Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Freedom from tyrants, both foreign and domestic

On the 31st of August, 2007, Malaysia celebrated 50 years of independence from British rule. The British ruled Malaysia for their own benefit, exploiting local inhabitants - Malays, Chinese and Indians - to make Britain wealthy. When they left, the hero of independence Tunku Abdul Rahman became Prime Minister under a constitution which promised Westminster style democracy. It promised that while the Malays, the Monarchies and Islam would be protected, all citizens would be citizens of a new, democratic nation.

Westminster democracy has at its core that the people are entitled to choose those who govern them in free and fair elections. This means not only that elections be held, but that the parliament elected should be broadly representative of the votes taken in the election. People must also be free to vote for who they wish without risking penalties to do so. Another assumption is that all parties will have access to and be treated equally by the media.

Malaysia's democracy has become plainly deficient in each of these respects, despite the fact that elections are held every 4-5 years.

1) The composition of parliament should be representative of the votes cast at the election. This is demonstrably not the case in the Dewan Rakyat (Malaysia's lower house of parliament), which consists of 219 seats. 198 of these (90.4%) are controlled by the government, effectively rendering Malaysia a one-party state until the next election is held. This is despite the government only winning 63.9% of the vote. When one considers the individual parties that make up the government, the unrepresentativeness becomes even more obvious. UMNO (the party of the Prime Minister) won just 35.9% of the vote - yet controls half of the seats in parliament (49.8%). PAS, the opposition party that won the largest number of votes (15.2%), has just 7 seats in parliament (3.2%). Both these parties have mainly Malay Muslim supporters. Looking at the two parties mainly voted for by Chinese, the government's coalition partner MCA won 15.5% of the vote (about the same as PAS) but won 31 seats (14.2% of the parliament, while the opposition DAP won 9.9% of the vote but has just 12 seats in the parliament. The multi-ethnic but mainly supported by Malays opposition PKR won 8.9% of the votes but just 1 seat in the parliament. By contrast the government coalition partner MIC won just 3.2% of the vote, but holds 9 seats in parliament, more than PAS who nearly 5x as many Malaysian's voted for.

This means for every seat in parliament the following number of Malaysians voted for them:
UMNO - 22,782 voters
MCA - 34,652 voters
MIC - 24,616 voters
DAP - 57,278 voters
PAS - 150,211 voters
PKR - 617,518 voters

(Any errors in calculations are typos - source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malaysian_Parliament)

These figures speak for themselves. They show that UMNO and the MIC are greatly overrepresented in the parliament according to the support they actually received in the elections. The MCA, and the opposition parties who are in fact voted for by more than 1/3 of Malaysians - even in a landslide election like 2004 - are grossly underrepresented. Chinese who vote for the MCA, and even more so the DAP are treated unfairly by getting less representation that their votes deserve. However, clearly the people most cheated in Malaysia's parliament are the 1.7 million (mainly) Malays who voted for either PAS or PKR, who got just 8 seats for their votes compared with 109 for the 2.4 million (mainly) Malays who voted for UMNO. This is despite the claims that UMNO makes that is stands up for the interests of Malays - in fact, it cheats them of fair and honest representation more than anyone else.

Among the reasons for this state of affairs, the most important is the drawing up of electoral boundaries is done so that Malays in UMNO voting areas have electorates with much smaller numbers of voters that those in PAS voting areas. Urban areas which vote for the opposition generally have huge numbers of voters for each electorate. This is called gerrymandering, a term which means manipulating electoral boundaries to favour one group of voters at the expense of others.

2) People should be free to vote for who they choose without fear of recrimination. When Malaysians go to vote, a serial number is recorded on their ballot paper that potentially allows who they voted for to be traced back to their name. This has particular implications for government servants, many of whom believe that if they vote for the opposition this will prevent them from career advancement. I personally know many Malays who have told me they simply don't vote because they don't want to vote for UMNO but are afraid to vote for the opposition because they fear for their government careers. The traceability of votes back to people also encourages vote-buying, something which is impossible where votes are secret and anonymous.

3) Fairness in the media. The Malaysian mainstream media is dependent on the government to issue licenses to allow them to keep publishing. One former NST journalist (a friend) told me that although the papers uncover many scandals about the government - including corruption on a grand scale at the highest levels - they dare not publish for fear of using their license. In the political context this means that not only are the press highly restricted in criticizing the government, they are expected to not give air to the views of opposition leaders. This usually means that while the views of government ministers are presented mostly without comment, opposition leaders are seldom quoted in the newspapers and almost never seen on television. This press bias is evident to anyone who has ever seen the media operate in a genuine democratic environment - elections are not free and fair if the government controls the main means by which ordinary citizens gather their information.

All these reasons explain why more than 40,000 Malaysians braved road-blocks, chemical-laced water-cannon and tear-gas to peacefully present a petition to their Ruler (the Agong, the leader of the nation's Sultans and constitutionally the government's boss) asking for a chance to have their votes count. This blogger believes that ALL people regardless of ethnicity, religion or place of birth deserve to have their votes count. The Malaysian government has been in power for 50 years, and frankly, some of their members are taking the people of Malaysia for fools. I believe they are reading Malaysians wrong, and that the people are starting to realize that they deserve to have a real choice in who governs them, not have that choice made for them in the back-rooms of UMNO. Malaysia's independence heroes did not fight to be liberated from British tyrants to see their great-grandchildren made fools of by locally-born tyrants such as those who now appear to control UMNO.

To those 40,000+ who showed their love for Malaysia by standing up for true 'merdeka', I salute you.

To borrow from Shakespeare's Henry IV:

And gentlemen in Malaysia now abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That struggled with us upon Malaysia's day

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Kevin 07?

Ok, I'll admit my prediction about the Aus Federal election below is looking pretty shaky, given the good showing so far in the polls by Kevin Rudd and co. However, there are signs in the last 2 newspolls that things are tightening up - and 53% 2PP is nowhere near enough to feel comfortable.

For those wondering what 2PP means Australia's voting system allows voters to allocate preferences so that you give every candidate a number from 1,2,3 and so on depending on who is your preference. Candidates with low numbers of votes (usually minor parties and independents) are eliminated and people's preferences among the 2 highest candidates are considered, so the most important thing is which of the two major parties (Liberal or Labor) rank higher.

The reason 53% is not enough to feel comfortable is due to the fact that the overall election is not won by the party with the most votes, but by the party that wins the most seats. Generally, people already in parliament have an advantage because the voters know them. Since the seats that need to change hands for a change of government are obviously held by the government, this gives the incumbent government an advantage. It means for instance, that Labor might win 51% of the 2PP vote across the nation but because of a handful of really popular local MPs might still not get enough seats to form a majority in parliament. If the next newspoll shows things getting closer still, things will really start to get interesting.

Having said this, returning to my post below, Labors TV ad about interest rates IS very clever - it uses the same theme that Howard has used against Labor to point out that Howard's own record on interest rates is not that flash. You can watch it here. It's certainly better than simply reminding people interest rates are going up now without damaging Howard's counter that under Labor, interest rates would be even higher, which appeared to be the earlier approach taken. Of course, one might ask why this clever approach was not adopted three, six or even nine years ago to stop the Labor=higher interest rates mantra becoming such folk-wisdom.

I'm not prepared to withdraw my prediction yet though. I still feel Howard may hang on by one or two seats, even if he loses the popular vote. And if he does, it will be because the criteria on which voters decide returns to his perennial point of advantage, the economy. An interest rate rise might not hurt his chances at all. If Labor is to win, it must reverse the trend in newspoll and carry momentum into polling day.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A world in (Rugby) Union?

The Rugby World Cup has just begun, and the usual, predictable bleating about whether Rugby is really a "world game" has also begun, especially in Australia from Rugby League* fans and Football/soccer fans.

Of course, if one compares the RWC to the football equivalent there is no comparison. Football is the number one sport in probably the majority of countries around the world, across all the continents other than Australia, North America and (obviously) Antarctica. Even in countries where their national team is abysmal (like where I currently live, Malaysia for example) interest in the game is immense. There's no disputing that if there is one "world game" - despite how annoying it is to admit to the tiresome missionaries at SBS (Australian TV network)- it has to be football. This doesn't make the game better of course, but that's a whole different issue.

Rugby union, on the other hand, or just plain Rugby as it is known in most of the world, is also a 'world game' albeit on a much smaller scale. While it is a majority sport almost nowhere (NZ, Wales, and some Pacific Islands) it is known almost everywhere. Take Malaysia as an example, if you mention rugby everyone knows what it is, as many hi schools and all (I think) universities have a team. The name "All Blacks" is also well-known. Compare with Rugby League for instance, only those who have studied in Australia (and some in the UK and NZ) have the faintest idea what it is. Or even with cricket, which is seen as a colonial relic and only played by schools with British pedigrees.

Another argument trotted out is that the minor nations that play rugby are not competitive. Well, you only have to consider how well the USA played against England or Georgia against Ireland to dispel that myth. True, there are fewer upset results than in the Soccer world cup but lets be realistic: many of those upsets are attributable to the low scoring nature of football which allows a single mistake by an established side to become a victory for a minor one. In the history of RWC (since 1987), four teams have won it. For all football's claims, only 7 nations have won the tournament (played since 1930), one of which (Uruguay) never looks like doing so again. While occasionally another teams (South Korea in 98) can fluke their way through a few rounds, you'd be a mug to bet on any teams outside the 6 winning it.

In rugby, you have 8 teams which on their day are capable of beating the others (not in every wc but over time and without taking flukes into account like Norway beating Brazil a few years back in football). These are NZ, South Africa, Australia, England, France, Wales, Ireland, Argentina). The first five or these were considered before the tournament realistic hopes of winning it. From time to time Scotland, Samoa, Italy and Fiji can also beat any of these other teams except the first 3. Twelve competitive teams is considerably more than cricket, hockey or (snort) rugby league can dream about, without match fixing being involved anyway.

The point is not to ridicule other sports but simply to point out that a Rugby World Cup deserves the name - apart from the issue of competitive teams, people around the world ARE interested in the game. In Malaysia, which is a weak rugby nation in terms of its national team's prospects even by Asian standards, there's enough interest to put ALL games live on pay TV and some on Free to Air. Cricket, by contrast, was only available on pay per view. Rugby League - well unless you live in two states in Australia, the northern part of England or some parts of NZ, you've probably never heard of it. Rugby may not be the number one sport virtually anywhere, but its world championship has fans in places you wouldn't expect.

*For those who haven't heard of it, Rugby League is an offshoot of Rugby played by 13 player a side which arose in the days when Rugby was amateur. It's the number one winter sport in two states of Australia and also played in Papua New Guinea (a former Australian colony), NZ and parts of the UK. The rugby league world cup has been won by 2 countries (Aus and the UK) and Aus has won the last 6 tournament (last UK victory 35 years ago).

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Pauline whatsername

Although rejected many times at the Australian ballot box, Pauline Hanson has announced she will run for the a Queensland senate ticket at the next federal election. She's even announced her 'hook' - a moratorium on Muslim immigration to Australia.

Of course we should bear in mind that Pauline is an equal opportunity bigot - at various times in her political career, she's targeted Asians, Aborigines, multinationals and even blamed the Americans for the September 11. Her latest spray at Muslims is unsurprising given the current global climate and her track record.

However, once again, along with demonstrating her political opportunism and bigotry, she's also highlighted he complete lack of sense. Firstly, banning Muslims is an idea that might appeal to some, but its completely impractical. I doubt very much if current Australian immigration forms even ask what your religion is - most official forms don't, except the census and even then its a voluntary question. Does she propose changing the forms, or perhaps identifying Muslims by their names or country of origin? Of course, that would allow Nik Adam (a Muslim) from Malaysia into the country but presumably Elie Yossef (Israeli activist) would be excluded. If its country of origin, perhaps Malaysian Chinese seeking entry into Australia might have a problem. Does she actually believe that any Muslim who really wanted to cause trouble in Australia would not lie on the form, or change their name before migrating ?

Fortunately, assuming that no one else will give her preferences (an Australian feature where if your first choice is not selected, their votes go into another candidate they have nominated), she has got little chance of breaking her duck and being elected (the only times she has actually been elected, it was in 1996 in a Liberal landslide where she was disendorsed but still appeared on the ballot paper as a Liberal).

Before some of our Asian or Arab friends start getting all outraged though, lets consider how many Asian or Arab countries allow immigrants to become citizens if they are not descended from Asian or Arab ancestors. Also consider that there are perhaps hundreds of people in UMNO who regard fifth generation Chinese Malaysians as 'immigrants'. I also have yet to hear Pauline, let alone any mainstream politician threaten to "bathe the sword in Muslim blood", as the current deputy prime minister of Malaysia once did (the bathing of course to be in Chinese blood).

Just because an idiot like Pauline makes these kind of idiotic comments, it doesn't mean that Australians are racist or Australia is a racist nation. However, I am waiting to hear John Howard's reaction - will he condemn the comments outright, or say he "understands and respects the sentiment but its impractical". How Australians react to John Howard at the next election if he dog-whistles to xenophobes once more will provide a better measure of whether Australia is a racist nation.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Why the ALP lost in 2007

Ok, perhaps the headline may be construed as a bit premature considering the Australian federal election date hasn't even been announced yet, and with Labor still miles ahead in the polls. But recent events have led me to conclude that the always difficult mountain that the ALP had to climb to win federally will now prove beyond them.

First, self-declaration here, I have been involved in polling at a senior level for almost a decade. While this blog is written anonymously I suppose I speak as somewhat of an insider. For some time now, I have been warning anyone who will listen that the polls have been way to good for Labor. This is not the first time this has happened - in 2001 (before Tampa, Sept 11th admittedly) Labor was well in front, in 2004, people believed that Latham was making good progress towards the Lodge. While Howard can't rely on another world-wide terrorist event to save his bacon, this is not the real problem.

It's not that the polls are inaccurate or poorly designed. Or that punters lie. Each of these may occur from time to time but I think that the reality is that people are saying they WOULD vote ALP in a HYPOTHETICAL election. And that is the crux of the matter - it's hypothetical. What they would actually do if they were in front of a ballot box in a real election is something else.

The problem is that the criteria people are using to determine their vote in an opinion poll doesn't necessarily match what they will actually use in a real election. In the current situation, I think the reason Labor has been miles ahead is they have been 'voting' on issues such as IR & Kevin's fresh face, and perhaps the Iraq debacle. These are all issues where people prefer Labor's position or probably more accurately, disagree with the Government's.

In a real poll, economic performance is likely to feature much more strongly in voters minds. The public still rate the Coalition way ahead on managing the economy. If people decide their votes on this criteria, Howard will be re-elected.

The real clincher for me was Labor's decision to run a TVC drawing attention to Howard's promise to keep interest rates low. This is an unbelievably naive move which demonstrates a lack of understanding of how voters think. Elections are won because the agenda people have when voting suits one side or the other. For instance, Clinton beat Bush snr (1992) because people voted on economic performance, which they believed Bush was screwing up. Howard beat Keating (1996) because people were voting on personality, which of course Howard didn't have but at least they didn't want to whack him with a baseball bat. Howard beat Beazley (2001) because people voted on border protection, terrorism and interest rates, all of which Labor was perceived as being soft on.

John Howard would love nothing more than to fight this election on the economy, including interest rates. I would imagine he knows, unlike some senior people in the ALP apparently, that Labor can't win if the election is fought on interest rates. He may have broken his promise to keep interest rates at record lows, but all he has to do during an election is point at some graphs showing interest rates were twice what they are now under the last Labor government, and insinuate that were Labor to win, they would be up at those levels again. This is why I said to a colleague several months ago that it would actually be good for Howard if interest rates went up again before the election - it would drag the media agenda towards the economy, grounds where Labor has been trounced for 11 years politically by the Liberals.

A recent poll published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday illustrates why Labor's strategy is electoral suicide:

"When interest rates rose last week for the fifth successive time since the 2004 election, Mr Howard denied he had broken his promise to keep rates low and offered his stock defence that rates would always be lower under the Coalition than Labor.

The poll asked voters whether rates would be higher or lower now if Labor had won in 2004.

Almost one-third of voters agreed they would be higher under Labor. This was 4 percentage points higher than when the question was last asked a year ago, and 12 points higher than when it was asked in April 2005.

Only 7 per cent believed rates would be lower now had Labor won in 2004. Almost half believed there would be no difference. A year ago 54 per cent believed there would be no difference, and in April 2005, 67 per cent believed there would be no difference. This seems to suggest Mr Howard's argument gains traction as rates rise."

This poll illustrates my point. What I bet it also would indicate if analysed to show it is that swinging voters - the only kind that count politically under the Australian system - are the group more likely to believe interest rates would be higher under Labor. It's been rammed home to them in each of the past three election campaigns, and many argue it's been Howard's greatest political strength. Those who are better educated and more politically sophisticated are less likely to be swinging voters, and these people are probably the ones who understand the 'fact' that interest rates are set by the reserve bank and fluctuate as much according to international events as anything the government does. Unfortunately, Labor has never attempted to counter with this 'fact' and its current strategy doesn't do it either - it simply blames Howard for fibbing.

Labor has to win a huge number of seats to move to the government benches. Since incumbency is hugely important and there will be individual MPs who stand up against the tidal flow to Labor (which will still happen to some extent), Labor requires a huge swing to win. This isn't going to happen if people are voting on the economy and/or interest rates. Its too late for Labor to convince people John Howard isn't really that good at economic management after all, which seems to be the only plausible rationale behind its further drawing attention to interest rates by highlighting them in a TVC.

Labor's only chance to make my headline embarrassing is to get back on message, and fight the election on IR, and Kevin Rudd's fresh face. At least that will ensure they get close enough to win next time.

This is one case where I sincerely hope that my prediction is proved incorrect!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Censorship by another name...

From the New Straits Times today, an interview with Malaysian Federal Deputy Information Minister Datuk Seri Chia Kwang Chye

Q: What about laws to control Internet content?
A: The government has said it will not censor the Internet. However, this does not mean people can abuse it. There is no need for any form of censorship so long as the material does not contravene any civil or criminal laws, and moral and social values. The same applies to all other mediums of communication, not just the Internet.

The Minister was talking about the Malaysian government recent focus on blogs that are critical of the government, for example Raja Petra's as I referred to in an earlier post.

Lets look at the logic of the Minister's statement. The government under Former PM Tun Mahathir promised (no doubt in order to get foreign investment in his multimedia super corridor) that the government would not attempt to censor the internet. Largely, until this point, the government has kept this promise. In a country where there are laws preventing people questioning the constitution, in particular the Malay rights and those of the rulers, and where criticizing the existence, fairness of or even the efficacy of economic privileges extended to even already wealthy Malays on the basis of race is considered worthy of keris-waving and potentially arrest under the Internal Security Act, illegal is a pretty extensive term. This has meant the internet has become a haven for people to express what they really think without fear of reprisals. More importantly, criticism of government officials of the kind that would end the career of a mainstream journalist, the type one reads everyday in most of the world's newspapers, has become a major focus of Malaysian blogs. The inability to shut down dissent and to sweep high-level misdoings under the carpet has caused the government to look for ways to shut down the blogs without calling it censorship.

Just about everywhere in the world that censorship is used, the reason given for it would be nothing other than the argument that certain information may "contravene any civil or criminal laws, and moral and social values." For instance, pornography is restricted in many countries for just that reason, and no one calls the restrictions placed on it anything other than censorship.

In reality, current Malaysian politicians have found Tun Mahathir's promise very inconvenient, and probably wish he had never made it. The tame mainstream press which declined to report on their indiscretions may still be controlled, but they are increasingly aware that more and more Malaysians are discovering the truth about their politicians online. They will know that this is only going to get worse for them as internet penetration in Malaysia continues to grow. So this newspeak (thanks George Orwell) by the Minister is designed to fool people that they are adhering to Tun Mahathir's promise while in fact making it irrelevant by introducing censorship but calling it something else.

The thing is, I think the people will see through it. Eventually these politicians will realize they need to shape up their behavior, or ship out to retirement. Fooling the people is going to have to be done in more sophisticated ways from now on rather than just coercing the messenger to shut up.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Breastfeeding allowed anywhere?

In this article, NZ MP Ms Chadwick is said to be proposing a bill which will "allow breastfeeding anywhere".

In principle I agree with this. There's no way, for instance, that a breastfeeding mother should be expected to feed a baby sitting on a toilet. That's disgusting, I certainly would not want to have to eat my lunch on a public toilet, so why should a baby?

Many shopping centres offer mother's rooms - I'm not sure about NZ, but in Australia and in Malaysia they do. Of course, if you wish to visit a cafe that's in a block of shops on the side of the road they may not have this facility. If the baby wants to feed, as anyone who has kids knows, they need to be fed regardless.

Of course, there is a certain degree of public dignity which can be observed while breastfeeding. The reality is, men and in particular teenage boys will gawk if the breast is exposed, and many women feel uncomfortable being leered at. The fact the woman is nursing doesn't affect that, not all men are metrosexual snags after all. The same public decency standards apply to the woman who is not embarrased walking down the street topless, the difference is the degree of necessity and the baby's right to have a feed.

There are ways to feed of course without gratuitous exposure. For example, my wife used to drape a lightweight cloth nappy over her shoulder to avoid exposing the breast while nursing. Her preference would be in the car or an alcove to a road-side table. There are even specially built covers for this purpose, if you want to spend the money. When I mentioned this article to my wife, she surprised me with her opposition. She feels that some mothers are gratuitous, even though facilities are provided and there are ways and means of not exposing yourself some refuse to take them. She even mentioned the analogy of cows walking along munching grass while their calf is attached to their teats. But I'm not going there...

I think a distinction should also be made between an infant for whom milk is their only food, and older children. Obviously a three year old child who walks up to the mother and lifts her shirt to take a drink is not as 'necessary' an example of breastfeeding as the newborn. Whether a mother wants to breastfeed until that age is in my view entirely her own (and the child's) choice, however, it is clearly not as 'necessary' if the society's standards regard breast exposure as offensive.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Solidarity with Raja Petra

One of the sites linked to by this page, on which some of my posts have been reposted, is Malaysia Today, run by Raja Petra Kamarudin. Raja Petra is an extremely well connected member of the Selangor Royal Family, and is of 1/2 Malay 1/2 European ancestry (like my own children, btw). He has been prominent in writing well-researched and documented articles which are deeply embarrassing for the Malaysian government (run by UMNO, a secular Malay political party). His articles have severely damaged the supposedly 'clean' PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, revealing his family and those connected to it, alleging they are stripping millions if not billions of the Malaysian people. One of Raja Petra's revelations was that of February this year, when he revealed the relationship between Jeanne Abdullah and the PM, something the mainstream media did not reveal until June, days before the wedding.

In the last week Muhammad Muhammad Taib, a shifty character who got off a serious charge in Australia of importing large amounts of cash on a technicality, lodged a police report against Raja Petra, accusing him of running a site which insults the Agong (the Malaysian ruler) and Islam. Muhammad is UMNO's propaganda man. Raja Petra went to the police and made a statement refuting these allegations, explaining the Agong is a personal friend and asking them to show where he had insulted Islam when he is actually a practicing Muslim. Apparently, they were unable to do so, but pointed to comments posted on his blog, comments which Raja Petra alleges may have originated with UMNO 'plants' but which are certainly not presented as the views of Raja Petra himself. Over the weekend, the Malaysian newspapers carried the stories of several prominent Malaysian politicians, including the PM himself, repeating the allegations that Malaysia Today has insulted the Agong and Islam. This is clever politics, they know that the majority of Malaysians don't access the internet and will have no way of reading Raja Petra's real views, and will simply remember that he slandered the Agong and Islam, two of the most sensitive issues to Malays. The fact that they can't arrest him for these allegations is irrelevant, the mud will stick and then they will arrest him under the draconian Internal Security Act, which allows detention without trial for those accused of sedition.

I am a regular reader of Raja Petra's blog and I know that his real 'crime' is to expose the schemes of the ruling capitalist elites, in a way that normal journalists would do in countries which have a free press. This is blatantly obvious to anyone who reads his blog. As bloggers we love our countries but don't respect borders when it comes to justice. There is no such thing as Asian values versus Western values when it comes to freedom of speech - Western regimes have been just as despotic in the past and in some areas - like the Dr Haneef case in Australia - continue to be tyrants today. Raja Petra is a hero and a protector of the dignity of the Agong, the Malays and Islam, all of which have been held up to ridicule by the actions of UMNO and like governments throughout the Muslim world. As a Muslim I would rather have Raja Petra stand up for my faith rather than a miscreant like Muhammad Muhammad Taib.

I fully expect Raja Petra to be jailed under ISA, as I think he does too. Most Malaysians will not have access to the truth due to the lack of access to the internet and the fear of accessing controversial political sites such as Malaysia Today. The ruling party are now throwing mud they can't back up with facts, because they want to discredit him before they take action. It will be up to the bloggers of the world to remember and support this Malaysian Hero, the 'progressive prince' as he has been referred to, as he fights for peace and justice in Malaysia.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Why am I a believer in God?

In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, there are Signs for people with intelligence: those who remember Allah, standing, sitting and lying on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth: "Our Lord, You have not created this for nothing. Glory be to You! So safeguard us from the punishment of the Fire." (Qur'an, 3:190-191)

There's been a lot of news stories about aggressive atheists blaming religious belief for every evil in the world. In many cases, they seem to think that they are intellectually superior to the believers. I agree that there are many evil and despicable people who preach religion and blame God for their terrible behavior. However, it seems to me that it is more the believers, Muslim, Christian whatever who you see giving of their income for the poor, trying to spread literacy etc more than atheists. Some people see all the faults of the believers and do not acknowledge that secular ideologies such as nationalism, communism or eugenics have been just as destructive without many of the postive aspects which religion brings to the lives of its believers, and they in turn bring to their environment. So there should be some balance in these accusations.

Beyond all this however, my reason for belief is that I look at the world, from the stars, to the rain that falls, to the wondrously formed hands of my children and I see the work of a Great Artist. I don't just see random splodges of paint. I don't believe that God is only about love as some would say, He has also created this world as a test of the human soul. We see good and bad and all the shades of grey but still for me those Signs point to the One, the Creator and Originator.

For the atheist, they look at the same signs and they don't see what I see. I accept that, and leave it up to God to judge between me and them someday. But as Bob Dylan once said, "don't criticize what you can't understand" My observation is that atheists are not more charitable, more tolerant or even necessary more open-minded than believers. The next time I hear the juvenile "religion is the cause of all wars" or "the world would be a better place without religion", I challenge them to look at Hitler's Germany or Stalin's USSR and argue that those secular states were any better than even the worst religious ones.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Stupid beyond belief

I have been spending time in Malaysia lately, living near my wife's family. There are good and bad things about being here, the good mainly centering around the food (yum) and the cost of living (cheap), and the bad mainly about the inefficiencies of third-world infrastructure and mentality.

As this blog makes clear, I am an Anglo-Celtic Muslim. I became a Muslim about 15 years ago - of my own volition, not because I wanted to get married to some Muslim chick. I met my wife several years after I became Muslim.

It drives me nuts the attitude that some Malaysian Malays have to converts, in fact to Islam in general. They seem to think that there is something inherently Islamic about being a Malay, so that while those who convert in their eyes can never be 'real' Muslims, Malays who drink alcohol, gamble and in some cases even deny the existence of judgment and the hereafter are somehow considered truer Muslims.

Part of the reason for this is the (obviously man-made) constitution of this country, which accords "Malays" special rights and privileges over others. Since no one wants to deny themselves these privileges, they will keep calling themselves Muslim no matter how unIslamic their beliefs or their behaviour are. Religion and ethnicity are conflated. The Malay status is tied to religious identification, as those who arrived in this country from India or Arab countries or whatever are regarded as "Malays" despite many not having a drop of archipelago blood in their veins - which makes the whole "we deserve privileges because we were here first" argument a bit ridiculous, frankly, but I digress.

Independence shut the door on this forever though, as converting to Islam does not entitle one to alter their racial status, so a Chinese convert remains Chinese, unless he marries a Malay in which case the children will be Malays (not sure about this though). However, this is not widely understood, so that some Malays actually resent converts for crowding in on their space, and seem to think they have the right to doubt the sincerity of all converts, assuming that people convert for some kind of personal gain. So while a Malay can drink, gamble, take drugs etc even to the extent that these sins are widely known, people will never label them as kafir (infidel) or a munafiq (hypocrite). A convert on the other hand, must exhibit exemplary behaviour, dress as a Malay or better yet an Arab, punctuate their speech with lots of inshaAllahs etc and use an Arabic name or else be regarded as 'not a real Muslim'.

I wish I could make these people understand, that converting to Islam is never easy, at least for those who do it sincerely - and they have no way of knowing whether the conversion was sincere or not. Even if someone did convert for marriage initially, he or she would have had to endure ostracization from their family to do so and possibly much more as well. If you observe a convert who pray five times a day, fasts Ramadan and pays Zakaat, he or she is much more of a Muslim that those who do not, regardless of the colour of the pussy they emerged into this world from (sorry about the crudeness, but I am sickened by this arrogant attitude of some racists).

Trust me, I have never gained any material advantage from being a Muslim, quite the contrary - I had to sacrifice many of my friends who couldn't tolerate my new lifestyle, and miss out on many business opportunities because of not being able to accept clients who were selling alcohol or gambling, not being able to treat clients to drinks, and the general stigma attached to being a Muslim in this day and age. Talk to anyone who has worked with me in Australia who knows I am a Muslim and they will probably say how much more successful I would be if I didn't have these handicaps. Why people would actually believe I would have done all this without being sincere is completely beyond my comprehension. I'm not saying this makes me better than any other Muslim, as I don't have to put up with some of the racial vilification that they might have to particularly those living in the West - I can hide my religion if necessary. I don't ask for special accolades for any of this, but I do expect to at least be treated equally to other Muslims, many of whom would not be prepared to sacrifice an iota of their culture or their financial gain if it contradicted their religion. Witness the Malays who drink with their mates, buy lottery tickets and skip prayer so they can attend football matches.

On a related note, my wife was criticised by a female relative because our children, having been raised in Australia, do not speak Malay well enough and speak mostly English. There's nothing wrong with learning to speak Malay of course, that's why we dragged them here in fact, despite the fact they're pretty happy as Australian Muslims. However, the person then went on to explain, outrageously, that the grounds for this criticism was apparently that my wife lacks iman (faith) because if the children are not taught Malay, they can not read the Qur'an or even recite the Shahada (testification of faith), because one's tongue would not be able to pronounce them correctly. WTF! Aside from the obvious answer that the Qur'an is in Arabic and Malay is arguably no more similar to Arabic than English is phonetically, I was amazed by the cheek of this woman. My wife is a hijabi who prays five times daily, has a degree with a minor in Islamic studies and can speak Arabic fluently. On the other hand, this woman can't speak Arabic, has no education, and the children raised by this woman who felt she could criticize my wife include drug users, a daughter who says she doesn't believe in heaven and hell and another son who is a compulsive gambler. Even though this woman doesn't utter a word to advise these children about their behaviour or their aqida, she feels she can criticise my wife for the simple but in her view overarching fault of teaching her kids English rather than the holy tongue of Bahasa Melayu as their mother tongue.

You might just conclude that this woman is a fool, but it is very hurtful in Malay culture for people to speak this way about others. I don't like airing this woman's dirty laundry, but to accuse me of not being a true Muslim because I have the wrong skin colour despite the fact that I pray, don't drink etc when she accepts this behavior from the children raised by her without a peep is very zalim (cruel and unjust). Her accusation against my wife suggests a black heart and a profound ignorance of Islam.

I believe that all of us will be judged one day for our actions. I cannot say for certain whether Allah will accept my faith and forgive my sins, but I live in hope and faith that He will. In the meantime, I ask those who think that being Malay will help you in the hereafter to think again - we all will be judged according to the guidance we received. Omar, Abu Bakr, Khalid bin Walid - all of these were converts, and none of them spoke a word of Malay. Judge people, if you must, according to their actions, not according to the prejudices of your culture.