Saturday, December 28, 2013

BIGGEST JOKE! If Allah is exclusive for the Malays, can Bahasa Melayu be national?

Written by Wong Chin Huat

Malaysia is more powerful than any other country on earth. Elsewhere, governments seek the protection of Allah. Here, the government seeks to protect Allah.

And the Christmas season is the time we see this protectionism and pattern warfare again. Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak “the Moderate” has called for a truce on this matter.

Since the Court of Appeal has ruled in favour of Najib’s government, Najib’s truce call is practically to ask the Catholic Church – and the Christian community at large – to give up their right to use the word Allah.

Well, Najib who went to a Catholic school (St John’s Institution in Kuala Lumpur) for nine years but Alhamduillah never got confused, has already offered a moderate solution: “1 Malaysia, 2 Allahs, Endless possibilities”.

Guess what's the elephant in the room 

Without any legal basis but purely at the government’s mercy, Christians can actually use the word Allah in Sabah and Sarawak. They only need to check the word Allah into their luggage when their flight enters Malaya’s airspace.

A survey by Universiti Malaya’s Centre for Democracy and Elections (UMCEDEL) suggested that 77% of the Malays accept that solution. Only 11% of the Malay respondents agree that Allah is not a pattented word for Muslims only.

In response to Najib’s call, outgoing Catholic Archbishop Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam has asked Najib to drop the Allah ban. He prays that Najib will be a uniting statesman rather than "a bickering politician".

The faithful would say, all things are possible in God. And this is supposed to be the season of faith, if you have not acquired it earlier in the year.

But until the miracle happens, may I suggest both sides of the divide to stare at the elephant in the room?

The battle is not about the word Allah per se. It is about the use of Bahasa Melayu in faith-related context for any non-Islamic purpose.

The logic is actually simple – if you are a Malayan, you should understand it without any difficulty – since Malays are Muslim by constitutional definition, surely their language has to be a Muslim language. Now, if you are not out there to convert the Malays into other faiths, why must you use Bahasa Melayu as the preaching language?

Simple logic

Let me offer two evidences of this elephant.

First, besides Allah, many other words have also been made Islam-exclusive by various states.

Even In Sabah, 32 words including “Nabi” and “Rasul” have been banned from non-Muslim use by a fatwa issued by the Mufti Kerajaan Sabah on June 1, 2003 (No. 1,039) under Section 35 of the Enakmen Pentadbiran Undang-Undang Islam 1992 (Enakmen No. 13 tahun 1992), according to lawyer-activist Peter Marajin.

Now, what is left in an Abrahamic faith without the word “prophet”?

Second, the Indonesian version of The Origin of Species has been banned in Malaysia since 2006. Why is the English original still legally available?

Clearly, the purpose is to protect those who can read only Bahasa Melayu from the deviant teaching of Charles Darwin. Too bad for those who read English, since their faith cannot be protected from possible contamination by the evolutionists.

By the same logic, you will get into trouble if you are going to publish and circulate any religious texts for Buddhism or Hinduism in Malay. Never mind these texts are readily available in Indonesia. (One can only hope we won’t have a travel ban on Indonesia someday).

I did not make up this elephant from imagination or by logical deduction.

Here are the words of Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, a senior minister who has served under three prime ministers.

“Among other things, it is interpreted that if you translate any religious books into Malay language, then that is seen as an act to propagate religions other than Islam to those who profess the Muslim faith,” the then de facto law minister told Sarawak-based Borneo Post in an exclusive interview in 2010.

Instead of giving empty talk on religious harmony, Najib should just save Malaysians’ time by answering these questions:

First, if Bahasa Melayu is exclusive for Islam, can it still be the national language?

Second, if yes, is the political agenda of promoting Bahasa Melayu as the national language to eventually make every Malaysian national a Muslim?

For Allah’s sake, that’s where we need his honest answers. Does a man who received nine years of English-medium education in a Catholic school – despite having a nationalist minister father - actually believe in Bahasa Melayu as the national language?  - TMI

Dr Wong Chin Huat is a political scientist at Penang Institute

Friday, December 27, 2013

UMNO divides Malaysia

by Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, Universiti Sains Malaysia
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak holds the national flag during the opening ceremony of the UMNO 67th General Assembly in Kuala Lumpur, 5 December 2013. (Photo: AAP)
Malaysia is a divided nation.The grim reality of elusive unity, plagued by ethnocentric and ethno-religious divisions, is underlined by the continual existence of fault lines that social anthropologist Shamsul A. B. calls ‘axes of contradictions’. The stubborn presence of such social cleavages, after half a century of nationhood, raises the issue of the efficacy of integrative policies pursued by successive Barisan Nasional (BN: National Front) governments.
Momentarily eclipsed by the modernisation ethos of Mahathir’s Vision 2020 and Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s Islam Hadhari (civilisational Islam), the ‘national unity’ agenda has made a comeback during Najib Razak’s era since 2009 in the form of his ‘One Malaysia’ (1Malaysia) scheme.
It has not been smooth sailing for Najib. It is understandably difficult for him to admit that the multiple polarisation of Malaysian society was effected at the hands of none other than his colleagues and former bosses in the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), let alone for him to exorcise completely UMNO-linked ghosts of social fragmentation.
Rising politically via UMNO and its entrenched system of vested interests, Najib’s political survival depends on UMNO, whose apparent improvement in the 13th General Elections (GE13) of May 2013 has lulled its leaders and members alike into believing that continual UMNO hegemony could be best brought about by appealing to Malay ethnocentric sentiments.
Najib in all probability realises that it was UMNO internal politics rather than opposition attacks that had led to the undoing of his predecessor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, whose administration was brutally cut short following BN’s post-GE12 imbroglio in 2008. Abdullah’s ouster meant that his pluralist vision of a unified nation driven by enlightened interpretations of religion (as encapsulated in his conception of Islam Hadhari) never tasted success.
While some figures within the UMNO ruling establishment lament with other concerned parties at the growing divide within the Malaysian populace, Najib’s inability to stem the tide of UMNO grassroots’ embrace of ethnic exclusivism was made all too clear during the recent UMNO General Assembly (5–8 December 2013). The Assembly was preceded by Najib’s launching in September 2013 of a slew of Bumiputera economic empowerment programmes, which some have opined as the outcome of sustained pressure from the UMNO rank and file, besides being a commensurate reward for the Malays’ support for BN-UMNO in GE13.
The Assembly proper was laced with vociferous statements that make a mockery of 1MalaysiaNajib’s One Malaysia vision. Delegates openly called for, among other things, the replacement of One Malaysia with ‘One Malay’, the denial of Bantuan Rakyat 1Malaysia (BR1M: 1Malaysia People’s Assistance Funds) cash entitlements to opposition party supporters, and the re-orientation of national economic policies such as those pertaining to government-linked companies to the advantage of the Malay community.
Reacting to allegations that UMNO’s voices on the ground were dangerously treading on ethnocentrism, Najib meekly denied that UMNO had degenerated into an overtly racist party. The need for such a denial itself is indicative of the insular trajectory that the UMNO grassroots are taking, even while Najib ostensibly calls for Malaysians to become more globalised. Clearly, after four years at the helm of UMNO, BN and the nation, all of Najib’s expletives on One Malaysia have failed to strike chords even among UMNO’s own members, some of whom are unfazed at being labeled ‘racists’ so long as what they perceive as Malay rights are legally protected.
If Najib cannot put even his own UMNO house in order, what hope does he have of repairing the country? Not surprisingly, the UMNO-led BN’s capacity and willingness in healing Malaysia’s societal fragmentation has been earnestly questioned by informed observers.
Ironically, the utopia that UMNO has in mind is not even Malay-centric, such that Najib’s protestations against UMNO’s alleged racist strand is, taken at face value, tenable. Exclusion from the UMNO-approved body politic is not based on racial affiliation per se but rather on a skewed (mis)understanding of what constitutes being Muslim and Malay. A Malay-Muslim who chooses not to be part of this entity lays himself vulnerable, in UMNO’s eyes, to accusations of disloyalty and even to stripping of citizenship — a call often heard in the past few years.
Although Najib has been strongly urging Malay-Muslims to embrace moderation in their understanding and practice of Islam, it is UMNO’s grassroots who have been enthusiastically imbibing Islamist conservatism to the detriment of harmonious ethno-religious relations.
In the President’s closing speech, exhorting UMNO members to reclaim popular Islamic ground, Najib unabashedly claimed that it was UMNO who forked out funds to build mosques and suraus (prayer houses), only to see them later taken over by anti-UMNO elements. From the top to bottom of UMNO’s hierarchy, there seems to prevail a widespread sense of exclusive entitlement to the nation’s coffers and assets.
As greed multiplies, corruption and ill-gotten gains continue to mar Malaysia’s economy. Massive sums of money are unlawfully siphoned out of the country year in and year out, contributing to the downward rating of Malaysia’s creditworthiness. If all groups are treated as national stakeholders who deserve to be rewarded for hard work irrespective of political and ethno-religious affiliations, and readily accept precepts of One Malaysia out of sincere patriotism, one wonders whether the need exists at all to transfer wealth to safe havens abroad. Surely something is wrong somewhere with Najib’s whole national set-up, of which One Malaysia purportedly serves as an important pillar but looks more like a spent force today.
Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid is Associate Professor and Chairman of Political Science at the School of Distance Education, Universiti Sains Malaysia.
This article is a part of an EAF special feature series on 2013 in review and the year ahead.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Future of East Asia: Four Risks to Long-Term Stability

by Hitoshi Tanaka, Senior Fellow, JCIE
Earlier this year, I wrote about the opportunity that the ascent to power of a cadreS. Abe of leaders around the region—Shinzo Abe in Japan, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang in China, and Park Geun-hye in South Korea—presented for a reset of relations among East Asian countries. To achieve a reset, countries in the region need to overcome their confrontational postures. But the opportunity for a reset among the new leaders has been squandered. Rather than utilizing their honeymoon periods to move regional relations in a positive direction, confrontational postures have become even more deeply entrenched.
This situation presents a significant risk not just to the short-term stability of East Asia, where miscalculations can lead to violent conflict, but also to the medium to long-term cooperative efforts that are needed to ensure that the evolution of regional order is locked into a peaceful and stable trajectory.
 Now it is clear that the years leading up to 2020 will be key for shaping the future of the region. This is when Japan is set to host the Olympic Games in Tokyo and when China has set for itself the target of doubling its 2010 GDP and per capita income for both rural and urban residents. In particular, four main risks demand our attention: the regional policies of the United States and China, the nexus that has developed in the region between domestic politics and foreign policy, the rising tide of nationalism, and North Korea.

American and Chinese Regional Approaches

 The regional policies of China and the United States (including US-Japan alliance coordination) will have long-term ramifications dictating the way in which competition is managed and cooperation is deepened on shared interests.
 Xi JinpingFor the last two decades, the strategy espoused by Deng Xiaoping—for China to keep a low profile (tao guang yang hui) in international affairs—has been a key guiding principle of Chinese foreign policy. However, around 2010, just before it overtook Japan as the world's second largest economy, China appeared to disregard Deng's dictate in favor of a more confident, assertive approach.
This was prominently displayed at the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Hanoi that year as China attempted to keep territorial disputes in the South China Sea off the agenda. Ongoing tensions with Japan over the Senkaku Islands, the banning of fish imports from Norway in 2010 as retribution for awarding Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize, the blocking of banana imports from the Philippines in 2012 as punishment over the Scarborough Shoal dispute, and most recently China's abrupt declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, which overlaps with Japan's own ADIZ and covers the Senkaku Islands, are also indicative of this trend.
 The United States should respond appropriately in order to deter aggressive and unilateral behavior, but it should do this while engaging and not containing China. This is further complicated by the fact that the United States must figure out how to rearrange its military posture as it seeks to extract itself from Afghanistan and Iraq and reduce its defense spending. To this end, the United States has declared its "pivot" to Asia—which it has since renamed a "rebalancing" so as to avoid any perception of containment—and joined the East Asia Summit.
 From a Japanese perspective, however, there is concern that a significant gap in US and Japanese thinking may emerge regarding the best approach to China. Recently the United States has been distracted by domestic political gridlock. Additionally, US National Security Advisor Susan Rice, in a November 20 speech at Georgetown University, referred to "operationaliz(ing) a new model of major power relations" with China, which has been misinterpreted in the Japanese media as US accession to the G2 concept. This has sparked concern that the United States may agree to China's own definitions of Chinese "core" interests and it may become too accommodating toward China in the future.
The recent statements by Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel affirming that the Senkaku Islands are covered under the US-Japan Security Treaty and voicing deep concern regarding China's announcement of an ADIZ in the East China Sea, as well as the dispatch of B-52 bombers to the ADIZ, have made some progress toward assuaging Japanese concerns. But it is crucial that when the United States expands its cooperation with China, as it rightly must do, it conduct US-Japan alliance consultations ahead of time to prevent misunderstandings and ensure that new modes of cooperation are compatible with alliance structures.
 The Domestic Politics–Foreign Policy Nexus
 The trend of domestic politics undermining bilateral cooperation and becoming increasingly irreconcilable with regional goals has become a risk to the medium and long-term stability of East Asia.
 In the United States, the polarization of domestic politics has manifested itself in US foreign policy in decidedly negative ways. The culture of filibustering and the gridlock surrounding Obamacare, the debt ceiling debate, and budget deliberations, which prevented President Obama from attending the APEC meetings and East Asia Summit in Indonesia and Brunei in October, have undermined the credibility of US leadership in the region. Moreover, political deadlock seems to be contributing to the decline in public support for President Obama.
 Despite the reforms that were pledged at the Central Committee's Third Plenum in November, China still faces an array of domestic political challenges including rapidly growing income inequality, low living standards among the estimated 260 million rural migrant workers, widespread corruption, food safety issues, air pollution, the de-leveraging of the financial sector, and the lack of structural reform to shift to sustainable growth.
The failure to address these domestic political challenges has the potential to seriously derail the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Under this scenario there is an increased risk that Beijing could be tempted to become adventurous in its foreign policy in order to divert attention from its domestic governance shortcomings, focus public frustrations on an external enemy, and thereby achieve domestic cohesion.
 In Japan, the economic situation appears to be improving with the initial successes of Abenomics. However, the risk now is that while the first two arrows (aggressive monetary policy and flexible fiscal spending) have hit the mark, the follow-through on the third arrow of growth strategy, which needs to have the greatest impact if Abenomics is to be successful in the long term, has been underwhelming. While Prime Minster Shinzo Abe has been relatively pragmatic until now, an economic setback could tempt him to push conservative and nationalistic policies, which would further worsen Japan's already tense bilateral relations with China and South Korea.
In South Korea, the constitutional court ruled that the denial of South KoreanPark and Obama victims' ability to pursue compensation for damages suffered during Japanese colonial rule was a violation of human rights and unconstitutional. Even though this court only has domestic jurisdiction, the ruling is in conflict with the overall thrust of South Korean foreign policy and the 1965 Japan-ROK diplomatic normalization agreement. Under that treaty, Japan and South Korea settled all legal claims between the two countries and Japan provided South Korea with US$500 million in economic assistance. Thus this domestic action strikes at the very underpinnings of the Japan-ROK bilateral relationship and has raised tensions unnecessarily.
 The Rise of Nationalism
 Also, nationalism has been on the rise around Northeast Asia, and its growing spillover into policymaking in the region is compounding the challenge of reconciling the domestic politics–foreign policy nexus.
China's national narrative, as seen through a CCP lens, emphasizes the role of the Communist Party in overcoming suffering at the hands of Japan's military during the Pacific War. As such, China's period of national humiliation and anti-Japanese sentiment lingers at the forefront of the Chinese national consciousness. Now that China has risen to become the second biggest economy—and the second-largest defense spender—in the world, it is starting to regain its national confidence.
As part of the internal debate in China, questions are now being raised about the long-term relevance of Deng's low-key approach, and pockets of conservative nationalists on one side appear to be in favor of jettisoning the principle once China is firmly situated as a major power. Given this situation, greater efforts are needed to guard against unilateral changes to the status quo and to bring China into the fold as a responsible regional stakeholder and as a partner of the United States and Japan.
The optimism surrounding the amazing speed with which Japan rose from the ashes of defeat of World War Two, and rebuilt itself as an economic powerhouse, has turned to frustration. In the decades since its asset price bubble burst in the early 1990s, economic growth plateaued and Japan failed to take decisive action to revitalize its economy. Japan's demographic challenges have also exacerbated the sense of frustration. As such, public opinion in Japan has gradually become more questioning about Japan's postwar pacifist posture, and the rise of China and the threat posed by North Korea have become easy targets for the venting of frustrations. Recent polling shows that 90 percent of the Japanese public have negative feelings toward China and vice versa.
Meanwhile, South Korea's history as a country caught at a geopolitical crossroads between China, Russia, and Japan has fostered an exceptionally strong sense of national identity. South Korea has gone on to achieve remarkable economic growth, become an OECD member, and undergo a stunning process of democratization. But its continued focus on history issues and the wrongs that Japan committed in the first half of the 20th century, in a manner that inhibits present-day cooperation, reflects a highly volatile national consciousness. This trend has even gained strength under President Park Geun-hye, who much to Japan's dismay and against normal diplomatic protocol, has criticized Japan in third countries, rather than bring her complaints directly to Japan in a bilateral summit.
The narrative that is increasingly shaping Northeast Asian countries' national identities is problematic given the highly insular mentality it feeds and the antagonistic postures it encourages. Greater efforts are needed to promote national narratives within the broader framework of regional cooperation and give focus to the shared peace and prosperity and intertwined destiny of the region.

North Korea

Kim Jong-unThe situation in North Korea, in terms of both its domestic politics and external relations, also presents a significant risk to the future of East Asian regional stability. Since Kim Jong-un took over power from his father two years ago, Korea watchers have intently looked for signs to gauge the extent to which Kim Jong-un has consolidated power. The canny efforts of Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-sung in creating an intentionally opaque political system that stamps out expressions of criticism against the regime and prevents them from ever becoming public make the situation tremendously difficult to judge from the outside.
However, while Kim Jong-un has been dubbed Supreme Leader, he does not appear to wield power in as outright a manner as his father or grandfather. Moreover, recent South Korean intelligence reports of Jang Song-thaek—Kim Jong-un's uncle and the vice-chairman of the National Defence Commission—being dismissed from his posts, as well as reports of numerous purges of high-ranking Korean People's Army personnel, suggest that Kim Jong-un's transition may not have been as smooth as surface-level indicators would have us believe. So while a grassroots movement against the government is still extremely unlikely, the need for Kim Jong-un to keep the military on his side and the risk of a backlash from disgruntled purged former generals and their supporters remains.
 It is clear that North Korea wants dialogue with the United States, but the two sides disagree on preconditions to be satisfied before any meeting can take place. This is a result of the United States, Japan, and South Korea feeling cheated in past denuclearization negotiations. Thus they want North Korea to demonstrate that it is serious this time around, and they also desire assurances from China that it will give its full backing and cooperation to any deal. China's unique position as North Korea's only de facto backer means Chinese support is crucial to ensure any future potential agreement is implementable in reality.
Additionally, the situation in the Middle East—and getting a nuclear deal with Iran right—is critical to the North Korean situation. A successful Iran deal will show North Korea, which is wary of how Libya was steamrolled after giving up its nuclear program, that a denuclearization deal can lead to a win-win situation for all parties. At the same time, focusing excessively on the Middle East and neglecting North Korea would be a mistake. As unpalatable as negotiations with North Korea may seem, strategic patience is not a realistic alternative as it just gives North Korea more time to refine its nuclear development. Moreover, in the absence of negotiations, North Korea is likely to begin the cycle of military provocations again, including through further missile or nuclear tests or via stealth attacks utilizing its asymmetrical advantage along the contested Northern Limit Line that demarcates the two countries' western maritime border.
We have already missed one golden opportunity, but if the confrontational postures that have emerged in the region become entrenched, there is the risk that the future regional order may be derailed. Over the coming years leading up to 2020, there is a need for increased efforts to convince the respective publics in East Asian countries of the importance of regional cooperation and for intensive discussion between leaders for the mutual promotion of brave leadership that does not succumb to the temptation of short-term domestic political gains at the expense of long-term regional cooperation.
Policymakers must be more conscious of the medium to long-term evolution of regional order and focus regional cooperation in order to overcome nationalism, defang domestic political dynamics that undermine bilateral cooperation, and pursue domestic objectives that are compatible with regional cooperation and the goal of shared peace, prosperity, and stability in East Asia.

Hitoshi Tanaka is a senior fellow at JCIE and chairman of the Institute for International Strategy at the Japan Research Institute, Ltd. He previously served as Japan's Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs.