Khamis, 12 Disember 2013

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I do care about Malays

Posted: 11 Dec 2013 09:32 PM PST 

I care about Malays and that's why I want an open debate to discuss how to really empower the Malay community in the correct, unbigoted, and non-racialised, way. I see changes in values, educational reforms and cultural progress as critical to the development of the Malays. What doesn't work is the mixture of handouts, chest-thumping and looking for imaginary bogeymen under the bed. 

Zaid Ibrahim 

Of late I've been receiving harsh retorts and brickbats from some Malays. They are upset with my views about UMNO policies, especially my argument that Malays don't need special attention or preferences to empower them or to make them successful. They say I am ungrateful since UMNO made me rich.

The thrust of my argument is that Malays just need fair policies, right attitudes and a good work ethic. We need a Government that gives us fair and equal opportunities to do well. In fact, I think the present preferential policies are too arbitrary and will make Malays fail at their endeavours—with the exception of a lucky few, of course.

Today, I want to reply to the propaganda that I am rich and ungrateful to UMNO. Such attacks are an easy way for UMNO to whip up emotions without acknowledging—let alone responding to—any of my arguments. They like to "shame" their enemies in the eyes of the public so that real issues are forgotten.

I want to remind Malays that they don't need to be "enslaved" by UMNO . There is no need to feel that our whole existence depends on the party. It's this mental slavery that is keeping Malays downtrodden and impoverished. So here is the truth:

I was never a high-ranking official in UMNO despite being a member for 25 years. The best I could achieve was Division Head of Kota Bharu, and that was after 10 years of trying. Three years after that, I was suspended. I was not given a chance to contest the Kota Bharu parliamentary seat in the 2008 elections although I was the incumbent and the first UMNO candidate to have won the seat (in 2004) after 15 years of opposition rule.

As an UMNO Division Head you get to be a Datuk; and yes I got mine from a former Chief Minister of Melaka. So it's true that, if not for UMNO, I would probably be an Encik today.

It's also true that I was made a director of Tenaga Nasional Berhad for three years, and it's probably true that if I had not been an UMNO MP I would probably not have been given this opportunity.  It's also true that I was a Minister for nine months, which would not have happened if not for UMNO. But all these appointments did not make me rich.  I have never been rich.

I was never an "UMNO lawyer". Yes, legal work for the North-South Highway concession was handled by my firm, but that was because of the kindness of Tan Sri Halim Saad who wanted to help a poor fellow from Kota Bharu start something useful. I did not get UMNO to pressure Halim to appoint me because I didn't know any of the top leaders. I was a nobody.

Yes, I used the opportunity to build the firm Zaid Ibrahim & Co. but I was not (and have never been) an UMNO lawyer. If you want to know the real UMNO lawyers when all the deals were done, you should talk to Tun Zaki Tun Azmi, Tan Sri Abdul Rashid Abdul Manaff, Tan Sri Zulhasnan Rafique, Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Tan Sri Cecil Abraham and the other big names.

During the 2010 Hulu Selangor by-election (which I lost) the same attacks were thrown at me: I was an ungrateful Melayu who bit the hand that fed me. I asked these accusers to present the list of shares that I allegedly received from them, as well as the projects, concessions, APs, licences and monopolies I supposedly enjoyed. They also claimed I owned some listed companies.

There was no proof because I owned none of these things. So how on earth could I be rich?

What was I supposed to do with APs, concessions and projects anyway? I'm not a businessman. I'm a lawyer with a penchant for getting into trouble. I'd have had to ask a Chinese businessman to run these projects for me, thus contributing to the Ali Baba syndrome that UMNO leaders were railing against at the time.

Similarly, I wouldn't have been able to bear the guilt of depriving genuine Malay entrepreneurs of the opportunity to grow. I really believed then that UMNO wanted to make Malays economically and educationally as strong as—not "stronger than"—everybody else in the greater Malaysian community. To deprive Malays of that opportunity would be a terrible fraud. I'd be guilty of hypocrisy at best, treachery at worst.

So that's why I'm not rich. I like to tell myself that I'm happy, at least.

But the truth is I'm not. The fiction that I'm rich perpetuates the mantra that any Malay who has achieved anything in life owes it all to UMNO. The enslaving of the Malay mind is important for UMNO, so that the whole existence of a Malay is predicated on being subservient to the party.


Learning from Mandela and friends

Posted: 11 Dec 2013 10:39 AM PST

An usher holds programs with the image of the late Nelson Mandela on the cover before a memorial service at the Riverside Church in New York December 11, 2013. — Reuters pic

Interestingly I got more insight from a job application. A fresh graduate wanted an administrative position at our firm and she had this as her career objective: "To contribute to my religion, race and country."

Praba Ganesan, The Malay Mail


"Even if my country does seem to have forgotten me, I have always thought about it." (José Rizal in Noli Me Tangere)

The corridor leading to the Dewan Rakyat's (Parliament's lower house) lounge is strange enough, but it got a bit more awkward when I bounced into my old debate teammate, the infamous teddy-hugging articulator of weird wisdom, Ja. Understandably, I lost my thought processor during our minute exchange, and presently remain uncertain whether I have completely forgiven myself over the incident.

"Are you still with your political aspirations, Praba? It appears so, so tell me, what will you champion as an elected representative? You can't get elected if you do not have a value proposition, a platform."

Before I managed to say, "Did you enjoy the breakfast spread at the cafeteria?" she had already said "Never mind, bye" and was beyond an earshot of me.

Oh Ja!

Did I tell you that she would hold her stuffed toy with one hand while nailing her bed on the wall with the other hand at three in the morning during our days in the National University of Malaysia debate programme?

Gobsmacked in the ambush, I went with something unintelligible, what we used to refer in debate parlance as the "goldfish" impression.

This was five years ago.


I'm not an elected representative in any house of repute or disrepute when it comes to legislating laws as of now, but I do ponder about what would have been a barely adequate response to my old friend.

"Why do I want to serve?"

At a gut level I've always been convinced it was never a decision to be made, those who reside in a society must serve, how else can societies grow without participation?

However, I can see in a world where what you do matter as much why you do it, it is necessary to provide a preface to my politics before the crowd writes my epitaph.

Even more now, since an election year is ending with an amorphous agenda for 2014 and a world comes to terms with the passing of Nelson Mandela.

I want to do this, help create a Malaysia where its citizens do not wake up daily to face questions of whether they are truly at home or unsure if they are at ease with others sharing the category "Malaysian."

That my countrymen can first enjoy being Malaysians before contending with what being Malaysian constitutes, daily.

If you are thinking that after 50 years of formation (or 56 years of independence, contingent on whom you ask) such a basic objective is superfluous — it would appear to non-residents that Malaysia is a haven showcasing moderations — trust me, this is a surprising country.

These episodes

Last Friday I met up with my close Umno contact, we try to meet in person every few months just so that we keep each other in check. I say "Umno" because he joked as I sat at the kopitiam (coffee shop) that the owners of the store were overboard with their devotion to Malay rights, parading their Malay credentials at the entrance, that even he chided them for overdoing it.

So when I went to counter to order, I asked the manageress what she'd recommend and she adopted a race-centric explanation of what I would like because I was Indian. I looked at her quizzically and asked her if this is the way she'd treat a Penang Mamak (Indian Muslims from the state have somehow become seen as legitimate Malays, and in many occasions as the people most Malay)?

She apologised immediately and was most attentive to my needs till I left the restaurant. My friend broke out in laughter, all 100 kilogrammes of him, when I explained to him why this woman came to our table later to apologise again.

Interestingly I got more insight from a job application. A fresh graduate wanted an administrative position at our firm and she had this as her career objective: "To contribute to my religion, race and country."

I don't think she's actually of the opinion this is what will define her outlook to life, I feel rather for a lack of her own personal development as a thinking and free person in her country she has ceded her judgement to the staple dogma fed to her for a lifetime.

That considerations and obligations are carved up by demographics first rather than on the principles those considerations and obligations may potentially lie on her personal moral scale.

She is expected to filter her countrymen using these demographics before engaging them.

It is not only damaging for a person's development as a Malaysian, it is damaging for any person's assimilation into an increasingly connected planet.

After all how many emerging market nations are generally filled with politicians with wide access condemning pluralism and liberalism? And they are not chastised by national leaders like Cabinet members, rather, they are backed and protected by them.

Right wing thinking and articulation receives adulation and full access. The harm this appeasement continues to cause will long haunt this country beyond the present administration.

They are not Mandela

I guess saying that I want universal celebration at home of our citizenship built by openness and discourse may be a little airy, to some.

Let's sound-bite it.

I'll leverage on the current global theme and state a binary, those who I oppose here in Malaysia are no friends of Mandela. They are fans of the things and ideas that kept the great man in prison for 27 years.

Nelson Mandela left prison with the moral mandate to lead the blacks who are 90 per cent of South Africa. He rejected this opportunity and instead fought for equality for all, irrespective of how unequal some have been under Apartheid.

South Africa for him was for all South Africans, colour was just incidental. Errors of the past are not passports for persecutions in the present.

By rejecting his racial inheritance, he inspired a multicultural nation superior in principle even if struggling with practicalities.

For me Malaysia has natural resources and great people, the future holds no fear for the country as long as those who govern it actively fight hate.

It is the proliferation of hate that is the biggest threat for Malaysia. I want to stop it. That's the value proposition Ja, I want to fight hate without reservation or qualification, it is the true scourge of our country.

I started this column quoting Rizal from his seminal first novel, and he died in 1896. As he was shot in the morning of December 30 in Manila, it would have been late night 6,700 kilometres away in South Africa's Natal where I am sure Mahatma Gandhi was still up after a day of advocating against the British colony's racism. Mandela found much courage and example from that man from Durban.

None of these men despite their single-mindedness condoned or championed hate.

I'm ok if my platform is just standing on the shoulders of giants.

"We must win when we deserve it, by elevating reason and the dignity of the individual, loving justice and the good and the great, even dying for it." ( José Rizal in El Filibusterismo).

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.


Does Islam need Umno?

Posted: 11 Dec 2013 10:22 AM PST

Transform, or be irrelevant soon, says the writer on Umno.

I wouldn't be surprised if they come up with ideas on how to include that into our birth certificates and ICs. Who is Umno and who is not. They are already debating whether they should give BR1M to non-BN supporters. 

Kamal Amzan, The Malay Mail

So it is official. No more 1 Malaysia.

I don't think there is even 1 BN, or 1 Islam for that matter. There is just 1 Umno, and everyone else.

I wouldn't be surprised if they come up with ideas on how to include that into our birth certificates and ICs. Who is Umno and who is not. They are already debating whether they should give BR1M to non-BN supporters.

Never mind the fact that BR1M is not Umno's to give away.

It is frustrating when you hear the top government leaders only able to talk about religion, survival of race, and play heroes battling made-up monsters and boogeymen who seem hell bent on the destruction of Islam and their race, but are oblivious to our real enemies who have time and again breached our borders and shed blood on our soil.

Sad, that they are the ones underestimating Islam, a religion that had survived over a thousand years, withstanding even more difficult moments in the past without the protection of Sunni Umno.

I pity the rank and file who truly believe they are our appointed saviours, and are constantly told that this is the right way to heaven.

Sometimes you have to wonder if our government is purposely suppressing the education standards to create followers, instead of thinkers and leaders.

There is no such thing as freedom of religion for Malay Muslims in this country. I apologise, I mean there is no freedom for Malay Muslims in this country. If you are Malay, you must be Muslim. If you are a Muslim, then you must subscribe to the one approved by the state.

No, no arguments. There is only the approved, and licensed version of Islam.

You must also conform to all the "fatwas" issued by them from time to time if you want to keep your faith, such as abstaining from Poco Poco and yoga.

Overseas? Well, you should be fine overseas. You can even pray next to a Shite in Mecca, read Lee Kuan Yew's books in Singapore and mingle with those who frequent night clubs and pubs in London without losing your faith.  

But I suppose the temptation to abandon Islam is somehow greater in this country. So much so that you have men in skullcaps, holding camera phones spying on you in the name of everything good and holy.

Gone are the days when prayers and deeds were made with sincerity. Now, it has become a "show" which must go on whether you like it or not in the guise of piety and faith. Gone are also the days where religion and faiths remained between men and God. Now we have men, Jakim, and God.

I'm not sure who appointed them to "protect" Islam, or how they are deemed morally superior to safeguard our morals.

If only they look at countries where Islam grew when there are no appointed "guardians." Countries where Muslims are the minorities, where they are free to practise the religion as a personal choice without shackles and spies behind the bushes.

Kevin Brice, a researcher at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, calculated that around 5,200 Britons turn to Islam every year, and that the total number of converts is about 100,000. France has seen conversions to the faith double in the past quarter century.

The Pew Research Centre estimated that there were around 2.4 million American Muslims in 2007.

I'm sure this will come as a shock to the government, but Islam thrived in all these countries.

They certainly don't have Umno, PAS, Jakim and people who claim to be protectors and guardians of Islam.

So the question is, do we still need Umno and the likes to protect such a great religion?

Umno needs to address real issues affecting the community. Poor education standards, poverty, poor command of the English language, corruption and collapses of ceilings all over the country are all available for them to choose from.

We do not need them to safeguard our faith, nor Islam which is already perfect.

Transform, or be irrelevant soon.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.



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