BTN up in the Air, the writing is on the wall for BTN


Video:

https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2018/05/29/the-writing-is-on-btns-wall-controversial-agency-has-a-good-chance-of-being-shut-down/

In the 44 years since it began, the National Civics Bureau has evolved into a racial and propaganda machine of sorts. The Biro Tatanegara may
be in its last days as the Government plans to review its relevance in multiracial Malaysia.

 The writing is on the wall for BTN

PETALING JAYA: The days of the National Civics Bureau or Biro Tatanegara (BTN) seem numbered with the Government to look into whether it should keep or abolish the controversial agency.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said BTN and several other government bodies had been turned into political tools by the previous Barisan Nasional government.

“All this will be studied, we may maintain or abolish it. We found that there are many agencies which have been set up not (to benefit) the government but Barisan; but they use government money to pay salaries,” Dr Mahathir told a media conference after chairing the Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia supreme council meeting.

Dr Mahathir, who is Pribumi chairman, was responding to a question on the fate of BTN following the Government’s move to abolish several other taxpayer-supported bodies, namely the National Council of Professors and the Special Affairs Department (Jasa).
Set up in 1974 to promote patriotism, BTN has come under fire over the years after numerous complaints about it promoting racial hatred.

The Pakatan Harapan Government in its election manifesto has pledged to dissolve the agency which it said had become a political agent for Umno.

PKR vice-president Nurul Izzah Anwar said the abuse of BTN by the previous government was possible grounds to shut it down.

“How many propaganda and brainwashing agencies do we require? BTN has not done much to inculcate a sense of patriotism or belonging,” she said.

The bureau’s director-general Datuk Ibrahim Saad could not be reached for comment.

BTN, which is under the Prime Minister’s Department, conducts courses for civil servants, government scholarship holders and selected students from colleges and universities.

According to DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang, the budgets for BTN multiplied 10-fold in the 1990s (RM200mil) compared to the 1980s (RM20mil), and continued to increase.

From 2010 to 2015, the allocation for BTN totalled some RM365mil.

Veteran journalist Datuk A. Kadir Jasin said it would not be surprising for the bureau to be shuttered.

“If BTN performed a political task and if the Government has already decided to close down other (similar) agencies such as Jasa, then I would imagine that it’s not hard to predict that BTN would or should suffer a similar fate,” said Kadir.

The Pakatan election manifesto stated that Umno and Barisan had abused government programmes to spread narrow ethno-religious politics to influence youths.

“The Pakatan Harapan Government will dissolve the bureau, which over the years had become a cheap political agent for Umno,” it said.

PKR Youth leader Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, who has called for a shutdown of BTN, recounted his own experience with it.

He was a student when he attended one of the BTN camps back in 2003.

“I found the whole affair racial and political in nature. (There were) racial, religious bigotry and hatred against PKR, PAS, and DAP mainly.

“BTN was formed for political purposes. It is outdated. Schools, hospitals and universities need money, so let’s prioritise,” he said.

MCA publicity spokesman Datuk Seri Ti Lian Ker said a thorough review of BTN should be conducted before a decision is made.

“There are institutions we can save instead of just being shut down. We need to ensure they are independent and free to pursue positive progressive ideas,” he said.

Ti said a number of institutions started out well but was hijacked along the way by the political masters.

“A lot of this happened during Dr Mahathir’s time, so it is good for him to remedy these issues,” he said.

Umno information chief Tan Sri Annuar Musa said the Government could do what it wished with the bureau.

“My view is very simple; they have the mandate, they are free to do it,” said Annuar.

Parti Rakyat Sarawak president Tan Sri James Masing said the functions of BTN needed to be reviewed in order to reflect Malaysian society.

“The multiracial nature of our society must be strengthened and reflected in every nook and corner of our nation. No one race can claim ownership of this nation,” he said.

Sarawak United People’s Party Youth chief Michael Tiang said any agency that promoted racism and intolerance should be reviewed or even abolished. “Racism and intolerance are never part of the Malaysian spirit,” he said.
Souces : The Star by razak ahmad, sharon ling, hemananthani sivanandam, rashvinjeet s. bedi, hanis zainal, n. trisha

BTN course was a nightmare, says participant

PETALING JAYA: She penned down her experiences attending a team-building course with Biro Tatanegara (BTN) in her diary. And it was not pleasant.
Sahana, as she wanted to be known, recounted how one of the lecturers had picked on her physical appearance.
During one session, the lecturer even poked fun at some of the participants as a way of engaging the class.
“He would say things like ‘ah yang pendek tu, bangun (you, the short one, stand up).”
“I as seated next to an Indian girl when he pointed at my direction. When
I turned to the girl next to me, he said ‘ awak lah, yang hitam, besar tu’ (you, the dark and big sized one) to indicate that he was directing the question to me,” said Sahana, who is now a communication executive.
Sahana, 36, was a first year college student then. Her college had informed the
students that they had to attend a series of lectures and team building
exercises at a camp in Johor.
“We were looking forward to it because we were there with our peers and it was a
long trip away from home. For some of us, it was our first excursion out
of state so we were excited,” she said.
However, the excitement did not last long. The lecturer’s comments embarrassed
Sahana, who cried in class but others including the lecturer just
laughed at her.
“I already had this complex about being a plus size, so naturally, when remarks like that were made, it really hurt me.
“It was a big hit to my self-confidence,” she said, adding that she felt that being dark skinned and large was a big sin.
Sahana wondered why physical appearance and skin colour were highlighted at
the camp that was actually meant to teach participants values and instil
patriotism.
Sahana also found insensitivity when it came to food being served as beef was given to them.
“Not that I am complaining but it made me wonder back then; how a Hindu,
Buddhist or vegetarian would survive when beef was the main dish
served?” she asked.
A parent wrote to The Star to complain that her son was “hounded” for being Indian.
“Throughout the five-day course, he and other Indian participants were constantly
hounded about the actions of the Hindraf movement.
“His friends and him are not supporters nor sympathisers of the group. Yet,
they felt disappointed at the way the instructors kept harping on the
issue at every turn and opportunity,” the mother wrote.
Another parent echoed the sentiment, saying that participants were repeatedly
reminded of the “social contact” in the formation of the country.
“Throughout the five days of the course, participants are repeatedly told not to
question Malay rights and so on,” said the parent, adding that even
Malay friends of the family were upset by the programme’s content.
There, however, were praises for the programme.
“I must say that there were many great people there, especially the
facilitator in my group. I have heard many unpleasant things about it
and I don’t understand why.
“During my stint, I learnt many things from my facilitator, not only of a better
understanding of Malaysia but also the spirit of a Malaysian.
“We, the non-Malays, really appreciated him as our facilitator. We never
felt aggrieved or hurt. Through him, we learnt unity, not disunity,”
wrote a participant.
Another participant wrote of learning more about Malaysia at the programme.
“I learnt more of our own country while having a great time throughout the
activities and group-learning sessions filled with good values,” the
participant said.
How many propaganda and brainwashing agencies do we require… BTN has not done much to inculcate a sense of patriotism or belonging. – Nurul Izzah, PKR vice-president

If the BTN performed a political task and if the Government has already decided to close down other (similar) agencies such as Jasa (Special  Affairs Department), then I would imagine that it’s not hard to predict that BTN would or should suffer a similar fate. – Datuk A. Kadir
Jasin, veteran journalist

I found the whole affair racial and political in nature. (There were)
racial, religious bigotry and hatred against PKR, PAS, and DAP mainly. –
Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, PKR Youth leader
There are institutions we can save instead of just being shut down. We need to ensure that they are independent and free to pursue positive progressive ideas. – Datuk Seri Ti Lian Ker, MCA publicity spokesman

‘Move to shut down BTN unreasonable’

PETALING JAYA: While the National Civics Bureau or Biro Tatanegara (BTN)
has drawn flak over the years, there was an effort to improve the body.Umno member Datuk Lokman Noor Adam, who was involved in BTN, said complaints against the bureau had prompted the Government to set up a panel about three years ago to seek improvements.Lokman, who was on the panel, said new modules were then drawn up for BTN.He hit out at the current Government, which he claimed was out to shut
down all agencies perceived to have strengthened the position of Barisan
Nasional.“I am sure that their next target will include Jakim (Department of Islamic Development Malaysia), Mara, Tekun (Entrepreneur Development Centre), Mara Junior Science Colleges, Universiti Teknologi Mara and others,” said Lokman.

Former Kepong MP Dr Tan Seng Giaw, who was also on the panel to rebrand
BTN, said the bureau needed to represent the country’s plural society.“This is 2018 and yet there are Malays, Chinese and Indians whosay racial things. So I told the panel – let’s try to reduce this.“Let’s emphasise tatanegara, which means the discipline of a nation. Let’s make this whole thing non-racial.”He said he was not sure whether his suggestions were subsequentlytaken up, adding that other panellists also gave some good ideas.Dr Tan said BTN should only be closed if efforts to change it failed.

“If we are to shut down everything we don’t like, then why not close ministries and everything else?

“If it is impossible to revive the BTN, then it is reasonable to shut it down. But this is not a question that it cannot be revived but of getting the policy right,” said Dr Tan.

 

Related:
Related posts:

Controversial: The BTN has been accused of promoting racism, bigotry, disunity and intolerance in the name of
instilling patriotism t…

https://youtu.be/fCZj0DuDNUk Robert Kuok attends CEP meeting Najib arrives at MACC HQ to have his statement recorded ..

https://youtu.be/Joi3euZ6DIUhttps://youtu.be/_drCqrquWPM PUTRAJAYA: On top of paying RM6.98bil to bail out 1Malaysia Developmen…
Analysts say new government needs to quickly introduce measures to reduce the country’s liabilities ASSUMING the government repays it…
All ears : Bai Tian listening to Kuok during their meeting https://youtu.be/CSUH-WbR2ek PETALING JAYA: The return of billionai…
https://youtu.be/ZKoNfVcq5EQ PUTRAJAYA: Newly appointed Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief commissioner Datuk Seri Mohd…
Advertisements

Beware of meddling via soft power !


MEDDLING by foreign powers is an established phenomenon for as long as one can remember. They are not limited only to the Muslim countries and communities. For example, last year at the Seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama City, President Barack Obama indirectly admitted this when he publicly stated that the days of US interference in the affairs of Latin America were coming to an end. Reportedly, he said, “the days in which our agenda in this hemisphere presumed that the United States could meddle with impunity, those days are past”. Some traced this to as far back as the conquest of the Americas by the Europeans in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries especially after its so-called “discovery” by Columbus. Perhaps, the major difference is that there are many more Latin American leaders and populace who are more “resolute” than their Muslim counterparts in resisting any attempt to meddle.

More generally “colonialism” is one form of meddling that many parts of the world have experienced, and are still suffering from it. Malaysia is no exception, no denying that there are some benefits to be learnt from the process. But where it hits the “mind” is where it is more toxic to the extent that it can debilitate. Even long after achieving independence the “colonised” mindsets are still clearly felt whether at the level of the leadership or the population at large. The post-Merdeka generations are more vulnerable when they are shut out from the larger discourse affecting the future of the nation, ironically due to yet another form of “meddling” that left them disenfranchised. In the days of social media, the impact of this can be phenomenal, what with other contending parties that are more than eager to attract their attention, as we have seen recently.

Social media is an excellent platform for yet another form of meddling – soft power. Coined a few years ago, soft power describes “the ability to attract and co-opt using persuasion (mind-twisting) rather than by coercion, notably by bullying and arm-twisting (hard power). To the disenfranchised, soft power is said to be very appealing especially when “credibility is the scarcest resource”, as explained by Joseph Nye, who introduces the concept. In fact more recently, the term has expanded to include “changing and influencing social and public opinion through relatively less transparent channels and lobbying through powerful political and non-political organisations.”

Of the six factors that are often associated with enhancing soft power, education and culture seem to be pivotal. In other words, meddling can be carried out discreetly using these two dimensions. Indeed, Nye did suggest how higher education leaders might enhance American soft power by increasing international student and cultural exchange programmes. Viewed this way, soft power is a very subtle extension of the colonial process without even realising it. A case in point is when in 2007 the Rand Corporation in the US developed a “road map” for the construction of moderate Muslim networks and institutions “that the US government and its allies need, but thus far have failed, to develop clear criteria for partnerships with authentic moderates”. It therefore proposes “the building of moderate Muslim networks an explicit goal of US government programmes”.

More explicitly, it listed who the “moderates” are to be targeted according to priority, namely: liberal and secular Muslim academics and intellectuals, young moderate religious scholars, community activists, women’s groups engaged in gender equality campaigns, and finally moderate journalists and writers. It argued that “the US should ensure visibility and platforms for these individuals.” For example, to ensure that individuals from these groups are “included in congressional visits, making them better known to policymakers and helping to maintain US support and resources for the public diplomacy effort.” If these sound like “meddling”, it is because it is one – effectively disguised as “soft power”. It is without doubt, yet another attempt among many to continuously interfere and manipulate the situation from the perspective of the authors and the sponsoring institution. Despite this it is very sad if Muslims are oblivious to the sleight of hand, and succumb to the form of endless meddling. Only to realise that it causes more confusion and divisiveness among the community.

In the days ahead before Aug 31, it is incumbent upon us to deeply ponder what Merdeka means beyond the routine parade and march-past, flag-raising ceremony and singing the national anthem.

By Dzulkifli Abdul Razak, theSundaily

With some four decades of experience in education, the writer believes that “another world is possible”. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

Related :

N. Korea to take ‘physical action’ over US anti-missile system

China, Russia should join to foil THAAD –It is highly impossible that the US will set up a reliable global anti-missile system.

 

Tokyo’s provocations lead to tit-for-tat responses

It is Tokyo’s intransigence that is to blame for much of the tension that has arisen with China in recent years over islands in the East China Sea.

Tokyo should not try to lead Manila astray

Both Beijing and Manila have kept a low profile over the visit of former Philippine president Fidel Ramos to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in the past couple of days, but his mission has been evident: to seek the possibility of easing the strained bilateral
relations.

 Related posts:

Pawn of the USA Public opinion in the Republic of Korea is divided over whether the deployment of the United States’ Terminal
Hig…

Tokyo hype Once again, in its latest defense white paper, Japan has shamelessly accused China of jeopardizing regional peace and stabi…

Jul 22, 2016 More than 2,000 people from Seongju county, where one THAAD battery will be
deployed, gathered at a square in Seoul for a rally on …

Jul 19, 2016 South China Sea arbitration award won’t hamper China-ASEAN cooperation: ….
China hardens after illegal tribunal ruling on South China Sea. PLA Air Force conducts combat air patrol in South China SeaJul 19, 2016 … South China Sea arbitration award won’t hamperChina-ASEAN cooperation: …. China hardens after illegal tribunalruling on South China Sea.
Jul 18, 2016 China hardens after questionable tribunal ruling on South China Sea …. Permanent Court of Arbitration clarifies role in South China Sea case THE  HAGUE, July 16 … 不合法的裁决不过废纸一张, Illegal ruling but a waste paper.

No room for an Islamic State (IS) and the racists in multiracial Malaysia


Let not the first brick be laid

THREE issues that have surfaced over the past week have terribly disturbed me and I am sure many Malaysians who are rational, reasonable and fair-minded feel the same way. More than that, these actions are slowly eroding the Malaysia that we know.

Minister in charge of Islamic Affairs Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom told Parliament that unilateral conversions are lawful and gua­ranteed under the Federal Constitution.

This writer does not know if Jamil understood what he was reading out, which was presumably prepared by an official, or if he had referred to the Cabinet papers or read up on the Federal Constitution.

There is a 2009 Cabinet directive on uni­lateral conversion and early this year, a five-member Cabinet committee on unilateral conversion also decided that no child can be converted to another religion without the consent of both parents.

The 2009 Cabinet directive also stipulated that children must follow the practised religion of the parents at the time of marriage in the event that one of them converts.

Surely Jamil must be aware of the committee because he is also a member. Among the others in the panel are Transport Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Tan Sri Joseph Kurup.

The other members of the committee are Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz, de facto law minister Nancy Shukri, and Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam.

Jamil and his officials cannot read the Federal Constitution – specifically the provision for conversion – in isolation.

The argument of the singular meaning for “parent” does not hold water as the Interpretation Act 1948 & 1967 clearly indicates otherwise; the term “parent” in Article 12 (4) must necessarily mean both the father and mother.

To construe otherwise would mean depriving, for example, a mother of her rights as a parent to choose the religion of her infant under Article 12 (4), if the father alone decides. In simple English, the Interpretation Act stipulates “parent” to mean plural, not singular.

The Interpretation Acts of 1948 and 1967, which generally apply to all Acts of Parliament, state that words in the singular shall include the plural. Therefore, the Constitution ought to be interpreted in like manner.

Jamil should also put himself in the shoes of other Malaysians, especially non-Muslims. He may be in charge of Islamic Affairs but he is also a leader of all Malaysians.

I don’t think Jamil will be a happy man if his spouse makes a decision without telling him, and we are not even talking about religious issues.

Lest we forget, the Federal Court has ruled that Hindu mother M. Indira Gandhi is allowed to challenge the validity of the unilateral conversion of her three children by her Muslim-convert ex-husband Muhammad Riduan.

The ruling is the culmination of the interfaith custody battle between Indira and Muhammad Riduan that began in 2009. They were married as Hindus and today, no one has been able to trace the whereabouts of Muhammad Riduan (formerly K. Pathmanathan), who had converted the couple’s three children – then aged 12, 11 and 11 months – to Islam without their presence or Indira’s knowledge, just six days before he obtained a custody order for all three in the Syariah Court on April 8, 2009.

Another big surprise last week was the Government’s decision to allow PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang to table a Private Member’s Bill in the Dewan Rakyat to amend the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965.

On Thursday, it was at the bottom of the day’s agenda but it was prioritized by two Federal Ministers. It came as a surprise because PAS has brought the Private Member’s Bill four times since 1995, and has never succeeded. On Thurday, Hadi got this first step.

We can be sure that Hadi will repeat his mantra that the Bill only seeks to empower the Syariah Courts and it only involves Muslims.

When tabling the Bill, he said it seeks to amend Section 2 of the Act to state that the Syariah Courts will have jurisdiction over Muslims, and in the case of offences on matters listed in Item 1 of the State List under the Ninth Schedule of Federal Laws.

He said it is also to include Section 2A, which states that in the conduct of criminal law under Section 2A, the Syariah Courts have the right to impose penalties allowed by Syariah laws related to offences listed in the said section, in addition to the death penalty.

What Hadi is pushing for is unacceptable. We live in a plural society. Those who argue that the Syariah law is only for Muslims may have missed this point – can anyone in Malaysia guarantee that crimes would only involve Muslim criminals and victims?

Many kinds of criminal acts affect non-Muslims, including rape. If we follow what Hadi is preaching – we will have to find four male witnesses of repute to testify in a rape case. Women witnesses are not accepted and we wonder where we are going to find four men of good reputation in relation to a rape case.

If non-Muslims already find that judges in civil courts are reluctant to adopt a firm stand on the civil rights of the aggrieved non-Muslim party, we wonder how the Syariah Courts can defend the interest of non-Muslims.

There cannot be a parallel criminal justice system with Muslims and non-Muslims subjected to two different laws. This is not about Islam, as advocated by Hadi and PAS, but simple common sense. But of course, common sense is not that common in PAS but we hope there will be a sense of fair play from Umno, and not the agenda dictated by the likes of Jamil. Sometimes we wonder if Jamil is really from Umno or PAS.

The third disappointment must be a speech made by Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaacob, the controversial Rural and Regional Development Minister, who is well known for his communal remarks.

Last week, he reminded his listeners that Malays must unite to prevent non-Muslims from becoming Prime Minister because the Federal Constitution is silent on the racial origin of the top boss.

First of all, I cannot imagine any non-Malay aspiring to be the PM because, accept it, realistically it is not going to happen in my lifetime. It took 200 years in the United States for a black man to become president, even when the whites and blacks are mainly Christians and speak English.

But it is sad that in this age and time, Ismail is still looking inward and seeing things through his racist lens. Surely, he must have applauded when a Muslim became the first mayor of London, and for that matter, the first mayor in a big Western city.

Even in Jakarta, the capital of the world’s largest Muslim country, a Christian Chinese has been voted in as the city’s governor.

The non-Malays, especially the Chinese, are aware of their position as a minority in Malaysia. Politicians like Ismail should stop using phrases like “they” and “us” in his speeches, because we are all Malaysians.

What he has said serves little purpose, except to hurt feelings unnecessarily. A true mature Malaysian leader will talk about the strength of all Malaysians, regardless of their race and religion, coming together and not going separate ways.

As one lawyer put it aptly in his article, Malaysia is represented by at least 45% of the population who have faiths other than Islam. The important question one needs to address is the line between maintaining social stability and securing individual rights of religious practice and freedom of religion.

He further added, “this needs to be re-evaluated – where the politicisation of the Muslim rights over the non-Muslim citizens and fear mongering has had considerable effect in defining the parameters of the fundamental rights afforded to the citizen by the Constitution.”

Three months from now, Malaysia will celebrate its National Day. As we replay the old visual of Tunku Abdul Rahman raising his hand at Stadium Merdeka, let us not forget that the Alliance created Malaysia as a secular democracy.

Tunku would have been horrified at the thought of what Hadi and his PAS theolo­gians want to do with Malaysia.

He would have also reminded a few Umno leaders, who have no sense of history, that our Independence was made possible because of the unity of Umno, MCA and MIC, and that without Sabah and Sarawak, there would be no Malaysia.

So please think carefully of the hearts and minds of the rest of Malaysians who do not live in Kelantan and do not want to see Malaysia turned into an Islamic State. Let not the first brick be laid.

By Wong Chun Wai The Star

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.

 

Related:

 

Malaysia’s pragmatic patriot: friends with benefits


 

The South China Sea dispute. The global terrorism threat. Malaysia’s foreign policy is back in the world’s spotlight and it is exciting times for ISIS Malaysia’s Foreign Policy and Security Studies chief.

IN an article titled “Think tanks aren’t going extinct. But they have to evolve”, American scholar James Jay Carafano wrote that the capacity to do rigorous, credible research is “no longer sufficient” for think tanks to manoeuvre their ideas prominently into the policy debate. Instead, think tanks must learn to communicate “in ways that will allow their ideas to break through to decision-makers who are bombarded with information from all sides”.

In that regard, Elina Noor has proven to be a real asset to Malaysia’s premier think tank, the Institute of Strategic and Interna­tional Studies, or ISIS Malaysia. Her ability to articulate on complex and dynamic global affairs – such as major power relations, cyber warfare, terrorism and conflicts – in succinct yet jargon-free language has also made her a highly sought-after interviewee by the international media.

As a child, Elina wanted to be “everything”, from prime minister to fashion designer. Her parents, who ran a management consultancy firm, however, might have subconsciously put her on her career path by leaving the world news on television all the time when she was growing up.

“My parents would engage in lively debates about international affairs between themselves. As I grew older, I wanted to do law with an eye towards international law, specifically how war and conflict affect people.”

After graduating from Oxford University in the United Kingdom, she specialised in public international law at the London School of Economics and Political Science. This was followed by an internship at the Centre for Non-proliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Washington DC, specialising in issues of weapons of mass destruction terrorism.

Essentially, she helped compile a database of terrorist groups with chemical or bioweapons capabilities by combing through secondary sources and obtaining intelligence from experts who had gone into the field.

Her days in the United States were cut short, however, by visa limitations. So, after nine months, she returned to Malaysia in 2001.

Her appetite whetted by her Washington experience, Elina joined ISIS Malaysia as a researcher.

Though formally positioned as a research organisation for nation-building initiatives, ISIS Malaysia was set up by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in 1983 to serve as a crucial sounding board for the government on foreign policy and security issues.

In addition to research, ISIS Malaysia engages actively in non-governmental meetings between states, known as Track Two diplomacy, and fosters closer regional integration and international cooperation through forums such as the Asia-Pacific Roundtable.

Now, having risen through the ranks, Elina heads a team of eight in the Foreign Policy and Security Studies division.

As a claimant state in the ongoing South China Sea dispute, chair of the Association of South-East Asian Nations in 2015, and currently a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Malaysia’s foreign policy direction has drawn renewed interest at home and abroad.

Invariably, Elina is asked questions on Malaysia’s relations with China. Her answer is perhaps best laid out in an article she wrote, titled “Friends with Benefits: Why Malaysia can and will maintain good ties with both the United States and China.”

On the topic, Elina had explained: “Malaysia should or will be subservient to an awakening dragon, but the cost-benefit calculus militates against provoking it. Equally, Malaysia’s location and posture make it a strategic partner for China in South-East Asia.

“It is the mark of a mature and solid friendship when overall relations are not held hostage to single-issue disagreements.”

Elina had added that such overlapping claims in the South China Sea, “should not, if managed well, stultify cooperation between Malaysia and China in other areas of the relationship. For a developing country with high-income and knowledge-economy ambitions like Malaysia, the show must go on”.

Or to put it simply, Malaysia wants to be everybody’s friend. That’s always been the country’s foreign policy from the start, she points out.

On the other hand, this pragmatic approach has also enabled the country to punch above its weight in places where even superpowers fear to tread.

Elina’s other portfolio, cyber warfare and security, is expected to come further into the spotlight with recent headlines claiming that the so-called Islamic State extremist group in Iraq and Syria intended to abduct top Malaysian leaders, including the PM.

“Malaysia up to this point has handled terrorism very well,” Elina says.

Many attempts have been foiled in the past, she adds, and the police have kept it low-key.

“If you follow the issues closely, you’ll notice the police only started publicising their efforts in the run-up to Pota (The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015), an anti-terrorism law passed by the Malaysian government on April 7, 2015 enabling the Malaysian authorities to detain terror suspects without trial for a period of two years.”

Part of this publicising had to do with the political selling of Pota, but there was a more legitimate, pressing reason: People were taking security for granted in Malaysia.

“Malaysians treat security like it’s not a problem. We often criticise the police but the military and Special Branch in charge of counterterrorism really know what they’re doing. The police have been very vigilant and I think they do good work but haven’t been given enough credit.”

After 14 years, she still enjoys her job because of the intellectual robustness but admits some world-weariness has set in.

Nevertheless, Elina remains motivated by the knowledge that a lot of good Malaysians on both sides of the political divide are doing good work for the country.

Pointing to a faded wristband she has been wearing for “donkey’s years”, the inscription reads: “Malaysia tanahairku (Malaysia, my homeland)”.

“Call me cheesy,” she says, “but I’ve never thought of removing it. Love for country might, but does not always, equate to love for government. I’m a sentimental patriot.”

By Alexandra Wong, China Daily/Asia News Network

Assalamualaikum: Islamisation of Malaysia


The role and impact of Islam in Malaysian politics

In his latest book, former law minister and current opposition party member Zaid Ibrahim explores the nature of political Islamisation and what it means for Malaysia. Photo: The Star/ Izzrafiq Alias

Assalamualaikum: Observations On The Islamisation Of Malaysia

Zaid Ibrahim is quite a character. Lawyer-turned-government-minister-turned-opposition-party-member, and he had time to head his own political party on top of that. That’s quite a CV. That’s someone worth having a teh tarik with.

For the time being, we have to make do with Assalamualaikum, his latest collection of essays exploring the contradiction between the laws of God and the laws of man in Malaysia. Subtitled “Observations on the Islamisation of Malaysia”, it gives a strong indication which side of the fence he sits on.

As with most books, it starts at the beginning, with a brief history of Islam in Malaysia. He focuses on some history in there, and says that Malaysia has now adopted “political Islam”, influenced by a Saudi Wahhabism style. He then contrasts this with practices and policies in other Muslim countries, some of which would also claim to be Islamic despite also seeming more liberal.

The impact of this politicisation is explored further in the second chapter entitled “Education, culture, economy”. It is a sober (some may say “cynical”) view about what happens when you mix religion and politics, and his points are fired as a broadside. “In Malaysia,” he writes, “Islamisation has been the main cause of the deterioration we have seen in our education standards.”

On the cultural transformation in Malaysia, he bemoans the loss of local cultures and festivals since they have been deemed “not Islamic”. He writes, “(Islamists in Malaysia) think that if Malays can remove all traces of the past and embrace Wahhabism, then their world will be truly Islamic. This is what Pol Pot in Cambodia believed too.”

The third chapter is on Shariah law in Malaysia and its apparent clash with the Federal Constitution. Being a lawyer, he delves into some detail in what he sees as a deterioration of the ideals laid out in the Federal Constitution, aided by the willingness of the courts to bow to their political masters (despite the theoretical separation of powers that exists). He posits that Islam has been used as a political tool, writing “it is clear that in Malaysia, the authorities have the power to use Islam as a means of controlling Muslims”.

By the time we reach the book’s conclusion, he presents a sentiment that could apply to any religion: “Islam is perfect, but humanity is not”.

As it is, this book gives a good overview of the role and impact of Islam in Malaysian politics, even if it is intrinsically biased. Unfortunately, in the same way that the author criticises some Islamists as being broad in their understanding but without much depth, Assalamualaikum doesn’t really give the reader great insight into its issues. Apart from some ideas in the chapter on law, things are just boldly stated and are expected to be taken at face value.

Perhaps this apparent brevity is understandable given that it is a collection of essays that cover many topics quickly. But what is truly unfortunate is that it feels like we have not been given the full benefit of the author’s political experience.

This is somebody who has stood on both sides of the political divide, and was even the Law Minister at one point. He would have been privy to a large number of internal debates on the issues and might even have helped shape policy.

From my experience working on projects involving government agencies, what most people understand of how public policy is formed is almost always wrong. What can seem callous and short-sighted is in fact usually tempered by a hundred factors – pressure from conflicting parties, horse-trading to gain benefits elsewhere, even sometimes just the accident of being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Much happens out of view, and Zaid must have seen and argued about issues and policies. But he gives almost none of this away.

And when it comes to answering, “What next?” – when his experience would have counted for the most – he chooses not to say anything except to keep fighting the bad ideas and keep talking about the good ones. Apart from his encouragement to support Parti Amanah Nasional in the very last paragraph, there is nothing concrete about how to move forward.

Perhaps Zaid is silent about this because he feels constrained by decorum. Or the Official Secrets Act. Or because he has taken so many sides and seen so many contradictions, that the only opinion he can give with confidence is his own.

Perhaps this is not the last we will hear from him on the subject. I believe he has the eloquence and knowledge to better explain the state of Muslims in Malaysia than is shown in this book. I’ll happily take that, even if it is over a teh tarik.

Review by Dzof Azmi The Star

Zaid: We can be more moderate

Malaysia can be a Muslim country other Muslims can be proud of but first, that opportunity must be taken.

DATUK Zaid Ibrahim takes on critical questions with his latest book, Assalamualaikum: Observations on the Islamisation of Malaysia.

As promised in the jacket blurb, the former de facto Law Minister explores the nature of political Islamisation, its origins, its chief personalities, how it has grown and what it means for Malaysia.

Instead of introducing the religion’s true moral and ethical frameworks, he writes in the preface, Islamisation proposes “to replace them with harsh criminal punishments for Muslims whom the ulama regard as deviationists. Human rights and dignity suffer as a consequence.”

The founder of the largest law firm in the country told Sunday Star he doesn’t understand, for example, why the Syiah are ­treated as enemies of Islam and not proper Muslims, although they are allowed to perform the pilgrimage to Mecca.

“I don’t remember Islam recognising all these categories,” he says. “A Muslim is a Muslim.”

And in the Quran, he points out, “there are a lot of verses about freedom of expression, which remind people that only God knows best. We must be humble enough to accept we can be in error.”

The only way to have a vibrant Islam is to allow an interflow of ideas, he says, but Muslims in Malaysia are not allowed to give public talks about religion without tauliah approved by the Federal Government.

“Even laws of Parliament can be questioned but you can’t do that with religious authorities,” says the lawyer with over three decades of experience.

And if there’s any action taken by any religious department or the syariah courts or there’s any violation of civil liberties or improper conduct, he adds, “the civil courts will not hear anything about it on the grounds that they have no jurisdiction”.

He lists the reasons cited: Islam is the official religion. Article 121(1A) of the Federal Constitution provides that jurisdiction of civil and syariah courts is separate. And the Constitution does say that Parliament can limit some of the fundamental liberties.

“Our Federal Court is no longer willing to look at whether those limitations are reasonable,” he adds.

Since Islam is a state matter, every state is allowed to legislate on Islamic matters but, Zaid says, “there is no common definition of what is unIslamic, what is hukum syarak”.

For example, Selangor and Penang have gazetted fatwa that smoking is haram and Selangor, Pahang and Penang have issued fatwa declaring Amanah Saham Bumiputra and Amanah Saham Nasional as haram.

“There is a lack of uniformity and yet these diverse personalities controlling the state can impact on your basic liberties and basic rights,” he says.

“There has to be precision and specific meanings. You cannot say it is whatever the authorities decide, because you also have a duty to protect the Constitution, human rights and dignity.”

Coming from Kelantan, Zaid writes about Puja Umor and Puja Pantai, which were later banned.

“If you want to insulate yourself against extremism and violence like Islamic State’s,” he argues, “you must allow people that freedom to cultivate and base themselves in their culture and tradition.”

He wrote the book, he says, in the hope of encouraging “an Islam which is kind, forgiving, compassionate, wants to live with everyone in peace and cares about the welfare of others and not only personal interest. That should be the guiding force of the country.”

If that kind of Islam shaped the laws, he says, “our laws would then become more open, liberal-minded and more inclined towards encouraging freedom of thought which is what Islam, at least in its golden years, is about”.

But so far, Malaysia has abandoned its chance to showcase a truly Islamic renaissance, Zaid believes.

“We could have built a moderate Muslim country other Muslims could have been proud of, but we have not taken that opportunity.”

By Santha Oorjitham The Star

RELATED ARTICLES

The politics of meat

The politics of meat
%d bloggers like this: