Archive for the ‘Celebrating Diversity’ Category

Mass buka puasa at Dataran Merdeka draws the crowd

Sunday, May 26th, 2019
The Iftar@KL programme, held for the fifth consecutive year, has become a major attraction not just for Muslims but also Non-Muslims and foreigners alike. Pic by STR/OWEE AH CHUN

KUALA LUMPUR: It is only during the holy month of Ramadan that you can see city folk and tourists breaking fast together, next to the historical backdrop of Sultan Abdul Samad building, Royal Selangor Club and Dataran Merdeka.

The Iftar@KL programme, held for the fifth consecutive year, has become a major attraction not just for Muslims but also Non-Muslims and foreigners alike.

Sitting side-by-side on a mat, everyone was served with popular ‘buka puasa’ dishes such as ‘bubur lambuk’ (spiced rice porridge), dates and cakes distributed by Tourism, Art and Culture Ministry.

For Mohd Rossi Yusof and his family, Iftar@KL has become somewhat of an annual event.

The 45-year-old father of one said he would make it a point to be at Dataran Merdeka at least once during Ramadan to break fast.

“I will come with my wife, Nor Meme Ahmat, 44 and son Adam Haikal, 15. I will also invite my siblings who are from different parts of Klang Valley to join us. It’s like an annual family gathering for us.

“This year, I am here only with my wife and son as my other siblings are busy. I look forward to this mass breaking of fast event organised by the Ministry,” he said when met here, today.

Rossi, from Puchong, said he started the tradition because he wanted to create something unique for the family.

“Every year, rain or shine I will make sure I will be at Dataran Merdeka.

Pic by STR/OWEE AH CHUN

“This year, the bazaar was relocated to Jalan Raja, which I think is good. People can do their Raya shopping at the bazaar after the mass buka puasa event,” he said.

Noor Shamimi Iskandar, 24, from Ampang said she was excited to be able to break fast in the huge crowd, with the iconic Sultan Abdul Samad building in the background.

Like Rossi, she too has made it into an annual event with her friends from Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM).

“It’s just our way of catching up with one another, especially since some of them are working in the city centre.

“Besides, this is more strategic (in terms of location) and cost effective rather meeting up at a high-end eateries,” she said while waiting for the arrival of her three friends.

Fauzieha Wan Kamaruddin, 38, said this was her first time breaking fast at Dataran Merdeka since she started working in KL more than 10 years.

“I went to the bazaar searching for Raya clothes for my 3-year-old daughter.

“Since I am already here, I thought why not experience the mass buka ouasa event with other people here,” she said.

Meanwhile, Kanae Mizuno, 31, from Japan, said this was her second time taking part in Iftar@KL.

“My friend invited me to join them last year, so I came.

By Kalbana Perimbanayagam and Teoh Pei Ying.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2019/05/491396/mass-buka-puasa-dataran-merdeka-draws-crowd

A blissful Wesak Day celebration

Monday, May 20th, 2019
KUALA LUMPUR: On Wesak Day, Buddhists began to visit temples nationwide early in the morning to carry out religious rituals and pay tribute to Siddharta Gautama, the founder of the religion.

Many also took the opportunity to donate in cash and kind to the underprivileged.

A lively yet modest atmosphere filled the air when some 3,000 devotees visited the Maha Vihara Buddhist Temple in Brickfields yesterday to conduct religious ceremonies by lighting candles and bringing flowers to symbolise the birth, enlightenment and death of Gautama Buddha.

One of the devotees, Tham Swe Loong, 68, said the Wesak Day celebration was not only for religious observation but also to serve as a day to help those in need.

“We are very lucky to celebrate Wesak Day in harmony.

“It shows that we are living in a peaceful multiracial country,” he told Bernama.

Other Buddhist temples here were also packed with devotees carrying flowers as well as other basic necessities such as rice, bottled drinks and canned food to be donated to the deserving.

The celebration also attracted Australian tourist Olivia Brown, 27, who said it was fascinating “to witness such a spiritual ceremony, full of tradition and rituals which shows their (Buddhists) faith and belief”.

There were also volunteers from various welfare bodies and non-governmental organisations at the temples to ensure the celebration went smoothly.

In Selangor, Buddhists converged at the Fo Guan Shan (FGS) Dong Zen Temple in Jenjarom, Banting.

One of them, Lee Mun, 45, said the family wanted the children to learn more about Buddhism so that they can have a stronger grounding to become better individuals.

The temple, which houses the largest Buddha statue in Selangor, is also a tourist attraction as well as an important cultural and educational centre.

In Negri Sembilan, devotees began to converge at the prayer hall inside the Malaysian Buddhist Associa­tion of Negri Sembilan branch building in Jalan Tan Sri Manickvasagam as early as 9am.

Hundreds of devotees performed religious rituals which took place until the afternoon.

In Melaka, the Seck Kia Ench temple in Jalan Gajah Berang was the focus of more than 3,000 devotees.

Melaka Chief Minister Adly Zahari was also present to wish the devotees Happy Wesak Day as he mingled with those at the temple.

The shopping malls in the city were also crowded with people who took advantage of the public holiday today.

Some were there to make early preparations for Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

In Johor Baru, overcast weather did not prevent 40,000 Buddhists from gathering at the Fo Ghuang Shan Hsingma Si Bathing Temple in Skudai since early morning to perform religious rituals.

The ceremony, attended by state executive councillor Liow Cai Tung, also featured a dance performance by Guang Ming Institute of Performing Arts-Cebu from the Philippines.

In Penang, heavy rain did not dampen the spirit of the devotees, including Tang Kwang Seng, 45, a Grab driver, from fulfilling his

religious obligation at the Penang Buddhist Association in Jalan Burma.

“Regardless of the weather condition, we will always come to pray, to fulfil our obligations,” he said.

In Perak, Deputy Health Minister and Gopeng MP Dr Lee Boon Chye joined other devotees in performing religious rituals at the Malaysian Buddhist Centre Perak branch in Pasir Puteh.

He told reporters later that Wesak Day symbolised the harmony and unity that existed in the country’s multiracial, multireligious society.

Read more @ https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2019/05/20/a-blissful-wesak-day-celebration/#Ea9G8OFsUuC2xj4r.99

Equal rights and mutual respect

Friday, April 5th, 2019
Parliament Kuala Lumpur. – FILE PIC

WILL the Bill to amend Article 1(2) of the Federal Constitution, expected to be tabled this coming week, pass in Parliament?

Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority in Parliament, something the current Pakatan Harapan (PH) national government does not have.

It either needs the support of the 19 Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) members of parliament or the official parliamentary opposition to carry the amendment.

The proposed amendment came about after an earlier amendment in 1976 which purportedly reduced Sabah and Sarawak to merely two states instead of being two administratively distinct territories which together with Malaya and Singapore, formed the expanded Malaysian federation in 1963 as “equal partners”.

What is closer to the truth may be that the 1976 amendment only regularised the accepted fact

It will be noted that back then, the amendment passed with the support of Sabah and Sarawak MPs who were mostly with the Barisan Nasional administration.

If there had been disquiet among them (the then incumbent MP for Bintulu, Ting Ling Kiew, now says he was one who objected and absented himself when the vote came up), it was muted and barely spilled into public discourse.

So what changed between 1976 and now is that the popular disquiet in the two Borneo states has led to the current national government seeking to restore the constitutional order to status quo.

The best guess will be that Putrajaya today realises the popular disquiet across the South China Sea is quite real, for any number of reasons – some perhaps conflicting or contradictory and therefore perhaps a bit unrealistic

But something must be done, goes this line of thinking, and since there is this clamour to restore the constitution pertaining to the status of Sabah and Sarawak to that prior to 1976, that clamour will be acceded to.

But if, as the Sarawak state administration seems to have belatedly realised, such an exercise brings little practical effect, why clamour for it in the first place?

I think it speaks to a general confusion on the part of some state leaders.

The public is ill-served by a profusion of conflicting demands placed by such leaders and a somewhat haphazard and perhaps premature announcements on new state initiatives with far-reaching implications such as the formation of Petros, the new state-owned oil-and-gas entity, and a sales tax on the same industry.

What seems clear in spite of all the conflicting pronouncements though is a general public sense in both Sabah and Sarawak that the people in both states have not gotten a fair deal out of federation.

It will be a challenge for all concerned to find ways to address such a perception.

Putrajaya, despite the confusion and some duplicity emanating out of Sabah and Sarawak, will be well-advised not to attempt moves that will be interpreted as cynical and thereby stirring perhaps even greater troubles further down the road.

But what exactly can the federal administration do? It needs, above all, to recognise that a general clamour for both these states to fully run their own affairs is a legitimate and reasonable desire.

It therefore has to find meaningful ways to further devolve powers currently exercised by the federal government to both states, where possible and feasible

This will naturally mean that expenditures usually disbursed by federal departments and ministries will now be channelled directly to the Sabah and Sarawak governments instead of via block grants, bearing in mind that a frustration given voice by the late Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem about the state being merely one of 12 other supplicants for federal funds resonates far and wide, even today.

Although it is quite impossible for Putrajaya to accede to demands that development funds be apportioned on the basis that Sabah and Sarawak are two of three “territories” within federation without considering that population-wise, both states together constitute not even a third of the entire national population, creative ways can surely be found to give emphasis for these two states to catch up with developments in the peninsula.

Both states deserve a “new deal” within the federation.

The federal government needs to go on the offensive in educating the people in Sabah and Sarawak about the “hidden” costs borne entirely by Putrajaya in defending the territorial integrity of the two states with their long land and maritime international boundaries – not just in military personnel and hardware terms but through international diplomacy.

By John Teo.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2019/04/476267/equal-rights-and-mutual-respect

Understanding right-wing extremism

Sunday, March 17th, 2019
Women embrace near Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 17, 2019. REUTERS

OF all places on earth, peaceful Christchurch in New Zealand has just become the scene of a cold blooded massacre of innocent people in two mosques there. With 49 dead so far and dozens wounded, it is one of the worst terror attacks in the world, this time carried out by white right-wing extremists. Three male and one female suspects are in custody.

In an immediate reaction, the secretary general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Yousef Ahmad Al-Othaimeen, said: “The brutal crime had shocked and hurt the feelings of all Muslims around the world, and served as a further warning on the obvious dangers of hate, intolerance, and Islamophobia.”

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad called on the governments of the world to understand why such terror attacks took place and their modus operandi, which is different from a conventional warfare.

Many people may not understand what right-wing extremism or the far right is all about and its recent resurgence in the West. In simplistic terms, right-wing politics is about preserving certain often oppressive social orders and hierarchies as inevitable and even desirable. Right-wing people tend to react to progress and change, hence they are also called “reactionaries”.

Extreme right-wing politics is associated with ultra-nationalism, fascism and racism or race supremacy, which is often used as justification to oppress and repress others. The most classic example of right-wing extremism is Nazism (oppressing Jews and others) and more recently, Zionism (oppressing Palestinian people) and the extreme right-wing politics used by President Donald Trump in many instances to secure and stay in power.

The far right has also been sweeping Europe, mostly singling out innocent Muslim refugees there, who are merely escaping from the horrors of wars in Syria and the region. These vulnerable refugees become easy targets for xenophobia, hate and outright racism.

Donald Trump used right-wing politics to get himself elected in 2016 and he is also playing the same right-wing politics to stay in power. Many of the Far Right in the West today are inspired by and see President Trump as their poster child. He has certainly done a lot to instill Islamophobia and hatred against the Muslims by his various actions such as his anti-Muslim statements, very pro-Zionist stance and the ban on Muslims from at least seven countries to visit the USA.

President Trump may have sent his “condolences and warmest sympathy” to the people of New Zealand on the terror incident. But he is seen by many to be culpable or at least partially responsible for creating an atmosphere of hatred and racism against

Muslims and promoting xenophobia with his Border Wall idea with Mexico.

The purpose of Trump’s Islamophobia or racism is to distract, confuse and divide & rule in order to stave off serious challenges to his presidency including allegations on his abuse of power, obstruction to justice and on the possible outcome of Russia investigation which may include impeachment.

I have written many press articles on why we should not take peace for granted, the importance of mutual-racial respect and the need to recognise the cultural diversity of Asia, with Malaysia as a mini-Asia, as a strength for our survival and progress and never as a weakness or liability. We must never allow our cultural diversity to be exploited by extremists of any shades to create conflict, wars and terror like what has happened in New Zealand.

Most people take peace for granted. We were shaken and shocked when our own MH17 was cruelly shot down in 2014 in a war fought more than 8,000 kilometres away.

There have also been numerous terror attacks in our neighbouring countries recently. Recent police arrests of suspected terrorists in Malaysia should send alarm bells ringing to the authorities concerned. We must never sit back and assume our multi-racial country is immune from such acts of terror.

There is hardly any populated place on earth that is safe from the extremists of all

shades who are motivated to be mass-murderers based on their extreme right-wing political or religious ideologies which would include the misinterpretations of religious teachings.

More needs to be done to analyse and understand the real causes of extremism and to promote sustainable peace and multi-cultural understanding.

By K.K.Tan .

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2019/03/470152/understanding-right-wing-extremism

Fostering togetherness in celebration

Monday, February 18th, 2019
The school organises its annual gathering so pupils can learn from each other.

The school organises its annual gathering so pupils can learn from each other.

EVERY year, SJK (C) Tun Tan Cheng Lock organises its Chinese New Year celebrations ahead of the week-long festive break.

The celebration is held to raise awareness on Chinese culture among pupils from different races. It helps them to learn from each other.

The school’s board of directors chairman Datuk Lee Hwa Beng and Parent-Teacher Association chairman Eason Phan Yoke Seng invited Selangor deputy education department director Muhamad Radzi Abdullah, Petaling Perdana education officer Abdul Ghaffar Bakar and previous principals from Sekolah Wawasan to celebrate Chinese New Year together.

The atmosphere in the school grounds was electric as the “lion” leapt high into the air. There was also calligraphy writing to kick off the celebration at the school.

image: https://video.unrulymedia.com/native/images/in-art-close-icon-128×128-16481b937f87b244a645cdbef0d930f8.png

At the same event, school principla Ngann Sook Wei also paid tribute to the students who received awards during the Sixth Hong Kong International Students’ Innovation Competition that was held in Hong Kong last December led by vice princial Ong Chun Hor.

The award recipients are Christine Ng Ruixi from 6K, Elyse Wong Zhye Lin from 6H and Zoey Wong Zhye Xuan from 4M.

Their masterpiece, “Tornado Dust-Buster” won five awards including second place, International Innovation Award, Special Award in Korea, Indonesia and Hong Kong.

Muhamad Radzi praised the students for their achievements.

Teachers and pupils received angpow and tangerines from the school.

Read more @ https://www.thestar.com.my/news/education/2019/02/17/fostering-togetherness-in-celebration/#P9t0OOZukg5EZYY6.99

New emojis are coming

Sunday, February 10th, 2019
The new emojis emphasise inclusivity.

INTERRACIAL couples. A guide dog for blind people. A person using a wheelchair. These were among the new emojis announced last week by Unicode Consortium, the non-profit that provides standards for text on the Internet and oversees emojis.

The list — which includes 59 new emojis, as well as variants for a total of 230 options — emphasises inclusivity. People will soon be able to create a “holding hands” emoji to reflect their own relationship, selecting for the skin colour and gender identity of each individual. Other options include emojis showing a hearing aid, prosthetic limbs, sign language, a cane or a wheelchair.

A host of other new symbols include an otter, a sloth, a waffle, falafel, a yawning face, a white heart, a sari and a contentious one-piece bathing suit.

In a world where people use emojis to represent everything from weddings to poop, the announcement naturally led to much discussion, with an image of a drop of blood becoming a new way to talk about menstruation and a pinching symbol leading to jokes about a certain
male body part being very, very small

But don’t expect to see the latest offering on your keyboard just yet. That will most likely happen later this year.

The Unicode Consortium sets the standards for emoji compatibility, allowing the symbols to translate across the Internet. Then companies like Apple and Google have to design emojis and incorporate the code into their operating systems, Greg Welch, a board member for Unicode, said. New emojis typically come to cellphones in September or October, Unicode said in the announcement.

Last Wednesday, a representative for Apple pointed to its proposal for Unicode to create accessibility emojis, which said that the new emojis would “foster a diverse culture that is inclusive of disability” and help people express themselves, as well as show support for loved ones.

A representative for Google said that it hoped to release the new emoji designs soon.

The latest update continues a trend toward greater emoji diversity, which began in earnest a few years ago when a range of skin tones was introduced. In 2017, a hijab emoji was introduced.

“You see people are asking for curly hair or skin tone and bald and hijab,” said Jennifer Lee, who serves on Unicode’s emoji subcommittee and helped found Emojination, a grassroots effort to make emojis more inclusive.

Tinder, the online dating app, had campaigned for Unicode to better represent couples of different races and genders in the “universal language of the digital age”.

“Love is universal,” Tinder said on its website. “And it’s time for interracial couples to be represented in our universal language.”

“It’s huge and historic,” said Ken Tanabe, the founder of Loving Day, an organisation that encourages people to celebrate the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalised interracial marriage.

“You are talking about marriages and starting families,” he said, adding that he had heard from people who could not find a wedding cake topper that reflected their relationship and chose to use black and white chess pieces instead.

“Having an emoji that’s already there, it feels like, hey, we are part of the conversation,” he said. “We are part of the community. We are represented in the most personal part of our lives.”

Apple had advocated adding emojis to represent people with disabilities. In a statement, Howard A. Rosenblum, the chief executive of the National Association of the Deaf, a civil rights organisation for the deaf and hard of hearing people, said it worked with Apple to help create the deaf emoji and hoped it would help “raise awareness throughout the world about deaf culture and the many sign languages that exist”.

One of the new emojis — a guide dog for people who are blind and visually impaired — offers a fun way for people to represent their identity and honour their dogs in texts and emails, said Becky Davidson, who works at Guiding Eyes for the Blind, an organisation that provides trained dogs for people who are blind or visually impaired.

By Sarah Mervosh.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2019/02/458761/new-emojis-are-coming

Celebrating lunar new year and the diversity of the world’s calendars

Thursday, February 7th, 2019
The Gregorian calendar has only been used as a global standard for about a century, and is ‘very much a reflection of European commerce and colonialism’. It has now been built into computer architecture, but that doesn’t mean another calendar couldn’t one day become dominant. FILE PIC

THE Lunar New Year kicked off on Tuesday as one of the most important holidays in Vietnam, South Korea, China and other Asian countries. Typically, it starts on the second new moon after winter solstice.

On the Gregorian calendar, the civil calendar used in most countries, including the United States, the Lunar New Year changes every year, as do the dates of holidays like Rosh Hashana, Deepavali and Ramadan.

It can be easy to think of a calendar as a scientific given, or a reflection of the laws of the universe. In fact, as these holidays remind us, there are as many ways to track time as there are cultures and languages. Each calendar reveals something about how the people who created it relate to the world around them while also preserving rich cultural identities and memories.

Most timekeeping traditions track the movement of the sun, moon and stars. Others consider seasonal events, like the autumnal swarming of sea worms, used to orient each year in the Trobriand Islands off New Guinea, or the flowering of immortelle trees into hundreds of tiny vermilion flames, which marks the start of the dry season in Trinidad.

With any calendar, the basic question is which of thousands, if not millions, of cycles in the world to follow, says Kevin Birth, an anthropology professor at Queens College. Calendars “always come down to this cultural choice”, he says, so using one system over another is ultimately a social contract, regardless of how scientifically accurate or sophisticated a calendar is.

A solar year — the time it takes Earth to orbit the sun — lasts around 365 days, while a lunar year, or 12 full cycles of the moon, is roughly 354 days. Because of this discrepancy, a purely lunar calendar — like the Islamic, or Hijri, calendar — doesn’t stay aligned with the seasons. Islam’s holy month of Ramadan may fall in summer one year, and winter a number of years later.

To correct for seasonal drift, the Chinese, Hindu, Jewish and many other calendars are lunisolar. In these calendars, a month is still defined by the moon, but an extra month is added periodically to stay close to the solar year.

A solar calendar is useful for farming, fishing and foraging societies that need to plan ahead for particular times of the year. But a purely solar calendar, like the Gregorian, tells you nothing about the phases of the moon.

The traditional Hijri calendar requires an observation of the early crescent moon to start a new month, and thus encourages paying attention to the cosmos. The Gregorian calendar can’t be tracked in the sky, which might be why many Westerners have less awareness of the moon and other natural phenomena.

Holidays also structure personal and historical narratives. Some secular holidays in the United States centre on legacies of war, which fits “when you think that the United States also has the largest military budget in the world”, Birth says.

Chinese holidays usually emphasise family union and honouring ancestors, Yuan said, which aligns with the importance of filial piety.

Many ancient calendars, like the Chinese and Mesoamerican ones, build in fortunetelling, with prescriptions for when to build a house, get married, have a funeral and other life events. Similar calendars provide structure and comfort to people today.

Britt Hart, an astrologer based in Philadelphia, says she thinks people can be drawn to horoscope-based calendars because they’re seeking a grander sense of time and order in the universe.

In the context of history, staying connected to an alternative calendar can also be a form of resisting the mainstream, or maintaining an identity outside of it. When a calendar is imposed on a society, it usually has to do with politics and power. The ability “to say when the year will start, or decide that a religious festival should be celebrated at a particular time, can be quite useful for a politician,” Stern said.

The Gregorian calendar has only been used as a global standard for about a century, and is “very much a reflection of European commerce and colonialism,” Birth said. It has now been built into computer architecture, but that doesn’t mean another calendar couldn’t one day become dominant.

By STEPH YIN.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2019/02/457894/celebrating-lunar-new-year-and-diversity-worlds-calendars

Family time more important to mark CNY.

Sunday, February 3rd, 2019

KOTA KINABALU: Red decorations such as lanterns, Chinese calligraphy scrolls and pictures or ornaments relating to the Chinese zodiac are often must-haves for many of those celebrating Chinese New Year.

Spring cleaning, which goes hand-in-hand with decorating houses, has been a tradition passed down for generations but in recent years, many families opt to do away with these traditions, citing “wastage”, and time constraints as the main reasons.

Many think that their time spent with families, close friends and loved ones is more important and significant than decorations to mark Chinese New Year.

Make-up artist and mother of one, Tan Siew Wei, 31, said she did not decorate her house for Chinese New Year because she just did not have the time.

“In between these duties, I have to make sure meals are served at home and to think of going out to get decorations, hanging them and then having to take them all down again after the Lunar New Year is just a lot of hassle for me,” she said.

She said instead of wasting so much time, effort and money on such decorations, she feels that it would make more sense to focus more on visiting family, welcoming guests and spending quality time with her loved ones.

Rebecca Chong, a mother of three, said her busy schedule as a property agent and part-time tuition teacher did not allow her the extra time to go decoration shopping.

“I just could not bring myself to go and find the right decorations, and then put them up,” said the 31-year-old.

She said her parents still do the decorations at their house but she herself only makes sure her house is clean and presentable.

“Maybe this is something the younger generation prefer to do away with (spring cleaning), unless they really have the time and strength to clean the whole house inside out, and then decorate it,” she said.

Mother-of-one Chong Lee Kian, meanwhile, finds it lucky that she has time to do some spring cleaning as last minute preparation.

“Few more days to Chinese New Year and I have just started cleaning the house, we will be decorating a bit after this, not much, but at least we want to see some decorations,” she said.

She said she and her husband work together to clean their house but their three-year-old son messes things up again.

“Our son  is happy to take the broom, sweep around, pick up a cloth and wipe the tables but actually, he is making things messier but it’s fine, as long as he feels that he is helping and is happy,” Lee Kian said.

She said celebrations such as this actually helps bring the family together, though it is tiring.

“For us, Chinese New Year means spending more time with our family, even though it comes in the form of cleaning our house and making our backs ache in the process,” she said.

By Stephanie Lee
Read more @
https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2019/02/03/family-time-more-important-to-mark-cny/#6rF3X77vvlbS0Ryk.99

A tale of three democracies

Sunday, January 20th, 2019
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir speaking at an Oxford Union event in London yesterday. Pic courtesy of the Malaysian High Commission in London.

Most of the questions put to the prime minister during the Oxford Union event yesterday were anticipated.

Some took the form of recycled perennials pumped with new eloquence.

It is true that conversations on tree cover, anti-Semitism, Internal Security Act arrests and affirmative action might still spark haughty headlines. “Haughty” in the estimation of the delicate mind of a former colony.

The thunder of a question Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was asked, as it turned out, concerned history.

Intriguingly so as it coincided with Malaysia and Singapore navigating fresh issues.

Now that we are into history; when Malaya gained independence in 1957, Singapore, which may or may not have been on some kind of a “loan” arrangement, was not “returned” to the motherland in the manner Hong Kong reunited with China in 1997. Dr Mahathir alluded to this at Oxford.

By 1959, Singapore had endured a fractious election that established the Left as a political force.

The late Tan Sri A. Samad Ismail was one of the founders of Parti Tindakan Rakyat, or the People’s Action Party (PAP), which won the 1959 election that coincidentally installed Lee Kuan Yew as chief minister.

This reporter had let his profession down for failing to do an audio recording of Samad Ismail singing in his later years, on impassioned request, Chinese patriotic songs. Samad Ismail was regarded as an organiser of Singapore’s Chinese-educated in the post-war years.

Singapore-born Samad Ismail ultimately was made Tokoh Wartawan Negara (Malaysia) and for spells, editorial adviser of this newspaper, because the island-state became part of an expanded Malaysia in 1963.

Two years later, Singapore was handed a rare red-card. Tunku Abdul Rahman, then prime minister, told Singapore to leave!

Was this the right decision? In 1965, Dr Mahathir was the member of parliament for Kota Star Selatan.

Some 54 years later, he is asked this question at the Oxford Union, something that would stir the interest of many students of history and politics.

Dr Mahathir described the Tunku’s call as “wise”.

“That happened a long time ago — we cannot do anything about it.

“But the fact is that Singapore was a part of Malaysia before. It was our country. Normally, when a country decides to decolonise, the land goes back to the owner of that land, to the country which owns that land like Hong Kong, Macau.

“With Malaysia and Singapore, we find that we are not compatible. We have different viewpoints and ideas on how the country should be ruled. For that reason, they were asked to leave Malaysia. And I think it was a wise decision at that time.”

Malaysia and Singapore feature at a high-profile event in Oxford at a time when Britain is grappling with the protracted question of Brexit.

It is a tale of three countries, of three democracies that for centuries were one. Policy thinking during British Malaya was directed from Whitehall. How have the three democracies fared since? Dr Mahathir is accustomed to being grilled whenever he appears on BBC’s Hard Talk or any other interviews.

The same questions get asked repeatedly. On ISA arrests, Tun Hanif Omar, who was a high-profile inspector-general of police, had argued that the high-profile arrests in his time were made on the recommendations of the police. A major documentary or paper on those spate of arrests may prove useful for posterity. A nation need not apologise for its actions, especially when the ISA is a legacy of the British. Still, when the same issue is tossed in our direction endlessly, we may have to deliver a clincher content.

As for Singapore, we will do well to sell treated water to it. Details of the water deal should also be made known to families and children in order to build the collective self-esteem.

As for the democratic process, Malaysia has opened a new chapter with the victory in the May 9, 2018 general election of a new coalition. Singapore has remained loyal to the PAP.

Britain on its part has been ambivalent about Europe for decades, forcing the previous prime minister David Cameron to promise a referendum that eventually took place in June 2016. The Leave campaign won 52 per cent to 48 per cent partly due to the clarity of the strategies conceived by key campaigners such as Boris Johnson.

Theresa May succeeded Cameron who campaigned for Remain. Ahead of the March 29 deadline for Britain to leave the European Union, the House of Commons has yet to agree on a deal. The one presented to MPs on Tuesday was defeated by a majority of 230, the most devastating loss since the setback suffered by the minority Labour government in 1924. May subsequently survived a motion of no-confidence against her government. Various scenarios have been put forth, including a one-year extension. A no-deal Brexit is likened to a disaster. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, has pointedly demanded that May rule out a no-deal Brexit before he agrees to enter into a discussion with her and leaders of other parties.

In the absence of the usual 3.40am (Malaysian time) European football kick-off or Monday night of English Premier League matches, some of us Malaysians have been watching, at times, with admiration, trepidation and undeniably doses of glee the scenes in the House of Commons. The British MPs, many of whom being the products of Oxford and Cambridge, argue with such poise and polish.

The issue at hand has not gone away. This newspaper is not about to offer any suggestions. If we are pressed to come up with an idea, maybe we shall say this — go for a second referendum. A majority of MPs are Remainers. Instead of trying to convert fellow MPs who have held the same views for a generation, convince the British voters that Remain is the better option. Businesses and jobs are at stake.

Meanwhile, do visit us more often. We are big admirers. London is virtually a must-visit destination. The well-heeled seek to send their children to be bestowed with a world-class education in Britain. Some despatch their young kids to attend schooling in Britain.

By Rashid Yusof

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/columnists/2019/01/452398/tale-three-democracies

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.

Read more @ https://www.nst.com.my/opinion/letters/2018/12/437009/nothing-sinister-about-malaysias-social-contract