Monday, August 31, 2009

After 52 years of independence, we need a declaration of INTERdependence

After 52 years of independence, it is no exaggeration to say that inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations in Malaysia are in a bad state. Recent events such as the cow head incident in Shah Alam only serve to underscore what Malaysians know to be true.

However, Malaysian inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations have never been very good, and have been dragging us down for some time. I believe that this is due to our system of government; although we claim to be a democracy, the reality is that all this while we have been run as a consociationalism. Under this form of government, it is accepted belief that the people from various groups cannot work together in a normal democratic process, and the elites of each group are ones who need to bargain with each other behind closed doors to decide on how to run the country, and who gets what.

The consequences of this system in Malaysia has been that, freed from having to be accountable to the rakyat, the elites (i.e. Umno, MCA, MIC etc.) have been able to indulge in corruption, cronyism and nepotism with impunity, thereby concentrating power and wealth in their hands.

Another consequence is that there has been no real public discourse on matters of national interest. Indeed, discussion of key topics is deemed "sensitive" and clamped down upon. The threat of violence, either official or unofficial, has been used to prevent this discourse. The rakyat have kept divided by the elites in order to protect their grip on power; playing the politics of communalism has succeded to an extent in getting each group to identify with the elites who "represent" them.

We can see why while neighbours and colleagues from different groups may form friendships and close relations, there is no real understanding between groups. Acceptance of each other has not become part of the collective consciousness; the "muhibbah" planned and organised by elites remains superficial, and barely limited to tolerance.

In this way, inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations have been held hostage to the political interests of the various elite parties in Malaysia. It is no coincidence that inter-ethnic conflict has flared whenever the elites find their monopoly on power threatened: in 1969, 1987 and 2001. In the sensational Utusan Malaysia and Berita Harian articles, chauvinistic posturing by BN leaders, and most recently, the cow's head procession, I believe that we are seeing BN trying to repeat its so far very successful use of communal politics, this time to gain an advantage in the post GE-12 scenario.

Is there something that we Malaysians can do to once and for all remove this knife that BN is holding to our throat? 64 years ago, the philosophers Will and Ariel Durant (the husband and wife authors of the magnum opus, The Story of Civilization), along with some like-minded people, pondered the same problem. The world had just survived a world war in which racial intolerance and hatred played a large part, with millions dead. How could civilisation be protected from once again suffering the brutality and violence of dictatorship and demagoguery?

They decided that the best way was to form a movement to promote human tolerance and fellowship through mutual consideration and respect. In the words of Will Durant, "no democracy can long endure without recognizing and encouraging the interdependence of the racial and religious groups composing it." They came up with a Declaration of INTERdependence, which represented their core beliefs. This is the entire text of the declaration at present:
Declaration of INTERdependence

Human progress having reached a high level through respect for the liberty and dignity of men, it has become desirable to re-affirm these evident truths:
  • That differences of race, color, and creed are natural, and that diverse groups, institutions, and ideas are stimulating factors in the development of man;
  • That to promote harmony in diversity is a responsible task of religion and statesmanship;
  • That since no individual can express the whole truth, it is essential to treat with understanding and good will those whose views differ from our own;
  • That by the testimony of history intolerance is the door to violence, brutality and dictatorship; and
  • That the realization of human interdependence and solidarity is the best guard of civilization.
Therefore, we solemnly resolve, and invite everyone to join in united action.
  • To uphold and promote human fellowship through mutual consideration and respect;
  • To champion human dignity and decency, and to safeguard these without distinction of race, or color, or creed;
  • To strive in concert with others to discourage all animosities arising from these differences, and to unite all groups in the fair play of civilized life.
ROOTED in freedom, bonded in the fellowship of danger, sharing everywhere a common human blood, we declare again that all men are brothers, and that mutual tolerance is the price of liberty.


I believe that if Malaysians realize that all of us are interdependent, and if we practice the principles of this declaration, we will achieve the following:
  • Build real understanding and trust between ethnic and religious groups in Malaysia
  • Build the foundations for real dialogue and discourse on matters of national interest, including "sensitive" ones
  • Prevent attempts by political parties to use communal politics to divide and rule over Malaysians
  • Be able to tackle corruption, cronyism and nepotism and promote good governance without being accused of ethnic and religious bias
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY, free ourselves from the constant implied threat of politically sanctioned violence and chaos when we attempt to build a Malaysia that is truly free, just and democratic.
If you feel that this declaration is something that can help us Malaysians, would you consider helping to spread its message? We could blog about it or share it with our family, friends and colleagues. Perhaps the best thing we could do is to practice it in our daily lives. In the words of Will Durant:
"Our main task is to reduce the causes of racial animosity. First by recognizing that we are all guilty. Which of us has never uttered a word of racial hositility? Let us resolve never to do it again. Let us watch our own conduct, and by our moderation, our modesty, our good will, give no handle or excuse to racial division. Let us burn the second half of this Declaration into our hearts, and make a sacred vow, here and now."
Are we up to it?

Malaysian Heart

P.S. Thanks to Fisha of Dream a Little More Dream, for first making me aware of the life and work of Will and Ariel Durant. To participate in the international signature campaign, please visit this webpage.

Selamat Hari Merdeka ke-52!!!

Selamat Hari Merdeka!!!

Walaupun kerajaan Malaysia kini dikuasai parti yang zalim durjana, tetapi Ibu Pertiwi tetap Ibu Pertiwi, tanah tumpah darah kita tetap disanjungi. Dimana bumi dipijak, disitulah langit dijunjung.

Semoga rakyat Malaysia akan celik dan bangkit memilih kerajaan yang amanah dan jujur, yang bakal mengisi kemerdekaan dalam ertikata yang sebenarnya; dengan menegakkan keadilan, kebebasan, hak asasi dan demokrasi, supaya keamanan dan kemakmuran sejati boleh kita capai bersama.


Tanah Pusaka

Kemegahan Negara Ku

Friday, August 28, 2009

Mak Jun Yeen, you intentions seem noble, but...

Dear Mak Jun Yeen,

Thanks for your comment in response to my recent blog post, "Responding to BN-inspired racism and prejudice".

Having read and re-read your comment, I must say that I cannot make out what you are trying to say exactly. Are you saying that Malaysians need not be concerned with our current situation, or need not act to change it?

I do get the impression that you want to look on the bright side of things and encourage rapprochement between all sides of the racial divide in Malaysia. That's a noble intention, but I believe that your approach is based on an inaccurate understanding of our current situation in Malaysia, and therefore will not work. Here's why I believe so:

1) Our present situation is demonstrably different from the past. Even the book that you referred to shows how. On page 48:
"The second technique entailed treating divisive racial issues ambiguously. As suggested earlier, individuals in the plural society have intense racial preferences, so that it is possible for groups with incompatible preferences to entertain a common ambiguous appeal. Gordon P. Means shows how the Alliance employed ambiguity in its 1959 electoral campaign.
During that campaign the Alliance leadership exhibited some ambivalence toward communal issues. On the one hand Tunku Abdul Rahman made a communal appeal for the support of the Malays, stressing such issues as “the alien danger” and the threat to the Malays posed by the immigration of “foreigners”. On the other hand, he defended the Alliance manifesto which attributed the “alien danger” to the restrictive citizenship requirements which made it difficult for non-Malays to acquire full status as Malayan citizens. Thus, the Alliance tended to utilize the “foreign threat” issue in appealing to the Malays, but hastened to explain to its Malayan Chinese Association and Malayan Indian Congress members that the loyal Chinese and Indians in these two organizations were not a part of that “foreign threat.” This is just one of the many examples of ambiguous terms being employed successfully to keep incongruous elements united for common political action."
There is a clear difference between what BN did then, and what they are doing now. They are not using ambiguous language anymore; their MSM like Berita Harian and Utusan are stating in no uncertain terms that non-Malay Malaysians are the "enemy", their blogs are all but calling for another May 13. Today, promoted by pro-BN bloggers, a group of BN supporters marched with a severed cow's head to protest the construction of a Hindu temple. They are blatantly playing the race and religion card without even the pretence of equivocation.

2) Malaysians from all walks of life need to see beyond BN's disguise and realise that it's not racial and religious divide per se that afflicts us, but BN's need to remain relevant post GE-12, that is the real disease. It is a political divide that is trying to become a racial and religious one. Therefore, we need to face the truth and focus on the real issues. Pretending that everything is OK (or somehow going to be OK) will not make the problem go away.

3) Those who would see us regress to pre GE-12, are using the techniques of psy-war, propaganda and spin to achieve their objectives. They need to be opposed and rebutted. This can only be done by engaging Malaysians from all walks of life and sharing our thoughts & opinions effectively and in a precise, conscientious & respectful way, not by avoiding the issue and mollycoddling racist views.

In the case of AR, your eagerness to "engage" him seems to have led you to do this:

1) Instead of focusing on the racist sentiments he expressed, you chose engage in (what I believe to be) trivialities, such as "commending" AR for using his real name, even when you had absolutely no idea if it really was his name. Even if you really felt the need to say something nice to AR, wouldn't it have been better to be honest and straightforward with him, instead of scraping the bottom of the barrel for a compliment? And how is his "frankness" relevant to the discussion? Hitler was "frank" in speaking his mind. I'm also sure that he loved his mother very much, and was very kind to his dogs. Do you believe that all these "commendable" qualities make his racist views any less repugnant?

2) You have chosen to gloss over and spin for the racism AR portrayed. You wrote next: "I do see some positive light in his rant, he is prepared to accept those Malysians not from his ethnic community as equal Malaysians..."

Mak, I believe there is a term for people who do not accept those from other ethnic communities as equal: I call them racists. I'm curious to know how you would refer to them. In effect, you have just given AR credit, "some positive light", for (supposedly) not being a racist! Not being racist sould be the minimum standard of decent human behaviour! Sure, racism is prevalent around the world, but would you agree that it must be opposed in whatever shape or form it takes? If you do, then I suggest that treating it as if its OK for it to be the norm, only helps to perpetuate it further.

But is AR really prepared to accept non-Malay Malaysians as equals (as you would have us believe)? You wrote next: "... even though with his notion of what constitue Malaysian may to some people, be flawed."

As can be seen from his comment, for Malaysians of Chinese and Indian descent to meet AR's notion of what constitutes a Malaysian, they have to forego at least their mother tongue and their "mentality" (whatever that means to AR), as well as their right to choose how their children are educated. AR wants assimilation, not integration. IMHO, calling such a notion "flawed" is like calling Teoh Beng Hock's death "inconvenient". Show me someone who does not think this notion is outrageous, and I will show you someone who meets the definition of a racist and supremacist. For the record, Mak, where do you stand on the issue? Do you subscribe to AR's notion of what constitutes a Malaysian?

Then you wrote: "To those who are worried about the rampant racialism of today, hark ye, today's Malaysians are no more racially biased and prejudiced than 50 years ago or even 40 years ago." You seem to be saying that Malaysians have always been racially biased, so there's nothing to be concerned about. Even if that is so (disregarding the memories and anecdotes of how people remember the 50's and 60's as an era of relative muhibbah), is it a situation that we can allow to continue? I believe that all Malaysians must work towards eradicating the evils of racism, and never accept our current situation as it is. Institutionalised and socialised racism is dragging Malaysia down in so many areas.

Mak, Malaysia is at a historic crossroads, when we may choose what kind of Malaysia our children inherit. This is a precious time when we need to share ideas and take on those who would see us back in the dark ages. If you have something to contribute to the discussion and debate, by all means please do so, but it will require some thought as to what you really want to say. As I have always maintained, what one believes and subcribes to is wholly a personal choice. However, even if one wants to take a contrarian view, one must not be contrarian with the truth.

I note that you have been very sensitive to online racism against Malays. That's very good of you, please continue in your efforts. We must all oppose racism whoever it is directed at, and there is a lot directed at Malays in the blogosphere. In your comment to another post of mine, you complained, "[j]ust because I criticise the opposition I am with BN and vice versa." Having read some of your comments around the web, may I suggest that being evenhanded and condemning wrong wherever you see it would go some way towards preventing that?

As always, thanks for dropping by,

Malaysian Heart

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dr. Taslima Nasrin

(Picture of Dr. Nasrin taken from here)

Yesterday (25 August 2009) was the birthday of Dr. Taslima Nasrin, the controversial Bangladeshi physician turned author, and feminist and human rights activist, who works to build support for secular humanism, freedom of thought, equality for women, and human rights by publishing, lecturing, and campaigning.

From Wikipedia:
Nasrin started writing poetry when she was thirteen. While still at college in Mymensingh, she published and edited a literary magazine, SeNjuti ("Light in the dark"), from 1978 to 1983. She published her first collection of poems in 1986. Her second collection, Nirbashito Bahire Ontore ("Banished within and without", 1989) was a big success.[citation needed]. She succeeded in attracting a wider readership when she started writing columns in late 1980s, and then novels, for which she has won significant acclaim.[20] In the early 1990s, she began writing novels. In all, she has written more than thirty books of poetry, essays, novels, short stories, and memoirs, and her books have been translated into 20 different languages.
Even if one does not agree with everything that she has written, one can still respect her for her courage and principles. Whatever our own beliefs are, we must all defend, to the death, her right to free speech. In her own words:
Freedom of expression for some is not enough.
We must work for freedom of expression for all.

Human rights for some is not enough.
We must work for the human rights for all.

Peace for some is not enough.
We must work for peace for all.

I, come what may, will not be silenced.
Come what may, I will continue my fight for equality and justice without any compromise until my death.

Come what may, I will never be silenced.

And so must we.

Happy Birthday, Dr Nasrin! May you be happy and have peace wherever you are!

Malaysian Heart

P.S. You can read the first part of her autobiography, My Girlhood, here, and the second part, My Stormy Youth, here. You can send her a birthday message on her Facebook page, here, and read more about her work here.

P.P.S. Here is a blog by Tamoso Deep, a fan of Taslima Nasrin.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Responding to BN-inspired racism and prejudice

Dear Reader,

While reading the comments that came in response to the post "Fail, Mr Home Minister, fail!" over at Hartal MSM, I came across one that I believe exemplifies the kind of racist and prejudiced thinking that BN is trying to inculcate amongst Malaysians. I reproduce my response to it here, but first we need to read the comment itself, and an earlier comment which it was addressed at.

Here is the first comment to the post, by "Leong Yook Kong", to which the subsequent one was addressed:
1. Leong Yook Kong | August 22, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Kerisman, you are the Home Minister, right. You should give a firm instruction to the police to carry out a thorough investigation into the arson case and to bring to book the real and actual culprit/culprits. If the police cannot do it, sack all of them and bring in the overseas investigators to do the job for them. Get the IGP involved in this case. He just cannot relax and wait for 13 September 2009 to see whether his contract is extended or not.

How can the Home Minister act like a small boy when he said the next target will be the police and the prisons? Where is the preventive measure? Kerisman, the RAKYAT want love (true love), happiness, peace and security.

For it is man’s rejection of love and loving laws that causes most of the evils and troubles in the world today.

Here is the response to Leong's comment, by "Abdul Rahman Mohd. Sharif":
11. abdul rahman mohd.sharif | August 24, 2009 at 10:06 am

Woi…woii..woi…WOW!! Leong. The IGP do not wish to extend the contract. Satisfied…… Hishamuddin, please shut up and just do your work. Don’t make any comments. Let all this bonkers wonder whats next.
Guys. In the first place, why are you not the MACC, police or in the prison depart? Its not a good place to be, right? Its always this lot of people call ‘MALAY’ whose stupid enough to enrol into one.
Its so easy heh!! Attacking those stupid lot.
If this is your beloved country called MALAYsia then work into one. Ease these departments from all these setbacks that you are so concerned. Allow your kids to be one of them. Help your kids to change all these embarassment.
Be a Malaysian my friend. Your mother tounge IS Malaysia not China or India. No more china’s or India’s mentality. No more chinese or indias school. DO NOT BE A RACIST. (I know I’ll be attcked for these sentence-go ahead shoot)

Finally, here is a much lengthier version of my response to Abdul Rahman Mohd. Sharif:

Abdul Rahman Mohd. Sharif seems to be saying that Leong and others were "attacking" Malays when they criticised the police, MACC and/or the prisons department. Is he justified in saying so?

Looking at the comments by Leong and others here, there isn't a single mention of the word "Malay", until Abdul Rahman brings it up himself. How did he come to that conclusion? Does he believe, that criticising someone who happens to be from a particular group means that one is criticising (or is anti) the entire group? Such a belief is misguided; as I have written elsewhere:
"Criticizing a person who happens to be Malay doesn't necessarily mean that I am anti-Malay. Going by that logic, anyone who criticizes wee ka siong is anti-chinese, the person who murdered kugan is anti-indian, and if kugan's murderer happened to be an orang-putih, prosecuting him would be anti-orang putih too. Subscribing to this type of logic would mean the end of civil society in Malaysia & a descent into the tribalism & ketaksuban of zaman jahiliah, when supporting your clan was more important than standing for justice & fairness. If we are to progress as a nation, people who are truly "Malaysian at Heart" need to go beyond seeing things from a race based, assabiah perspective."
Next, Abdul Rahman seems to be questioning the loyalty of the commenters here. He writes, "If this is your beloved country called MALAYsia then work into one. Ease these departments from all these setbacks that you are so concerned. Allow your kids to be one of them. Help your kids to change all these embarassment." He has a valid point in saying that if we love Malaysia we will work to improve it. However, he fails to realise that criticism is part of that improvement. If we do not even realise that Malaysia needs improvement, there will never be positive change. Unfortunately, people like Abdul Rahman are disregarding valid criticism because they choose to see it as racially motivated.

He also has a point, and I agree with him, when he says that more Malaysian minorities should join Malaysian law enforcement and armed forces. However, I believe that we need to find ways to overcome the discrimination, official and unofficial, that minorities face when they join the government service in general. What are these discriminations? Although this is just one example, it seems to be representative of what they face: here and here. Will Abdul Rahman help in the efforts to eradicate such discrimination and unfair treatment?

Finally, Abdul Rahman seems to be accusing commenters here of being racist, and of not being "Malaysian" enough; because (as he says):
1) they speak Chinese or Indian
2) they have "china’s or India’s mentality" (whatever that means)
3) they go to a Chinese or Indian school

Racism is defined as:
  1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
  2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
  3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.
Can Abdul Rahman show how and why Malaysians who speak Chinese/Indian, have been to Chinese/Indian schools, or have Chinese/Indian "mentalities" necessarily meet any of those three criteria, or are not Malaysian enough? I doubt that he can. There is actually some evidence to the contrary: the National Youth Survey 2008 conducted by the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research showed that, when asked the question "If you can only choose one identity, would you say that you are...?", 52% of respondents who had been to a Chinese school chose Malaysian as their identity. In contrast, 39% & 37% of those who had been to National & Tamil schools respectively, identified themselves as Malaysians first. So, at least one part of Abdul Rahman's assertion seems to be based on prejudice towards others.

On the other hand, isn't Abdul Rahman the one who is demonstrating racism here, by exhibiting his intolerance for other races, their language, "mentality" and human rights?

Unfortunately, this type racism is now becoming too common in Malaysia.Why wouldn't it be, when it is officially encouraged by Barisan Nasional? At the same time that they are promoting "One Malaysia" with their catchy song and glitzy logo, they are also sowing intolerance and racism, via their mainstream media such as Utusan Malaysia, and pro-BN blogs.

Why is BN doing this? Because they realise that Malaysians of all races are beginning to see beyond race and ethnicity, and are learning to really work together to rid this country of racism, bigotry, corruption, oppression, bad governance and tainted judiciary. This unprecedented cooperation, unlike the "elite accomodation" of BN's consociationalism, has the potential to bring down the barriers separating Malaysians of different ethnicities; barriers that are jealously preserved by the BN and its race based parties. Once these barriers are down, there would be no need for race based parties in Malaysia; BN would essentially go extinct, like the dinosaur it is. More importantly, the corruption, cronyism and nepotism that thrive on BN's race based ideology (and that BN leaders thrive on), would finally be eradicable. For BN (and its leaders) to survive GE-13, this new trend of true inter-ethnic and inter-racial cooperation, understanding and harmony in Malaysia must be thwarted and reversed.

Therefore, encouraging racism and sowing distrust and fear of other races has become BN's strategy of choice. It's leaders, along with their mainstream media, Biro Tatanegara, and blogger mouthpieces, are hard at work, spreading their message of racism and bigotry. Their message is simplicity itself: the races in Malaysia cannot trust each other or work with each other, because the every race is out to victimise and dispossess the others. Only the "strong" hand of BN, with the help of unjust laws like the ISA, OSA, PPPA etc. can "protect" their respective races, and keep them from killing each other in another May 13. Therefore, we must all trust the BN totally, and let them decide what is best for us. Of course, this means letting BN decide how Malaysia's national wealth and resources are distributed.

Are we Malaysians incapable of working together? Is BN's message essentially true? Of course it isn't, but why is it so easy to believe? Because we humans are hard-wired to distrust anyone who doesn't look like us. When our ancestors were still living in caves, a face that wasn’t the same color as our own was probably the face of an enemy. Civilization, ethics and religion have tried their best to replace our innate racism, but the caveman brain that evolved years ago is still lurking somewhere within us; all BN needs to do is find it and feed it. It's also easy to believe because we Malaysians are gullible enough to swallow whatever BN sends our way, hook, line and sinker. We have not learnt to be mature and critical enough in how we read and evaluate arguments, and how we discuss and debate issues.

So, how does BN spread its message in the blogosphere? Firstly, it is not in BN's interest to encourage open discussion and honest debate. Open discussion and honest debate will increase understanding between various groups, thereby endangering BN's objective. Therefore BN will want to discourage and destroy it wherever it can. How does it do this? By never aproaching an issue with the intention of mutual understanding, but wiith the intention of provoking others with racism and prejudice, waiting for them to react with the same, then showing it to everyone else as proof of how BN's basic premise, that we cannot work together, is true.

It is this agenda of BN that has visited us in the form of Abdul Rahman's comments. I do not know if it is his job to spread BN's ideas in our blogosphere, or if he truly believes in them. Either way, depending on how we respond to them, our response to his words can cause a ripple effect, a chain reaction of either more racism, or its opposite, in our blogosphere and our nation. The only way to defeat BN, is to engage with all others and express our thoughts & opinions in a precise, conscientious & respectful way. The moment we have an open and honest dialogue going, the Rakyat have won, and BN has lost.

So, comments and arguments like Abdul Rahman's should be called out and exposed by all Malaysians, because they try to inject racial conflict where there is none. Malaysians should not fall into BN's trap and return ignorance for ignorance, and malice for malice. Instead we must turn the cool, bright light of reason on them, and racist, prejudiced arguments will be shown up for what they are.

However, we cannot do this when we ourselves are racists, classist, ageist, sexist, group-ist. Yes, you read me correctly. Just like Abdul Rahman, we too are group-ists, in one way or another. Not because we have been to a particular school, not because we speak a particular language, but because we still let our race, ethnicity, gender, age or group of one form or another, decide what is right or wrong, rather than base our conscience on fair principles applied equally to all.

When have we been so?

How about when we stopped worrying and being concerned about ISA detainees as soon as the Hindraf five were released, even though there are still many who are unjustly detained? Is it because they look different from us, and aren't all those people in JI, JIM whatever, all "extremists" anyway?

How about when we condoned the demolition of Kg. Buah Pala just because they were of a different race from us, or because they were just uneducated cowherds who don't deserve any better, or because we would like to buy a condo that Nusmetro is building, or because they got in the way of our peaceful Sunday morning drive?

Being unable to empathise with our fellow human beings, just because they are of a different race, religion or group than ourselves, in my book, is a serious moral flaw. It betokens a meanness of spirit, an inability to see beyond ones own interests and a lack of human values & EQ. Such an inability is a hallmark of bigots; all of us must somehow learn to empathise with the plight of our fellow humans, whomever they are and whatever their race, religion, gender, age and socio-economic status may be.

We must never forget that as long as we do not realise that freedom, human rights, equality and justice come from equally applying principles common to all, we ourselves will never achieve it, nor would we deserve it. Our sense of what is right or wrong must never be influenced by which race, religion, gender, nationality or age we ourselves identify with. Whenever we point our fingers at the Abdul Rahman's in our blogosphere, let us never forget there are three more pointing back at ourselves.

To Abdul Rahman Mohd. Sharif, may I wish you and your family a blessed Ramadan and a joyous Aidil Fitri; may God guide us all to see that we are all part of the same Human family. As it is written in the Holy Quran:
"O mankind. We have created you from a single male and female and made you into nations and tribes so that you may know each other. The most honorable of you in the sight of Allah are surely the righteous." (Surah al-Hujurat, verse 13)
And as the Prophet (pbuh) said:
"Truly, Allah does not look at your outward forms and wealth, but rather at your hearts and your works" (Sahih Muslim, 4.1389: hadith 2564)
Selamat Hari Merdeka to all Malaysians. Let's remember that there is a lot more work for us to do, starting with our own consciences, before we can say that we are truly MERDEKA!!!

Malaysian Heart

P.S. Please do read this very enlightening article here.

With apologies to A.A., I wrote this when I should have been writing something else :-(

Monday, August 24, 2009

Spinning the news for Permatang Pasir: how to read partisan blogs (and news) 2

Spin is defined as interpreting an event in a particular way so as to manipulate public opinion for or against a certain organization or public figure. It is a form of propaganda, albeit a subtle one; while some propaganda uses outright lies, spin uses half truths and concealment.

The techniques of spin include:

  • Selectively presenting facts and quotes that support one's position (cherry picking)
  • Non-denial denial
  • Phrasing in a way that assumes unproven truths
  • Euphemisms to disguise or promote one's agenda
  • "Burying bad news": announcing one popular thing at the same time as several unpopular things, hoping that the media [or readers] will focus on the popular one.
Whatever its differences in method, its desired end result is the same as for propaganda:
A propagandist, in the strict sense, is not interested in the truth for its own sake, or in spreading it. His purpose is differ­ent. He wants a certain kind of action from us. He doesn't want people to think for themselves. He seeks to mold their minds so that they will think as he wants them to think, and act as he wants them to act. He prefers that they should not think for them­selves. If the knowledge of certain facts will cast doubts in the minds of his hearers, he will conceal these facts.

From The Art of Making Sense: A Guide to Logical Thinking by Lionel Ruby
With the Permatang Pasir by-elections around the corner, allegations and counter-allegations regarding the two candidates' suitability for office have been traded. In the case of the BN candidate, former lawyer Rohaizat Othman, the allegations center around his disbarment for misappropriating funds belonging to his client, the Koperasi Pekebun Getah Pulau Pinang (KPGPP).

BN tried to undo the damage by claiming that it was Rohaizat's former law partner, Yusri Isahak, who was solely responsible for the wrongdoing, and that Rohaizat was merely the fall guy. On 20 August 2009, Yusri made a statement to the press where he held that the misappropriation of KPGPP's funds was done with Rohaizat's knowledge and involvement, in the form of loans to two of Rohaizat's acquaintances, and for the management of the firm's Ipoh office. You can read his statement in full here.

Yesterday, Yusri again gave a press statement in KL, which can be read in full here. What exactly did Yusri say in this second statement? As I see it, he seemed to be saying that (and please correct me if I am doing any "spinning" myself):
  1. He has not been paid to makling either of his two statements
  2. Both statements were made on his own initiative, and were not influenced by any party
  3. His first statement was made because he was angry and dissapointed at being made the scapegoat in the KPGPP case, and his only motivation was to defend his goodname and that of his family
  4. He stands by his earlier statement
  5. His earlier statement has been used to slander Rohaizat, which was not his intention
  6. Yusri is saddened by the personal attacks on Rohaizat
  7. Yusri wants to clarify his position and express his feelings on the matter
  8. Rohaizat is a good man, and kind hearted, has done a lot for Permatang Pasir
  9. Even though Rohaizat has made mistakes, he has made amends, and the cooperative has retracted their claim against him
Three questions to consider:
  1. Did Yusri retract his earlier statement?
  2. Did Yusri exonerate Rohaizat, clear his name, or in any way lessen his responsibility for the KPGPP case, as stated in his earlier accusation? (Let's bear in mind that to exonerate is not the same as to forgive or excuse)
  3. Did Yusri take more of the blame for the KPGPP case unto himself?
I believe that the answers to all three questions above is no. As I see it, Yusri's second statement expressed many noble sentiments, but it never detracted an iota from the gist of his first statement, in which Yusri stated that the misappropriation of KPGPP's funds was done with Rohaizat's knowledge and involvement.

Given the above, let's see how the mainstream media (MSM) have choosen to present the story, one day before the elections, in the following articles:

Utusan Malaysia, 23/8/09: Yusri tampil bela Rohaizat
The article does not mention points 4 and 9 from Yusri's statement (in bold above). It also reports Rohaizat's response to Yusri's statement, as (my emphasis in bold):

Sementara itu, calon Barisan Nasional (BN) Rohaizat Othman berterima kasih kepada bekas rakan kongsinya, Yusri Isahak kerana tampil memberi penjelasan terbaru hari ini berhubung isu pembatalan sijil peguam sivilnya.

Beliau yang ditemui ketika menyertai lawatan Menteri Dalam Negeri, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein di Kampung Cross Street berkata, perkembangan itu membuktikan fakta sebenar isu yang digembar-gemburkan oleh Pas.

Utusan's article has spun the news for BN using two techniques: first, it has cherry picked the points which may be taken as support for Rohaizat to report, and neglected to mention the ones which suggest that Yusri still believes that Rohaizat is partly responsible for the misappropriation. Second, Utusan has allowed Rohaizat's response, which is phrased in a way that suggests and implies (wrongly) that Yusri has exonerated him, to run without verification, analysis or challenge.

The Star, 24/8/09: Rohaizat vows to bring development
The Star did not devote a full article to Yusri's second statement, but included this in the article above:
At night, Rohaizat thanked his former partner Yusri Isahak for clearing his name.

“I am very happy now that now that Yusri had cleared the air over the allegations. I saw his interview over the television.”
Unlike Utusan, who merely suggested and implied untruth, the Star has printed it outright without qualification!

The New Straits Times, 24/8/09: 'I was in charge of account'
Unlike Utusan, the NST did not start of its article by focusing on Yusri's respect and admiration for Rohaizat. It instead focused on reporting that Yusri was in charge of the KPGPP account (not the bank account, but the case). I believe that since Yusri had (in his first press statement) stated that both he and Rohaizat were co-signatories to the bank accounts, its regrettable that the journalist or editor didn't take the extra care to make that difference clear, i.e. that Yusri was not now admitting to being the sole signatory for the bank account. A quick reading of the headline and the first few 'graphs may lead one to believe that a very significant truth had been unearthed by the reporter, that represented a "twist" in the story. In actuality, the fact that Yusri was the lead lawyer in charge with dealing with KPGPP did not in any way negate or diminish in any way his earlier assertion that Rohaizat was just as involved in misappropriating the funds.

Berita Harian, 24/8/09: Bekas rakan kongsi kecewa kenyataan disalahgunakan
BH, in my opinion, does the least spinning of the four MSM newspapers. Part of what it wrote is this:
Sementara itu, Yusri mengakui fail pembelian hartanah oleh KPGNPP pada 2002 di bawah tanggungjawabnya dan beliau yang menyiapkan perjanjian berkenaan serta memanggil penjual dan pembeli terbabit untuk menandatanganinya.

“Tandatangan saya pada perjanjian itu hanyalah sebagai menandakan bahawa saya sudah menyaksikan penjual dan pembeli menandatangani perjanjian berkenaan,” katanya.

Walaupun mengakui fail pembelian hartanah oleh KPGNPP adalah di bawah tanggungjawabnya, Yusri berkata, fail berkenaan pada bila-bila masa boleh diambil alih oleh rakan kongsi lain seperti ketika beliau bercuti.

Sambil menegaskan pelanggan terbabit adalah pelanggan firma guaman dan bukan pelanggan seseorang rakan kongsi secara khusus, beliau bagaimanapun berkata, adalah tidak tepat untuk menyatakan bahawa Rohaizat tidak mengetahui atau tidak terbabit langsung.

Namun, ketika ditanya sama ada Rohaizat bersalah atau pun hanya menjadi mangsa keadaan, katanya, beliau bukan dalam kedudukan untuk menyatakan perkara itu, sebaliknya pihak yang lebih tepat adalah mahkamah dan Majlis Peguam.
Notice the use of the word mengakui (admits or confesses), thereby implying that Yusri is owning up to something that implicates him (and exonerates Rohaizat). Is this the case? Reading of the next three paragraphs shows it not to be so. Unfortunately, they have left this part to the last three paragraphs of the article!

In none of the four MSM reports above, was the fact that Yusri stood by his earlier statement, and maintained that Rohaizat was at least partly responsible, mentioned. The headlines, the quotes that were selected, the language used all give the impression that Yusri had made a u-turn in his position. The BN owned MSM have used cherry picking of facts, euphemism (in this case dyphemism), and implied assumptions to create an article favourable to BN's interests in the Permatang Pasir by-elections tomorrow.

As for the pro-BN blogs, this is what some of them said:
Shamsul Yunos (the journalist covering the Permatang Pasir elections for the Malay Mail) : ZAMBRI-NIZAR!! Yusri makes a U-turn?
Rocky (Editor-in-Chief of the Malay Mail), linking to Shamsul Yunos "U-turn": Ah, Yusri, both sides now?
A Voice: Yusri rasa bersalah dan 'akui' diguna PR burukkan Rohaizat
Pisau: N11 Permatang Pasir: Rohaizad Tidak Bersalah:Yusri
The Unspinners: KABOOM 2! Yusri ngaku urus akaun Koperasi dan diguna PAS untuk serangan peribadi

For comparison, read these reports from:
Malaysiakini: My intention was to clear my name, says Yusri
Malaysian Insider: Rohaizat’s ex-law partner says he gained nothing in revealing all

How shall we hold the mainstream media to account for spinning the news?

Malaysian Heart

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Words fail me

DPM slams Pakatan for ‘smear tactics’ before Ramadan
...[D]eputy prime minister Tan Sri Muyhiddin Yassin today slammed the opposition for its campaign to “smear” Barisan Nasional, saying he was surprised they would do it with the Muslim fasting month just around the corner.

“Maybe this is why they’re stepping up (character assassinations), because it is almost the fasting month so they are taking advantage of this period now before they cannot say anything,” he told a press conference after witnessing the unveiling of SME Corp Malaysia’s new logo.

“I am surprised that even though it’s almost the fasting month, they are still holding campaigns to smear and defame (Barisan Nasional).”

The Malaysian Insider, 21 August 2009

Rocky, "PAS candidate and missing funds in Permatang Pasir":
...there's now talk about his opponent from PAS and a missing RM600,000 in election funds. The post Calon Pas N11 gelapkan RM60,000? belongs to pro-Umno blogger Zakhir Mohamad but the accusations against Mohd Salleh Man were made by his seniors in PAS, or so we're made to believe...

Rocky's Bru, 20 August 2009

Big Dog, "Calon PAS N11 gelapkan wang parti RM 600,000?":
...Namun begitu, ujud beberapa isu yang menjadi begitu kontroversi bagi calon dan ketua PAS Pulau Pinang ini. Semasa Pilihanraya Kecil Parlimen Permatang Pauh setahun lepas, pemimpin PAS Pulau Pinang sendiri dikhabarkan telah membangkitkan bahawa peruntukan untuk jentera pilihanraya PAS sebanyak RM 600,000.00 oleh digelapkan calon ini, yang ketika itu sebagai penyelaras gerak kerja PAS Pulau Pinang. Dikhabarkan dakwaan serious ini dibuat sendiri oleh Naib Pesuruhjaya PAS Pulau Pinang Mujahid Yusof Rawa dan Mantan Ketua Penerangan PAS Pulau Pinang Zulkifli Lazim.

Selain pada itu, Salleh juga merupakan mudhir kepada Sekolah Agama Pintar tajaan PAS. Beliau juga dituduh mengunakan sebahagian dari peruntukan bagi menguruskan sekolah tersebut bagi mengukuhkan kewangan syarikat persendirian beliau, kemungkinan bagi tujuan perniagaan...

...Pembetulan keatas laporan asal. Wang peruntukan yang dikhabarkan telah digelapkan bagi Pilihanraya Kecil Parlimen Permatang Pauh Ogos tahun lepas berjumlah RM 60,000.00 sahaja.

The “thirteen million plus Ringgit” guy rambles…., 20 August 2009

Revert, "Nik Aziz Nik Mat - Tok Dalang Wayang Kulit":
Mengharapkan Nik Aziz bin Nik Mat berubah adalah seperti mengharapkan kucing bertanduk. Mengapa perlu kita terkejut mengenai kenyataan2 Nik Aziz kebelakangan ini. Sememangnya, dia seorang kafir dan kafir murakkab sememangnya jahil tentang Islam. Apa yang hendak dihairankan sangat, bukankah partai yang dipimpinya itu

a. menghalalkan penjualan arak dalam kalangan orang Melayu Islam

b. bersekongkol dengan kafir DAP yang jelas menentang perlaksanaan Syariah apatah lagi juzuk kecil macam hukum ta'azir

c. menentang penyatuan Ummah dalam kalangan mereka yang mengucapkan kalimah 2 syahadah

d. membenarkan kafir mepersendakan agama Islam atas dasar jahil.

e. membiarkan Muslim Melayu dibelenggu kemiskinan.

Revert, 17 August 2009

Pisau, "N11 Permatang Pasir: Saleh Man Kaki Perempuan":
Alahai bang Salleh,rupanya ketayap dan jubah hanya pakaian duniawi yang kamu pamerkan,tetapi akhlak mu cukup busuk.

Pisau nak ceritakan kepada pembaca semua, Calon PAS Permatang Pasir Salleh Man ni rupanya kaki perempuan,pantang tengok anak dara atau bini orang berdahi licin. Nak di kabarkan Salleh Man ni kaki ngorat bini orang(pengusaha kedai rambut)di Permatang Pasir, perempuan ni berketurunan Islam Vietnam,cun melececun beb.

Salleh man suruh perempuan ni tinggalkan suami tua dia dan kawin dengan salleh man,nasib baik suami perempuan tu dapat tahu awal dan bagi amaran kepada Salleh Man .

Kalau tidak manusia yang orang PAS angkat jadi pesurujaya PAS ni akan meruntuhkan masjid.

Macam tu ka nak jadi wakil rakyat,pantang tengok perempuan lawa kira nak balun jer.

sedar sedar la sama hoii salleh man,orang kampung dan permatang pasir dok heboh dengan perangai hang ni,

lepas ni kita baca pulak cerita Mahfpus gila ..

Pisau kata " Bang Salleh kalau jadi wakil rakyat comfirm pasang 4,ramai muslimah pas sedia jadi bini dia", 21 August 2009

SuaraDemokrasi-Malaysia, "GEMPAR : Calon PAS Alami Krisis Keyakinan Keterlaluan & TIDAK MESRA RAKYAT !":
SALAM,... :)

Ini antara respons baru yang diterima dari kebanyakkan penduduk di sekitar DUN Permatang Pasir,…orang-orang kampung telah memperkatakan yang Salleh Man mengalami krisis keyakinan yang terlalu ketara yang mana sehinggakan ketar dan tidak berani untuk memberi ‘public speech’ di khalayak ramai,…

Beliau juga gagap dan terpaksa berpandukan skrip ketika berucap di hadapan para penyokong! Itu baru penyokong sendiri,…belum berhadapan dengan rakyat jelata yang berbilang kaum dan pemimpin-pemimpin DAP lain di Penang yang kuat maki!
Anda semua boleh lihat sendiri bagaimana yang dimaksudkan tentang “MENGALAMI KRISIS KEYAKINAN” melalui video di bawah ini,..

SuaraDemokrasi-Malaysia, 21 August 2009


House PK, 22 August 2009

Gerakan Graduan Melayu Muda, "Mari terajang pungkok Anwar Ibrahim (pasang speaker sekuat mungkin utk effect terbaik)":

Gerakan Graduan Melayu Muda, 17 August 2009

Cucu Tok Selampit, "Apa beza TG Nik Aziz Nik Mat Dengan Ayah Pin?":

Sekiranya beginilah mentaliti pengikut-pengikut fanatik Pas kepada TG Nik Aziz, semoga Allah melindungi kita semua. Apakah perbezaan di antara Ayah Pin dan TG Nik Aziz. Siapalah yang akan menanggung dosa pengikut Pas di atas yang telah mensyirikkan Allah. Nauzubillah hi minzalik.

Cucu Tok Selampit
, 20 August 2009

Friday, August 21, 2009

"One Malaysia?" - op-ed article from the New York Times

I've just read a very interesting op-ed article by Philip Bowring, on the New York Times website. In the article titled "One Malaysia?", he (in my opinion) quite accurately describes the socio-political situation we Malaysians find ourselves in, in the aftermath of GE-12 and the first 100 days of DS Najib's government. How can one not concur when he writes, "Malaysia badly needs a break from 52 years of sometimes authoritarian and corrupt rule by a coalition of race-based parties headed by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), which controls most levers of power and money"?

Bowring isn't accurate in everything; for example, he describes Altantuya's murderers as DS Najib's "security guards" rather than as police officers serving in PDRM's Unit Tindakan Khas. However, his last three paragraphs more than make up for it (bold emphasis mine):
Ultimately, the race issue prevents wholehearted cooperation among the opposition parties in Anwar’s coalition. Some of the Islamists hanker to make common cause with UMNO to strengthen Malay unity and defend pro-Malay, pro-Islamic discrimination. This in turn fits well with allegations by senior UMNO figures that Anwar is a traitor to his race by aligning with the Chinese and Indian minorities.

The notion that Malays and Muslims are under threat from minorities is absurd. But it helps keep Malays loyal to UMNO even while the ruling coalition can claim that it is both multiracial and moderate. The coalition, however corrupted, is still seen by many as representing moderation and stability. UMNO may have pandered to Islamist demands, but few would accuse its leaders of piety or puritanism.

Najib’s slogan is “One Malaysia,” an attempt to portray his government as a unifying force. Its actual policies may remain racially skewed in favor of Malays and oppressive of dissent. But given the opposition’s divisions, and the Malay sense of entitlement that makes multiracial politics so difficult, the slogan may work to keep UMNO in power for another decade.

Spot on, wouldn't you say? What are we doing about it?

Please do read the entire article here. You may need to register with first, which is free and takes only a few minutes. You can find more articles by Philip Bowring here.

Ramadan Mubarak to all!

Ramadan al-Mubarak is the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, when Muslims fast by refraining from eating, drinking, sexual conduct, smoking, and indulging in anything that is in excess or ill-natured; from dawn until dusk, and are to be especially mindful of other sins. Fasting, one of the Five Pillars of Islam, is meant to allow Muslims to seek nearness to Allah, to express their gratitude to and dependence on Him, to atone for their past sins, and to remind them of the needy. They are also expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam by refraining from violence, anger, envy, greed, lust, harsh language, gossip and to try to get along with people better than normal. In addition, all obscene and irreligious sights and sounds are to be avoided.

As narrated by Abu Huraira: Allah's Apostle said, "When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained." (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 123)

This year in Malaysia, the Ramadan fast begins tomorrow, Saturday, 22 August 2009.

Some verses from the Holy Quran pertaining to Ramadan and fasting:
O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint,-

(Fasting) for a fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed number (Should be made up) from days later. For those who can do it (With hardship), is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent. But he that will give more, of his own free will,- it is better for him. And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew.

Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting, but if any one is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (Should be made up) by days later. Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful.

When My servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen to the prayer of every suppliant when he calleth on Me: Let them also, with a will, Listen to My call, and believe in Me: That they may walk in the right way.

Permitted to you, on the night of the fasts, is the approach to your wives. They are your garments and ye are their garments. Allah knoweth what ye used to do secretly among yourselves; but He turned to you and forgave you; so now associate with them, and seek what Allah Hath ordained for you, and eat and drink, until the white thread of dawn appear to you distinct from its black thread; then complete your fast Till the night appears; but do not associate with your wives while ye are in retreat in the mosques. Those are Limits (set by) Allah: Approach not nigh thereto. Thus doth Allah make clear His Signs to men: that they may learn self-restraint.

Surah Al-Baqarah, verses 183 - 187, translated by Hafiz Abdullah Yusuf Ali
Wishing a Blessed Ramadan to all!

Note: If you would like to learn more about Ramadan and fasting in Islam, this website has some information for you.

Thanks to A.A. for all the help!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

How to read partisan blogs 1: Shamsul Yunos and his "anger" towards lawyers

Definition of partisan adj.-
  • From The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition: devoted to or biased in support of a party, group, or cause
  • From the Collins Essential English Dictionary, 2nd Edition 2006: prejudiced or one-sided
Dear Reader,

Of late, I have been writing quite a bit (most recently here) about why I believe that our Malaysian blogosphere has become extremely partisan, and increasingly bereft of honest argument and reasoned debate. When I surf Malaysian blogs and online news, I often get an uneasy feeling that there is something very wrong with the ideas being "sold". Unfortunately, it's not always easy for me to put my finger on what's wrong (and no, it's not the tapai pulut I had this morning). I realise that I need to be better at thinking critically; therefore, I am starting a series of postings in which I shall attempt to analyse and describe the biased, prejudiced and one-sided arguments that I find in our Malaysian blogosphere. Will you to join me in this endeavour?

Let's be very clear on one thing - there is absolutely nothing wrong with a blogger or writer having strong political beliefs and affiliations, or with expressing them vigorously and with passion. However, as I have stated before, we have a responsibility to argue our cases justly and honestly; if not to our readers, then at least for the sake of our own conscience. Democracy needs a forum for honest discussion and open debate on issues of National interest; telling one's side of the story is fine, but pretending to tell both sides while misrepresenting the other is dishonest.

For this first installment, I'd like to analyse a post by Shamsul Yunos, who blogs at "My Anger, it May Be Yours Too". In his recent entry, "Did you know lawyers are special?", he criticises the Malaysian Bar Council for saying that lawyers should not be arrested while on duty. This statement was made by Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan on 16 August 2009, during the public inquiry by Suhakam into the arrest and detention of five lawyers of the Kuala Lumpur Legal Aid Centre at the Brickfields Police Station on 7 May 2009. The lawyers were arrested when they tried to see their clients, who were among 14 arrested that day for taking part in a candlelight vigil (for arrested political scientist and activist Wong Chin Huat), outside said police station. The Bar Council's description of what transpired that day is available here, and you can read the five arrested lawyers' own accounts here, here, here, here and here. The only statement from the police (regarding anything related to the arrests) that I could find was in this video.

Let's get a few facts straight first:
  • Even if the 14 arrested individuals had commited a crime by holding the vigil, they had the right of access to a legal practitioner of their choice, as per Section 28A (4) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) and Article 5 of the Federal Constitution. Granted, that Section 28A (8) of the CPC allows the police to refuse lawyers access to their clients, but it should be invoked only in extraordinary circumstances; such as when the delay in questioning the suspect may cause the occurrence of another crime or cause danger to others, e.g. when the client may pass harmful information to an outsider via the lawyer, or hide evidence, such as in kidnap cases. When the police were asked for the grounds on which they were invoking that clause, they were unable to provide an answer. To date, there has been no explanation from the police whatsoever as to why they invoked Section 28A (8) of the CPC.
  • The lawyers arrested were trying to provide their clients with legal counsel in their professional capacity as members of the Bar Council's Legal Aid Centre; they were not part of the candlelight vigil. Although lawyers do take part in protests, they know how to separate their professional duties from their activism. They were in no shape or form a threat to public order or safety, or obstructing justice, which could have justified their arrest that night. In applying to see their clients in the police station that night, they were merely fulfilling their obligations as advocates and solicitors.
  • The Bar Council did not call for blanket immunity for lawyers while on duty. They are neither seeking nor expecting preferential treatment nor exemptions from the law. They seek instead to uphold the fundamental right of lawyers to have access to their clients, a right which was arbitrarily denied by the police when they refused to let the lawyers see their clients, and arrested them instead.
  • The role of the police in a democratic country, is to enforce the law and ensure public safety and order. To enable our police to fulfil their responsibilities, they are delegated wide discretionary powers, e.g. to deny permission to assemble and to issue orders to disperse. However, they must never forget that the raison d'etre of law enforcement is to uphold our human rights (including the right to assemble peacefully), not to deny them arbitrarily or for political reasons. They must also never forget that they are public servants, and that they are accountable for their actions and decisions.
So, given the above, how did Shamsul Yunos choose to comment on the Bar Council's statement? If you have read his entire post, you would have seen how he has used negative connotations and outright slurs against lawyers throughout it. In a post 313 words long, he managed to:
  • Liken lawyers to "particularly odorous boogers" to be flicked out of a moving car onto gravel
  • Imply that they drink lots of alcohol
  • Accuse them of lying for a living
  • Imply that they are too cowardly to stand up for what they believe in
  • Characterise them being wealthy and stingy
  • Accuse them of speaking with "forked tongues", without thinking first
What Shamsul Yunos has done is to use the techniques of propaganda, namely:
  • Ad hominem arguments
  • Appeal to prejudice
  • Demonizing the enemy
  • Name-calling
  • Stereotyping
Techniques like these work to stir up negative feelings and attitudes (e.g. disgust) towards the targets (in this case lawyers), by appealing to the emotional and irrational side of our nature. They make the other parts of his case easier to accept.

Let's look at Shamsul's more "substantive" arguments. The first thing to note, is that he has (intentionally or not) neglected to quote from, refer to or even provide links to Ragunath's statements as reported in the news. Neither has he mentioned the context in which the statement was made, namely the arbitrary denial of a fundamental human right, the arrests of the five lawyers, and Suhakam's public inquiry into it. Why is this important? When he first refers to the statement by BC president, he follows it with "What the F does that mean?" Is he trying to imply that the Bar Council's position is unclear, unreasonable or difficult to understand? Would the Bar Council's position have been in any way unclear to anyone who had read their statements and was aware of the issues involved?

Next, he uses a "straw man" argument, i.e. by substituting a superficially similar (and weaker) proposition (the "straw man") for his oponents' real one, then refuting it, without ever having actually refuted their original position. Shamsul does this by first conceding that lawyers should not be arrested if they are not breaking any laws. Then he writes, "but I hardly think that anyone in this country should get time out just because they are on duty." The straw man that he is putting up here is that the Bar Council called for blanket immunity for all lawyers on duty, even if they break the law. A glance at this headline shows how grossly Shamsul has misrepresented the Bar Council's position, and again, he neglects to consider the human rights issues involved. Knowing the whole truth reveals Shamsul Yunos' argument for what it is.

Instead of honestly discussing the possibility that it's in the public interest that lawyers and their clients have certain rights and privileges, he goes on to use a rhetorical question to make light of the issue; he sarcastically suggests that the Bar Council asked for special treatment ("different laws" as he put it) because lawyers believe that they are superior to others.

So, what are we to make of the post in question? Should we dismiss it as the prejudiced pronouncements of a partisan propagandist? Well, Shamsul Yunos does not want us to think so; as he maintains (in response to a reader's comment to a different post) here, "I put forth both sides of the story". Yeah, right!

One thing that disturbs me very much, is that in between the put downs, slurs and hyperbole, Shamsul makes a sinister, chilling statement with dangerous implications for human rights, freedom and justice in Malaysia. He writes: "If lawyers think arrest is a risk they do not want to face, then do not accompany people who the police may want to arrest. hey a champion must make scarifices, a warrior must be brave..."

Take a moment to consider exactly what he is saying. Is he implying that if lawyers work for or defend people whom the police (or the government) do not like or approve of, then they should be prepared to face arrest and persecution from the authorities?

As a result of our 12th general elections (GE-12), Malaysia is now at a crossroads, from where, for the first time in a long while, we have a choice of taking a path to a future that we want for ourselves & our children. Malaysians from all walks of life have been increasingly vocal in expressing our dissent against racism, bigotry, corruption, oppression, bad governance, tainted law enforcement and judiciary; both individually as well as via mass protests and demonstrations.

However, not everyone is happy that we have this choice, and there are those who would prefer that we return to the days before GE-12, and even further back, to Mahathirism. I believe that there are efforts being taken that, if we are not vigilant, will roll back the progress that we have made of late. These efforts include inhibiting democratic expression and eroding the foundations of our basic human rights, by various means. Our laws and legal system (such as it is), and our lawyers, are vital elements in the defense of our human rights and freedoms. Equal protection and access to justice would be just an empty slogan without the right to legal counsel. Are people like Shamsul Yunos part of an effort to reduce our legal community's effectiveness (and motivation) in standing up for human rights? I believe so.

So, who is Shamsul Yunos? The first entry on his blog dates back to 27 April 2008 (incidentally, 50 days after the GE-12). According to Rocky, who introduced Shamsul's blog here, and regularly refers to it in his own posts, Shamsul Yunos is a journalist. Googling for "Shamsul Yunos", I found (assuming that they are all one and the same person) that he writes for the Malay Mail. I also found that a Shamsul Yunos attended the Asia Media Summit 2008, held on 27 - 28 May 2008 in Kuala Lumpur. In this list of delegates, he is referred to as a Special Writer from the Ministry of Information, Malaysia. I do not know what exactly a "Special Writer" in the Ministry of Information is, but if it's possible to define one from what one writes, then perhaps we should compare how he has written about the Bar Council's position with this description:
A propagandist, in the strict sense, is not interested in the truth for its own sake, or in spreading it. His purpose is differ­ent. He wants a certain kind of action from us. He doesn't want people to think for themselves. He seeks to mold their minds so that they will think as he wants them to think, and act as he wants them to act. He prefers that they should not think for them­selves. If the knowledge of certain facts will cast doubts in the minds of his hearers, he will conceal these facts.

From The Art of Making Sense: A Guide to Logical Thinking by Lionel Ruby
What are the key lessons to draw from reading Shamsul Yunos' post? IMHO, they are:
  • Always look for the other side of the story and its context, from another source. Do not expect that Shamsul has provided it for us
  • Look for propaganda techniques designed to evoke an emotional and irrational response to the subject of the story
  • Look for dishonest arguments, e.g. the "straw man", and rhetorical questions used to divert attention away from real issues.
  • Always look for affiliations and links to organisations. Such affiliations are not evidence of propaganda per se, but are a useful guide for us to look for potential bias and vested interest
The next time you read Shamsul Yunos, or any other partisan blogger, do look out for these tricks. Better yet, blog about it and let others know too! According to Rocky, Shamsul will be contributing articles daily from Permatang Pasir for The Malay Mail. Will he be putting forth "both sides of the story" from there too? Do feel free to share you analyses of Shamsul Yunos' reports in the comments section.

Malaysian Heart

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Why propaganda and bigotry must be exposed

In response to my previous post, You can never win with a bigot – my response to “OutSyed the Box: Is The DAP A Chauvinist Party?”, a reader who signed off as Paul Warren left the following comment at Hartal MSM:

You just wasted a some bytes writing a crtic on this guy SAA. He’s an idiot to have thought that his opnions mattered. Just as he was, I am pretty sure, unable to comment on acts against non-Muslims and places of worship as well as worship right here in Malaysia itself he seems so cncerned about behaviour elsewhere

ITs more important now for decent Malaysians to ignore these kinds of bigotted writings and racist incantations and move on to forge a better Malaysia for Malaysians.

This is the response I posted over at Hartal MSM, which I reproduce here FYI:

Thanks for your comment, Paul. Yes, it is tempting to brush aside SAA and other BN cyber-troopers as idiots. However, I can see some parallels between our situation in Malaysia today and Germany, during the rise of Nazism:
  1. Political leaders who have no qualms about demonising minorities in order to hold on to power (e.g. Nazi anti-semitism)
  2. Promotion (and acceptance) of racist and supremacist ideologies e.g. Aryan Supremacy and Lebensraum) as "OK" or necessary
  3. Media (mainstream and cybertroopers) becoming propagandists for their ideology
  4. The rise of organisations that threaten and intimidate other citizens with violence just to prevent them from exercising their rights (ala the brownshirts and SS)
The BN owned MSM and cybertroopers seem to be applying lessons from Nazi propaganda well; as Hitler wrote in chapter IV of Mein Kampf:

"Propaganda must always address itself to the broad masses of the people. (...) All propaganda must be presented in a popular form and must fix its intellectual level so as not to be above the heads of the least intellectual of those to whom it is directed. (...) The art of propaganda consists precisely in being able to awaken the imagination of the public through an appeal to their feelings, in finding the appropriate psychological form that will arrest the attention and appeal to the hearts of the national masses. The broad masses of the people are not made up of diplomats or professors of public jurisprudence nor simply of persons who are able to form reasoned judgment in given cases, but a vacillating crowd of human children who are constantly wavering between one idea and another. (...) The great majority of a nation is so feminine in its character and outlook that its thought and conduct are ruled by sentiment rather than by sober reasoning. This sentiment, however, is not complex, but simple and consistent. It is not highly differentiated, but has only the negative and positive notions of love and hatred, right and wrong, truth and falsehood."

As to the methods to be employed, he explained:

"Propaganda must not investigate the truth objectively and, in so far as it is favourable to the other side, present it according to the theoretical rules of justice; yet it must present only that aspect of the truth which is favourable to its own side. (...) The receptive powers of the masses are very restricted, and their understanding is feeble. On the other hand, they quickly forget. Such being the case, all effective propaganda must be confined to a few bare essentials and those must be expressed as far as possible in stereotyped formulas. These slogans should be persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward. (...) Every change that is made in the subject of a propagandist message must always emphasize the same conclusion. The leading slogan must of course be illustrated in many ways and from several angles, but in the end one must always return to the assertion of the same formula."

Do these similarities mean that Malaysia will inevitably become a fascist state? I don't think so, but we ignore these signs at our peril. Let's not forget that the Nazis were (also) viewed with disdain as harmless idiots, just before they were able to take Germany over.

I believe that the way to pre-empt this danger to Malaysia, is not by us becoming the mirror image of the BN cyber-trooper; using their tactics for our cause. Rather, we need to "change the game" by calmly, rationally and with goodwill towards all, engaging Malaysians from all walks of life, building social capital, exposing BN propaganda for what it is, and laying out our case for change.

"Vibrant Democracy Requires Eternal Vigilance"


Friday, August 14, 2009

You can never Win with a Bigot - My Response to "OutSyed the Box: Is The DAP A Chauvinist Party?"

This is my Response to "OutSyed the Box: Is The DAP A Chauvinist Party?" by Syed Akbar Ali (SAA, or Tuan Syed)

Dear Reader, allow me to to share a "joke" with you. Two waiters were talking about the diners they were serving that evening:
Waiter A: There's a large party at my table. I'll get a good tip tonight for sure.
Waiter B: Don't hold your breath, buddy. They're all X (insert name of group here), everyone knows that X are cheapskates.

Later that night...

Waiter A: Hey, I got a really nice tip from them! They weren't cheapskates at all!
Waiter B: Of course you got a "big tip", sucker. Everyone knows those X control all our money anyway!
As far as waiter B is concerned, the X are damned if they do and damned if they don't. He has made up his mind and no truth can change it. He is a caricature of a bigot, i.e. one who is strongly partial to one's own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ. Bigots never let facts, reason and logic get in the way of what they want to believe; after all, why should they, when it's so much easier to find crooked thinking and dishonest arguments enough to support their bigotry?

Bigotry is spreading fast in our blogosphere, on both sides of the political divide; I believe that SAA's blog entry of 31 July 2009 is but one example of it. The purpose of the post in question seems to be to imply that the DAP is chauvinist, anti-Malay and anti-Islam.

Let's look at some of the things SAA wrote, beginning with this about Lim Guan Eng (LGE): "Lim Guan Eng made a public display of standing up for a young Malay girl because the fellow involved was Rahim Tamby Chik, Guan Eng’s nemesis in Melaka at that time. Would Lim Guan Eng have made the same stand if it was not Rahim Tamby Chik? What if it was Chua Soi Lek?" So, according to SAA, if someone like LGE speaks up for a Malay girl, he/she is only motivated by political and/or racial motivations, never by principle or more nobler aims.

Yet, five paragraphs later, he is taking Theresa Kok to task for (supposedly) doing the exact opposite: NOT speaking up for a Malay girl! He writes: "Then it came to pass that the girl was not Chinese but actually a Malay girl, also wearing a tudung, who was a suspected drug addict. Not surprisingly that also marked the end of Theresa Kok's involvement in the matter. She dropped the case like a hot potato."

Doesn't it seem like whatever a DAP politician says or does, SAA can find a way construe it to imply that they are opportunist, racist and/or worse? How convenient!

Let's look at another example of SAA's logic. Of LGE's conviction for sedition over the case allegedly involving Rahim Tamby Chik, he wrote: "By the way none of his lawyers (or even DAP) spoke of conspiracy, crooked judges etc after the verdict. Does anyone know the name of the judge who jailed Guan Eng? Crooked judge? How come DAP never said so?" He seems to be implying that LGE, his party and his lawyers have implicitly admitted his guilt because they (supposedly) did not dispute the judges verdict. Yet, in his post "The Solution To The Perak Crisis" of 12 May 2009, SAA criticised Perak PR leaders for disputing court decisions that were unfavourable to them!

There's just no way to win with Tuan Syed, is there? We're damned if we do, and damned if we don't! Would it be in any way unreasonable to suspect that SAA would have found a way to criticise LGE, even if he (LGE) had disputed his conviction?

SAA's arguments that I've described above, are all based on just one of the 38 dishonest tricks commonly used in arguments, namely no. 38: attributing prejudice or motives to opponents, without any evidence in support. That's easy to do, but by neglecting to go beyond smear tactics, such an argument does not consider the action or argument on its own merits. It also ignores the various possible real reasons a person acts or speaks in a particular way.

Let's look at another example by SAA, based on the same dishonest trick. SAA writes this about Lim Kit Siang (LKS): "In Bamiyan the Buddha statues were blown up but no one died. 11 Press statements were made by Kit Siang. In the destruction of the Babri Mosque, 2000 people were also massacred but no Press statement from Lim Kit Siang." SAA uses these facts to imply that LKS, and by extension the DAP, is anti-Malay, anti-Islam and chauvinist.

Now, if LKS had issued a statement SUPPORTING the destruction of the Babri Mosque by Hindu fanatics and the subsequent massacre of Muslims, then SAA's implication would have been very credible. However, as it stands, SAA has merely attributed, again, without evidence, a DAP leader's action (inaction, in this case) to prejudices or dishonourable motives.

This particular game can be played, with almost any combination of organisation, person and causes, until the cows come home. To see how ridiculous SAA's argument is, let's apply his logic, along with some of his own words to, let's say, Tun Dr. Mahathir (TDM). TDM launched SAA's book recently, and seems to be a person whom SAA admires very much; as he wrote here "If we had a 100 Vincent Tans and just one more Dr. Mahathir our country will be fine".

TDM, either personally and through his organisation, the Perdana Global Peace Organisation, has made numerous statements against the Israeli oppression of Palestinians. To paraphrase SAA, I congratulate TDM for his concern. Well done. However, how many statements has TDM made against the oppression of Christians in Pakistan? Can anyone guess? The answer is none. Since Tuan Syed had no qualms about arguing thus against LKS, would he also believe that TDM is anti Christian? Of course he wouldn't; the argument is preposterous.

My question to SAA is this: WHY does the shoe have to be put on the other foot before he realises the patent unfairness of his arguments? Isn't it a moral failing if one is unable to feel the unfairness and injustice felt by others in a situation, until and unless one's own interests are affected?

To be fair, Tuan Syed has not always written like this; indeed, he used to be one of the better bloggers out there. Even when I disagree with his point of view and conclusions, I used to find his blog entries well argued and if nothing else, principled. If you don't believe me, just take a look at here, here and even here; some antipathy towards DSAI and PR perhaps, but that's not a crime, is it? I could never find a crooked thought in them. For him to have sunk this low within the last couple of months, is saddening.

In my opinion, this recent blog post of SAA's represents the worst of what the Malaysian blogosphere is becoming: a seedy back alley for spreading bigotry, with spin, smear, insinuation and dishonest arguments; all done for partisan interests. An example of this is the effort by pro-BN bloggers and the BN owned mainstream media to paint PR as anti Islam and anti Malay. Tuan Syed seems to have jumped onto this particular bandwagon with much gusto.

Democracy needs a forum for open minds to honestly discuss and debate issues of National interest, as we work towards a Malaysia that is free from racism, bigotry, corruption, oppression, bad governance and tainted judiciary. Bigotry, on either side of the political divide, will destroy our blogosphere; it has already infected our mainstream media and blighted inter-community relations in the past, with dire consequences. If we care for our Nation's future, we need to reclaim this space for enlightened public discourse.

All of us have our own political beliefs and affiliations, there's nothing wrong with that. However, whatever those beliefs are, we have a responsibility to argue our cases justly and honestly; if not to our readers, then at least for the sake of our own conscience. SAA ends his post by writing: "So this may throw some light if the DAP is anti Malay, anti Islam, chauvinist etc." No, Tuan Syed, your words do not throw any light at all on the character of your intended victims, but they do reveal much about your own.

Malaysian Heart