December 23, 2007
I was interviewed by Imran Yacob for his Face to Face column at Malaysia-Today. The full interview can be found here.
Tricia Yeoh, Senior Research Analyst of the newly minted Centre For Public Policy Studies (CPPS), Asian Strategy & Leadership Institute (ASLI) confronts the hard issues affecting Malaysian society. Armed with the exuberance of her youth, Tricia Yeoh is the exception to George Bernard Shaw’s emotive that “Youth is wasted on the young”. Face to Face explores the hot-button issues in this year-end interview.
1. Imran Imtiaz Shah Yacob: The CPPS has published a number of research material. How independent really is the CPPS in its analysis?
Tricia Yeoh: The CPPS is an independent policy research centre, which means it is not aligned with any one political party or individual. As a result, the CPPS is not required to strictly follow any “lines” with regards to its analyses and recommendations. Its independence is really political independence, and reports are written and published after discussion with its Advisory Panel, made up of a number of distinguished individuals representing a range of interests and expertise within academia and the corporate sector. It attempts to provide non-partisan and objective rigorous research based on factual data and statistics, followed by policy recommendations.
If anyone didn’t catch the edition of The Economist with the special report on Religion and Public Life, go look for it. It’s an excellent report on how the world is not going the “secularist” way as was previously thought. In fact, religion is playing a much more important role both from the ground up and top down.
See the US Presidential Elections, for example. Bush is riding on the Republican Christian/Bible Belt Protestant faith, he who prays everyday but does not see that this defies his logic of lying about WMD (weapons of mass destruction, in this case weapons of mass destruction). Mike Huckabee is a staunch Protestant Christian. Romny has recently gotten a lot of flak for his Mormon belief, where traditional Christians would not stand for a representative believing in what they consider a cult.
It goes without saying that one’s religion continues to play an important role in Islamic countries. In South Korea, many of its elected leaders are staunch Christians. There are also extremist groups from Hinduism and Buddhism sprouting out around. Bhutan for example will not allow any non-Buddhists to work in Government.
Religion is not fast fading but instead taking root and being used as political tools. This I disagree with. Although I previously stated that religion can be a guiding principle for governance, using it for political mileage is just hogwash.
Which is why, at the recent forum I conducted, many Muslims said that the only way to present an alternative way of looking at religion is to say we are “Saving the Religion from the State”.
I’m itching to get some books and I am interested in especially Tariq Ramadan’s “Western Muslims and the Future of Islam“, which has gotten pretty good reviews. It was listed as one of the best 2004 nonfiction books by the Christian Science Monitor. A synopsis of the book reads as follows:
As the number of Muslims living in the West grows, the question of what it means to be a Western Muslims becomes increasingly important to the futures of both Islam and the West. While the media are focused on radical Islam, Ramadan claims, a silent revolution is sweeping Islamic communities in the West, as Muslims actively seek ways to live in harmony with their faith within a Western context.
Western Islam will see the religion coming out of its stereotypical jihadist-terrorist label that has tainted itself for many years. I, for one, am interested in seeing how this new development of Islam will take its course from here on. I’m not sure Islam Hadhari is the best way to frame it, since Islam is Islam and we should start defining it at its most essential core (note: the word “fundamental” has also taken on a negative meaning although it means something perfectly innocent, i.e. back to original doctrine), and not by giving it a new name. (of course new names are marketable but they can just be token)
Another interesting book I’ve been trying to get my hands on is “The Muslim Jesus” by Tarif Khalidi.
In The Muslim Jesus: Sayings and Stories in Islamic Literature, Tarif Khalidi brings together Islamic primary sources about Jesus from the eighth to the 18th centuries. Included are mystical works, historical texts about prophets and saints and, of course, the foundational words about Jesus in the Qur’an. “As a whole,” Khalidi explains, these writings “form the largest body of texts relating to Jesus in any non-Christian literature.” Khalidi pays particular attention to the literary quality of the texts and the role “the Muslim Jesus” has played in both Muslim piety and Muslim-Christian relations.
Not many people know that Nabi Isa, or Jesus, plays an extremely central role in Islam as well. He is highly revered and considered one of the most powerful prophets whose gifts of miracles and healing were bestowed upon him.
The last book I want to buy this season is “No God but God” by Reza Aslan, which has been highly recommended as well. Written from a historical perspective of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and makes no false romanticism of his journey and struggle – paints a man for who he truly was.
I believe that one of the most essential relationships to cultivate at this stage is that of Muslim-Christian relations. This year, numerous Muslim leaders across the world sent a document called “A Common Word” to all Christian leaders, outlining the core of both religions and how these are actually the same. Drawing from exactly the same sources.
Thus despite their differences, Islam and Christianity not only share the same Divine Origin and the same Abrahamic heritage, but the same two greatest commandments.
You can endorse the document as well, which was later responded to by the Pope himself, as well as other Protestant denominations. Also, in the UK, there is an organisation called “The Christian Muslim Forum” that aims at fostering good relations between the two.
I am mighty excited about these things, and hope to expand on my knowledge of Islam to better understand how the two religions can work together and build bridges for.. yes, you got it (*ahem* in Miss World-type conventions), world peace!
Welcome to Malaysia, where leaders confuse culture and religion. This issue is not new, and has arisen yet again. Alerted to me by Malaysiakini here, The Herald, a Catholic newsletter, will not get its publishing license renewed if it does not drop the word “Allah”, Arabic for “God”.
The Herald, the organ of Malaysia’s Catholic Church, has translated the word God as “Allah” but it is erroneous because Allah refers to the Muslim God, said Che Din Yusoff, a senior official at the Internal Security Ministry’s publications control unit.
“Christians cannot use the word Allah. It is only applicable to Muslims. Allah is only for the Muslim god. This is a design to confuse the Muslim people,” Che Din told The Associated Press.
The weekly should instead, use the word “Tuhan” which is the general term for God, he said.
This is a ridiculous blurring taking place. The argument is that Christians in Malaysia only use the word Tuhan. The word Allah has definitely been used by Christians, especially those in East Malaysia. Let’s take a look at the definition of Allah here:
Allah (Arabic: الله, Allāh) is the standard Arabic word for “God“. The term is most likely derived from a contraction of the Arabic article al- and ʾilāh “deity, god” to al-lāh meaning “the [sole] deity, God” (ho theos monos); another theory traces the etymology of the word to the Aramaic Alāhā.
While the term is best known in the West for its use by Muslims as a reference to God, it is used by arabic-speakers of all Abrahamic faiths, including Christians and Jews in reference to “God”. The term was also used by pagan Meccans as a reference to the creator-god, possibly the supreme deity in pre-Islamic Arabia.
The Internal Security Ministry cannot be very well educated in history and geography, much less international affairs, nor religion, since they don’t know that:
As the Arab Christians today have no other word for ‘God’ than ‘Allah’, they for example use terms Allāh al-ab (الله الآب) meaning God the father, Allāh al-ibn (الله الابن) mean God the son, and Allāh al-ruh al ghodus (الله الروح القدس) meaning God the Holy Spirit.
While some Christians think that reference is made to a different God altogether, I tend to disagree with that. I think that God is God. If one were to believe in the theology of unity, then God is God. A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet. Allah just happens to be the Arabic term for God. Just like Tuhan is the Malay word. Gott is in German. Dio is in Spanish. Shang-Ti in Chinese.
Four years ago, the Iban Bible was not permitted to print the word Allah, but it was lifted with mass Christian displeasure. Now it’s come up again, but I think it is more likely the fact that the Herald has taken up controversial issues recently, focusing on BERSIH and HINDRAF rallies. This may be causing some political unease, and hence little reasons are being brought up suddenly, which were previously resolved already.
Yeo Yang Poh responded to the NST recently on its comments on Government reaction against recent arrests. It is worth publishing it in full here. Sharp comments. But NST has refused to print it. Someone is afraid of his words!
I refer to the New Straits Times editorial The rule of law on Dec 11. You began by stating that no arrests would have been made on Dec 9 “If the unlawful marchers had responded to the warnings to disperse.”
I take it that you meant to say “If those accused of being unlawful marchers had responded to the alleged warnings to disperse” since those allegations (and others that followed in your editorial) have yet to be established in the pending cases. This would have been in line with your paper’s usual care in distinguishing allegations from proven facts when commenting on pending cases.
You have argued that defiance of any law cannot be defended in any circumstances. No law, no matter how bad it is, can be broken. Your only proposed solution to a bad law is to change it. For as long as it has not been changed, every bad law must never be broken. Breaking a bad law would, in your view, lead to lawlessness.
That view is not new. It offers the language of legal rights but it is not the language of human rights. The issue, therefore, is whether the framework of legal rights is sufficient for a society. If it is, then there is no need for the language of human rights.
If your view is right then there is no place for civil disobedience in any society. One would have to conclude that Rosa Parks, whose defiance of segregation law (by sitting on the bus in breach of the law) triggered a chain of events that led to its eventual change, had sparked reform in an unacceptable and indefensible way.
One would have to concede that Mahatma Gandhi was indefensibly wrong when he led thousands to defy the law on salt-making of the time. Nelson Mandela would have to apologise for having been a repeated offender and law-breaker in organising and participating in countless illegal rallies during his youth. The list of examples is long.
Read the rest of this entry »
The rise and fall of civilisations is an interesting topic to discourse. Ancient civilisations of the Aztecs and Mayans ruled in splendour. The ancient Chinese, Moghul, Indians. The Roman Empire, the British Empire. Now the hegemony of America and its followers. In time to come, which empire or little civilisation will arise and take its place?
December 22, 2007
A Very Blessed Christmas to everyone…
2007 was a roller coaster year for many of us. Malaysia has been going through some troubling times, and sometimes it is difficult for us to wish ourselves a “Happy New Year”, but let us press on knowing that striving for ideals in an imperfect world is precisely what humanity is here for. Blessed Christmas to everyone. Here’s to 2008!
Despite my initial wariness of yet another big conference, this one turned out to be more than just the fluff I expected it to be. Organised by the Global Knowledge Partnership, which has international members wanting to develop ICT for Development (Poverty Reduction etc), it had 1000 plus people coming together for 4 days in an impressive set up at KL Convention Centre.
The sessions that excited me the most were those on how ICT has been used for socio-political spreading of news and knowledge. Steven Gan from Malaysiakini spoke on his experience, and others shared theirs as well.
It was disturbing, of course, that it was within this very week itself that there were multiple arrests, culminating finally in the ISA 5. Some participants commented that it was strangely ironic. Here we were talking about knowledge and open information sharing, when outside these arrests were taking place.
Let’s maximise ICT for Malaysia!
Co-organised by the Centre for Public Policy Studies and Malaysia Think Tank London, we had a seminar on Tuesday night on “Islam: A Blessing to Malaysians?”, with main speaker Wan Saiful Wan Jan, and co-panelists Rev. Dr. Hermen Shastri from Council of Churches Malaysia, Ustaz Hasrizal also from MTTL, Shanmuga from Malaysia Hindu Sangam and myself chairing the session.
There were about 90 plus people, when I had only expected about 50 to turn up. It was packed to the brim! Thanks to everyone for coming! (Pictures are on my Facebook album)
I started by saying that I received mixed comments from invitees, those who were glad we were discussing it and those who felt it was a ridiculous proposed statement to make. Why indeed has Islam taken on such a bad name and face for itself?
I said that no matter what, it is without a doubt that Islam is taking an increasingly essential role in shaping our identities of race and nation, both for Muslim and non-Muslims. The question is how this identity is being shaped, and are these trends truly reflective of Islam. If not, what do we envision for it to be, what guiding principles can govern Malaysia?
Wan Saiful gave an excellent speech painting his experience as a minority religion living in the UK. Drawing from his experience, he encouraged his fellow Muslims to realise that overseas, Muslims are minority whereas in Malaysia, Buddhists, Christians and Hindus are the minority group. Minority groups will always demand for the same things: to be treated as equals, and stand up for their respective religious rights. In Malaysia, we complicate things because there are two layers to the problem: ethnicity and religion.
We should realise that they are two separate things, and that not all Malays are Muslim. Not all Muslims are Malay. Likewise, not all Chinese are Buddhists or Christians. Not all Indians are Hindu. Not all Hindus are Indians. Not all Christians are Chinese. Just take a trip abroad sometime and you’ll be warmly introduced to the variety of ways that religion is practiced. Religion (all, including Islam) is not monolithic and as a result of various interpretations, we get flourishing of different ideas.
He ended by saying that we should move away from arguments of race and religion. Rather, the discourse should focus more upon policy issues. For example, how do we translate Islamic values of choice, into religious education, trade and economics, NEP and other policies.
Why I took the initiative to invite Wan Saiful was because I have been truly impressed by his views, and was (still am) psyched about these ideas spreading to fellow Malaysians. While some panelists disagreed that religion should even be part of the picture, I understand where Muslims come from because I believe the same thing of Christianity.
We do not want to impose our religious views on others, but we both believe strongly that each of the faiths provide us with valid principles that govern our lives, both private and public. These principles do not have to be explicitly “tagged” as “Muslim” or “Christian”, but we both know that they are “Islamic” or “Christian” by nature. For example, standing up for justice and equality and fairness. These we all readily know are faith-based, but we don’t have to call it such. As long as they are equally translated into public policy. Yes, I am convinced of this.
What impressed me most during my recent Young Leaders’ Program trip to Australia in early December 2007 – sponsored by the Australia-Malaysia Institute under Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – was the briefing by the Ombudsman representing New South Wales. The Ombudsman, a Swedish word originating since 1809, meaning “defender of the people”, is a person empowered to ensure fairness and justice in society. The role of the Ombudsman’s office is therefore to investigate and resolve cases, and hence make recommendations for improvement. Many countries around the world have begun adopting a similar mechanism for ensuring accountability of public offices, and Malaysia should be well on its way to establishing such an outfit, as calls for transparency and good governance are escalating. Read the rest of this entry »