Ahead of LGBT crackdown, fleeing Bruneians fear for friends back home – Reuters

KUALA LUMPUR: As a transgender woman growing up in Brunei, Zoe saw the country’s slide towards conservatism from an early age, so plans to introduce strict new Islamic laws this week came as no surprise.

The 19-year-old, who was born male but identified as female from early childhood, is now awaiting the outcome of her asylum application in Canada after fleeing her country late last year.

“Even before Sharia law, LGBT+ people could be prosecuted under civil law,” Zoe told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, which is identifying her by only one name for her protection.

“I’ve always been scared of living my life openly in Brunei. I still am. I still think about how I present myself, because I was conditioned to survive.”

Brunei, a Muslim-majority former British protectorate with a population of about 400,000, is due to implement Sharia laws from April 3, punishing sodomy, adultery and rape with the death penalty, and theft with amputation.

The laws, elements of which were first adopted in 2014, could see LGBT+ people whipped or stoned to death for same-sex activity. Some aspects of the laws will apply to non-Muslims.

“I knew it was going to happen,” said Zoe, who hopes to one day undergo hormone therapy and formally change her name to the one she sometimes goes by.

“Our oil reserves were dwindling and the sultan needed a way to control the economy once he started to enforce taxes and reduce the high subsidies.”

The Brunei Prime Minister’s Department did not respond to an emailed request for comment on Monday.

Brunei does not hold elections and any discontent is assuaged with generous government polices including zero taxes, subsidised housing, and free healthcare and education.

Zoe, who is worried that her LGBT+ friends back in Brunei do not fully appreciate how dangerous the situation will soon become, faces an uncertain future.

“If I get sent back to Brunei, I will confess who I am and what I believe in to the Bruneian authorities,” she said.

“I’d rather die being true to myself than resenting a long life. I wish that Muslims who want Sharia law just keep it with themselves and God. Not enforce it onto other people.”

Asia’s silence

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, 72, is the world’s second-longest-reigning monarch and prime minister of oil-rich Brunei. He ranks as one of the world’s wealthiest people.

Since details of the new laws were announced, actor George Clooney and musician Elton John are among celebrities who have called for a boycott of hotels owned by the government-owned Brunei Investment Agency.

Britain, Australia, New Zealand and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have all called on Brunei to abandon changes to its penal code.

“It is seriously regrettable that Brunei’s decision contravenes a number of international norms on human rights,” New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Winston Peters said in a statement on Sunday.

Matthew Woolfe, founder of human rights group The Brunei Project, said it was now very unlikely that Brunei would backtrack, but diplomatic pressure from Asian countries could help ensure the laws were not enforced fully.

“We want to see more Asian governments coming out and speaking out on this. They have been too quiet,” said the Australia-based campaigner.

Socially conservative attitudes prevail across Asia, with Myanmar, Malaysia and Singapore banning sexual relationships between men, while Indonesia has seen an increase in raids targeting LGBT+ people in recent years.

Members of the Association of South East Asian Nations, which did not respond to requests for a comment, have a principle of non-interference in each others’ domestic affairs.

“I’m not aware of any Asian country having come out and said anything about these laws,” said Woolfe.

‘Barbaric laws’

Brunei, which neighbours two Malaysian states on Borneo island, already enforces Islamic teachings more strictly than Malaysia and Indonesia, the other majority Muslim countries in Southeast Asia.

Previously homosexuality was illegal in Brunei and punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment, while the sale of alcohol is banned and evangelism by other religions is forbidden.

Ging Cristobal, project coordinator at OutRight Action International in Manila, urged other Muslim countries in the region to put pressure on Brunei.

“In reality, Brunei will not succumb to pressure from countries that are not Muslim-majority countries,” said Cristobal.

“Brunei might say that other regions are imposing on Asia, so it would be good to see other Asian nations condemn these barbaric laws.”

Better to leave

Shahiransheriffuddin bin Shahrani Muhammad is a gay man who fled Brunei last year after being charged with sedition for a Facebook post that was critical of the government.

Now seeking asylum in Canada, the 40-year-old was surprised at the speed with which the new Sharia laws were being implemented.

“I expected it to happen, just not so soon,” he said. I thought there would be more time for people like me in Brunei to realise that it’s better to leave.”

Many people in Brunei back the Sharia laws because of rising unemployment and crime, he said.

The death penalty has rarely been used in Brunei and the burden of proof needed to secure a conviction for same-sex activities is very high, he added.

Nonetheless, for LGBT+ people, the prospect of going to trial is terrifying, carrying the risk of being the first person to be stoned, he added.

Even if exonerated, they face being stigmatised for the rest of their lives – Cristobal said the new laws gave license “for other people to see LGBTIQ (people) as criminals and commit violence and abuse towards them”.

Khairul, 19, is a gay Muslim man living in Brunei who now fears for his future.

“With the added laws that affect the LGBTQ+ community, I am scared,” said Khairul, who asked not to be identified by his real name for fear of reprisals. “My life here will become more complicated and hard.

“The fear of dying has become a reality, while the hope of being accepted by family is now just a dream.”

First published in Free Malaysia Today

Bukit Aman also behind Pastor Koh’s disappearance, says Suhakam

KUALA LUMPUR: The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) is pointing its finger at Bukit Aman in the case of the disappearance of Pastor Raymond Koh, saying that he – like Amri Che Mat – was a victim of “enforced disappearance by state agents”.

Suhakam commissioner Datuk Mah Weng Kwai said an inquiry panel looking into Koh’s disappearance came up with the unanimous conclusion after lengthy discussions.

“There is direct and circumstantial evidence which proves, on balance of probabilities, that he was abducted by state agents, by Special Branch, Bukit Aman,” he said when announcing the findings of the public inquiry on Wednesday (April 3).

Koh, who founded the NGO Harapan Komuniti, was abducted by a group of men along Jalan SS4B/10 in Petaling Jaya on Feb 13, 2017, while on his way to a friend’s house.

CCTV footage of the incident showed at least 15 men and three black SUVs were involved in the abduction, which was done in “professional” style.

Koh’s silver-coloured car bearing the number plate ST5515D has yet to be found.

The police were not present at the announcement of the findings.

The inquiry was held under Section 12(1) of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act in connection with the disappearances of Amri and Koh.

The panel of inquiry consists of commissioners Datuk Mah Weng Kwai as chairman, Prof Datuk Dr Aishah Bidin and Dr Nik Salida Suhaila Nik Saleh.

Bukit Aman has yet to respond to The Star’s request for comments.

First published in The Star Online

Suhakam says Amri abducted by Bukit Aman

KUALA LUMPUR: Amri Che Mat was a victim of enforced disappearance with circumstantial evidence pointing to Bukit Aman as the culprit, says the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam).

Suhakam commissioner Datuk Mah Weng Kwai said an inquiry panel looking into Amri’s disappearance came up with the unanimous conclusion after lengthy discussions.

“There is direct and circumstantial evidence that he was abducted by state agents, by Bukit Aman,” he said when announcing the findings of the public inquiry on Wednesday (April 3).

According to Mah, there was no evidence that the abduction was conducted by “non-state agents”.

The police were not present at the press conference announcing the findings.

Amri, who was the founder of the NGO Perlis Hope, had gone out from his home in Kangar at about 11.30pm on Nov 24, 2016, in his SUV.

His car was later found at the construction site of the Bukit Cabang Sports School in the wee hours of the following day.

Amri, who was being investigated for allegedly spreading Shia teachings, was also a mountain climber who was part of the 1997 Mount Everest Malaysian expedition team.

The inquiry was held under Section 12(1) of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia Act in connection with the disappearances of Amri and Pastor Raymond Koh.

Suhakam will announce its conclusion on Koh later.

Koh, who founded the NGO Harapan Komuniti, was abducted by a group of men along Jalan SS4B/10 in Petaling Jaya on Feb 13, 2017, while on his way to a friend’s house.

CCTV footage of the incident showed at least 15 men and three black SUVs involved in the abduction, which was done in “professional” style.

Koh’s silver-coloured car bearing the number plate ST5515D has yet to be found.

The panel of inquiry consists of commissioners Datuk Mah Weng Kwai as chairman, Prof Datuk Dr Aishah Bidin, and Dr Nik Salida Suhaila Nik Saleh.

First published in The Star Online

The emasculated academic

By Tajuddin Rasdi

Daim Zainuddin recently made two important points in his speech at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia in Skudai.

Firstly, he said the Malays are being fed a narrative bordering on the idea that their race and Islam are both under threat, and that more affirmative policies will be needed in the new Pakatan Harapan government in the coming years and decades.

Secondly, and this is the main point of my article, he said Malay academics appear to be doing nothing at all but are letting this narrative play out to the opportunism of certain political parties and selfish NGOs.

I have been writing to the media for 20 years, saying absolutely the same thing, but it has earned me a negative perception from the Malay establishment especially in the public universities and even the previous higher education ministry.

Daim’s statement came as a sweet surprise to me as he was never one of my favourite politicians.

I know him as a savvy businessman who grew up within the Malay patronage system. As the economic and corporate worlds are outside of my understanding, I have shied away from trying to know anything about the man himself.

But a few days ago, I was surprised to find him articulating a historical, religious and political construct of what I consider a “Malaysia-Malay construct” as opposed to what I term a “Melayu-Malaysia” one.

A Malaysia-Malay construct is simply a Malay who understands his or her own heritage and faith within a Malaysian constitutional, multi-religious and multi-ethnic acceptance of co-existence, while a Melayu-Malaysia construct is a Malay who is just a Malay, then, now and forever, living in a land geopolitically defined as “Malaysia”. No compromise, no apologies.

The Melayu-Malaysia expects others to change for the sake of his race and faith, without the need to understand, tolerate or even acknowledge the importance of the existence of others as partners in nation-building.

The academics of this country have become purely self-serving and disinterested in nation-building.

The story of a disinterested academia began in the 1980s.

The Universities and University Colleges Act, or UUCA, was instituted to kill off or control student political activities and also that of the academics.

Under UUCA, no academic can speak or write to the media or the public without getting permission from the authorities. That basically sums it up.

A few academics were charged under the act, one of them the late Fadzil Noor who was the PAS president and an academic at a public university.

The involvement of the academia in nation-building basically died. With this law, the culture of academia turned inwards to a concentration on teaching until the idea of “world class” and being “internationally recognised” in rankings came into being in the late 1990s.

With this new mantra, academics are said to be successful if they publish in “high impact” or Scopus journals and receive million ringgit grants.

It would also sweeten the deal if an MoU were signed with European or American or Western universities deemed to be “world class” and “international”. Whether such ties would produce a culture of research and inquiry was disregarded as long as universities “dapat nama”, and a minister was there to observe the deals being signed. That’s it.

After the turn of the 21st century, public universities went full blast on rankings by journals with overseas publications. Locally published books, encyclopaedias and journals were regarded as third rate.

In the old days, books and media writings commanded a high percentage and weightage but now there is hardly a column to put them in on an evaluation or KPI form.

Once, I had to put my books, articles and 200 encyclopaedia entries in a column marked “other publications”.

I used to read Aliran, whose writers are academics from universities in the north. I found their writings to be fresh, bold and highly academic.

After 10 years, I noticed their designation was still “associate professor” and wondered when these people would be called “professor”.

I soon found out that they had migrated to the National University of Singapore. There is no future in Malaysia for “public intellectuals”.

I was lucky enough to be appointed a full professor before all the crazy journal hype began to take place in universities. I managed to squeeze by with my books, papers and other writings after attending the professor interview twice.

As my writings increasingly touched on society and the nation, my appointments at committees on the national level became fewer and fewer.

I no longer got invitations to public talks from universities, because I was told that I am “controversial” in the corridors of the chancellery.

So the only appointment letters from public universities that came to me were to be an examiner for PhD candidates and evaluator of professorships and associate professorships in architecture.

The coup de grace came after I went on optional retirement, leaving after 27 years of teaching and writing at a public university, exiting the campus alone and uncelebrated.

My application as contract professor to two public universities was rejected on grounds of me being “controversial”.

I have mentioned that the key to our future is the reeducation process of the Malay mind by Malay academics who understand that Islam is strong only if you read and understand, and not sit in front of the TV or the mosque podium listening to an ustaz giving his half-baked ideas of religion and society.

The fate of our country hinges on academics changing the narratives of what is important for Malaysians in the coming decades and centuries, to be in line with the goals of sustainable development outlined by the United Nations.

We won’t go very far listening to Friday sermons condemning progressive thinkers or LGBT that may have caused Allah to turn the hot weather on us.

Forget about STEM education if academics do not speak about it.

We are facing a Malay-Muslim society that has grown up with the Islamic resurgence of the 1980s with most Malays conscious about the afterlife and religious values for their children and society.

The International Islamic University Malaysia as well as Istac and Ikim were supposed to guide the Malays into a new era of modern and democratic understanding of Islam vis-a-vis nation-building and coexistence.

But where were these academics when two muftis encouraged the use of “kafir” on non-Muslim citizens, or when calls for “jihad” against the enemies of Islam came from the national mosque?

Daim’s speech must give pause to all the vice-chancellors of public universities to rethink their KPI for academics.

We need more public intellectuals to reform and rewrite the narratives of the nation, to bring social and religious harmony and sustainable wealth to the country.

We don’t need “high impact” journals to measure our success.

Just ask the man on the street whether he should vaccinate his children or whether the world is flat or defending minority groups would start a tsunami somewhere.

First published in freemalaysiatoday.com

Christchurch killings: Deputy minister highlights hypocrisy of Malaysian politicians

Following the massacre at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, Malaysian politicians from both sides of the divide condemned the incident.

Umno politicians such as Khairy Jamaluddin and Annuar Musa were also quick to criticise Australian senator Fraser Anning, who linked the shootings to the influx of Muslim radicals.

However, Housing and Local Government Deputy Minister Raja Kamarul Bahrin Shah highlighted the similarities between the New Zealand shooter Brenton Tarrant and the hate being spread in Malaysia along racial and religious lines.

Without mentioning names, but in an obvious reference to Umno and PAS leaders, he also noted the hypocrisy of Malaysia’s opposition politicians with regard to this issue.

“The biggest irony is that there are certain opposition politicians who become livid over the threats against Muslims, who are the minority in New Zealand, France and the United States.

“At the same time, these politicians continue to threaten and make rash accusations based on racial and religious sentiments against the minorities in Malaysia,” he said in a statement today.

The Amanah leader also warned that if the racial and religious hate on social media is not curbed, then a similar tragedy could happen in Malaysia.

“Statements like halal darah (permissible to kill), kafir harbi (infidels who can be killed), pendatang (immigrants) which have long been spread through social media by influential personalities can create a fertile ground for serious racial and religious conflicts in Malaysia,” he said.

Apart from politicians, Raja Bahrin said religious scholars also make such statements which can influence the people.

“The label ‘pendatang’ accorded to a portion of Malaysian citizens is the same as the label ‘invaders’ used by the New Zealand shooter to describe Muslims.

“Using social media to fan hatred towards other races and faiths is also similar to the New Zealand’s shooter’s tactics,” he added.

Noting how the Dewan Rakyat yesterday condemned the incident in New Zealand, Raja Kamarul said Malaysian lawmakers should not criticise others on issues of racial and religious extremism when guilty of doing the same back home.

“If someday, an equally devastating incident happens in Malaysia, can Parliament say it happened without any sign or warning?” he asked.

Since the last general election, Umno and PAS, which are now in a formal alliance, have repeatedly accused the Pakatan Harapan administration of failing to safeguard the interests of the Malays and Islam.

Despite repeated denials, there are also accusations that the current administration is controlled by the predominantly Chinese DAP, whom certain Muslim politicians and groups claim is bent on undermining the special position of Islam and the Malays.

First published in Malaysiakini.com

Daim denounces “Malays under threat” as nonsensical political rhetoric

Since the last general election, the political narrative in Malaysia has centred around issues concerning race and religion, particularly the position of the Malays and Islam.

Speaking at UTM Skudai in Johor last night, former finance minister Daim Zainuddin addressed this issue and described the claim that Malays are under threat as nothing more than nonsensical political rhetoric.

“Despite being more educated and having a large educated segment, we are still unable to convince ourselves that Malays have nothing to fear in this country.

“Are Malays thinking strategically, critically and logically? It looks increasingly obvious every day that the Malays are thinking with their emotions instead of with their intellect. We must ask ourselves – what is happening to us?” he said.

According to Daim, who headed the Council of Eminent Persons, the Malays have allowed their emotions to run wild and influence their perception of others.

“When Mastika (Malay-language magazine) stopped writing ghost stories, circulation ended and now there is no more Mastika. Now instead of reading about ghosts in Mastika, we are seeing ghosts around every corner.

“Instead of depending on logic and facts, we prefer to buy into the racist rhetoric of politicians with dubious reputations,” he added.

Daim then asked his audience, comprising mainly of academicians, what role they were playing in injecting logic and facts into the Malaysia narrative.

“Do you intend to go along with the emotional flow or do you see it as your academic duty to question the irrational narratives that are being shoved down the Malays’ throats?

“Do you as ‘the educated’ speak honestly and bravely about what is happening or do you simply pretend that this growing racism is justified?

“All of you here are highly educated, but how many of you have bought into the nonsensical political rhetoric that the Malays are being threatened by the non-Malays in this country? That Islam is under threat simply because of one or two people being insensitive enough to post something on the Prophet (Muhammad)?” he added.

Daim said the current narrative, which centres around race and religion, gives the impression the Malays are on the verge of being driven out of their own country.

“There is so much anger and indignation when non-Malays were appointed to high posts in the government as if this is something new.

“Why is there not the same anger when we are confronted with facts of corruption and kleptocracy of the highest order among our Malay leaders? We don’t feel offended when it was prime news all over the world. Instead, we respond with “Malu apa? (Ashamed of what?)”. Kalau “tak malu,” apa jadi kepada iman kita (If we are not ashamed, what has happened to our faith)?

“The Malays can continue down this emotional and irrational path at our own peril or we can stop, think, reflect and call for change.

“Nobody is forcing us to be emotional and irrational. We have chosen to be that way ourselves because we have allowed ourselves to be bought over by politicians whose only goal is to gain or regain power, no matter what the cost – and the cost is almost always ours to bear,” he added.

Below is Daim’s speech in full:

To understand our current political climate, it is important to look back at our history. Kusut di hujung, balik ke pangkal (Messy at the end, return to the root of the problem).

The history of the Malays starts from long before the formation of Tanah Melayu. We are descendants of great empires, from Langkasuka, to Srivijaya, to Majapahit, to Melaka. Melaka, of course, is our most popular tale, that of a world-famous port whose global success led to its eventual colonisation.

And when Melaka fell to the Portuguese, those descendants of Sultan Melaka who survived founded a new empire here in Johor. They took control of the southern Malay Peninsula, spreading across Riau, Anambas, Natuna, Tambelan, Borneo, and Sumatra. Their success was attributed to the wisdom of their rulers, and their openness to international trade.

In more recent history, the formation of the Malayan Union and the subsequent opposition led by Umno were significant events that triggered real change in the political organisation of the Malays. Onn Jaafar, himself from Bukit Gambir and an MB of Johor, founded Umno in 1946, signalling the height of Malay political supremacy. We were united and we were strong.

But our unity did not last. We didn’t know how to deal with success; the Malays started to split. When we are successful, we are drunk with success. When we fail, we look for scapegoats and go amok.

Our battle with the Malayan Union was, in a way, the first true independence that we achieved – when the British backed down. We became masters of our own land.

But the political landscape changed, and many non-Malays began to consider Malaya home and demanded a say in their new homeland.

In 1951, Onn made the first attempt to unify the races in a single party when he tried to open the membership of Umno to non-Malays. However, Umno members at the time rejected it, and he left the party.

Nevertheless, the 1952 elections marked the first real political collaboration between Malays and non-Malays when Umno and MCA joined forces for political victory. They were later joined by MIC to form the Alliance, signalling political unity amongst all Malayans, achieving a sweeping victory in the 1955 elections.

Then came the negotiations for Merdeka, where all Malaysians worked hand-in-hand to shrug off the yoke of colonialism. We learned that we were stronger together – when all Malaysians were united, we could overcome challenges.

All this happened against a backdrop of consistent armed warfare against terrorists during the Emergency, when all races fought shoulder to shoulder to gain victory. We are the only country in the world to defeat terrorists.

Then came the formation of Malaysia and Konfrontasi and throughout Malays were working with non-Malays to achieve national goals.

So, Malaysia has had a strong and rich history of inter-racial harmony and multi-culturalism since its very inception. But we must admit that it is still very complex with jobs and economic sectors identified with race, income inequality between the races and different educational systems existing.

It cannot be denied that Malaysia will prosper when Malays prosper. You cannot have 50 percent of your population in low income, there will be economic instability affecting everyone, regardless of race or economic status.

For Malaysia to succeed, the Malays must succeed. But this can only be achieved within the national context, working together with non-Malays for the benefit of Malaysia.

Why is it that Malays were able to work so closely with non-Malays for so many years leading up to Merdeka and beyond? Even in the face of outside aggression, there were hardly questions of who deserved Malaysia more – the Malays or non-Malays. Indeed, it was only when politicians decided to use race and religion as tools to gain power that we fell by the wayside.

This talk is entitled ‘Naratif Malaysia: Melayu dalam Persoalan National’. My question to you is: should we not just be talking about a National Narrative? Need we break down a national narrative along racial and religious lines?

But if your intention is to find answers to inequality, and to answer why the Malays are behind economically, then I really hope that this seminar will provide the answer.

When we talk about the Malays, we must talk about Islam. The Malays and Islam are indeed deeply entwined. They cannot be discussed separately. But what this has led to is the ignoring of our cultural and regional heritage, which has been abandoned in favour of foreign cultures (Arabisation especially) which feed into the insecurity of the Malays. It seems that everyone who does not speak like us and everything that we do not agree with, is a threat to Malays and Islam.

We must ask ourselves – is this true? Why is this so? Since when have the Malays and Muslims become so insecure about our place in this country?

When the Malays were far less economically advanced and far less educated, we defeated the British by rejecting the Malayan Union. We were brave.

We knew to organise collectively and strategically. We used our brains to defeat a colonial power. We managed to gain independence without bloodshed. We had no problems working with non-Malays and even learning from other races.

As the Malays progressed, it seems so did our sense of insecurity. Why is this so? Could it be that when there were no crutches, we had dignity, and the Malays felt more secure of our place within the country?

We are not lacking in Malay heroes. Johor alone has a rich history of formidable warriors, renowned artists, poets, athletes, scientists, doctors, academicians, and businessmen.

There was Muhamad Salleh bin Perang, who was the Bentara Luar. He was the first to draw up an accurate map of Johor, without the modern technology that present-day surveyors have available. He was the Head of Land Management and State Survey, and he used his map to plan the development of Johor. He was a Malay, but he was fluent in Chinese and was knowledgeable about Chinese culture, which allowed him to work closely with them in developing the economy.

In the realm of politics alone, the list of honours is never ending. Tun Hussein Onn, our “Bapa Perpaduan”, was from Johor. And so was his own “Bapa”, the founder of Umno, Onn Jaafar. His father before him, Jaafar Muhammad, was the first and longest serving MB of Johor. Deputy Prime Ministers Tun Dr Ismail and Musa Hitam were sons of Johor. Tun Ismail’s family was illustrious on its own, including his father-in-law Seth Said, Deputy MB of Johor, who was part of the delegation for Merdeka, and signed the Merdeka agreement against the Sultan’s orders. Without him, we would not have had Merdeka.

Johor produced the President of the Senate, Rahman Yasin. He was Tun Dr Ismail’s father. Tun Dr Ismail’s brother-in-law Ghazali Seth, was Chief of Defence, and he married Sri Norziah – sister of Hussein Onn, daughter of Onn Jaafar. Tun Dr Ismail went to school in Sekolah Melayu Bukit Zaharah in JB with two other famous figures – his brother, Sulaiman Abdul Rahman, and Ahmad Perang, who became the first Malay chairman of KTM.

Mohamed Noah Omar, the first Speaker of Dewan Rakyat, was also from Johor. His family too was very special – his two daughters married the men who would go on to be our prime ministers. Rahah, the wife of Tun Razak, and Suhaila, the wife of Hussein Onn. Tun Razak studied at Raffles College, with another son of Johor, Taib Andak, after whom Felda Taib Andak in Kulai is named. His brother Rahman Andak, was one of the early campaigners for Johor’s independence, and was State Secretary of Johor in 1984.

Governors of Bank Negara, Aziz Taha, Jaffar Hussein and Zeti Aziz. Professor Ungku Aziz, Zeti’s father, is a renowned economist. Zeti’s grandfather, Syed Mohammed Alsagoff, used to own Pulau Kukup, and had a concession to print his own money. Today, we use money signed by his granddaughter.

Why should we feel insecure with a legacy as illustrious as this?

Again, could it be that after being given all sorts of crutches, the effect has been to make the Malays weak and insecure, and most noticeably, lacking in resilience? What has led to this lack of confidence? It seems that when the Malays were facing real challenges, such as fighting for independence, our resilience was so much stronger.

As ease and comfort and quality of life improved, confidence and resilience abated. These observations call for sincere self-reflection – instead of picking fights with perceived enemies, we should look inwards and try to better ourselves instead of blaming all of our ills on others. We seem to be scared of our own shadows.

Today, there is one Malay graduate for every 20 Malays. Despite being more educated and having a large educated segment, we are still unable to convince ourselves that Malays have nothing to fear in this country. Are Malays thinking strategically, critically and logically? It looks increasingly obvious every day that the Malays are thinking with their emotions instead of with their intellect. We must ask ourselves – what is happening to us?

We have allowed our emotions to run wild and influence the way we see others. We watch ghost movies at the box offices. When Mastika stopped writing ghost stories, circulation ended and now there is no more Mastika. Now instead of reading about ghosts in Mastika, we are seeing ghosts around every corner.

Instead of depending on logic and facts, we prefer to buy into the racist rhetoric of politicians with dubious reputations.

Since I am talking to academicians, I would like to pose this question to you: what role should you be playing in injecting some logic and fact into the Malaysia narrative? Do you intend to go along with the emotional flow or do you see it as your academic duty to question the irrational narratives that are being shoved down the Malays’ throats?

Do you as “the educated” speak honestly and bravely about what is happening or do you simply pretend that this growing racism is justified?

All of you here are highly educated, but how many of you have bought into the nonsensical political rhetoric that the Malays are being threatened by the non- Malays in this country? That Islam is under threat simply because of one or two people being insensitive enough to post something on the Prophet?

The religion cannot be insulted. Only people can be. If our faith is strong, we do not get insulted. In fact, we laugh at such ignorance. And our behaviour should reflect the best of our religion so that we and our religion earn the respect of others.

Our country is multi-cultural and multi-religious. We have managed to live here in peace. We are sensitive to our neighbours and respect one another. This is our way.

It is wrong to insult anybody, more so the Prophet. To make fun of religion is stupid. But we have laws, and we should respect due process. Many have forgotten our Rukun Negara. The most important document is the Constitution.

No Malaysian should make insensitive comments towards other religions and races. But what has happened with the proclamation of Jihad against non- Muslims recently?

If Muslims want to perform Jihad, it should be Jihad to better ourselves not only spiritually, but economically, academically and to contribute to the continued growth of our own country.

We talk about the Malay narrative as if we are on the verge of being driven out of our own country. There is so much anger and indignation when non- Malays were appointed to high posts in the government, as if this is something new.

Why is there not the same anger when we are confronted with facts of corruption and kleptocracy of the highest order among our Malay leaders? We don’t feel offended when it was prime news all over the world. Instead, we respond with “Malu apa?”. Kalau “tak malu”, apa jadi kepada iman kita (If we are not ashamed, what has happened to our faith)?

The Malays can continue down this emotional and irrational path at our own peril or we can stop, think, reflect and call for change. Nobody is forcing us to be emotional and irrational. We have chosen to be that way ourselves because we have allowed ourselves to be bought over by politicians whose only goal is to gain or regain power, no matter what the cost – and the cost is almost always ours to bear.

So, the choice is up to us – nak duduk macam katak di bawah tempurung (want to be like a frog beneath a coconut-shell)? Do we change and become a force to be reckoned within the context of the national agenda, Malaysia Baru, or do we go down the path we are currently treading and proclaim a narrative that is narrow, focused only on ourselves? Or will we pursue a truly National or Malaysia Narrative, in which we participate and play a very active role?

The National Agenda is not a Malay agenda or a non-Malay agenda. It is a Malaysian Agenda that takes into consideration all Malaysians. That fights poverty and inequality without discrimination, respecting the Constitution.

I am glad to note that this seminar is directed at the four sectors of politics, economy, budaya and agama. Let us get all of these right. To get all of these right, our education system must change. Don’t treat education as a political football. The education system must be right.

Our future, Malaysia’s future, will depend on giving our children the right type of education that will allow them to be confident to face the best in the world. Get education right, then politics and economy will be right. Brains minus emotions will determine our future and the future of Malaysia.

Expose our children to the world, then they will want to excel, and they will protect the best of our budaya.

There is nothing wrong with Islam. It is not under threat. It is the fastest growing religion in the world.

I would like to advise you not to follow politicians blindly. As I said earlier, for Malaysia to succeed, the Malays must succeed. I keep repeating, Iqra’ (Aik Krok) – read to acquire knowledge and to think critically. Choose the right path that will lead to success.

Time is very important and we are excellent at wasting time. We will lose to time. Let us tell ourselves from now on we shall not repeat past mistakes. We will give the best education to our children so that they can compete and succeed. Let us leave all failure of confidence behind, and start our future now.

Leave this hall confident and ok with ourselves. Tell our children that we will compete and we will succeed.

First published in Malaysiakini.com

Marrying when it’s convenient

By Wong Chun Wai

IT was a marriage doomed from the start. Of course, the flirting was exciting and both sides enjoyed this phase of the courting. Then, they discussed marriage.

In fact, Umno and PAS announced two weeks ago that they had formalised political ties and proudly proclaimed that they were now “married” after a three-hour meeting between leaders of both parties.

“We ‘exchanged rings’ in Sungai Kandis, ‘engaged’ in Seri Setia. Then, we decided to get ‘married’ – this is the official ceremony. And now, we are sitting on the dais,” Umno acting president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan proudly declared.

The Sungai Kandis by-election in August last year put in motion the alliance between the two parties after the 14th General Election. PAS made way for Umno to contest, although the Umno candidate lost to Pakatan Harapan.

“We are married,” a beaming Mohamad said after meeting PAS leaders led by their deputy president Datuk Tuan Ibrahim Tuan Man.

But the wedding of the year, between Umno and PAS, has become a non-event. Invitation cards don’t need to be sent out.

On Monday, PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang said such a union would be incestuous, likening both parties as siblings.

Correction: PAS was married to Barisan Nasional for five years from 1974 and with Barisan Alternatif (which included PKR and DAP) from 1999 till 2004. PAS is a serial divorcee with a bad record of staying in a marriage.

To put it crudely, PAS slept with practically everyone including those it had branded “kafir” (infidels) and this even included Umno at one point. But now, Hadi apparently has amnesia, and is proclaiming Umno a brother. His argument is that a marriage (with Umno) will be incestuous, though flirting is permitted.

This rationale is no different from DAP’s, which used to justify the use of hudud, saying the amputation of hands shouldn’t be a concern for non-Muslims since only “the corrupt in Barisan” need to worry. Want proof? Just watch the related videos on YouTube.

DAP even organised study trips to Kelantan to show what an exemplary state it is, although most of us feel that Kelantan is hardly a shining example of how a state should be run. PAS information chief Nasrud­din Hassan Tantawi, the firebrand who advocates the ban of Valentine’s Day and concerts, thinks it’s the best place to live and retire in Malaysia.

In fact, Hadi even praised DAP then, saying the latter stood by the Islamist party when the Kelantan government crumbled in 1978. DAP, he noted, defended PAS when the Kelantan government fell to Barisan, “which caused chaos within the state.” He reportedly said Barisan, which was working with PAS then, did nothing to help them but “only DAP defended us at the time, and we are grateful to them”.

There are several reasons why PAS has suddenly decided to take a few steps back. The excitement of seeing the possibility of regaining many crucial seats – including states lost in the last general election – if they worked together was simply overwhelming.

Calling for Muslim unity, they seem prepared to ignore the rest of Malaysians – the non-Muslims who have abandoned them anyway.

Adding to the delusion, they forget that Sabahans and Sarawakians are not supporters of the politics of race or religion. In fact, they despise political personalities of this sort.

While Malaysians may have expressed disappointment in, among other things, the performances of some PH ministers and mentris besar, the inability to fulfil many of the election promises and the rising cost of living, any retrogressive steps, such as abandoning a multi-racial government, seems alarming, to say the least.

Let’s look at the Rantau state by-election where Mohamad Has­san is contesting – the electorate has a high Chinese and Indian presence although it has a 54% Malay electorate. The Chinese make up 19% and Indians 27%, with the other races making up the remainder.

Surely Mohamad can’t be entering the campaign shouting the Malay-Muslim rhetoric and ignoring the Chinese and Indians, the people who voted for him loyally in the past. And ironically, he is contesting against an Indian candidate from PH. All this talk of Umno-PAS must be shelved, at least, for now, until they get excited again with the seemingly amorous affair.

But PAS’ biggest problem is Hadi’s inconsistency, and this has led to rational and moderate Malaysians questioning his integrity and principles, or the lack of it. What’s disturbing is, he keeps using religion to justify his ever-changing stand for the sake of political expediency.

Only 30 years ago, he issued the proclamation known widely as Amanat Haji Hadi (the dictum of Haji Hadi), where he labelled Muslims who supported Umno and Barisan as kafir or infidels, and it disastrously led to Umno and PAS members attending prayers in different mosques. He criticised the Federal Constitu­tion and the country’s laws as uncivilised legislation created by colonists and infidels, and declared that one did not have to be a Jew, Christian, Buddhist or Hindu to be deemed an infidel; anyone who believed in the separation of politics and Islam was to be labelled an infidel.

In January, Hadi reportedly delivered a warning to Muslims to place their trust in Muslim leaders, regardless of their wickedness, claiming that non-believers would end up in hell if led by non-Muslims. The PAS president reportedly wrote a lengthy article recently stressing the importance of religion in keeping the law and the need for Islam to reign supreme in governing the country.

“If the one leading is a Muslim, even if he were to be cruel, at least (others) can become cattle herders,” the Marang MP wrote.

“But if the one who leads is a non-Muslim even if he were to be the kindest, (others) can work however they wish (but) without any limits of what is ‘halal’ and ‘haram’, they will still end up in hell.”

The impression given – and he seems to want to provide that perception – is that Muslims are in danger of losing control of the federal government, or that non-Muslims are heavily dictating the running of the present government.

And yet on Monday, he said although the federal government was led by PH, the Malay Muslims still hold the biggest political power, as they hold 130 of the 222 parliamentary seats, and “if you add up all the seats won by the Malay Muslims in Parliament, be it from Harapan, or the opposition, Islam is still the majority”.

We can safely say that non-Malays and non-Muslims recognise and accept that the leadership of Malaysia needs to be of Muslim-Malay stock, and no one in his right mind should question the status quo. But no political party should stoke the fires of racial and religious controversy, or worse, create fictional bogeymen at the expense of national unity, which is far more supreme than parochial political ambition.

First published in The Star

A trouble-sum game for PH

by Philip Golingai

THE possibility – if you are an Umno/PAS politician or supporter – is mouthwatering.

When you add the votes the two “newly-wed” parties received in GE14, they could have won many Malay-majority seats they lost.

Take the Jerlun parliamentary seat.

Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia deputy president Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir won the Kedah seat, with 91% Malays out of the total voters, by a majority of 5,895. However, if PAS’ 12,829 votes and Barisan Nasional/Umno’s 12,413 votes were combined (25,241), Umno/PAS would have won it by 6,547 votes.

Take the Parit Buntar parliamentary seat.

Amanah vice-president Datuk Seri Mujahid Yusof Rawa won the Perak seat, with 69% Malays out of the total voters, by a majority of 3,098. However, if PAS’ 12,312 votes and Barisan/Umno’s 13,655 votes were combined (25,967), Umno/PAS would have won it by a majority of 9,214 votes.

There are 29 MP seats the two parties could have won if their votes were not split.

Based on GE14 results, according to Umno Youth Chief Dr Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, Umno and PAS combined could win at least 101 MP seats – Umno 54; PAS 18; plus, the 29 seats Pakatan Harapan won due to three-cornered fights.

That’s 11 MPs shy of a simple majority to form the Federal Government.

“This is only a simple calculation without taking into account the sentiment of the voters,” Asyraf said. “I believe with the heightened grievances towards the present government, at least 25 traditional Umno seats can be regained.”

Bridget Welsh, the editor of The End of Umno: Essays on Malaysia’s Former Dominant Party, crunched the numbers on how many of the 222 parliamentary constituencies, a united Umno and PAS could win in GE15. On the surface, Welsh said the alliance would yield 109 seats base on winning Malay-majority constituencies. It could win 125 seats base on the combination of PAS and Barisan votes, she said.

“These are based purely on the GE14 results and should only be seen as possible markers of support,” she qualified.

There were five things to consider in looking at the possible trajectories, Welsh said.

First is Inter-party cooperation: “Whether PAS and Umno grassroots will be comfortable working together. It is one thing to have this dynamic in a by-election where the target is the Pakatan government, it is another to have this play out in states where there has been traditional antipathy, e.g. Terengganu and Kelantan,” she said.

Second, Inter-coalition effect: “An important question is whether non-Malays would vote for Barisan with PAS as part of the ‘marriage’ option. One thus cannot underestimate the multi-ethnic effect of Barisan, especially strong in Sabah and Sarawak where there is greater resistance to PAS.”

Third, Protest effect: Much of the support for PAS was a negative vote against Umno and Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

“It is thus important not to overstate PAS support. Many did not vote for the PAS agenda,” said Welsh.

Fourth, Party decay: “One also cannot assume they have the same level of support as in the past.”

And fifth, Leadership effect: Neither PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang nor former Umno president Najib will be viable as a national leader.

Political analyst Dr Abdul Latiff Mohd Ibrahim said based on the GE14 results, Umno and PAS’ marriage of convenience stand to increase their seats to around 122.

However, he said, one had to factor in how Pakatan was going to strategise from now to GE15 to confront this new alliance.

“That will also have a strong bearing on the voting trend and the fortunes of the two coalitions. Once PH overcomes its current ‘learning’ woes, some improvements to its performance are to be expected,” he said.

The only drawback, Abdul Latiff said, was how Pakatan was going to counter racist propaganda from Umno-PAS given that they have made DAP their punching bag.

“So far DAP’s reactions have not helped bring down the racist temperature created by Umno and PAS. DAP must do a lot more learning of Malay-Muslim culture and psychology in order to reduce the effect of the racist propaganda being unleashed currently,” he said.

Political analyst Dr Sharifah Syahirah Syed Sheikh said the combination of the two well-established parties would definitely have a strong impact.

“Hopefully they will not use race/religious negative sentiments to gain popularity. They should focus on long term goals such as national unity and the country’s development,” she said.

The combined clout of the two parties was demonstrated in the Semenyih state by-election. With the support of the Islamist party, Umno regained the constituency it lost to Pakatan in GE14 when both parties stood against each other.

Will their political marriage ensure that Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan can retain his Rantau state seat? It might be a tricky by-election as unlike Semenyih where 68% of the total voters are Malays, in Rantau it is 54%.

It would be a big challenge for Barisan/Umno to retain the seat, said Abdul Latiff.

“Even if Umno garners 80% of the Malay votes that would be 42% of the total Malay votes and they would be hard-pressed to achieve the remaining 9% from the non-Malay votes which PH is expected to gain,” he said.

To gauge who would win Rantau which is a Barisan’s stronghold, Sharifah Syahirah said one needed to consider indicators such as candidate’s locality, personality and track record.

Asyraf is optimistic the former Negeri Sembilan Mentri Besar could win mainly because of his personality.

“He has been serving the people there like his own family. Everyone is close to him including the Chinese and Indians,” he said.

Umno and PAS, said Asyraf, still needed non-Malay votes as they did not want to take over the country by undermining its special legacy of having representatives of diverse races. Welsh noted that non-Malays mattered politically and they held the balance of power.

With 46% Chinese and Indians out of the total voters in Rantau, any rational party will drool for their votes.

First published in The Star

Reform in the judiciary and Royal Commission of Inquiry

By Mah Weng Kwai

MARCH 7 — In view of recent events, I wish to write on the reforms in the judiciary and the training of judges. I believe that it is important that the public be made aware of the steps taken to implement reforms that will strengthen the judiciary.

I am acutely conscious of the public’s desire for urgent reform of the many important institutions in the country, including the judiciary.

I write this letter to highlight to the public that work has been undertaken to bring about positive changes to the judiciary since July 12, 2018 by the new management of the judiciary.

These changes are substantive and not cosmetic by any measure. They include:

1) E-court reforms

  1. A system of e-balloting (without human intervention) has been introduced so that there can be no interference in the empanelling of the Judges sitting in the appellate courts. This is an internationally recognised method of ensuring judicial independence because no interference is possible, and no senior judge may direct any particular Judge to hear a case.
  2. E-review — online case management without the physical presence of parties.
  3. Queue management system — the display of hearing time on LCD screens and mobile apps at the appellate courts.
  4. Video conferencing system in Peninsular Malaysia for hearing of simple applications by way of video conferencing.

2) Collective leadership

The decision-making process of all administrative and policy matters of the courts is now done collectively by the Chief Justice of the Federal Court, the President of Court of Appeal, the Chief Judges of Malaya and Sabah and Sarawak respectively and not from “top down..

3) Establishment of a consultative committee

A consultative committee (consisting of representatives from the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Judiciary, the Malaysian Bar, the Sabah Law Association and the Advocates’ Association of Sarawak) has been established and is tasked to define the parameters of what amounts to judicial interference or intervention, administrative actions or mere advice.

4) Appointment of judges

Though not required by law, the consultative committee will and has been consulted in the appointment and promotion of judicial commissioners and judges. Presently the Judicial Appointments Commission as a recommending body will submit the names of shortlisted candidates to the Prime Minister for appointment by the king.

5) Separation of the judicial and legal services

Initiatives have been taken to separate the judicial and legal services administratively. The Chief Registrar’s Office under the direction of the Chief Justice has submitted a proposal to the executive for the deletion of Pekeliling Perkhidmatan Bil 6/10.

6) Written judgments

A circular has been issued by the Chief Justice directing that grounds are necessary for the hearing of appeals in the Court of Appeal and the Federal Court. A case summary will be issued to the press in respect of public interest cases to ensure accuracy in media reporting. Dissenting judgments are encouraged.

7) Judicial review

The Rules of Court 2012 have been amended recently by the Rules Committee, of which the Chief Justice is the chairman, to dispense with the “leave application” requirement in judicial review matters. This change is now waiting to be gazetted by the government. A judicial review guide for public officers launched at the opening of the legal year 2019 has been published.

8) Continuing legal education

The Judicial Academy continues to provide monthly training for judges on various topics of the law. In this respect, the Judicial Academy continues to collaborate with the judiciary from United States of America, England, Singapore and Australia to enhance the quality of the justice delivery system to the public in Malaysia.

9) Corporate social responsibility

  1. Mobile Court programmes, environmental programmes and charity programmes. Activities include building a hostel for students, free meals for staff and back-to-school programmes.
  2. Courtroom to classroom programmes jointly organised with UITM and the Ministry of Education. Activities include giving talks to primary and secondary school students and bringing students to the courts to experience court proceedings.
  3. Engagement with stakeholders, ministries and government agencies and international bodies.

Judges, by the very nature of their position and in the best traditions of the institution, do not and cannot respond publicly to the kind of personal criticisms levelled against them recently.

I had the honour to serve till my retirement as a Court of Appeal judge, remember only too well what is (quite rightly) expected of judges, and the responsibility judges have in upholding the Constitution and to the litigants who appeared before them.

I remember well my respected brother and sister judges many of whom are still on the Bench, and who continue to execute their duties faithfully and with integrity. I am also delighted to see so many promising new talents who are serving, and who are prepared to serve, in the Judiciary.

This brings me back to recent events. It cannot be denied that the judiciary has in the past suffered from many disturbing incidents. One such Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) has already taken place, that looked into the Lingam tapes scandal.

Now a second RCI is to be held because of an affidavit sworn by a sitting Court of Appeal judge which contains serious allegations. As stated, the judges referred to in the affidavit cannot respond publicly and the RCI will now give them an opportunity to do so ion whether there is any legal or factual basis to the allegations.

It will also be an opportunity to address holistically the concerns expressed by the public about the judiciary. However, in the interest of due process, the work of the RCI should start with a direction to the police and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission to complete their investigations into the several police reports made regarding the contents of the affidavit.

I must emphasise that the findings of the RCI must contain actionable recommendations that will assist in a systemic and positive changes in the judiciary. Such changes are imperative to enhance the rule of law and the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

Judicial independence is a core feature of the rule of law and steps must be taken to restore public confidence in the Judiciary as an institution. Malaysia must aspire to adhere to the international standards as set out in the United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary.

This will serve to bolster not only the independence but also the integrity and sanctity of the judiciary as well as to promote the rule of law.

In the meantime, Malaysians must take heart that the work of the judiciary has been proceeding as usual as it should be, and the judges. must be left to carry out their duties unimpeded.

First published on malaymail.com