Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Non European history: Out of place and outside the West

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018
The Stadthuys of Melaka. Melaka was the epitome of an enlightened and civilised world when Venice existed against the hinterland of uncivility.

LET us begin with this statement: European history invariably serves as a template for all history, even when we are least aware of it, or writing history in opposition to Eurocentric history. Malaysian history, and what is true of the nation’s history, is true of nearly every national history where the categories such as ancient, medieval and modern, for example, that have informed the study of the European past are assumed to be the “natural” categories through which one might interpret any history.

The problem in post-colonial states such as Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Pakistan and India, for example, is the national project for a post-independence history. These nations were made to partake in things “national”, hence the phrase “national history”, in part for the reason that history occupies a distinct place in the evolution and framework of the modern nation-state. Writing on “History ‘outside’ the ‘West” (2012), historian Vinay Lal begins with James Mill’s early 19th century “History of British India”, a voluminous work that until the end of the last century, remained the standard narrative of the Indian past.

The periodisation between ancient, medieval and modern, is not unproblematic, but quite commonplace. Vinay focused his arguments on Indian history, saying that Mills characterised ancient India as “Hindu” and rendered medieval India as “Mahomedan”. Along the way, the word “medieval” has come to represent not merely a chronological stage of history. It is a state of mind — a state characterised by the lack of reason, disregard for progress, and primitivism in thought, belief and conduct. It is like periodising the time of the Melaka Malay Sultanate as the medieval period in the history of Malaysia.

“Medieval” equates that period in the Malay Peninsular with that of Europe. But conditions were different. Melaka was the epitome of an enlightened and civilised world when Venice existed against the hinterland of uncivility. Europe was primitive then. With reference to India, Mill’s history demonstrated he was fully aware that north India, in second millennium CE, had come firmly under Muslim rule, commencing at least with the Delhi Sultanate, and he may have some knowledge of some Muslim sultanate in the Deccan, though like most colonial, and many contemporary historians and commentators of India, he had fallen into the habit of supposing that the history of north India could effortlessly be passed off as the history of the entirety of India.

Vinay’s argument was to establish a number of fundamental principles in the writing and interpretation of history. Apart from European history serving as a template for all history, he described European history as assuming a temporal linearity. This perspective sees the movement from the ancient age to the modern age, also the gravitation from slavery to liberty, from religious life to secularism, and from a life embedded in community to individualism. According to Vinay, the narrative from the most bitter conflicts readily becomes relics of the medieval age. The “fanaticism” of the Serbian nationalist, the Hindu fundamentalist and the (Islamic) terrorist are examples of an existentially troubled journey towards freedom.

People outside of Europe, those in Southeast Asia, and India for example, are condemned to live in someone else’s history, with consequences that have been seen across all domains of life. Europe’s past is “our present”. When at long last, “the native arrives at the destination, it is only to discover that the European has moved to another station, leaving only his baggage to be collected by natives”.

As a corollary to the above, it becomes imperative to understand that much of history is not merely Eurocentric, but in fact European history. Other histories are thus ancillary histories, the limbs to the body of European history, illustrating strands of European culture, thought and consciousness. To ourselves, the visible and invisible non-European self is distorted by Eurocentrism. The final fundamental principle was that most British histories of Britain are still oblivious to the history of colonialism — that itself alters the history of Europe and that of the entire West. There is no bridging discourse and assumes the absence of any influence by Asian and African histories upon British history, culture and politics.

The colonised had no place in world history, according to the dominant narrative. Being out of place does not necessarily originate from the metropolitan West. Many non-Western countries, including Malaysia, have their share of problems with regards to decolonise received narratives. We are oblivious to the process of taking possession of the past. Both in history, the arts and the social sciences, colonial frameworks of knowledge still linger. The desired “national” narrative is deeply contested amongst scholars, intellectuals and the laity. The activism of civil society and politicians has only exacerbated the problem.

By A Murad Merican.

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UN objectives rely on a united nation.

Friday, October 26th, 2018

THE Federation of Malaya became a member of the United Nations within three weeks of Merdeka, with Yang di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Abdul Rahman Tuanku Muhammad saying, “In the field of external affairs (we will be) on the most friendly terms with all countries in the world.”

External Affairs Ministry secretary-general Ghazali Shafie said, “Towards the maintenance of international peace and security, the federation government is pledged to uphold the Charter of (the) United Nations.”

The Alliance Party’s manifesto for the 1959 election stated the same.

The current government made a strong statement of support for the UN on its 73rd anniversary on Wed­nesday, saying it remains the best body to address global problems.

Echoing Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s recent speech at the UN General Assembly, the ministry’s deputy secretary-general expressed hope that the Security Council would be reformed, in particular so that the veto should be valid only if two permanent members and three non-permanent members agree, with an additional simple majority vote by the General Assembly.

Malaysia’s long relationship with the UN can be summarised with an array of acronyms. Locally, UNDP, UNFPA, Unicef, UNHCR, WHO, UNU and WFP have been active, and UNDSS, Unaids, Unido, Unesco, UN Women and OHCHR have agency heads here.

We are a member of Unctad, Uncitral, FAO, Icao, Ifad, ILO, IMO, ITU, UPU, Wipo, WMO and UNWTO. Many of these come under the UNDG and most of them are coordinated by Ecosoc (which a Malaysian headed in 2010).

Malaysia is also a member of the IMF and WBG, which are technically part of the UN system, as well as CTBTO Prep Com, OPCW, IAEA and WTO, which maintain strong relations with the UN.

Cyberjaya houses service centres of two UN agencies: the Global Service Centre of WHO since 2008 and the Global Shared Services Centre of UNDP since 2012.

Currently, Datuk Maimunah Mohd Sharif serves as UN Under-Secretary-General and executive director of the UN Human Settle­ments Programme. Other Malaysian women who have served in the UN include Tan Sri Rafiah Salim, who was Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management, and Datuk Mazlan Othman, who was director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs.

Don’t confuse UNHCR with UNCHR (where Datuk Param Cumaraswamy served as a Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers from 1994 to 2003), which was replaced by UNHRC (UN Human Rights Council) in 2006, of which Malaysia was a member from 2006 to 2009 and from 2010 to 2013.

But Malaysia controversially failed to be re-elected in 2017. This body is supervised by OHCHR, where a Malaysian has served as a member of one of the Working Groups.

However, no Malaysian judge has yet sat in the UN-established ICJ nor the ICC (which is separate but cooperates with the UN) – we are not a signatory of the Rome Statute that established the latter. Nor are we a signatory to the Convention Relat­ing to the Status of Refugees, although the government has promised to ratify it and its 1967 Protocol.

The Malaysian Armed Forces have participated in 36 UN peacekeeping operations (each with its own acronym, of course) involving over 35,000 personnel since 1960. Currently, Malaysia is involved in six peacekeeping operations.

And at the highest levels of the UN System, Malaysia supplied the president of the General Assembly in 1996 through Tan Sri Razali Ismail, who later served as the UN secretary-general’s Special Envoy for Myanmar from 2000 to 2005.

Malaysians served as president of the Security Council seven times during the four periods when Malaysia was a non-permanent member: 1965, 1989-1990, 1999-2000 and 2015-2016.

The latest was Datuk’ Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who was then deputy prime minister.

At the UN Day anniversary event this week, the United Nations Award was presented to Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, the MyKasih Foundation and the Ozone Unit of the Department of Environment for their contributions towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

In recognising activists, civil society as well as the government, the UN has signalled that its objectives are not limited to the efforts of governments alone, and I hope the government’s policies will show that it agrees wholeheartedly.

By Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin

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Leading the nation’s tertiary education

Sunday, September 2nd, 2018
Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj addressing a 2,000-strong crowd who turned up to witness University of Malaya’s convocation ceremony on Sep 21, 1957..

THE year 1957 was a historic moment for Malaysia’s higher education sector.

It was during this time that a branch campus of the University of Malaya (UM) was temporarily set up at the Kuala Lumpur Technical College in Lembah Pantai in the capital’s southwest.

The university came into being on Oct 8, 1949 with the merger of the King Edward VII College of Medicine (founded in 1905) and Raffles College (founded in 1928).

UM derives its name from the term “Malaya” as the country was then known. The Carr-Saunders Commission on University Education in Malaya, which recommended the setting up of the university, noted in its report in 1948: “The University of Malaya would provide for the first time a common centre where varieties of race, religion and economic interest could mingle in joint endeavour. University of Malaya must inevitably realise that it is a university for Malaya.”

The university saw rapid growth in the first decade of its establishment and this resulted in the setting up of two autonomous divisions on Jan 15, 1959, one in Singapore and the other in Kuala Lumpur.

In 1960, the governments of the two territories wanted to change the status of the divisions into that of a national university: the Singaporean one later becoming the National University of Singapore and the one in Kuala Lumpur being UM. Legislation was passed in 1961 and UM was established on Jan 1, 1962.

On June 16, 1962, UM celebrated the installation of its first chancellor, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, who was the first prime minister. The first vice-chancellor was Professor Alexander Oppenheim, a renowned mathematician.

UM is one of five local public universities with the research university status. The others are Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Universiti Putra Malaysia and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia.


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History as first M’sian woman DPM leads the swearing-in

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018

Kuala Lumpur: Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail led a line-up of 13 Cabinet ministers in taking their oath of office, loyalty and secrecy before Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Muhammad V at Istana Negara here today.

The swearing-in, which took place at the Singgahsana Kecil (Minor Throne Room) of the palace, was witnessed by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. Also present was his wife, Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohamad Ali.

The ceremony began at 5.45pm with the acceptance of the instrument of appointment by Dr Wan Azizah, who is also Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) president, as the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Women and Family Development.

She then took her oath and signed the official instrument of appointment, witnessed by Chief Justice Tun Raus Sharif and Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa.

Then, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Bersatu) president Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin; DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) president Mohamad Sabu took their oath together as the Home Minister; Finance Minister and Defence Minister, respectively.

Simpang Renggam MP Dr Maszlee Malik; Titiwangsa MP Rina Harun and PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali took their oath together as the Education Minister; Rural Development Minister and Economic Affairs Minister, respectively.

Subsequently, PKR Wanita chief Zuraida Kamaruddin, DAP organising secretary Anthony Loke and DAP deputy chairman Gobind Singh Deo took their oath together as the Housing and Local Government Minister; Transport Minister and Communications and Multimedia Minister, respectively.

Then, Amanah deputy president Salahuddin Ayub, DAP vice-chairman M. Kulasegaran and Amanah strategic director Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad took their oath together as the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister; Human Resource Minister and Health Minister, respectively.

Dr Mahathir was sworn in as Malaysia’s seventh Prime Minister on May 10, a day after Pakatan Harapan won the country’s 14th General Election after defeating the Barisan Nasional which had been in power for 61 years.

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Unusual beginnings of Penang’s oldest mosque

Sunday, May 20th, 2018

The Masjid Kapitan Kling is situated on an 18 acre piece of land granted by the British East India Company in 1801.

THE ageing piece of newspaper cutting slips out from between the pages of a book I just acquired from the Penang flea market. Not daring to grab it in mid air out of fear of crumpling the fragile parchment, I patiently allow it to come to rest on the carpet in my Magazine Road hotel room before picking it up for a closer look.

My heart skips a beat when it turns out to be part of the Penang Shimbun, an English language daily published during the Japanese Occupation of Malaya. Dated Aug 27, 2603, it announced, among other things, the date for local Muslims to commence fasting during that particular year, which coincided with 1943 in the English calendar.

The declaration, made at the Penang Muslim Association by Syed Hashim Idrus who represented the state’s Board of Kathis, stated that Muslims in Penang and Province Wellesley would begin their fast on Sept 1 or a night earlier, depending on the sighting of the moon on the evening of Aug 31.

The paper went on to explain that Muslims the world over began their annual fasting on the first of Ramadan, the ninth month in the Muslim calendar. The fast, which lasts for a full month, begins each day before the sun rises and ends with its setting below the horizon.

A prominent community leader, A.M. Yusuf Izzudin, was quoted in the text asking Muslims in Penang and Province Wellesley to offer special prayers in mosques during the fasting period to seek divine intervention to help the Japanese Imperial Army win an immediate victory in the war.

Part of the newspaper cutting declaring Ramadan in 1943


This immediately brings to mind the oldest mosque in Penang, Masjid Kapitan Keling. This19th century place of worship, built by early Indian Muslim traders in George Town, must have surely been one of those places where these sanctioned prayers were held during World War II.

Located strategically at the corner of Lebuh Buckingham and another road that bears its name, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, this prominent Islamic centre originated from humble beginnings. Back in the 1800s, it became the first permanent Muslim institution to be established within a neighbourhood that was home to the Chulias, a significant sized Indian Muslim community which wielded considerable influence on the island.

At that time, George Town was growing at an exponential pace and there was a great need for residential homes, shops and godowns. In order to meet the demand for builders, Captain Francis Light requested for a large number of work force from the British East India Company (BEIC) in Calcutta. This request, and subsequent arrivals after 1787, led to the growth of the Chulia settlement.

On Jan 25, 1794, Light wrote that the Chulias who hailed from the ports along the Coromandel coast as well as from nearby Kedah were second only to the Chinese in terms of numbers. While most of them were shopkeepers, other members of this community earned their keep by working as traders, boatmen and labourers.

One prominent Chulia even became part of Penang’s six member civil administration. Long Fakir Kandu, who hailed from Kedah, held the prestigious position of writer and earned an annual salary of 360 Spanish Dollars.

Growth in Penang was spurred further when the colony received additional funding after becoming the fourth Presidency of India in 1805. A census ordered by the acting governor, Colonel Macalister five year later showed a total population of 24,422 with the Chulias numbering more than 5,600.

This relatively large number of Indian Muslims already had their own places of worship since the earliest years of the colony. A 1791 town map indicated the presence of two mosques south of, what was then known as, Chulier Street. One was on the present site of Masjid Kapitan Keling, while the other was located at the end of Queen Street.

The former catered primarily to the BEIC troops while the latter, known simply as Chuliar Mosque, was a prayer house erected by the Chulias who relocated from Kedah. At that time, both probably consisted of temporary wooden structures with attap roofs.

As the congregation size grew in tandem with the colony’s expansion, it became necessary to erect a more permanent place of worship. In 1801, the Lieutenant Governor of Penang, Sir George Leith, appointed Cauder Mohudeen as Captain of the South Indian Keling community or Kapitan Keling in short.

Mohudeen was a ship’s foreman who hailed from Porto Novo, about 50 kilometres south of Pondicherry in India. On Nov 21, 1801 Leith executed Land Grant No. 367 which granted an a 7.2ha piece of land for Mohudeen to build a mosque on the south side of Malabar Street (today Lebuh Chulia). The grant clearly stated that the land could not be sold or transferred and ownership would immediately revert back to the BEIC once it ceased to be used for the religious purpose intended.

Over a period of two years, Mohudeen demonstrated leadership by bringing in builders, stones and bricks from South India to build the mosque. He turned to Tamil Nadu when seeking architectural inspirations for what was to become the original version of the present Masjid Kapitan Keling. Mohudeen had the artisans embellish the building with intricate details like miniature stepped minarets, oil lamp niches, heavy stucco mouldings, lattices and fine dentilation.

In 1803, a squarish building complete with a circular well on the southern section and main entrance along Lebuh Chulia was ready to receive its first congregation. Also, at around this time, the other mosque near Queen Street fell into disuse and its followers were believed to have moved to join the congregation at Masjid Kapitan Keling.

The Lebuh Campbell Market in George Town was built on former Muslim cemetery land.


This period of prosperity in Penang also saw the arrival of a significant number of Acehnese traders, who brought with them much sought after commodities like pepper and betel nut which the Chulia merchants exported to India in large quantities.

Like the Chulias, the Acehnese also saw the need to set up a place of worship of their own. By 1808, Masjid Melayu was established in Lebuh Acheen by Tengku Syed Hussain Al-Idid, a Hadhrami Arab merchant prince hailing from Aceh.

Masjid Melayu, a mere 300 metres from Masjid Kapitan Keling, was frequented by the Acehnese, Arabs, Malays, Bugis and other people of the Muslim faith from the Dutch East Indies (today Indonesia).

The fate of both these places of worship became intertwined thanks to a dispute between the Masjid Melayu and Masjid Kapitan Keling followers during the early part of the 19th century. This disagreement eventually led to the birth of a unique Penang custom called masjid bergilir (alternating mosques) where the combined congregation had to alternate between the two places of worship each Friday.

Historical records are unclear as to when this incident took place exactly.

It’s only known that towards the end of the fasting month on one particular year, Sheikh Omar Basheer from Masjid Melayu announced the date of Hari Raya Puasa but his calculations were disputed by the congregation at Masjid Kapitan Keling. As a result, Basheer brought the Masjid Melayu cannon to Masjid Kapitan Keling and promptly fired it to declare the end of Ramadan. His provocative act didn’t go unnoticed by the mosque goers.

The next day, the community living around Masjid Melayu celebrated Hari Raya while those at Masjid Kapitan Keling continued their fast. One thing led to another and eventually a fight broke out between the two communities. During the ensuing melee, a youth from Armenian Street was badly beaten up and left to die in a nearby ditch.

The British authorities acted swiftly to prevent the chaos from escalating further. Three suspects were eventually arrested while another managed to escape by stowing away on a ship destined for Jeddah.

In order to mend ties, the two rival groups were ordered to alternate between the two mosques for Friday prayers. So, on each Friday, worshippers would all go to the appointed mosque and leave the other empty. This practice came to an end by the early 20th century when congregation size had grown considerably and both mosques had to be used at the same time.

The onset of the Indonesian Confrontation in the 1960s, however, saw a revival of this tradition. The armed insurgency by the Indonesian Army had put the Sumatran community living around Masjid Melayu in a bad light and their numbers began to dwindle. The lack of quorum to sustain the Friday prayers at Masjid Melayu led the authorities to reinstate the alternating mosque practice.

The wealthy Indian Muslims were a group of very influential people.


As I continue reading the rest of the newspaper cutting, it becomes clear that the Japanese Army only started having a clear policy towards Islam just a year before the parchment in my hand was printed. It reported that Friday prayers only resumed at Masjid Kapitan Keling during the onset of Ramadan which fell on Sept 4, 1942.

That period also saw the establishment of the Penang Islamic Advisory Council headed by Abdul Manan Nordin. Masjid Kapitan Keling was represented in this council by its head imam, Mohamed Abdullah while R. Kutaluddin and H. Sadar Ali stood in for the Indian Muslim community.

Apart from attending to the needs of the Muslim community and helping to strengthen ties with the Japanese Imperial Army, this newly-formed council was handed the responsibility of determining the accurate dates for subsequent Ramadan and Hari Raya Puasa celebrations.

The article continues with a rather vivid description of the previous year’s Hari Raya Puasa celebrations which fell on Oct 12, 1942. It said that about 5,000 Muslims assembled at the Chinese Recreation Club field at around 9.30 am to perform their traditional Aidil Fitri prayers. The ceremony started in earnest half an hour later with the arrival of General S. Katayama, the Lieutenant Governor of Penang.

I rub my eyes in disbelief when I reach the final part of the text. Once the prayers and sermon were over, the entire congregation got on their feet and changed their position from the Masjid al-Haram, the Grand Mosque in Mecca, and began facing the direction of the Tenno Heika or Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

After the people had finished paying their respects to the Japanese Emperor, the ceremony ended with representatives from the various Muslim communities swearing allegiance and loyalty to the Imperial Japanese Army. They promised to uphold the peace and obey the laws in Penang.

The mosques promoted Quran reading among the people.


The people were so taken aback by the bizarre compulsory salutations in the direction of the Land of the Rising Sun that they began referring to Hari Raya Puasa celebrations during the Japanese Occupation as Raya Banzai.

The last Hari Raya celebrations held in Japanese-occupied Penang was on Sept 19, 1944. A grand affair was planned at Masjid Kapitan Keling but, by then, the long suffering people had become cynical of the Japanese and their increasingly obvious attempts to capitalise on religious occasions to gain political mileage.

Their anger were further stoked when the important Takbir Raya had to be interrupted half way due to the arrival of the Japanese Governor. They were forced to stand up and face east to pay respects to the Japanese Emperor. Their ire must have been quite visible for the imam had to appeal to everyone to remain calm during the close of his sermon.

By Alan Teh Leam Seng.

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Tunku Abdul Rahman, the principled statesman

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

NEXT week, on Feb 8, will be the 115th birthday of Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj.

Tunku was the seventh son of Kedah’s Sultan Abdul Hamid Halim Shah. Tunku’s mother is Che Menjalara, the daughter of Luang Naraborirak from Thailand.

He was educated in Alor Setar, Bangkok and Penang, before graduating from Cambridge University in 1925. He then completed his legal training in 1949.

He successfully led the series of negotiations that resulted in our independence from Britain. For that, he will forever be known as our Bapa Kemerdekaan (Father of Independence).

On Aug 31, 1957, Tunku read out the Proclamation of Independence. The proclamation was the basis and the principles behind the founding of our nation.

In the proclamation, Tunku said our nation shall “be for ever a sovereign democratic and independent State founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of its people and the maintenance of a just peace among all nations”.

Liberty and justice – these are the principles that must guide our actions and policies.

In 1963, Tunku brought four entities – Sabah, Sarawak, Singapore and Malaya – into one, to form Malaysia. Rightfully, that made him our Bapa Malaysia too.

On the day that Malaysia was formed, rather than reading out a different statement, he opted for the same proclamation, turning what was once called the Proclamation of Independence into the Proclamation of Malaysia.

Of course, as Prime Minister, he made his fair share of mistakes. There were actions of his that many of us today would consider as far short of the ideal. But on balance, many Malaysians today are longing for the environment fostered by Tunku’s administration.

He turned the principles of liberty and justice into actual policies, all aimed at ensuring the welfare and happiness of the people. He was determined to ensure every single citizen of the country enjoys liberty and justice equally, regardless of race and religion.

One thing for sure, his vision of how to unite the country was the correct one. He did not put one group above the other because he knew very well that a happy country can only exist if its citizens were equals.

Sadly, this vision of equal treatment disappeared soon after Tunku’s departure from office. Until today, we are still affected by the consequences from divisive ethnic-based social engineering.

When Tunku Zain Al-’Abidin Tuanku Muhriz, Wan Mohd Firdaus Wan Mohd Fuaad, and I decided to start the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas), we made a conscious decision to dedicate our work to injecting Tunku’s ideals into all facets of public policy.

We launched Ideas on Feb 8, 2010, at an event that was also designed to celebrate Tunku’s birthday. Therefore, next week will also be Ideas’ eighth anniversary.

The last eight years has been challenging but fulfilling. The nature of an independent think tank is not widely understood in Malaysia, where labels of either being pro-government or pro-opposition are thrown around too easily.

When we say that we believe in principles rather than partisanship, many people become confused because we do not fall within their traditional labels.

The culture of “only bad news can become news” does not help either. Our criticisms get picked up by the media more frequently than our praises.

I have now become used to politicians and policymakers from both sides saying that we only criticise them and that we never give them credit. This wrong perception can only be expected because when we give credit when it is due, it is hardly covered.

As far as challenges go, last year was by far the most challenging one. We were very close to shutting down in August because of a major cashflow crisis after two large funders suddenly pulled out.

I had to go cap in hand to various people begging for money to keep us alive. Thanks to two donors, one from Britain and another from Johor Baru, we got through the crisis.

Moving forward, our quest to translate Tunku’s vision into policy proposals will continue. In an increasingly divided Malaysia, we will stay true to his unifying vision.

There are far too many people who, in private, complain like mad but refuse to speak up publicly even though they know they can change the country’s course towards the better. I promised my team at Ideas that we will never become like that. Hopefully history will show that I keep my word.

by Wan Saiful Wan Jan
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Looking back at 2017

Monday, January 8th, 2018

2017 is behind us. As we move forward in 2018, it is useful to look back at the events and issues of 2017 which has impacted the legal landscape of the country.

Compared to previous years, when Parliament enacted the Prevention of Terrorism Act, amended the Sedition Act and enacted the National Security Council Act, no controversial law was tabled in 2017. The long talked about legislation to control online news portal did not see the light of day in 2017. Similarly, we also did not see the follow up to the proposal to amend the Legal Profession Act which was first raised in 2016, after objections from the legal fraternity.

The Private Member’s Bill to amend Act 355, brought by PAS and which received tacit approval from Umno also was not passed or even debated in 2017. The last time the motion was raised was in April 2017, when it was tabled but was postponed to another sitting before it could be debated. It is unlikely that the motion will be raised in the Dewan Rakyat before the next general election, which is due to happen this year.

The biggest legal controversy of the year must surely be the service extension of the Chief Justice, Tun Md Raus Sharif and the President of the Court of Appeal, Tan Sri Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin beyond the mandatory retirement period stipulated in the Federal Constitution. According to the Government, the both of them were appointed as additional Federal Court judges under Article 122(1A) of the Federal Constitution.

Pursuant to the resolution, the Bar Council had filed legal proceedings to challenge the extension and it was reported recently that the matter has now been referred to the Federal Court for determination. We will likely find out how the Federal Court will interpret the relevant provision in 2018.

2017 also saw the conclusion of the judicial reviews filed against the re-delineation process and proposals by the Election Commission (EC) in 2016.

The legal challenges were filed by many parties, the biggest and most important one is the judicial review filed by the Selangor government. At one point, Selangor even managed to obtain an injunction to prevent the re-delineation process until the conclusion of the Court process.

Unfortunately, a series of decisions by the Court of Appeal effectively ended the judicial reviews by deciding that the re-delineation process cannot be challenged in Court. As it stands, the EC has resumed the process and it will likely be completed before the next general election.

Lastly, 2017 also saw the Federal Court deliver a landmark judgment on judicial power in the case of Semenyih Jaya Sdn Bhd vs Pentadbir Tanah Daerah Hulu Langat.

The Federal Court decided that judicial power of the Federation is still vested in the Courts, despite the amendment made to Article 121(1) of the Federal Constitution in 1988. What this means is that Parliament cannot limit or oust the jurisdiction of the Courts by way of Federal law.

by Syahredzan Johan
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A need for sober minds

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017
Tunku Abdul Rahman (left) and Tun Jugah Barieng at the signing of the Malaysia Agreement 1963 in London on July 9, 1963. (FILE PIC)

SARAWAK Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Abdul Rahman Zohari Abang Openg is probably right when he contends that he is not being emotional in pushing for the state’s rights, some of which he claims are in hidden official documents related to the formation of Malaysia recently uncovered.

That being said, there is no denying that there is much noise in the public domain in Sarawak related to the whole subject of state rights and the Malaysia Agreement 1963 (MA63). The subject matter is, perhaps, intrinsically emotive. It is, therefore, incumbent on all responsible Malaysians, and especially those holding public office, to treat the matter with utmost care, lest it becomes too emotionally charged.

To his credit, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had given his assurance that the government under his leadership would not stop any public discussion on the matter. That necessarily puts the onus on everyone, and in particular, politicians, to be as matter-of-fact as is possible when raising issues related to the subject.

Najib had also made a blanket commitment that if it was found that state rights had inadvertently been taken away by Putrajaya, they would be returned where they rightly belong. The emphasis is rightly on the qualifier “inadvertently”, since suggesting otherwise may give rise to public suspicions (easily fanned by some quarters, one must add) that those rights have been surreptitiously or even deliberately taken away.

The very public commitment given by the prime minister is crucial and may suggest that for the contentious issues related to the subject matter to be resolved to the satisfaction of all involved, sober minds must prevail at all levels and that both the state government and its federal counterpart must always be on the same page over the matter.

It will be needlessly incendiary to pit both the state government and Putrajaya in such a way that it may be interpreted as being in any sort of adversarial positions vis-à-vis the matter at hand. Such interpretations will, in any case, be false and wildly misleading.

The Federal Government, right from the very first day of Malaysia, is composed of strong representations from both Sarawak and Sabah, and the composition of Parliament has been deliberately skewed by the MA63 to afford both states a disproportionate share of members of parliament relative to their respective share of the total national population.

Sarawak’s past leaders, such as Tun Jugah Barieng, Tun Abdul Rahman Ya’akub, Tan Sri Ong Kee Hui and Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud, served meaningful and illustrious stints in the federal cabinet and were instrumental in the formulation of national policies, some of which still have direct and far-reaching impact on the state even today.

If anything, the bonds binding Sarawak and the Federal Government today are even stronger. The fact that both have all these years been administered by Barisan Nasional meant that issues and disagreements can be honestly deliberated and resolved with the minimum of fuss or heated public arguments.

It is of utmost importance that we all not lose sight of the reality that we are all in this together. Sarawak’s recent leaders, including the late Tan Sri Adenan Satem, and Abdul Rahman Zohari have, after all, time and again stressed that there was never ever any question of Sarawak being anything but an integral part of Malaysia.

There are signal lessons that can be drawn by everyone in Malaysia from such “black swan” political developments as Britain voting to exit the European Union and Catalonia voting illegally to secede from Spain.

Both developments did not happen in isolation or out of the blue. They were the culminations of long-standing disputes and public debates that had simmered for decades and even centuries (in Spain’s case). In both cases, politicians of the day — perhaps, in the heat of the moment — decided to take on public positions, which painted them into tight corners from which it became almost impossible to retreat without suffering humiliating accusations of a climb-down or a sell-out.

By John Teo.

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The sisters’ education crusade in Malaysia

Sunday, November 12th, 2017
Old times: Mother St. Tarcisius (seated, centre) with her choir or teaching sisters in Convent Light Street.

Old times: Mother St. Tarcisius (seated, centre) with her choir or teaching sisters in Convent Light Street.

No one would treasure the legacy of the Christian sisters more than the sisters themselves, so the controversy over the three convent schools in Penang is most unfortunate.

THE soul of the Infant Jesus Sisters institute (IJS) lies in the very foundation that was established by the pioneer sisters who risked their lives to reach Penang and struggled against all odds to raise it off the ground in the second half of the 19th century.

Convent Light Street was where the heartbeat of the institute once reverberated. It is not only dearest to the sisters here in Malaysia but also significant to the IJS global community.

Administered from their Mother House at historic Rue St Maur in Paris for over three-and-a-half centuries, the institute now serves in four continents.

In Malaya transitioning into Malaysia, the IJS institute held the record of establishing and operating the most number of convent schools in Malaysia and IJS worldwide at the height of their popularity in the 20th century. There were more than 30 serving in Peninsular Malaysia alone. These have produced millions of young women with sufficient knowledge and, in the words of the sisters – good characters ready to face the challenges of adult life for over a century.

The sisters were there when the nation at its infancy needed them most – socially and economically. Through education – academics, home science and character building, it enabled women to bring up good families (in the words of the sisters) and participate in the workforce.

M. St. Mathilde

Mother St Mathilde (1814-1911). — Photos courtesy of IJS Convent Cheras.

The controversies that currently engulf the notification of intent issued by IJS for the return of their landed properties in Penang are unfortunate. They would not have risen if matters were handled in a less careless manner by relevant quarters. There should have been meaningful dialogue with the sisters. A plan should be put in place with regards to the purported closure of the schools concerned, if such had been intended.

The notification to retrieve its properties by IJS was done in good faith. The conduct of affairs thereafter is the responsibility of the Education Ministry.

As speculation goes, it may possibly entail cessation of new intakes at subject premises and relocation of existing students. The so-called leakage of the ministry’s letter with “alarming” content – which is “IJS’ request under consideration” brought forth disastrous reactions from the public. It was later withdrawn.

The lack of measured response from a public official to media enquiries on rumours that the sisters are selling their properties to developers for re-development was even more damaging. It did not give any consideration to the idea that the “talk of sisters’ selling out and eliminating their own heritage and legacy” was a vicious one. It added fuel to state of emotions in worried parents and opinionated public.

It is upsetting to parents whose children are now studying in the convent schools at Light Street, Pulau Tikus and Green Lane respectively. It is particularly saddening to the alumni communities of these schools. And in general, many ex-convent girls are affected.

It is difficult to accept what seems to be illogical. Will the convent schools suffer eventual demise in the hands of the sisters?

How horrible, not because it is going to happen that way but because the sensible and rational-thinking sisters have to suffer great distress on such persecuting allegations for a good plan that was being executed. They are re-activating their mission of providingwholesome education and preserving their landmark properties in the tradition of their founding sisters and institute objectives.

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Revisiting history without bias

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

Using proper methodology, sound and valid arguments, any debate could spark a real interest in history itself.

A FEW years ago, there was an interesting debate on whether historical figures mentioned in a number of historical documents were real or myths.

The debate on Hang Tuah and his brethren, as well as Hang Li Po, was indeed attention-grabbing, and sparked interest in “historical revisionism” – revisiting and reinterpreting historical records, usually (but not necessarily) based on newly found historical evidence, which leads to challenging current and popular interpretations of historical facts.

More often than not, historical revisionism is met with much controversy. Those who are comfortable with the status quo would find new interpretations of historical facts unnerving and troubling.

This is in contrast to the many branches of science where theories and ideas are regularly revised, refined and reinterpreted when new knowledge comes to light.

As an example, Arab-Muslim polymath Ibn al-Haytham revised and corrected the theories of vision propagated by his Greek predecessors such as Euclid, Ptolemy and Aristotle, based on experimentation which was empirical and objective.

Ibn al-Haytham’s theory of vision still stands true to this very day, until and unless someone revises it based on new evidence. The beauty of scientific knowledge is that it can be tested and retested, and subjected to peer reviews. This exhaustive process results in science being regarded as “trusted” knowledge.

But there are also instances when certain quarters exhibit “scientific denialism” – the irrational rejection of empirically verifiable realities. Examples include those who subscribe to the flat Earth theory, those who reject vaccination as a conspiracy, and those who view climate change as a myth.

The challenge with interpreting history is even greater, compared to interpreting scientific data. There are those who deny empirical evidence even with science, so imagine the challenge with historical interpretation. There have been many cases in history where events have been interpreted in a biased manner, even denying that events actually took place.

We have just celebrated the 60th anniversary of Merdeka and in a few days, we will celebrate the 54th anniversary of the formation of our beloved country, Malaysia. Having a sense of history is critically important for today’s Malaysians who are mostly born after 1957.

Without any objective reflection of history, we may not truly understand the struggles of the past. The less appreciation we have for history, the greater the risk of creating a generation of Malaysians who do not appreciate the value of independence.

One important reminder is found in Muqaddimah, by the 14th century Arab-Muslim historiographer Ibn Khaldun. He theorised how long a civilisation would survive, based on observations of the Arabs and Berbers. Ibn Khaldun astutely noted that civilisations generally lasted around 120 years, or three generations.

He wrote that the first generation was a generation of fighters, who endured hardship and fought for freedom for their children and grandchildren. They were strong-willed, had a strong sense of brotherhood, possessed strong patriotism, and were willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their country.

The second generation benefited greatly from the sacrifices of the previous generation. However, because of the relative comfort that they experienced, the characteristics possessed by the first generation began to wane with the second generation. None-theless, since there was still direct contact with the first generation, the second generation still exhibited an appreciation of the importance of patriotism.

With the third generation, all the traits possessed by the first generation was almost non-existent. They lived in a comfort zone and no longer appreciated or understood the importance of the sacrifice of their forefathers. It was during the third generation that civilisations began to crumble, according to Ibn Khaldun.

We could indeed see this in our own history. The Empire of Malacca stood for about 111 years (a mere nine years short of Ibn Khaldun’s theory) before it fell to the Portuguese in 1511. We have read how treachery, egotism and materialism crept into the empire that led to the downfall of Melaka.

This shows how important it is for us to learn from history. What is more pertinent is that the history that is learnt is history that is objective.

There is nothing wrong with re-evaluating historical events and players. Historical revisionism can be an enlightening and beneficial academic exercise which can contribute towards enriching knowledge.

However, we must ensure proper methodology is used, and that arguments presented are sound and valid, as there is a very fine line between “historical revisionism” and “historical negationism”. If revisionism is done to present a new narrative that negates or denies people or events, then the exercise would not be objective.

by Dr Shaikh Mohd Saifuddeen Shaikh Mohd Salleh
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