Monday, June 25, 2012

Why and How to Resist Bipolarity?

What do you mean by bipolarity?

To be bipolar is to see everything through ‘us vs them’ lenses. It is the ‘if you are not with me, you are against me’ syndrome. As I discussed in the last chapter, our symptoms of bipolarity have become more and more evident in the past ten years. Since we evolved into a two party system in 2008, political partisanships have demarcated much of what we go through as a society. It has painted many issues as though there are only two ways of looking at things. It reduces everything to black and white; ‘I am right, you are wrong’.

A two party, bipolar framework leaves very little room for maneuvering. It becomes about one side pitted against another, leaving no room for alternative views. In their zealousness to gather supporters over to their side, both sides of the political divide are seen to demonise those who do not fit into their narrow definitions of ideas. Rather than make sure their own side is up to par in terms of principles, plans and actions; their strategy is constricted to making the other side look as bad as possible. A bipolar framework pushes political parties and representatives to bend facts, exaggerate, and lie according to what would make them look better as compared to the opponent.

Why must we resist bipolarity?

We must resist bipolarity, because if we do not, it will have certain negative consequences on our society. Whether or not we do move forward as a nation, our politics will be characterised by manipulation and cheap politics. Rather than focusing on the goal of excellent leadership, a bipolar framework promotes leaders and followers who do things by political expedience. It will be about political positioning rather than sincerity. With bipolar approaches, whoever wins in the end, it will no longer be about real merits or who will take better care of our country, but about who can play the game better.

Bipolar approaches are also destructive in the long run because it promotes partisan thinking and lazy, careless decision making. Rather than study the principles of an issue, people support or shoot down an idea based on which side he or she supports. In the long run, we breed uncritical people who are incapable of making intelligent decisions. 

A two party framework like the one we have now pushes people into two extremes. All other views are alienated, even those in the middle. If we do not resist bipolarity, we are heading towards becoming two separate groups growing stronger and stronger, with a deepening gulf between us. History has shown this can be a precursor of civil hostilities. This is not the democracy we want. We want to move forward as one nation, not as a nation divided.

How can we resist bipolarity?

First, we need to fully be aware of this reality - there are more than two ways of seeing things. Things are not just either black or white; they are much more colourful than that. Once we realise that, then we must seek to evaluate ideas based on principle rather than on whose side is saying it. We need to find out as much information as we can before deciding; consider both sides, study the facts. To do this, the best way is to read the news, not just mainstream news but also alternative ones and vice versa.

Secondly, as we do this, we need to be bridge builders in society. As a young nation, we can expect each action towards change to have various reactions towards it. A bipolar approach will cause increasing dichotomy in our society. But we need to move away from this; stop antagonising people who do not hold the same view or who do not choose either one extreme or the other. We need to have more bridge builders who will see right as right and wrong as wrong, who will consider things in the right balance, who value Unity and will speak up with middle path alternatives.

How else can we break bipolar views?

Both sides of the political divide must learn to honour the good in the other side. It is important for us to have respect for our opponents, even early martial arts traditions teach the same thing. Samurai tradition, for example, teaches that we must have respect for honourable opponents, even our worst enemy; silat too has a strong element of respect for opponents. However, this is seriously lacking in our society today. When someone has a different opinion, instead of agreeing to disagree, we tend to demonise them; our goal becomes to break them down at all cost, rather than focus on discussing and considering the issue to find a good way forward.

Secondly, to break the pattern of bipolarity, young leaders must learn not to mimic their hardened elders. They have to remedy the habit of seeing things as black or white. Really good politicians and leaders see the long term vision and act wisely and accordingly; small minded ones aim to win in the immediate small battles.

Third, we each have to admit mistakes on our side. It is okay to admit our mistakes. We need to break the pattern of trying our best to destroy the other side rather than face up to our own issues. When we admit mistakes, the other side may use that against us because they are still working based on a bipolar framework, but we need to know that breaking the cycle of bipolarity is more important for our country in the long term.

Fourth, learn to choose the better idea even if it is not yours. Put our collective growth first over our individual ambitions. Admit it even if another side has a better opinion and a better course of action. The principles of the idea itself should take priority over which side you belong to. It is only those who are unwilling to think deeper that choose to take one side or the other and fail to see that there are many other positions in between. The aim is to move forward, and to move forward as one.

Fifth and importantly - practice empathy. We can only break bipolarity if we learn to understand what the other side is saying, even if we may not agree with them. Practicing empathy in the everyday is how our country can move forward in Unity – let’s start with ourselves as individuals. 

And sixth, choose and practice the middle path – be a bridge builder.

Anas Zubedy
Kuala Lumpur

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Recognise our shared history by Farish A Noor - NST

MANY SIMILARITIES: The peoples of Indonesia and Malaysia should celebrate their inter-connected past

SCHOLARS who follow the long and complicated historical relations between Malaysia and Indonesia are sometimes baffled by how and why certain parties in both countries tend to view each other with incredulity and a lack of comprehension.

For many years now, some quarters in Indonesia have raised the question of why Malaysia has "claimed" some of Indonesia's symbols, artistic products and cultural practices as theirs, and this has been accompanied by demonstrations of anger and frustration.

Before going any further, allow me to reiterate for the umpteenth time that as a scholar who works and teaches in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, I see nothing but similarities between all three countries; and that these similarities can be traced back to a common history that they all share -- even if some quarters do not wish to admit it.

The recent spat erupted as a result of Malaysia stating that two dance forms are part of Malaysian culture as well, although they originated from Sumatra that neighbours the Peninsular Malaysia.

On the Indonesian side some groups are claiming that these dances are Sumatran in origin and that they are, therefore, Indonesian in character. But scholars need to be wary of the tendency to backdate historical claims too far, and we should remember that these dance forms presumably existed long before both Malaysia and Indonesia came into being in the form of the modern nation-states they now assume.

Southeast Asians need to remember that our culture, belief systems, cosmologies and languages came into being long before the era of modern nation-states, and long before the advent of colonial rule that divided the region into neatly-compartmentalised blocks. Have we forgotten that for more than a millenium, millions of people travelled regularly between the coastal port cities of Sumatra and the Malay peninsula?

And have we forgotten that millions of those who are regarded as "Malay" in Malaysia are themselves descendants of Minangs, Bugis, Javanese, Madurese, Acehnese, who hailed from what is now Indonesia? Until today my Indonesian students are startled when I tell them that there are plenty of Malaysians who speak Javanese, Minang, Bugis or other languages apart from Bahasa Malaysia, for the simple reason that their families (like mine) came from what is today modern Indonesia.

The reason for this confusion is simple enough to see. On both sides of the frontier, Malaysian and Indonesian history has been written by post-colonial historians who write for their respective national audiences.

In my reading of Indonesian history books, I am pleasantly surprised by the huge emphasis given to the rich cultural diversity of Indonesia, and the constant reminder that Indonesia is a complex nation with many nations-among-nations in it.

It is a pity that this celebration of diversity does not extend to the recognition of the many diasporas that have also settled in other parts of the archipelago such as Malaysia and Singapore -- where there are also thousands of Javanese, Minangs, Bugis, etc, who have become Malaysian and Singaporean citizens by now.

To return to the current huff over the Sumatran dances that are seen as part of Malaysia's cultural heritage as well: this was not an instance of Malaysia "stealing" an Indonesian dance but rather the recognition that so much of what constitutes Malaysian identity has been the contribution of our kith and kin from Sumatra as well. The same applies to the contribution from Java, Madura, Sulawesi, and further afield like India, China and the Arab lands. If I, as a Malaysian of Javanese descent, chose to wear the blankon and sarong, am I "stealing" Javanese culture, or am I celebrating my own diverse origins and roots?

As Asean inches closer to the Asean Charter in 2015, I hope that the peoples and governments of the region would choose to reconnect with our inter-connected past instead of emphasising our differences all the time.

Indonesia on the other hand should see this as testimony to its long and deep cultural outreach across the archipelago, and something it can be justifiably proud of. Nationalism does not have to be of the exclusive, bellicose variety: Sometimes accepting that others appreciate you can also pay dividends.

This article has been featured in NST website

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I don’t support the opposition by Adelyn Yeoh - Malaysia Today

All statements made to maintain stability and to seek economic progress went completely ignored. Instead, attendees were more interested to jeer at side statements including but not limited to kandang-minium, failures of the royal commission of inquiry, submarines and, even, unresolved murder cases.  

Adelyn Yeoh, The Malaysian Insider 

Here is why. 

I recently attended a pro-opposition forum that addressed economic issues of the 1990s and I could not help but notice how similar the attendees were. It was not so much in terms of the way they dressed — they were clad in a whole variety of garments — but they were similar in the way they reacted to the speakers.

One could not help but notice the fixated minds of the general audience. The crowd was quite typical of what you would expect of a kopitiam setting; loud, brazen and very infatuated with the opposition party. To me, it was a sea of homogenous, single-minded people.

When the speakers expectedly gave their very salient, logical points about the issue, it came as no surprise when most of the audience only responded positively to the almost-slanderous jabs at previous government scandals. 

All statements made to maintain stability and to seek economic progress went completely ignored. Instead, attendees were more interested to jeer at side statements including but not limited to kandang-minium, failures of the royal commission of inquiry, submarines and, even, unresolved murder cases. 

It then made me wonder if the attendees were there just to feel better about themselves by mocking the government instead of being there to get enlightened. Is this what our voter population has turned into?

Before I go on, I need to make a disclaimer that I am not pardoning the government from its previous sins — admittedly the amount of nonsense that has plagued the country has increased exponentially in recent years. 

Yet this does not mean the converse is true i.e. the opposition has a completely clean slate. As such, it is important for voters to not be swept up by emotions, by the adrenaline of collective angst at the government and, instead, adopt a critical view of all parties.

However, we are moving dangerously towards polarising mentalities. Our voter population is splitting into two very distinct groups; pro-opposition or pro-government. As a result, many people are beginning to adopt this mentality of “with us or with them.”

We are moving towards politics based on superficial qualities and this is dangerous because this will lead to us to blindly supporting parties to all ends, including bad ones. It also becomes difficult for groups and organisations that strive to be apolitical to remain apolitical.

Bersih 3.0 is an excellent example of this. The steering committee and more notably Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan had stressed the fact that they are an apolitical organisation but, unfortunately, Bersih suffered the fate of being dragged into looking political due to the conduct of opposition supporters during the rally and the overwhelming presence of opposition leaders.

This should not be the way to move forward. This is not the only way for change.

Wanting change for our country does not necessitate being pro-opposition. You can yearn for change without subscribing to a single political party, without proclaiming how you will follow a particular party to its death. 

You can want change by proclaiming to elect the best party at a particular given time. And it is also important to add that your view should be subject to change if the party fails to meet certain benchmarks.

For these reasons I don’t support the opposition blindly. But that does not mean I support the government either. I support the best party, which happens to be the opposition at this particular time. And for that reason I would be more than happy to give them my support now.
However, if one day the current opposition fails to meet my benchmarks and, instead, the current government meets those very benchmarks, be assured that I will be voting for the government. This is not to say that I am on the fence about my political position. 

Like many of you, I want what is best for my country. In order to achieve this, we, as a society, must be willing to put our egos aside, learn to perceive local politics in a more critical manner and vote for the best party, regardless of what that may be.

Adelyn is an undergraduate student in Mount Holyoke College, USA, where she is pursuing International Relations and Mathematics. She also writes for CEKU at  

 This article has also been featured in Malaysian Today website

Monday, June 18, 2012

Electoral Politics And Education by Dr. Chandra Muzaffar

Electoral politics in multi-ethnic societies sometimes undermines the quest for national unity.

We are witnessing that in Malaysia now. As the battle for votes in the coming General Election intensifies, the major competitors for power are going all out to project themselves as the champion of this or that ethnic constituency. This is obvious in their approach to Chinese education.

While Chinese primary education is integral to the national school system, the push for secondary education in the Chinese language beyond what is provided for, at present, has become more pronounced. The clamour for an independent Chinese language secondary school in Kuantan is part of this. Political parties in the Opposition and in the Government are now in the forefront of this demand. If the limit upon independent Chinese secondary schools --- there are 61 now --- is set aside, it is quite conceivable that the number would increase dramatically in a short while. Would this lead to the emergence of a complete Chinese secondary school system that would parallel the national secondary school system in Bahasa Malaysia? The implications of such a possibility should be understood within the context of the Government’s recent recognition of most universities in China.

If a Chinese Malaysian can pursue his entire education in Chinese, from primary to university level, how much exposure would he have to Malaysian students and teachers from other communities? How would this affect his attitude towards, and outlook on, the other? What would be his notion of a Malaysian identity?

It is not just the silo that an exclusive Chinese education would create that is a challenge to us all. Many urban Malay parents are now opting for Islamic religious education at primary and secondary school level for their children. With the proliferation of Islamic universities and colleges in the country, they could choose to continue their tertiary education in a largely mono ethnic, mono-religious environment. Needless to say, this will also have a negative impact upon inter- ethnic, inter-religious ties in the future.

There are other current developments that will also impact upon the national school. The Government has made it easier for Malaysians to enrol in private schools which ipso facto will be patronised by those from the upper echelons of society. Thus, a class division which is already entrenched will be further exacerbated. A handful of Malaysians want the
authorities to allow for English medium education, without much concern for what it will do to a school system that is already dichotomised in so many other ways.

It appears from all this that there isn’t that much commitment to the national school. Has the national school become the ‘step-child’ of our education system?

Since the Malaysian Constitution recognises Malay as the national language, it follows logically that the national school with Malay as the main medium of instruction should be the pivot of our education system. The Razak Report of 1956, the only comprehensive education report that the nation has had, acknowledges this. It is emphatic about the role of the national school as the channel for promoting national unity.

It is not widely appreciated that the Malay language had for hundreds of years served as the lingua franca--- the language that facilitated communication among diverse ethnic communities--- of a vast region that is today described as the Malay world. It created a sense of cultural unity and forged an identity--- the Malay identity--- that transcended ethnicity, making the Malays one of the most cosmopolitan people on earth. In contemporary times, Malay, as Bahasa Indonesia, has also helped to develop a national identity out of tremendous ethnic diversity in Indonesia. Malay can play that role in Malaysia too, if the national school becomes truly national.

To become national, the Bahasa Malaysia based school has to emerge as the school of first choice for all Malaysians. Its quality has to improve significantly. Bahasa Malaysia, English and other languages should be taught well. This also applies to other core subjects such as Mathematics, Science and History. Parents will also be impressed by the school if student discipline is strictly enforced within a caring environment.

Competent, dedicated teachers would be the essential pre-requisite for such a school system. They should not just impart knowledge and skills but also try to mould the young under their charge into honest and trustworthy human beings. Teachers should treat all students, regardless of their backgrounds, with fairness and a sense of justice.

The national school teaching community should be much more multi-ethnic and multi-religious than what it is today. More non-Malays and non-Muslims should be appointed as School Heads and Senior Assistants. At district, state and national levels, the education office or department should reflect the multi-ethnic composition of the nation. Qualified Dayaks and Kadazans should be given administrative roles outside Sarawak and Sabah.

What this means is that within the three component elements of the education system --- administrators, teachers and students---- ability should be recognised and rewarded. It is only when the education system is perceived to be promoting ability and excellence that parents will have the confidence to send their children to the national school. At the same time, the national school should extend a helping hand to the disadvantaged student, irrespective of cultural or religious affiliation.

In a nutshell, there has to be a total transformation of the national school. The Ministry of Education, I am sure, is working towards this goal. It is a transformation which will have to be carried out in tandem with other fundamental changes to the education system as a whole.
For a start, let us try to reduce the impact of electoral politics upon education and national unity.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Panda Politics and the Tao Te Ching

I tot it is most appropriate to use the Tao Te Ching to explain the Panda Politics. 

So here it is:

Tao Te Ching - Lao Tzu - chapter 11

Thirty spokes share the wheel's hub;
It is the center hole that makes it useful.
Shape clay into a vessel;
It is the space within that makes it useful.
Cut doors and windows for a room;
It is the holes which make it useful.
Therefore profit comes from what is there;
Usefulness from what is not there.

Note: For the less perceptive among readers, it is the space between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing that we paid RM20 million for :)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ketuanan Melayu?

What is ketuanan Melayu?

The notion of ketuanan Melayu did not just appear in recent years. It has historical basis, existing in Tanah Melayu since hundreds of years ago. In Malay historical culture and language, the term ketuanan Melayu originates from the word ‘Tuanku’ – a title reserved for Malay rulers since the early days of our society. Ketuanan Melayu thus can be seen as a contraction of the phrase ‘ketuanan raja-raja Melayu’, the sovereignty of the Malay rulers.

To get a clearer sense of ketuanan Melayu, it is more helpful to use the phrase kedaulatan Melayu – sovereignty of the Malay nation-state symbolised by our supreme institutions. Ketuanan Melayu, ‘Malay supremacy’ or ‘Malay preeminence’ – the core notion is the same; it is not about the supremacy of the Malays, but it is historically about the ‘kedaulatan’, the sovereignty of the Malay homeland. It will be more accurate to translate it as ‘Malay sovereignty’ - kedaulatan Melayu.

It encapsulates the place of honour for the unique characteristics that form the identity of our nation – the traditions, culture and symbols that identify Tanah Melayu as a unique, sovereign entity. This includes our supreme royal and social institutions and the traditional customs of budaya Melayu and the natives of Sabah and Sarawak.

Why has there been a sense of Malay dominance about ketuanan Melayu?

There could be many possible reasons. At the level of the general masses, I see ignorance and lack of understanding as the main reason for this misinterpretation. Presently, not many Malaysians are actually aware of the evolution of Malaysian history. So when a phrase like ‘ketuanan Melayu’ is used, especially in a political context, it is simply misunderstood by the mass public. The word ‘tuan’ is equalised with ‘master’; and sentiments affect how we react. Some respond defensively because they see it as a statement that the Malays are superior and non-Malays are subsidiary. On the other end, some Malays perceive this question as an attack to their position in society. At the same time, this lack of understanding by the general public makes it easy for some to use it politically for selfish purposes.

Do the Malays see themselves as dominant?

Not at all! I have strong convictions that the Malays do not see themselves as dominant. To begin with, the notion of any superior community is totally against Islamic teaching. In Islam there is a tradition about the first bilal, the one who calls believers to prayer. Bilal Ibn Rabah was an Ethiopian slave. When he went up to make the first call to prayer, some of those in the community asked that the honour be given to someone else. But Prophet Muhammad reminded them that God does not see the physical manifestation, but judges the purity of the heart. In Islam, there is no preference between Arab and non-Arab, slave or no slave, black or white. Later, a Quranic verse confirms Prophet Muhammad’s position in Quran 49:13. Most Muslims, if not all, are familiar with this story. And to this date, the person who calls for azan is known as bilal, an honour given to him.

I see that what is important to the Malays is kedaulatan Melayu. This devotion to the sovereignty of the homeland is deeply rooted in the Malay psyche. We can see this clearly in the historical development of our society. It was the main crux of nationalism in the early days of Malaya. The 1930s nationalist movements, the 1946 movement against the Malayan Union and the nationalists who worked towards Merdeka between 1946 and 1957 all had kedaulatan Melayu – the sovereignty of the Malayan nation-state - as their cause.

What does kedaulatan Melayu mean for us today?

For us today, kedaulatan Melayu still plays a huge part in our identity as a nation. The royal and social institutions, cultures and traditions that characterise our land must still be held supreme. It is core to what makes us unique as a nation, and to disregard it would be unwise. Since Independence, our social composition has changed and we have been finding ways to adjust to how we all relate to our national identity. While the nation is now made up of several communities practicing different customs and traditions, kedaulatan Melayu today means that as people of this land, we are all bound together by the supreme traditions which have characterised this land from the very beginning.

In today’s terms, it means that Chinese and Indian Malaysians integrate Malayan language, culture and traditions along with their own. For example, while we speak a myriad of languages and dialects, we all should also know how to speak, read and write Bahasa Malaysia adequately as a common language. Though every group has their own colourful, beautiful costumes, all Malaysians should own and wear traditional Malay costumes; for example, now it is quite common for women of all races to own at least one baju kurung or kebaya.

During official ceremonies, supremacy of Malay culture means that the ceremony follows Malay customs, using traditional Malay arts and symbolic objects, and those present wear Malay traditional attire as official garb. This is applicable for example in ceremonies like the opening of Parliament or Dewan Undangan Negeri.

This does not mean that the local culture overrules any other culture, but as ethnic cultures and ethnic identity are held intact, they are integrated along with Malaysian culture in practice while we belong in this nation.

Why budaya Melayu?

Budaya Melayu is a good unifying culture. As earlier discussed, it is entrenched in the historical basis of the land, not just here in Malaya but in the whole of South East Asia which was known as the Malay Archipelago. The Malay civilisation has been around for more than 2000 years – not many are aware that it is one of the oldest civilisations in the world. It is a rich, vibrant tradition with influences from Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.

As mentioned earlier, we cannot and should not disregard this indigenous culture which has shaped our people from the start. At Independence, we did not emerge from nothing – Independence marks a momentous point when three major communities came together to form one nation, but this development follows a long history of social evolution of the Malay civilisation.

In other words, while as Malaysian citizens we are the same, in terms of culture the Malay and indigenous cultures are preeminent. We can say that as each ethnic community practices our distinct cultures and we accommodate and value each other’s customs and traditions, the banner that unites us is the Malay and indigenous cultures. We embrace the different ethnic identities, but take our indigenous cultures, budaya Melayu, plus our ethnic culture as the unique brand of our national identity as Malaysians. At a more micro level, in Sabah the Kadazan culture historically has cultural preeminence. Similarly in Sabah, we should not equalise any other culture - not even the Peninsular Malay culture - with Kadazan culture. The uniting culture and identity in Sabah is the Kadazan culture.

Why does the notion of one culture being preeminent bring out wariness in many Malaysians?

One of the main reasons why people respond defensively - or at the very least - cautiously, is because in this country, the Malay culture is tied so closely with religion. When we talk about Malay culture, it is perceived as Muslim culture. When we say we should integrate Malay culture, it is perceived as having a Muslim agenda. People feel the need to defend their race and religion from being compromised.

In other words, we have not brought enough awareness to the universal, non-religious aspects of Malay culture. One can practice Malay culture without having to adopt Islamic practices as they are two separate things. There are many universal elements in budaya Melayu, such as language, attire, traditional games, crafts, music and arts that all Malaysians can integrate regardless of ethnicity, religion, locality or background. These are the elements that if adopted, will not take away anything but be an added value to one’s own ethnic culture.

What are some universal elements from the Malay culture?

In terms of traditional wear, the baju kurung is a great example of an inclusive cultural symbol for Malaysians. Most women have a pair or two, and it is an added value to them alongside their cheongsams or saris. However, the tudung is not necessary, because its connotations are more Islamic - or to be more precise - Arabic. Similarly, one may wear baju Melayu but choose not to wear a songkok. The baju Melayu is cultural, it is not religious – the Hindus in Bali commonly wear it, as well as in Myanmar.

We have Malay literature – sajaks, syairs and pantuns; we have arts like wayang kulit, dikir barat, dikir laba; traditional dances like ngajat, sumazau, mak yong, zapin, joget; crafts like keris making, batik printing, wau and gasing making. We have traditional instruments like gamelan, angklung and sape. These are amazing, unique elements of Malay culture we all can know and share.

Let’s share the elements of Malay culture that are universal, not exclusive. We cannot say we want a banner culture and brand to unite us, but push elements that exclude others. For example, we can promote and share Malay cultural traditions, crafts, literature - but we should not make it compulsory that Christians, Buddhists or Hindus must learn about Tamadun Islam to pass their first year of university. Understandably, this puts them off.

How can we get people to value and integrate the Malay and indigenous cultures as our shared national identity?

We must start from the ground level, at our kindergartens and schools. For a start, once a week we can get students to wear a traditional Malay costume. During my school days, it was compulsory for students to wear ties as our education was British-based at that point. Now that we want to promote a shared Malaysian culture, let’s get our students – including those in Tamil and Chinese vernacular schools - to wear baju Melayu or baju kurung once a week in the Peninsular, and the indigenous cultural costumes in Sabah and Sarawak.  

Secondly, we need to incorporate our cultural traditions into our school syllabus, from kindergarten right up to the older stages of our children’s development. The Balinese have a good model of this – by the time Balinese children are eight or nine years old, they know how to sing, dance or perform something from the culture because they learn it in school. We need to do the same here with the Malay and native cultures. For arts lessons, instead of teaching them generic arts, we should incorporate our traditional arts into it. Let’s teach them things like how to make a wau, making a gasing, or batik printing. We can incorporate arts and dances into lessons, for example, learn the wayang kulit, mak yong, dikir barat, dikir laba, zapin, joget, ngajat or sumazau. In music lessons instead of learning the recorder, let’s teach them gamelan or angklung, kompang, rebana or gambus.

We should ensure that by twelve years old our children should be able to at least know how to do something from the culture. And not to forget, as we incorporate cultural traditions into our classroom lessons, we should also include universal elements from the Chinese and Indian culture. When we incorporate traditional values into our schools, it will not only build a sense of national identity and pride; it will add value to the personal and social development of our children. Learning culture has the effect of enriching a person’s sense of self and values. I think that the more culture we embody, the more patient, accepting and adaptable we are.

Another great element that can forge Unity is the peribahasa. It is open, practical, and encompasses universal values. There are similar types of sayings in Indian and Chinese traditions as well. We should incorporate peribahasa into language or civic lessons, and when we do so we can integrate it with Chinese and Indian sayings – something to get our children to see how we relate to each other. The beautiful thing about peribahasa is that we can also easily incorporate it in our day to day speech, whether at home, with our neighbours, at our workplaces, in official and public events. It is appropriate whether in formal or informal events, whether we are young or old.

When we start practicing universal aspects of Malay culture in schools, homes and workplaces, we will start to see how it can add value to us, individually and as a society. We will see each others’ culture as an added value to our identity whether as Indian, Chinese, Kadazan, Iban, or Malay. Then we will learn to understand that the history of our land, the beauty of our indigenous and Malay institutions and cultures belong to all of us as our banner identity and collective brand.

 This article has also been featured in Malaysia Today website

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Syrian rebels tried to get me killed, says Channel 4 correspondent - The Guardian UK

The chief correspondent of Channel 4 News has claimed that Syrian rebels deliberately tried to get him and his crew killed by gunfire from government forces in a bid to discredit the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Alex Thomson alleged a small group from the Free Syrian Army deliberately guided the vehicle in which he and his Channel 4 News colleagues were travelling into what he described as a "free-fire zone" on a blocked road near the city of al-Qusayr, because "dead journos are bad for Damascus".

Thomson said that after being led into a "no man's land" between Syrian army and rebel forces by four men in a black car, his team were fired upon and forced to take evasive action, eventually managing to "floor it back to the road we'd been led in on".

He also claimed that later on the same car of rebels blocked the road between their vehicle and the UN vehicles accompanying them, which he said prompted the UN escort to drive off and abandon them after seeing the Channel 4 team surrounded by "shouting militia". The incident took place last weekend and Thomson is now back in the UK.

"Suddenly four men in a black car beckon us to follow. We move out behind," Thomson wrote in a Channel 4 News website blog published on Friday/ morning.

"We are led another route. Led in fact, straight into a free-fire zone. Told by the Free Syrian Army to follow a road that was blocked off in the middle of no-man's land," he added.
"At that point there was the crack of a bullet and one of the slower three-point turns I've experienced. We screamed off into the nearest side-street for cover. Another dead end.
"There was no option but to drive back out on to the sniping ground and floor it back to the road we'd been led in on. Predictably the black car was there which had led us to the trap. They roared off as soon as we reappeared.

"I'm quite clear the rebels deliberately set us up to be shot by the Syrian army. Dead journos are bad for Damascus."

Thomson said this conviction was only strengthened half an hour later when "our four friends in the same beaten-up black car suddenly pulled out of a side street, blocking us from the UN vehicles ahead".

"The UN duly drove back past us, witnessed us surrounded by shouting militia, and left town. Eventually we got out too and on the right route, back to Damascus," he added.

"In a war where they slit the throats of toddlers back to the spine, what's the big deal in sending a van full of journalists into the killing zone? It was nothing personal."

A spokeswoman for ITN-produced Channel 4 News said: "The safety of our journalists is of paramount importance and we only ever send experienced teams into these hostile environments.
"Alex is an incredibly experienced journalist who has covered conflicts around the world for more than two decades and has used social media to share the full detail of these assignments. We will be reviewing this trip, as we do with every other foreign send and sharing the review across ITN as we continue to cover this complex and important story."

• To contact the MediaGuardian news desk email or phone 020 3353 3857. For all other inquiries please call the main Guardian switchboard on 020 3353 2000. If you are writing a comment for publication, please mark clearly "for publication".

• To get the latest media news to your desktop or mobile, follow MediaGuardian on Twitter and Facebook

source from The Guardian

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Houla Massacre And The Subversion Of The Peace Plan - Dr. Chandra Muzaffar

Anyone with even an iota of conscience would condemn the Houla massacre of 25-26 May 2012. That 49 of the 108 killed were children is what makes that massacre unbearably brutal and barbaric. 

The government of Syria has accused armed terrorists of committing the massacre. It has provided a detailed account of what had happened. Eye witness testimonies have been presented over state media.

The armed opposition and its supporters within West Asia and in certain Western capitals have put the blame upon the Syrian government. They allege that a clandestine militia linked to the government --- the shabbiha--- had done most of the butchering.

There is no credible, independent entity that can help reveal the entire truth about the Houla massacre. The United Nations Human Rights Council which has passed a resolution condemning the massacre hastily targeted the Syrian government as the culprit without waiting for reports from the UN-Arab League Observer Mission in Syria. This is one of the reasons why China, Cuba and Russia voted against the resolution. The Council has since the outbreak of the conflict in Syria 14 months ago adopted an antagonistic attitude towards the government. In all its submissions to the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly, it has ignored or downplayed the views of the Syrian government.   

While we hope the truth about Houla would be known soon, our most urgent challenge is to ensure that violence in Syria is brought to an end immediately.  This is also the main aim of the Kofi Annan Peace Plan. All the principal perpetrators of violence --- the government, the armed opposition, and what has been described as the “third force” comprising  groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Salafists--- must play  their part.

The Bashar Assad government and its armed forces should exercise maximum restraint however severe the provocation from its armed opponents. There have been a number of occasions when the State had used excessive force. Syria’s close ally, Iran, Russia and China should also be firm in warning Bashar of the danger of going beyond the limit in trying to maintain law and order. If it is true Iran is channelling military assistance to the Bashar government, it should cease to do so. By the same logic, Russia should suspend its arms sales to Damascus.

At the same time, the armed opposition should lay down its arms. A genuine movement for freedom and democracy will not resort to violence in order to achieve its goal--- especially when the government has undertaken some serious reforms including the inauguration of a new Constitution which upholds accountability, legitimises dissent and allows for political pluralism and multi-party competition. The Constitution approved by the majority of the people through a referendum held in February 2012 also sets a two term limit on the presidency, establishes an independent judiciary, an autonomous commission to combat corruption and recognises media freedom. A parliamentary election was conducted in early May under the new Constitution.

Western governments such as France, Britain and the United States who often parade the world stage as icons of democracy should encourage both the armed and unarmed opposition with whom they have intimate links to enter into a dialogue with the Bashar government on the implementation of the Constitution.  This is fundamental for the success of the political process that the Annan Peace Plan envisages. 

Instead of responding positively to some of the democratic changes introduced by the government, the US has been coordinating the supply of weapons to the opposition paid for by states such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia. An article in the Washington Post (16 May 2012) reveals this, and admits that as a result of large shipments of arms, the opposition “overran a government base” and “killed 23 Syrian soldiers” on 14 May. It is significant that this intensification of weapons supply to the opposition had occurred after the ceasefire under the Peace Plan had come into effect on 12 April. In fact, there has been a series of horrifying acts of violence since the ceasefire --- devastating bomb attacks in Aleppo and Damascus some associated with Al-Qaeda and Salafist elements--- aimed at creating chaos and anarchy. They offer incontrovertible proof that certain governments in the West and in West Asia do not want the Peace Plan to succeed.

Why are they hell-bent on wrecking the Peace Plan?  They fear that if the Plan works, it would undermine their agenda which is regime change in Damascus.  It is because these and certain other governments are set on regime change that the earlier Arab League Observer Mission to Syria which exposed the lies fabricated by the opposition about so-called government initiated violence was also sabotaged.  For the proponents of regime change, the government has to be tarred and tarnished with whatever violence that occurs as a way of destroying its legitimacy and convincing both domestic and international public opinion that it should be ousted. 

 If there is so much obsession with regime change it is because it serves the interests of different actors in different ways. For Paris, London and Washington, the Bashar government is that critical conduit that connects Iran to the Hezbollah in their common opposition to Western dominance of the world’s most important geo-economic and geo-strategic region. This triumvirate of resistance to Western hegemony has to be broken for yet reason: to enhance the so-called security of its surrogate in West Asia, namely, Israel. Israel in turn is implacably hostile to Bashar Assad mainly because he continues to oppose Israel’s 45 year-old occupation of Syria’s Golan Heights which incidentally supplies one-third of Israel’s water needs. Israel has also been trying to exploit Golan’s oil and gas reserves. The Saudi and Qatari elite, both Sunni, view Bashar as a Shia ( Allawites being a branch of the Shia sect) leader allied to Shia Iran and since the Saudi elite in particular abhors Shia identity and Iran’s growing power, there is no love lost between them. Besides, both Saudi Arabia and Qatar are intimately linked to the US and its other allies.  Turkey is yet another Washington ally and   NATO member, attempting to spread its influence in the region which now realises that an anti-hegemony neighbour like Bashar’s Syria linked to a formidable regional player like Iran can be a major obstacle to its ambition.

What these regime change proponents who are all part of the Western hegemonic agenda are not prepared to acknowledge is that any attempt to oust Bashar Assad through external interference and military intervention will have horrendous consequences for almost every state in West Asia and beyond. Syria itself will plunge into a long and bloody civil war for Bashar retains the support of the majority of his people especially in the populous cities of Damascus and Aleppo. It is significant that unlike the coterie around Gaddafi not a single major figure in government or the ruling party or the military or the diplomatic corps has deserted him in spite of a concerted 14 month push to dislodge him from power. Lebanon, a country with a deep umbilical cord to Syria--- always a tinderbox of inter-sectarian strife--- is already witnessing deadly clashes between pro and anti- Bashar supporters. If Lebanon is in turmoil, it will almost certainly have repercussions for Israel especially since the latter is perceived as one of the root causes of the conflict in Syria. Jordan is another neighbour with extensive people-to-people relations with Syria that will not be able to insulate itself from a chaotic Syria. 

Then there are a number of states in the Arab world in which the Shia are either the majority or the minority and a conflict which assumes a sectarian character is bound to impact upon them. In the former category are countries such as Iraq and Bahrain while in the latter category would be Saudi Arabia and Kuwait among others.   Iran and Turkey as regional actors who are already involved directly or indirectly in the Syrian crisis will also feel the effects of a worsening situation. So would Russia and China and Western powers such as France, Britain and the US.

This is why Kofi Annan has a monumental challenge before him. It is not enough to ask Bashar Assad to do more to curb violence. Appealing to armed groups to abide by the ceasefire of April 12 is only part of the solution.  Annan should have the courage to demand that the Western powers and various regional players cease to aid and abet groups that resort to violence in Syria. He should tell them in no uncertain terms that external political actors have no right to seek a regime change in Damascus. That is the prerogative of the people of Syria--- a prerogative that they should exercise through peaceful means.   
Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST)


4 June 2012.