 1950s, he and a group of friends set up a printing press (Ra'ayat Trading) opposite the Ipoh Padang, which was subsequently confiscated for publishing anti-colonial materials. There he befriended the late Norizan, whom he adviced to marry the Sultan and she did after being challenged; I never asked if she sought his advice before marrying P. Ramlee. In the early 1960s, he gathered a group of unemployed Indonesian and Singapore Malays, including a Chinese youth that he adopted and converted to Islam, to embark on a major padi plantation project in Kahang, Johore, which unfortunately failed. Our house in Kampung Melayu Kaki Bukit, Singapura, at that time was teeming with Indonesian versions of Che Guevara on Harley motorcycles. I bet Harry Lee (Kuan Yew, a Fabian Socialist defector) and the Singapore government were glad to see the back of him and his "comrades" when we moved to Kuala Lumpur a year after the Prophet Muhammad Birthday Riots. In the mid and late 1960s, he had an office at Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman (close to Globe Silk Store), where I believe he met my step-mother who was his secretary, and another at Roger Street (near the Klang Bus Station). By the 1970s and 1980s, he had spent his family fortune, revolutionary spirit and boundless energy. Born in Makkah al-Mukarammah, he became a sailor at 17 to return to Malaya (Tanah Jawi/Tanah Melayu) and went to Singapore where he met and married my mother. He died in 1992 when I was in Madison, WI, and buried by the sea at my stepmother's kampung, Kuala Sungai Baru, Melaka. Learning to love and accept him, warts and all, had been the greatest lesson of my life, made more arduous by controversial assertions such as "There is God, it is Allah" (Ada Tuhan, ialah Allah) and not "There is no God, except Allah" (Tiada Tuhan, melainkan Allah). Now I could see that he had a valid point; too late, but better than never. That's the way life is, very much like The Living Years by Mike & The Mechanics:
Every generation
Blames the one before
And all of their frustrations
Come beating on your door
I know that I'm a prisoner
To all my father held so dear
I know that I'm a hostage
To all his hopes and fears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years
Crumpled bits of paper
Filled with imperfect thought
Stilted conversations
I'm afraid that's all we've got
You say you just don't see it
He says it's perfect sense
You just can't get agreement
In this present tense
We all talk a different language
Talking in defence
Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It's too late when we die
To admit we don't see eye to eye
So we open up a quarrel
Between the present and the past
We only sacrifice the future
It's the bitterness that lasts
So don't yield to the fortunes
You sometimes see as fate
It may have a new perspective
On a different day
And if you don't give up, and don't give in
You may just be o.k.
Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It's too late when we die
To admit we don't see eye to eye
I wasn't there that morning
When my father passed away
I didn't get to tell him
All the things I had to say
I think I caught his spirit
Later that same year
I'm sure I heard his echo
In my baby's new born tears
I just wish I could have told him in the living years
Say it loud, say it clear
You can listen as well as you hear
It's too late when we die
To admit we don't see eye to eye
(Thus, in my personal quest for closure, I would like to see an amicable solution to a protracted 'struggle' between opposing political consiousness, gender ideologies and cultural identities, to quote my horoscope: "There's a time to stand and fight, and that time is now. This endless cycle of push-me-pull-you was fine for a while, but now you need a resolution -- and fast. State your demands and then take action." My way or the high way - hit the road, Jack! Seriously, I'm open to 'civilized' dialogue. That's the only solution to this decade-long deadlock)

Monday, September 04, 2006

Homecoming, Singapore, 2-3 September 2006

Attending a conference on Islamic Spirituality at the Sultan Mosque in Singapore, my land of birth, over the weekend was a 'rejuvenaton' of sorts. Tears flowed over the Soul(fitr)'s struggle to 'annihilate' the Ego (nafs) before the presence of the Almighty and the personal memories of a child and her mother walking and shopping for batik and pelikat along Arab Street, eating murtabak and briyani at Zam Zam, Victory or Islamic Restaurant, visiting the Istana Kampung Gelam as the last trace of the Glory of the Old Malay Kingdom, and catching the sights, sounds, smells and colours of the vibrant Arab Quarter of the City-State. And the pride and poignance of being with Singapore Malays from the level of Auliyas, Ulamaks, Politicians (Senior Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Academics (NUS Professor), Professionals to the Service Providers at the shops and restaurants around the complex.
As revealed by the humility, sincerity, insights and eloquence of the organisers, speakers and participants as well as the articles below, there may be a blessing to every 'conquest' or 'domination' after all. Repeated references to the waves of Mongol Invasion (of the Muslim world - 616/1219 by Genghis Khan and 654/1256 by Hulagu Khan - that hurled Islam into its Dark Age, of which it has not compeletely recovered from) during the conference reiterated that: "Periods of the most excruciating pain or suffering are usually accompanied with the most intense flowering of spirituality". Wallahualam bissawab (Only the Almighty knows). Wasallam.
The Straits Times
Saturday, September 02, 2006
S'pore Malays can hold heads high
MALAYSIA'S Deputy Home Minister has drawn fire for a remark made last week that he sympathises with Penang Malays who do not want to end up like Malays in Singapore.
Datuk Dr Abdul Latiff Ahmad made the remarks while opening an Umno delegates conference in Bukit Mertajam.
'I understand they do not want to end up becoming like the Malays in Singapore,' he told delegates at the meeting.
But, reacting to his remarks, a reader of The Star newspaper has written to the paper and urged the minister to visit Singapore.
'The fact is that Singapore Malays feel more superior to those across the Causeway,'' said Mr Mohd Jamal Bin Abdullah of Penang.
Pointing out that he worked with many Singapore Malays, he said Malays in Singapore could hold their heads high and many had found employment elsewhere simply because they were more fluent in English.
He added that the successful ones climbed the hierarchy on their own merits as they played on the same level field as the other races without asking for concessions.
'I am not ashamed to say that my son is studying in Singapore ever since he was quite young,' he said.
He said he had deliberately sent his son to Singapore because he wanted him to enjoy its superior education and to develop the right attitude of 'no crutch please as I can walk on my own'.
And he added: 'If the Malays in Penang (or elsewhere in Malaysia) can be like the Malays in Singapore, then we will not need former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad or current Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to remind us from time to time to seek to become 'towering Malays'.'