April 26, 2007

Transformation of Culture

Posted in Malaysia, Reflections, The Cause at 2:13 am by egalitaria

So the 1st Young Malaysians’ Roundtable Discussion on National Unity & Development in Malaysia went smashingly well. Raja Nazrin’s speech reported all over the place, and seems like we’ve kickstarted his career as he’s been invited to speak at numerous different venues, and today lo and behold he’s been invited to be an honorary fellow at ISIS Malaysia. Good for him. I hope more of his views continue to be made known, not just by him, but other members of the royal family – and consequently seeping down to the political and civil society level.

So the response to the Roundtable has been positive, many groups giving their support to views articulated during the event. Opposition parties, independent NGOs and so on. So it seems like this is something everyone can equally believe in.

So the official handing over of the 20-point Consensus Document went excellently as well, with Maximus Ongkili nodding his head in agreement and promising that he will study the document in detail, and table its contents in the next national unity panel meeting.

Bravo, everyone. Clap on our backs and cheer ourselves on to the next stage, which is the nationwide study on youth and national unity perspectives.

But hold your horses. We’re talking about a transformation of culture here. It’s going to take decades, if not eons, to break down barriers in people’s minds and hearts. We’re talking about raising a new generation that simply will NOT tolerate racist ideologies, NOT take lightly the abuse of identification with race or religion in order to support unbiased policy, NOT accept or support leaders that take full advantage of people’s insecurities for their own gains. This is going to take a long long time.

I could choose to be extremely critical. I could choose to be entirely cynical about this exercise. In fact, tonight I am feeling particularly disturbed about the fact that these views and perspectives have long been articulated in the history of Malaysia already, and the grave seriousness that they have yet to see the light of day in political reality.

But the very fact that I have the freedom to choose how to react, and how to handle my thoughts and actions – are reflective of human nature. I choose to continue maintaining my high ideals, despite acknowledging the realities and their weaknesses.

As reminded today by a wise pair (who are not yet retired, as I was playfully reminded), it is those who dream and are idealistic that change society. Since when have the pragmatists ever transformed a culture? It’s always been the writers, artistes, dreamers, thinkers, who permeate society with notions that appeal to the inner eye.

I am forced to remember personalities in the likes of William Wilburforce who dedicated his life towards the cause of slavery abolishment in the UK. He strove hard to maintain his (at the time) ridiculous ideals, and succeeded. Today, it is preposterous to imagine keeping a slave in one’s home (maids are dangerously becoming so, but that’s another story).

Transformation of culture takes time. I hope to provide the foundation upon which a new generation can begin to THINK differently. Let’s start somewhere, shall we?

April 10, 2007

Blogging Malaysia

Posted in Malaysia at 3:25 am by egalitaria

Wow, some developments are seriously taking place in the Malaysian Blogosphere.

At the 1st gathering/meeting of Malaysian bloggers, they’ve apparently elected a pro-tem committee already. There are lots of movements right now, which is really interesting. It’ll be fascinating to see how and if the blogging community can be mobilised to institute real change, at least in being influential opinion leaders in the socio-political scene. Will this be the 4th Estate, a powerful determining voice that politicians must listen to?

There’ll be a Bloggers United Malaysia Gathering on the 19th May as well, so I read… here. (that’s a day before my birthday hint hint) To be held in conjunction with World Press Day on the 3rd May. I think this will be a massive gathering, first of its kind. All sorts will turn up. A defining event.

What will Malaysia’s Blogging Scene look like in a year from now? Will politicians clamp blogs down? Will they debate it in Parliament? Will they require strict registration, and will this curtail freedom of speech on the web?

To Paste on Wall

Posted in Malaysia, The Cause at 3:18 am by egalitaria

We, the participants of the Centre for Public Policy Studies (Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute) – National Young Lawyers Committee (Bar Council) 1st Young Malaysians Roundtable Discussion on National Unity & Development in Malaysia “Challenges & Prospects for Nation Building” held in Kuala Lumpur on 3 April 2007, having shared experiences and perspectives on the issues relating to the subject-matter and found the same to be empowering and beneficial state as follows:

I. On Sustaining Open and Constructive Dialogue

We recognise:

1. That we have reached a stage in our nation’s development that necessitates a level of honest and critical introspection and self-examination which are crucial elements in understanding ourselves as a nation.

2. The youth as an essential segment of Malaysian society whose views must be included without restrictions in forging an identity for the nation, thereby requiring their greater education and participation with concomitant strategies and mechanisms for enhanced engagement with them in dialogue.

3. The roles of Government, non-governmental organisations, religious groups, business enterprises and in general, civil society as key role-players and leaders in initiating and sustaining continuous dialogue in more open and wider public spheres within the scheme set out above.

4. That constructive dialogue is a very important tool in building bridges between ethnicities, cultures and religions, and is a crucial step towards enhancing inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations towards national unity.

5. That dialogue should be conducted in an open yet safe atmosphere of mutual understanding, acceptance and respect, and that knowledge should be exchanged through a process of sharing and discussion in a non-judgmental and non-discriminatory way. In particular, “enforced solutions” including threats of violence or coercion must be avoided.

II. On Ethno-Religious Politics and Implications on Nation Building

We recognise:

6. That the key to developing a strong and united Malaysia is to be founded on core principles of justice, equality and respect for human rights and fundamental liberties of every person regardless of race or religion, as enshrined in the Federal Constitution.

7. That the interests and needs of the disadvantaged, marginalised and vulnerable be accorded due recognition.

8. That any level of apprehension experienced by young Malaysians towards ethno-religious policies has a real and tangible effect upon nation building, materialised in the present and experienced in the future.

9. That ethnic-based politics and racist ideologies in any form be rejected.

III. On Education Policies and National Development

We recognise:

10. The importance of Government’s education policies within primary, secondary and tertiary level institutes as instruments that should promote national unity.

11. That Government’s education policies should however reflect the reality of Malaysians and their ethnic, religious and cultural diversity.

IV. On Forging a Young Malaysian Identity towards National Unity

We recognise:

12. The need to forge a Malaysian identity towards shaping a future founded upon national unity, especially among the younger generation which will form the future of our Malaysian leadership.

13. The time has come for Malaysians to move beyond its “accommodation-ist” approach to interacting with one another in terms of mere tolerance; towards a full appreciation, understanding, acceptance and equal treatment of every person regardless of race or religion and in embracing all diversities and complexities.

14. National unity should move beyond a superficial interpretation based on form (e.g. food, language and traditional festivals) towards one based on essence, substance and shared values (e.g. mutual respect, love, justice and equality).

V. Conclusion

We note the urgent need to ensure sustained and effective implementation of constructive steps towards achieving the above. In particular, we state the following:

15. There is a need to stress common and shared values of every person regardless of race and religion, and to eliminate the misuse of identification by ethnic or religious background.

16. There is a need to de-construct arguments or discussions entrenched along racial or religious paradigms within our nation, moving towards an egalitarian issue-based paradigm.

17. Further, there is a need to foster and implement strategies to better manage ethno-religious politics, in particular those which are in conflict with national unity policies.

18. All educational institutes should incorporate programmes and training modules that seek to improve ethnic and religious relations, bearing in mind historical, anthropological and sociological aspects with the aim of promoting national unity and racial harmony.

19. Malaysian educational institutes in particular its educators should enhance teaching and research standards encouraging critical thinking including allowing greater acceptance and diversity for divergent opinions with the aim of being international leaders in their fields.

20. There should be concerted efforts to determine factors which repel young Malaysians from their home country, with a view to encouraging Government and civil society to seek solutions and strategies towards eliminating these negative features.

We urge the Government to engage, increase its co-operation with, and support the community of young Malaysians through their representation and active participation at youth movements, non-governmental organisations, religious groups and in general, civil society particularly in relation to the nation building process and in the implementation of the above.

We urge the Government to accept and act in accordance with the principles contained in the Convention of the Rights of the Child and Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

We further urge key policy-makers that the views, perspectives and opinions arising from this Roundtable Discussion are taken into serious consideration during the formulation process of Government policies and practices.

Lastly, we encourage all individuals in society, young and old, to collectively share in this vision as we continue to shape a Malaysian identity for the future of our nation.

April 7, 2007

Islam and Human Rights

Posted in Religion at 7:38 pm by egalitaria

Is Islam compatible with International Human Rights standards? The criticism that many Muslims have had of the very term “human rights” and all it encapsulates is that it is a Western notion, introduced amongst us in order to propagate other ideals, which are in contradiction to the Holy Scriptures. Muslim human rights lecturer and advocate Abdullah An Na’im (from
Sudan) says in a paper the following:

Muslims should neither discriminate against people on any of those grounds, nor be required to abandon their religion in order to qualify for these rights. To justify their own human rights claims without distinction on such grounds as race, sex or religion, Muslims must accept the right of others to be entitled to the same rights and without distinction on such grounds.

The problem I see lies in the theology of religion. A religion that proclaims exclusivity like Islam or traditional Christianity is bound to fall into the trap of elevating individuals belonging to that religion over everyone else. A distinctive separation is carved, real or imagined, between “self” and “the other”. Such informed supremacy leads to the notion that entitlement of goods and rights should flow to one over the other. How does one overcome this logical problem? He doesn’t give a specific straightforward answer, but says that:

The attitudes or views of Muslims should be understood in broader historical context, socio-economic and political analysis, as with any other human beings and their communities. In other words, I am calling for applying an historical and social scientific analysis to understanding the role of Islam among Muslims, as should be done with other believers and their societies.

If I can frame it in my own words and limited understanding, the problem is twofold, the first of which can be solved, but the second I’m not sure. Economic, social and cultural rights should logically not be a problem, where equitable and just distribution of resources should be defended even on Qur’anic grounds. But when it comes to civil and political rights… Let’s see, because Islam is a holistic religion that outlines principles for living in all areas of life and government, it has a role to play in defining politics of a country.

If Islam is used as a framework in understanding and shaping politics of a nation, what rights are given to any other religion in contributing to this? Does Islam theologically support the rights of another religion in shaping rules of governance and regulation? According to principles of human rights, each is given the right to express and contribute. But is this theologically acceptable in Islam? Whether or not these are taken into consideration is different question.

April 2, 2007

How Long More

Posted in Music, Personal at 12:44 am by egalitaria

Someone asked what the purpose and role of someone living in abject poverty, with no hope and access to education, is in this world. It’s easy enough to respond that the rest of us who do have access and material goods should shoulder the responsibility to provide aid and capacity building to the rest. Aside from receiving input from the other privileged beings, what should their identity be formed upon? Perhaps the answer comes in the form of viewing society as community and not as isolated individuals.

As we enter the week towards Easter, and as I try my best to contemplate the reason for looking to the divine, I remember a beautiful song, lyrics and music both raw and real. They epitomise the cry of humanity when all else fails. And, when there are no easy answers, an inexcusable remark to make but I can only echo the words of David the Psalmist.

Psalm 13 (How Long O Lord) Brian Doerksen

How long O Lord, will You forget me
How long O Lord
will You look the other way
How long O Lord
must I wrestle with my thoughts
And everyday
have such sorrow in my heart
Look on me and answer
O God my Father
bring light to my darkness
before they see me fall
But I trust in Your unfailing love
Yes my heart will rejoice
Still I sing of Your unfailing love
You have been good
You will be good to me

April 1, 2007

My Views on Blogs

Posted in Malaysia, Reflections at 3:35 am by egalitaria

I was asked my views on Blogging in Malaysia on e-mail, in relation to an article someone is writing. Here’s what I wrote. Enjoy!

1) How do you think bloggers in Malaysia can change or affect the socio-political landscape?

The blogosphere in Malaysia has undergone several stages of transformation, and has slowly matured into a legitimate community – one that is increasingly welcome to open discussion through peer feedback and comments. In any given community, there are opinion leaders who shape the views and sentiments through their analyses. Likewise, bloggers in Malaysia are doing precisely that: shaping and forming views that are publically available and read by the thousands. Through internet networks, blogs definitely play a role in lobbying issues of concern and reaching out to like-minded individuals. This we already see happening amongst political and NGO circles.

Because of a non-censorship policy of the Internet, Malaysians are privileged to be allowed open debate online, something we may be deprived of otherwise. It is this dynamic interaction between online community members that allows for critical examination and open dialogue, a process so necessary in the maturing of society. Such debates – especially when involving issues of socio-political nature – transform people’s perspectives, vision, needs, and expectations of their national leaders. This in turn is a perfect mechanism and feedback system for political leaders, who should be cognizant of their citizens’ needs, consequently responding accordingly.

2) Do bloggers have legitimate concerns and are they in fact as accused by certain quarters.. merely troublemakers?

Making generalised and sweeping statements is never wise. Likewise, accusing all bloggers across the board as mere troublemakers is reflective of a lack of information and understanding. Who are bloggers? Bloggers are merely citizens of a nation; do citizens have legitimate concerns and is it legitimate for them to voice these out? A resounding yes. Through blogs, citizens act as little lighthouses that cast light on corrupt practices, mismanaged utilities and other issues that are in fact constructive towards problem-solving and nation building!

Having said that, I believe bloggers do have the responsibility to ensure the accuracy and reliability of data they claim to be factual in nature. The very nature of a blog demands that there is a fluid mechanism for response, critique and analysis. Malaysians need to progress into a matured enough community that is able to absorb, filter, analyse and make conclusions for themselves in an age of technology and free information. If we are to encourage a society of thinking individuals, it has to start by encouraging discussion and self-examination as a nation. Blogs have given this to us.

Subashini: Injunction for now

Posted in Malaysia, Religion at 3:34 am by egalitaria

Subashini has obtained a temporary injunction against her husband, preventing him from initiating or continuing any proceedings in the syariah court, or converting their younger child. This buys time for the appeal to go to Federal Court.

This is reported in greater detail here, in the Star.

Read more information and press releases on issues related to Islam and its like here, by Article 11 – a compilation of statements.

Also, Malaysia’s No. 1 Blogger Jeff Ooi has started to blog about it here, which shows its significance on the socio-political scene.

Kenangan Terindah

Posted in Malaysia, Music at 3:23 am by egalitaria

Currently craving this song:

Kenangan Terindah, by Samsons

Aku yang lemah tanpamu
Aku yang rentan karena
Cinta yang t’lah hilang
Darimu yang mampu menyanjungku

Selama mata terbuka
Sampai jantung tak berdetak
Selama itu pun aku mampu
Untuk mengenangmu

Darimu kutemukan hidupku
Bagiku kaulah cinta sejati

Chorus :
Bila yang tertulis untukku
Adalah yang terbaik untukmu
Kan kujadikan kau
Kenangan yang terindah dalam hidupku
Namun takkan mudah bagiku
Meninggalkan jejak hidupku
Yang t’lah terukir abadi
Sebagai kenangan yang terindah

Darimu kutemukan hidupku
Bagiku kaulah cinta sejati

Note: In my mind’s eye I envision a Malaysian multi-racial band, with a Chinese singing a Tamil song, Malay singing a Chinese song, Indian singing a Malay song. We talk about a multi ethnic society but attempt little effort at engaging the cultures of different groups. Once we tear down barriers bit by bit, we realise that we more than merely tolerate, or even appreciate, but love fully and embrace holistically, the other in our midst. This means a deepset desire to drink in, absorb, experience another’s identity and culture – because we are equally confident of our own and need not feel insecure about its loss.

Plus, the guy’s voice absolutely rocks. Swoon..

Young Malaysians Roundtable

Posted in Malaysia, The Cause at 3:10 am by egalitaria

Calling ALL Malaysians to participate in the “Young Malaysians Roundtable on National Unity & Development in Malaysia: Challenges & Prospects for Nation-Building” jointly organised by the Centre for Public Policy Studies and NYLC, Bar Council. Raja Dr Nazrin Shah (Raja Muda of Perak) will officiate the opening.

Date: 3rd April 2007

Time: 8-4pm

Venue: Bar Council Auditorium, Kuala Lumpur

Topics to be discussed include the role of young Malaysians in multi-ethnic and multi-religious Malaysia, the impact and implications of ethno-religious politics on nation building, the Government’s education policies as instruments of national development and forging a young Malaysian identity towards national unity.

Please e-mail Tricia Yeoh to register in advance at tricia_yeoh@asli.com.my