Monday, February 13, 2017

What It Means To Be Malay


The definition of Malay as a race in the constitution and hence the national economic policy has been and still is the fundamental source of  racial discrimination. In fact, in the way it is practiced, it is now a religious discrimination. We all know this is politics at its worst in this country. It may be about time that this explicit discrimination is removed from our national psyche.

It therefore gave me great joy to read this letter to the editor in the New Straits Times last week. For once, I feel that at last the NEP has produced enlightenment which can really be a light of hope for this nation of ours. I therefore copied that the letter below for you to read for yourself.

What It Means To Be Malay

by Dr. Sabariah Mohamed Salleh
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, 
Bangi, Selangor


10 February 2017 


"According to Article 160 of the Constitution, a Malay is defined as someone who professes to be a Muslim, habitually speaks Malay and adheres to Malay customs. Therefore, I am constitutionally defined as a Malay. 

However, this does not erase the fact that my paternal grandfather, Pateh Akhir, was of Bugis descent and my maternal grandfather, Abu Bakar, was of Thai descent. 

To me, culture and cultural identity are interesting topics. When discussing cultural identity, people often look at a person’s history, ancestry and clothing as identifying markers. 

I remember sitting in my visual culture seminar, when I was doing my PhD in Vienna, Austria, when my lecturer, Professor Filitz, asked me: “What makes you a Malay?” 

Confidently, I said I spoke Bahasa Malaysia, wore baju kurung and celebrated Eid. 

He said: “Does this mean, by sitting here in my class, wearing a pair of jeans and Adidas sneakers, and speaking in English, you are not a Malay?” 

I was stumped. Growing up, I had always assumed that cultural denominators, like clothes and language, were elements that made us culturally distinct. 

To me, the basis of culture is made up of differences because we are assigned in a system that categorises us in groups, as exemplified by the racial categorisation that we adhere to when filling in forms and answering demographic questions. 

According to Filitz, this made me an essentialist. He said I had a utopian idea of what a Malay should be like, and that I had failed to realise that culture was constantly evolving. 

How was I sure that the concept of Malayness that I practised and believed in was the original Malay culture practised centuries ago?

“How can you put culture in a box?” Filitz said. 

That made me question myself. When getting dressed for work, I prefer suits than baju kurung. 

I express myself better in English. I am not well versed with the names of Malay kuih. Does that make me less Malay? 

Scholar Anthony Giddens said globalisation played a big role in how cultures were practised. He said new technologies and developments had encouraged people to venture out of their comfort zones to travel or immigrate. 

This increase in mobility makes it possible for cultural activities to be practised anywhere and for people to know cultures from around the world. 

Interestingly, nowadays, people do not have to travel to experience other cultures. 

The Internet and advanced technology have enabled people to offer recommendations for French cuisine in Paris, despite not being there. 

One can learn how to speak Korean from YouTube videos or experience Bhutan through an Instagram account. 

This virtual movement provides choices as to how people could construct their cultural identity. 

These options enable people to pick any style or personality they want and mix and match it to construct their identity. 

So, would it be possible for people to claim that they are purebred Malays, Chinese and Indians? 

I believe that cultural identity is immeasurable. For instance, no particular sect of Malay — Javanese, Bugis and Boyan— is more superior than the other. 

My limited knowledge of Malay syair or penchant for hot mocha and dim sum should not be a reflection of my level of Malayness. 

Stuart Hall aptly said cultural identity was fluid and constantly changing. 

Thus, as an individual, I can choose to adapt, change or omit any cultural element to construct my own cultural identity."

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Prejudices

It seems incredible that there are people who think that only they have the moral high ground and that their prejudices are OK and your differences with them are not OK.

One would have thought that only in this little minded country of ours that we have people like our previous topmost leader who had his prejudice into affirmative policies which neglects others. He now fears those from China as he previously also feared those from China. But this time he says that the old Chinese here should also fear the new Chinese, like he is now. It is a fact that once you have phobias, you will always have the phobias, no matter how you may wish to disguise them - unless you have a sudden dose of wisdom and enlightenment and wake up the reality of yourself.

What really dismayed me were the bad manners of the Obamas and the Clintons who think that only they are the decent people who have decent views - and those who differ from them in their public statements are indecent. I simply just cannot phantom why they could not give Trump and his wife the due courtesy as anyone would give to the President of the US and his wife - unless of course they have decided to disrespect the President of the US themselves. Even John Lennon who subsequently returned his OBE to the queen at least had the decency to behave properly in front of her.

Now we have pressure groups out in numbers to protest against Trump and the US Presidency. This is incredible. Where have the respect for the law gone to? I can see parallels of the situation in our country and I think it is not healthy. I rather bear the nonsense rather than to have chaos and violence done in the name of justice - for it depends on what justice and whose justice.

You are losing the game and you have decided to those the chess board. It was alright when you were winning.

There are many of us in this country who have bear our burden of so many injustices which we have learned to take it as part of the game. It is a rough game. It is an unfair game. But life is real, and we should protect life and bear the rest.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

What Is Better Than GST?

There is recently this very public question of "What is better than GST?", and I think it needs an answer.

1. No GST.

The best alternative to the GST is no GST. There is no god-given right for the government of the day of any country to impose a tax on everything in life.

The GST is argued to be good because it reaped RM40 billion for the government. It is good for the government but no good for the general public.

A RM40 billion withdrawal directly from the pockets of the ordinary people as they go about their daily lives is a punishment for them, especially those with fixed incomes. It leads directly to a reduction of their real incomes.

The counterargument could be that the government is pumping back some money to the low income groups to "compensate" them for the GST. Yes, very nice conceptually but unlikely to be correctly practised - some who deserve may not get it and some who do not deserve get it.

2. Reduce Government Spending.

Since the purpose of introducing the GST is to fund the government deficit, it is logic that the alternative is to reduce government spending.

The government is spending too much money. The government should cut down on its lavish lifestyle. Projects should be better scrutinised for their economic viability, and cost cut by not over-specification. The most showy events in public today are government events.

3. No personal income tax.

If there should be GST which is indirect tax, there should be no personal income tax which is direct tax. To impose GST on top of the personal income tax is for the government to tax on taxed income of persons - the government is trying to discourage consumption on top of discouraging effort.

We know income tax has been reduced with the introduction of GST, but the argument here is that income tax should be abolished altogether at least personal income tax.

Cope out.

It is a cope-out argument that the introduction of the GST is justifiable because so many other countries are applying the GST or its equivalent. I think for once we should learn to argue from first principles and need rather than using a precedent from elsewhere. When is this country going to be original?

Implementation.

There are so many issues about the implementation of the GST. The whole thing boils down to that the burden of the implementation falls on the businesses. If they do not understand the system, they get punished. The incompetence of the implementors of the GST does not matter, for it is costless for them.

Inflation.

The current bout of inflation has been enormous, about 20-30%. The biggest cause has been the currency depreciation as a result of expectations of higher US interest rates and the outflow of the ringgit to other currencies. The ringgit outflow could be related to repatriation of stock market proceeds and profits, the redemption of ringgit bonds, foreign workers remuneration as well as better investment opportunities abroad. The lack of opportunities in the country is a serious concern. The 6% GST is a small issue, relative to these colossal impacts of the ringgit weakness. Nonetheless, the GST does not help in the situation and could the trigger that makes everybody decides that there is no more respective for the stability of retail prices. We have created inflationary expectations and we are passing the cost of higher prices to other people, with precedence from the government.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Stocism: The Art Of Living In Adversity

There seems to be a perennial interest in the philosophy of stocism, that revered stone-faced approach to living.

Stoic: person who can endure pain and hardship without showing their feelings. (Oxford Dictionary.)

The primary goal of stocism is how to be happy or rather how to live a happy life. So, we are not talking about just moments but the whole stretch of one's life, although everything would be based on the moment, and hence, a series of moments.

To live a happy live is to live a life that one wishes - not in the sense of frivolity - but in the sense of living in accordance with one's inner being. Be a good durian if you know you are a durian, and not trying to be a rambutan.

In other words, stocism is about being one's true self. It is by being true to oneself that one can truly be happy with oneself.

This is because this is the reality.

The reality is out there, and not inside you, and therefore it is not part of you. Whatever the reality is, it has nothing to do with you. This is the reality.

The only way reality has an impact on you is when you react to it, the reality. By reacting, you allow reality to hit you.

Which means that in order to ensure that the reality has no impact on you is for you not to react to it. By not reacting to reality, you do not allow reality to hit you.

Here you are, alone in this world. There it is the reality, existing by itself, existing before you were born and will exist after you are gone from here.

Pain is external to you. There may be pain in a part of your body, but yo do not have to own that pain. You can make pain an alien to your being. You do not have to react to the pain.

Now, what do you do in this apparent stalemate?

The only thing to do in this real life is to live according to your own true self.

Know yourself.

Live your life, your own way.

Do what you have to do; do not do what you don't need to do.

Do as per your true self. Live your life with integrity to your true self.

To live life with integrity to your true self, you have to keep life simple. You can only know a few key elements of your own true self, and you have to keep your faith with those few points of yours.

Be honest - don't lie, don't cheat, don't misrepresent, don't mislead, don't say what you do not know.

Have courage - endure though not suffer, don't be afraid.

Be rational - use your head, re-examine carefully all those impressions of things in your mind and make sure that they are true, calm your senses down by keeping still in order to know yourself, behave on the basis of what you know.

Stocism is therefore about living a virtuous life according to yourself, your own nature, being true to yourself, without depriving others from doing the same.

Living In The Present

When the real world today seems all in shambles, the world is in shambles, but not you.

You are intact. You know who you are. You are being honest to yourself.

If you are in debt, then pay off the debt by selling the assets you have accumulated. If that is not sufficient, get yourself declared bankrupt. Do what you have to do. Don't try to avoid the consequences of your own past actions. Don't blame others for your present troubles. You did not credit others when you were doing well before; you owed everything to yourself. Your financial world may collapse, but you are still alive. Only you will decide for yourself that you should be unhappy. You do not have to get others' approval to be happy.

The same applies to your fame, your reputation - bestowed upon you by others for no reasons of yours that you can fathom and for no good purpose that you can use it for. You are like everyone else: human, alive, aging, waiting.

In such adversity, it is a real joy to be alive, because that is the only thing that now defines you - and possibly the only most important thing.

Every step you take is entirely yours and yours alone. You decide. You do. You live.

Be happy. Be alive.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Killing

A man shot dead the Russian Ambassador to Turkey today in Ankara.

There have been many killings around the world everyday, in big cities and small towns, among friends and among families, between people who do not see eye to eye with each other and do not want to, between people who have a misunderstanding because they have different upbringing and experiences.

But this particular killing is the result of anger over political actions in Syria by local and foreign forces which has resulted in the ruins of towns and homes, and the death of many people with those alive fleeing for their lives.

Will this one killing of an official avenge for all those killings of many ordinary people, and the matter ends? Will it stop further killings? Or will a proud nation demonstrate to the world its superiority and take matters to a level that prompts other equally proud nations to a show of force?

We can only tremble at the prospects.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Lying

Is lying the result of dishonesty or incompetence?

Most of us assume that someone told lies because they are saying something that is different from the truth.

But what is truth?

Surely when we know what has transpired, we know what the truth is. "I stole the money and I try to hide the tracks to the money I have stolen."

But things can get a bit more complex. "I want the money but I do not want to know how that money comes about and how does it come to my access. All I want to know is how much is that money and how can I have access to it." One can pretend not to know the whole process. One can pretend to be stupid. One can pretend that one prayed and the money appeared.

Of course, all this pretending and not wanting to know exactly how the whole thing is done has been captured in that image of the ostrich sticking its head in the sand. But then someone has to tell the ostrich that its arse is sticking out.

One has to be really clever to be dishonest, as we also have an excellent example in our midst. That cleverness stems from playing the legal game. "Well, where is the evidence?" The trick in hiding evidence is to lay the whole theft in very public display, such as in the form of a public policy. "My purpose in this policy is to take money away from the rich and give it to my friends who are looking after me." This can be couched in very general terms. There is nothing to give the stolen wealth to friends because they are not given to the thief directly and the friends fall within the categories as defined by policy. Very clever.

The only person who can blunder in lying as in stealing is to be less than vigilant, by being incompetent. It is tough enough to cover all the tracks and pretend not to know; worse, is not wanting to know completely and then doesn't know anything at all. You have not way to control the whole situation. Your backside is wide open.

***

It is foolhardy to expect politicians to be honest.Politicians lie from the moment they decided to be politicians.

They tell themselves and their supporters: I want to be a politician to help the people.

There is nothing wrong with that as an intention. But what is very wrong with it as a statement of truth is that they do not have a clue as to how to help the people. They may know how to help themselves and how to help their friends, but they do not know how to help all the people in society.

They may know how to argue, how to disagree, how to protest, how to create a challenge. But can do many things that are negative. But they do not know how to do anything positive, by building on what is already good and creating a greater society.

That's why never, never, never ever believe in any one politician. Politics is never about the politicians. Politics is a process and it is always about the political process.

In democracy, the political process is always about changing the politicians and the democracy is in the choice by vote of the politicians. Democracy is not about one political master choosing the next political leader for us; that's political dynasty.

***

So now we have each group championing one cause and then appearing all over the place.

We have one championing "clean election" which becomes embroiled in calling for the resignation of the prime minister. I thought they are fighting for clean elections which are a very specific and very difficult thing to do. Do we clean up elections through crowding out in the streets, no matter how peacefully? Isn't there a "cleaner" way of doing the job more effectively?

***

I am wary of people playing with emotions through social media. Things can end really end up very messy.

***

I am calling for competence.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hypocrisy

Alas, we cannot ignore the rampant spread of hypocrisy in our society where there are double and triple standards and everybody is lying through their teeth just so that they can outshout each other and shutting everybody up; they having the final say and the monopoly of the public voice.

The corruption of the nation starts with the corruption of the integrity of our national institutions by the elimination of their independent powers and condensing all powers of the nation in the hands of one man, both political and economic. This was done long ago but in our lifetime. What we see now is the secondary effects of that degeneration, where corruption is taken to be normal and only something much worse than corruption may be abhorred, maybe the loss of life?

Our nation has turned into a circus where everything is played for the media to display. There are no more men and women who are satisfied in speaking quietly ready to compromise. There is one-upmanship everywhere. The s--t has risen to the top and they all seem to be very proud of themselves.

What is now there for the nation?

Are we going to spend our time glued to the media for the information and no truth? Or do we turn inward to ourselves, contemplate and ignore reality?

It is clear that there is a political battle going on on a full scale in clear sight of everyone. The one who is very old feels that he has one last bit to do before he dies, so that he can have the last say and leave us with his s--t. There is one who is embattled by a series of bad judgements and bad advisers and who have really made a very bad situation much worse. We have olf soldiers of the last regime who feel that they must defend their old legacy and pile all the blames on the current one. There are the old opponents (not enemies) who have been play the devil's advocate for so long as the counter-party to the old regime and one should really not be surprised when the two sides synthesies to make the old as one (they are the same). There are the minorities who have been so marginalised from the mainstream that they have an existence of their own, and the use of the GST to weed them out is the last straw for the economy which will now see the bottom falling off. The new monopolies that have been created to become the pillars for the new economic policies have become so inefficient that they only way for them to pay divendends to the government is to raise the fees the general public must pay for the services they have monopolised. And these fat GLCs think they are clever.

Money corruption, although not honourable, is a product of an inefficient and cumbersome government machinery. But money corruption on a grand scale across the board is bad in many ways, first, in ruining hard work and productivity gains, and second, in ruining the currency as these corrupt money must somehow be stashed away overseas to avoid being caught and to protect themselves against a currency which by their very act have helped to weaken so systemically.

I do not admire the old guard who came out to warn about the weakness of the ringgit. Well, he should know what he was talking about because he had done it before. And the central bank is still dishing out the same old intervention measures. What's new?!