Ahad, 22 September 2013

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Can we move beyond a racialised society?

Posted: 21 Sep 2013 01:01 PM PDT

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The real issue, therefore, becomes a question of how equal treatment does not ignore or violate minority rights in the name of the majority, be it within or across the ethnic divide.

Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib, todayonline.com 

Last week, IPS and Onepeople.sg released a study on indicators of racial and religious harmony. The results point to a healthy indication of social harmony, particularly within the public sphere. There is no doubt that Singapore has gotten some aspects right in terms of managing racial and religious diversity.

But the task of strengthening our social fabric requires us to dig beneath the surface. The study, which was based on surveys, must be corroborated with deeper insights from the lived reality of Singaporeans in general.

For a start, several findings from the study are a cause for concern. For example, only 60 per cent believed that they could learn from other races, 55 per cent were interested in meeting people of other races, and 50 per cent were interested in understanding other people's customs.

What these revealed is something that we might have been aware of: That the different ethnic communities continue to exist in segregated spheres of comfort with little meaningful interactions beyond what is necessary in schools, workplaces and the markets.

A CONTRADICTION IN NATION-BUILDING

Part of the reason for this lies in the prevalent narrative of "deep fault-lines" derived from Singapore's past encounters with racial and religious riots. Thus, it follows that each community must be kept apart while promoting civic interactions in common shared spaces or the public sphere. Consequently, an over-arching economic prosperity and effective legal enforcement play a role in keeping tensions at bay.

The CMIO model, thus, became the de facto way of dealing with ethnic diversity in Singapore. As a result, social policies are dealt through the prism of racial lenses, which translates into the existence of race-based self-help groups. These groups then continue to derive their legitimacy from national data, such as health and education indexes, which are churned along racial categories.

This forms a significant contradiction in our nation-building process. Despite our professed desire for a unified nation "regardless of race, language or religion", what had transpired for the last four decades was the opposite. Race has become a single most important marker for our social existence. In other words, we have become a totally racialised society.

There is hardly a moment in our social interactions that we are not reminded of our racial identity – from the imprint in our identity cards, to our schooling years to job applications. This invariably leads to a hardening of identity, even as we continuously choose to exoticise the "other" through generalised traits and characteristics. The most tragic consequence for all these is the continuous perpetuation of stereotypes.

DANGERS OF STEREOTYPES

Social theorist, Alana Lentin in her 2008 book, Racism, argues that the stereotype is often a basis for discrimination. Where stereotype exists, discrimination is bound to occur.

A personal anecdote illustrates this point. A friend who owns a small business consistently refuses to hire Malay workers because of his view that Malays are generally non-industrious. Could this be a reason why many Malays think that they must work doubly hard to prove their worth and rise up the ladder in their organisations?

In the IPS-Onepeople.Sg study, slightly more than 30 per cent believed that Indians and Malays had to work harder compared to other races to reach top positions in their organisations. There could be a range of explanations. But we cannot deny that this is one issue that has to be tackled.

Stereotypes, intentional or not, often injure a person's worth by reducing one's humanity to a set of fixed and essentialised traits. For some, it may appear harmless to make generalisations on a particular race. But in times of crisis, these very stereotypes can be deadly tools.

When Indonesia faced severe financial crisis in 1998, the ethnic Chinese minority were attacked simply because they were stereotyped as "corrupt, rich and exploitative" of the local communities. The Jews suffered similar fate that led to the horrific Holocaust. In Europe and America today, stereotypes on Islam continue to drive Islamophobic attacks on Muslim communities.

In all of these instances, stereotypes pose the greatest danger to minority groups, particularly in vulnerable situations.

BEYOND RACIAL DIVIDES

Thus far, Singapore has done well in mostly keeping overt discrimination at bay. It is heartening to note that more than 90 per cent of minorities from the IPS-Onepeople.Sg survey felt no discrimination in terms of public services. But more can be done to stem the problem of stereotypes before it leads to full-blown exclusionary practices.

To do this, one needs to revisit the CMIO model and find new ways to overcome the consequence of categorising individuals in neat categories. A person's identity is much more complex and fluid; it cannot be reduced to a simple marker of how one dresses, what one eats, the festivals one celebrates or the colour of one's skin.

More importantly, there are no defining traits to be found in each ethnic group. There are only human traits and these traits emerge in individuals in a given context. Social problems, too, cannot be attributed to any racial categories. They are primarily political and located in the way we organised our society through policies, institutions and distribution of resources. 

Read more at : http://www.todayonline.com/singapore/can-we-move-beyond-racialised-society 

 

Online campaign against Erdogans

Posted: 21 Sep 2013 09:55 AM PDT

A defined lobby of young, educated and ambitious ulama in PAS are using the Internet in an unprecedented way to undermine the Erdogan camp ahead of the party election in November.   

The PAS election has not received the kind of publicity that the Umno election is getting but it is no less intense or critical for the future of the party. Almost all the top posts are likely to be contested and only Hadi is assured of winning uncontested at this point in time.

Joceline Tan, The Star

ZAHARUDIN Muhammad of PAS is apparently quite amused at being compared to Umno's Khairy Jamaluddin. He has been labelled as "the son-in-law" by some PAS members and it is not exactly a compliment.

Zaharudin's father-in-law is none other than PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang and the young ustaz has been accused of using his family ties to influence decisions in the party. Zaharudin has brushed off the allegations but "the son-in-law" of PAS has been the subject of much debate in the Internet among the PAS crowd.

His detractors call him "Din Ayam" but it is easy to see why his father-in-law takes him seriously. Zaharudin was educated in Egypt and Syria; he speaks well and relies on facts rather than rhetoric to get his point across. He is a fierce defender of Hadi and has accused certain quarters in the party of trying to topple the president.

He is also an ally of PAS Youth chief Nasrudin Hassan and deputy Youth chief Nik Abduh Nik Mat, whose father is Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat. They form the young and ultra-conservative cohort of PAS.

Zaharudin is not a rising star in his party as some have imagined but he is definitely part of the group which wants to see the ulama reassert their dominance at the party election and muktamar in November.

Intense challenge

The PAS election has not received the kind of publicity that the Umno election is getting but it is no less intense or critical for the future of the party. Almost all the top posts are likely to be contested and only Hadi is assured of winning uncontested at this point in time.

And like Umno, PAS is also going through a tug-of-war between those who want PAS to return to the good, old conservative ways and those who want the party to move on with the times.

But the most intriguing part of what is happening in the run-up to the polls is the way the pro-ulama group are using the Internet to campaign and, quite shockingly, to accuse and malign the other side, namely the professionals or the Erdogans as they are known.

PAS leaders have often denied that there is such a thing as "ulama versus Erdogans" in the party. They claim it was created by an imaginative media. But the rivalry between the ulama camp and the Erdogan gang is being played out in full view in Facebook and blogs. Some of the stuff posted will make you go OMG!

The pro-ulama camp, normally restrained and publicity shy, is now the aggressor, doing the attacks, making accusations against the Erdogans and even promoting certain ulama personalities.

And the warfare is most intense in El-Haraki, a fan page on Facebook. People in PAS pretend they do not read it, some even claim they have never heard of it, but all of them have been avidly following it because the kind of things posted on El-Haraki is something which has never happened before in PAS. The ulama are finally putting on their gameface for the big fight.

El-Haraki is Arabic for "social movement" and the people behind it are believed to be the young Turks among the ulama who have been unhappy with the way the Erdogans have dominated PAS politics over the last decade.

The Erdogan dominance was best epitomised by Mohamed Sabu winning the deputy president post in the last party polls while the three vice-president posts were won by non-ulama.

The chief targets of the pro-ulama group are those they call the "kepala-kepala Erdogan" (Erdogan chieftains), namely vice-president (VP) Datuk Husam Musa, treasurer Dr Hatta Ramli, central committee member Khalid Samad and strategic director Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad.

The pro-ulama group claim that the quartet are more concerned about Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's agenda than their own party's cause. They call the Erdogans "parasites," "Anwarinas" and "ular daun" (grass snakes), meaning they are the enemy within. But the most hurtful label of all has got to be "Umno agents".

Their attacks are being carried out in the name of saving PAS and the president. They also imagine that Husam is about to make a bid for the presidency even though he has said he is defending his post.

They have depicted Husam as a failed politician who has fallen out with the Kelantan palace and who is more interested in looking after his goats. There are lots of pictures of him cuddling and playing with goats.

This group of people are evidently well connected. They posted a letter showing how Husam's name was crossed out in the proposed list of exco members for the new Kelantan government. The rejection came from the palace and the letter has been verified by Kelantan sources as authentic.

It looks like the group is throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the quartet. Even a Hari Raya banner put up by the party's Batu division has come under attack because it did not include Hadi's picture.

A recent posting blamed Husam and Dr Hatta for Pakatan Rakyat's failure to capture Putrajaya and various states.

Smear campaign

Everything the quartet said and did in the last few years has been dredged out to be scrutinised and presented as proof of their "betrayal".

For instance, Instagrams of Dr Hatta flying to Kota Kinabalu in a private jet with Anwar and other Pakatan leaders are being used as proof of how close Dr Hatta is to the PKR leader, and he has been accused of preferring Anwar over Hadi as Prime Minister. Dr Hatta should have opted for an Air Asia flight – it would have been cheaper and less problematic.

Excerpts of an interview that Khalid, who is also Shah Alam MP, gave to a business weekly have been interpreted as his alleged pluralistic tendencies. That is a big no-no for PAS, which regards pluralism as a branch of liberal Islam that could destroy the religion.

They even claimed he had threatened to quit PAS if PKR's Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim was not reappointed Selangor Mentri Besar, which he has denied.

There were also posters of PAS' Khalid in a church. The stunt won him praise from non-Muslims but has returned to haunt him ahead of the party polls.

A previous remark by Dr Dzulkefly that PAS was ready for a non-Muslim as their deputy president is also being dragged out for airing.

Khalid has defended himself in a three-part article in his blog but the rest have chosen not to respond.

Those in the pro-ulama group are very protective of the top two – Hadi and Mursyidul Am Nik Aziz.

Their motto is: "To be with the ulama in PAS is akin to being with the Holy Prophet. Whoever goes against the ulama, they are on the way to hell."

Ulama figures like Kelantan deputy Mentri Besar Datuk Nik Amar Nik Abdullah, Youth chief and Temerloh MP Nasrudin Hassan, and a host of other hardline ulama get favourable coverage in El-Haraki.

A top PAS official, anxious to absolve the top ulama leaders from all this, stressed that the Internet campaign is the work of "young and over-zealous" second echelon ulama and that the top ulama leaders are not involved.

Even the party newsletter Harakah and the online Harakahdaily have not been spared. The two party organs have often come under pressure from the conservatives who claim that the ulama view is not well represented.

The editorial team, in wanting to make the publications more interesting, tries to include news about other Pakatan parties but the conservatives think the party organs should be strictly about PAS and its ideology.

Two of its editors, Rashidi Hassan and Zukifli Sulung, resigned after the general election and the latter is now working for an online news portal as its features editor.

But Zulkifli was mistaken if he thought he would be able to report as he pleased. An article he wrote on the ailing Nik Aziz titled "Berehatlah Tok Guru" (Time to rest Tok Guru) has come under attack.

It was a touching piece about how Nik Aziz had woken up in his hospital suite and asked to see Husam. But poor Zulkifli was accused of trying to promote Husam for the presidency and even of being his campaign manager.

"The campaign is very hot this time," said Zulkifli.

It is quite evident that the pro-ulama groups see Husam, Khalid, Dr Dzulkefly and Dr Hatta as the brains behind the success of the Erdogans. To defeat the group, they need to discredit the gang of four and that is what those behind El-Haraki are out to do.

The old generation ulama of PAS do not believe in campaigning or promoting themselves. They prefer to pray and leave everything else in the hands of God.

But the younger and Internet savvy generation who want the ulama to be in control are stepping up the game.

However, PAS secretary-general Datuk Mustafa Ali has a word of caution: "Everybody should adhere to the campaign ethics. Please don't go overboard because in the past, people lost when they campaigned too much."

 

Time to leave the CPM era behind

Posted: 21 Sep 2013 09:51 AM PDT

The death of Chin Peng has created a buzz about the relevance of the Red spectre in Malaysia, especially among Malaysian Gen Yers.

But for over 80% of the Malaysian population aged below 55 (some 25,610,000 Malaysians) who would have been in their diapers or not born when the Emergency ended, Chin Peng remains a distant grandfather story or, at the most, an answer to an examination question.

Hariati Azizan, The Star

IT has been an educational week for finance manager Rita Wong* as she tried to find the answers for her 10-year-old son's questions.

"He's always curious and this week it has been all about Chin Peng," Wong relates. "'Who is he, mum; why can't he come home; why do we have to be scared of his ashes?'"

Wong, a 40-something working mother, says she has had to recall her history lessons in school but even then "most of the answers he is asking for are hard to give as I don't really understand it myself."

Chin Peng, the Malayan-born guerilla who led a fierce Communist insurgency against the British in the peninsula after World War Two, and later against the government after independence, died early last week after living in exile in Thailand for more than two decades. He had fought alongside the British during the Japanese military occupation, but had started a fight to establish an independent Communist state here in 1948.

Thousands were reportedly killed during the insurgency, tagged by the British administration as the Malayan Emergency, that lasted until 1960.

Hence, even in death, his name still evokes much bitterness in Malaysia, as seen during the week in the media and social media network.

"I can never forgive him because the Communists killed my grandfathers and uncles," says a marketing manager in his 30s.

But for over 80% of the Malaysian population aged below 55 (some 25,610,000 Malaysians) who would have been in their diapers or not born when the Emergency ended, Chin Peng remains a distant grandfather story or, at the most, an answer to an examination question.

With his death, many are saying it's time to also put the CPM ghost to rest, as can be seen in the comments in cyber space.

"Does Chin Peng's death really matter?" writes secondary school student Tianqian Tong. "I thought he had died for years actually..."

Like many young people, Tong does not see Chin Peng and communism as a security threat any more.

"Chin Peng and the CPM are in the past, not in the present, neither will they be in the future. We are now free and independent," notes Tong.

"Anyway, history is a lesson for the future – every single thing will be remembered. It will be good for us to learn that 'In the practice of tolerance, one's enemy is the best teacher'."

A number of the comments in cyber space are also quite light-hearted and related to a topic that's very popular among Gen Yers these days.

"His ashes could spread around the country and invade the body of every Malaysian. This could be worse than an alien invasion ..." says one in a long line of zombie jokes about the "Chin Peng ashes – to return or not to return" debate.

A budding entrepreneur who only wants to be known as Amin admits that he finds the issue a tad confusing. "We all now want to 'make friends' with communist China and break into their market," he observes.

Chin Peng and the CPM have not been a valid bogeyman for a long time, local theatre director and lecturer Mark Teh says.

"Bogeymen are ghosts or phantoms. The reason we have them is to create an irrational fear in people," he opines.

For many young people, the Emergency and communists are lumped together with the Japanese Occupation and fight for indepen­dence under the topic of "War in History", Teh points out.

"Many do not know the difference. But it is not completely their fault that they are confused. It's because the history books present it in a sketchy manner. It is presented in a linear way that does not add up sometimes and discussions are not encouraged."

This may have led to a thirst for information on communism among some, but not to the point where they want to stage a revolution, he adds.

"They are intrigued by it because of the gaps in history but I don't think they are interested in the ideology or to embrace communism."

Teh, who used to teach Culture and Society in Malaysia, had organised an "Emergency Festival" with a loose collective of young artists in 2008 to mark the 60th anniversary of the insurgency.

It was an attempt to re-examine the documents, images and narratives of the Malaysian Emergency from the younger generation's perspective, he explains.

"We saw many students participate because they wanted to create alternative spaces for themselves and answer the questions they have about this part of Malaysian history."

Teh feels this is the underlying issue in the debate on Chin Peng and the CPM's role in the struggle for independence.

"The argument is contemporary because it is really about people fighting for their own version of Malaysia now – and they are reclaiming a past, whether it includes the CPM, Chin Peng or a past that excludes their contribution or labels them only as terrorist," he says.

Writer Zedeck Siew, in his 20s, agrees, saying that any interest in communism among the young is mainly due to the suppression of communism's place in history.

"In the classroom, we had the impression of the communist as an evil, grimacing Chinese fellow creeping through the jungle, killing cops and citizens. People have realised that this is not a complete picture.

"Those who want to learn about the CPM and Chin Peng are merely trying to find out more about the country's past," he reasons.

Crucially, interest does not equal participation, he stresses. "Frankly, I just can't see my peers leaving their iPad, artisanal cupcakes and comfortable suburban warrens to join a people's Armed Struggle and subsist on rations."

Women rights activist Smita E concurs, saying that young people now seem to be largely anti-ideological. "I base this statement on my observation that people don't read enough and don't have time to read big books and think big thoughts."

What is true, however, is that young people are starved for local histories, she adds. "It's about alternative histories, not communism per se."

Postgraduate student Ahmad Z also feels ideology rarely survives these days. "The grand narrative is history, though I believe young people see communism as a symbolic representation of change.

"If there is a resurgence in interest, it is a romantic interest of communism in Malaysia but not in the sense that people are trying to revive it and to suddenly pick up arms," he says.

Putting the academic input into the issue, Boon Kia Meng believes that for many young people, the communist armed struggle belongs in the annals of history now.

"As Chin Peng mentioned in his memoirs, he was a man of his time and circumstances, where the world, in the immediate aftermath of the Japanese occupation, was overtaken by nationalist and anti-colonial movements and liberation struggles," explains the academic.

"The armed resistance of the CPM was conditioned by those wars and the realistic options before them, in the context of British detention of firstly the Malay anti-colonial Left (a thousand were detained before the Emergency) and the crackdown on labour unions and political groups. The Emergency in 1948 was the culmination of British desire to secure their economic and geopolitical interests in the region.

"The CPM, rightly or wrongly, decided on armed struggle in the face of such challenges."

Today, conditions are very different, says Boon. "A measure of formal democratic institutions has prevailed, and capitalism is triumphant globally, including in so-called communist China. As such, the bogeyman of communist terror in Malaysia is no longer a plausible claim."

In fact, he highlights, most left-wing political movements today are democratic grassroots movements or parties.

"Just look at the elected governments of Bolivia, Venezuela and Ecuador, or even the growing popularity of the Greek radical left, Syriza (a likely winner in the next Greek elections) and the Occupy Wall Street movement. They are all non-violent, popular struggles."

Ironically, even Chin Peng had noted the change of the times. Writing in his 2003 memoir My Side of History, he said: "A revolution based on violence has no application in modern Malaysia or Singapore... The youths who have known only stable governments and live in an independent age of affluence will find the choices I made as a teenager deeply puzzling... I was young in a different age that demanded very different approaches."

He also stated that one of his final wishes was to "exchange views with young Malaysians nowadays to understand how history is shaped, exchanging ideas about how things move the world."

 

Open dialogue and ­reconciliation

For many young people, an open dialogue on Chin Peng and communism is something they hope will happen now.

Student Nik Zurin Nik Rashid says it might be difficult for them to feel the victims' experience but it will not hamper them from empathising.

"To ask the current generation that live in ignorance of such an experience is like asking a Malaysian what it feels like to be at Auschwitz: they can't answer, and neither should they," says the 19-year-old who is currently an undergraduate in a university in Texas.

The fact is that in the modern context, any way you look at it, the CPM is no longer around, she says.

"The CPM is no longer the enemy for the simple fact that it does not, for all intents and purposes, exist as a cohesive force that mobilises the masses since it signed the armistice with our government in 1989. By that alone, they are no longer the "Number One Enemy" as much as the Russian Federation is no longer a de facto enemy to Nato or the US since the Soviet Union collapsed."

Nevertheless, she does not believe the CPM deserves any form of pardon.

"If Hitler is still unforgiven for his crimes, then I don't see why Chin Peng needs to be forgiven for his Red Terror campaigns during the Emergency.

"To many, Chin Peng and his Commies will not be forgiven, and that is understandable."

Alternative musician A. Nair feels that an open dialogue will help reconcile our nation with its painful past.

"If we try to be politically correct all the time, we will not get any idea across. If the older generation gets upset about us not caring or being insensitive about what they went through, it is something we need to learn to understand.

"But they also need to understand that it is not relevant to us now. We are moving towards a developed society, so we need to be more open and less sensitive."

 

Kredit: www.malaysia-today.net

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