Sunday, January 31, 2010

Blame game muddying debate.

REFORM PLANS: Government ministers and bankers found one thing they could agree upon — that if there are rules, then they have to apply to every country

AFP, DAVOS, SWITZERLAND | Monday, Feb 01, 2010 | Taipei Times

The global banking elite left Davos yesterday battered and bruised by the latest round of the blame game over the world financial crisis.

Scolded by presidents, prime ministers, central bank chiefs and even billionaire investors over regulation and their salaries, the heads of the institutions that dominate the financial markets have had to admit that some kind of reform is necessary.

US President Barack Obama’s plans to limit the size and activities of banks prompted an urgent call at the World Economic Forum for new regulations coordinated on an international level.

Bankers at first acted with shock. But they were jolted by criticism of their attitude.

“Don’t feel sorry for yourselves,” British Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling said.

And now ministers and bankers agree that if there are rules they have to be for every country.

“We must have global rules to treat global issues. This is absolutely essential. If not, it’s a recipe for catastrophe,” said Jean-Claude Trichet, head of the European Central Bank, at the Davos forum in Switzerland.

IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said “my fear is that we may forget key lessons of crisis that is coordination.”

He was “a bit afraid that we’re not exactly going in that direction.”

During the London G20 summit on the crisis last April, world leaders asked the Financial Stability Board and the Basel Committee to draft new banking regulations.

The issue was left to the two institutions while governments turned their focus to lifting economic crisis management.

In September, the issue was brought up at the Pittsburgh summit. Britain and France made a call in December for a global banking regulation pact, and have since both followed that up by announcing a tax on traders’ bonuses.

Obama announced plans to limit banks’ size and activities, forcing them to choose between proprietary activities such as trading in stocks and sometimes risky financial instruments for their own benefit — and traditional activities, like making loans and collecting deposits.

The initiative annoyed some politicians in Europe who said that it went against the international coordination principles agreed on by the G20.

“Giving in to unilateralism, to ‘every man for himself,’ would also be an economic, political and moral error,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in his keynote address to the forum, even though he agreed with the essence of Obama’s plans.

In an interview, German Economy Minister Rainer Bruederle said: “Due to competition between financial centers, we should not implement [reforms] in an isolated way on a national or European basis.”

The private sector has also asked for international coordination. Tidjane Thiam, who heads British insurance group Prudential, said “consistency” was needed.

Josef Ackermann, chairman of Deutsche Bank, said an international harmonization of regulations was required.

Standard Chartered bank’s group chief executive Peter Sands asked for Asia’s voice to be taken into account on reforms.

“What we don’t want is a situation where we shape the future regulatory reform too dominated by Western voices with the effect of Asia having to take medicine for an illness” that it didn’t have, he said, pointing out that the region’s banks suffered little from the crisis.

In a sign of the urgency of the issue, ministers, bankers and central bankers held an informal meeting at Davos on Saturday.

Representative Barney Frank, chairman of the US House of Representatives’ Financial Services Committee, who took part in the meeting, said bankers now saw there would have to be “tough” regulation.

“There’s going to be regulation, they understand that. We are willing to talk to people about the specifics of how to achieve the goals, but ... there is general agreement that there has to be international coordination,” Frank said. “They aren’t in charge of this. The political leadership certainly in the US is going to go ahead with tough, sensible regulation.”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Who will free Prisoner 650?

In March 2009 two female US Journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling were seized by North Korean border guards while reporting for California-based Current TV. They were subsequently tried and sentenced to 12 years in prison for "hostile acts" and illegal entry into North Korea. After their imprisonment America worked tirelessly to get the women released and in August 2009 dispatched former US President Bill Clinton to speak with North Korea's Kim Jong Il. The meeting was productive and the two women were later released.

In March 2003 a women was also seized and imprisoned. Her name was Aafia Siddiqui. Like the US Journalists she was a women, she studied and worked in America and her three children were American citizens. But unlike the US Journalists captured six years later she was a Muslim and she had no leader to take care of her affairs.

This is her story.

Dr Aafia Siddiqui was born in Karachi, Pakistan, on March 2, 1972. She was one of three children of Mohammad Siddiqui, a doctor trained in England, and Ismet. She is a mother of three and also a Hafiz-e-Quraan. Aafia and her three children were seized by Pakistani intelligence agents in March 2003 and handed over to the Americans in Afghanistan where she was imprisoned in Bagram and repeatedly raped, tortured and abused for years. A report in the Pakistani Urdu press at the time said that Aafia and her three children were seen being picked up by Pakistani authorities and taken into custody.

Moazzam Begg, and several other former captives of the Americans reported that a female prisoner, "prisoner 650", was held at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan. Yvonne Ridley of Cageprisoners.com wrote about "Prisoner 650" (Aafia) her ordeal of torture and repeatedly being raped for over four years.

"The cries of (this) helpless woman echoed (with such torment) in the jail that (it) prompted prisoners to go on hunger strike." Yvonne called her a "gray lady (because) she (was) almost a ghost, a spectre whose cries and screams continue to haunt those who heard her. This would never happen to a Western woman."

Both the Pakistan government as well as US officials in Washington denied any knowledge of Aafia's imprisonment until her plight was brought out in to the open and started to receive media attention. Trumped up allegations were then brought against her that she was involved in terrorism and a ludicrous claim that she managed to wrestle a gun off a US soldier and shoot at US officers.

On 4th August 2008, federal prosecutors in the US confirmed that Aafia Siddiqui was extradited to the US from Afghanistan where they allege she had been detained since mid-July 2008. The US administration claimed that she was arrested by Afghani forces outside Ghazni governor's compound with manuals on explosives and ‘dangerous substances in sealed jars' on her person. They further allege that whilst in custody she shot at US officers (none being injured) and was herself injured in the process.

On 7th August 2008 an article in the The News exposed some of the treatment Aafia had been subjected to whilst in American custody.

one of her kidneys had been removed
her teeth had been removed
her nose had been broken, and improperly reset
her recent gunshot wound had been incompetently dressed, was oozing blood, leaving her clothes soaked with blood.

An August 11, 2008, a Reuters report stated that she had appeared at her court hearing in a wheelchair, and that her lawyers pleaded with the judge to make sure she received medical care. Elizabeth Fink, one of her lawyers, told the Judge:

"She has been here, judge, for one week and she has not seen a doctor, even though they (U.S. authorities) know she has been shot."

Aafia's Lawyer Elizabeth Fink told a federal judge in New York that Aafia shows signs of having been imprisoned and treated inhumanely for a long period of time. According to documents described in court by Fink, Aafia told prison staff that she feared her son was being starved and tortured, and asked them to take food off her tray and send it to her son in Afghanistan.

Another of her lawyers, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, "We do know she was at Bagram for a long time. It was a long time. According to my client she was there for years and she was held in American custody; her treatment was horrendous."

Aafia remains in a US detention facility in New York, in poor health, subjected to degrading and humiliating strip searches and cavity searches whenever she receives a legal visit or appears in court. She has subsequently refused to meet with counsel. It has been reported that she may suffer from brain damage and that a part of her intestine may have been removed. Her lawyers say her symptoms are consistent with a sufferer of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The trial of Aafia Siddiqui will start this week.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Himpunan 100 Ribu Royalti Minyak 28 Jan 2010.

Permit Polis Lulus Petang Ini - Gegar | Wednesday, 27 January 2010 3:30 PM

KUALA LUMPUR : Oleh Mohd Ali Bakri | "Himpunan 100,000 rakyat Kelantan yang bermula esok telah mendapat kelulusan daripada pihak polis," kata Setiausaha Gerakan Bertindak Kembalikan Royalti Rakyat (Gegar) Mohd Hisyamuddin Ghazali kepada erapakatan.com di sini, hari ini.

"Seluruh rakyat Kelantan dan masyarakat awam dijemput hadir. Alhamdulillah baru dapat permit polis. Jadi, program Himpunan 100 ribu rakyat Kelantan tuntut royalti minyak di negeri ini adalah halal di sisi undang-undang negara. Semua dijemput hadir.

"Permit polis itu, kami terima pada 3:18 petang tadi di Ibupejabat Polis Daerah Kota Bharu," kata beliau.

Ekoran itu, tambah Mohd Hisyamuddin, Gegar telah menyusun beberapa program sebagai langkah persediaan menjelang esok.

"Kita ada ceramah malam esok, termasuk program solat hajat berjemaah dan ceramah oleh Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah," kata beliau.

Mohd Hisyamuddin berkata, himpunan tersebut boleh diikuti secara langsung melalui laman sesawang http://www.mykelantan.tv.

Nota: Era Pakatan boleh dihubungi melalui 03-61850744 / 0745 (Tel.), 03-61850744 (Faks.), atau menerusi editor@erapakatan.com, editorpakatan@gmail.com (Mel-E).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Say NO to GST in Malaysia - The Petition

We are outraged with the BN Government for announcing their decision to go ahead with the regressive Goods and Services Tax or GST as announced by the Prime Minister.

We believe the tax, if implemented, will

i. Further increase the income disparity of the rich and poor
ii. Create a high level of inflation which will further burden the majority of the people
iii. Bring more hardship to the majority of the people and bring down their standard of living

We call upon the Government:

i. To immediately stop any plans to implement the GST
ii. To implement the Minimum Wage Act to safeguard the interest of workers, the poor and the marginalized.
iii. To stop the privatisation of all basic needs and to ensure that they are affordable for the poor

We call upon all those who care for justice and social solidarity to protest against this neo-liberal attack against the people and sign this petition.

See the existing signatures here

Monday, January 25, 2010

New Minister - New Label.

20 schools accorded ‘high performance’ status (dalam bahasa di bawah)

Malaysian Insider : PUTRAJAYA, Jan 25 — Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (picture) today announced that 20 schools — 14 secondary and six primary — had been accorded the status of high performance schools (SBTs).

Muhyiddin, who is also Education Minister, said of the 14 secondary schools, 10 are fully residential schools and the rest day schools.

“These schools were chosen from among schools that showed outstanding performance in the field of academia, co-curriculum and niche areas.

“The schools will be guided and monitored closely to ensure they continue to attain even higher levels of performance,” he told reporters at his office here today.

The 10 fully residential schools are
1. Sekolah Tun Fatimah (Johor Bahru),
2. Sekolah Dato’ Abdul Razak (Seremban),
3. Malay College Kuala Kangsar,
4. Sekolah Seri Puteri (Cyberjaya),
5. Sekolah Menengah Sultan Abdul Halim (Jitra).
6. Kolej Tunku Kurshiah (Seremban),
7. Kolej Islam Sultan Alam Shah (Klang),
8. Sekolah Menengah Sains (SMS) Tuanku Syed Putra (Perlis),
9. Sekolah Sultan Alam Shah (Putrajaya) and
10. SMS Muzaffar Syah (Melaka).

The four day schools are
1. Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan (SMK) (P) Sri Aman (Petaling Jaya),
2. SMK Aminuddin Baki (Kuala Lumpur),
3. SMK Sultanah Asma (Alor Setar) and
4. SMK (P) St George (Penang).

The six primary schools are
1. Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) Seri Bintang Utara (KL),
2. SK Taman Tun Dr Ismail 1 (KL),
3. SK Bukit Damansara (KL),
4. SK Zainab (2) (Kota Bharu),
5. SK Convent Kota (Taiping),
6. SK Bandar Baru Uda 2 (Johor Bahru).

At the same time, Muhyiddin stressed that SBTs are not elite schools which benefited only a limited number of students. Instead, he said each school in the country had the same opportunity and a level playing field to be recognised as SBTs.

“Any school that meets the targets of excellence and criteria set (by the Education Ministry) will be recognised as a SBTs and get the same privileges,” he said.

Muhyiddin said the ministry targeted to have 30 SBTs by next year and 50 in 2012. He said the rationale in having SBTs was to raise the quality of the best schools in the country to be world class, produce outstanding students and narrow the gap between schools within the system.

He said SBTs would be given additional autonomy to pursue innovation in school management and raise the productivity of students.

As for curriculum, he said, it would be flexible in terms of teaching and learning as well as syllabi for compulsory and elective subjects, conforming to public examinations and use of the national language as the medium of instruction or multiple languages.

Beside these, Muhyiddin said the schools concerned were also given leeway in fixing the minimum periods for subjects, extending schooling hours and allowing students to complete their studies a year earlier, just like the express promotion system that was introduced previously.

In terms of budget ownership, he said a lump sum grant will be channelled to the schools at the beginning of each year and that they would have the full flexibility to spend as needed and are exempted from the ministry’s centralised procurement system.

“Every school has its own budget, but with this status, they will be given additional funds and they can use the money as needed,” he said, adding that the grant may be less than RM1 million but have not been fixed yet as this depended on the size of the SBT.

He also said management of staff at these schools would be based on meritocracy and not seniority, besides flexibility given for the paying of overtime and performance incentives.

“There will also be flexibility to re-assign under performing staff and delegation of functions based on academic and non-academic reasons,” he said.

Muhyiddin said the SBTs will be appraised yearly based on their annual reports with the appropriate performance indicators and inspections by the ministry’s officers in accordance to the revised Malaysian Education Quality Standard.

In relation to this, he said the SBTs would have to fullfil six criterias — attain academic excellence, produce outstanding students, win awards at the national and international level, community work and networking with other schools and higher learning institutions, both locally and internationally.

One of the roles the SBTs would have to play was having their teachers to act as mentors to teachers in other schools through the “immersion” programme involving principals, headmasters and teachers, he said.

Towards maintaing their status as SBTs, he said their strategic plans, management structure, academic and co-curriculum programmes should serve as benchmarks for other schools, locally and abroad.

Muhyiddin said that schools in rural areas could also be selected as SBTs if they fulfill the criterias set.

“I know not all the 10,000 schools (in the country) can reach this status, but irrespective of whether they are urban or rural schools, they stand an equal chance to be accorded SBT status.

“But if the (rural) schools are constrained because they do not have the same facilities as their urban counterparts, we will speed up action to narrow the gap,” he said. 

14 sekolah menengah, enam sekolah rendah diumum sekolah berprestasi tinggi.

 PUTRAJAYA, 25 Jan — Timbalan Perdana Menteri Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin hari ini mengumumkan 20 Sekolah Berprestasi Tinggi (SBT), yang terdiri daripada 14 sekolah menengah dan enam sekolah rendah di seluruh negara.
Beliau yang juga Menteri Pelajaran, berkata daripada 14 sekolah menengah, 10 adalah sekolah berasrama penuh manakala bakinya sekolah menengah harian.
“Sekolah ini dipilih dari kalangan sekolah-sekolah yang menunjukkan pencapaian cemerlang dalam bidang akademik, kokurikulum dan bidang kebitaraan masing-masing.

“SBT akan dibimbing dan dipantau secara khusus untuk menjamin berlaku lonjakan prestasi sekolah secara berterusan,” katanya kepada pemberita di pejabatnya di sini hari ini.

Sepuluh sekolah berasrama penuh ialah 
1.  Sekolah Tun Fatimah (Johor Baharu), 
2.  Sekolah Dato' Abdul Razak (Seremban), 
3.  Kolej Melayu Kuala Kangsar, 
4.  Sekolah Seri Puteri (Cyberjaya), 
5.  Sekolah Menengah Sultan Abdul Halim (Jitra).
6.  Kolej Tunku Kurshiah (Seremban), 
7.  Kolej Islam Sultan Alam Shah (Klang), 
8.  Sekolah Menengah Sains (SMS) Tuanku Syed Putra (Perlis), 
9.  Sekolah Sultan Alam Shah (Putrajaya) dan 
10.SMS Muzaffar Syah (Melaka). 

Manakala empat sekolah menengah harian ialah 
1.  Sekolah Menengah Kebangsaan (SMK) (P) Sri Aman (Petaling Jaya), 
2.  SMK Aminuddin Baki (Kuala Lumpur), 
3.  SMK Sultanah Asma (Alor Setar) dan 
4.  SMK (P) St. George (Pulau Pinang). 

Enam sekolah rendah pula ialah 
1.  Sekolah Kebangsaan (SK) Seri Bintang Utara (KL), 
2.  SK Taman Tun Dr Ismail 1 (KL), 
3.  SK Bukit Damansara (KL), 
4.  SK Zainab (2) (Kota Baharu), 
5.  SK Convent Kota (Taiping), 
6.  SK Bandar Baru Uda 2 (Johor Baharu).

Muhyiddin berkata SBT bukanlah sekolah elit yang akan memberi manfaat kepada hanya sebilangan kecil pelajar, sebaliknya setiap sekolah di negara ini mempunyai peluang yang sama dan boleh bersaing di “padang yang sama rata” untuk diiktiraf sebagai SBT.

“Mana-mana sekolah yang mencapai sasaran kecemerlangan dan memenuhi kriteria-kriteria yang ditetapkan akan diiktiraf sebagai SBT dan mendapat kemudahan serta ganjaran yang sama,” katanya.

Muhyiddin berkata kementerian mensasarkan 30 SBT pada tahun depan dan jumlah itu akan meningkat kepada 50 pada tahun 2012.

Beliau berkata rasional pengiktirafan itu dibuat bagi mengangkat kualiti sekolah-sekolah yang terbaik ke taraf dunia, menghasilkan pelajar yang cemerlang dan merapatkan jurang antara sekolah-sekolah di dalam sistem.
SBT akan diberi autonomi tambahan untuk mewujudkan inovasi dalam pentadbiran sekolah dan meningkatkan keberhasilan murid, katanya.

Beliau berkata dari segi kurikulum, ia fleksibel dalam pengajaran dan pembelajaran serta silibus bagi mata pelajaran wajib dan elektif, mematuhi peperiksaan awam dan menggunakan bahasa pengantar bahasa kebangsaan atau pelbagai bahasa.
Selain itu, katanya sekolah berkenaan diberi kelonggaran dalam menetapkan waktu pengajaran minima mata pelajaran, memanjangkan waktu persekolahan dan membenarkan murid menamatkan tempoh persekolahan setahun lebih awal iaitu seperti kelas lompat yang telah diperkenalkan sebelum ini.

Muhyiddin berkata dari segi pemilikan bajet, kewangan disalur melalui geran secara sekaligus pada awal tahun persekolahan, fleksibiliti penuh untuk pengagihan kewangan mengikut keperluan dan pengecualian daripada perolehan secara berpusat.

“Setiap sekolah mempunyai bajet mereka sendiri, tetapi dengan status ini, mereka diberi peruntukan tambahan dan mereka boleh menggunakannya untuk apa sahaja yang mereka rasa perlu,” katanya.

Beliau berkata pengurusan staf adalah berdasarkan prestasi iaitu pengambilan staf tidak berdasarkan kekananan tetapi prestasi pencapaian, kelonggaran dalam menyediakan lebih bayaran (bayaran lebih masa) dan ganjaran berdasarkan prestasi kepada semua staf.

“Selain itu, kelonggaran untuk memindahkan staf sekiranya prestasi kurang memuaskan dan pengagihan fungsi berdasarkan akademik dan bukan akademik,” katanya.

Beliau berkata laporan tahunan berdasarkan petunjuk keberhasilan setiap sekolah dan pemeriksaan sekolah berdasarkan Standard Kualiti Pendidikan Malaysia (SKPM) yang telah diubahsuai.

Sehubungan itu, Muhyiddin berkata SBT perlu memenuhi enam kriteria yang ditetapkan iaitu pencapaian akdemik yang cemerlang, melahirkan personaliti unggul, merangkul anugerah Kebangsaan dan Antarabangsa, mewujudkan jalinan dengan institusi pengajian tinggi.

“Mempunyai permuafakatan jitu dengan masyarakat serta jaringan kukuh dengan sekolah-sekolah tempatan dan antarabangsa serta menjadi penanda aras kepada sekolah-sekolah di dalam dan luar negara,” katanya.

Beliau berkata antara peranan yang perlu dimainkan oleh SBT sebagai sumbangan kepada sekolah lain ialah guru-guru SBT menjadi mentor kepada guru di sekolah lain, melalui program “immersion” membabitkan pengetua, guru besar dan guru.

Bagi pembangunan berterusan sebagai status SBT, sekolah terbabit antara lain perlu meningkatkan pelan strategik, pengurusan, program akademik dan kokurikulum sokongan serta menjadi penanda aras dan contoh bagi sekolah lain dari dalam dan luar negara.

Muhyiddin berkata sekolah dari pedalaman dan luar bandar juga boleh dipilih sebagai SBT jika ia memenuhi kriteria yang ditetapkan.

“Saya tahu tidak mungkin semua 10,000 sekolah (di seluruh negara) akan naik ke tahap itu, tetapi tidak kira sekolah bandar, luar bandar dan pedalaman jika mereka boleh memenuhi kriteria yang ditetapkan akan direkod sebagai SBT.

“Tetapi jika sekolah luar bandar dan pedalaman ada kekangan kerana kemudahan belum setara dan setanding, jangka panjangnya kita akan terus perbaiki,” katanya. 

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Don’t come home, son – Ice-Cream Seller

Malaysian Insider  |  JAN 24 – To Second Finance Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah, this is what I have to say in response to your statement about emigration by ingrates.

Sometime in 1980, when I was a final-year student in London, I had a very short telephone conversation with my father. In those days, there were no call cards, skype or the like and international phone calls were expensive. He had a very simple message – “Don’t come home, son.”

Now, almost 30 years on, I see where he was coming from.

He advised me to stay on in the UK or, if I found the weather not to my liking, suggested I go to Australia, even if it meant that I might eventually “marry a white girl” as he put it.

I was 23 and marriage was certainly not on my mind.

He was a “pendatang”. This pendatang, however, secured a scholarship to study in Raffles College ( the precursor to the University of Malaya) and served some 30 years in various senior teaching positions, culminating with the last few years in the Malay College. Among his students were a veritable who’s who of past and present ministers and opposition figures.

I didn’t heed his advice then, and spent 28 years working in Malaysia. However, in recent years, it became increasingly untenable to work in my home country without compromising my values, integrity and conscience.

Why did he advise me such?

With hindsight, I saw his foresight. As an educationist, he saw we were becoming another Ceylon (from where he had been sent to then Malaya when he was orphaned), Burma, the Philippines and, in today’s scenario, Zimbabwe.

He saw what the outcome would be when we mess up education with politics.

He saw that religion would be a divisive factor in the years to come (he even encouraged me to learn Jawi as a nine-year-old).

He believed that in a country like this, mixed marriages would help cement society.

He saw in some of our leaders of yesterday that, even in their youth, they had unbridled cunning and only needed an opening to exploit that trait.

He saw in some of his students the potential to become PM but said that would never come to be because they were “too smart for Umno’s liking”.

He saw that, given our racial demographics, religion would be used as a means to ensure the survival of a particular group.

He believed that, eventually, the Malays would have a class war amongst themselves.

He said that even among the Malays, many of the English-educated would opt to live away from Malaysia.

He told me promotions wouldn’t necessarily be given for competence. These are usually won in the Clubs (read political party today) and over a few drinks.

Since I am a bit of an introvert, he encouraged me to join clubs, associations and play sports and travel.

He said honesty does not necessarily pay in this world but still, it is better to be honest and live with dignity.

Our home was (at different times) home to three delinquent Chinese boys, sent by the Juvenile court. He volunteered to take them in. Add to that a few other Indian boys.

Though not my mother tongue, I spoke to my parents in Malay till I was about 10.

We took in a Chinese woman injured during the war and she lived with us for about 40 years till she died. My father referred to her as his mother-in-law. I thought she was my grandmother even though my mother was not Chinese!

By the late 70s and early 80s, he saw that this scenario would not likely repeat in the years to come.

When he died in 1982, we were pleasantly surprised to see some of his students (by then in their 50s) come from different states for his funeral.

One told me that it was my father who made sure he spoke flawless English. Another told me how my father would bring the 6th Formers home from the hostel and used our home for dinner and to teach them social graces – including dancing (taught by my mother).

Partners were arranged from the convent school, with the blessings of the headmistress!

Twenty-nine years years on, I view his foresight through the same prism and now agonise over whether I should tell my children the same.

For now, I am allowing my eldest to pursue his tertiary education overseas. Maybe when he finishes, he may not be as shortsighted as I was. I pray to God to grant him wisdom and vision.

Last year, I resigned from my job, returned the company car and driver, said goodbye to my executive package and moved to Australia where I now live with no maid, no driver, no Audi 2.8, no golf, no teh tarik sessions, no bonus, etc.

But I am rediscovering humanity, running a humble ice cream shop.

Sometimes we learn very late.

* "Ice Cream Seller" is the pseudonym of a reader of Malaysian Insider.

Friday, January 22, 2010

PAS’ Ulama ‘Disunited’ Stance on ‘Allah’ – 2 sides of the same coin?

I have been asked to explain and rationalise, why there are 2 seemingly opposing positions or 2 schools of thought, taken by PAS’ top ulama leaders. It is no small feat and I have never been more uncomfortable.

Tok Guru Dato’ Nik Aziz (TGNA) the Mursyidul Am of PAS and the President of PAS DS Hj Abdul Hadi Awang (DSHA) present the proponent for ‘permssibility’ of the usage of the name of Allah by adherents of other faiths namely the Abrahamic religions (Chriatianity and Judaism), while Dato Dr Harun Din (DDHD), as the Deputy Mursyidul Am of the Majlis Syura Ulama ( and incidentally a number of Muslim NGOs and some academics), taking an opposite stance ie making it not permissible to be used by others.

My position on this issue remains as briefly expressed in recent articles that I’ve written, one in BM entitled “Allah Untuk Semua” and the other “Can PAS remain steadfast?” My latest is an Open letter to the “Mr 1-Malaysia-Prime Minister” venting my frustration to the many unending crises of the nation. They are all in my weblog (drdzul.wordpress.com) and elsewhere in cyber and print media.

I wanted to write this piece earlier but was willing to wait and read from others especially those religiously-trained ulama. As it is not so forthcoming, I now grudgingly pen this piece, after being requested to do so.

For brevity and serving the interest of my lay brethren and also friends of other faiths, I’m simplifying many complicated theological discourses. Sorry, I can’t avoid using some Arabic terminologies. Perhaps it is a good exposure to some.

Simply put, the opposing stance has come to be arrived because both ‘schools’ have taken to treat the subject from a different methodological approach, premised on two different perspectives. Little wonder of the apparently diverging conclusions.

More interestingly, despite seemingly diverging stance and consequences, they are both within the Islamic worldview and to a large extent ‘right’ in their own perspectives. If that is mind-boggling or baffling enough for a start, let us make it simpler by using the analogy of describing ‘two sides of the same coin’. I’m trying to be fair and objective.

The images of the ‘head’ and ‘tail’ of the coin is surely different, but it is describing the same coin, nonetheless. You don’t have to spill blood on that debate of establishing which side is right or more important. It is not about the right or wrong position, but the appropriate one ie of determining which is the relevant and pertinent position or perspective to take, given a certain context of space and time.

For simplicity, Islam as ad-Deen or A Way of Life is premised on two main pillars:

1. Aqidah – theological matters pertaining to Faith and Conviction in Allah (and other articles of Faith eg Prophethood, Revelation etc) and

2. Ibadah – matters pertaining to worships ie relationship of man with the Almighty Allah.

Both pillars being the main thrusts of the Dakwah or ar-Risalah (the Message) of the all Prophets and as well of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Dakwah is the raison deter or ‘reason of being’ of all prophets and indeed of Prophethood (Nubuwah).

If the above assertions are understood, we could now proceed in understanding both arguments.

Dato’ Haron Din (DHD) argues from the perspective of Aqidah, while both Tok Gurus have taken a perspective of Dakwah (and the bigger domain of Siyasah Syar’iah – Politics from the prism of Syariah), notwithstanding the importance of the earlier.

From the discipline of Islamic Aqidah (Usuludin), Allah is a specific name of Al-Ilah or The God (Lafzul Jalalah), with the 3 aspects of ‘Unity of the Godhead’ namely: of being the Creator and Sustainer (Tauhid Rububiyah) and the Law-Giver (Tauhid Uluhiyah). Besides, there are 20 Attributes (Sifat – Al-Wujud, Al-Baqa’, Al-Wahdaniyah etc) of Allah enshrined in many verses of the Quran and 99 Names (Asma’ – like Ar-Rahman, Ar-Rahim, Al-Malik, Al-Quddus etc) describing these attributes (Tauhid Asma’ wa Sifat).

The verses in the Surah (Chapter) of Al-Ikhlas (Purity) exemplified the Uniqueness of the Oneness of Allah. Allah says in Al-Ikhlas (verse 1-4):

“Say: He is Allah, The One,

Allah, the Eternal, the Absolute,

He begets not, Nor is He begotten,

And there is none, Like unto Him”.

Based on the above deliberation, it would be safe to conclude that Islam places as cardinal principle the Unity of Allah (Monotheism) that none of the creations is like unto him. Ever since men, from time immemorial since Adam (may peace be upon him), committed the various sins of ascribing partners, in the forms of gods, lords or even sons unto Him, prophets were sent to purify the belief of Unity of Godhead.

The discipline of Usuludin is a particular branch of the Islamic thought that serves the objective of maintaining purity and soundness of faith in the Unity of Godhead (Tauhid-Monotheism) and the other articles of faith. Within the community of believers (Ummah), a profound knowledge of Usuludin is regarded desirable and commendable as it is a safeguard against deviationist beliefs and practices.

Up to this juncture, the argument for an emphasis of studying Usuludin particularly the various aspects of Aqidah, including the names and attributes of Allah is both convincing and cogent.

Entrenched in this methodology, it logically follows that the name of Allah is concluded and perceived as belonging exclusively to the believers of the Islamic Faith. As it is only Muslims and Muslims alone that subscribe and profess the faith and conviction in Allah as Al-Ilah or The God, only Muslims are deemed deserving and worthy of using the name of ‘ALLAH”, much as it is also a Lafzul Jalalah, a special or specific name (nama khusus) of Allah besides the 99 names as mentioned above.

It is going forward from juncture that the aberration begins to show up. From the perspective of this school of thought, the usage is not only disallowed by others, but now seems sure that it must be outlawed by an enactment of laws of the state.

As the word is allegedly sacred or sacrosanct in Islam, it couldn’t be possibly used by others. Similarly ‘sacred’ or ‘holy’ words like Kaabah, Syariat, Mufti, Ulama, etc, have also now been outlawed and made exclusively for Muslims in some states in the Federation. That has become the bone of contention. The assault on reason seems more pronounced in a world of information and knowledge.

Coupled with the fear of misuse, abuse and threats of Christian proselytizing on Muslims, the outlawing of the use of the name of Allah becomes a logical progression. A perusal of the edict or fatwa of the National Fatwa Council in May 2008 depicted these underpinning and overarching reasons. The case of the banning by the Home Ministry of the name of Allah in the Malay edition of Catholic Church Herald weekly has now occupy centre-stage national controversy.

Let us peruse the position taken by the Central Working Committee of PAS ie that of TGNA and DSHA, insofar as the usage of the name of Allah vis-à-vis the bigger mission of Dakwah of the Prophet Muhammad– spanning across 13 years in Mecca and 10 years in Medina.

The Quran has in no uncertain terms documented that the community during the advent of the final prophet, Muhammad (may peace be upon him) had similarly used the word ‘Allah’. Allah says in the Holy Quran:

“If you ask them, who it is that created the heavens and the earth, they will certainly say, “Allah”. Say: “Praise be to Allah”. But most of them understand not.

(Luqman, verse 25). Similar verses could be quoted from the Chapter of Al-Ankabut: verse 65.

Theologically, the idol-worshippers of Mecca even as they accepted Allah as Rabb (God), ascribed idols and others as gods. The reason for this polytheistic practice is clarified in the Quran in the Chapter of az-Zumar (The Groups) verse 3. “We only serve them (other deities) in order that they may bring us nearer to Allah”. They nonetheless accepted Allah as the Sustainer and Creator.

More explicitly of the other Abrahamic religions, the mention of the word Allah is seen in the verse in the Chapter of Hajj (Pilgrimage) verse: 40. Allah says:

“Had not Allah Check and Balance the aggression and excesses of one set or group of people by means of another, there would surely have been destruction of monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of Allah is commemorated in abundance….” (Hajj, Chapter 22, verse 40).

From numerous other verses, it is abundantly clear, argued the ulama of exegesis (tafseer-commentaries of the Holy Quran) that the name of Allah is not an exclusive right of the Muslims. Al-Qurtubi (1214-1273) an expert in exegesis of the Quran, concluded that in verse 40 above, Allah is not only commemorated in mosques but as well in the others places of worship of the Abrahamic faiths namely Christianity and Judaism.

It would be imperative to note of the jurisdiction of two of the most outstanding contemporary scholars in the Muslim world, namely Sheikh Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Sheikh Dr. Wahbah Az- Zuhaili who recently visited Malaysia, concerning this issue.

Both not only endorsed it as permissible but indeed commendable as a mean to unite the Brotherhood of Humanity, though not of the Brotherhood of Faith. It is the best opportunity for us to prove that Islam and religion per se should unite and not divide us.

Again, very clearly the permissibility of the usage of ‘Allah’ is enshrined in the Quran. That should supersede other arguments of Islamic Legal maxims as they are subservient to and couldn’t override the provision of the Quran texts and Prophetic tradition (in the methodology of Al-Istidlal).

More importantly, it must be always reminded that the entire Quran is in fact an embodiment of the Dakwah and the Risalah of the Prophet Muhammad in the effort to establish the true meaning of “Islam as a Mercy to Mankind” – Rahmatan Lil ‘Alamin.

Quite evidently, the thought of DDHD et al results in exclusivity and disengagement while the latter stresses on the need of Islam and Islamists to be ‘inclusive’ and ‘engaged’ in the bigger agenda of Islamic Dakwah and Islamic Political Advocacy. Engaging rather than disengaging, should be the overarching consideration of policy-makers in legislative and think-tanking position of Islamist institutions.

While the approach of Usuludin emphasises the importance of purity of faith within the Muslim Ummah, very unfortunately it unconsciously assumes a ‘siege mentality’ when it relates to others.

It invariably reduces Islam and namely ‘Allah’ together with other ‘sacred’ words, into an exclusive right of Muslims and must be protected from any intrusion from adherents of other faiths. You simply couldn’t engage when you are ‘exclusive’. On the contrary, you in fact marginalise hence alienate others.

Much as it breeds contempt, it also serves as convenient fodders for distrust between religions, a situation totally contrary to the supreme purpose of Dakwah and ar-Risalah. It many sense, it has become untenable and ludicrous.

The position of TGNA and DSHA, representing the mainstream PAS has made it categorically clear that ‘based on the Quran and the Islamic principles, the use of the word Allah by the people of the Abrahamic faiths such as Christianity and Judaism, is acceptable.

In this regard, both have again emphasised the usage of Allah must not be misused or abused or it will affect racial and religious harmony in the country. Incidentally, the former Mufti of Perlis has also stressed on the need to have clear guidelines. He said that the word ‘Allah’ could only be used to refer to the one true God and not to be ascribed to stones and idols.

DSHA has also objected to politicising the emotive issue as this could threaten the peace among the different religious groups in the country. PAS now strongly condemns the act of intimidation and violence as a mean of cowing down the citizenry to passively submit to a new form of ‘gang-sponsored terrorism’. Very positively, both TGNA and DSHA advocated a solution of dialogue and discourse as the basis of enhancing mutual respect and understanding between religions and cultures in nation rebuilding.

In all fairness, it must be said that PAS has finally out of age to present herself as an Islamist party that understands the need of a plural politics in the new democratic landscape of national politics.

It must be equaly said that this position hasn’t been taken simply to appease and to win more votes from the non-Muslims constituencies. We in fact risk marginalising our core Islamist supporters from our stronghold Malay belt. Could our political nemesis, Umno stand up to say the same?

As an Islamist Party we have to do what is first and foremost “Right” in the eyes of the Holy Quran and strive hard (making ijtihad) at contextualising it to our unique demography of a truly plural and mixed society. Yes we have to wind the middle-ground. Yes we have to win the Malay-Muslims vote. But we first seek to win the pleasure of the Almighty Allah. We seek to establish ‘Justice for All’.

If by so doing we enjoy the trust, mandate and support of the electorates, Praised be unto Allah, The Lord of the entire Universe.

Alhamdulillah! Allahu Akbar!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Money leaves this country on an unprecedented scale.

Malaysia's Disastrous Capital Flight.

Churches are not the only thing to have been going up in flames in Malaysia. Take a look at the nation's foreign exchange reserves. They fell by close to 25 percent during 2009 according to investment bank UBS even though the country continued to run a huge surplus on the current account of its balance of payments.

Says UBS: "Question: which Asian country had the biggest FX losses in 2009?" The answer is Malaysia and by a very large margin; we estimate that official reserves fell by well more than one quarter on a valuation-adjusted basis". It describes the situation as "bizarre" and contrasts Malaysia with other countries with large current account surpluses – Thailand, China, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong – which have seen their reserves increase – as should be expected.

In short there has been an exodus of money from Malaysia on a scale which surpasses that which occurred during the Asian crisis. Nor is this just a mirage. The decline is also reflected in a sudden decline in base money supply – even while, thanks to Bank Negara, broader M2 has continued to grow modestly.

Who is responsible for this massive outflow? And where has it gone? The questions cannot be answered from the data and probably will not be by a government that knows its own state-controlled enterprises, headed by Petronas, may probably be responsible for part of it. The more certain reason however is the outflow of local private capital has been taking place on an unprecedented scale in response to political instability, massive official corruption and discrimination against non-Malays.

This capital bloodletting has as yet attracted little attention because Malaysia's foreign debt levels had declined dramatically since the Asian crisis and its reserves reached very healthy levels. So the outflow has not disturbed the financial markets, and Bank Negara has easily been able to keep interest rates low and the currency strong.

But unlike 1998, when the exodus of hot foreign money was a major contributor to the crisis, foreigners cannot be blamed. There is little speculative interest in the ringgit and the Malaysian bourse has rather fallen off the map as far as foreign institutional money is concerned. The BRICs, India, China, Russia, Brazil have taken the merging market lead once dominated by Southeast Asia.

Nor is there much evidence that the Middle East money which was supposed to be flowing into Muslim Malaysia, into holiday apartments or Johor's massive Iskandar development zone, has been much in evidence. Malaysia's one recent success, the development of its sukuk (Islamic bond) market may have caused more capital outflow than inflow. At any rate any overall net inflow of foreign capital whether into bonds, equities, factories or real estate has been dwarfed by the exodus of Malaysian money.

The latter is reflected in the weakness of private sector investment, which now trails public investment. Indeed it explains why the economy remains weak despite very healthy prices for most of Malaysia's commodity exports. The nation has been running a current account surplus of more than 10 percent of gross domestic product for the past decade and hit about 17 percent of GDP in the year just ended. Initially this surplus was needed to pay down debt accumulated during the mid-1990s Mahathir boom years and to rebuild foreign exchange reserves to healthy levels.

But subsequently it became simply a consequence of the weakness of private investment. Domestic investors were discouraged by the corrupt and warped system and foreigners moved to China and elsewhere. GDP growth has become ever reliant on government stimulus – again racially biased in its allocation -- financed by a persistently large budget deficit.

Meanwhile, publicly controlled capital has been rushing overseas. Petronas has been spending its billions in profits around the world as it attempts to become a major global player – at the expense of Malaysian citizenry in general and the oil and gas producing states in particular. Other government-controlled entities such as Malayan Banking Bhd have been bidding top dollar for foreign assets – such as Bank Internasional Indonesia.

Often with the exodus of money goes an exodus of talent as highly skilled persons disadvantaged by race or, as in the case of some Malays, disgusted by local corruption or primitive religious authorities, take themselves and their capital to Australia, Canada, India, China, etc.

The 2009 reserves loss may have had some specific cause which will not be repeated. But it has merely served to underline a dismal trend which has been in evidence for the best part of a decade. Malaysia has so far been saved from itself by the commodity price gains of the past five years – with even the late 2008 collapse now largely reversed. Oil and palm oil may be off their peaks but both are now double their prices of five years ago.

It is better not to imagine what will happen to Malaysia if prices collapse to 2004 levels and stay there. Better now to address the real reasons behind capital outflow and lack of private investment.