Archive for March, 2008

Good Team, Bad Captain!

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

Among other things, in this election Malaysians have asserted in no uncertain terms that they do not approve of Abdullah’s inept administration, and his tolerance if not encouragement of corruption and shady practices among those closest to him.  With his new cabinet however, Abdullah once again demonstrated that he has learned nothing from the election debacle, his frequent declarations to the contrary notwithstanding.

            While the addition of fresh talent in the persons of Amirsham Aziz and Zaid Ibrahim makes this a good cabinet, the retention of the same old tired faces as Syed Hamid, together with the inclusion of tainted characters like the “double Muhammad” Taib, smudges what otherwise would be an excellent team.  It was, as the Economist noted, Abdullah’s shuffling deckchairs on a personal Titanic.

            This election did what Abdullah could not, that is, get rid of deadwoods like Samy Vellu and incompetents like Zainuddin Maidin.  Voters showed the way but Abdullah did not carry it further with his choice of a new cabinet.  This good new team is cursed with the same old bad captain.

            A team no matter how talented could not turn an incompetent captain into a good one.  Neither would a prolonged “warm up” time accomplish much; a bad captain will still remain so.  As one blogger cheekily noted, today even Abdullah’s “sign dah tak laku” (signature is worthless, as on a bounced check), in reference to the Raja of Perlis ignoring Abdullah’s choice for a Mentri Besar.  As of my writing, the Sultan of Trengganu too is set to do likewise.

            Abdullah’s cabinet remains bloated with 33 ministers, including five in his own department.  His “reform” consists of nothing more than changing faces.  He fails to address more fundamental issues like whether any of those ministries are needed at all.

            For example, what is glaringly obvious from this election is that the Ministry of Information has no credibility with Malaysians or foreign observers.  It is nothing more than the propaganda arm of the ruling party, and an inept one at that.  Replacing its minister would not alter that reality.  In the Age of the Internet, this is one ministry Malaysia can do without.  Abolishing it, together with other unneeded ministries like Sports, Tourism, and Federal Territory, among others, would shrink the cabinet and streamline the administration.

            This huge cabinet is unwieldy.  No meaningful or robust discussions could take place.  Even if each minister were to speak for only a few minutes, cabinet meetings would stretch for hours.

            Lee Kuan Yew, who knows something about forming an effective cabinet and selecting capable ministers, once said that he would appoint only those for whom a cabinet appointment would mean a reduction in their personal earnings.  This does not mean that Singapore pays its ministers miserly – on the contrary they are very well compensated – rather that those ministers have excelled elsewhere and thus are earning considerably more before they become ministers.

            Only two of Abdullah’s appointees, Amirsham and Zaid Ibrahim, meet Lee’s stringent criterion.  Long-serving former Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz would find few takers in the private sector for her talent.  The only reason she remains calm after being fired is not to jeopardize her chance of being given plump directorships in the many GLCs.  Further, if she were to complain too loudly, watch the ACA suddenly becoming diligent in scrutinizing her old AP files.

  

Blemishes and Kudos

 Abdullah’s commitment to combat corruption is made hollow by his bringing Muhammad Taib into the cabinet.  He was the former Mentri Besar of Selangor who was caught at an Australian airport with literally millions in cash on his person.  He was acquitted from the criminal charge of not declaring the currency, but he has yet to explain how he secured the loot in the first place.

            If Abdullah has not asked Muhammad that pertinent question, then he (Abdullah) is derelict in his duties by not exercising due diligence in selecting his ministers.  If Abdullah did ask and was satisfied with Muhammad’s answer, then Abdullah owes the public to share that explanation.  Failure to do so would make Abdullah’s renewed call to combat corruption more than hollow; it would be hypocritical.

            Yes, that incident took place over a decade ago, old story Muhammad would claim.  However, there is no statute of limitation with criminal acts.  Time does not make a corrupt act less corrupt.

            I applaud Zaid Ibrahim’s appointment.  He is one of the few independent minded and unafraid to challenge the leader, a rare quality especially among Malays.  We are still feudalistic, blindly loyal to leaders regardless of circumstances.  I also applaud him for his commitment to the rule of law.  Also rare among Asian leaders and newly rich, Zaid is well known for his philanthropic works.  Forbes magazine recently listed him as one of Asia’s top philanthropists.

            Of interest here is that Zaid Ibrahim was only recently found guilty of “money politics” by UMNO’s Disciplinary Committee, whose esteemed members included Zaki Azmi, now Court of Appeal President, the second highest position.  Zaid strenuously appealed his “conviction” right up to the President of UMNO, Abdullah, but to no avail.  It reflects more on the credibility and prestige of that disciplinary committee (more correctly, the lack of both) that Abdullah would now appoint Zaid to the cabinet to be in charge of law and the judiciary!

            I have the highest regard for Zaid’s personal integrity and professional honor.  I bring this up merely to demonstrate Abdullah’s and also UMNO’s hypocrisy towards disciplining its members.  The fact that members of UMNO Disciplinary Committee would choose to remain silent on Zaid’s appointment attests to the “seriousness” with which they executed their duties.  Let us acknowledge openly what was previously simply alluded to, that disciplinary committee was nothing more than a kangaroo court, its deliberations not worth considering, not even by UMNO’s president.

            Zaid should consider his “conviction” a singular badge of honor.  When knaves and crooks rule and do the judging, the virtuous and honorable would be considered criminals.

 

Presidential Power versus Collective Cabinet

 In the previous cabinet, Abdullah was also the Minister of Finance and of Internal Security.  That would be a tough assignment for even the most accomplished executive.  With Abdullah, well, the results were obvious; he was totally ineffective.  He held the Finance portfolio only to ensure that his family and cronies would get plump government contracts and privatization projects.  In the new cabinet, Abdullah still holds on to Finance but he has given up Internal Security.

            Abdullah continues to have the five full plus four deputy ministers in his department.  He is developing a presidential-type administration in tangent with our customary collective cabinet responsibility.  This could potentially give rise to unnecessary conflicts.  Eliminating those positions would reduce the size of the cabinet and enhance its efficiency.

            As a former civil servant Abdullah revels in the committee system.  His answer to every problem is to appoint a committee; it is a sly way to duck personal responsibility.

            I have an observation:  The executive talent of a leader is inversely related to his penchant for forming committees.  Abdullah is “Exhibit A” for my thesis; he has never seen a committee he does not like.

            Therein lies the problem; Malaysia is being “committeed” to death.  We cannot allow Abdullah to do that; we must force him step down for the good of the country.

 

Malaysia: Change Is Long Overdue

Friday, March 28th, 2008

Farish A. Noor

For as long as they can remember, Malaysians have been told time and again that there can only be political stability in the country as long as the status quo is defended. This rather uninspiring message was, of course, delivered by none other than those who were already in power and who had every reason to wish to remain in power for as long as humanly possible. Since it became independent in 1957 Malaysia has been ruled by the same coterie of right-of-centre Conservative-nationalist parties led by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) and its allies in the former Alliance coalition and now the National Front. For more than half a century Malaysians were told that this was the natural order of things and that to even entertain the idea of there being a different government was tantamount to political heresy of sorts.

            Yet a quick survey of the political landscape of many a post-colonial nation-state today would show clearly that almost every post-colonial country in the world has experienced a change of government, and in many cases this transition has come about without leading to chaos and tumult in the streets. The nationalists of Algeria were eventually kicked out of office after it became patently clear that their brand of conservative nationalism served only to disguise what was really a corrupt mode of patronage politics. In India the Congress party that had for so long rested on its laurels and prided itself with the claim that it was the party that won India’s independence has been soundly beaten at both the national and state level; again for the same reason. Why even Indonesia that suffered under three decades of military rule has made the slow but sure transition to a fledgling democracy of sorts, and the mainstream media in Indonesia today remains the most open and courageous in all of Southeast Asia. So why not Malaysia?

            The election results of March 2008 have shown the world that in Malaysia at least race and communal-based voting may soon become a thing of the past. This may have been a protest vote against the lackadaisical performance of Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, but it did nonetheless send a very clear message to the government and all the parties in the country. It signalled that the Malaysian public was tired of empty promises and having sweet nothings whispered in their ears, while the government continues along its inebriated pace of mismanaging the country. It also reminded all politicians from all parties that the Malaysian voters will no longer vote along racial or religious-communitarian lines, and that henceforth they will vote for the best candidate who can do her or his job better than the other bloke.

            If this is not a sign of political maturity and responsibility, then this analyst doesn’t know what is. The Malaysian voters were literally warned by the ruling parties to vote for them, yet they defied the might of the government and were prepared to take the costs. Yet soon after the election results were known there were still voices among the ruling elite who had not yet adjusted to the realities on the ground. During a rather tiresome debate live on TV with a prominent has-been from the ruling UMNO party, I was struck by how outdated, disconnected and irrelevant his views and discourse were: Rambling on about the need to protect his own ethnic and religious community while slandering the politicians of the opposite camp, he merely reiterated every single cliché on race politics we had been fed for the past fifty years. If people like these are still adamant that there should be no change in Malaysia, then we all know that the time for change has already come.

            The fact is that the changes we have seen in Malaysia over the past two decades are not unique to Malaysia and are in fact simply the signs of the times we live in. All over the developing world we have witnessed the creation of better-connected, better-informed and better-educated urban constituencies that are more plural, cosmopolitan, diverse, hybrid and politically literate and informed. It has to be remembered that the Iranian revolution that brought to an end the decades-long regime of the Shah of Iran took place in the most urbanised Muslim country in the world then, where more than half of Iran’s population were urban-based.

            Likewise it was no surprise that the uprisings against Ferdinand Marcos and President Suharto began in the urban centres of the Philippines and Indonesia, as did the Thai ‘democratic revolt’ of 1973-76.

            Now that it is increasingly clear that Malaysia may have a change of government sooner than many Malaysians themselves had expected, it is imperative that Malaysians accept and understand the need for change: Political change is as natural as breathing and sleeping, and is nothing more than a mere normative aspect of modern democratic political life. As was the case with the fall of the Congress party in India, those political parties that stay on too long in power can only grow weak, corrupt and inefficient as a result of the exposure to the luxuries and temptations of power for too long. To its credit, when the time for change eventually came, the leaders of the Congress accepted their defeat and took their bow in time to preserve what little remained of their dignity and standing. In time the party was allowed to heal itself and come back to power – once again via democratic means.

            Other post-colonial societies like Malaysia should heed this lesson well and learn to accept the fact that calling themselves ‘democracies’ means having to be democracies and behave like democracies as well. The failure of the ruling National Front coalition at the 2008 elections speaks volumes about the degree of disconnect that has set into the upper ranks of the ruling parties, and underscored their irrelevance in the eyes of the Malaysian public themselves. For the UMNO-led ruling coalition to remain in denial and to deny the fact that the Malaysian political landscape has already shifted from underneath its feet would be to compound the problem faced by themselves and the country. For this reason alone, the responsibility now lies with the leaders of this enfeebled government to admit to their mistakes and pave the way for change, even if it means sacrificing their long-held position of power and dominance over the country. For the question remains: If and when change is long overdue and can no longer be resisted, would not the preservation of the status quo be the cause of tumult and chaos we have dreaded all along?

 

 Dr. Farish A. Noor is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University of Singapore; and one of the founders of the www.othermalaysia.org research site.

 Dr. Farish (Badrol Hisham) Ahmad-Noor, Senior Fellow, Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Research Director for the Research Cluster ‘Transnational Religion in Contemporary Southeast Asia’, Nanyang T

Towards A Competitive Malaysia #50

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Chapter 8:  Culture Counts  (Cont’d)

Changing Culture: Lessons From Genetics

In nature, genes are stable, but changes do occur. Such spontaneous mutations would take generations to manifest themselves through natural selection. The process could be hastened through selective breeding where plants or animals with the desired characteristics were bred to each other. Through such repeated inbreeding you would get a population with the uniform desired traits.

Humans however cannot be subjected to selective breeding, though that does not stop some leaders from trying, not on themselves but on their followers. Lee Kuan Yew tried something similar by having a government agency for the sole purpose of matching graduates in his foolish attempt to breed a race of super nerds. Mahathir too suggested something similar by encouraging Malays to intermarry. Their understanding of human biology must be gleaned from reading The Dummy’s Guide to Human Genetics.

Such selective breeding has its own inherent risks of intensifying some other undesirable traits. Selective breeding produced the German shepherd with its distinctive shape and behavior, but also the traits for hip malformation.

There is a cultural equivalence of selective breeding. Imagine a society wanting to encourage in its members the aptitude for business. Favoring individuals with proven ability through generous rewards and honors would encourage others (even those not particularly gifted) to develop those traits. Soon those desirable traits would become widespread. America rewards its entrepreneurs like Ted Turner and Bill Gates generously; they in turn inspire others.

Modern genetics can improve the speed and guesswork of breeders by selectively manipulating the environment. Assume a bacterium had spontaneously mutated to develop resistance to a certain drug. Left alone it would take about a hundred generations before that trait is manifested in the general colony. Selective breeding would speed up the process a bit, but it would till be haphazard.

However, by manipulating the environment like exposing the mixed colony to that specific drug, it would quickly eliminate those bacteria that do not have the resistance and simultaneously let only those that have the trait to survive and populate the colony. After only a few generations, the whole colony would acquire the drug resistance.

This technique too has its cultural equivalence. In encouraging Malays to pursue the sciences, in addition to rewarding those who are successful, we could alter the social environment positively by increasing the number of science teachers, classes, and scholarships, and negatively by discouraging the pursuit of liberal arts by eliminating scholarships for and increasing the rigor and costs of those courses.

Unfortunately, while Malay leaders profess loudly their wish for Malays to pursue the sciences, the rewards and social environment are skewed towards not encouraging them to do so. Malays who are rewarded with senior positions in the civil service or directorships of GLCs are rarely those qualified in the sciences. Those few Malay scientists who are being rewarded have long ago abandoned their laboratories for the comfort of the administrator’s offices while the true “bench scientists” are largely ignored. That is definitely not the way to encourage Malays to pursue the sciences.

Grafting is yet another genetic technique to propagate desirable characteristics. The shoot of a plant with the desirable features (sweet fruits) is grafted onto the trunk of its wild counterpart. This new grafted plant will then produce fruits with characteristics of its grafted shoot. Vineyards and orchards rely exclusively on this technique, accounting for the uniformity of their fruits.

Comparable grafting occurs culturally. When Muslim traders entered the Malay world, they grafted Islam onto the native culture. First the traders converted the sultan, and as the prevailing Malay culture then (as now) commanded the masses to follow their leader, the faith quickly took root.

Similar grafting occurs regularly and almost unnoticed through our daily social and cultural interactions, but in their aggregate they too effect profound changes. The Black commentator Thomas Sowell wrote of his grandmother’s experience as a nanny for a White family. She would observe how the parents taught their children table manners and read storybooks at bedtime. She in her own way tried to emulate those routines with her own children. When the White family discarded their old magazines and children books, she would gratefully take them for her own children. She was appreciative of her work, both for the income and the experience. Having seen how the rich lived, she wanted to change her own life so that her children would one day get to enjoy such a lifestyle. She did not envy the White family; on the contrary she admired them.

Another Black nanny may also work for a rich White family. Instead of learning from the experience, she would seethe with anger over the excesses and affluence. She would be resentful; she could not imagine the luxury had she not work for that family. She wondered how much of that wealth was earned over the backs of poor hardworking Blacks like her. When the family would offer her its throwaway magazines and hand-me-down clothing, she felt offended. Her family had dignity, she would hiss silently.

Regardless of who was right or wrong, if one were to guess which nanny was happier with her work and more likely to have a successful family, who would one bet on? Both were underclass Blacks from the ghetto, both were subjected to the same experience and cultural influences, but they were affected in profoundly different ways. Their different attitudes towards and assumptions of the world would then be transmitted to their children.

The first grandmother would more likely produce children and grandchildren like Thomas Sowell; the second, rebellious malcontents of the Black Panther variety. I relate in an earlier book a similar experience of my father. He attended Malay school in the village, the only school his family could afford. His world was therefore very insular. He was fortunate or smart enough to be admitted to the Sultan Idris Teachers’ College (SITC) in Tanjong Malim, the only institution then that catered to graduates of Malay schools. His lecturers were almost all British colonialists, and my father had never before been exposed to the English, their language or culture. He had minimal talent in learning a new language and thus could not benefit much from his lecturers when they taught him literature and philosophy. What he could learn from them with his limited English was music. And learned it he did. He was an eager student and they were enthusiastic teachers. They introduced this village kid to the wonderful world of music and to the great composers. My father was profoundly influenced. Yes, at times he felt inadequate and even inferior when he compared those great compositions to the simple melodies of his favorite lullabies.

He was also intrigued by something else. What made those young English men and women venture thousands of miles away into the jungle, away from friends and family to teach uncouth Malay youths? Why didn’t their parents force them to marry the boy or girl next door and begin their family right away, as my father’s parents had been urging him to do? Directly as a result of his experience at Tanjong Malim, my father had a profound and abiding respect for the British even though they were Malaysia’s colonial masters.

His contemporaries at SITC were men like Syed Nasir Ismail and Ghaffar Baba, giants in Malay politics. Their attitude towards the British could not be more different. Ghaffar Baba once said, in referring to his experience at SITC, that the British were not content with colonizing Malaysia, they also wanted to colonize Malay minds! He was disdainful of those Malays who aspired to learn English, or God forbid, to further their studies in Britain. To Ghaffar and his ilk, the Malay world is wide enough; there is no need to venture beyond.

Why did the same college experience affect my father differently than it did the Syed Nasirs and Ghaffar Babas? Again, sidestepping the issue of who was right or wrong, which attitude or mindset would more likely produce a harmonious and better world?

A more instructive point is this. The Malay world lauds the Ghaffar Babas and Syed Nasirs; both were given heroes’ burial at the National Mosque. Bless their soul! I do not condemn them but merely wish to illustrate my point on the importance of such cultural values as the personalities we honor and the traits we value.

Instances like Black maids working for White families or my father being exposed to British lecturers are examples of social grafting. A larger scale would be when Malaysia sent thousands of its young abroad to study. Although the intent had nothing to do with social engineering, merely to supply the country with trained personnel, nonetheless the results were the same. These students absorbed the cultural norms and values of the West (most merely the superficial trappings and trivia of the West; a few, its more enduring values), and later spread them into the general Malay polity and society.

Next:  Cultural Mutations and Cultural Engineering

UMNO’s Ultras Defanged!

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

One least noted but most consequential impact of this last election is that those rabidly racist UMNO ultras have been effectively defanged.  Malaysians can now be assured that the next UMNO General Assembly will not see the likes of Hishammuddin Hussein or Khairy Jamaluddin putting on their race-taunting, kris-wielding stunts.

            These hitherto UMNO young bulls have been, as we say here on the ranch, “cut off.”  Yes, castrated!  They are now reduced to sterile steers destined for the slaughterhouse; they are not worthy to propagate the herd.

            Khairy Jamaluddin in particular had a near-death political experience in Rembau, his father’s village and a previously safe UMNO constituency.  Unknown PKR’s candidate Badrul Hisham Shaharin, or Chegu Bard, a product of the local kampong school and the nearby Raja Melewar Teachers’ College, proved a formidable opponent for Khairy, the self-puffed ego and product of Oxford University via Singapore’s World United College.

            Khairy is smart enough to realize that had it not been for the timely “rescue” in the form of postal votes, together with the earlier last minute cancellation by the Elections Commission on the use of indelible ink that would have prevented fraudulent voting, Chegu Bard would have easily humbled Khairy.  How else to explain an initial hundred-vote victory for Chegu Bard would turn out to be a massive 5,000-vote victory for Khairy on “recount”?

            As I wrote elsewhere, even UMNO morons are teachable.  That is not a surprise, for the ability to learn is an attribute of all living things.  The only variable is the slope of the learning curve and of course the timing.

            UMNO operatives may have learned their lesson with this election, but it is already too late.  The implosion of UMNO has begun.

            That said though, there are still some slow learners within UMNO; the lesson has yet to sink into Abdullah Badawi, for example.  He still thinks he had a thunderous victory and vows to carry on with business as usual.  Unfortunately his ministers and UMNO Supreme Council members are all lembik.  To them, their naked emperor is still immaculately attired in fine embroidery.  There is no jantan left in UMNO to disabuse Abdullah of his delusion.  That is, until now.

Enter Mukhriz Mahathir

 Enter Mukhriz Mahathir, yes the scion of that Mahathir.  Abdullah had earlier selected Mukhriz to contest the “iffy” seat of Jerlun instead of the more predictable Langkawi.  Much to the surprise of his detractors, in particular the hierarchy of UMNO Youth, Mukhriz won handily, and without resorting to a recount!

            In a letter to Prime Minister Abdullah immediately following the election, with convenient copies to top UMNO leaders who were too chicken to convey the blunt message directly to Abdullah, Mukhriz called for Abdullah to resign for the greater honor of the party and “bangsa, agama dan negara” (race, religion, and nation).

            Surprisingly, the mainstream media carried this item.  Perhaps those editors have also learned their lesion in this election.  It would not have mattered anyway as that letter is widely circulated on the Internet and foreign press.

            Many would think that Mukhriz is a chip off the old block, recalling that nearly forty years ago his father, then a defeated candidate in the parliamentary election, also sent a similar letter to Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman asking him to resign following the 1969 election mess and the ensuing horrendous race riot.

            Nothing could be further from the truth.  Unlike Mahathir’s letter which was written in traditional Malay form filled with self humiliating terms like patek and hamba (slaves), and was excessively deferential as a peasant would in addressing his lord and master, Mukhriz’s was direct and with the minimal of formality.  It was to be sure polite, but there was no mistaking his blunt message.

            One would think that Mukhriz would shy away from such a bold move.  For one, he is a relative newcomer to politics.  Mahathir had expressly forbidden his children to be active in politics while he was in power, a lesson he unfortunately did not impress upon his successor.  Mukhriz should therefore be a “good” and “obedient” Malay; meaning, he should “know his place.”

            For another, Mukhriz should at least be terhutang budi (indebted) to Abdullah for having selected Mukhriz to contest this election.  Clearly this young man saw his duties beyond that of personal loyalty or gratitude.  Instead he saw his loyalty extends beyond any one personality or leader.  He clearly saw the greater cause for his party and country.

            Obviously Mukhriz is not your grandfather’s Malay.  He is a true modern-day Hang Jebat, loyal to institutions and principles, not personalities and titles.  He is a worthy and necessary adversary to the hordes of latter day Hang Tuahs who surround Abdullah these days.

            As an added measure, Mukhriz let it be known in his letter that he was prepared to face the consequences of his action, as if daring Abdullah to, “Go ahead! Make my day!”  Mukhriz was challenging Abdullah mano a mano, man to man, a gauntlet that could only have been thrown down by an assured jantan.

            Abdullah’s reaction?  He deferred to UMNO Youth leaders to “take the necessary action.”  Lembik leader!  As for UMNO Youth’s task-baring, nose-flaring, and kris-wielding Hishammuddin, his muted response was simply to assure the public that Mukhriz was speaking in his personal capacity.

            Earlier on party veteran Tengku Razaleigh also called on Abdullah to “take full responsibility” for the rout.  The Tengku was too genteel and indirect that Abdullah missed the sendir (subtlety).  Ku Li should have been more frontal like Tun Mahathir, who also called on Abdullah to quit.  Rest assured that there will be many more and louder such voices coming soon.

            I do not see Abdullah giving up voluntarily much less gracefully.  He has to be literally dragged out and figuratively hit on the head with a two-by-four.

            In Mukhriz we finally have a true “young Mahathir” in UMNO.  All along we had been duped by that other pretender, that Kurang ‘Jar (K‘J) character who had been publicly fancying himself as UMNO’s “young Mahathir.”

            We all know the fate of Hang Jebat in that story.  Before today’s Hang Tuahs in UMNO gloat however, they should remember the fate that befell the more important Malacca sultanate.

We Need An Intelligent Response To Islamphobia

Friday, March 21st, 2008

By Farish A. Noor

The recent declaration made at the OIC summit that calls for Muslim nation-states to act in a concerted manner and to take legal action against any country, group or individual who deliberately attacks Islam is noteworthy for the seriousness of its intent; but falls short of providing us with a real solution to the problem of racism and prejudice disguised behind the banner of Islam-bashing.

 For a start, one wonders if the arena of international law even allows states to take legal action against other actors and agents on such grounds; and one wonders what the modalities of such an action might be. But above all, we need to take a calm and rational distance from the problem itself and consider methods that will work and reject those that certainly won’t.

 The problem, however, is this: How can Muslims react rationally and coolly to acts of provocation at a time when even the utterance of the mutest words of protest are deemed by some as the irrational outpourings of misguided pious grief instead? The worry that some of us share at the moment is how the Muslims of the world will react to the release of the film produced by Geert Wilders, the leader of the Dutch Freedom Party. Wilders is known in Holland as a maverick politician on the make, an ambitious demagogue whose tactics are as loud as they are crude. His decision to make a film on the life of the Prophet Muhammad was calculated to raise the political temperature in Europe at a time when Muslim-non-Muslim relations have hit an all time low. Unlike the murdered film director Theo van Gogh who was a left-leaning activist and long-time supporter of minority concerns (and who, incidentally, also defended the rights of Muslim migrants in Holland), Wilders is a far-right politician who is clearly appealing to the baser parochial and exclusive sentiments of white Dutch society.

 It would be hypocritical, to say the least, that Wilders’ film which presents Islam as a religious system akin to Fascism and which compares the Prophet Muhammad to Hitler was meant to bring the communities of Holland closer together.

 But in reacting to the film the Muslim community worldwide would have to take into account some cautionary points:

 For a start, Geert Wilders happens to be a single individual who happens to lead a relatively small (though growing) political movement. In no way can we say that his is the voice of mainstream Dutch society which has historically been critical of racist demagogues and hate-mongers in its midst. Furthermore it should be remembered that thousands of Dutch citizens have also been active supporters and defenders of the rights of Muslims elsewhere, and that there are hundreds of Dutch NGOs and citizens groups that have been actively campaigning for the political rights of the Palestinians and the people of Iraq during the recent Gulf War. In condemning Wilders for his racist rant, it is absolutely imperative that the Muslim communities of the world restrain from condemning Dutch society in toto, and Westerners in general.

 Secondly it should be noted that any mode of protest has to be measured and has to reflect the true nature of the insult that is perceived. The concern of many Muslim intellectuals and leaders today is that as the protests against Wilders’ film grow across the planet, we will see yet another round of violent demonstrations accompanied by the now-familiar rhetoric of death threats and hate speeches. When will Muslims realise that reacting to racism and bigotry can only be effective when it is done from a higher moral ground, and not by responding to hate with hate?

 To this end, we need to emphasise that Muslims will never occupy the higher moral ground as long as they do not learn to co-operate with other faith communities and realise that our lot is a common one, shared with the rest of humanity. It is therefore vital that any steps taken to respond to the film by Geert Wilders be inclusive and accommodating in character, and that Muslim leaders, intellectuals and activists reach out for support from other faith communities including Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and all those who are against all forms of racism and bigotry. Only then will Muslims give the impression that we are not an isolated, marginalised and parochial community driven primarily by our own exclusive sectarian interests.

Lastly, while responding to Wilders’ outlandish and repugnant misrepresentation of Islam and Muslims, Muslims also need to be honest enough to recognise the faults and errors in ourselves. To condemn racist non-Muslims who deliberately abuse Islam is one thing, but Muslims also need to do some proper in-house cleaning and recognise that not all is well is the house of Islam: Racism, sexism, corruption, nepotism and abuse of power remain pressing realities in so many Muslim countries today. Likewise the hate-discourse of the likes of Wilders can also be compared to the hate-discourse of many radically violent Muslim demagogues, who do deserve to be called Muslim Fascists too.

 Can this dilemma be resolved in time before we witness yet another round of Muslim-West antagonism as we did in the wake of the Muhammad cartoon controversy of 2004-2005? One will only know the answer to that question when the controversy has passed and the dust has settled. But one thing is for certain at this juncture: No resolution to the perennial problem of Islamophobia and Muslim-bashing can be reached as long as we react to such slander and bigotry with slander and bigotry of our own. One does not fight hate with hate; and an intelligent, universal, inclusive reaction to the problem of Islamophobia is perhaps the first step to finding a solution. Let us hope that Muslims will keep their cool this time round.

Dr. Farish A. Noor is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University of Singapore; and one of the founders of the www.othermalaysia.org research site.

 Dr. Farish (Badrol Hisham) Ahmad-Noor, Senior Fellow, Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Research Director for the Research Cluster ‘Transnational Religion in Contemporary Southeast Asia,  Nanyang Tech Uni, Singapore Tel (off) 6790 6128

 

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Towards A Competitive Malaysia #49

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

Chapter 8  Culture Counts   (Cont’d)

Culture as Society’s Template

When we are born we are a blank slate, culturally. Acculturation paints the full though not necessarily final picture. Culture is society’s template of its collective beliefs, practices, and norms that would be expressed by its members. Culture is to society what genes are to individuals, the blueprint for development. Environment, both normal and abnormal, plays a major role in altering what our genetics and culture have programmed us to be. We are never trapped by genetic or cultural determinism.

I have a friend whose physical characteristics are definitely Chinese. He was abandoned by his biological parents during the Japanese Occupation and was adopted by a Malay family. The physical manifestations of his Chinese genes are obvious and cannot be changed except in a limited fashion through plastic surgery. What surprised me when we were young was his behavior; he could hardly contain his anti-Chinese prejudices. It was jarring seeing a Chinese-looking Malay fulminating in his village dialect against the Chinese. It would be akin to seeing a Negro kid, having been brought up by a redneck family, denigrating Blacks in his unmistakable Southern drawl.

I am pleased that this friend, having traveled the world and now a successful businessman with clients from all races, is a markedly different person. He has obviously outgrown his cultural prejudices, but no, he still has his obvious physical features which are expressions of his genes. This brings me to my point:  while the physical manifestations of ones genes cannot be changed once expressed, the expressions of one’s cultural “genes” are never final. They can and are indeed being continually changed by our experiences and environments.

Contrary to common misconception, the expressions of our physical genes can be blunted or even prevented by the environment. Tay Sachs is a genetic disease characterized by the body’s inability to break down a particular amino acid found in the normal diet. The resultant accumulation becomes toxic, damaging the brain. If their diet were modified to remove the offending amino acid, they would be spared. Environment trumping genetics!

Environment may also expose hitherto hidden genetic traits. Many Asians have genes for salt sensitivity; they cannot handle excess salt (sodium). With “primitive” diet where the salt content is low, this trait remains hidden. With “progress” and the consequent high-salt diet, these individuals cannot handle the load and thus would develop high blood pressure. In this situation, the “blame” could easily be with one’s genes or the environment.

The same dynamics occur with expressions of cultural “genes.” In a stable feudal culture, one may readily accept one’s fate as an orang hamba (slave) in the sultan’s palace or untouchable doomed in the streets of Calcutta. However, when the environment is changed as with colonization, all bets are off. If some generous colonialists were to build a school and you benefited from that education and ended up at university, you would no longer accept the fate destined for you by your culture. If your parents back in the village were to ask you to pay homage to the local sultan and kiss his hand, as with the traditional Malay mengadap, you would recoil. Your cultural equilibrium has been disturbed, in this case for the better, at least for yourself though not necessarily for the sultan.

When the environment is stable or not under stress, the society’s culture is faithfully transmitted to its members, and from one generation to the next through acculturation, just as genes are expressed in the individual and then transmitted through our chromosomes to the next generation. Our culture, like our genes, could also be changed, either through the natural process or be specifically induced.

Next:  Changing Culture: Lessons From Genetics

Still Blind To Reality!

Sunday, March 16th, 2008

If Abdullah Badawi could not leverage the huge mandate he received in 2004 into effective leadership, there is little hope that he could do any better now that he had been severely mauled in the last election.  Those who think otherwise are merely deluding themselves and engaging in wishful thinking.

            All the top leaders of UMNO are afflicted by this collective blindness, a willful refusal to see or even acknowledge this evident reality; they are engulfed in mass denial.

            Of course the likes of Najib Razak and Rafidah Aziz would unhesitatingly and shamelessly grovel themselves up to Abdullah; after all they serve at his pleasure.  Najib in particular does not want to disturb the current pattern, knowing full well that this would be Abdullah’s last term and that Najib will take over after that.  If Abdullah were to fumble now, there is no assurance that he would not take the whole crowd –that would include Najib – with him.

What amazes me however is when the likes of Shahrir Samad tried to spin the recent election debacle into something else.  He would like us believe that it was actually a positive development, the “maturing” of Malaysian society the consequence of Abdullah’s “enlightened” leadership!  The surprise was that he could utter that ridiculous claim with a straight face!

Maybe Shahrir felt beholden to Abdullah for having been selected as a parliamentary candidate.  Shahrir knows only too well the fate that befell lawyer Zaid Ibrahim.  Zaid was one of the few UMNO MPs who had the courage to criticize or at least disagree with Abdullah; consequently Abdullah dropped him as a candidate this time around.  Shahrir is drawing the wrong lesson.  He should instead recall that Zaid’s stock soared afterwards.  He was, among other things, named one of Asia’s top philanthropists.  And with UMNO being thrashed, Zaid must thank his lucky stars to have been spared the massacre in Kelantan.  God works in wonderful ways!

Then there is the hogwash circulating that it was not poor Abdullah’s fault for the electoral humiliation rather his advisors.  How convenient!  These Abdullah’s apologists are beginning to believe their own spin.  Abdullah’s advisors reflect on Abdullah; like begets like, meaning, Abdullah has dumb advisors because he himself is dumb.  Getting rid of his present advisors would not solve anything; he will get other dumb ones!

It is not just voters who have passed judgment on Abdullah’s leadership, so have investors.  Trading on the KL stock market had to be temporarily suspended on the Monday following the election.  Try spinning that!

It is well to remember that voters’ judgment is based on Abdullah’s past performance.  The stock market however is based on expectations.  They are declaring that Abdullah remaining as leader would be a disaster, and they are betting their money on that.

Lame Duck Prime Minister

 What happens to Abdullah as a person does not interest me in the least; the fate of Malaysia does.  Abdullah is now reduced to being a lame duck leader.  The longer he hangs on, the more damage he would inflict on his party and country.

If Abdullah does not step down now, Malaysia will in effect have no chief executive.  The whole cabinet and indeed the entire government machinery would be consumed with a leadership struggle, both overt and covert, right till the upcoming UMNO General Assembly this August.  Nothing substantive would be done, not that Abdullah was an effective executive at the best of time.  Everyone would be jockeying for position.  It is this uncertainty that is so corrosive to investor confidence.

            Indeed the infighting has already begun.  It starts out small, naturally enough, in the tiny state of Perlis where there is now an ugly tussle for the chief minister’s post.  Soon the crisis will spread, of trying to find scapegoats for the party’s humiliations and over the dwindling goodies.  It would not be pretty.

            Whatever economic, political and other gains that Abdullah’s hacks and family members hope to gain by his stubbornly clinging to power would vanish just as quickly with his toppling.  Remember how quickly they tried to humiliate Mahathir once he stepped down, and he was a very strong leader.  He fought back.  Abdullah is spineless; he could not even stand up to the chief minister of a tiny state like Perlis.  Abdullah would be piled on so quickly and so mercilessly once he is forced down such that the likes of me would be forced to take pity on the poor soul.

 New Political Dynamics

 This election alters fundamentally the political dynamics at the federal, state, and most importantly, the local levels.  This harsh reality has not yet to sink on UMNO operatives.  The loss of five states, especially the three most industrialized – Perak, Penang and Selangor – will have severe ramifications, far more than the loss of the two-third supra-majority in Parliament.

            All the major economic initiatives (the various “development corridors” except perhaps for the Iskandar Project) previously announced by Abdullah would require agreement from the involved state governments.  Now that those states are controlled by the opposition, approvals would not be automatic.

            While previous UMNO or Barisan chief ministers would readily kow tow to Abdullah (after all he appointed them), the likes of Khalid Ibrahim (Chief Minister of Selangor) or Lim Guan Eng (Penang) would have no such deference.  They would demand, among other things, that the various contracts be subjected to competitive biddings.  That would immediately dry up the hitherto steady stream of bounties that used to flow the way of UMNO cronies.

            Those previously fat UMNO cats would quickly be reduced to angry and hungry mangy felines, viciously fighting each other up for the rapidly dwindling morsels.

            An UMNO Mat Deros who could previously have bulldozed his way through the local council or state government merely by showing those cowed officials pictures of him performing umrah with Abdullah, would now find the going rough.  As for the real Mat Deros, now dead, watch his estate being saddled with unpaid assessments, plus penalties.  It would not surprise me that the infamous mansion in Klang to be cited for non compliance with local building codes and therefore had to be torn down.

            Rest assured that all those powerful UMNO ministers and functionaries wishing to have their own mansions in the cities of the states controlled by the opposition would no longer get sweetheart deals, where valuable crown lands would be handed to them at cut-rate prices a la Mat Deros.  They would heap their frustrations on Abdullah.  It would be tough on them and Abdullah, but good for Malaysia.  That is one positive development of this election.

See What Happens When You Play Around With The Keris

Saturday, March 15th, 2008

Farish A. Noor  

As the broken remnants of the Barisan Nasional recuperate and recover what is left of their shattered pride, it would be prudent to take a step back and look at some of the factors that have certainly contributed to the dismal showing of the BN component parties, UMNO in particular.

            It is clear to many that this election was, in some ways, a singularly unique event in the same way that the 2004 elections were special.  The 2004 election results could be read as a collective sigh of relief on the part of the Malaysian electorate after twenty years of rule under the Mahathir government, which witnessed a host of controversial incidents ranging from the BMF scandal of the early 1980s all the way up to Ops Lalang in 1987.  The enormous mandate given to the Badawi government was a sign that the public was thirsting for change and that they were no longer willing to live with the modes of governance and politics that we have all grown sadly accustomed to for lack of a choice.

            This time round, the electorate has once again spoken to signal their utter disillusionment after it became painfully evident that none of the reform policies foregrounded by the Badawi team were ever going to come true.  Instead this had been an administration long on gimmicks and novelties, but short on substance and delivery.  Was it necessary to send a Malaysian astronaut to space on a Russian craft, to make the vain boast that a Malaysian citizen had been there and done that?  If this was meant to assuage the anger and frustration of Malaysians who lived in estates and poorly-run low-cost urban housing, it certainly had the opposite effect of driving home the point that this administration was out of touch with reality and totally disconnected with the needs and wants of the people.

            But vain boasts notwithstanding, the Badawi government suffered its long-overdue shock due to the vain boasts of some of its leaders and spokesmen.  Here is it worth noting the effect that UMNO’s own overheated pyrotechnics had on the sentiments and sensibilities of a significant section of the Malaysian public; namely the non-Malays and non-Muslims of the country.  In particular we are referring to the repeated assertion on the part of some hot-headed UMNO leaders who continued to harp on about the notion of Malay dominance in a racially and religiously diverse and plural society.

            The abandonment of the MCA, Gerakan and MIC by the Malaysian electorate would suggest that the non-Malay voters have grown fed up with the toothless apologia of the non-Malay leaders and representatives of the BN when faced with the antics of UMNO demagogues and soap-box orators.  In particular we will recall the incidents when the leader of UMNO’s Youth Wing Hishamuddin Onn, brandished the keris in public, on stage, and pontificated at some length about Malay pride and the place of the Malays in Malaysia.

            The use of the keris as a symbol of racial unity and identity was and is in itself problematic, considering that the keris in Malaysia today is such a politically loaded symbol that is pregnant with meaning and historical connotations. Hishamuddin’s brandishing of the keris did not take place in a historical vacuum, even if the politician had no sense of history (which is unlikely to be the case.)

            As we all know, the keris has been transformed into a marker for a particular sort of right-wing ethno-nationalist ideology that serves the agenda of Malay racial and cultural supremacists since 1969 and all the way up to 1987 and beyond.  Need we remind the leaders of UMNO that some of them were also present at the Malay nationalists’ rally in Kampung Baru in 1987, when once again the keris was identified with Malay pride as well as the threat of violence?  UMNO leaders like Najib Razak were present when their supporters chanted and carried banners with slogans like “This keris will drink Chinese blood.

            It is against that specific historical context – that was fully engineered by UMNO, mind you – that Hishamuddin’s raising of the keris on several occasions aroused both the fear and anger of many non-Malays and Malays as well.  Was this not an act of provocation, where once again UMNO was brandishing its muscle in defiance of the other communities in the country?

            Compounding the problem was the MCA, Gerakan and MIC’s relative impotence and quietism when Hisham gave us this theatrical display of misplaced ethnic pride and muscular nationalism.  Despite the plaintive appeals of the leaders of MCA, Gerakan and MIC to desist from such soapbox pyrotechnics, neither Hisham, nor UMNO Youth, nor the Prime Minister himself altered course:  UMNO Youth was allowed a free hand to make such outrageous ethnic-communitarian demands at a time when MCA, Gerakan and MIC wished to assert their identity as equal partners of the BN.  It seemed almost as if by raising the keris in the way that he did, Hisham was indicating that UMNO Youth was more important than the other non-Malay component parties, and this repeated act of defiance drove in the nails in the coffins of the MCA, Gerakan and MIC respectively.

            Crucially the one person who could have said and done something to stop the erosion of the MCA, Gerakan and MIC?s credibility was Prime Minister Badawi; who could simply have pulled the reins on the hot-heats and chest-thumpers of UMNO Youth.  Yet even Badawi stood paralysed, allowing them to raise the ante further.  This apparent paralysis on the part of Prime Minister Badawi rendered null and void his now-vacuous claim that he was the “Prime Minister of all Malaysians.”  If he was indeed such a universal leader-figure, then why did this “Prime Minister of all Malaysians” do nothing and say nothing when the younger leaders of his own party were raising the spectre of racial supremacy before his very eyes?

            Thus it can perhaps be said that the election results of 2008 are an indicator of the extent to which MCA, Gerakan and MIC have been seen as the running dogs of UMNO in a BN coalition that has grown more and more unbalanced in the eyes of so many.  Playing around with kerises is something you do in old movies about silat warriors, but not in the context of modern-day Malaysian politics where respect for cultural diversity and the equal pride and status of all communities should be paramount.  The hot heads in UMNO Youth may have been playing to the Malay gallery when they pulled the stunt of drawing the keris in public, but the catastrophic damage they did to the image and standing of their component BN partners was beyond calculation.  In the end, however, it is not the keris, but rather the clumsy hand that wields it that is to be blamed.  UMNO’s two-faced management of race-relations, which was flawed from the outset, has undone itself and the BN.  To quote the popular refrain:  Padan Muka.

 

Dr. Farish A. Noor is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University of Singapore; and one of the founders of the www.othermalaysia.org research site.

Dr. Farish (Badrol Hisham) Ahmad-Noor, Senior Fellow, Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; Research Director for the Research Cluster “Transnational Religion in Contemporary Southeast Asia,” Nanyang Tech Uni, Singapore. Tel (off) 6790 6128

 

Towards A Competitive Malaysia #48

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

Chapter 8  Culture Counts

Imagine a rural Third World or ancient community:  small, isolated, and where everyone knows or is related to everyone else. The rhythm of life remains unchanged from day to day and from one generation to the next. Everyone knows their place; there is the lord and master, and the rest, the peasants. The relationship of one to the other is clear, unchanged, and predictable. The pattern is set and reinforced through shared beliefs, rituals, traditions, and other accoutrements of culture.

In traditional Malay society, when the sultan wanted the prized buffalo belonging to a peasant, all the sultan had to do was grab the animal. To the sultan, it was his due; to the peasant, well, it was his pleasure to serve his lord and master, so he was taught. Likewise, if the sultan were to fancy one of the village’s virgins, all he had to do was express his desire. It was embedded in the culture that leaders were to be served, not to serve.

The relationship among the peasants too was set and predictable. When a villager borrowed a pot of rice from a neighbor and later repaid it not with an equal amount of rice but with durian or coconut, the debt would have been considered settled. Everyone knew the value of everything; besides, the exchange was not a debtor-lender transaction rather of one peasant helping another. It was an expression of goodwill.

What holds a society together is the shared beliefs, and from there, the shared identity, practices, and other attributes of that culture. Many distinguish between core and peripheral beliefs. For Malays, belief in the Almighty Allah and the Hereafter are core beliefs. They willingly give up their life to defend that. Others like rituals and ceremonies are peripheral; they could be dispensed with minimal compulsion.

This neat classification is artificial. Even core beliefs can be changed with new interpretations. Medieval Christians shared many of present day Muslims’ beliefs and cultural norms, as in the transient nature of life and that everything is predestined. Then came John Calvin. Yes, God would predetermine your fate in this world as well as in the Hereafter, Calvin agreed, but in His wisdom He would give ample signs of His choice. God would show His hand by dispensing benevolence in this world on those He would more likely favor in the Hereafter.1

With this novel theological interpretation, Calvin’s flock suddenly became hard working so they would be successful and thus be seen as the recipients of God’s special blessings. Success in this temporal world would be interpreted as a sign of likely success in the Hereafter. The poor, hitherto seen as God’s favorite to inherit the earth, were now viewed differently. Their poverty was seen as a preview of what God had in store for them in the Hereafter. Thus was born the Protestant work ethic, and from which capitalism emerged.2 With one full swoop Calvin upended traditional Christian (at least non-Catholic) attitudes towards the poor and work.

Calvin read the same bible and holy texts as the clergies before him, but he gave a new interpretation. With that he uplifted his flock, from one helplessly dependent on God’s Benevolence to one that believed in their own salvation. Perhaps Calvin read the verse in the Quran about God not changing the condition of the people unless they themselves change it (Surah Al Rad “The Thunder” 13:11).

This demonstrates that cultural values, even core ones, can and do change, and that religious belief is never a hindrance to human progress. On the contrary, it is a force towards it. Humans should never be trapped by cultural determinism. We view reality and the greater cosmos through the prism of our culture.

While we cannot completely escape this constraint, we must not let this prism imprison us. The spectrum of reality in God’s universe is truly infinite, not limited to the rainbow pattern displayed by our particular cultural prism.

There is much squeamishness to link culture with the fate of society because of the associated racial undertones. In the hands of the bigoted, culture could become the new and politically accepted code word for race. When Lee Kuan Yew attributes Singapore’s success to “superior” Confucian values, he is also not too subtly proclaiming the presumed superiority of his Chinese race.

Next:  Culture As Society’s Template

Get Rid of Abdullah and UMNO’s Hang Tuahs

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

It is utterly reprehensible that Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi refuses to take responsibility for the debacle suffered by his party at the recent elections.  Even more despicable were his enablers in UMNO, its senior leaders.

            They all dutifully lined up peasant-like at Sri Perdana to pledge their personal loyalty to Abdullah the day following the electoral debacle.  These latter day “Hang Tuahs” – individuals loyal to leaders but not to principles or the organization – included Najib Razak, Hishammuddin Hussein, and Rafidah Aziz.

            I am certain they all obediently bowed down low and kissed the man’s limp hand solemnly.  Pathetic!  When they should have been apprising their leader of the grim political reality, they instead stooped low to humor and flatter him.  Those are the duties of court jesters, not of ministers and leaders.

            If these next leaders in UMNO cannot tell Abdullah the bad news to his face, how can we expect them to represent us in dealing with even more assertive foreign leaders?  If these are the faces of the future leaders of UMNO, how could we entrust them with the fate of our community?  Are these “lembik” (limp) characters the future “brave” defenders of Ketuanan Melayu?

            This whole crowd – and them some – must go.  UMNO must get rid of not only Abdullah but also his entire retinue of enablers and latter-day Hang Tuahs.  There is no alternative.  The only choice is whether UMNO members do the dirty job themselves and on their own timetable, or watch voters do it for the party.  The recent election is merely a preview; the next time it would be even uglier.

            Former Prime Minister Mahathir is wrong in saying that Abdullah destroyed UMNO.  It was not only Abdullah who did it; he had his supporting cast of enablers to help him.

            It is not all doom and gloom, however.  The party had faced many challenges in the past and had successfully overcome them.  All it took was the courage of a few or even of single individuals, as Mahathir did to the Tunku, the Father of Merdeka.  Where are the young Mahathirs in today’s UMNO?

            As for Mahathir, he admits to his grave mistake in selecting Abdullah.  Give Mahathir due credit, at least he recognizes his error and is trying his best to rectify it.  He has demanded that Abdullah take full responsibility for this electoral debacle.  Meaning, Abdullah should quit.  Mahathir however, can only do so much.  Besides, he has little or no stake in the future of UMNO except in so far as affecting his legacy.

            Another party veteran, Tengku Razaleigh, has also called for Abdullah to take full responsibility.  It is a crying shame that with today’s UMNO, only the old are leading the charge for change.  This should normally be within the province of youth.  This reflects how far UMNO has degenerated as an organization.

            It is not enough however for Tengku Razaleigh to give press statements to indicate his displeasure with Abdullah.  Ku Li must lead the change and challenge Abdullah, as he (Ku Li) did earlier.  Even if Tengku Razaleigh were to fail, he would still have paved the way for others to pursue the matter.

            Other senior UMNO members like Musa Hitam, Tengku Ahmad Rithaudeen and Sharir Samad must also step up to the plate and fulfill their responsibilities.  They must help ease out Abdullah gracefully if for no other reason that the alternative would be too ugly to contemplate.  I have no wish to see Abdullah publicly humiliated; enough that he would get out of the way.  Let the old man enjoy his pension and new wife.

            It those senior members abrogate their responsibilities, then it would be up to UMNO’s Supreme Council members – the party’s governing body – to take the initiative.  At its next meeting they should pass a vote of no confidence on Abdullah.  Even if that motion were to fail, the message would once again have been delivered.  Abdullah is a slow learner; it takes a while for a message to sink in.

            Such a motion, even if unsuccessful, would also pave the way for other brave members to introduce similar resolutions at the upcoming party’s general assembly.  In short, UMNO members at all levels must continue to put the heat on Abdullah and his coterie of enablers until he and they all quit in shame.

            This coterie would include Najib Razak and all the current vice-presidents and leaders of its Youth, Wanita, Putera and Puteri wings.  They are not leaders but enablers.

          I do not share Mahathir’s high opinion of Najib Razak.  He has Hang Tuah’s blind loyalty but without the bravery or charisma.  His tenure as Defense Minister is best summarized by the currently unfolding Altantuya murder trial; a tale of intrigues, assassinations, and megabucks commissions.

          Mahathir’s confidence in Najib has less to do with Najib’s talent but more in Mahathir expressing his terhutang budi (gratitude) to Najib’s father, Tun Razak, for having “rescued” Mahathir after he was expelled from the party.  Najib without the famous “bin” after his name would be just another nondescript civil servant, perhaps a district officer back in his hometown.  Tun Razak’s other sons all had considerably more talent than Najib.  If Mahathir felt an obligation to the late Tun, he (Mahathir) should have groomed any one of Tun’s other sons.

          We Malays, and that includes UMNO, have no shortage of talent.  We just have to be more inclusive and exhaustive in our search.  We have to cast our net deep and wide, and not be content with netting the fish that float by us.  Usually those are the rotting or nearly rotting ones.  The vigorous specimens are out there swimming and enjoying the deep blue water.  We have to make an effort to get them.