Wednesday, November 26, 2008

a question of approach...

Just imagine, for one moment.

Press statement for immediate release by the National Fatwa Council of Malaysia.

"Fatwa 101/2009

The National Fatwa Council of Malaysia hereby announces a Fatwa passed on 25th November 2009. This Fatwa is passed unanimously by the members of the Council during its meeting on the same date. The full members of the Fatwa Council are as stated in the annexure to this announcement.

The Council is mindful of the highly stressful environment that many Malaysians, in general, and the Malaysian Muslims, in particular, are in at the present time. Work and family commitments, financial and business undertakings as well as various other factors tend to put a lot of stress on many of us, Malaysians. In the light of the economics meltdown which economists and analysts are predicting to take place in the near future, the Council expects the stress situation to get worse.

The Council acknowledges that as a  result, many Malaysians are now more conscious about their health and issues relating to the same. The mushrooming of fitness centres and health spas are testimony to the growing interest among Malaysians on health issues. The Council is of the opinion that this is a healthy development.

Islam encourages the "ummah" (the society) to live a healthy life. The mandatory prayers in itself consist a set of flowing movements which have  scientifically been proven to promote the well beings of its practitioners. The highly stressful environment that we live in in the present days  may result in high blood pressure, cardio vascular problems, stroke and a host of other health problems which could, if untreated, be fatal.

It is therefore necessary for all of us to look after ourselves and our health. A healthy body is after all necessary for a healthy mind. A healthy mind is would be able to effectively and positively contribute to the betterment of the "ummah" .

The Council notes that one of the various forms of exercises which are preferred by Malaysians, including Malaysian Muslims, is the practice of yoga. Concerns have been raised by some members of the public, as well as the members of the Council, that yoga is a form of exercises practiced by and originate from the Hindus and that such practices may include certain religious rituals which may be repugnant against Islamic principles.

The practice of yoga, to the Council's understanding, may consist of 3 elements, namely:

a) physical movements or exercises;

b) chanting or uttering certain mantras; and,

c) meditation.

It is therefore imperative that Muslims who practice yoga do not inadvertently  or unknowingly transgress Islamic principles which may cause them to commit unpardonable sin in Islam, such as the practice of idolising a god other than Allah s.w.t.

After much research and deliberation, including hearing the opinions of various yoga practitioners and experts - the references of the Council's research and the names of the various experts and yoga practitioners are annexed to this announcement -  the Council would like to encourage Muslims to continue engaging in physical exercises whenever possible in order to ensure good health. The Council would like to however remind that some yoga movements are complicated and may instead be hazardous to one's well being. The Council therefore advises Muslims to engage a proper trainer in order to ensure an effective and safe physical exercises sessions.

In so far as the yoga practices consist of mantras and chanting in the form as recorded in the enclosed compact disc, it is the Council's opinion that such mantras and chanting ought not to be practiced by Muslims as the same consist of words or phrases which is praiseful of idols or gods other than Allah s.w.t. Such practice, in the Council's opinion, should be immediately stopped as it is a cardinal Islamic principle that a Muslim ought to only worship one God, Allah s.w.t.

Other mantras or chanting, which may take the form as recorded in the enclosed compact disc (disc "B"), which consist of only words, phrases or sounds which are relaxing in nature may be uttered as the Council does not see any religious significance in them.

The Council wishes to impress on all Malaysians, especially our Hindu friends, that this fatwa is not intended to decry the yoga practices among Muslims. It is just intended to be a gentle advice to Muslims on a question of Islamic faith. Muslims may call the Council or e mail the Council at the numbers or address provided on the Council's web site if the need arises.

The Council wishes all Malaysians Muslims all the best in their pursuit of physical and spiritual health.

May God bless all of us and our good deeds."

The fatwa on yoga, as announced by the National Fatwa Council, in my opinion, was a top class failure in public relation. The Council gave a short statement. That was it. Till today, I have not read the actual "fatwa" or decree, which I, as a Muslim, am supposed to adhere. All I had read was newspaper reports. Many of us, me included, do not have a clue as to who the members are and quite how these members arrived at their conclusion that yoga is unIslamic. It might as well have been a decision by the Star Chambers for all we know.

And quite why all the fatwas issued by the Council have to be in the negative form (as in, Muslim cannot do this and Muslims shall not do that) is frankly beyond me. They sound so unfriendly. And they make Muslims sound so...stupid and recalcitrant, as if we have to be told what NOT to do all the time.

I am not going into the correctness or otherwise of the fatwa. What I am saying is, why can't a fatwa be issued in a positive light, like the one I have taken the trouble to write above? For once I think, Muslims would like to be told that what they are doing is alright but in areas where they might be wrong, they would be obliged for some tender guidance and fatherly advice. Not a stern "you SHALL NOT do this and that"!

I think, had the Council issued the fatwa on yoga in a more humane and friendlier manner - like the one above - it would endear itself to Malaysians and such fatwa would not have kicked up the totally unnecessary storm as it did.

Public relation. Have you all ever heard of that?






Thursday, November 20, 2008

Memali - a democracy in rubbles

“In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organised robbery?”: Saint Agustine

Date: November 1985.

Place: Malaysia.

The Prime Minister was Mahathir Mohamad. Musa Hitam was the Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister.

Malaysia was going through a bad recession. The price of its 2 main natural resources, tin and rubber, was at rock bottom. The Mahathir-induced “look east policy” was not working to Malaysia’s advantage. All it managed to do was to invite Japanese and South Korean contractors to undertake massive development works such as the then ground breaking Dayabumi project. Little else was being achieved from the policy apart from the mushrooming of Japanese restaurants around town. “Privatisation” and “sogo sosha” were the in-words at this time. On the other hand, the policy only managed to isolate Malaysia from its customary ally, the Great Britain and consequently, the United States.

Economically, Malaysia was struggling. Nothing was happening. Graduates, local and from abroad, were finding it hard to find jobs. In order to help the graduates, a “graduates scheme” was implemented where graduates were assigned jobs as clerks and junior executives in the civil service and government agencies circa 1986. Things were bleak.

Mahathir Mohamad had managed to consolidate his power base by winning the general election in 1982 after a “power transition” - which UMNO is so well known for – from Tun Hussein Onn. He appointed Musa Hitam as Deputy Prime Minister, a pairing that was so glorified as the “MM” leadership. Both of them were even presented with a motor bike each bearing registration number MM 1 and MM 2 respectively. It looked like a pairing made in heaven. Although history would later show that Mahathir Mohamad’s political marriages would never stand the test of time, for various reasons which could only best be described as Mahathir-esque.

Elsewhere, something earth shaking and of more sinister nature, was brewing. In 1979, the Shah of Iran left Iran under cover of darkness leaving Shapour Bakhtiar, his Prime Minister, to fend off the Islamic fundamentalist with the help of the Supreme Army Councils. The exiled Ayatollah Khomeini - whose preaching and sermons were smuggled into Iran in cassettes tapes – came back to Iran on February 1 1979. On April Fool’s day that year, after a referendum in which only one choice was offered - Islamic Republic: yes or no – saw a landslide vote for the Islamic Republic, Khomeini declared Iran as an Islamic Republic with a brand new constitution. The Iranian Revolution was thus complete.

Nobody in Malaysia - not even Mahathir Mohamad - gave 2 sens to the Iranian Revolution and the effect it would have on the world in general and on Malaysia specifically. The truth was that the Iranian Revolution would be the catalyst for Islamist revivalism all around the world. Soon, its effect swept throughout the world, the wind of Islamist revivalism sweeping east through India, Afghanistan going downwards towards Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. To the west, it blew through Turkey, Europe and crossed the big pond to the United States of America without even being noticed nor realised.

In Malaysia, the Islamist revivalism saw the Islamist party, PAS, going on a fundamentalist rampage throughout Malaysia. This coincided with the return to Malaysia of firebrand such as Ustaz Abdul Hadi Awang, who would soon climb PAS’ power hierarchy on fundamentalist ticket. In the early 80s, PAS, taking advantage of the Islamist revivalism elsewhere throughout the world and with Iran as the central catalyst, embarked on a series of political assaults against UMNO and the Barisan government in such intensity as yet unseen.

In short, PAS’ agenda was to equate UMNO and Barisan Nasional with infidelity and a vote for UMNO or BN was a vote against Islam. Those who did that would be the enemy of Islam and would consequently go to hell. It was a simple message. It was as basic as it comes. The mass media referred to this propaganda as the “kafir-mengkafir” (branding people as infidel) issue. The infamous “Amanat Hadi Awang” ( Hadi Awang’s Decree) was laid by Hadi Awang in 1981.[i] Loosely translated, Hadi decreed:

My brothers, believe me. We oppose UMNO not because its name is UMNO, we oppose the Barisan Nasional not because its name is Barisan Nasional. We oppose them because they continue with the Constitution of the colonial, continue with the regulations of the infidel, continue with the regulations of the ignorant. Because of that we struggle to fight them. Believe me brothers, our struggle is a divine struggle (jihad). Our speech is jihad, our donation is jihad and because we struggle against these groups, if we die in our fights, our death is martyrdom, our death is an Islamic death. We do not have to join the Jews, we do not have to profess Christianity, we do not have to profess Hinduism, we do not have to profess Buddhism, but we will be infidels if we say politic is a quarter and religion is a quarter.”

Hadi Awang was, and still is, a brilliant and fiery orator. His was a potent mixture of oratorical skills and political savvy-ness unashamedly laced with religious fervour. His audience were the farmers, the padi planters, the young Malay in the rural areas, the young impressionable university students and those who were unknowingly caught and swept away by Islamist revivalism. In other words, he appealed to the poor non-urbanites as well as the impressionable intellect who were tired of the Barisan Nasional’s policies and were looking for alternatives.

The Barisan Nasional, under Mahathir Mohamad, did not lack leadership. However, Mahathir was too much of a leader as much as he was a listener. Polemic was a dirty word. Dissent, political or otherwise, was even a dirtier word. As a result, it was a government which lacked any kind of intellectual input. It was a government which lacked any kind of opposite ideas which would provide the impetus for any counter-reactive steps when faced with political assaults based on rural popularism. Thus, the Mahathir led government was at a loss on how to counter PAS in general and Hadi Awang in particular. The effect of the Islamist revivalism caused by the Iranian revolution was slowly, but very surely, sweeping the nation under Mahathir’s nose without him even sniffing it!

The government tried to counter the sudden revival of Islam by portraying itself as an Islamist government. The Barisan Nasional’s or more specifically, UMNO’s brand of Islam saw the emergence of the various Islamic authorities, Islamic school, Islamic attire and a more Islamic oriented civil service. Thus, where there were no female students wearing a tudung in school in 1979, the tudung became almost an identifying factor in the early 80’s. Efforts were made to show that UMNO was in fact a more Islamic party than PAS. And UMNO’s Islam is a better Islam than PAS’ Islam. That was the agenda.

However, the government’s efforts to “Islamise” the country as a counter-reaction to PAS’ populist political assaults has just resulted in PAS gaining more and more momentum in their political assaults. In Kedah for example, a village would have 2 mosques, one for UMNO’s supporters and another for PAS supporters. Families broke up just because the father was a PAS supporter and the son was an UMNO supporter. Marriage could not take place because the bride to be comes from an “UMNO family” and the groom comes from a “PAS family”. PAS supporters don’t attend a khenduri by an UMNO supporter and vice versa. Even the dead would not be prayed for by PAS supporters if he or she was an UMNO supporter! These were the scenes at the height of the kafir-mengkafir controversy.

In the universities, the full force of the Islamist revivalism, which translated itself into a war of political idealism slowly seeped into student politics. As a student who was active in student politics in the University of Malaya in the early 80’s, I went through hellish moments and countless confrontations with students who leaned more towards the PAS political ideologies. (There is no doubt that the development in the student movements, both locally and abroad, in the 80’s laid the premise for the current political climate in our country. I don’t think this is realised by the powers that be).

Hadi Awang and the PAS agenda were therefore left largely unchecked. On the social front, Islamist organisations, such as Al-Arqam, were gaining momentum, recruiting not only rural Malay folks but also young Malay intellects as members. The Mahathir led government was at a loss to deal with this sudden rise of a concept which was almost alien to this country. Suddenly, wearing a skirt was deemed anti-social in Malaysia. Going to work or school without a tudung was deemed immoral in Malaysia.

Memali was a sleepy little village near Baling, Kedah. Surrounded by rubber smallholdings, the villagers were mainly rubber tappers, odd jobbers and farmers. These were among the forgotten people of Malaysia. Ensconced within an impoverish surroundings, these were people who had never seen development. The benefits, if any, of the New Economics Policy only spread within a small circle of the Malay elites and the people of Memali were too far away from even the edge of that circle. They were the modern proletarians whose only concern was to find enough to eat and to survive on day in day out.

When hope was not a part of life, what else was there to look forward to, other than to hope for the best in the after world? In death, if one could go to heaven; bath in rivers of milk and surrounded by virgin nymphs, what wouldn’t one give to ensure such heavenly achievements? Thus it came as no surprise that PAS’ ideologies, encapsulated by Hadi Awang’s decree, won the hearts of the people of Memali. UMNO after all was the antithesis of life in Memali. UMNO was rich. UMNO was in the big towns. And of course, UMNO was infidel! And we fight them, we are on a divine struggle. And if we die, we are martyrs.

Ibrahim Mahmud was a graduate of the University of Tripoli (thus was his nick name, Ibrahim Libya). He also studied in Al-Azhar. When he came back, he even made some appearances on national television. But back in Memali he was an orator in the Hadi Awang’s mould. Fiery, enthralling, charismatic and full of religious fervour. Obviously, he jumped onto Hadi Awang’s martyrdom formula to gain his political mileage. And in Memali, where life was hard and mired in hopelessness, heavenly promises would be the only hope left. The people of Memali embraced the call for jihad and Ibrahim Mahmud aka Ibrahim Libya became a religious leader for whom the Memali people were ready to die in order to protect him from the neo-colonialist-imperialist-infidel UMNO led government.

The Mahathir led government meanwhile had no clue on how to deal with the likes of Ibrahim Libya. It branded him a criminal and set out to arrest him and detain him under the ISA. Just how various attempts to arrest and detain him failed is beyond my comprehension as the government has on numerous occasions shown that when it wanted to arrest or suppress the people, it would somehow succeed. On the 19th November 1985, after Subuh prayers (morning prayers), the police surrounded Ibrahim’s madrasah. When attempts to arrest him failed, the police fired guns and killed 14 villagers, including women and old folks. Most of them were rubber tappers, farmers and oddjobbers who were armed with parangs, spears and one or two hand guns. Four policemen also perished.

Memali is proof that the New Economic Policy doesn’t benefit the forgotten people of Malaysia. It is testimony that the politics of hatred, much more when the hatred is based on religious differences, would soon terminate in a colossal debacle. Memali is also about a government which had lost its plot, which had no idea how to deal with oppositions in a proper and democratic manner, in an area where it lacked clear ideals and plans. Never in the history of independent Malaysia has the might of physical power been so nonchalantly and casually executed on the helpless and weak. At the very least, the usage of brute power against the villagers was reckless, if not downright wrongful and illegal.

In true Mahathir fashion, Mahathir Mohamad sometimes later insinuated that he was not responsible for the Memali incident as he was abroad on 19th November 1985, when it happened. That also insinuated that Musa Hitam was responsible as he was then the Acting Prime Minsiter and Home Minister. Whatever it was, it was during the administration of the Barisan Nasional government, of which UMNO was the leading party, that the incident happened.

What does Ketuanan Melayu mean to the people of Memali, then and even now? What does the New Economics Policy mean to the people of Memali, then and even now? If the Judges who were wrongfully sacked and suspended by the Mahathir regime in 1988 could be paid a total of 10 million ringgit, perhaps the Memali people deserve even more.

Mahathir Mohamad. Musa Hitam. And the whole cabinet in 1985. Please visit Memali and feel the pain of the forgotten people of Malaysia. And if the Memali incident does not tickle even the edge of your conscience, you are perhaps a lesser human than you think you are.

Al-Fatihah to those who died in Memali on 19th November 1985.

[i] Saudara-saudara sekalian, Percayalah! Kita menentang UMNO bukan kerana nama dia UMNO, kita menentang Barisan Nasional, bukan kerana nama Barisan Nasional. Kita menentang dia kerana dia mengekalkan Perlembagaan penjajah, mengekalkan peraturan kafir, mengekalkan peraturan jahiliah. Oleh kerana itulah kita berjuang melawan mereka. Percayalah saudara, perjuangan kita adalah jihad, Ucapan kita adalah jihad, derma kita adalah jihad dan kerana kita berjuang dengan puak-puak ini, kalau kita mati kerana berlawan ini, mati kita adalah mati syahid, mati kita adalah mati Islam. Kita tidak payah masuk Yahudi, kita tidak payah masuk Kristian, kita tidak payah masuk Hindu, kita tidak payah masuk Buddha, tetapi kita menjadi kafir dengan mengatakan politik suku agama suku.” : Haji Hadi Awang, 1981.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Of Self Suspicions

Sometimes, when I am doing something charitable for example, I wonder about my sincerity in doing so. Sincerity I feel occurs when the actual act of charity and the motivations of the donor are aligned i.e. that the former actually needs and the latter genuinely wants to do that act of charity without any underlying motive. So when earlier I said I wondered about my sincerity, to be more precise, I meant I contemplated my motivations because they seemed to me vague and obscure. Why did I feel the need to do this? I have many theories all of which at first glance applicable and at second, incomplete. So there is no point in pursuing this. 

There is little point in considering a genuine charitable motivation situation because there is no mystery there. There is more interest in considering the 'false' motivation, in the sense that there are other more primary motivations involved, such as to boast about it later, to use charity as a cover for fraudulent purposes, etc. Is an act of charity stained by false motivation? Does it and should it matter to the donee? Are they really in any position to question an act of charity? Can the starving man turn away food from an asshole? And perhaps it is because I don't know I tend to theorize that since I am unsure, the answer was likelier to be found in the 'false' area instead of the 'genuine' area because I cannot say with certainty that I know what it truly means to have a genuine motivation, as I often tend to feel that genuineness means remaining unconsciouos of your motivations, and so the mere act of contemplating it, destroys that genuineness.

All that is left from this is a vague sour feeling sense of guilt but that is easily accounted for. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

of permits and licenses...


The fracas caused by the ever over-reacting Polis di Raja Malaysia during the candle light vigil at Amcorp Mall last weekend brings to light, not only the people's fundamental right to assemble - a right which is guaranteed by article 10 of the Federal Constitution - but also the complete misunderstanding of the purposes and functions of permits and licenses by the authorities.

I have said it before and I will say it again. And this time, let me type this real slowly, just in case the authorities could not read fast enough. The purpose of permits and licenses is not to prohibit but to regulate. Get it? Not to prohibit. But to regulate.

There are some businesses, for example, which, if left unregulated, might affect public order. Take the serving of alcohol. If not regulated, people would be serving alcohol at a stall in front of my gate. Drunk people might then make so much noises in front of my house in the wee hours of the morning. They might even puke on my car! Because of that, the authorities require licenses to be obtained by those who would like to serve alcohol as a business. Thus, the business of serving alcohol could be regulated. For example, they must be done in an enclosed shop. The shop must close at 1 am. Whatever.

In Amsterdam, marijuana or weeds - or grass as it is also well known for -  is legal. But the business of selling and serving weeds in that city is regulated. They can only sell and be smoked in an enclosed shop. Only people above the age of 18 can buy, sell and smoke it. As such, you don't see peddlers at some back street in Amsterdam harassing people to buy weeds. Neither do you see stone-faced weeds-smelling larger louts puking in the drain and jumping into the river at 2am in Amsterdam.

In Singapore, prostitution is regulated. The leisure women go for regular medical check-ups and carry a yellow card (or is it green, I am not too sure). And they can only ply their trade in a certain area of Singapore. That regulates the oldest profession in Singapore.

I am not, of course, advocating the legalisation of weeds or prostitution in Malaysia. I have to say this. Because otherwise people like Zulkifli Nordin would say I am a bad Muslim. I am just pointing out the role, purpose and function of permits and/or licenses. To add to it all, the authorities could also collect fees from the issuance of the permits and licenses.

Another business which is regulated is money lending. It is a fact that people borrow money. And there are also people who lend money. On purely unjust and unfair terms, that is. You borrow money, give them your land title, and if you fart more than 3 times, they would take your land and sell it! That kind of terms. But the authorities now require money lenders to obtain license. And so the business of money lending is regulated. Interest rate is regulated.  Methods of recovery is regulated.

The problem is this. In Malaysia, however, permits and licenses are not issued even if the applicants qualify for the permits or licenses. If you don't trust me, try to get a money lending license. You can't get one. Even if you satisfy all the requirements. So over here, permits and licenses are not tools of regulations but rather they are used to prohibit people from doing the business.

The result is the people who could have been  lawful money-lender now become Ah Long. They would charge 50% interest. Pain your gate red if you don't pay. Spray rabbit's blood on your windscreen if you don't pay after the red pain on your gate. Then they would shyte in front of your gate before shooting the bejeezus out of your brain with a silver bullet! That's what happen when permits and licenses are used as a prohibitory tool rather than as a regulatory tool. The people who fail to get permits and licenses would go underground.

Prostitution here goes underground. It is controlled by triads and heavenly gods! The business churns millions everyday. It is wholly unregulated. I have heard reports from NGOs of 12-13 year old girls being involved in prostitution in Chow Kitt! I don't know whether the authorities know about this and if so, what they are doing about it.

Gambling is big business in Malaysia. And not only at Genting, mind you. EPL bets go to the tune of millions every weekend. They have odds published via text messages. Manchester United versus Arsenal? How about half goal to Arsenal with a draw at half time without a goal and a full time score of 2-1 to Manchester United. Rooney will score first. Three yellow cards. No red. The referee will not get a cramp. And Wenger will lose a tooth. They bet on anything. And it is all unregulated!

So. What have all these to do with the fracas last weekend? Simple. The law provides that anybody who wants to assemble a group of more than 3 people in Malaysia, must obtain a permit. Stop here. Can you imagine? Every assembly of 3 or more people in Malaysia without a permit is in law an illegal assembly? Can you all imagine that? I mean, 3 people shyting in a KLCC toilet could, on the face of it, be arrested for an illegal assembly? Amazing!

Anyway. I was saying, every assembly must have a police permit. Otherwise it is an illegal assembly. Sounds simple? Yea...rite! Try obtaining the permit. And especially when you are wearing a free RPK black t-shirt or Repeal ISA red t-shirt, you can forget about obtaining the permit. Regardless of the fact that all you want to do is to gather, sing some songs, read some poems and burn some candles. No. You just can't get a permit.

The police chief said that they have asked the organisers to obtain a permit. Since they didn't, the vigil was illegal. That was why they had to jump on them, with baton and all,  arrested them and detained them till 3am.

When permits and licenses are used as a prohibitory tool, that is what's going to happen. People will assemble illegally. Take the Bersih and Hindraf rally last year. It was so simple for the police - who I am sure only has public order in their mind - to control the planned rally. Issue a permit. Impose a condition or conditions. Tell the organisers you all can only assemble at Dataran Merdeka. You can't move. You can have one big speaker. Can make noise but cannot exceed 150dB. You can bring banner but cannot be as big as the Malaysian flag on the biggest flag pole in Asia. And you all must wear an orange shirt with green pants. Women cannot wear pants. Things like that. Than the police can control the assembly.

But no. They didn't issue a permit. The people assembled anyway. And so water cannons were used. Batons were used. Malaysia became instantly famous. CNN. BBC. Al-Jazeera. What more with the Mydin guy crucifying the English language on international TV. Great!

What is so difficult about giving permits and imposing reasonable conditions to maintain public order? Why must permits and licenses be used to curtail a fundamental liberty instead of to regulate and ensure a peaceful exercise of it? I really don't know.

And the thing is, the exercise of the arresting power for the so-called illegal assemblies is  not even consistent. Why, for example, the police did not jump on Zulkifli Nordin and his band of Islamist yahoos when they were kicking up quite a ruckus at the Bar Council building during the conversion forum? Why were they not baton-ed or arrested? And what about the long march to the American Embassy by Khairy Jamaluddin last year? If the peace loving Malaysians carrying candle must be so forcefully treated in order to maintain public order, why were the yahoos who were shouting, screaming and acting in a very threatening manner not so arrested?

Sorry. I am just a simple minded person. Perhaps there are some reasons for the different treatment meted out to different people at a different time. Perhaps.

Just perhaps.


Saturday, November 8, 2008

RPK's Release: A Tapestry of Thoughts and Emotions


After having a "super kow" Nescafe tarik at the Pelita restaurant near the Shah Alam Court, I drove back to my office in Kuala Lumpur for a lunch appointment.  RPK was ordered to be released about an hour before.  I was elated. I was emotionally drained. I was satisfied.

The scale of what Imtiaz, myself and the battery of lawyers involved in the RPK's habeas corpus application had managed to achieve had however yet  to fully sink in. On the Federal Highway, I received calls after calls and text message after text message. News traveled fast in these days and age. Barely 45 minutes after the order was made, for example, an old schoolmate of mine called from Kedah to congratulate me. He said he saw the news on TV.

I was pumped up with adrenalin. I was oblivious to  whatever things which were happening around me. The slow Friday crawl on the Federal Highway gave me time to really ponder and reflect at what had just happened in Court that morning. But the main feeling was one of disbelief.

It was when the coffee lady was serving me coffee in my office that the full magnitude of it all began to sink in. The whole office had known of the RPK case was won earlier. In-house e-mails were sent to everyone in the firm as soon as my secretary received the news from me. I took a sip of the hot coffee. The coffee lady stood there, not leaving my office as she would usually do after putting my obligatory mug of coffee on my desk. I looked at her. She smiled.

"Boss, you menang itu Botak punya kes ah?", she asked.

Before I could answer, she followed up, "saya tadak tau Boss buat itu kes. Itu Botak sekarang sudah keluar ah? Itu macam bagus ah..."

The "Botak" was of course RPK. There she was, a coffee lady, who could barely speak Malay or English, whose function in my office was to serve all of us coffee, twice a day, expressing her happiness that the "Botak's" case had been won!

I said, "ya, itu Botak nanti petang mau keluar".

She smiled and walked towards the door. Almost thankful to me. Almost grateful to me for making her day.

At that moment, it all sank in.


Raja Petra Kamaruddin aka RPK.

I did not know him. Although I knew of him, by virtue of the fact that his web site, MalaysiaToday, is a site I visit everyday. Neither have I ever met him. Before yesterday (7th November 2008), that is.

I received news about the policemen visiting him at his house to pick him up under the ISA rather early. It was around 12.30pm. I called up Harris but his mobile was not turned on. So, I called up Imtiaz.

Imtiaz confirmed the news and told me that Harris was either on his way to RPK's house or already there. The feeling that I had then was one of disbelief. And that feeling  quickly transformed into one of anger. If a government had to resort to a detention without trial in order to "protect the country from a security threat" caused by all but ONE person, than that government does not deserve to govern. It was a blatant abuse and misuse of power. An abuse which was reflective of the government's inability - or unwillingness? - to engage the people in connection with every grievance which the people had. An abuse which was reflective of a governmental mindset that did not respect criticisms; did not listen to the voice of its own soul, ie, the people which it sets out to govern; did not give 2 sen to the people's rights and freedom. An abuse which was vile. And depraved.

I quickly told Imtiaz that he could consider me to be on board with whatever legal maneuvers which were deemed necessary to procure a quick release of RPK.


Marina Lee was like a Goddess. She would stand outside the Court, holding the hand of her two daughters; hugging and shaking the hands of RPK's supporters and well wishers; smiling to the crowd and answering questions from the reporters with a degree of calmness that belied the enormity of the situation.

After the hearing in the morning of  22.10.2008, she was waiting for me at the lobby of the Court. I have been introduced to her at Imtiaz's office the week before. And I had, by then, grown to be accustomed with her poise, her calmness and her patience. She was a towering lady of steely nerve. As I came down the stairs of the Court lobby, she came to me. She held my hand and looked me into the eyes and said, "can I give you a hug?" I said "of course".

She stepped forward and gave me one of the most memorable hugs I would ever have. She held me for some time and said, "thank you". At that moment I suddenly felt the pressure and the weight of the task that has been thrust on me, Imtiaz and the whole team. I felt proud. I felt sad. All at the same time. And deep down in me I was asking myself, "what would I do if we lose the case?"

I did not think I would have the heart to face Marina in that situation.

Yesterday, (7.11.208), I had a drink with RPK and Marina's daughters at the Court canteen while waiting for RPK to be produced in Court. Two lovely daughters he has. Intelligent, smart, fully aware of the situation concerning their father and Malaysia as a country. They were calm. Although beneath their eyes, I could detect the waves of emotions running through their veins while waiting for RPK to appear. "Is he going to be re-arrested?", they asked.

I looked at them and almost in an indiscernible voice, I said, "I don't think so."

The truth was that I didn't think I would be able to stay sane had that happened.


He was produced in Court at about 3.25pm. He looked haggard. And tired.  I stole a moment to take a picture of him sitting on the Court bench waiting for his freedom to be officialised.


He was soft spoken. And the look of his face said it all. I approached him. Imtiaz was talking to him and I was later introduced to him. Finally, I was meeting my client. He looked at me, took my hand and I said, "Ungku, I am Azhar".

He smiled and he hugged me. A hug which I would not forget. A hug of a free man. His tears were streaming down his cheek. He looked around, as if he was measuring freedom. "How are you, Ungku?", I asked.

"I am just relieved. Thanks to you. I don't think I would be able to last another day there", he said.

"You know, last Saturday, Marina came to see me at the camp. I told her next Saturday I don't want her to come to the camp anymore. I want to be home with her by then. And you know, yesterday I was allowed to wander around the solitary confinement block. I was looking at Bukit Larut from inside the camp. I was telling myself, tomorrow I want to look at Bukit Larut from outside of the camp", he said with a smile.

"Well Ungku, your prayer and wish have been granted", I replied.

With that I moved to the Bar table. The Judge came in and His Lordship officially noted RPK's presence in Court. His Lordship then set him free. The crowd in the public gallery gasped in disbelief. Somebody was about to break into an applause but remembering what the learned Judge had said in the morning, the applause was halted.

Just as the learned Judge retired into his chambers, Marina and her two daughters stood up and grabbed hold of RPK. There they were. Four of them, lost in their own little world, hugging each other while tears flowed freely even among those in the public gallery.

Freedom. Free from a purely abusive and tyrannical act of a government which feared it's own shadow. Free from the clutches of an impotent executive, whose bravery was only limited to executing acts of blatant cowardice against its own people.



I arrived at La Bodega at around 5pm. It was supposed to be a celebration of sorts. But when I walked into the Lounge upstairs, the air was subdued. Imtiaz was sitting in front of me. Reflective. Brooding even.

RPK made an appearance later in the evening. Again he thanked me. I had to tell him that I think it was the learned Judge and the Court which were the real heroes of the day. It was the learned Judge's courage that had won RPK's freedom. He was courageous.


I took a picture of him again. Just look at him and compare to the picture of himself in the Court a couple of hours earlier. Look at how fresh he appeared to be in the red t-shirt. And look at the smile. And that focus in his eyes.

That's what freedom could render to a human being.


RPK's release meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people. 

To RPK and family, it would be the joy of regaining freedom and liberty. Of being with each other once again. Of enjoying togetherness, which was so abruptly and wrongly taken away from them, once again.

To the lawyers - me included - it was about the satisfaction of being able to contribute to the attainment of freedom and liberty of a person. It was also about a fight against repression. I was glad to be a part of it all. And to leave a small mark in Malaysia's pursuit of a just and fair society, a society which is able to live freely and without fear of oppression.

But the real hero, as I had said earlier was the Court and the learned Judge, His Lordship Dato' Syed Ahmad Helmy bin Syed Ahmad. While we travel in this dark age of uncertainty, he shines like a beacon.

The tyrannical regime of Dr Mahathir Mohammad had taken away judicial power from the Court by amending the Federal Constitution. They had tried to usurp the power of the Court by ousting its power of review over ISA detentions.

But yesterday, the Court, through Justice Dato' Syed Ahmad Helmy bin Syed Ahmad, rose to reclaim it's position as the ultimate balancer; the ultimate dispenser of justice and the ultimate institution which would check and balance out the abuses and excesses of the executives.

Yesterday was a day the Court, the peace loving people of Malaysia and justice embrace each other and walk alongside each other on the same road.

The road to liberty.





Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ketuanan Melayu

I have refrained myself from writing about politics for the whole of October. I was so muak of Malaysian politics that I felt I had to get away from it all. It is now November. And here I think I should say something about this subject.

I am normally very good at grasping a concept, understanding it, differentiating it from other not dissimilar concept, identifying it's positive and negative points and using it. However, try as I might, I just could not understand the concept of Ketuanan Melayu aka Malay Supremacy aka Malay Dominance. Let alone identify it. Now I wonder whether I have lost it. I have lost my intelligence. That could be it. Or perhaps, just perhaps, there is no such concept to begin with. And that is why I can't identify it.

Throughout my years in government schools and later in government university, as well as my one year in a Mat Salleh university, I have not come across the concept of Ketuanan Melayu. And that despite the fact that history was my  favourite subject. That also despite the fact that I took not only the Malaysian Federal Constitution as a subject, but also the Malaysian Administrative Law as well as Comparative Constitutional Laws as optional subjects. Not to mention the Study of Politics paper which I also took in the Economics faculty for fun.

No. I did not come across that concept in all my school years. Nada. Zilch! I must have missed the lectures or tutorials when the subject of Ketuanan Melayu was being taught or discussed (which is likely) or I was then asleep (which is likely too!). Or, it could be that that subject was never ever taught or discussed. And if it wasn't so taught or discussed, the most likely explanation to that omission would be that there is no such thing as Ketuanan Melayu. That is my logical mind at work. I can't put illogical reasoning to this conundrum because I am a logical person. Perhaps YB Zulkifli Nordin has a different view. I don't know. He probably has one. And then some. Because he is a clever fellow. Sorry, I digress.

So, if Ketuanan Melayu was never ever taught or discussed in my 18 years of studies, when it was a fact that I took subjects in which the matter would have ordinarily been discussed, I can make a reasonable conclusion that the concept never existed. If it did, it was insignificant or irrelevant to our history or laws so much so that it was not worth a mention.

How then this so called concept manage to infiltrate our socio-politico scenes lately? Dr Mahathir talked about it. Zaid Ibrahim said the concept was a failure. Shahidan Kassim said Zaid should repent for saying what he said. Syed Hamid Albar asked Zaid to apologise and branded Zaid a traitor! Shahidan went even further to say that Zaid should cease from being a Malay and that he should repent!

The question is, if Zaid was or is a Malay ,(is he? Am I? Are you?) how could Zaid cease from being one? How does one un-Malay oneself? Or was Shahidan talking about the legal concept of being a Malay? Under our Federal Constitution, a Malay is defined as being a person who:

i) practices the Malay adat and ways of living;

ii) professes the religion of Islam; and,

iii) speak Bahasa Malaysia (aka Bahasa Kebangsaan aka Bahasa Melayu which later became Bahasa Malaysia and then turned into Bahasa Melayu yet again and now is known as Bahasa....well...I don't know).

Following such definition, I suppose Zaid can un-Malay himself by not doing either or all of those things. We should pause here for a while. Note the first criteria above. One is a Malay if one practices the Malay adat and way of life. That's like saying one is an English if one is an English. Like how are we going to know what Malay adat is and Malay ways of life is when the word "Malay" is not yet defined? Jeez... The Malays used to carry the keris all over town. Nowadays no Malay in his/her correct mind would do so. Does that mean there are no more Malays around? The Malays used to be able to visit their neighbours without an appointment or pre-set date. Now most Malay urbanite don't even dream of doing that. Even the hari raya "open house" is only "opened" to invitees only. Does that mean most Malay urbanites are not Malays anymore? I don't know. I am just asking.

Back to Zaid and Shahidan Kassim. I was saying, rather, asking, how does Zaid un-Malay himself?

Then, apparently Zaid should "repent". Repentance connotes an act which is religious in nature. One repents if one has committed a sinful act. If so, since when, may I ask, has disputing or "challenging" the efficiency of Ketuanan Melayu become a sin?

Shahidan was also quoted as saying Zaid should leave the "rumpun Melayu". Yea...rite. Typical. Remember the MP's remark in the parliament not so long ago? "If the "pendatangs" don't like it here, then "they" should leave the country!". Very intellectual. Very stimulating engagement. What a polemic! Shahidan, ur da man.

Lets just for one moment accept  that Ketuanan Melayu exists factually and conceptually. And let us all  hypothesise  that the Federal Constitution was premised upon such concept.

Question: what is the use of the Malays being a Tuan all the way if the Malays are still lagging behind in all aspects of achievements in their "own" country?

Question 2: how does one reconcile the "dominance" or "supremacy" of the Malays with the fact that the Malays, according to UMNO and our leaders, still need subsidies and preferential treatments - in Dr Mahathir's words or terminology, this is called "affirmative actions" - in order to make them successful?

Question 3: when we speak of the Malay Dominance or Malay Supremacy, what is the subject over which the Malays are supposed to be dominant or supreme?

In the phaleo-worlds, the concept of "dominance" connotes the physical power to assert control over a subject matter. "Supremacy" on the other hand is a state of being supreme. In  terms of socio-politico outlook, the Malay Supremacy would mean the installation and maintenance of the Malays as the supreme authority of the society or the land. Historically, we would  probably have to go back to the 1400s, during the era of the Melaka Sultanates, to find, if at all,  such a level of dominance by or supremacy of the Malays.

The arrival of the Portuguese, Dutch and later the English as well as the Japanese had completely destroyed such socio-politico status of the Malays and their rulers. History would show that the English made our Rulers agree to the appointment of various advisors, the advice of whom must be accepted and implemented by the Rulers. That completely banished any iota of dominance or supremacy of the Malays over the society and the land. If the effect was immediately felt in the socio-politico arena, soon it would also have an economical consequences as well.

The Japanese were however more accommodating to the status of the Malay rulers and the Malays  in general. However that was borne out of the necessity to win the support (or at least the acceptance) of the Malays as the Chinese was far more physical in their opposition of the Japanese. That was due to the historical animosity between Japan and China. And so preferential treatments were accorded to the Malays and even their rulers by the Japanese.

That was however to change when the British came back. The proposed Malayan Union would render the Malay rulers, and the Malays, as normal and equal citizens as the British were more interested in establishing a Westminster based democracy. The British ideals were however not well met by the Malays, who claimed historical dominance and "supremacy" in the phaleo-world.

Here lies the claim for the "social contract". This hyphotesises an agreement between the Malays and the British - some sort of a modern aged Magna Carta - whereby the Malays would agree to the Chinese and Indians being granted citizenship to the fledgling Malaysia as long as certain Malay rights and the position of the Malay rulers are preserved. Hence the provisions of Articles 152 and 153 in the Federal Constitution.

If we accept therefore the existence of the "social contract" -  and I have no doubt that it existed - surely the concept of Malay Dominance or Supremacy could not have existed anymore. That is because such concept would have been superseded by the "social contract" which our politicians so readily embrace and protect as a sacrosanct deed as well as the provisions in the Federal Constitution. Surely the establishment of a Westminster styled Federation and democracy would run repugnant to the concept of Malay Dominance or Supremacy as the two could not walk with each other on the same road.

A lot has been said about the social contract. But what is being focused at is the citizenship rights which have been so graciously granted by the Malays to the non-Malays (some called the non-Malays "pendatangs" or "immigrants"). However, no effort is being done to look at the social contract from the viewpoint of the non-Malays. Surely the non-Malays, in accepting the social contract, also had their own expectations. Surely the social contract is a contract which impose obligations and rights to both the Malays, on one side, and also the non-Malays, on the other side.

Consequently, would it not be unreasonable to argue that in entering into the social contract with the Malays, the non-Malays would have expected that they are not going to be dominated by the Malays and that all citizens are to be equal before the law and that no particular citizen shall be regarded as supreme?

I would have thought not.