Ending Violence In The Holy Land = Anti Semitism?

There’s been some allusions and not so subtle hints from some of my Christian friends that by virtue of our vocal support for the end of the current violence in the Gaza strip as well as advocacy for peace in the Middle East, we have somehow:

  1. Been subsumed by the mainstream anti-semitism of Malaysian society, or
  2. We stand in danger of opposing God’s will, or
  3. All of the above (plus a few more)

My question would be .. at least to allegation #1 ..

How then do we start engaging and challenging some of the anti-semitic stereotypes if we choose to continue hiding in our ghettoes and pretending that people are not dying needlessly in the region?

For allegation #2, let’s have a conversation on the theology underlying that allegation one of these days. I believe I can speak about it with some experience .. considering I was once in that camp too. For the time being, maybe this discourse might be helpful.

My attention was recently brought to these 2 documents from Churches for Middle East Peace. I was surprised that I have unconsciously adopted these as my guiding principles in regards to this crisis even without knowing about them:

How To Get Your Message Heard

  • Present your hope for a positive future for both Israelis and Palestinians.
  • Avoid references to historical occurrences in the Middle East as much as possible.
  • Present data from reliable, mainstream sources.
  • Express the importance of your religious faith, but don’t be excessive in your use of religion or self-righteous
  • Recognize that there is pain for both Palestinians (separation barrier, settlements, housing demolitions, land confiscation, checkpoints) and Israelis (suicide bombings, shellings, countries and groups seeking their destruction)
  • Avoid analogies, especially with South Africa’s history of apartheid and Bantustans

There are, of course, more. You can read about it here and here. More resources for Christians and churches to think about can be found here as well.

The Alcohol Row – Adventures In Missing The Point

Once again a Pakatan ruled state is in the limelight for the wrong reasons. This time the focus is on a row that has erupted between 2 component parties within Selangor’s ruling coalition over a proposal by PAS to ban the sale of alcohol in the state. At least, that’s how the media has generally portrayed it.

What I was eventually made to understand was that the proposal was to restrict the sale of alcohol beverages (ie. removing it from the shelves of sundry shops/grocers, and convenience stores) and improve the enforcement of the ban on alcohol sale to minors as well as Muslims.

To be honest, I was really irked by the way the whole affair has developed. Are we really that polarised that even a matter like this has to degenerate into an affair where lines are drawn between the different ethnic and creedal communities?

I am pretty much a believer in the creed of caveat emptor. We have allowed the state to “protect” us so much that it borders on the absurd. Imagine an MP getting a visit from a constituent seeking the former’s help in counselling the latter’s domestic worker because she tends to wake up late in the morning!?

Back to the alcohol issue – I believe the dangers of alcohol abuse is quite well documented. The social, health and economic costs of such abuse is evident in our society. So what ought to be addressed is, perhaps, not the sale of alcohol itself but the public health perspective of this matter. I am sure that even PAS and DAP can find common ground there and work on a joint proposal.

A lot that ought to be done to tackle this issue has not even been mentioned. Here are some possible pro-active and more positive approaches that perhaps can be considered:

  • Public Education Campaigns On Substance Abuse
    Yep .. ethanol IS a form of narcotic. Incidentally, so is nicotine. As a smoker and an occasional imbiber of alcoholic beverages (mainly during Holy Communion nowadays) myself, I can attest to the fact that it is way easier and much more socially acceptable to drink in public than it is to smoke in public .. go figure.
  • Positive Campaigning To Encourage Responsible Alcohol Use
    One model, albeit somewhat controversial, would be the one advocated by the organisation Choose Responsibility
  • Formalised Training of Community Health Workers To Address The Issue of Substance Abuse
    The state can organise formal vocational training for community workers and volunteers to engage these issues. Programmes and curriculums do exist (more on this below)
  • Encouraging The Establishment Of Alcohol Rehabilitation and Drug Detoxification Centres
    The state and the private sector can cooperate in the establishment of more centres that provide alcohol rehabilitation programmes to complement existing social services and help contribute to the local economy as well
  • Enforce Penalties Against Sellers Who Do Not Verify The Age Of Buyers
    This really ought to go without saying and does not need any legislative changes. The laws on this already exist. Go enforce it already!

All of the measures above (I’m sure many others can think of more) would probably do much more in addressing the real problem that is alcohol abuse instead of criminalising and marginalising the victims. I doubt that removing alcohol from the shelves will work. It might even backfire and encourage criminal activity instead (does Al Capone and the Prohibition era ring any bells?). The people who are proposing and opposing such measures should consider – are they really interested in helping deal with a social problem or do they just want to punish offenders (or on the flip side, let them get away scot free).

Vocational training programmes in social care and community services usually engages community health issues like mental health, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, child abuse etc. That is true both in the United Kingdom as well as Australia (do a search in the NTIS database for syllabus and programme details) where our vocational training system is modelled after.

Maybe its time the Department of Skills Development (or the state counterpart if federal cooperation is not forthcoming) start including these sectors into the National Occupational Skills Standard (the whole social services sector and many more are totally missing from our NOSS!?) and embark on a campaign to train civil society and NGO workers. This might even be a good opportunity to retrain workers in these sectors as more jobs get lost with the ongoing recession (substance abuse and economic hardship does have a verifiable co-relation).

Pakatan ruled states have a wonderful opportunity to model a different way of doing things right now! It might actually be a good idea to get a few problems solved rather than creating new ones.

Originally published in bobjots : redux. Edited and republished with permission

While The Spinmeisters Spin …

… or at least, they try to since they do have almost absolute control of the printed and electronic media, something unprecedented has been occuring in Rembau, Negeri Sembilan. Yep, the same Rembau where Khairy Jamaluddin, the brilliant son-in-law of the Prime Minister, is currently the Member of Parliament of.

A joint press conference was held between the local KeADILan Youth and Umno Youth to publicly state their rejection of the sexual allegations against Anwar Ibrahim. Yep .. you read correct. It’s a joint press conference between KeADILan Youth and Umno Youth. Their contention is that a large majority of people do not believe the allegations anyway and there seemed to be an element of distraction being played out here.

The vice president of a local Umno Youth branch, S. Musliadi Sabtu, was categorical in stating that while he had absolutely no intention of changing his political affiliations and continued to support the stated purposes of Umno, there were more pressing issues of national and Malay concerns than trying to assassinate the political career of another individual.

This sorts of justifies my contention that the only political crisis that exists currently is that which is occuring within Umno. Everywhere else, things are running well. There’s been no general strikes, no breakdown of law and order, government machinery at all levels are functioning, et al. What political crisis?

Umno has had a well documented track record in manufacturing incidences and situations that threaten national stability and security whenever they themselves undergo some form of internal crisis. You can trace this trend all the way back to the circumstances that forced the firing of Aziz Ishak as the Agriculture and Cooperatives Minister in 1962 to the MCA crisis that resulted in Lim Chong Eu forming the United Democratic Party around the same time.

Sudahlah! When are we going to grow up? Its one thing to disagree politically. But don’t put the whole nation at risk just because. The joint press conference mentioned above is a good precedent. We can be on different sides of the political divide but when it comes to nation building, we can find points to agree on. No need to saling dengki-mendengki and act like juveniles.

So when will the other component parties in Barisan Nasional find the moral courage to stand up for what is right and put the Malaysian rakyat first before all things?

Thanks For Your Prayers

The event today turned out to be peaceful with people having the opportunity to express their general frustrations in a safe and secure manner. The general sense that things are still not all that well is still there and a cursory glance at the newspapers of the day will vindicate that feeling. For me personally, I get the sense that there are attempts to manufacture a scenario or a set of scenarios based on a lot of one sided pronouncements and opinions presented as objective truths.

So, the “battle” isn’t over yet. The need for intercession and direct action is still necessary. Direct action doesn’t necessarily have to be in the realm of macro politics or confrontational attitudes. Small shifts in how we engage and interact with the people around us can make a big difference.

Overheard conversations in a coffee shop today where euphemisms like “黑皮” (black skin), “illegal immigrants” and blanket allusions that “some people have everything due to the colour of their skin” tells me that ingrained attitudes have yet to be challenged and deconstructed. A minor change in our vocabulary would help in reconstructing our worldview about other people and change the way we interact.

This would be one of the building blocks in working out a just peace for our nation. And while prayer is generally viewed as seeking divine intervention for external changes, I believe that it would also change us internally.

So keep remembering our nation and our shared humanity in prayer. As a Christian who believes that God actively intervenes in the history of humanity, I would say that while people may scheme and device machinations, ultimately it is people dancing in step with God’s symphony, whether they are aware of it or not, that will ultimately sway the direction of affairs.

Pray For The Nation

Not everyone is called to take up the role of an activist or a politician. The mantle of the prophet is given to few. But one thing we can all do is to intercede and pray for the nation in this uncertain and troubled time. Many of us, irregardless of our faith traditions or lack thereof, are used to praying or at least hoping for peace. I remember that as a kid, before making the choice to embrace the Christian faith, I used to be taught to pray for 平安 (peace and tranquility).

As a Christian today, my posit is that peace requires justice. In the chaotic geo-politics of today, a lot of people are clamouring for a just peace. It is not enough to merely impose peace but also to bring it about justly. Martin Shaw of the University of Sussex suggests:

Peace entails justice, indeed, not merely in this sense of criminal responsibility, but in the larger sense of a just political and economic settlement for the people

I don’t disagree. Peace is more than simply the absence of conflict; it is a way of life in which each person has the essentials such as food, water, and shelter, in which sins such as sexism and racism are negated, in which love is the crucial factor in human relations.

In order to faithfully live in community, the Church must prayerfully support the elimination of poverty, war, racism, sexism, hate, and the like. True peace is intimately entwined to real justice and our own scriptures testify to it very strongly :

Isaiah 32:16-18:
The LORD’s justice will dwell in the desert,
his righteousness live in the fertile field.

The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;
its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.

My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
in secure homes,
in undisturbed places of rest.

Micah 6:8:
He has shown all you people what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Ecclesiastes 9:18:
Wisdom is better than weapons of war,
but one sinner destroys much good.

Psalm 34:14:
Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

Matthew 5:9:
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

As I mentioned above, not everyone is called to direct action but all can be peacemakers within their own circle of influence. And in situations where a just solution seems humanly impossible, we have the privilege of standing in the gap and interceding for God’s intervention in human history.

As a Christian, I don’t believe we can bring about perfection through our own efforts. Worthy of criticism? Perhaps. But I also do not believe that this is an excuse for us to stop trying.

I trust that when we eagerly await Christ’s return (or the Rapture depending on which side of the theological divide you’re at) and call out Maranatha, its not because we desire to abandon this existence and seek a divine life boat but because we desire to see God’s Kingdom of justice and peace established.

I would, therefore, like to appeal to all to come together and pray for our people, our nation and our world. I won’t provide specific points to pray about but do remember those who are in the positions of power who can change things, those who are actively confronting systems to seek a just peace, and those who are in danger of persecution and harm for seeking to bring about such changes.

Praying for Peace and Justice in Malaysia
I am a
and I am praying for
Peace & Justice
in Malaysia

So We Voted For Change… But Have We Changed?

The dust has yet to settle after the 12th General Elections when the question of ethnic quotas raised its ugly head again. While observers seem to think that the Malaysian electorate has finally had enough of ethnicity based politics and were willing to give the alternative a try, we saw Umno organised demonstrations against the newly elected state governments for allegedly not having enough Malays in their EXCO lineups, folks upset because certain parties were not given their due rewards in terms of representation (I read it as having not enough Chinese), and now in Malaysiakini’s Vox Populi today and apparently e-mails sent to KeADILan’s HQ (so I heard); people upset that the Makkal Sakthi movement was not rewarded with enough Indian representation in the Selangor EXCO line up.

Granted that due to the fact that we have had to endure more than half a century of ethnic identity based politics, certain contructs remain difficult to dismantle overnight. A lot of these contructs are embedded in our constitutional setups (like the requirement for a Malay Muslim to be appointed Menteri Besar in the Malay states) and many more remain embedded in our psyche. Many still find it impossible to fathom the possibility that perhaps a Malaysian would stand up for the rights of another Malaysian who happens to be of a different ethnic or religious background.

Seeing gripes about not having a Hindu Tamil represented in the Selangor EXCO is dumbfounding. What would happen if I started griping that there’s no Protestant Christian Teochew Chinese represented (we did; after all; embark on a public education campaign to get our fellow Christians [about 2 million of us of the Protestant expression] to vote wisely) or if someone else were to remark on the lack of representation of Taoist Hainanese, Theravadist Ceylonese, Mahayanist Foochows, Pure Land Hokkiens, Bahai Eurasians, Ahmaddiya Bengalis, Sikh Punjabis, yadda yadda yadda.

So I reckon that just because Teresa Kok is a Roman Catholic Hakka she won’t stand up for the rights of this Lutheran Teochew? Or that Yaacob Sapari is a Sunni Muslim Bugis (I’m just taking a wild guess here) that he won’t stand up for the rights of Hindu Telugu vegetable farmer?

I have shared some concerns earlier about how ethno-religious movements like HINDRAF could end up playing the same game; perhaps inadvertantly; as Umno. I hope that this isn’t true but the increasingly knee jerk reactions from people who are using HINDRAF as a bargaining chip seems to indicate otherwise.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not very happy about the fact that M. Manoharan was not given any positions in the Selangor state government. I did, after all, help campaign for Mano way back in 1995 when he stood as a candidate for the DAP in Kampung Tunku and remembered him sharing candidly his experiences with the late V. David and how he considered V. David his mentor and example.

However, I am not upset because Mano did not get selected due to his ethnicity or his religion. In fact, I think I’d be more upset if he was selected just to fill in an ethnic quota. I am upset because I know Mano has put in his all for the downtrodden and would be a great holder of the public trust in whatever role he is put in and the Selangor EXCO is so much the lesser without his contribution.

I think its wonderful that a good 46.75% (or 3,796,464 to be exact) of the voters who came out on polling day voted for change. Its just a pity that some forgot that change first has to come from oneself. The politicians we elect merely reflect the attitudes of the electorate. If we cannot start the change within ourselves, do we honestly expect the politicians to change?

To Defect Or Not To Defect and Other Post 388 Musings

I must admit to some level of ambiguity here. A few weeks ago, I was quite certain that defections would do no good for a few reasons: the electoral pact between the three main opposition parties was still freshly minted and required some time through the fire, the new opportunities gained by the erstwhile political Opposition need to be tried and tested and the quality of defectors may leave a lot to be desired. However with the current developments on both sides of the political divide, I’m becoming much less certain of where I stand on this.

Retrospective observation plays a role in this. With the type of abuse and neglect that has occurred after decades of hegemony by Barisan Nasional (BN) and later by UMNO, the non BN parties really can’t do any worse. And with the recent developments towards formalising an alliance, known for now as the Pakatan Rakyat or People’s Pact/Alliance, the non-BN parties may actually be more ready than we give them credit for.

Of course the leadership of the Pakatan will still need to exhibit wisdom in dealing with their grassroots. Certain constructs come with its own in-built panic buttons and self-destruct sequences. For instance, “secularism” (in the mainstream Malaysian understanding of the term) is a four letter word for many sincere and conscientious Muslim Malaysians the same way “islamic values” elicits similiar responses from many sincere and conscientious non-Muslim Malaysians.

Politicians who have made their careers preaching reform and change should be the first to bridge this false dichotomy and promote mutual understanding as well as explore new frameworks to establish a more civil discourse on these matters. Reacting to grassroot sentiments only betrays the politician’s inability to rise above the circumstances and exhibit true leadership.

A lot of traditional myths were broken post March 8 2008 (known in some circles now as the 388 incident). The co-relation (urban legend?) between ethnic violence ala May 13 and the denial of 2/3 majority was one myth that was definitively busted. The perceived inability of the major non-BN parties to work across “ideological” and ethnic divides (are they really even ideologies in the first place?) was also busted—at least this time around—when we saw parties gaining support from non-traditional grounds. What was a real vindication to me personally was the breakthrough achieved by KeADILan in establishing a foothold in previously tightly guarded enclaves of influence, be they ethnic, religious or class.

We would, however, be badly misled if we continued to pat each other on the back and proclaim the demise of ethnonationalism in Malaysia. Au contraire, ethnonationalism can be much more resilient than we give it credit for and this is already evident in some of the post election disagreements both among the leadership and the grassroots: the perceived loss of the position of Malays, the perceived betrayal by some segments of the Indian community, the vocal rumblings between the “secularists” and “islamists” (whatever those terms mean). Major factors that have to be included into the equation of the Pakatan’s agenda would also be in the development and delivery of psychological, sociological and economic models to blunt the tendency of people to revert to ethnonationalism in periods of crisis.

As some sociologists like Ernest Gellner have observed, ethnonationalism did not develop in a vacuum nor was it a strange historical anomaly. Rather, it was propelled by some of the deepest currents of modernity. Competition between states created a demand for expanded state resources and hence continual economic growth Trillion-Dollar-Experiment . Economic growth, in turn, depended on mass literacy and easy communication, spurring policies to promote education and a common language —which led directly to conflicts over language and communal opportunities. So to those who look in nostalgia at the easier and less conflicted days of the 1950s and 1960s (which in themselves are probably more myth than reality), we must face the reality that those days are behind us and we have a new future to forge.

And this brings me to nation building and keeping the country running. The Barisan Nasional, and UMNO in particular, has generally been reactionary in the wake of March 8 2008. The administration, though technically and effectively not especially weakened despite the loss of 2/3 majority in the lower house (unless they too have fallen victim to their own myth weaving over the decades), is still trying to find its footing while parrying off attacks from within and political challenges from without.

To the Pakatan’s credit, they have been less concerned with trying to destabilise Barisan Nasional post-elections and more focused on consolidating their electoral gains and establishing stable administrations in the states that they control. There is a vested interest in making sure they succeed in delivering the goods as this unprecedented gain could just as unexpectedly be wiped out as it was gained.

So while I don’t envy the position that the Prime Minister is in right now, he has to start showing some resolve and get the country running. It isn’t the opposition to his party and coalition that’s destablising the nation now, but the general lack of momentum that’s been exhibited by the newly formed Government and the challenges that he is facing within UMNO himself. In all honesty, if he continues to show a complete lack of resolve and commitment towards moving the country forward, I’d be less inclined towards retaining a negative view of defections to the Pakatan to form a new government. And I’m pretty sure many other Malaysians would share such sentiments.

The problem that is Mahathir will remain but perhaps it might be good to remember what an observer has speculated as far back as 20 years ago. I don’t exactly remember where I saw this (I was relatively young then, still in secondary school) but the observer opined that with Mahathir’s tendency to focus power on his office, (whether for efficiency’s sake or some other more sinister purposes), through the whittling down of institutions that exist for checks and balances, he would either lead UMNO towards implosion (either due to his absence or interference if he’s no longer in the power heirarchy) or lead the country towards instability (the benefit of hindsight allowed us to see an almost similiar dynamics that occured in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe). It would seem that the former scenario is starting to unfold and the latter scenario starting to look like a possible path that we might end up in.

So, to the present government, “Buck up. If you can’t get your act together, the nation and 27 million Malaysians are way too much to gamble and a government-in-waiting is in place to steer this ship.”