30 October, 2006

Democracy for Muslims

Democracy for Muslims

Former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, a reformer and favorite of Bill Clinton whose political career ended in 1998 when he was imprisoned by Prime Minister Muhathir Mohamed on false charges of corruption, recently spoke at Stanford University. Addressing Americans’ perception of Islam he said:

This is a country full of contradictions. The level of sophistication and intellectual flavor is unparalleled. So why must people be so prejudiced? Why is misunderstanding so pervasive? To say that Muslims are entirely anti-America is wrong.

The increasing sectarian conflict in Iraq and the rise of Islamist parties like Hamas and Hezbollah have put American efforts to democratize the Middle East on hold and raised doubts among experts and policy makers about whether democracy is compatible with the Muslim faith. But in a campus appearance yesterday afternoon, former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim offered an ardent defense of democracy in the Muslim world, telling a standing-room-only crowd in Bechtel Conference Center that “men and women are born free, even in the Islamic construct.”

Alternating between serious and sporting through his two-hour speech, Ibrahim broached many of the issues aggravating relations between Islam and the West, including gender relations, American foreign policy, cultural assimilation in Europe and Pope Benedict XVI’s recent comments about Islam. However, he was most outspoken regarding his home country — he was a political prisoner in Malaysia for over four years — and rejected the race- and religious-based affirmative action policies that benefit the Malay majority there.

Returning repeatedly to the topic of Muslim democracy, Ibrahim drew from historical references and personal experiences, citing the democratic regimes of Indonesia and Iran of 1950s.

“There was no debate then whether democracy was compatible with Islam,” he said. “Fifty years later, we have our leaders in the Muslim world telling us we’re not ready.”

The fundamental nature of democracy and human rights is universal, Ibrahim emphasized, adding that problems begin with cultural miscommunication.

“We have to debunk and reject the notion, held by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, that to support democracy and freedom is to support America,” he said. “And it is important for Americans to realize democracy is a value cherished as much by Muslims as it is by Americans.

“Misperceptions are unfortunate,” he added, elaborating on his impressions of American culture. “This is a country full of contradictions. The level of sophistication and intellectual flavor is unparalleled. So why must people be so prejudiced? Why is misunderstanding so pervasive? To say that Muslims are entirely anti-America is wrong.”

Ibrahim offered scathing criticism of his fellow Muslims for violent reactions to both the publication of caricatures of Mohammad in a Danish newspaper in 2005 and to the more recent comment by Pope Benedict XVI referring to elements of Islam as “evil and inhuman.” The cartoon spawned riots killing 139 in Nigeria, Libya, Pakistan and Afghanistan, while the Pope’s remarks fueled a maelstrom of controversy, including the firebombing of Catholic churches throughout the Middle East and the shooting death of a nun in Somalia.

“There is a right to disagree but no one has the right to cause destruction or destroy life,” he said. “No one has the right to call for the banning of newspapers.”

Acknowledging that his comments were not necessarily indicative of Islamic public opinion, he said, “This view may not be shared by all Muslims, but I am prepared to confront them.”

Ibrahim’s penchant for speaking his mind and sticking to his principles has dogged the leader through a career of controversy. As a young Malaysian activist in the 1970s, he was arrested during a student protest and spent 20 months in a detention camp. Following a meteoric political ascent, he was named Deputy Prime Minister in 1993, and many expected that he was Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohammad’s chosen successor.

But their relationship turned sour, and in Sept. 1998 Ibrahim was stripped of party membership and incarcerated under charges of corruption and sodomy. The charges were eventually overturned and he was released in Sept. 2004.

Regarding Malaysian politics today, Ibrahim expressed distaste toward his nation’s system of bumiputera — a system of economic and social policies designed to favor ethnic Malays.

“I reject affirmative action based on race,” he said. “Our policies should benefit the poor and the marginalized.”

Finally, he described the need for engagement between the Islamic world and the West, criticizing the “extreme” foreign policy of the United States and its refusal to negotiate with regimes like Hamas.

“That policy is flawed,” he said, adding that “to refuse to engage is a recipe for disaster.”

Ibrahim’s talk was one in a series of lectures sponsored by the Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) addressing relationships with non-Western cultures.

“There’s not a topic that I think we need to pay more attention to as a country, and there’s also not a topic that we’re more ignorant about today,” CDDRL Director Michael McFaul said while introducing Ibrahim.

Stanford’s new $4.3 billion capital campaign seeks $1.4 billion for multidisciplinary initiatives, including an International Initiative aimed at making the University a hub for global problem-solving. Issues pertaining to Islam and the West, McFaul said, will be primary concerns.

“We don’t have enough faculty to on campus to discuss these issues,” he told The Daily after the event. “Speakers like this are great to fill in the gaps. Hopefully, 10 years from now we’ll have dozens of faculty that can speak to [these concerns].”

Govt Should Give Rational Explanation To Dr M's Allegations, Says Anwar

The government should give a rational explanation to refute the allegations raised by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his spat with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, former deputy prime minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim said Sunday.

He said the government should confine itself to answering the allegations pertaining to the issues and policies raised by Dr Mahathir and not resort to any deviation.

"It is not in my interest to get involved in these two people's feud but there are allegations that involve policies which are serious as... (they come from)... a prime minister of 22 years. This matter should be discussed and deliberated (by the current administration).

"(It is) no point for the government to be in a state of denial but give satisfactory answers," he told reporters at the Hari Raya Aidilfitri open house at his residence in Bukit Damansara, here.

Anwar, who is Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) advisor, was asked for his views on the current spat between Abdullah and Dr Mahathir, particularly after their four-eyed meeting last Sunday.

He said Dr Mahathir, as a citizen, has every right to criticise the current administration and this warranted some detailed explanation from the current administration, particularly on allegations pertaining to issues and policies.

"We may not be in agreement with Tun (Dr Mahathir). I do not agree that we should belittle (anyone). I do not believe the solution is in being merciless towards him (Dr Mahathir). I respect the right of Dr Mahathir (to criticise). If there is basis to the statements, the government has to reply," he said.

Anwar said the current administration's replies to Dr Mahathir's allegations were not convincing as "several leaders were merely saying Dr Mahathir should not have criticised the prime minister".

Asked if the spat between Abdullah and Dr Mahathir would end soon, Anwar said: "I see no way that it is going to be resolved very soon".

"The former prime minister has taken a strong position. The issues are not just a matter of a few policies but a major devastating critique at the administration," he said.

Last Sunday, Dr Mahathir met Abdullah at Seri Perdana, the official residence of the prime minister, in Putrajaya and they spoke for about two hours on the issues raised by Dr Mahathir.

Soon after the meeting, Dr Mahathir revealed that although he was satisfied with the meeting, he was not happy with the response he got from Abdullah.

Last Thursday, Abdullah described as "doses of venom" the remark by Dr Mahathir that he would continue criticising the government.

Abdullah said he hoped that Dr Mahathir would wait for his explanation to the issues he has raised, but added that before he could explain the former prime minister had launched renewed attacks on him and the government.

Malaysia's explosive political feud damaging PM and Mahathir: analysts

An ugly feud between former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad and his successor Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is damaging both men and creating uncertainty in Malaysia's political scene, analysts say.

The pair have rowed for most of this year, but the gloves came off last week after highly anticipated "peace talks" aimed at ironing out their differences failed in spectacular fashion, triggering heightened attacks from both sides.

Mahathir said Abdullah was running a "police state", and renewed accusations of nepotism, corruption and economic mismanagement against the administration which he complains is dismantling his legacy built up over two decades in power.

Abdullah abandoned his previously restrained approach, retorting that the 82-year-old was spitting "stronger doses of venom" and noting that Mahathir's own sons had profited substantially during his time in power.

In an open letter to Malaysians, circulated over the Internet, Mahathir then warned that a "climate of fear" had enveloped the country thanks to Abdullah, his hand-picked successor who was installed in the top job in 2003.

As Malaysians follow the row with rapt attention, analysts say that some of the mud is sticking on Abdullah, whose lustre has already dimmed with a disappointing performance since his landslide election victory in 2004.

"In Malaysian politics, the perception is important. It's not so much if it's absolutely true, especially when the allegations are made by a former prime minister," political commentator James Wong Wing On told AFP.

Maznah Mohamad, a senior research fellow with the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore, said that Mahathir -- a shrewd strategist -- was reflecting popular discontent with the new premier.

"The ultimate objective of Tun Mahathir is to bring down Abdullah Badawi. I don't think he will stop before that happens," she said.

Amidst Mahathir's slew of allegations, "people will pick and choose and agree with him," she said.

The prolonged row is contributing to a sense of drift amid concerns Malaysia's economy is slowing down and grumbles that Abdullah has not lived up to election promises such as tackling corruption, said Maznah.

"What Mahathir says, it does resonate generally because there is no feel-good factor any more."

But the fallout isn't landing on Abdullah alone.

Mahathir's attack, including its timing in the midst of Muslim Eid al-Fitr celebrations when forgiveness is supposed to be the order of the day, has alarmed Malaysians and infuriated the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

"People feel now that it is very, very uncharitable of Mahathir before Hari Raya to do this," said veteran UMNO watcher and anthropology professor at the National University of Malaya, Shamsul Amri Baharuddin.

"The premeditatedness of Mahathir is actually making people very unhappy. That he is all out to do some damage, he is not constructive at all and is informed by personal interests, not national interests," he said.

Analysts also said that Malaysians detect a whiff of hypocrisy in Mahathir's claims of corruption against Abdullah, and his complaints that he is being gagged by the ruling party and the media.

"The general perspective is that he is criticising the very same thing he created in the 22 years he was in power, like the police state, so he is actually saying everything about himself, rather than Abdullah," said Shamsul.

Abdullah has said that the feud can only help the opposition, which was trounced at the last elections, but few commentators expect the row to produce serious political instability.

"It will increase the chances of the opposition of getting more support and more seats in the coming election, although a change of government is still unlikely," said Wong of the next ballot due to be held by 2009.

It's serious when the Selangor Sultan has to step in

Comment by Wong Chun Wai - The Star

WHEN Datuk Zakaria Md Deros walked into the Bilik Mengadap, the audience room of the Istana Bukit Kayangan, for his meeting with the Sultan of Selangor, he must have noticed the newspaper clippings spread on a table.

They were all about the controversial Port Klang assemblyman and Klang municipal councillor who had built his four-storey mansion without council approval.

Others included his failure to pay assessment for his current house for 12 years as well as the non-payment of assessment of the Port Klang Umno office and the Kampung Idaman Umno branch buildings for at least 10 years.

Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah had read other documents, letters and reports from investigations by the palace staff.

He also wanted to know how the DZ Satay Restaurant belonging to Zakaria was sitting on government land. Again, with no council approval.

The royal reprimand to the Klang strongman was simple – quit as a councillor, pay up your assessment, submit approvals for buildings and behave yourself or risk having your Datukship revoked.

The Ruler had another advice – bersopan santun and berbudi bahasa (be polite and courteous) - in an apparent reference to complaints that Zakaria was rude and arrogant.

Zakaria’s immediate boss – Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Khir Toyo - followed up with a deadline for him to quit by Nov 8.

So far, the cigar-chomping politician has not responded but the likelihood is that he would give up his council post.

His case is made complicated by the fact that his son, Zainuri, and daughter-in-law, Roselinda Abdul Jamil, had also been nominated as councillors.

For sure, the former railway gatekeeper and office boy isn’t going to lose his political clout in Klang.

No Umno councillors contacted by the press were prepared to respond to the advice given to Zakaria for fear that they would offend him. His reputation certainly precedes him.

But despite his political connection, his backers may now find it difficult to defend him as much as they want to.

The fact is Zakaria has become a political liability, not just to Umno but the Barisan Nasional. Certainly, there is no shortage of local politicians in Klang who are prepared and even more qualified to fill in his shoes.

Zakaria is no stranger to controversies.

In 2000, he allegedly slapped Bandar Klang assemblyman Teng Chang Kim at the state assembly building. A heated argument had broken out during coffee break between the two, when Zakaria voiced dissatisfaction over the use of the word haram with regards to factories squatting on agriculture land.

The issue was subsequently settled amicably in front of the Mentri Besar with both assemblymen advised to respect the House.

In 2001, Zakaria was among 13 Umno members who were found guilty by the Umno disciplinary board for breaching party ethics during the party polls. He was issued with a warning.

On the local level, the people of Klang still cannot forget how a group of councillors, including Zakaria, backed a RM10.4mil project, which has now been scrapped following public protests.

The plan called for 1.2ha of a 10.3ha field to be developed into a complex with three to five storey buildings housing 60 units of offices and shop lots. Twenty per cent of these lots were reported to be given to the Klang Municipal Council (MPK).

If Dr Khir had not stopped the project, it would have meant the loss of another public park.

Zakaria backed the project at a meeting, ironically saying it would “enliven the area and increase revenue for the council in the form of assessment.”

The strongest objection came from Datuk Teh Kim Poh, the Pandamaran assemblyman.

What was more frightening were the reports that Teh’s protests against the project at a council meeting were not recorded.

There have been many allegations of how the minutes were purportedly altered since then.

But the Selangor state government should sit up and listen to the grievances of the people of Klang. Any visitor to this town can tell that the MPK has not maintained it well.

The crime rate in Klang has long been a problem with shopkeepers putting up grilles on their premises.

The royal town needs good elected representatives and municipal councillors, who care about making Klang a better place to live in.

Zakaria’s political fate is now in the balance. He would be scrutinised more than ever from now.

As Dr Khir said, everyone makes mistakes and they should be given a chance.

Zakaria’s contributions to Klang should not be ignored and certainly, he has erred but that doesn’t mean he cannot be forgiven.

He must be prepared to repent and not blame what has taken place on rival politicians or the media, like some would do.

His immediate tasks would be to resolve the many complaints that have been stacked up against him. Zakaria is already being investigated by the Anti-Corruption Agency for abuse of power.

In fact, ordinary Malaysians are asking why many politicians, in general, are able to live in huge mansions with lifestyles only corporate figures can match.

It has been reported that other Klang councillors also have similar “palaces” with no approvals and they have ignored the MPK because “others are also doing so.”

The Zakaria Md Deros case is no longer a local case but has gained national attention because ordinary Malaysians can no longer stomach such abuses.

They do not want to see civil servants and the people being bullied and intimidated by powerful “war lords” while some politicians prefer to “close one eye” for political expediency.

In this case, the apparent lack of strong political will at state level has led to the intervention of Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah.

The “Ugly Malay” Becoming the Norm

In summoning Klang Municipal Councilor Zakaria Mat Deros to the palace over the issue of the illegal building of his private mansion, the Sultan of Selangor did the right thing but to the wrong person. The Sultan should have summoned the state’s chief executive, Chief Minister Khir Toyo, instead.

The sultan should demand from Toyo what and when he knew of the affair, whether he believed it was an aberrant incident or part of a more extensive pattern, and what he intended to do about it.

Rest assured that such flagrant flaunting of the law reflects long established behaviors that has been tolerated if not encouraged by the authorities. It also mirrors the Third World mentality of being above the law that is so prevalent among our leaders.

Being only the symbolic head of state, there is not much more that the sultan can do except merely express his displeasure. Were he to go beyond that, he would risk setting a dangerous precedent and raising significant constitutional issues, quite part from sidetracking the matter.

There is one act that is well within and sole prerogative of the sultan. He could strip Zakaria of his datukship, assuming of course that the sultan awarded the honor in the first place. As Malays are still very much a feudal bunch, that would carry significant shame. That such a slimy character was so honored to begin with says much about the current state of Malaysian, in particular Malay, society. That however merits a separate discussion!

Curiously “Uncurious” Khir Toyo

That such a huge mansion could have been built to near completion right in the center of a highly visible part of town is indicative of the sorry state of Malaysian institutions, in this particular case, the Klang Town Council.

There are hosts of other associated questions. That he managed to secure a prime real estate from the council for way below market price should interest the chief minister and the Anti Corruption Agency. It would also be very revealing to trace who authorized the non-competitive sale of that valuable public property.

Of even greater interest is how this previously poor, ill-educated villager could acquire so much wealth so quickly so as to be able to afford the mansion. I am certain that if some enterprising journalists were to demand to see the cancelled checks from Zakaria or copies of the bills from the contractors and vendors for the work done, there would be none. This again reflects the pervasive corruption.

The remarkable aspect to the whole shenanigan is the curiously “uncurious” Khir Toyo. As the state’s chief executive, I would have expected him to be demanding answers from the Council officials. Alas we now have the sultan having to take that highly unusual initiative.

This dentist-turned politician of humble beginnings has absorbed only too well the Sultan Syndrome, enjoying the trappings of his office but is otherwise clueless about being an effective executive.

The sultan should strip Khir Toyo of his datukship for his incompetence. That would be a powerful symbolic gesture. The sultan would effectively be challenging the prime minister to get rid of this joker. Khir Toyo is obviously fit only to fill in dental cavities, not the chief executive suite.

Lack of Outrage

Equally shocking is the lack of public outrage, especially in the Malay community, in particular, its establishment. Malay commentators and intellectuals showed no interest, much less expressed their abhorrence. This Zakaria mess (and many more yet to be revealed) is far more destructive and corrosive to the fabric of our society than the current wildly publicized tiff between Abdullah and Mahathir.

I can appreciate the reticence of non-Malays to this Zakaria scandal. For one, there is always the fear of being branded as anti-Malay, a particularly damaging accusation. For another, they could be just as guilty in tolerating as well as participating and thus encouraging such corrupt practices. One wonders how many of the contractors working on that mansion also have simultaneous government contracts and at what inflated prices.

For Malays however, the damage is considerable. We are sending precisely the wrong message to our people. That is, in order to succeed or afford a mansion and other trappings of the “good life,” we do not have to study diligently or work hard but merely ingratiate ourselves to the powerful in order to hog our own little spot at the public trough.

The message we send to non-Malays is equally destructive. That is, we Malays are a race of rogues. We tolerate such nonsense because we harbor our own secret ambition to be like them. This more than anything is what makes me mad and angry with these scoundrels.

By Aristotle’s Nichomechean ethics, it is not enough to be angry. That is the easy part. We have to be angry at the right people, at the right time, for the right purpose, and express that anger in the right way. Slimy characters like Zakaria and his superior Khir Toyo make it easy. We cannot be angry enough at their types. We must totally abhor them. They bring dishonor to our race and nation.

Let me assure non-Malays that the Zakaria Mat Deroses and Khir Toyos are not representative of my race, at least not yet. These “ugly Malays,” to borrow Syed Hussein’s phrase, are fast becoming and will be the norm if we do nothing, by in effect tolerating them. We do have our share of the hard working, the honest, and the frugal. Yes, we are fast shrinking, that we sadly agree.

It is in the interest of all, Malays and non-Malays alike, not to tolerate such sinister and shady characters. Unchecked, they would soon spread to all Malaysians.

The Sultan of Selangor has conveyed his displeasure. He has no wish to be the Sultan of the “Ugly Malays.” It is up to us to pick up on that signal, amplify and transmit it widely. Such slimes are a blemish on and have no place in our society. They are not to be tolerated. We do not have to wait till the elections to demonstrate our collective repugnance.

(By:M Bakri Musa)


Malaysian tourists find Kashmir beautiful than Switzerland ?

A group of 43 tourists from Malaysia has found Kashmir much more beautiful and fascinating than Switzerland.

Interacting with Tourism Minister Mohammad Dilawar Mir here, group leader of Malaysian tourists, A Baharuddin, told him that another batch of 78 tourists from his country would arrive here on November 29 to enjoy the winter tourism in Kashmir.

This was the sixth group of Malaysian tourists who visited the Kashmir valley so far this year.

The tourists said they were very impressed by the hospitality of Kashmiris and mesmerized by the enchanting beauty of the valley.

They vowed to act as ambassadors for promotion of Kashmir tourism in their country. ''We will tell and motivate our fellow countrymen that Kashmir is very calm, soothing and peaceful and offers much more entertainment than Switzerland,'' the tourists said.

Mr Baharuddin also informed that about 20,000 CDs on Kashmir tourism would be distributed free of cost in Malaysia to attract tourists to the Valley.



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home