Monday, November 21, 2011

1Malaysia Roundtable Discussion on ‘Empathy in the Quest of 1Malaysia’ – Some recommendations

The online roundtable discussion moderated by Dr. Chandra Muzaffar and I concluded on 18 October 2011. Here are some of my observations and recommendations based on the discussion.

anas zubedy


The approach of our discussion was to put to the participants the idea of 1Malaysia starting with empathy at the individual level. We explained that empathy must start with individual effort, starting at their homes, their neighbourhoods, workplaces and communities. We put it squarely that if they wanted to talk about a need, their ideas and suggestions must be based on what they can start doing within their means, not pointing of fingers of what others should do.


We noticed that in general Malaysians seem to have an attitude of pointing fingers when they see something that needs to be done. Even after we tried prompting them several times, some found it difficult to shift their discussion from what this or that body had to do, to what they can start doing themselves. This seems to reflect a culture of ‘if there’s a problem, someone has to do something about it’, rather than what should be ‘what can I do to help fix this problem.’

I believe that it is because our people are not empowered – first, they are not empowered to recognize that they can and are key players in doing something about an issue, and secondly, they are not empowered with the skills, ideas and tools to know what to do.

What must be done

There is an urgent need to give Malaysians on the ground the empowerment to do things on their end. While all parties must play a role, we need to make the Malaysian rakyat see that Unity and 1Malaysia cannot happen without them working towards it, in their day-to-day activities. They must know that their small, everyday acts will create a chain reaction that will become the collective culture.

I recommend that 1Malaysia, as a platform, trigger this empowerment in the Rakyat. I recommend effective communication strategies, campaigns and activities which aim to change the culture at the ground level through:

1. Trigger awareness

Make Malaysians at the ground level aware that when a problem arises, they are key components in finding a solution – not the government, not political parties or any other party. The awareness must be strong enough that in time, it becomes an automatic response that when the rakyat sees a need, he/she will ask ‘what can I do about it?’

2. Provide them the skills and knowledge to do it.

This can be in the form of providing accessible content, for example, to promote cross-cultural understanding and unity at the ground level, we can give them knowledge like 10 good things about other races for them to tell their children. If they feel there is lack of unity in their neighbourhood or workplace, for example, we can provide them information and resources on how to organize a Rukun Tetangga or community that promotes cooperation and Unity.

3. Get Malaysians to understand why it is important for them to act themselves

When Malaysians at the ground level internalize the understanding that only they can do something to make 1Malaysia happen at the ground level, then more will respond to situations by thinking of doing something on their end first. The idea they need to capture is that they have the power to do what they can, from wherever they are, with whatever they have, as small as it is.

4. Providing avenues for them to practice it

Encourage the question ‘what can I do?’ whenever faced with a situation or a need. The more the Rakyat repeat this response and act based on it, the more it will be their behaviour towards an issue.

5. Promoting sharing and networks

With effective communication and campaigns among the people at the ground level, the hope that it will empower people to change their mindset. Each person acting with empathy day-to-day will create a chain reaction. The more this empowerment is shared and widespread, it can move from the individual level, to communities, to become our culture.

As a practical sample of what can be done from the people’s end in a business-type setting, zubedy is a working model of how it can be done. In our day-to-day functions as a training provider, empathy and unity is always present. Internally it is a common practice for our facilitators and employees get to know each others’ religion and race.

In our office activities we have shared with one another different ways of worship and prayer. In the program contents, shared values are always included because we consider it an important part of individual and corporate growth. In the resources, tools and advertising and communication material that we use for our work, we always put quotes from all spiritual faiths, and these are used both internally and with our external clients. We celebrate all festivals together even though there may be no employee who celebrates it traditionally at that time. And we never allow any pork or beef in any of our company events and activities.

These are just some of the simple ways 1Malaysia can be done on the ground level, starting from the people’s end. Zubedy is willing to work with 1Malaysia to communicate the decentralization of power – to empower people to have empathy and work towards unity from their end.


As it is at the moment, it seems that the culture of our people is the automatic response of asking what others, especially the government or political parties, can do when a need arises. This is unhelpful because no matter what campaigns are organized from the top-down, the people tend to respond by pushing the issue to others. For 1Malaysia, what must be done is to change the mindset of the people at the ground level that they are the key components to make 1Malaysia happen. They must ask ‘what can I do’ first.

For this to happen, we need to empower the Rakyat. 1Malaysia’s efforts should be directed with the aim of triggering awareness that the people need to do something for unity on their end, and providing the knowledge and avenues for them to practice empathy. The aim of this empowerment is to change our culture so that at the ground level we have people who take ownership to work towards becoming 1Malaysia.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Debt Boomerang by Susan George

The debt boomerang
The Third World debt crisis is doing you harm – whether you live in the North or the South. Susan George explains how a small elite is making a killing at the expense of the world’s majority.

If the goals of managers in the official institutions that rule over Third World debt were to squeeze the debtors dry, to transfer enormous resources from South to North and to wage undeclared war on the poor continents and their people, then their policies have been an unqualified success.

If, however, their strategies were intended – as official institutions always claim – to promote development beneficial to all members of society, to preserve the planet’s unique environment and gradually to reduce the debt burden itself, then their failure is colossal.

The most obvious aspect of this failure – or success, depending on your point of view – is financial. Every single month, from the outset of the debt crisis in 1982 until the end of 1990, debtor countries in the South remitted to their creditors in the North an average six-and-a-half billion dollars in interest payments alone. If payments of the principle are included, then debtor countries have paid creditors at a rate of almost twelve-and-a-half billion dollars per month – as much as the entire Third World spends each month on health and education.

Moreover, the debt crisis has given creditor countries the chance to intervene in the management of dozens of debtors’ economies – using the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Their job is simple: to make sure the debt is serviced. Since the average citizen of a low-income debtor country earns less than one fiftieth of the average citizen of a high-income creditor country, this process is like trying to extract blood from a stone.

To accumulate hard currency and service its debts a country must increase its exports and reduce government spending. Most debtor governments have accepted this and forced their people to co-operate with the draconian policies of the IMF and World Bank to ensure that debts are serviced. Much good has it done them. A decade has passed since the Third World debt crisis first erupted, yet in spite of harsh measures faithfully applied this crisis is today more intractable than ever.

Bureaucratic immunity
Debtor countries have deprived their people of basic necessities in order to provide the private banks and the public agencies of the rich countries with the equivalent of six Marshall Plans (the programme of assistance offered by the US to Europe after the Second World War).

Have these extraordinary outflows served to reduce the absolute size of the debt burden? Not a bit: in spite of paying out more than $1,300 billion between 1982 and 1990, the debtor countries as a group began the 1990s a full 61 per cent more in debt than they were in 1982. Sub-Saharan Africa’s debt increased by 113 per cent during this period.

The economic policies imposed on debtors by the major multilateral agencies and packaged as ‘structural adjustment’ have cured nothing at all. They have, rather, caused untold human suffering and widespread environmental destruction, emptying debtor countries of their resources, rendering them each year less able to service their debts, let alone invest in economic and human recovery.

The World Bank and the IMF structural adjusters have by now had plenty of time to make their measures work. But they have failed. Had they been corporate executives they would doubtless have been sacked long ago for incompetence. But no such accountability applies to these international bureaucrats acting on behalf of the creditor governments. They need never submit to the judgement of their victims. They answer only to their own equally unaccountable superiors and, at the top of the bureaucratic tree, to a Board of Governors reflecting the majority voting strength of the richest creditor countries. These lavishly compensated international civil ‘servants’ are consequently still to be found in Washington and throughout the Third World living exceedingly well.

There are other beneficiaries. For business corporations operating in debtor countries structural adjustment has enhanced profitability by reducing both wages and the power of the unions. For many international banks, debt service payments at unusually high interest rates in the early 1980s helped to fuel several years of record earnings. From the corporate or banking perspective the World Bank and the IMF pass the test with flying colours.

Third World elites don’t have much cause for complaint either. They have weathered the ‘lost decade of the 1980s’ with relative ease and have sometimes profited handsomely from it. They too benefit from plummeting wages. Their money is often in safe havens outside their own countries. Each time the IMF requires a devaluation of the national currency to encourage exports those whose holdings are in foreign currencies automatically become richer at home. And although public services may deteriorate or close down, rich people can afford private ones. So it is not surprising that Third World governments have failed to unite and to demand debt reductions.

The debtors’ lack of unity ensures the draining of their economies and a continuing South-to-North resource flow on a scale far outstripping any the colonial period could devise. The debtor governments have from time to time called for debt relief but have never collectively confronted the creditors. As a reward for docility the creditors have allowed most debtor-country elites to maintain their links to the world financial system, providing them with at least a trickle of fresh money and offering them frequent opportunities to purchase local assets at bargain prices through so-called ‘debt-for-equity swaps’ or privatization programmes.

Third World debt should not, therefore, be seen as a straightforwardly ‘national’ problem. Different social classes in debtor countries have vastly divergent interests and are unequally affected. Although debt has visited unprecedented pain on the vast majority of Third World people, the crisis is not necessarily a crisis for everyone.

While the topmost layers of Third World societies remain largely insulated from debt distress, ordinary people in the South sacrifice to pay back loans they never asked for, or which they even fought against and from which they derive no gain. Knowledge of their plight is by now fairly widespread in the developed, creditor countries, thanks to the efforts of thousands of concerned people patiently explaining the human and ecological consequences of the debt crisis in the Third World.

Fallout in the North
Yet the pressures exerted by dozens of non-governmental organizations in both North and South have so far failed to alter basic debt-management policies. Although the Fund and the Bank now claim they seek to ‘mitigate the social costs of adjustment’, official response to the crisis advances at a calculated snail’s pace, inching from one feeble and ineffective ‘Plan’ to the next while leaving the status quo essentially untouched.Until now those in the North who have tried to change the debt management strategies have rightly based their arguments on ethical and humanitarian grounds.

The impact of Third World debt fallout in the North is much less well known – doubtless because the consequences of debt are far more serious and life-threatening in the South than in the North. But although people in the South are more grievously affected than those in the North, in both cases a tiny minority benefits while the overwhelming majority pays.

Northern taxpayers have carried commercial banks through the Third World debt crisis from the start and virtually all of them are blissfully unaware of the fact. We have paid Northern banks between $44 and $50 billion in tax relief on bad debts – enough to meet the entire Third World’s health spending for one year.

There is another less measurable cost: the strong correlation between debt and worldwide military conflict. Loans have frequently been employed by Third World governments to buy arms from Northern manufacturers for use against both internal and external opponents. Debt promoted the Gulf War. Saddam Hussein saw the invasion of Kuwait as one way of wiping out the colossal debts he owed both to that country and to the allies – much of it used to finance his arms build-up. George Bush granted massive debt forgiveness to an allied Arab nation like Egypt as a reward for staying on his side.

Third World debt is not the only cause of, say, increased illegal drug exports to the US and Europe, or of accelerated deforestation hastening the greenhouse effect. But it is, at very least, an aggravating factor. Debt-burdened Latin American governments become hooked on dollars from their coca-producing regions. This severely dampens their incentive to encourage legal crops. Increasing drug exports, in turn, escalate the costs of law enforcement and contribute to social breakdown in the North.

A stake in change
Such harmful effects did not suddenly spring fully armed from the head or the belly of the World Bank. They result from a set of policies aimed at promoting a capital-intensive, energy-intensive, unsustainable Western model of development which was favourable only to Third World elites, Northern banks and transnational corporations.

Not surprisingly, massive overborrowing coupled with high interest rates led to the debt crisis. This crisis in turn provided official debt managers in the 1980s and 1990s with a perfect lever to entrench the very development model which had caused the original problem. Relying on unbridled free market forces and export-led growth, they have devastated the unprotected: the poorest, most vulnerable groups and the environment.

They are still doing it and, quite simply, they have to be stopped.

Any standard of human decency or ethical imperative demands a change in debt management, but so does enlightened self-interest. Everyone outside the narrowest of elite circles has a stake in positive change. If enough people in the North realize that the Third World debt crisis is their crisis they may well insist on radically different policies, speak out and seek to join with similar forces in the South.

For this to happen we must first think for ourselves, recognize the modern mythology that prevents us from acting and then act. There are some obvious directions we can take to help the ‘natural majority’ to become effective. Workers, farmers, trade unionists, activists, parents, immigrants, taxpayers – we all have to make a common cause against the common danger.

We do not want to prescribe a programme but to state some principles:

First, those who borrowed were rarely elected by their peoples. They squandered money on arms or used it to further entrench their own power and privilege, counting on their poorer compatriots to make sacrifices to pay back the loans when due. Democratically elected governments should not be expected to assume the debt burdens of dictatorial predecessors.

Those who made the loans were either irresponsible or intentionally attempting to make the debtors subservient to their interests. The creditors have been richly rewarded and are in no danger if the debt is cancelled or converted to provide genuine development. They should play by normal rules and not expect the public to pay for their costly mistakes.

The debt has already been largely or entirely repaid. The North is, in fact, substantially in debt to the South and it has received, since 1982, the cheapest raw materials on record.

But cancellation and other debt reduction measures must not be used as an excuse or a pretext to further cut the debtor countries out of the benefits of the world economy. The guiding precepts should be popular participation in decision-making at every level, social equity and ecological prudence.

So long as the policies of the rich North represent a mixture of crude carrot-and-stick manoeuvres, coupled with basic contempt for the South, its problems and its peoples, we can expect more lethal North-South tensions, more powerful boomerangs hurtling back at us, a further forced retreat of the rich countries into Fortress America or Fortress Europe.

Alternatively, we could decide that it is time – high time – we began to live together on this improbable planet as homo sapiens with a good deal more sapiens.

Economist Susan George is a prolific writer, thinker and prominent campaigner on the subject of debt. Her books include How the Other Half Dies, A Fate worse than Debt, Ill Fares the Land and most recently The Debt Boomerang (Pluto, 1992).

The six boomerangs

environment Debt-induced poverty causes Third World people to exploit natural resources in the most profitable and least sustainable way, which causes an increase in global warming and a depletion of genetic bio-diversity. This ultimately harms the North too.

drugs The illegal drugs trade is the major earner for heavily indebted countries like Peru, Bolivia and Colombia. The social and economic costs of the drug-consuming boom in the North is phenomenal – $60 billion a year in the US alone.

taxes Governments in the North have used their tax-payers’ money to give banks tax concessions so that they can write off so-called ‘bad debts’ from Third World countries. But in most cases this has not reduced the actual debts of poor countries. By 1991 UK banks had gained from tax credits for more than half their exposure. The eventual total relief will amount to $8.5 billion.

unemployment Exports from rich countries to the Third World would be much higher if those countries were not strapped by debt, and this would stimulate manufacturing and employment in the North. The loss of jobs due to ‘lost exports’ is estimated to account for one fifth of total US unemployment.

immigration The International Labour Organization estimates that there are about 100 million legal or illegal immigrants and refugees in the world today. Many go to the richer countries of the North to flee poverty and the effects of IMF-imposed economic policies.

[image, unknown] Debt creates social unrest and war. Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 largely in retaliation for the latter’s insistence that Saddam’s regime repay a $12 billion loan.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Do Watch Namewee’s Nasi Lemak 2.0 – by Anas Zubedy

Since I came back from watching Nasi Lemak 2.0 about a month ago, I find myself doing two things: One, I’ve been eating more nasi lemak, and two, I’ve been advising as many people as possible, especially participants in my programs to go watch the movie. Every single one of them, regardless of race, liked it and thanked me for the recommendation. They found it to be a very entertaining, Malaysian movie.

While everyone is entitled to their opinion, with due respect to the Utusan writer Fauziah Arof, I too would like to give my take on the movie. I found Namewee’s work not only to be an entertaining example of 1Malaysia in comedy, but I also see creative and artistic value in it. As such I would encourage more people to watch the show and give support so that more such movies are produced.

I do not know Namewee personally, but based on the story of the movie, I see it as a reflection of his life, albeit in a comical way. It shows the journey of a young man who grew up in Chinese surroundings, in isolation from those of other races, rediscovering himself as a Malaysian. This is not altogether surprising to me, because I’ve met many Malaysians, regardless of race, who like Namewee have been through or are going through the same process. I will give you an example at the end of this note.

The premise of Nasi Lemak 2.0 is the story of a young chef in Malaysia who grew up in a Chinese setting, had minimal contact with other races, went to a Chinese institution, and consequently felt that everything Chinese is great and everything else is inferior. At the start, he refuses to touch any food other than Chinese food, which he believed was far superior. Somehow along the movie, he discovers nasi lemak for the very first time…. and is shocked by the wonderful new taste he had never experienced before. In the movie, nasi lemak symbolizes everything Malaysian - a combination of different cultures coming together into one great Malaysian flavour.

Stunned by his discovery, he goes on a journey to find out how he can achieve that wonderful taste. Along the way he rediscovers ‘Chinese-ness’ ala Malaysia, in Malacca among the Baba Nyonya. To find out more about making curry, he goes to an Indian curry master’s home. Interestingly there he goes googoo gaga over an Indian beauty. Later, he goes into a Malay kampung home. At the end, he discovers his Malaysian-ness that does not mean to let go of the pride of being a Chinese, but he becomes a Chinese Malaysian rather than a ‘Chinese’ Chinese.

Namewee also has managed to return the fun of Malaysian racial jokes and pull it off, funny but not offensive. We used to have enough sense of humour to be able to do that. He gives us the chance to laugh at ourselves again. For example when he visits an Indian home for the first time in the movie, innocently he says that based on the movies, Indians are always hiding behind trees or in bushes... we all laughed at that. Or how towards the end, the mythical-like Chinese sifu turns out actually to be a fraud… and the antagonist, a Chinese chef from China, marches out at the end in communist soldier uniform professing loyalty to China. A brilliant funny moment in the movie is when Namewee’s character was in a Malay home with a man and his four wives and tries to make a smart alec comment in Mandarin. Little did he realize that not only could one of the wives speak Mandarin but also recited Chinese classical poetry.

Namewee managed to sell the idea that it’s okay to be racial but not okay to be racist… something I have been proposing for some time. It is refreshing to see that now through Namewee’s work, we can laugh at racial jokes again, without being worried about hurting each other. This can only stand from the confidence that when we do so, we are not being racist, but in fact we can laugh at each other, with each other, because we can love each other.

Namewee is a talented young Malaysian who we should support. With proper support, mentoring, and opportunities, we have with us a Malaysian who is likely to produce creative, sellable, different and special movies that can not only be marketed in this country, but also worldwide. It will be a shame to leave this gem unpolished.

As I said earlier, this scenario of a Chinese, Malay or Indian growing up in a separate environment without interaction with other ethnicities is not an isolated case. One of my previous students grew up this way up to her University days. When she entered university and found out she had to share her room with two Indian girls, she cried for many days and opted to engage with them as minimally as possible. As soon as she could, she moved out of campus. However, when she started working, she could not run away from having to deal with others. After being in one of my programs, she wanted to have a chat with me and I suggested to meet at Nirwana Maju in Bangsar. She was very impressed with the food we had… and to my surprise - it was the first time she had Indian food in her life! She was 28 years old, grew up in Malaysia, and yet had not tasted Indian food until that time.

This same friend of mine emigrated as soon as she had a chance. When we spoke again after one year, she admitted some things. One, she confessed that she always thought that the non-Chinese in Malaysia were lazy, but she discovered that where she is now, those around her are even more lazy. Worse still, over here in Malaysia when she confronted others for their laziness, they would admit it and apologize… but in Australia they would flip her a four letter word. Secondly, when I wrote to her to wish her a Happy Wesak Day, she replied that she did not even realize it was Wesak Day… while if she was in Malaysia, ironically among different groups of people, she would have known. We joked that she’s discovering Malaysia in Australia.

My guess is Namewee too has also discovered Malaysian-ness in his own way. It’s a move forward. We have to have more hope and confidence that most Malaysians - like Namewee’s character at the start of the show, and like anyone who sees themselves as race first before Malaysian first - will one day discover their Malaysian-ness. Yes, he may be a bit offensive here and there and his video response to the Utusan writer’s negative comment was a bit rude. But most creative people will understand. Creative people see their work as if their own child and to criticize it evokes the ‘parental instinct’ in him.

I would give Namewee my support because he is definitely a gem. As a young creative producer and actor, I see in him a hint of someone with the potential to follow in the footsteps of the greats like P. Ramlee, Stephen Chow or perhaps even Kurosawa.

I wish Namewee all the best and I look forward to see his future creative work. I thank him for giving us a chance to laugh at ourselves and each other again.

By law I am Malay, by ancestry I am a mixed Malay-Arab, by choice I am a Malaysian but in the heart I belong to the Human Race :)

Peace, anas zubedy