Protected: BTN, oh my, part 2

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Protected: UMNO first, country second

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The Return of Ahmad Ismail

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When I read this the Star report, I couldn’t believe my eyes:

Warrior’s welcome for Ahmad Ismail of ‘pendatang’ infamy

GEORGE TOWN: Suspended Bukit Bendera Umno chief Datuk Ahmad Ismail was given a warrior’s welcome, complete with presentation of regalia such as a keris (traditional Malay sword), when he turned up for the division’s delegates conference.

Upon entering, Ahmad was adorned with a yellow tengkolok (headdress) by division adviser Azmi Merican, a yellow selempang (scarf) by Umno veteran Saakyah Mat Isa, and presented with a keris by Umno veteran Abdul Rahman Lazim.

Ahmad raised the keris briefly to his lips in reverence, then lifted it high before proceeding on stage, while the emcee ammounced that all three traditional items were presented to Ahmad as a true pahlawan Melayu (Malay warrior) of Bukit Bendera.

So now, Ahmad Ismail is a pahlawan?

For saying what he said? For refusing to apologize? For defying the prime minister and his deputy? For prompting his konco-konco to tear a harmless picture?

Seriously, if doing all the above qualifies you to be a Malay warrior, then I am simply speechless.

Protected: Freedom of the Press: Powers, responsibilities and consequences

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An evening of buka puasa and friendship

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The last rays of sunshine filtered through the glass windows of the Petaling Jaya restaurant. There were not many patrons at the time, yet the waiters were still kept busy, harrying back and forth with orders. It was an upper middle end restaurant and for such establishments, late evenings do not normally witness brisk business. Maybe later the place as the night wore on, will the place crowd up.

In one corner of the restaurant, eight friends waited patiently for the Maghrib, a signal that the Muslims amongst them would be able to break their fast. They were of different races and religions and they were there to buka puasa together. Eight 25-year-olds, each having different careers and coming from different backgrounds. Eight Malaysians who share an alma mater and a bond of friendship.

Their political affiliations differ as widely as their ethnicities and careers. Yet, while most of them do not hold back their opinions, they accept views in good faith. Friendship transcends politics, as it does race and religion.

There were no mosques nearby for them to hear the azan, thus they depended on their watches. They gave an extra few minutes, just to be certain. When it was time, the Muslims broke their fast with relieved gulps of their drinks.

Before long, smoke started billowing from some of them, the day’s abstinence from cigarettes as hard as the abstinence from food and water. The waiters brought their meals one by one, and with energy regained, the chatter of the eight friends became louder and merrier.

They are examples of the young Malays, Chinese and Indians in this multi-cultural nation. Individually, they are no different from the many young professionals and salarymen that dot the landscape of urban Malaysia. They still struggle with having middle-income salaries in the face of rising living costs.

It is not as if they do not see each other as belonging to different ethnicities and religion. They do not sweep under the carpet the fact that there are differences amongst them. Instead, they celebrate these differences. Racial remarks and insults are thrown around at each other, in jest, given in good faith and received in good faith. They do not merely tolerate, they celebrate the fact that they are different.

Throughout the many years of friendship, they discovered that they have more in common than they have in differences. They realized that there is absolutely no reason for a group of Malaysians, different though they may be, cannot be firm friends with each other.

Their buka puasa was not in conjunction with any events or ceremonies. It was not organized with political mileage in mind, to score some points with PR moments in front of the camera. Nor  did they did not meet to discuss business. They were simply eight friends who decided to iftar together.

As day turns into night, and darkness descends upon the land, the eight friends continued their buka puasa gathering. In our muhibbah Malaysia, eight multi-racial young men breaking fast together as friends are supposed to the norm.

Sadly, such instances are a rarity.

Soul-searching in Britain

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I left the United Kingdom in October 2006, after living there for a good portion of 3 years. When I left the country 2 years ago, I was eager to come home. Sure, the UK was a wonderful country to live in, but as the saying goes, hujan emas di negeri orang hujan batu di negeri sendiri, lebih baik di negeri sendiri. I wanted to come home, to start my career and to bring whatever I have learnt back for the benefit of my country and its people.

2 years back in Malaysia has ‘Malaysianised’ me. Whilst I can still remember the good things about the British Isles, I became engrossed with building my life in Malaysia. My perspective became jaded, I started to look into issues the ‘Malaysian’ way, whatever that means. Thus, my recent return to the UK in the past week was a refreshing and I’d daresay soul-searching experience. My ‘Malaysian’ views was put into sharp perspective and I realized how different the two countries are.

None more so than the political scene. At this moment, the current UK prime minister, Mr. Gordon Brown is facing intense pressure from the public as well as members of his own party. The main issue relates to the ‘credit crunch’, a term used to describe the sudden reduction in the availability of loans and/or the sudden increase in the cost of obtaining loans from banks (taken from Wikipedia). In short, the UK is feeling the effects of the subprime mortgage crisis of the US, as the two countries financial institutions are intertwined. The general perception of the UK public is that the current Labour government is weak and is not doing enough to elevate the hardships of the people. The cost of living in the UK is increasing at an alarming rate, and some have even found themselves unable to pay the mortgage of their own homes.

It is with this background that all eyes are focused on the Labour convention held last week in Manchester (think of it as UMNO’s Perhimpunan Agong, without the keris wielding and racial undertones, of course). Specifically, the public are focused on Mr. Brown’s speech, a speech in which he was supposed to reassure the public and his party that he is the right man for the job.

By and large, Mr. Brown seemed to have succeeded in doing so, at least in the eyes of the Labour delegates. He, who was criticized as being too ‘serious’, showed a ‘human touch’ in him, to reconnect himself with the people. The speech was intended to show the people that as prime minister, Mr. Brown and the Labour party will continue to fight for the UK and its people.

Mr. Brown and the Labour party needed to do so. Recent polls suggest that Labour is some ways behind the opposition Conservative party, led by its charismatic young leader, Mr. David Cameron. Some commentators suggest that should a general election be held right now, Labour would lose a lot of seats and will not form the government.

We can certainly see many parallels with the situation in our country. The backdrop is essentially the same; rising cost of living, stagnant economy and an under fire prime minister facing pressure from the opposition and members of his own party. Yet, I rediscovered how different the political situation is between their country and ours.

For one, the media in the UK are not politically controlled. Of course, between certain dailies there are certain political ‘leanings’, but it is not so blatantly biased and full of spin as it is right here. No one minces their words when criticizing Mr. Brown and the government. Over here, one would be hard pressed to find the words ‘under-fire’ and ‘Pak Lah’ in the same article, let alone the same sentence.

There is also a huge gap in the maturity of the arguments. The debate over in the UK are about policy issues; the economy, human rights, social issues, welfare, the environment etc. Over here, we are still bickering about race and religion, about succession planning, about crossovers and of course, about a certain 23-year old man’s backside. Politics here are not about issues but about politics, if that makes sense at all. Everytime we try to break the shackles of petty politics, there would be fierce opposition against it. In the UK, if a political leader was to brand British Asians as ‘immigrants’, that would be the end of his political career, not to he would be facing charges in court. Over here, a person saying something similar is sympathized, defended and even supported. Similarly, the Terrorism Act 2006 of the UK faced fierce opposition from many quarters when it was introduced in Parliamant, mainly because it allowed the police to detain a terrorist suspect for a maximum of 28 days before being released. In Malaysia, a draconian legislation allowing arbitraty detention from a limitless period is being justified as ‘necessary’.

It’s quite disheartening, really. We are a good 30 to 40 years behind. We hope that the next generation of Malaysians will transcend these petty issues, yet the response I received from my  own peers on my condemnation of the Ahmad Ismail issue and the ISA makes me wonder if we can ever achieve it. If young professionals and university graduates can defend racism and arbitrary detention without trial, what more the general populace?

We cannot even agree on the basic fundamentals, such as good governance, accountability, transparency, human rights, racism and racial prejudice. Matters that cuts across political divisions in the UK. A minister in the UK will resign from his post because of his principles and beliefs and it would not cause a massive stir. In Malaysia, after 50 years of nation-building, only recently have we had a minister resign over the same matters.

I came back to Malaysia after a 10 days hiatus and I’m ashamed. Truly, I am. An undemocratic succession plan is going to be hastened. An equally undemocratic power seizure via crossovers is still being promised. Are these the solutions? So what if we have a leadership change? So what if we have a change of government? If our mindset and our culture still remains the same, how can we move forward?

Yes, change will take time. The UK had centuries of democracy. We are still a young nation, grappling with its growing pains. But they say time and tide waits for no man, and it will certainly not wait for a nation. If the task of trying to bring change in people’s mindset and culture is facing such a fierce resistance, why bother? Deep in my heart of hearts, I know that the only reasons that I choose to come back to Malaysia was because of my family and the love of my nation and my people. Call them unpatriotic or whatever, but I can certainly understand why Malaysians would want to leave the country. Patriotism stems from the connections we build with our country, yet if we feel that our country and our people do not love us, why would we want to stay?

No, I’m not giving up hope just yet. But for the first time since in the 2 years I left the UK, I actually pondered over the possibility of living in the UK.

And the fact that I actually thought about it scares me.

Protected: Barisan Nasional’s ISA Fiesta, part IV

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