Archive for the ‘Celebrating Diversity’ Category

Nothing sinister about Malaysia’s Social Contract

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018
(Stock image for illustration purposes) Malaysia’s national identity components on religion, language and socioeconomic matters are incorporated in the Federal Constitution. The incorporation of these components is not to portray the supremacy of the Malays/Bumiputeras.

SOCIETAL security in a plural state is the most delicate sector to manage. Before, this vulnerability was only politicised internally. Today, it is also internationalised, both by domestic and external actors.

European scholars conducted extensive studies on national identity and societal security since the beginning of the post-Cold War era, after the horrific ethnic cleansing and genocide in Bosnia. But national identity and societal issues have always been regarded as one of the major causes of ethnic and religious conflicts in many plural states.

For example, the “Hindu-Muslim riots in India in 1947 killed between 100,000 and 200,000 people and generated about 10 million refugees” (Stuart J. Kaufman [2008] in Ethnic Conflict).

The most recent threat to Malaysia’s societal security was the incident at a Hindu temple in Seafield, Selangor. Fortunately, our police were very efficient. Otherwise, unscrupulous elements might exploit it to become an identity crisis. This incident gained an international dimension when a Hindu politician in India submitted a memorandum to the Malaysian consulate in Chennai, alleging that the Malaysian government “was biased against Hindus in Malaysia”.

Internationalisation of Malaysia’s societal and national identity issues also took place in 2007, when a group of activists sent a memorandum pertaining to alleged discrimination against Malaysian Indians to the British prime minister. They also filed a petition at the Queen’s Bench Division of the High Court of Justice in London, and launched an e-petition whose “main demand is for Putrajaya to repeal Article 153 of the Federal Constitution, which an activist claimed was the ‘mother’ of all Malaysian racist policies for the past 54 years”.

It is the reality. “Societal security concerns the sustainability of traditional patterns of language, culture, religion, national identity and customs” (Barry Buzan [1991] in People, State & Fear). It is also the truth. “State security concerns are about threats to its sovereignty, whilst societal security is about the threats to a society’s identity” (Waever, Buzan, Kelstrup & Lemaitre [1993] in Identity, Migration and the New Security Agenda in Europe).

The fact is such because societal security is about threats to the national identity of a state. Malaysia’s national identity components on religion, language and socioeconomic matters are incorporated in the Federal Constitution. The incorporation of these components is not to portray the supremacy of the Malays/Bumiputeras. These components already existed in several agreements and treaties between Malay rulers and the British government.

For example, Article 153. “The special position of the Malays was recognised in the original treaties made by His Majesty in previous years, and Her Majesty Queen Victoria and others with the Malay States” (Alan Lennox-Boyd, Secretary of State for the Colonies, in British Parliamentary Hansard, Volume 573,12 July 1957).

“It was reaffirmed when these treaties were revised. It was confirmed in the 1948 Agreement, and reference was expressly made to it in the terms of reference of the Reid Commission.”

The incorporation of components of Malaysia’s national identity into the Federal Constitution was also carried out with careful balancing to protect the legitimate rights of all Malaysian citizens. Hence contents of the Federal Constitution were extracted from the results of 31 town-hall meetings conducted by the Reid Commission.

Additionally, they were derived from 131 proposals submitted to the commission by various ethnic, religious, political and business groups representing the Malays, Chinese, Indians and others.

The draft constitution was vetted by Umno, MCA, MIC and representatives of the Alliance, Malay rulers, Malayan Legislative Council, state assemblies, British government and British parliament.

One particular point to be noted here, are statements by Lord Ogmore who debated the Malaya Independence Bill in the House of Lords on July 29, 1957:

“We must remember that in this Constitution the Malays are making far greater concessions to people of other races than is normally the practice in other countries — I personally appeal to all the races and to all the peoples in the Federation of Malaya, to help wholeheartedly in the working of the Constitution.”

The concessions were granted to the other races after Tunku Abdul Rahman as Umno leader, made a gentle request to leaders of MCA and MIC. Tan Cheng Lock of MCA and V.T. Sambanthan of MIC agreed to the request. Hence, a social contract was sealed.

As such, there is nothing sinister about Malaysia’s social contract. “It refers to the painstaking compromises between the ethnic Malays, Chinese and Indians on their bargains with the Malay Rulers for the creation of a democratic, monarchical, federal and non-theocratic systems of government” (Shad Saleem Faruqi [2012] in the Bedrock of Our Nation: Our Constitution.

By Datuk Dr Ruhanie Ahmad.

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Intercultural experience can leave life-changing impressions among the young

Thursday, November 15th, 2018
(File pix) The experience of living abroad opens up the mind to many things.

IN today’s interconnected world, communication with another person is just a mouse-click or a tap of a screen away. But yet there is a lack of peace and harmony among citizens and nations across the globe, resulting in friction and conflict in the form of xenophobia, stereotypes and exclusions.

Yayasan AFS Antarabudaya Malaysia (AFS Malaysia) chairman Khalilah Mohd Talha said lack of understanding of traditions and values of other people is a major cause.

“We connect but we do not engage. We acknowledge the existence of different cultures, but we do not understand them. There is a ‘us’ versus ‘them’ and it subtly becomes a pervasive form of society bias, which prevents diversity and inclusion,” said Khalilah.

She added it is crucial to promote intercultural exchange, whether virtual or physical, among the young in today’s world.

In its 60 years of existence since 1958, AFS Malaysia continues to bridge cultures through intercultural learning and provides a platform for Malaysians to gain global experience. Over its six decades of operations, AFS Malaysia has sent 4,000 students on exchange programmes abroad and hosted 3,000 foreign students here in Malaysia.

“Intercultural learning makes students more sensitive to different ways of life, traditions, customs and worldviews. It is our hope to produce active global citizens and make them more globally competent to face a more challenging world.”

global citizenship education is a transformative, lifelong pursuit that involves both formal learning and practical experience.

“The student, who has had experience abroad, is more confident in public speaking, has global competency and understanding of issues. They understand themselves better. So when they carve out their career path after university, they usually have an edge over their peers.

“Exposure to intercultural learning leads to volunteer work. They are more compassionate, caring and concerned about their fellow citizens.”

It is AFS Malaysia’s vision to mould future leaders through intercultural learning and understanding, and its mission is to “engage Malaysians to embrace our differences and celebrate our commonalities through committed volunteerism for a united Malaysia”.

Experiences you absorb at the age of 16 or 17 are the ones that will stay with you the longest. “The intercultural international exchange programmes AFS Malaysia offers are generally for those in that particular age group—who are neither too matured nor too young to retain the memories longer than any age group,” said AFS Malaysia chairperson Khalilah Mohd Talha.

AFS Malaysia offers three categories: the Year Programme, Semester Programme and Intensive Programme.

The Year Programme is open to Form Five students who want an opportunity to live and study in another country for a period of up to 11 months. This programme is suited for someone who wants to learn a new language and feel a part of a local community.

Also open to Form Five students, the Semester Programme Offers an opportunity to live and study in another country for six months. It allows the participant to learn a new language, embrace the local lifestyle and be exposed to intercultural learning.

The Intensive programme is open to students from Form Three to Form Five, giving a chance to live and study in another country, with minimum interruption to their education. It is the perfect way to improve language skills before the final years of study at secondary or high school.


For Tan Sri Hamidon Ali, his exposure as an AFS exchange student in the United States 50 years ago was a key influence in shaping his career in foreign affairs.

A diplomat on multiple Malaysian missions and the former Permanent Representative of Malaysia to the United Nations, Hamidon had his first taste of intercultural experience and international exposure in a Midwest town called Fosston in Minnesota, near the Canadian border.

“It was extremely cold in the winter but extremely exciting in other ways. This small community was very close because they were descendants of Scandinavians. I was placed in a family where the father was a preacher at the Baptist church.

“I was reluctant to go to church with the family at first but after a while I decided to join them except for attending Sunday school. Then I began to understand that the values of this particular group of Christians had a lot of similarities to Islam,” he said.

“My experience opened up my mind to many things — we have to accept people and accept them as different, learn from the differences, and use the differences for the betterment of societies, countries and global community.

“We need to bridge the gap to know each other better and not be segregated. We need to find common values. I spent 40 years in the Foreign Affairs Ministry, I met people from all over the world—when your mind is open, you are receptive. You don’t have to compromise your beliefs.

“The experience made me stronger, it strengthened my faith. When you understand we have the same roots, we can then smoothen the edges.”


Suraya Zainudin, 30, from Shah Alam in Selangor went to Japan on the six-month AFS exchange programme from March 2005 till February 2006, when she was 16.

“I was hosted in Handa City, Aichi Prefecture and lived with the Hibi family. There were three of them — Okaa-san (host mum),Otou-san (host dad) and Asami-chan (then nine-year-old host sister). Their extended family also lived nearby, so I had an Obaa-chan (host grandmother) and Ojii-chan (host grandfather).

“I was their first hosted student, and we got along really well and keep in touch until now. I consider them my second family. Both my host parents work in print publication, while my host sister has just finished university and plans to be a teacher,” she said.

Suraya went to Handa Koukou (Handa High School), with a reputation for being an academically good institution. She often get “undeserved” compliments for being a former student at the school.

She rode the bicycle to school —around trip of 40 minutes to an hour. “I joined the kyuudo bu (archery club), sadou bu (tea ceremony club), koto bu (koto club; koto is a Japanese musical instrument) and sometimes attend the eigo bu (English club).”

The AFS experience taught her that kindness and goodwill foster more of the same. “My host parents didn’t have to take on a stranger, but they did, and out of their own pocket too. So did countless other strangers who helped for the sake of helping. It made me realise that good people are truly everywhere.”

Suraya learnt to overcome challenges. “I was very shy back then, and the experience made me realise that I will miss out on many life experiences due to shyness. I forced myself to overcome my shyness to make the most out of the experience.”

She feels that her AFS experience has made her a more empathetic and curious person.

“Perhaps that is why I chose communications as my major and career — I love knowing how and why people are different, as well as how they reveal their personalities and values through words and actions.”

Entertainment journalist and host Shafiq Najib, 25, works for Los Angeles publications and networks such as US Weekly and E! News. He has also worked in London, covering various entertainment events and credits his career to his AFS experience.

“My AFS experience has taught me to be more compassionate to others and to always think outside the box. Since then I had gone on to pursue my passion to become a journalist. I want to help to make a difference in the world by telling stories that will inspire people to love and be kind to one another.

“I gained life skills that have been very useful to my career and life in general. I learnt to adapt to a foreign environment, communicate with people from all walks of life and accept people for who they are, without judgement. I am very appreciative of these experiences and will never trade them for the world,” he added.

Shafiq, who is from Kluang, Johor, joined AFS in 2011 under the YES (Youth Exchange and Study) programme funded by the US Department of State. He was 17 and was hosted in Los Angeles, California for six months with a Jewish American family with four sons. He attended Culver City High School as a senior student.

“I joined the programme to broaden my horizons with first-hand experiences of living in a foreign environment with a different culture and lifestyle. At the same time, as a proud Malaysian, I wanted to introduce my culture and identity to people from the other side of world that had probably never heard of us,” he said.

“I went with an open mind and ended up having the most amazing experience of a lifetime and built such beautiful relationships with people that I never thought I would ever be able to have a connection with in my life. I learnt that regardless of religion, race and culture, we are all equal as human beings.”


AFS Malaysia plans include expanding international exposure for students as well as providing intercultural learning within Malaysia for Malaysians.

Its latest initiative is a domestic exchange programme in the country which allows local students to experience the different cultures of the races among our communities. Five students were selected to participate in the pioneer programme during the recent Deepavali celebration. The programme aims to enhance awareness and knowledge of other cultures as well as deepen the understanding, appreciation and respect for the multiracial people of our own homeland.

Speaking at the recent AFS Malaysia 60th anniversary gala dinner, Khalilah Talha said: “As Malaysia has a diverse cultural landscape, it’s time to help in strengthening the cultural understanding of the people in our homeland and eventually help in the nation-building agenda. It is also our hope to be able to share our expertise and 60 years of intercultural experiences to bridge the gap and connect Malaysian communities.

“The (new) programme tailor-made for our local communities is our attempt to introduce inter-racial exchanges in the country and offers local students a first-hand experience of Malaysia’s multi-cultural forms and practices.”

AFS Malaysia is drafting a programme for university students on a gap year that will immerse them in community projects abroad involving the underprivileged and the differently abled, for example.

“We have been hosting programmes for overseas students under this gap year type of programme but we want local university students to go overseas for the experience too.

“We also want to hold educators’ programmes so that they can pass on the message of embracing differences and celebrating commonalities to their students.”

AFS Intercultural Programmes began as the American Ambulance Field Service, a volunteer ambulance corps created in April 1915 by A. Patt Andrew. Under the leadership of Andrew in World War I and Stephen Galatti in World War II, AFS was transformed from a wartime humanitarian aid organisation into a groundbreaking international secondary school exchange, volunteer and intercultural learning organisation with a noble vision: help build a more peaceful world by promoting understanding among cultures.

AFS Intercultural Programmes provide intercultural learning opportunities to help people develop the knowledge, skills and understanding needed to create a more just and peaceful world. By linking its “learning to live together” philosophy to the defining global issues of the 21st century, AFS is dedicated to building an inclusive community of global citizens determined to build bridges among cultures.

(File pix) Malaysian AFS alumnus Vimal Raj Vivekanandah (second from left) with friends he made in Houston, Texas.


VIMAL Raj Vivekanandah, 21; Umi Nabila Mat Yusuf, 19; and Chow Shenn Kuan, 22, have two things in common.

All three have participated in an AFS intercultural exchange programme and have gone on to volunteer in various projects on campus.

Fresh graduate Chow, who pursued the Bachelor of Science (Honours) Business Studies of the Lancaster University-affiliated programme at Sunway University, joined the 10-day student exchange programme Kizuna Project 2012 in Japan which promoted better understanding of its revitalisation and reconstruction after the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

A Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Bachelor of Social Science in Psychology final-year student, Vimal joined the AFS Exchange programme 2015 for six months in Houston, Texas funded by a British Petroleum scholarship.

Umi Nabila, a Universiti Teknologi Mara Shah Alam Bachelor of Science (Honours) Biomolecular Science first year student, also had a six-month experience in Dallas, Texas under the Kennedy Lugar Youth Exchange and Study programme last year.

Chow said: “Today, I am an advocate for student exchange programmes or learning abroad. During my undergraduate years at Sunway University, I received a scholarship for an exchange programme to Lancaster University in the United Kingdom, and a travel grant for a visit to Harvard University in the United States.

“Truly grateful for the opportunities offered by Sunway University, my form of giving back to my education institution was to be an active student leader. Since my first year at Sunway University, I have been hosting visiting students to Malaysia from the United Kingdom, US and Hong Kong, for example.”

Vimal is a student buddy for international students in Malaysia. He has also developed an interest to participate in conferences and summits including those organised by the United Nations.

“Recently, I represented Guinea as its delegate for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4: Zero Hunger and was awarded Honourable Mention at Global Goals Model United Nations 2018.

“I just attended Asia Youth International Model United Nations 2018 as part of the committee team in Bangkok, Thailand.

“I am a development committee member at Hunger Hurts Malaysia with a focus on helping homeless children at People’s Housing Projects and eradicating urban poverty.

“I also an ambassador at Institut Onn Jaafar Volunteer Centre in Chow Kit where we help the homeless,” he said.


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A meaningful hijrah

Monday, September 10th, 2018

MUSLIMS welcome another new year in the Islamic calendar tomorrow. It was 1440 years ago that Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and the early Muslims migrated from Makkah to Madinah, which marked the first year of the Hijrah calendar.

For many Makkah Muslims then, the decision to migrate was done with a heavy heart as they had to leave their homeland to a new place. But their faith and love for Islam soothed their doubts and worries.

The Hijrah has significance not just to the Islamic world but also to world civilisation. It did not merely signify a final destination for Makkah Muslims, but was also the beginning of a continuous effort to establish a strong and resilient ummah.

While many Muslims prefer to discuss the Hijrah from the perspective of personal transformations, it is also important to put into context the other impacts from the migration. These include the reshaping of the political, economic and social aspects of the Muslim community, which became the central foundation for Islamic civilisation. This all-encompassing impact of Prophet Muhammad and his followers’ migration from Makkah strengthened the viewpoint of Islam as a comprehensive religion and a complete system of life for its adherents.

It was during this period that an Islamic civilisation was built, gained prominence and lasted for centuries.

The strength of the nation was not measured by the number of weapons, soldiers and wealth, instead, the foundation of the religion, that is the framework of tawhid (oneness of God) and the prophethood of Muhammad as the final Messenger of God cemented the whole life system. This was epitomised through the characters of Muslims in their political, economic and social affairs. Muslims today must therefore emulate the will, courage and strong conviction of the muhajjirin(the emigrants) to bring about changes and improvements to oneself and the ummah.

The Hijrah also offers important lessons in leadership. When Makkah Muslims migrated to Madinah, they were welcomed by Madinah Muslims.

Prophet Muhammad’s leadership was able to unite two Muslim communities with different sects and religious beliefs just on the basis of faith. His position as the leader in Madinah stemmed from the essence of power bestowed on him by society and also through divine authority.

The Prophet took the position of leadership as a trust from the people of Madinah and also from Allah. Therefore, a lesson to be learnt from this is the importance of upholding amanah (trust) andadl (justice) among leaders.

Other lessons from hijrah: the Prophet brought together different tribes, cultures and religions. The people of Madinah were taught to be more kind, compassionate and giving towards one another.

The kinship formed between Makkah Muslims and Madinah Muslims, the end of intertribal conflicts between the tribes of Aws and Khazraj, and the acceptance of other religious communities as part of Madinah society, paved the way for the establishment of a strong and stable nation under the leadership of Prophet Muhammad.

For a multiracial and multireligious country like Malaysia, there is so much to learn from this historical episode.


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Haj shows me what Islam is

Monday, September 10th, 2018
The sight of the Kaabah within the Grand Mosque, and the undulating sea of people circling it, is mesmerising, almost hypnotic.

THE haj season this year officially closed two weeks ago. It was, gratefully, a smooth and successful season with several historic feats achieved for Malaysian pilgrims, among them, fast-track immigration pre-clearance and air-conditioned tents in Arafah.

Since returning after covering the pilgrimage as a journalist and performing the haj at the same time, I’ve been trying to put my thoughts in order. It’s challenging as it feels like an entire lifetime passed in the reasonably short period of 55 days I was in the Holy Land.

Arriving at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport just a few seconds to our National Day, and back on familiar ground in the days thereafter, it felt as if nothing has changed, but so much, in effect, has

Haj, it has been said, is a powerful experience, and a catalyst for change like no other. And it is.

There was much I learnt being part of a global community of more than two million people. We trekked under the scorching heat of the desert sun, and waded through the crush of people together, sharing not just succulent Ajwa dates and refreshment, but tears and laughter

I saw how it’s possible for people of different colour, backgrounds, and stations in life to co-exist as one. No one is on a pedestal higher than the other, or more important. Everyone looks the same and is clothed in similar garments, free of all their worldly trappings. We may not know the different languages spoken, but everyone understands each other completely when reciting the talbiah, takbir and verses from the Quran.

This incredible diversity of people who journeyed from all corners of the globe for a singular purpose is indeed a sight to behold and you will be made acutely aware how small you are amid this ocean of humanity

If only this spirit, as well as sense of community, charity and brotherhood can be replicated at all other times, and in all places.

I also learnt that the haj is not to be feared. Some are reluctant to fulfil the fifth pillar of Islam and put it off until they are in their twilight years not because of financial constraints but because of a sense of unworthiness or unpreparedness. I felt the same too and these thoughts were swirling in my head: am I ready? There is still so much I don’t know. What if I embarrass myself by doing something wrong?

I will, therefore, always be grateful for this advice: “Don’t wait. Go when you are invited. As long as you go with sincerity and an open heart, InsyaAllah, all will be well.”

In Makkah, I met elderly pilgrims who regretted making the journey so late in their lives as obstacles are more difficult to surmount when the body is frail and weak.

Indeed, much has been said about how physically demanding the haj is. It can be arduous, especially now in the summer months, when temperatures soar above 40°C.

This is hot enough to cause mobile phones to overheat and shut down.

Thus, it is crucial to be prepared. There will be discomfort, inconveniences, long waits and even longer walks during Masyair, when pilgrims move from Makkah to Arafah, Muzdalifah and Mina to perform the haj rituals. Even religious guides from Tabung Haji (TH), Malaysia’s pilgrims fund, advise people not to neglect physical preparations — exercising and eating nutritiously — before departing for the Holy Land. Spiritual preparations alone do not suffice as a certain level of fitness is required for all the walking.

And just how long are the walks? At Mina alone, it is at least 7km daily under the blazing sun from the tent site to the multi-storey Jamarat Complex for the stoning ritual, and back.

Thankfully, when it seemed like my legs were turning to jelly, I would see determined senior citizens charging ahead with their walking sticks, and come across Saudi volunteers with water sprays shouting, “Five more minutes!”, and feel re-energised.

For women, it is also important to be armed with knowledge, especially with regards menstruation, as ignorance can have serious consequences.

Ask a religious guide if unsure. Nothing is too embarrassing when it comes to something as important as the haj, which most people have an opportunity to perform only once in their lifetime.

As it is, the highest number of inquiries received by TH guides are from women concerned about menstruating during the haj, a situation brought about by the increasingly younger age of pilgrims.

But what I learnt most of all from my journey is what Islam is. Not how it is often portrayed. Not unforgiving, judgmental or eager to punish. Not about hate, anger or retribution, and not about brimstone and hellfire.

Throughout the haj journey for me, there is a sense of Islam as it is in its truest form. One can feel it when in the holy cities.

This feeling of love, mercy, and compassion; it permeates the air at the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, which was once the home of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), and the Grand Mosque in Makkah.

The sight of the Kaabah within the Grand Mosque, and the undulating sea of people circling it is mesmerising, almost hypnotic.

This is where Muslims face five times every day in prayer, no matter where they are in the world.

By Sofea Chok Suat Ling.

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Govt to introduce Cultural Diversity Day, says Waytha Moorthy

Sunday, September 9th, 2018
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Senator P. Waytha Moorthy (2nd-left) attends the ‘Karnival Explorasi Perpaduan Merdeka 2018’ at Pantai Sri Tujuk in Tumpat. Pic by SYAMSI SUHAIMI

KOTA BARU: The government will introduce Cultural Diversity Day to instil the spirit of unity among Malaysians, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Senator P. Waytha Moorthy.

Waytha, who is in charge of national unity and social wellbeing, said the special celebration is expected to be held in March next year.

“Since becoming a minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, I have been thinking about what should be done and the changes we should bring to instil unity among the various races.

“I think the Cultural Diversity Day will serve as a good platform to showcase Malaysia’s cultures and traditions.

“For example, the Tarian Asyik and Rebana Kerching may only be popular in Kelantan but I want them to be visible to all Malaysians so that we can learn more about our country’s culture,” he said.

Waytha said this after officiating the state-level ‘Karnival Explorasi Perpaduan Merdeka 2018’ at Pantai Sri Tujuk here today.

Present was Kelantan National Unity and Integration Department director Norwahidah Zinalibdin.

Waytha also praised the Kelantanese culture for being able to unite the people, saying it should serve as a model for other states to follow.

“Kelantanese culture is very unique and everyone regardless of race is able to speak the Kelantanese dialect well.

When I was having breakfast at a Chinese coffeeshop here this morning, I was impressed to see that 80 per cent of its customers are Malay.

“They managed to unite the people of Kelantan through food and this is a very different environment compared to the west coast.

By Nor Fazlina Abdul Rahim.

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Inspiring recovery recorded in new book

Monday, August 27th, 2018
Timeless story: Visitors to Penang Hill browsing through a copy of ‘Healing Penang Hill’ during its launch ceremony.

Timeless story: Visitors to Penang Hill browsing through a copy of ‘Healing Penang Hill’ during its launch ceremony.

GEORGE TOWN: The remarkable story of how Penang Hill got back on its feet two months after the havoc brought by the landslides last November is documented in a new book.

Many expected that it would take at least two or three years to recover from the damage caused by over 319 landslides.


Now, the tireless efforts of volunteers, government agencies and the Penang Hill Corporation (PHC) have been recorded in a pictorial book titled Healing Penang Hill.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng, who launched the book, said it captured the aftermath well with photographs of the landslides along with the restoration and rehabilitation works.

“The book records the progress made over 51 days, from the day of the disaster on Nov 4 till the day the funicular train service restarted operations on Dec 25 last year,” he said.

Lim, who is also former Penang chief minister, said the book launch came at an appropriate time as it was held during the maiden Penang Hill Festival.

“With the festival’s theme being ‘See the Nature. Feel the History’, it is apt to celebrate Penang Hill’s rich history, natural habitat and cultural heritage.

“This pictorial book serves as a reminder to us that our beloved hill must be preserved and conserved for our future generations.

“The extensive reconstruction work has just begun.

“I hope the healing process will accelerate and that Penang Hill will become fully green once again,” he said.

PHC general manager Cheok Lay Leng said the 80-page book featured pictures of those who worked or contributed on-site at various locations during the recovery process.

“All the photos were taken using handphone cameras and there are over 160 photos of various sizes featured in the book.

“These pictures detail the landslide areas, the rescue mission, recovery work as well as the re-­opening of the funicular train service,” he said.

The book, Cheok added, was not for sale as it was a recording of a disaster on an unprecedented scale and the recovery work that followed involving the corporation and its partners, stakeholders and volunteers.

He said it was also a way to acknowledge all the contributors, including foreign workers who worked extended hours.

“We want this book to serve as a reminder of what happened to Penang Hill in the years to come,” he said.

As for the number of visitors to Penang Hill, Cheok said 2016 registered 1.6 million visitors, a figure that was expected to have gone up last year if not for the landslides that resulted in the temporary closure.

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Holistic cultural and arts policy needed

Sunday, August 26th, 2018
A Wayang Kulit performance during a cultural and arts presentation at Muzium Negara. There is a need to re-educate the public to appreciate the beauty of classical traditional performing arts such as the Makyong, Wayang Kulit, Joget Gamelan dances and others. FILE PIC

IT has now passed 100 days for the Pakatan Harapan government since it replaced Barisan Nasional. A slew of reforms has been initiated to restructure the administration to conform to the principles of honesty, integrity, accountability and the rule of law

Measures taken target economic, financial and fiscal issues as well as weeding out corruption. It would be wishful thinking that these efforts would bear fruit within a hundred days.

Notwithstanding, the new government has failed to address a significant aspect of governance that deals with cultural and artistic policy. Perhaps arts and culture have the lowest priority in government planning as most politicians and high level civil servants are unaware of its significance in the development and wellbeing of the people and country. They usually dismiss it as mere entertainment while some politicians regard it as sinful.

In fact, cultural expressions reflect the soul and identity of a community or a nation. Both tangible and intangible artistic expressions permeate all aspects of our lives — from clothing, handbags, jewellery, cars, living space, music, dances and dramatic expressions to films and television.

There is a need for a concerted effort to create a holistic cultural and arts policy to replace the existing one which is based just on promoting cultural events and performances as addendum to the tourist industry.

As a result of this, our cultural and artistic products are substandard and we have never excelled in the various artistic expressions. This has also caused the neglect and demise of many forms of traditional artistic expressions. And the people have become that much poorer having lost their cultural and artistic identity and heritage.

The arts and culture are integral to education and industry both as aesthetic and functional ingredients not only in national physical and materialistic development but also as an emotional therapeutic element in the wellbeing of the people.

It needs to be reminded that arts and culture as part of the educative process play a significant role in the development of visual thinking that trains the mind to visualise objects and phenomena in their physical and abstract perspectives. Yet the arts are given minimal emphasis in our schools’ and universities’ curricula, which give priority to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects.

As both aesthetic and functional products, the arts and culture generate economic turnover as part of the creative industries that not only brings economic returns but equally important provides job opportunities. Unfortunately, the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry does not have qualified and thinking personnel to explore employment and revenue-generation aspects of the creative industry much less, the psychological and therapeutic perspectives.

Arts and culture have their own dynamism and make their presence felt through a variety of manifestations in various forms of expressions. They reflect an innate trait of human behavioural pattern that relates to life itself. To accommodate these needs, the related ministries need to plan and strategise three levels of cultural and artistic pursuits, namely, traditional, popular and haute culture (high culture).

Traditional culture has to be preserved and revitalised as our cultural heritage is fast disappearing due to the thrust of modern forms of alien cultural expressions. There is a need to re-educate the public to appreciate the beauty of classical traditional performing arts such as Makyong, Wayang Kulit, Joget Gamelan dance and other traditional dances.

This can only be done through a proper educative process to develop traditional practitioners and the infrastructure to accommodate the performances as well as a support base for arts and culture.

Popular culture is an imitation of western pop culture that appeals to the masses, especially the youths and teenagers and consists of pop concerts, heavy metal, modern dances and light musicals, which are the mainstay of modern artistic expressions with their own cult and fan groups. These youths need be guided to the artistry of these performances.

Haute culture or high culture, refers mainly to western classical music, dances (ballet and modern) and dramatic performances such as musicals and serious plays of universally known playwrights the likes of Shakespeare, Ibsen, Pirandello, Aristophanes as well as works by eminent local writers such as Noordin Hassan, Usman Awang, Syed Alwi, Dinsman, Kalam Hamidy and others. These haute culture performances appeal to the sophisticated and the elite of society.

All of these are markers, which designate a sophisticated society that appreciates the arts and is proud of its traditional cultural heritage as well as provides the youths and teens with the opportunities to appreciate and create popular artistic expressions.

There is, therefore, a need for the ministry to start thinking of these various aesthetic, philosophical and social and economic implications of arts and culture and not regard them as merely a form of mundane celebration.


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Celebrating Malaysia’s diversity

Friday, August 17th, 2018

KOTA BELUD: Known for its tapestry of cultures belonging to various ethnic groups, Kota Belud is a showcase for racial unity and harmony.

The ubiquitous coffee shop in this quaint little town, located about 70 kilometres from Kota Kinabalu, is the favourite meeting place for the locals, where they talk about everything from politics to the latest goings-on whilst sipping hot coffee or tea.

Their ethnic or religious dissimilarities do not get in the way of their social interaction and they are all friends and look out for each other.

The Kota Belud district has a predominantly Bajau population, with the rest made up of people from the Kadazandusun and other ethnic communities.

The sentiments expressed by a senior denizen, Ebin Adim, clearly sums up the genuine camaraderie that prevails there.

“In the coffee shop, we all sit together. It doesn’t matter whether we are Bajau, Kadazandusun, Murut or anyone, we are familiar with each other and don’t think along racial lines,” said the 78-year-old Bajau craftsman who is an expert in making the Bajau parang or machete.

Ebin, who lives with his wife in Kampung Siasai Kumpang, here, reckoned that the most important ingredient in their recipe for peaceful coexistence was the fact they were “not clannish. We’re also not envious of each other and neither do we oppress one another although we belong to different ethnic groups”.

This writer met Ebin during a media visit to Kota Belud last month organised by the Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation (Kraftangan Malaysia).

Colourful cultures

The affable senior citizen, who became a parang craftsman at the age of 18, invited the visiting journalists to his house where his workshop is also located and treated them to fried noodles and hot coffee prepared by his niece who lives nearby.

Ebin said the people of Sabah, Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia should strive to live in unity and show their love and respect to the nation.

“In the earlier days, life was difficult for us but as our country progressed, life became better for us.

“I’m already old… it’s my hope that we, especially the younger generation, will continue to live in harmony. Don’t deliberately trigger conflicts as it will only lead to hardship for the people. We should all value the peace we enjoy now and our nation’s progress.”

Hoping the Land Below the Wind would also be able to reap the fruits of the nation’s overall economic development, he said it would foster more love for the nation at every level of society as the people of Sabah would not feel left behind in their own homeland.

Rattan craft entrepreneur Empin Galing, 58, who is a Kadazandusun and lives in Kampung Gansurai, said ethnic and cultural diversity was something to be celebrated as it was what that made this country unique.

“Our colourful cultures make us different from other countries. Our country may have its flaws but, still, it’s our homeland. However appealing another nation may look, it’s not the country we are willing to die for,” said Empin, who is also headman of his village.


Meanwhile, academic Jayum Anak Jawan, who is a Dayak Iban and hails from Sungai Assan in Sibu, Sarawak, said national integration efforts have helped to bring the people of Sabah and Sarawak closer to their fellow citizens in the peninsula.

The New Economic Policy, introduced in 1971, had succeeded in assisting to promote national integration among the people of different ethnicities from different geographical regions, he said.

Jayum, a professor (Politics and Government) in the Department of Government and Civilisation Studies at Universiti Putra Malaysia, said it (NEP) also led to higher social interaction between the people of Sabah and Sarawak and the peninsular and helped to forge mutual respect and appreciation.

And, now with the creation of a new socio-political environment after Pakatan Harapan won the 14th General Election, the people hoped to see healthier levels of integration and unity.

“The government has already made some changes towards being more inclusive and creating a ‘New Malaysia’. For example, after a long time, a Chinese has been appointed as Finance Minister (Lim Guan Eng) and, for the first time, non-Malays were appointed to the post of Attorney-General (Tommy Thomas) and Chief Judge (Tan Sri Richard Malanjum, a Kadazandusun)… this is actually a huge signal (of change),” he said, when contacted by Bernama.

However, he added, a lot more needs to be done by the government to strengthen unity among the various races.


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Dr M to propel Malays further

Friday, July 20th, 2018
(File pix) Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad sees himself as the ‘deliverer ’ for Malays into the future. Pix by Mohamad Shahril Badri Saali

AT 93, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has returned to become prime minister for the second time, having served from 1981 to 2003.

Pakatan Harapan’s pronouncement of a “new Malaysia starting from zero” has raised eyebrows at home and abroad.

To his admirers and supporters, all seems possible with Dr Mahathir.

“Dr M is staying on doing what he does best” is their mantra.

His political resilience has been the subject of interest among Malaysian academics.

Many have attributed his longevity to his mental agility, intellectual capacity, resoluteness in surviving any crisis and keeping true to his vision.

Three of his ideas have stood out — justice and equity for all; Islam in nation-building; modern economy and a developed nation — all encapsulated in his Vision 2020.

This was delayed by the Asian financial crisis in the 1990s. Upon being re-appointed as prime minister, he said he would hold the post for two years.

On another occasion, he said he would be willing to continue, if required.

An academic has observed that Dr Mahathir’s second tenure as prime minister would enable him to complete “unfinished business”, which the academic has defined as two-pronged.

First, it is his wish to see his Vision 2020 become a reality, even if the final date was extended by five years.

Depending on the nation’s coffers, Vision 2020 may see the light of day only in 2025.

Second, it has to do with Dr Mahathir’s vision for Malays. The academic said Dr M held dearly his dream of changing the mindset of Malays, even during his time in Umno.

But beyond that, Dr Mahathir sees himself as the “deliverer” for Malays into the future by a process that he has described as “positive intervention”.

It is my belief, which differs from many academics, that Dr Mahathir wants Malays to go beyond the so-called “Malay dilemma” (his rationale for Malays to get out of the comfort zone of their own weaknesses, as written in a book by him of the same name) and to accept the facts of history, which saw Malays taking action to bring about changes to the community.

Such positive intervention included rejecting the Malayan Union proposal in 1946, setting the country right again after the 1969 racial riots, and now, keeping the “Reformasi” movement alive.

Dr Mahathir believes Umno has made itself irrelevant to the political scene. The road to success for Malays will be to shift their support to PH, which, to Dr Mahathir, is Umno’s successor.

In so doing, Malays will enable themselves to overcome the second “Malay dilemma” phase, which is understood as the demand for more sacrifices from Malays to ensure a place for them in the future.

By Dr Azhari-Karim.

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‘A single multiracial party to strengthen GPS’

Wednesday, June 20th, 2018
Parti Rakyat Sarawak’s (PRS) suggestion to form a single multiracial party is meant to build a strong political foundation for Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS). (File pix)
By Goh Pei Pei - June 20, 2018 @ 12:51pm

KUCHING: Parti Rakyat Sarawak’s (PRS) suggestion to form a single multiracial party is meant to build a strong political foundation for Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS).

Its Youth publicity chief Andy Lawrence said his party president Tan Sri James Jemut Masing believed it was crucial to further strengthen the local parties while GPS was still at its infancy.

“We accept the fact that it has to be finetuned and respect Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Abang Openg’s notion that it is an evolution.”

PRS, however, did not mean to dictate GPS’ structure instead it was merely giving suggestions.

“Our president (James Masing) was putting up a bold, realistic and constructive suggestion for the betterment of GPS and Sarawak as a whole,” Andy said.

“We believe to challenge or change the current status of the political environment shouldn’t be viewed as a negative move.

“We need to come out from this scenario as changes are necessary in this new political landscape,” he added.

“Although making changes would be tough, it is necessary to continue to stay relevant.”

He said a recent call by certain quarters for PRS to change its president was uncalled for.

By Goh Pei Pei.

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